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The Days of Unleavened Bread, Chapter 2

Mr Savich, the customs official, had lodged with us for years in our attic. How proud he was when he got his new green uniform! He wore a short sword at his side. The poor seamstresses were terrified of him, but his manner with the rich landowners and merchants was cordial.
.... As a little girl I was afraid of the Gypsies. They would often pass through the village in a wagon drawn by a scrawny nag. A canvas roof rose over the wagon in a great arch, and the tousled heads of dark-skinned Gypsy children peeped out. It was said that the Gypsies stole children and then sold them or maimed them so that they could be sent begging. "Mummy, tell the customs official to arrest all the Gypsies," I would say.
.... One day I was sitting on the bottom step of the flight leading up to our door, with my favourite doll, Beba, sitting two steps above me, so that our heads were on a level. My back was turned towards the street, so I did not notice at first that someone was coming. When I heard footsteps I turned round and saw a Gypsy woman approaching. I ran up the steps, but she followed me. Terrified, I hid behind the door. Peering through the crack between the door and the doorpost, I watched with dread as the woman entered our house. Luckily, she did not notice me, and went up the flight of stairs leading to the attic where Mr Savich lived. I ran to my mother, who was in the kitchen.
.... "Mummy, a Gypsy woman tried to steal me!"
.... "Well, why didn't she?" my mother replied, laughing.
.... "I hid behind the door."
.... "Don't be frightened, she won't hurt you."
.... From close up the Gypsy woman had not seemed very dangerous. She was young and beautiful, and she wore a brightly coloured dress with a pattern of big red roses.
.... "Why is the Gypsy woman going to see Mr. Savich?" I asked my mother.
.... "She must have done something wrong, and now he is questioning her," my mother replied sullenly.
.... Saturday came, and the customs official's wife and children arrived. We wanted to go and play outside, but my mother would not let us. Mrs Savich and my mother sat at the big table covered with a tablecloth reaching almost down to the floor. We children hid under the table, one of my favourite hiding places, and played there quietly. We wanted to be close to the grown-ups and to listen to their conversation. We could not understand all of it, but we didn't want to miss anything. Suddenly I piped up from under the table, asking Mrs Savich to tell the customs official that all the Gypsies should be arrested. I tried to say something about him questioning the young Gypsy woman, but Mrs Savich did not quite understand, and my mother interrupted me and sent us out to play.
.... ***
.... A column of Gypsies was moving down the road in a straggling line. The dust rising from the road hid the lower part of their legs, so that they appeared to be floating on a cloud. They were escorted by Ustasha with guns.
.... The crowd of Gypsies included many of my old acquaintances: blacksmiths, trough-makers, musicians, acrobats, horse-traders, quack doctors and fortune-tellers. Now neither a bear's tooth, nor a dried mole's paw, nor any of those amulets which were the only things they had taken from their tents could save them. Even the man-shaped mandrake root, which had protected them for centuries from all misfortunes except inevitable death, was of no avail. Were they being taken away because of the curse that had fallen on them for forging the nails used in Christ's crucifixion?
.... The Gypsy woman Brena slipped away unnoticed while an Ustasha was shouting at a group of stragglers and ran panting into our yard.
.... "Where's the customs official?" she asked, panic-stricken, clinging to her last ray of hope.
.... Not long ago she would have climbed stealthily up the stairs to the attic room where Mr Savich lodged. The wooden stairs would have creaked at least a little, and we would have said, "There goes Brena."
.... "You know, ma'am," Brena had once told my mother, "When I first saw him in that green uniform of his with that little sword at his side, I swore I wouldn't rest until he had fallen into my arms. My mother taught me how it's done. You make a dough and you add some hair, spittle, blood, nail parings, anything you can get from the man you're after, you knead the dough into the shape of a man and you name it after him. Then you take the figure, when the moon is waxing, and bury it at the crossroads, and then, if you'll pardon my saying so, you pee on it. You know, ma'am, there's not a man born who can resist that. If you want someone, ma'am, I'll fix it for you, just don't meddle with my customs official."
.... The customs official wasn't there, his door was locked. Downcast, Brena rejoined the column.
.... There was the old Gypsy, Kosta, but without his bear. I could still see them making the rounds of the village. The Gypsy would sing a mournful song and beat his little drum; the bear would rear up on its hind legs and dance. It would have a muzzle on, and the muzzle would be tied to a staff which the Gypsy held in his hand. Not far from the Gypsy, beside the roadside ditch, there would be an old hat and in it some small change. There would also be a dog there, squatting on its haunches and begging. Where was the bear now, where was the skinny dog? The tents at the edge of the common were gone and the sound of violins could no longer be heard in the evening.
.... Then they took away our Jews. My school friend Jutta was carrying a small suitcase and walking beside her parents. They wore yellow armbands with the Star of David. There was my classmate Arno, looking thinner than usual. He was not wearing his glasses and he walked with a stoop, as if he was trying to see the road better.
.... I wanted to open the window to say hello to Jutta, Arno, and their parents.
.... "Don't open it, it's dangerous, they could accuse us of being Jew-lovers," my mother warned me.
.... As they were passing our window, I drew back behind the curtains. Jutta was wearing the dress she had worn at the graduation ball. We had all watched her admiringly as she gleefully whirled round the ballroom. Our form-master and our headmaster had wished us all much success and had spoken to us of new horizons, of the future which lay ahead of us with its doors wide open.
.... The column of Jews moved off towards the railway station. At the end of the street, at the bend, Jutta and Arno disappeared behind the last chestnut tree.
.... German army convoys left, only to be replaced by others. Long lines of army vehicles would halt for a time under the chestnut trees and then move on.
.... One night I watched them going off towards the main road. The moon peeped out from behind a cloud - a yellow sickle in a dark grey sky. It would soon be dawn.
.... I fell asleep, only to be awakened again by the sound of engines. A new column of vehicles was coming from the main road. Trucks were passing our house. When the first trucks reached the end of the street, the column stopped. The lights went out and the engines were switched off.
.... Silence fell again, and I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.
.... Then I heard someone knocking on the front door. I opened the door of my room a crack and looked out. In front of our door, through the ground glass, I could see an officer wearing a tall officer's cap.
.... I opened the front door just wide enough to see. Standing there was a tall, young officer with a grave, almost severe expression on his face. The shadow of a smile seemed to play about his lips, but then he became grave again. I was especially attracted by his eyes: large blue eyes, with a melancholy expression in their depths.
.... "We are billeting our troops in the houses. We'll be back in half an hour," he said, touched his cap with his fingertips, wheeled round and disappeared round the corner.
.... Three of them came, the young officer and two older officers.
.... Perhaps I would not have become aware of the fact that I was singing quietly to myself, had I not heard the young officer, standing in the kitchen doorway, say, "You sing well, Fraulein."
.... It was then that I first saw him smile. How handsome he was when he smiled, I thought, and then I felt ashamed of myself.
.... "Mum, can we have supper early tonight? Boris is coming over after supper."
.... "Perhaps you should cut back on these evening visits. You know you have to take your school-leaving exam this year."
.... "That's why he's coming. We're going to study maths for our exam."
.... "I must say you're resourceful. You're never stuck for an excuse to see each other. You would make good lawyers," my mother said jokingly.
.... "Perhaps we will. Boris is keen on the law, and you know that solicitors make a good living. But you want me to study to be a doctor, don't you? I know that's always been your dream."
.... "Isn't medicine better than the law?" asked my mother cautiously.
.... "It may be better, but it's not everybody's cup of tea. Some people faint during their first classes."
.... "Well, yes, I've heard that some students faint at first, but they get used to it later," my mother insisted.
.... The three German officers settled into the room at the end of the corridor. We hardly ever saw them during the day. They usually came home in the evening. They rarely entered our rooms, only occasionally, to borrow a pot or some other kitchen utensil.
.... When the young German lieutenant first saw Boris and me sitting next to each other struggling with maths problems, I thought he kept his eyes on us a little longer than usual and that he somehow became more solemn.
.... I began to compare Boris with the lieutenant. Boris was of medium height and sturdily built, his movements were slow, while the lieutenant was tall, his uniform fitted him like a glove, and his movements were elegant and quick. My thoughts strayed. Then Boris nudged me and asked, "Are you asleep?"
.... "No, I'm just a little afraid of the exam. I imagine myself facing the examiners and I get goose-pimples."
.... "You're not in love, are you?"
.... "Nonsense! Who would I fall in love with?"
.... We continued revising trigonometry. Suddenly Boris said, "You know, that Hun lieutenant is a good-looking chap. You watch out!"
.... "What are you on about? Is that what you think of me?" I replied in a huff.

Chapter 3