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Rendezvous on All Souls’ Day

Blessing of the Night

I am, beloved, God's narrow mirror, into which he looks, before he goes to rest.

My heart is the red seal of his ring, which he impresses in the evening, before he has entirely passed away.

 

I am, beloved, God's silver cup, from which he often drinks the slumber of red wine,

From whose deep foundation, as from a valley of the pale moon, the song of melancholy.

 

I was, beloved, God's dumb mirror.

Now, in the distance, I sang songs

To the sound of the stars.

 

My heart was God's seal.

Now he speaks to me from the silence of the stars:

 

As Josef, my husband, calls me, I consider who I am.  

“Pepa, I’ll be there momentarily.  I want to finish writing this.”

My brother saw me as his comrade and his beloved.  One of his favorite expressions when he wrote to me was, ‘The first hour of the first fine day belongs to you.’  Indeed, I tried to be his comrade in most things, such as our shared vegetarian lifestyle, no alcohol, our stubborn insistence upon helping the outcasts and the poor, and, most of all, our perpetual war against our father, the first dictator, Herr Hermann Kafka.

My brother always said that my marriage to a Czech Catholic was worth more than marrying ten Jews.  Having a Gentile husband was like being inoculated against consumption, which tragically took the life of my poor Franz in 1924.  My brother spent his entire life trying to find a way to become accepted by the outside.  His novels, his stories, his aphorisms, and his personal life, were all spent attempting to find a connection to a force that could protect him from ‘the process,’ as he termed the slow deterioration of self under the weight of modern society.

But now I am forced to make a choice that my brother never had to make.  Franz was always too afraid of commitment to anything.  Marriage, family, and society were always a burden to him.  I tried going to agricultural school in Zürau to become my own woman, but I failed at that.  I married Josef because, like Franz, he was an attorney, and like Franz, he wrote poetry.  I’m afraid, however, Josef was also like father, a dictator.  Franz never saw the similarity Pepa had to father, even though he thought Josef’s poems were too patriotic and called them ‘nonsensical songs of martial glory.’  Franz would always attempt to poke fun at Pepa and his masculine bravado.  He once sent him a postcard from Matliary, the tuberculin sanitarium in the Alps where Franz was staying in 1921.  It showed a man on skis looking down the gigantic hill covered in snow.  Franz told Pepa that he had just competed in the downhill ski competition, and he had a friend take the picture for the cover of the postcard.   I never had the courage to tell Franz about how Josef’s brand of anti-Semitism made me ‘his exceptional Jew,’ but all the other Jews, of course, were quite weak, selfish, pacifistic and lazy.

I have one last chance to redeem myself.  Do I stay with my family, at age fifty, and put them in danger of being ostracized from the body politic?  Or, do I divorce my Catholic husband, lose my two daughters, and thus save them from punishment by the forces out there that would harm them?   In effect, I am writing this down as a journal for any person to read, as my brother wrote his fictions, in order to provide my readers with a life’s lesson, even if my life is becoming slowly encapsulated inside a minority which has become a scourge to others:  Jew.

“Ottla!  Come in here at once.  We need to talk.”

“Of course.  I’m coming now.  The girls won’t be back until five.  We should have more than enough time to discuss our problem.”

Josef “Pepa” David sat in his chair near the table with the radio.  With no more soccer games being played because of the war, all he had was his work at the bank and the news on the radio, which was now blasting out, in German, into the living room.  Since the occupation began, in 1939, when Hitler spoke from Prague Castle, Josef began his love/hate relationship with the Third Reich.  On the one hand, as a former soldier in the First World War, Josef was one of the thousands of Czech troops who defected on the Russian front lines, refusing to fight for Germany and Hungary.  They formed what would later become the Czechoslovak Legion, under the leadership of Josef’s fellow Catholic, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.  

When the Germans took over Prague, Josef and his group of Legion vets cursed the radio as Hitler spoke, vowing to resist the occupation.  However, when the Deutschmarks began pouring into his bank, and his salary was increased, Josef began having second thoughts about the new Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The only contention left to argue, according to Josef, was Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws and how they apply to the Jews and to his family.

“Please, turn that off.”  Ottla walked over to stand beside her husband.  She knew enough to try to sit in his presence, as he was like her father had been, the “master of the house.”  Furnished with plain, wartime furniture, with metal and aluminum confiscated, in addition to the dark window shades in case of air raids, the living room resembled a funeral parlor.  Josef turned the knob on the radio with a flick of his wrist, and stood up, and his head taller position gave him the authority he commanded.  He was thin and virile, and he always wore his dark suits and ties, even when at home, as relaxation in appearance was not a part of his demeanor.

“We’ve been over this before.  Your friends have told you.  There is no record of you as a Jew because of our marriage before the war.  As long as you stay at home, we can live in peace.  I can’t take care of Vera and Helene by myself.”  Josef paced the floor, circling his wife, his hands tightly grasping wrists behind his back.

“I refuse to live like a caged animal.  When Franz stayed with me in Zürau, he wrote an aphorism.  A cage went in search of a bird.  The Germans are that cage, and I am that bird.  Don’t you see, Pepa?  They will eventually capture me, and when they do, I will be judged as a Jew who tried to hide from them.  What will happen to you when that occurs?  Do you think they would permit you to work in a bank?  Would our daughters have any chance to live a normal life?”

“The Legion resists in secret!  Why can’t you and your Jews resist instead of organizing this pacifist group of cowards under that sniveling Edelstein?”

“Jacob Edelstein is no coward!  He could have deserted his people in Prague to live in Palestine.  His Zionism is working to free us all so that we may evacuate to the Holy Land.  I have spoken to him.  He told me that if I divorce you, he will be able to place me on a preferential list.  The Protectorate is building a Jewish settlement in Terezin.  Jacob says that Jews will be allowed to run everything in this community.  First, the elderly will be taken care of, and then we will establish a working social framework in which we can live as peaceful civilians, who can practice our culture and our religion without oppression.”

“Why is this happening?  The laws of the Third Reich—especially the Nuremberg Laws—say that Jews will never be part of German society.  Why should it be any different in the so-called Protectorate in Prague?”  Josef rarely allowed any argument to be conducted without his becoming a proper devil’s advocate.  Although he understood the logic of what his wife was saying, he had seen with his own eyes the beatings of the orthodox Jews in the streets, and the confiscation of the shops and the properties of Jews due to the latest policies coming out of Protectorate headquarters.

“That’s just it.  Jacob says we can serve the Germans as cultural workers.  They may not want us to live with them in their communities, but they will certainly want to harness all the genius of my people to improve their status in the world.  Theresienstadt is going to serve as the model for future communities whereby Gentiles and Jews can live cooperatively and in the best interests of both.  He’s also going to keep working to get passports for us to Palestine.  My brother always wanted to go there, but he died.  You know he wanted to live there, Pepa.”

“Is Edelstein going to provide me with a cook and nanny?  I still have to live here, you know, with all these thugs in charge!”

“Don’t be absurd.  I know you have never understood Zionism or my culture.  What I want to offer you will not only protect you and our children, it will also give you the full share of my parents’ estate.  I will sign it over to you so the Germans can’t confiscate it when I turn myself in.”

Josef took hold of his wife’s shoulders and stared into her brown eyes.  She had the same intense gaze that her brother had, but it also held the kindness and sacrifice that Josef David never understood.  He did recognize that he was losing a companion and a wife of twenty-two years, but his lawyer mind was working as well.  Whereas his brother-in-law, Franz, would always jibe him about his attitude toward the “lazy and poor Jewish refugees,” Josef held onto his conservative beliefs, like a dog with his bone.

“Good.  I accept your reasoning.  How soon will you have to leave us?  You can get the divorce tomorrow, as the Protectorate has expedited such things, but then you will become an official Jewess.  I cannot protect you after that.”

“Jacob told me he can get me on the list for transport to Terezin on Monday, August third.  If you don’t mind, I would like Vera and Helene to escort me.  It will be the last time I will see them until Jacob and the Elders can get us all passports to the Holy Land.”

“Of course! But I will not go, Ottla.  I don’t want to get on any more lists.  The resistance will be working to free you all, and it may be us who will rescue you from that Fascist community of yours.  I don’t have the trusting heart that you have.  You keep mentioning your brother, Franz.  He may have been a bleeding heart for the poor, but he never had the trust in humanity that you have.  According to his philosophy, we all live in a private seclusion that can never be protected by the Law or by the Castle.  You should read his books more carefully.”

“My brother was a Zionist when he died.  He knew we would need to fight to protect our culture.  Will you not move to Palestine if Jacob and the Elders can gain permission?”

“I will cross that bridge when we come to it.  I agree with your brother in one of his aphorisms.  In fact, I have it engraved on a plaque and placed upon my desk at the bank.  It reads, ‘I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.’  My love, I am afraid you are now headed into that darkness.”

***  

My daughters will not take this well.  We have sheltered them from these kinds of things, and I suppose it’s mostly my fault.  I have only recently been in contact with the larger Jewish community, so Vera and Helene have been brought up as Catholic all their lives, attending Mass with us so as to keep the officials from our door.  Josef has always kept up with the legal developments in Germany, so he was well aware of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws under Hitler’s regime.  

Jacob Edelstein is also aware of the Germans and their laws.  Shortly after he was appointed Elder of the Jewish Council in Terezin, he announced his plan to the other elders and to the entire community at the Old-New Golem Synagogue.  He told us that Hitler and the SS want to use the Jews for cheap labor, and as long as we prove indispensable to their war effort, we will remain valuable.  He also said he would be working to get us passports to Palestine, about which he has worked with them before the war.  He has the contacts and the methods to do it successfully.  I have not told my husband about his secret plan that includes me.  Frankly, I don’t want him getting drunk and letting it out at the beer hall.

Jacob told me that the Germans always work through hierarchies of power.  This includes us, the Jews, who will be their prisoners.  The highest in the Jewish prisoner hierarchy are, of course, the thirteen elders who make-up the Jewish Council.  Among its prisoner population, those Jews who were married to Aryans, such as I, are at the top, along with German military war heroes, and certain important skilled workers.  

Since Jacob has worked most of his life with the Jewish youth, he believes the key to our success is to educate and train all of our young so that they’ll be able to work hard for everyone to gain our passports to freedom, which will be our reward.  Even if some of the lower ranking prisoners don’t get passports, he will be working hard to negotiate the release of the prisoners who are in the upper echelon of our community.  

We’ll be training the others to take our jobs, and the Germans will have a constant replenishment of new workers to fill the positions left behind after we’ve made Aliyah to the Holy Land.  The Germans will get the productivity of our hard work, and then they will no longer have us living in Czechoslovakia.  The Jews will have a new homeland, and the Germans will have their racial purity.  I must admit.  There is a certain genius to his plan.  Jacob told me I will be working in the main barrack with the girls.  Male and female will be separated to ensure productivity, although I understand human nature, and the social reality will be quite different, one would suspect.

I love writing near the window.  I have always been like my brother in that we need the vision of Nature in order to channel our thoughts, no matter how absurd, dark or frivolous.  In the end, the frivolity of life wins, although we may not.  Just imagine all the infinite reality of existence.  Our little planet does not suffice to make us whole.  We must always join in the miracle of the never-ending process of God’s glory.  It is not a moral question.  

My poor brother and, to an even greater extent, my husband, both need the finite with which to grapple, and they quickly lose patience with the infinite.  I believe most men obsess over the finite all around us.  They want to argue it out, provide a conflict, a reason for a fight, or an existentially absurd obstruction.  We women have always been the peacemakers, attempting to create a path of communications between everything—not just the rich and powerful—and to see the glorious, infinite possibilities in each blade of grass, each child of sentient beings, and the momentary pause that it takes to recognize that one needs a violent act to create evil.  We should never kill over land, religion or culture, but it happens constantly.  

It is not the war around me that frightens me most.  It is the constant insistence that might makes right and that power is the ultimate answer to differences in opinion.  Wars begin from this, and unless we treat the underlying problem, war will remain forever a symptomatic means to an end.  The underlying problem is the desire to force others to do our will.  Hitler’s opus presupposes that it was his will alone that was able to triumph over his adversities.  Never does one’s lonely will become a victor without the peaceful cooperation and help of others of all differences and all walks of life.

***

The Stromovka Park Trade Fair Grounds is waiting for Ottla and her family to finish their last goodbyes.  The Industrial Palace, which was built in 1891 for National Exhibition, served as the memorial to Prague’s entry into world commerce.  Today, in 1942, the flags of the Third Reich and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, fly on poles on either side of the Palace entrance, with its bombastic Art Nouveau spires and two columns, padded with green rotundas at the top, and the metal grating—like the teeth of an industrial monster--covering the frontage of the clock and the space between the columns.  This grand structure all faces forward, at attention, as one comes into the park, as if welcoming human progress and the blitzkrieg at the same time.    

The place where Ottla David-Kafka will go, along with the other Jews scheduled for transport by train to Bohusovice, is a small lot enclosed with a brick fence topped with barbed wire.  It is located some 100 kilometers from the Industrial Palace.  This small abyss, in the center of town, informs all visitors with a sign that states, “Attention!  All Jews Transported Here!  All Others Keep Out!”

***

Vera and Helene were having a tug-of-war with the photo album.  Each wanted to choose the pictures their mother would be taking with her to Terezin.  

Ottla was slowly and methodically placing the vital personal items she was taking with her into a small valise.  It had a flowered pattern and opened wide with polished wood clasps in the center.  It had been her mother’s, who had used it when she took weekend trips with Hermann to visit relatives in Berlin.  As her kin behaved nervously, Ottla was calm.  

Josef was fiddling with some kind of shoe polish, testing it with his finger, smelling it, and then cursing under his breath.  “This won’t do, dammit!  You’ll be slogging through those damned puddles at the Bohusovice train station.  Your shoes must be waterproofed!”

Ottla saw the first vision of her brother, Franz Kafka, as she was hugging her husband goodbye.  She looked over Pepa’s shoulder, and there he was.  He appeared as the young man of the days she spent with him in Zürau, where she was living during her attempt to become a farmer.  The tuberculosis hadn’t taken a firm hold on his body, and he was the same thin, smiling and relaxed brother who made her heart fill with joy when she was with him.  He wore a dark suit, white shirt and tie.  

As a man, Franz had always been the exact opposite of their father.  Whereas Hermann was strict with the servants at home and with the employees at their family’s store, calling them “lazy louts,” and “thieves behind my back,” Franz would always smile and ask them how their families were doing and if he could do anything to help them on the job.  In a way, Ottla had always believed she let her brother down when she dropped out of agricultural college and married Josef.

“Ottla!  What are you staring at?  You have to be at the Fairgrounds in an hour, so you had better get going.  Girls, take your mother’s valise.”

The blonde, older girl of 21, Vera, brought the collection of photographs over and stuffed them into the valise.  Both she and her sister, Helene, 19, were wearing yellow summer chiffon dresses, with white lace and brown buttons down the front.  Helene most resembled her mother, as she was a bit plump with black hair and those penetrating Kafka brown eyes.  However, it was Vera, tall, thin and vegetarian like her mother, who most resembled Ottla’s personality.  She was constantly bringing home stray animals to take care of, and she always had a food hand-out for the beggars she met on her trips to the store for her mother.

“Mama, we chose the best photographs for you to take.  Papa doesn’t need them.  They are wedding photos and the ones taken just after we were born.  And the ones taken when Uncle Franz visited—even the one of him holding me when I was two.  You said I would rub my palm on the tip of his nose, and he would make a motor boat sound with his lips.”

“Enough!  Get going now.”  Josef walked over to the door, opened it, and held it for his girls.  His face became very stern; his forehead, cheeks and neck reddened, and his upper lip began to quiver slightly.  After the girls passed him, and Ottla passed over the threshold, he suddenly grabbed his wife by her shoulders and pulled her body against his.  “I will get you out of there, Ottla, my love!  I promise.  We will fight them until they are run out of Czechoslovakia forever!  Yes, and I put candle wax on your shoes.  They are now weatherproof, by God!”

Ottla pulled back from her husband, but she was looking beyond him, at the vision of her brother standing there in the middle of the living room.  “Forever is a long time, Pepa,” she said, and she kissed him, tasting the pipe tobacco and remembering the spring day, in 1920, when he had first kissed her after the theater.  Franz had fought with her against their father to allow Ottla to marry the Roman Catholic Gentile.  “There are now no more Kafkas left in Prague.  My sisters have gone, and now I am the last to go.  I will write, my love.  The girls will watch after you, I promise.”

As the two daughters and their mother, Ottla, walked into the Fairgrounds, they began to mingle with about a thousand other Jews, who were queuing up at the table where all the papers were being processed for the trip to Terezin.  Ottla could hear the small talk of the crowd as she stood there, and she could also see her brother, Franz, who was now standing in front of the big steam train engine that would take them all to their destination.  As she was married to an Aryan, Ottla got preferential treatment.  She was even allowed to take 50 crowns with her, although one of the SS guards told her in German that there were plans to have a special money printed for life in the “spa” at Terezin, as he called it.  The little Jewish town was to have its own bank, its own Jewish government, and would represent all that was best, as a gift from “das Fuhrer, Herr Adolph Hitler.”

“Mama, we want to go with you!”  Vera was clutching at Ottla’s sleeves.  “Papa will just make us work all the time.  We’ll never get a chance to see anybody.  You’ll be in your own town created just for you!”

The supervisor of the processing center overheard the girls as he was going through Ottla’s papers.  He had the Hitler mustache, and the two lightning bolts on the collar of his grey uniform, representing an official of the SS, or Schutzstaffel.  He smiled at Vera, “Miss, you and your sister are only half Jewesses.  One must be one hundred percent Jew to live in Theresienstadt spa.”

Ottla held both of her daughters in her arms as she bade them farewell.  “Vera, you must watch over Helene.  You know how she likes to fight and get into trouble, just like her father.  One in the family who goes to prison is quite enough for now.  I love you both so very much!  Make me proud of you.  I will write soon, and you must reply immediately to tell me how you are doing in school.”

The supervisor stood with Ottla’s daughters, as they were now crying, as the fifty-year-old mother climbed aboard the train into the first car.  There was room enough for all, and it was quite hot, being August, but everybody on board was polite and optimistic, as they were the preferred group of Class A prisoners.  As she settled into her seat next to the window, however, Ottla again saw the image of her brother, who was now looking up at her, standing directly beneath the car she was now in.  He was not smiling.  His stare was the way he always looked at her whenever she had to get up at seven in the morning to be the first to open the family’s haberdashery.  Franz knew his ten-year-old sister would be spending eight to twelve hours each day slaving for their father in that store, and he pitied her.

***

From the first day of my life here in this converted fortress, I have lived in the Magdeburg Barracks where the Jewish Council of Elders resides.  I see one or more of the elders every day, on my way from my new home or upon returning from my job in the Girls’ School in Building L-410 located next to the Catholic Church on Hauptstrasse, the main street of the ghetto. This was the home for Jewish girls from 8 to 16 years of age. The older girls, aged 14 to 16, had to work during the day, but still took classes at night. When I pass an elder, he will always address me by name, in German, as this is the language of the upper classes here.

Yes, and Franz’s ghost (I no longer believe he is simply a hallucination) is here with me, and we are on speaking terms since the first day my class of girls was deported on a train headed east.  The official word from the Council of Elders, who were responsible for making the lists for the Germans and the SS, was that the children were going to the new ‘Family Camp’ that had been constructed in Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp in Poland, where they would continue their education while their parents worked.  When Paul Eppstein told me this, I heard laughter behind him.  Standing in the corner was my brother, Franz, and he was laughing uproariously at what Eppstein was telling me.  I waited until Eppstein left my bedroom cell in Magdeburg Barracks before I spoke to Franz, who was still standing there, perhaps a bit evanescent, yet still real.

‘Why do you laugh?  Indeed.  Why are you here?  Are you going to torment me until I die?  Isn’t it bad enough I can only write 30 words on a postcard to Josef, Vera and Helene?  Now I have to live each day with the ghost of my pessimistic brother?’

Franz smiled his usual condescending grin reserved for me.  ‘Ottillie.  Did you read the Parable of the Law in my novel?  The Law that is meant for you is the same law that condemns you to death.  The State has the supreme power over its citizens, and we merely attempt to unravel the complex web of lies to find the Truth for our individual life.  Can’t you see it all for what it is?  The Jewish Elders are the puppets of the German puppet master, Herr Hitler.  You are existing in his little charade of a ghetto until the call comes down to send Jews to the east.  Work will make you free?  Work will also kill you!  Do you know how many workers died before I invented my hat made of steel for the foundries in Prague?  Thousands each year!  I was given a bonus of 100 Crowns from my employer, the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute, for my invention.  Did my invention save me from being cut-down in my early youth by disease?  No!  But it did allow more steel to be forged to build the monstrous machines of war and the buildings of capitalistic gamblers who keep the profits away from those hard-hatted puppets inside those stifling foundries of perdition.  Many millions more could die on the battlefields and from the work, so my contribution meant little in the end.  The clock ticks for you, alone, my love.  Don’t let these puppet Jews make you believe in their charade.  It will, alas, eventually mean the death of you!’

Franz disappeared, but his words stayed with me all that week, until I was told a story by a woman who played the piano for all the concerts held in the Culture House on Langestrasse.  Her name was Alice Sommer, and she was the most beautiful person I have ever met.  Not just her physical beauty, mind you, as she was not a film star beauty; it was her person, her spirit, and the way she looked at life that made me love her almost instantly.  She wore a long blue dress and pearls around her neck.  Her dark hair and eyes penetrated mine the way Franz’s always did, but in a different way.  My brother always made me feel as if he were ripping the flesh off my bones to leave my white skeleton.  Alice’s gaze felt like a penetration into my very soul.

She had lived in Prague but spoke German, mostly, and her mother was very intellectual, so she was able to meet many famous people, including Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Franz Werfel, and, as she informed me that day, my older brother.

‘Kafka was a slightly strange man. He used to come to our house, sit and talk with my mother, mainly about his writing. He did not talk a lot, but rather loved quiet and nature. We frequently went on trips together. I remember that Kafka took us to a very nice place outside Prague. We sat on a bench and he told us stories’

I asked her how she was getting on in the ghetto, and she smiled.  She was able to live with her son, Raphael, in a private cell, and most of her relatives were able to escape to Palestine before the war.  Her husband, Leo, was sent to Dachau.  When I asked her about how she liked giving concerts in the hall, she lit up like an air-raid searchlight and said, ‘We have to play because the Red Cross will come three times a year. The Germans want to show its representatives that the situation of the Jews in Theresienstadt is good. Whenever I know that I have a concert, I am happy. Music is magic. We perform in the council hall before an audience of 150 old, hopeless, sick and hungry people. They live for the music. It is like food to them. If they weren’t able to come to hear us, they would have died long before.’

When I told her about my class of girls being deported to the east, she just nodded her head slowly, and said, ‘What did you do with them, Ottla?’

‘I just taught them the basics.  You know, how to add and subtract.  How to read with emotion.’

‘Knowledge is also sweet, like candies.  The appreciation of what you did for them will be seen in their daily lives as they find the skills useful.  Whether they think about you, or not, what you gave them will be with them forever.’

‘But, forever is the problem, Fraulein Sommer.  What if the rumors are true?  What if the Germans are sending our children to their deaths?’

Alice Sommer stopped smiling, and yet there was that magic glittering in her blue eyes.  ‘In God’s mind, there is no time.  Herr Einstein says it’s true, no?  We impose the limits on time that really don’t exist.  Therefore, quality of time spent becomes more important than how long it lasts, does it not?  The highest mitzvah is the good deed we do that is completely anonymous.  The only credit we receive is in the act of making the magical music or teaching the magical knowledge to the young ones.  If our audiences appreciate us for that time, then it is reward enough.  If they do not, then they must have a personal reason for doing so, and it is in God’s hands, nevertheless.  Yahushua oversees eternity.  Never forget that, young lady!’

Alice Sommer invited me to come to the theater that night to watch a play written by another Kafka, whose name was Georg.  As it turned out, he was a distant cousin of ours.  The play being presented was a one act feature called The Death of Orpheus.  I told her I would be very happy to attend, even if it was just to be able to see her once again.  We kissed, and I was balanced once more, tilting away from my brother’s pessimism, like a sunflower that moves with the sun.

***

At the presentation of The Death of Orpheus, Ottla sat next to her new friend and spiritual mentor, Alice Herz-Sommer.  Most prisoners were never able to get a ticket to the Cultural Theater.  However, the songs, the plays and the concerts were memorized and repeated by the fortunate Jews who were able to attend, so that there was a constant recreation of what had transpired, giving those outside the preferred minority a brief taste of joy.  Most of the plays were comedies and musicals, and there was even a jazz band.  That evening, when fifty-one-year-old divorcee and mother, Ottla David-Kafka, became mesmerized by the twenty-one-year-old playwright and actor, Georg Kafka, the play was a tragedy.

Ottla could not take her eyes off the young man playing Orpheus on the stage.  Except for his curly black hair, he could have been the twin of her Franz.  In fact, as her eyes moved from the stage to the corner where the musicians were accompanying the presentation, she saw her brother’s ghost once more.  He was standing directly behind the cellist, a famous musician who used to play for the Prague Philharmonic.  The cello was always Franz’s favorite instrument, as he said it produced the “chords of sadness” that his heart contained.  It was the final scene, and Georg was seated on the floor of the stage, his head down, his arms enveloping his head as if he were ensnared in some kind of trap.  As the cello played, a gift of a golden lyre is handed to our hero on stage by a servant.  It is from his lost love, Eurydice, who was banished to the Underworld when she made the mistake of looking back as he was attempting to rescue her.  In the Bible, Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and Gomorrah and is changed into a pillar of salt.  

Ottla believed those women in Terezin, who looked back to Prague or to their former lives, were also cursed in some cruel way.  Her daily postcards to her daughters were tiny daggers that tore into her heart, as she knew she could not see them, touch them or hear their voices.  There was nothing—even art—that could replace the joy of being in person with the ones you love.

This was what the young man’s one-act play was all about.  Earlier in the play, Orpheus’ mother tries to talk him back to life, but it does not work, but the gift of the lyre tears into Orpheus’s melancholy state of mind, and he immediately jumps up and begins to play.  A frenzy of music and dancing ensues, until from the wings of the stage, come the wild women, the Maenads, the followers of Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility, wine and art.  They cavort in a turmoil around Orpheus, tearing at his toga with their hands, screaming in ecstatic passion, until the lights die down, leaving Orpheus dying and alone.  However, the light shines upon the golden lyre, leaving Orpheus alone in his agony, and providing the audience with the final image of hope.

When Alice introduced Ottla to the young actor and playwright following his production, it was he who became entranced.  “You are Ottla Kafka?  Was your brother Franz?”  When she nodded, he became immediately animated.  “He is the greatest artist of the century!  He predicted the rise of the totalitarians, and his novel, The Trial, shows how one person can be judged guilty just for being born, just as Jews are being judged today.  What a prophet he was!”

“Yes, but you didn’t have to live with him,” Ottla smiled.  “I’m afraid much of what my brother wrote was probably because of his personal insecurities and fears.  True.  I supported his art, and I saw in it a value that went beyond time, but he may have been haunted more by the goals he could not accomplish while he was alive.  Speaking of being alive, what do you do when you’re not on stage dying the agonizing torture of the lovelorn?”

“I teach the boys.  I was a teacher before I was arrested, so they gave me this job to do.  My mother, Sarah, is with me as is my father.”

“Do you believe the rumors concerning the eastern camps?  That they are nothing more than death camps and that the Germans are killing Jews by the thousands every day?”

“I believe in the wisdom of your brother’s story, ‘In the Penal Colony.’  Did you read it?”

Ottla nodded in the affirmative.

“When the State gives its bureaucratic members the power over life and death, as the head of the penal colony has in the story, the act of killing with precision and skill becomes more important than the person being killed.  Therefore, your brother, in all his genius, spends much more time and attention describing how the death machine works than he does describing the victim and whether his criminal act was worthy of the death penalty.  In other words, once the order has been given to kill, there are those who will follow orders no matter what.”

“Yes, Franz worked at an accident insurance company.  He was forever going over the blueprints of machines that ran in the factories all over Prague.  In his business, it was not so important to protect the worker from accidents as it was to reduce the cost of injuries that the company had to pay.  The machine of Capitalism always trumped the machine of the human being.”

“That’s why we are so fortunate to be in Terezin.  The Germans need us to show a good face to the world.  The International Red Cross visits, and we are told to act as if we are always well fed and are living the life of luxury.  It is all a drama, and I should know what drama is!  But is not all of life a stage, as Shakespeare called it?  Frau Sommer said you were teaching in the camp.  My children have also been sent on trains to the east.  Would you like to assist me in my attempt to determine what is really happening to our children?”

“You mean, you want to spy on the Council of Elders?”  Ottla’s voice was a whisper.

“I am also a courier for the Council and that gives me access to their offices and other places around the two fortresses.  I have uncovered some information that casts light upon the way lists are created for the deportations.  But now I want to see if another fact I have uncovered is true.”

“What fact?”

“Meet me tomorrow with your dinner ration coupon at the dining hall.  I’ll be standing at the first pillar as you go in.  I shall tell you then.  There are too many German soldiers around here tonight.”  Georg turned his head toward the side of the Culture Theater where four uniformed SS Guards stood smoking.  No prisoners could smoke, so these men looked like a collection of chimneys in a circle.

“All right.  I will be there.  This adds some excitement to our lives, as did your play.  I thank you, Cousin Georg, for both.”

Georg took Ottla’s right hand and brought it to his lips.  “My heart is God’s seal,” he told her.

“How so?” she asked.

“It’s from a poem I am writing.  I tell my students that God places His seal upon our hearts so that we can know we are His children forever.”

“That’s beautiful!  You do have the soul of the poet.  My brother would have enjoyed meeting you.  However, the seal he would point out is the star we have to wear.”

***

As Ottla David-Kafka awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, she found herself transformed in her bed into a gigantic butterfly.  This is how I want to describe my life after meeting Georg and Alice.  As you can see, I have taken my brother’s famous opening line from his novella ‘The Metamorphosis,’ and transformed it to suit my authorial purposes in this journal.  Herr Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, has called Jews ‘vermin’ to be eradicated, so my brother was prophetic when he used this word in his story.  However, because I am living my days in Theresienstadt, ‘Hitler’s Gift to the Jews,’ the insect I have metamorphosed into is much more appropriate to the process my brother was supposedly describing.  In the actual act of metamorphosis, the caterpillar must first become the pupa encased in his shell.  Then, during the miraculous incubation, the insect changes into the beautiful winged Monarch, Painted Lady, Goliath Birdwing or Blue Morpho.  My brother’s metamorphosis never takes place!  Thanks to God, mine did.

My life as a butterfly began on the day following.  I met Georg at the dining hall, under the first pillar.  He did not remark upon my wings, and I did not choose to use them, as yet, but I do believe some of my powdery residue got on his lapels because he brushed them off with his hand.  He told me he had reason to believe that the leader of the Jewish Council of Elders, Jacob Edelstein, was behind the transports of both the elderly and the children to the east.

After eating, I journeyed with him to the office of Edelstein.  I believed my heart’s joy was going to be brief, as is the time on this Earth of the butterfly, and I wanted to enjoy every second I could of this new life.  Even when he handed me the written proof that our elder leader had planned out the dietary rules of the ghetto, and he had also signed off on the transports of the elderly and children to the east, I still didn’t believe these were evil acts.  Georg said, ‘Come with me,’ and that’s when I was taken to the large fortress, where I saw how the elderly were living.

We knew our little paradise for the Jews was a charade.  We worked in civilian clothes, yet the Jewish star was on the pockets of our coats.  We believed our Czech leader, Edelstein, was in charge, but the fact was that Herr Eichmann had given two other Jews, Paul Eppstein of Berlin, and Benjamin Murmelstein of Vienna, more power over the choice of who was deported.  Therefore, more Czech Jews were being deported by the Council, and as I saw, our grandmothers and grandfathers were being slowly starved to death, and they lived in damp, disease-ridden squalor inside the basement of that fort.  I saw it with my own eyes.  Distinguished Czech war heroes, professors emeritus from universities, doctors and attorneys, who were now groveling on the ground in the sawdust of the military encampment.  Packed into the casements meant for cannons were the bodies of the best Judaism had to offer.

Georg told me that he had seen the orders to the Council that explained how the elderly were being tricked in order to turn over their fortunes to the German regime before their transport to our ghetto in Terezin.  To maintain the illusion for domestic consumption, regional German authorities lulled the elderly, war veterans, and prominent personages with ruses such as home purchase contracts, ‘deposits’ for rent and board, inducements for future ‘residents’ to sign life insurance policies over to the German state.  All of this money, as the Council knew, would be funneled back into the government of the Jewish Council in order to improve the living conditions of the young workers.  So, this was the humanitarian plan that the great Czech Jew, Jacob Edelstein, had negotiated! Seeing these elders, and how they had to exist, made me sick to my stomach.

My wings, thank God, took me out of there.  I flew up into the rafters of the fortress basement, toward the light coming from the transoms, but I could not escape the stench of the dying bodies, their excrement, and I could not stop hearing their cries of tortured agony as they squirmed like disease-infested vermin on the floors of that dark cavern of infamy.

Finally, I found a way to fly out of that room, and I soared, up the stairs, passing other elderly, probably demented, as they wandered about, talking to themselves, to lost relatives, to an angry God who would do this to them.

When I landed, I was in the office of Jacob Edelstein once more.  George was opening the locked drawer of his boss’s desk from a key he obtained that was hanging on the bedpost inside Edelstein’s bedroom in the Magdeburg Barracks.  Inside that drawer, Georg extracted three magazines that depicted men having sexual relations with young boys.  

When the young teacher turned toward me, my gaze was frozen on those images as if I were being tortured.  ‘I can see why he might prefer the young over the old,’ was what Georg said.  This young artist with the pure heart had transformed into the ghost of my Franz!  He had that same mocking grin and desperate, penetrating gaze.

I screamed, and I flew out of that room.  I began to fly toward the only place where I could keep my sanity.  I fluttered down and through the doors of the Cultural Theater.  There she was!  Alice Sommer was playing the piano, alone, practicing for her next concert.  As I flew above her, I watched her hands as they glided over the keys, knowing precisely how to touch them, how to bring the right notes from the piano that would depict the angelic music of Beethoven’s Symphony Number Nine, in B minor, Opus 25.  The ‘Ode to Joy.’  

Was this the only place in the world where freedom could exist?  Was she the summer of hope inside our insane asylum?  I did not know the answer, but I still knew how to fly away to escape the madness of reality.  The Embellishment was coming, and the ones who tried to stop it would be sent to the east.  The three wise men came from the east to bring gifts for the baby Jesus, the Jew who was to redeem us all.  But we, who are still waiting for a personal redemption, will have to be satisfied with a seal from God, which marks us as chosen, which marks us to live in a covenant for eternity.

* * *

On All Souls’ night inside the city of Prague, two young women are standing by the fire with their father, a law-abiding Catholic gentleman, who watches over his daughters like they are precious jewels. The older daughter, Vera, skips into the center of the living room and fastens her hands on one of the four wooden chairs that have been hauled in from the kitchen earlier by their father.

“This is Mama. See how the cushion glows? I sewed it myself!”

The younger girl, Helena, runs over to another chair and plops her behind on its cushion. “Papa! I am sitting on your spirit!”

The father, Josef, tears in his eyes, wonders what his wife is doing now. He knows she is in the best camp, and he also knows his wife has divorced him. Why does he still miss her? The touch of her tender hand, the warm glow of her dark face as she works in the garden, sews at her machine; all of these memories flood his mind at once.

Divorce you, my Ottla? Never in a million lifetimes!

On All Souls’ Day, the living souls are supposed to pray for the spirits of the dead, who have yet to see God, but the spirit of one Ottla David permeates this little home with loneliness and fear.  All three of these praying family members take turns sitting in the chair of their missing loved one, and they cry out in agony, and beseech God, as the winds blow snow into drifts on the streets outside, creating barricades of white.

***

Moshe, a blond and blue-eyed little boy,  tries to sit up straight the way the driver of the bus sits. He pretends to turn the wheel as the bus rolls down the road. He sees the man turn toward him, and he smiles and holds up his fingers—all of the ones on his right hand and the thumb on his left hand. “I’m six!” Moshe tells the driver.

“That’s good! Are you the driver now?” the bus driver asks.

Moshe says nothing, but he stares out through the driver’s window at the road and concentrates on his imaginary wheel with all his might. When Moshe sees his parents in the road about to be hit, he screams, “Watch out! Don’t hit them!”

The driver again turns toward him and frowns. “What’s the matter, little fellow? Are you seeing things that aren’t there? It will soon be All Souls’ Day, and I guess you’re seeing some spirits. Is that it? Do you see ghosts, my little man?”

Moshe nods his head vigorously up and down.

The black bus drives into the camp with the fifty orphaned children of the wealthy. Ottla watches the children as they exit.  She smiles.  More students.  They are soon followed by the trainload of 1,210 other children from poor parents, but they are still orphans, and that is why they are at the best camp of them all in Prague.  Only the exclusive citizens are allowed into this camp, and the new Elder Leader, Paul Eppstein,  is there with his team of doctors to greet them.

Moshe watches the other children file out of the bus. He doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay with the driver and learn to drive.

When he hears the commotion outside, however, Moshe decides to leave his seat and look at what is happening.

The other children, who are all strangers to Moshe, are stomping their feet, weeping, and trying to run away. The uniformed men are the same ones who were at his parents’ house, and Moshe’s heart begins to quicken its beats in his narrow chest, as he watches them herd the children.

From the back rows of camp citizens, comes a dark woman with piercing brown eyes and raven hair. She also has a streak of white that runs through it, from the top of her forehead to the end of the long tresses that hang down her back. These people wear fashionable clothing, and Moshe thinks they might be rich like his parents.

The woman speaks to the camp Elder, and he in turn speaks to the officers in charge. They all circle away from the hundreds of children, and Moshe can hear them arguing.  The Camp Elder tells the dark woman, “Go ahead, Ottla.  You tell them.”

The woman speaks to them, and her voice is calm and reassuring. Moshe instantly remembers his own mother’s voice, and his heart lessens its frantic pace.

“Children. Because it is All Souls’ Day tomorrow, we shall be going on an adventure! Fifty-three of us will accompany you to your new homes in Sweden and Denmark. We shall load you all now, and we will be leaving in two hours. I will meet you inside the train, and we will be on our way.” The woman turns to go, and the children all cry out in joy.

Moshe, too, believes this woman, and he promptly gets into the queue that is forming nearest him. His long pants, boots, wool coat, and little grey cap are all he needs.

Ottla quickly writes a postcard to her husband and two daughters: “Es geht mir gut” (“I am fine”) it says.

Inside the boxcar, the woman who spoke to the other adults smiles down at Moshe. He sees the silver light from the racing moon shine upon her face through the boxcar’s slits. She is a living spirit, and he asks, “Can I drive a bus when we get to Sweden?”

“Yes, you certainly can. What’s your name?” she asks him.

“Moshe.  Moshe Benjamin Abramowitz,” he says.  “I’m six.”

“Nice to meet you, Moshe. My name is Ottla Kafka David.”

***

After many hours, Moshe’s eyes slowly open. He stares up at the woman, who is now crying, standing between the open doors of the boxcar.  She is facing him, so he can barely make out her features.

Behind her, the moon is full, and below the moon are soldiers standing in the snow. With each soldier is a dog. Each dog is barking loudly, and Moshe puts his hands over his ears to stop the noise.  These are the same kinds of dogs that were there on the night they took his parents. Behind it all is a smokestack gushing smoke.

“Lies!” The dark woman screams, and she covers her mouth with both hands, and she sobs into them.

In the corner of the boxcar, as they are all stumbling down the improvised wood ramp, to the snow, Moshe sees a strange man, a very thin man, with dark hair, standing in the cold shadows. The light of the full moon radiates his face.  Is he a ghost?  He smiles at Moshe, and there is something in that smile that makes the boy feel warm.  The boy wonders why this man stays inside the boxcar.

Moshe feels a hand take his.  It is once again the dark woman who screamed, and the boy’s fear gradually subsides, until they are both standing in a queue leading into the camp beyond.  Moshe’s eyes are fixed on the snarling dog alongside the queue.

A soldier takes their two hands—the boy’s small hand and the dark woman’s larger one—and he yanks them apart.  Moshe is ordered to go his way, with the other children, to the Children’s Camp, “das kinderlager,” the soldier tells him, and the dark woman goes her way, with the other adults.  Moshe supposes his bus driving will have to wait until morning.

Moshe looks up at the full moon, bulging in the sky above everything, and the face he sees on the surface of the yellow moon looks exactly like the man’s face he saw inside the boxcar.  Again, the boy feels warmth, and so he bravely walks on through the snow and slush.

When he turns around to see where the dark woman who cried was, in the adult queue, Moshe suddenly remembers her name.  Ottla.  “Ottla!” Moshe shouts into the freezing air.  There is no answer, so he turns back around.

Moshe looks up into the night sky once more.  The smiling face of the moon man from the boxcar grins down at him, so he does what children and most humans do, he smiles back.  “Nice to meet you, sir,” says Moshe, and he tips his little cap toward his new friend, and he continues to walk, waiting patiently for the moon man’s response.  The voice whispers to the boy, from the silence of the stars, “My seal is on your heart, and you are mine … forever.”

With this new information, Moshe gains strength, and his steps are made the way he used to see his father make them as he led the family to shul.  The boy lifts his feet high, and he takes bold strides, leading these children, who all have seals on their hearts, and who are now his new family, into their kinderlager, their new shul.

 

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Shared Photos Sat, 02 Dec 2017 12:25:55 EST
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Shared Photos Sat, 09 Sep 2017 18:05:37 EDT
Photo shared: Ellen.jpg http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeFamilyPhotos&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=photo5200648 Ellen's Facebook photo.

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Shared Photos Sat, 09 Sep 2017 18:01:54 EDT
Photo shared: Family w Ellen.jpg http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeFamilyPhotos&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=photo5200647 Ellen with her family near the end.

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Shared Photos Sat, 09 Sep 2017 18:00:39 EDT
Photo shared: ottla and franz.jpg http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeFamilyPhotos&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=photo5197341 Ottla Kafka-David and her brother, Franz

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Shared Photos Thu, 07 Sep 2017 15:24:34 EDT
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Shared Photos Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:14:32 EDT
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Shared Photos Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:13:26 EDT
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Shared Photos Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:11:35 EDT
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Shared Photos Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:10:42 EDT
Condolence From antoinette goodbody http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeCondolenceView&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=condolence10720972 Condolences Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:08:34 EDT Photo shared: Antoinette.JPG http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeFamilyPhotos&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=photo5195923 Ellen, Celine and her Mom, Antoinette

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Shared Photos Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:08:06 EDT
Photo shared: P1010008.JPG http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeFamilyPhotos&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=photo5195921 Ellen at Passover, 2011

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Shared Photos Thu, 07 Sep 2017 00:05:25 EDT
Condolence From Kirin Farquar http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeCondolenceView&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=condolence10720634 Condolences Wed, 06 Sep 2017 20:10:32 EDT Story shared: Ante Up http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeFamilyStories&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=story6766685    Hey, Jim

     I have just read Oralee's notification to the Departmnt and want to give you a hug, electronic though it

be, and add my good memories of Ellen to your treasure chest of cherished remembrances. I like Ellen.

She always tells her heart and mind in her eyes. They wonderfully register surprise, concern, delight,

irritation, but never a trace of a dark or unworthy emotion.  They reveal exactly what she is feeling and

thinking. I.truly regret that we never sat down to a few hands of poker; those eyes would tell me

whenever she was holding aces full or a trifling set of deuces, a refreshing change.

     I cannot be with you tomorrow. I am a new greatgrandpa and have my time tied up there, but

I will be thinking of Ellen and you tomorrow at 11:30 and shall give a fond kiss to my girl for yours. 

I know that her memory will see you through this immediate parting ad partner you lovingly through

the years.

                     Homer

   

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Shared Photos Wed, 06 Sep 2017 16:23:09 EDT
Condolence From Karl Sherlock http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeCondolenceView&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=condolence10718606 Condolences Tue, 05 Sep 2017 18:59:34 EDT Photo shared: P1010009.JPG http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeFamilyPhotos&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=photo5193472

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Shared Photos Tue, 05 Sep 2017 18:58:55 EDT
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Shared Photos Tue, 05 Sep 2017 18:56:30 EDT
Story shared: Another Day with Ellen http://amisrael.frontrunnerpro.com/runtime/113698/runtime.php?SiteId=113698&NavigatorId=1293012&ItemId=3121344&op=tributeFamilyStories&viewOpt=dpaneOnly&gid=story6766645  

It’s another moment-to-moment day with my wife, Ellen.

These minutes become enlarged, filled with joy and expectation,

As a smile erupts in the morning from her lips.

She has done this for twenty-two years.

Giving me a reason to march into the fray,

Create a new day for myself and for others.

She still makes every moment a new moment with the twinkle in her eye,

Hazel, like mine, passionate and compassionate and life-sustaining,

Matching the sunrise of each day and making the moonbeams dance each night.

Ellen will always be in my heart and soul, keeping the day alive and spirited.

My love, be well, and have a great moment-to-moment birthday!

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Shared Photos Tue, 05 Sep 2017 18:53:15 EDT
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Shared Photos Tue, 05 Sep 2017 05:11:38 EDT