Abram took the horse's bridle and led the wagon off the road, in among the trees. While the horse nosed about among the dry leaves for something green and sweet, we unloaded the dorozka. Abram and Hermann examined my delivery with the eyes of men accustomed to making do.
"Eggs; we'll be glad of those," Abram said, touching one lightly with a dirty finger. He turned over a paper packet of white powder. "Is this aspirin?"
"Yes. I thought you might have use for it," I explained.
Hermann nodded. "Oh, yes. Without doubt. Miriam has a bit of a cold, and this might help."
"Are you all well?" I asked, looking anxiously from one to the other.
"Apart from Miriam, quite well, all things considered," Abram replied. "Summer is good to us. There are berries and mushrooms, and we set snares for rabbits. Sometimes we get fish from the streams."
I had a flash of memories from my days living in the woods with the Polish army, and I shuddered. They might make light of their predicament; I knew how hard their lives had become. And although the land was rich with food now, fall would arrive all too soon, with winter shivering at its heels.
We exchanged news. They were amazed to hear that I was hiding their friends in the cellar of Major Rügemer's house. I tried to play up the farcical elements of the situation, and they allowed themselves a few laughs at the major's expense. They urged me to come deeper into the forest to see their camp, but I was worried about the time.
"Give my love to your wives," I told them, backing the horse and dorozka out onto the road. "I remember you all in my prayers. I'll come as often as I can."
They kissed me again, and told me they would watch out for me every day. I climbed onto the wagon and gathered up the reins, and when I looked again, my friends had disappeared among the trees once more.
The ride home was uneventful. I stopped at the church in the village, but Father Joseph was away, giving last rites to a peasant who had contracted blood poisoning from an accident with his ax. I returned to Ternopol in the hazy light of afternoon, and drew up to the villa.
I sat looking at the door for a few moments, deep in my thoughts. Helen was with her husband; the Hallers and the Bauers had each other; even the Morrises, living as desperate refugees in the forest, had the comfort of family and friends.
And I had never felt so alone. A wave of pity swept over me, and my heart ached for my parents and my sisters. I had sent letters, but I had no idea if they made it to my family; I got none in return -- none ever reached me. I tried to conjure up a picture of my childhood friends, of my family engaged in some pantomime game, or giggling as we stumbled over the lyrics to a half-forgotten song. But I only saw myself, as if from above, sitting alone on the seat of the dorozka, and it seemed to me as if the wagon behind stretched on forever, crowded with people, frightened people who depended on me to bring them safely home. I could not drop the reins. And there was no one who could take them from me, not even for a moment.
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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