And when he did return at night and rang the doorbell (I told him I kept the door locked out of nervousness), I opened the door and let him into a house that gave no hint that there were people living in the basement. It almost made me laugh, sometimes, to think of the absurdity and irony of it. Under any other circumstances, it would have been hilarious, because this was the stuff of farce: upstairs, a deaf and snuffling codger, oblivious to the goings-on at his very feet, and below, the hunted stowaways, dining richly off the major's larder. They were like mice in a cheese shop guarded by a sleeping cat. Under the circumstances, however, I never did get all the way to laughter; a grim smile from time to time was all. This was, after all, a capital crime.
So our new life had begun. I got in touch with Helen when I could, and we both waited anxiously for the day when she could come to visit Henry. It came about a month after moving to the villa, when the major announced one evening that he would spend the next day in Lvov. I was thrilled: He would be gone from early morning until late at night. This was the chance I had been waiting for. It meant Helen could visit her husband. It also meant I could go to Janówka and check on my other friends.
That night, I called the farm where Helen lived. Our conversation was in a code we had worked out long before.
"Will you be able to deliver eggs in the morning?" I asked. "Half a dozen will be fine."
"Six?" Helen repeated. "Yes, I'll be there."
And at six the next morning, with the major already on his way to Lvov, Helen drove up in the farm wagon. She was dressed in a long peasant smock and kerchief. I unlocked the door to let her in, and we quickly exchanged clothes. After I tied the kerchief around my head, I let her through the basement door, closing it behind her. I was sorry to miss their reunion, but I had to be on my way. I smiled as the sound of Henry's shout of joy reached me through the door, and the smile remained on my face as I locked the front door behind me and climbed up onto the dorozka.
I had brought food with me, and a small store of medical supplies. The horse's hooves clop-clopped on the pavement, and I kept the kerchief low over my forehead. There were few people out that early in the morning: an old woman sweeping the street with a worn-out, stubbly broom; a man pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with scrap lumber; another man carrying a ladder. Soon I was out in the country, surrounded by green fields and flowers, with swallows darting over the horse's nodding head in search of flies. I took a roundabout route toward Janówka, but it seemed to be no time before the spire of Father Joseph's little church came into view. I promised myself the reward of visiting with the priest on the way home if I had time, and then clucked the horse on, toward the forest.
As always, the stillness of the trees seemed to fall upon me like a mist. Pine needles muffled the horse's hoofbeats as I drove along the shaded road. I looked right and left as we went forward. To one side, a giant tree long since toppled by wind stretched away into the dimness, its dry roots clawing the air. On the other side, a patch of yellow flowers glowed in a spotlight of sun slanting through the trunks.
The horse started as two bearded men emerged from a thicket of blackberries. They approached the wagon, and my heart lifted when I recognized them: Abram Klinger and Hermann Morris.
"Irene!" they called out.
I scrambled down from the dorozka to embrace them. "How on earth did you know I'd be coming today?" I asked, stepping back to look them over. They looked rough and dangerous: forest men.
"There are always people watching this road," Abram told me. "It was our good luck to see you."
"Sometimes it is someone else's bad luck if we see them," Hermann added.
Excerpted from In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong Copyright© 1999 by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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