Chapter One

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Itzhak leans against his father on a railway platform gripping the rattan suitcase against his chest. The roughness of the twine prickling his chest holds his grandmother's old case from opening unexpectedly. It is very hot. He and his father and the others have been standing there for the whole morning. He'd like to take off his overcoat, his jacket but a glance up at his father tells him this would not be allowed. His father is angry. He is an important man in their village. He helped the authorities organize this evacuation. He was trusted by them. He does not like it that he is now being treated as no better than the other Jews from his district. Itzhak and his father stand within the group and yet somehow apart. His father can stretch out his arms all around and not touch another Jew except for him. It is only an evacuation his father says over and over but he is no longer reassured by the soothing words. He tightens his grip on his father's hand. The zone of isolation frightens Itzhak. A distant whispering like a wind in poplars moves toward them from the western end of the platform. Their heads and bodies turn in question like flowers to the sun for they are starved for information. Ein Zug, a train. Then the train that they thought had come for them passes through the station and is gone. Filled with jeering soldiers who shout obscenities at them and laugh loudly at their wit. Galvanized by the sight of their fighting brothers the guards shake themselves into action and push the Jews of Itzhak's village roughly toward a line of boxcars suddenly there. When the troop train passed, Itzhak thinks. A strong blow on his back knocks him down. His foot catches on a track. His suitcase breaks open. He is afraid. Where is his father? He cannot see his father. A boot comes down hard on his right hand and he is picked up by the scruff of the neck. Leave the suitcase, he is ordered in German. He understands German. The soldier maybe in his early twenties laughs. His red face and glittering eyes show the excitement of the Aktion. He is enjoying himself. Suddenly Itzhak sees his father and pushes through the crowd to him. They are at the side of a waggon now. It smells. Cattle dung covers the floor. He sees that all are being made to leave anything they can't carry into the open blackness of the waggon door. He looks back. Already the soldiers are picking through the litter. His father helps him up first. It is very far to the edge of the door. He reaches down to help his father who has lost his hat. His bald head glistens with sweat around his silk yarmulke. Suddenly Itzhak sees his suitcase in the dirt. He jumps down and runs to it against the stream of stragglers. They are all old these last comers. Where are their children he thinks, their children should be helping them. He falls in the dirt beside his case and takes hold of the soft leather bag with his tefillin and his tallis inside. A shadow cuts the acid-bright sunlight. A soldier towers over him. An officer. He pulls out his pistol cocks it and points it at Itzhak's head. He is very angry this officer. His arm his whole body is shaking. Into the mouth of the gun Itzhak screams his Hebrew name in silence. He closes his eyes. Time is annihilated. Only death is real. His last thoughts are for his father and his already dead mother. He urinates in his fear. He feels a boot kick him opens his eyes and sees the officer standing a few paces from him with his hands on his hips. The gun points toward the waggon. Get on, it says. He limps to the waggon filled with Jews their faces floating pale in the blackness of their coats and the black of the waggon door. His phylacteries and prayer shawl lie forgotten in the dirt. He is helped up by his father and the others. Itzhak sees his father look at his urine stained knickers and then look away in fear and guilt. The door is slammed shut. The druggist's coat is caught. Frantically he tears it loose. Itzhak hears the quiet ripping of the cloth in the bedlam. The dark is asphyxiating. They are so many in the waggon no one can sit. Slowly the crying the angry shouts the prayers subside and silence falls. The line of cattle cars sits on the distant tracks the rest of that day and the next. And the next.

Benjamin Stone opened his eyes. And was awake. He turned his head to to the clock on the nightstand. 5.07. A Friday morning. His last day at the radio station. Eleven days since Miriam left. Fifteen years since he had last consciously thought about the Holocaust.

Without knowing how, he knew he would always be able to remember the dream. It would not flow away like a white snake of smoke from a chimney under a gray sky. Cold sweat dried on his forehead. He relaxed his hands and the trembling of his arms died away. It had not been a nightmare, exactly, like his childhood dreams. He ran his fingers over the eight half-moons that his nails had scored in his palms. He felt detached from this Holocaust dream, the trembling that of another. That worried him. Detachment in him always worried him. Right now he felt detached from everything.