After the freedom I experienced on Monday spending the day with Max in the city and at his clandestine meeting, the rest of the week proved to be very boring. Father told Mother that she and I shouldn’t leave the building without him or Max. He gets to go out to work. Max sleeps late, eats lunch, and then disappears for the rest of the day. That leaves Mother and me to create ways to make the time pass more quickly. I do want to spend any more time with my school-books because, if classes really do start up again on Monday, I don’t want to be too far behind.
Finally, something exciting happened. Peter called me Thursday afternoon. I answered the phone and Mother kept asking me who I was talking to. “Just a friend from school,” I kept repeating, becoming more annoyed with each inquiry. Peter and I talked for a little while about what we’ve been doing since the invasion, but Mother, even though she pretended to be busy, was listening to the conversation. Peter and I made plans to meet for lunch on Saturday.
Just as I hung up the phone Father came through the door. “Why are you home so early?” Mother asked.
“Turn on the radio,” he replied as he turned it on himself.
The local stations were still only broadcasting sporadically, first under German control and then under Russian control. We’re still receiving a signal from London. Warsaw has fallen! The Polish government-in-exile is expected to surrender. We aren’t completely surprised, but it’s still shocking news.
“What will happen now, Father?” I asked.
“That’s a good question, sweetie,” Father replied, caressing my cheek. “For now, we still have to deal with the occupying Russians. Beyond that, I have no idea.”
Mother is trying to hold back her tears. “Michal, can you take me over to my father’s apartment? I want to make sure he heard the news and that he’s alright.”
“Of course, we’ll go over right now, and then I’ll walk you back home. Helena, will you be okay by yourself for a little while?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll keep the radio on while you’re gone and give you an update if I hear anything new.”
They grabbed their coats and left. Ah, alone time.
Shortly after my parents left, Max returned home. “Did you hear the news?” he asked.
“Yes, we heard a little while ago. Mother and Father went over to check on Grandpa Nick. What do you think will happen next?”
“There’s no way to know for sure. I was with my friends at the library when our friend Jakov arrived with the news. We were all quiet at first, then we all began speaking at once. The consensus is that Poland would have to deal with being divided and occupied once again, and that we shouldn’t trust that the Germans or the Russians will honor any agreements made between them regarding Poland.”
I nodded and sighed but couldn’t stop myself from asking if Peter was there.
Max smiled. “Yes, Peter was there. He told me that you two have a lunch date planned for Saturday. Did you tell Mother and Father yet?”
“No. Not yet. We had just finished our telephone conversation when Father came rushing in with the news of the surrender. What do you think they’ll say?”
“It’s hard to say with everything else going on. I tease Peter but he’s a good guy. I’ll make sure they know that.”
“Thank you. I’ll try to tell them tonight at dinner.”
We sat together on the sofa, listening to the news. Many Polish soldiers and civilians were killed during the siege at Warsaw, and sections of the city are in ruins. The Germans have also taken a lot of prisoners, but some of the soldiers were able to escape to the east, presumably into Soviet territory. They’ll probably join the Russian army if the Germans and Russians come to blows. We hoped to hear more about what action England and France are taking to come to our aid but nothing was mentioned about it. What good are allies if they don’t have our backs?
Mother walked in. “Oh good, Max, you’re home. I assume you heard the news. Your grandfather is very angry at the entire situation. After twenty years of independence, Poland is once again at the mercy of invaders. We tried to talk him into coming here for dinner, but he said that he had made plans with his neighbor for dinner, cards, and listening to the radio. Maybe the two of you can visit him over the weekend. I know that'll cheer him up.” We both agreed. She said that she needed to go lay down for a little while.
“Max, you mentioned your friend Jakov. Is he a Jew?” I asked.
“Yes, he is. Why?”
“I was just wondering. I noticed at Monday’s meeting that you patted him on the back after the mention of how the Germans were treating the Jews. Was his family affected by the Germans during the time they were here?”
“Most of his family is fine. Now they're living on the other side of town in the Jewish neighborhood. His mother’s brother-in-law owned the liquor store that was vandalized on the town square, and he and his family were evicted from their apartment above the store. They weren’t physically injured, just terrified. Luckily they have family to stay with.”
“I’m still not sure how I feel about the Jews,” I commented. “I don’t know any. Mother has some very strong negative opinions about them, but I don’t know why she feels that way. Father seems to ignore her when she expresses an opinion about them. I’ve been meaning to ask Father about it, but he’s been busy. I just don’t understand why people can’t just get along in spite of their differences.”
“It’s a complicated topic, the mistreatment of Jews throughout history. In my opinion, there is usually a bit of truth to every rumor, but those truths have been exaggerated to the point of instigating hatred and violence. I’ve known Jakov for more than a year now, and he’s an honest, smart, hardworking man. None of the stories that we’ve been told about the Jews seem to apply to him. Proof, I guess, that we shouldn’t make assumptions about any one person without getting to know him or her first.”
Max is right. Maybe if I attend another of Max’s meetings, I can speak with Jakov for a while and get to know him. I still want to speak with Father about Mother’s opinion of the Jews, and I’m also curious about his views on the subject.
Mother came out of her bedroom shortly before Father walked through the front door, almost as if she could sense he was coming home and she needed to get dinner ready. It was a quiet meal. Max kept kicking me under the table, prodding me to bring up the subject of Peter. Finally, I kicked him back hard enough for him to wince and that got the attention of our parents.
“What’s going on with you two?” Mother asked. Max smiled. I guess it was time to tell them.
With a deep breath I said “Mother, Father, I want to let you know that I made a date with Max’s friend, Peter. He’s taking me to lunch on Saturday.”
Father carefully placed his fork on his dinner plate and leaned forward, “A date? Who is this Peter person? You’re too young to date.”
“I am not too young to date,” I exclaimed. “You and Mother told me that I could date when I turned sixteen. Well, I’m sixteen now. Besides, it’s just lunch. We’re not running off to get married.”
“Max, who is Peter and how is it that Helena had the opportunity to meet him?” Father asked.
“Peter is a schoolmate. I met him on my first day at the university. We’ve had a lot of classes together, and we belong to the same study group. On Monday, when Helena and I spent the day visiting people, we stopped by the library at the university. I was curious to see if the study group was still meeting and how everyone was doing. That’s when Helena met Peter. Peter is smart and has a good sense of humor. You’ll like him.”
My parents were both quiet for a moment. Then Mother gave Father a nod. “Well, I’m not sure I like this whole dating thing but I guess you are growing up. I want to meet Peter before you go out with him.”
“You'll meet him. He’s picking me up at noon on Saturday.”