Chapter 23: Crucial Decisions
On Christmas Eve the city was covered in a thick white carpet of pristine snow. In the windows of the Christian houses colored candles were flickering. Outside the sounds of bells on the decorated horse-drawn carriages could be heard as they passed between the houses, taking people to and fro.
In Wolf’s house the table was being set to celebrate Lilly’s twenty-third birthday. As much as they tried to cheer each other up, the atmosphere was worrisome and artificial. Lilly wore her festive clothes and put on makeup for the occasion, knowing that Adek would soon be coming holding a bouquet of flowers and perhaps even bring her a small gift. Jerzy went out get firewood while Ida and Pauline checked on the dishes that had been warming since early afternoon.
When the entire family was sitting around the table enjoying the meal, Adek suddenly rose and turned to Wolf who was sitting at the head of the table and asked for permission to speak.
“My dear Wolf,” he began.“I turn to you with a trembling heart, in the hope that your response will not disappoint me.”
Wolf turned serious and could not wait to hear what Adek had to say.“Speak, speak. Don’t keep me in suspense.” he said.
Everybody around the table, including Wolf, were sure that Adek was going to ask Wolf for Lilly’s hand in marriage. But that was not what happened.
“I beg of you to allow me to take Lilly with me to Palestine. My brother and I have decided that we are leaving as soon as we receive the certificates from the Hachalutz organization. That may take several weeks. I implore upon you to permit me to submit an application on behalf of Lilly and let her come along with me.”
Wolf’s face turned red with anger. ”No, no and again, no. I already told your father once that I will not allow her to go to Palestine.”
“What if we get married before our journey?” he asked, as Lilly blushed and leaned over as if looking for Balbina.
“I would be thrilled if the two of you married each other. You know that I love you like a son, but I will not let Lilly go to Palestine. If you want to emigrate to anyplace else, I would not mind, but certainly not a place where there is malaria, typhoid and where you will have no income to support a wife,” Wolf replied.
Adek remained silent and lowered his head. Lilly got up and ran out of the room with Ida following her.
Adek knew that he had lost Lilly forever. He did not tell Wolf that that he already had the certificates in his possession. He knew that Wolf would not change his mind so he decided to leave the house as soon as possible.
He got up, kissed the hand of Paulina, thanked his hosts for dinner and without looking at Wolf he walked out of the house.
A few days later the Zaidenbaum brothers, accompanied by their father Isaac, left for Przemysl, the closest border town, to cross into Lvov in the Ukraine. From there they would go to the port city of Odessa, to take a boat to Palestine.
Adek had given Isaac a letter for Lilly and asked him to get it to her. The next morning Isaac walked to Lilly’s house to deliver the letter.
After knocking several times, Lilly opened the door. She stood in front of him and just stared trying to understand the reason for the visit.
“Has something happened to Adek?” she asked, with visible anxiety.
“No, thank God nothing has happened to him. He left yesterday with his brother and left a letter for you,” he told her as he handed her the letter.
Lily looked at him suspiciously. “Where did he go? When will he be returning?” she asked in a trembling voice.
“He left for Palestine, and said to tell you that he would write to as soon as he arrives,” Isaac replied.
Her meeting with Isaac was a very difficult one for Lilly. She did not read the letter nor did she throw it away. She folded it up and placed it between the pages of a book that was lying in her library; a book called “The History of Spanish Jewry,” written by her great-grandfather Abraham Shalom Friedberg. Lilly had never read the book.
She decided that from that moment on she would devote herself entirely to herself. Perhaps that would take her mind off her love who had just left to a far away land and whom she might never see again.
Lilly called her friend Fela in Warsaw and told her all that had happened. Fela invited her to come and spend time at her home in Warsaw. Lilly immediately accepted. She told her parents that she would be going to Warsaw to be with her friend Fela Goslawska and while she was there she would visit Moses and Cesia.
She hugged her dog Balbina and let her lick her face. Paulina was sitting near the fireplace, and Lilly put Balbina on her lap. The fire was spreading cozy heat throughout the house. At times the temperature in the month of January could drop to as low as minus thirty Celsius.
Lilly borrowed her mother’s silver-colored fox fur coat along with her felt hat with a feather on the side. She wore a red scarf that matched in perfect contrast the grayish color of the coat and the black leather pants she wore on her shapely legs.
Lilly drew a beauty spot on her right cheek, put on sensual red lipstick and looked at herself in the mirror. She put on a fake smile and walked over to her beloved grandmother to say goodbye.
“Grandma, I love you most of all, because you do not interfere in my life, although you are the smartest and have the most experience.”
“It hurts me to see you suffer, but you should know that he will return. The mosquitoes in Palestine are the size of birds, the heat is unbearable and the Arabs walk around the streets with knives killing Jews. There is no work to be found and the British are constantly raiding Jewish homes and arresting people. Wait and see how this pampered young man will quickly return to his father’s house and to you,” Paulina said.
“Do not worry dear Grandma. By the time he gets back I will have had children and you great-grandchildren,” Lilly said with a smile.
“I see you are okay. How are you getting to Kielce?” she asked.
“I assume by bus,” Lilly answered.
When she arrived at the train station, she fortunately did not have to wait too long as the train to Warsaw came on time. Lilly got on and entered a compartment where three young men who had just arrived from Cracow were sitting. The three of them immediately stood up and offered her a seat. She greeted them, thanked them and sat down near the door. The three were college students from Cracow on their way to enjoy themselves in Warsaw.
“I had no idea that in Kielce there are such beautiful girls,” one of them commented to her.
Lilly took a book from her bag and began to read it without even responding to him.
They continued talking amongst themselves about their studies without making any more comments to her.
Lilly, who had been a bit tense earlier on, began to relax and even started stealing glances in the direction of the young men. One of them seemed older than the other two and was also more handsome. He had light-colored hair that was cut very short and he was dressed formally in a gray suit with a matching tie. The other two were dressed casually, but in expensive clothes.
From their conversation she gleaned that the older one, whose name was Henryk, had completed his studies in engineering while the other two, who seemed to be around eighteen years old, were just beginning their schooling.
Henryk felt that Lilly was looking at him and every once in a while their eyes met. Lilly got up and went into the hallway and immediately after, Henryk got up and also went out to smoke a cigarette. Seeing Lilly standing here, he turned to her and said, “I am sorry I did not offer you one,” and handed the pack to her. Lilly took a cigarette; he was quick to light it for her.
He introduced himself to her and said, “My name is Henryk.”
“I am Lilly,” she replied with a smile.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“To Warsaw, to visit a friend I haven’t seen in a long time,” she responded.
“We are going there too; for the fun of it. We do not know the city at all. Do you know where to go in the city to have a good time?” Henryk asked.
“Where will you be staying?” she asked.
“We have reserved rooms in the Hotel Europejski close to Saski Gardens,” he answered.
Lilly realized that the three belonged to the upper class since they were staying at such a luxurious hotel.
“I know several cinemas, a theater, a restaurant or two, a café with a dance club that just recently opened, but not much else. My friend who lives in Warsaw surely knows of many more places,” Lilly answered.
“Then I have no choice but to meet with your friend. Is she as pretty as you are?” he asked
Lilly blushed, which Henryk noticed.
“I gave you a compliment, I did not want to embarrass you,” he said apologetically.
“She’s more beautiful than I am,” she answered.
“Now I am even more curious to hear about places of entertainment in Warsaw,” he said.
When the train arrived at Warsaw Central Station they all got off, as it was the last stop.
Henryk walked alongside Lilly, while the other two walked behind.
“Can I order a taxi for you?” he asked politely.
“No thank you. My friend, Fela, is supposed to meet me right outside the station,” she replied while looking at her watch and walking a bit faster.
“Will you allow me to meet her?” Henryk asked.
“I hope she comes as promised,” Lilly commented.
As they neared the exit, Lilly noticed Fela standing and looking for her among the passengers. She called out her name, ran over to her and they hugged each other for a long time.
Henryk approached them and introduced himself to Fela.
“Forgive my rudeness, but your friend Lilly and I are old acquaintances. We spent several hours on the train from Kielce to Warsaw together in the same compartment.”
Fela looked at Lilly and said laughingly, “You don’t waste any time.”
“May I accompany you young ladies?” Henryk asked.
“We’ll manage by ourselves. Thanks anyway,” Fela said while Lilly pulled her arm.
Lilly turned towards him and shouted, “We will come to visit you at the Hotel Europejski.”
“You have to tell me everything that happened with Adek and all about Henryk. We have a lot to talk about,” Fela said as they got into the taxi.
“I am so glad to see you, my dear Fela,” Lilly said as she hugged and kissed her friend.
The Last Heady Days in Warsaw
The first thing Lilly did when she got to Fela’s house was to call her parents and tell them that she had arrived safely. Next, she called her Aunt Cesia to say hello and tell her that she was in Warsaw.
The two girls then locked themselves in Fela’s room. Lilly was too tired to even talk and to tell Fela everything that had happened to her recently. She fell asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow. Fela covered her with a thick quilt and lay down beside her.
When Lilly woke up it was already noon. She quickly got dressed and got to the living room, where Fela and her mother were sitting and drinking tea next to the fireplace that gave off a warm cozy heat.
“Mrs. Goslawska, how wonderful it is to see you again,” Lilly said and went over and hugged her warmly.
After Lilly had had some honey cake and tea, Fela said, “Let’s go out for a walk Lillinka. After all, we are not going to stay at home all day.”
“Don’t go on any side streets. There are hooligans who roam the streets, especially in the Jewish areas,” Mrs. Goslawska said.
“Don’t worry. Nobody will touch us or do anything to us. If they try, Lilly will swear at them using some juicy Yiddish curse words and they will leave us in peace,” Fela said laughingly as she pushed Lilly to hurry up and leave the house.
“Mother is forever worrying. She forgets that years pass by and I am already twenty-three years old. Her latest worry is that I will never get married. She always finds something to worry about,” Fela said.
“I thought that only caring Jewish mothers worry,” Lilly said, and they both burst out laughing.
“Where shall we go?” asked Lilly.
“You surely want to visit the handsome guy you met on the train. You really liked him.”
“Yes, but first I want to be alone with you. We have a lot to talk about. Let’s go to a café,” Lilly suggested.
“Okay. There is a new café that just opened called, Café Adria, but the truth is that it is better to go there in the evening when they have performances and dancing,” Fela said enthusiastically.
“Let’s go instead to an Italian café, Cukiernia Wloska, and have a coffee with whipped cream topping.”
“I agree,” said Lilly. And so they did.
Afterwards they walked through Wilanow Park, they sat down on a bench overlooking the palace. Lilly told Fela all about Adek and his brother who had decided to go to Palestine, the attacks on Jews in Cracow and about her bitter disappointment when the acting school she attended shut down and she was forced to return to Wloszczowa.
Fela listened to Lilly as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Look,” she said, “Time will pass and one day you will return to the theater. Don’t let it get you down. At present, this is your destiny and you must accept it with love.
“My dear Fela, are you serious?” Lilly interrupted. “Accept everything with love? What kind of love is it when your fiancé leaves you for miserable Palestine.”
“Lilly, I like your fighting spirit. I am sure you can’t wait to meet Henryk,” Fela said as she hugged Lilly.
“Let’s go, I am getting cold,” she said.
As they left the park, they saw a horse-drawn carriage approaching. They stopped it and asked to be taken to the Hotel Europejski.
When they arrived at the hotel and checked with the reception, they were told that Henryk and his friends were indeed registered as guests at the hotel, but were not in their rooms at the moment.
Lilly asked for a piece of paper and wrote a note which she left for Henryk at the reception.
"Please meet us at Café Adria at nine o’clock. Lilly and Fela"
She gave it to the clerk and asked for it to be given to Henryk, but not before pressing her lips, with lipstick on, on the note.
Café Adria was a modern café with a six-piece orchestra and a singer. It also had a large dance floor and occasionally professional dancers would perform.
Fela and Lilly chose a table for five, right in front of the dance floor. They each ordered a ”bomba,” a sweet refreshing cocktail made with vodka and rum and green liquor.
“It’s already a quarter past nine. Do you think they are coming?” Fela asked,
Just as Fela finished wondering, Lilly saw them walking in. She waved so that they notice her.
Henryk came with one of his friends.
“Janus is not feeling well, so he stayed behind in the hotel,” Henryk said as he sat down next to Lilly.
“Let me introduce you. This is Mark.”
“What will you drink?” the waiter asked as he approached the table.
“We will also have a bomba, same as the young ladies,” Henryk replied.
As the orchestra began playing the popular Polish song, “Sex Appeal,” the singer came on stage dressed as a woman and wearing a blonde wig, mimicking the American actress May West, and began singing.
Man and woman,
Whispering together about sex…
Pleasures with Eve – maybe it’s always been this way…
Long hair, not much sense…the world is laughing…
A woman smiles and poof!
Her man’s money is gone!
With it, women become…
(Sex appeal!) they become what men lust for.
Charm, enticement, the blink of an eye and he’s a goner!
She winks just once, he loses his mind…
Quick and easy, she saps his strength…
Akh! Okh! Vey! Oy!
Sex appeal makes ’em fall like straw
Lipsticked smiles enough for everyone…
A man falls at her feet whether he is poor or rich…
The weakest woman is stronger than iron,
The ugliest one can still blow your cool.
Charm, enticement ‘chic’, style – my madam, sex appeal!
You are strong and mighty. We’re the weaker sex.
But we’ve got a little something that you’re dying to possess.
It’s equal to your macho, it unmans your punch and slap.
Although we’re little women, we know how to get own back.
Sex appeal – the weapon of all women, Sex appeal – the heat that makes you simmer,
Grace, style, charm, chic – This can make a strong man weak – Oh-Oh-Oh…
Just one sigh and you won’t even gather
What or how you’ll sigh forever after.
Ech, Och, uch, ach, you will suffer something fierce.
Just one little smile and even the toughest man rushes to please us.
To please us and ease us and treat us like porcelain.
The weaker sex, and yet we are the stronger, the weaker sex, but our power lasts longer.
Grace charm, chic, style – our weapon is sex appeal.
The crowd that filled the cafe was driven into a frenzy. They joined in singing while many, including Fela and Marek, ran onto the dance floor and began dancing wildly, ”Sex appeal, the weapon of grace..."
For a moment, Lilly shut her eyes and imagined that the outside world was blotted out and had ceased to exist. No Jews were beaten, the Germans in the west and the Russians in the east were no longer a threat, no more disappointing lovers, no more parents concerned about the mosquitoes in Palestine being the size of birds. “There is only sex appeal to tease you…”
“Come dance with me,” Henryk whispered into Lilly’s ear. She did not respond, just sat there frozen as her gaze wandered around the hall.
“Lilly!” This time he raised his voice and took hold of her hand. She suddenly snapped back, opened her eyes, looked around and saw everybody dancing, including Fela and Maerk.
She turned toward Henryk, who was standing bent over her, grabbed his hand and said, “Henryk, do you want to dance with me?”
She got up and they walked hand-in-hand towards the dance floor. In the meantime the band began playing a slower song. Lilly allowed Henryk to lead her to the center of the floor where they danced and she rested her head on his chest. With his hand around her waist, he held her tightly.
When they returned to the table, Henryk moved his chair closer to Lilly and offered her a cigarette. They ordered another round of bomba and sat there just staring at each other, smoking and drinking. Lilly put her head closer to Henryk and he kissed her on her lips. They looked liked old-time lovers, even though they had only met each other a short while ago.. She wanted to feel him, see him, smell him, taste him, hear him and touch him.
The next day, Fela and Lilly were so tired that did not get up until noon, when they smelled Mrs. Goslawska’s cooking and started to feel hungry.
The sun came out from between the gray clouds, slightly warming the people who were wrapped in their heavy coats. Winter was at its height and the temperatures sometimes dipped to twenty degrees below zero. After rain there was a significant rise in the temperature. Now that the sun had come out, people were saying that “summer” had arrived as they left their homes to go out a bit.
Fela suggested that they go to Ziemska Street, an area that attracted young writers and free-spirited intellectuals, and where the food and drinks were very affordable. Lilly, whose thoughts were consumed by Henryk, suggested that they go to the Femina cinema located in the Bacharach building.
Fela did not object; after all, Lilly was her guest. Before they left to go downtown, however, they stopped at the Hotel Europejski, to find out if Henryk and Marek wanted to join them.
Approaching the receptionist, Lilly asked to be connected to Henryk’s room. Much to her surprise, the receptionist told her that the three young men had checked out early in the morning.
“Did they leave any message at all?” Lilly asked, with disappointment evident in her voice.
“Is your name Lilly?” the clerk asked holding an envelope with the name Lilly written on it.
“Yes, that’s me,” she replied and the receptionist handed her the envelope.
Lilly walked over to Fela, who was sitting comfortably in the magnificent lobby.
“They checked out, but left us a letter,” Lilly told Fela.
Lilly sat down next to Fela, as they tore the envelope open and looked at the letter that was written in a neat and beautiful handwriting.
My Dear Lilly,
Our departure was not a planned one. I am sorry, but something came up and we had to leave. I hope you are not angry with me, as I really like you and enjoyed your company very much. Marek also enjoyed Fela’s company and asks if she would write to him at the following address. (He included his full name and address).
I would very much like to meet you again, either in Cracow or in Wloszczowa. Please write to me to the address that I included at the top of the letter.
With big hugs and many kisses,
“Now it is only the two of us. Shall we go to a movie or to a restaurant? Perhaps you will meet somebody else,” Fela teased Lilly.
“Whatever you want is fine with me,” Lilly replied.
Suddenly Lilly reminded herself that she had planned to visit her aunt and uncle. “Oh my God,” she said to herself.
“Won’t you come along with me, to visit my aunt and uncle. I must go and see them Afterwards we can go to a “hippie style” restaurant. We can walk there as it is not that far to Ogrodowa Street.
They chatted with each other the entire way.
Fela spoke her mind and said that the boys knew all along that they were leaving that morning, and took advantage of their naiveté. Lilly on the other hand, thought that something had really happened, for if they were whippersnappers, they would not have left an apology letter along with their addresses. While they were arguing, they reached Orgodowa Street.
Cesia hugged Lilly and kissed her on both cheeks. Jerzy, who was excited to see Lilly, hugged her, while Moses walked over and complimented her on her appearance. “Superstar,” he repeated several times.
Fela was welcomed very warmly. They sat in the magnificent living room while a servant served them tea and crispy, delicious cookies.
“Have you heard anything from Adam?” Lilly inquired.
“Yes, he calls every few days. He meets with David, who comes once a week to Brest, and they spend time together. He works very hard, specializing in surgery and already performs minor surgeries alone,” Moses answered.
Fela sat and observed this typical Polish family. How different they were from the way Jews were described in the anti-Semitic press, as caricatures with black hats, long noses, cunning and evil.
Many thoughts went though her mind. She wanted to tell them how wrong the press was, ask them what the meaning of all this hatred was and apologize to them and explain that not all Poles were bad. At the last minute she stopped herself and decided not to say anything so as not to insult the people who had received her so warmly, the family of her best friend Lilly, whom she so appreciated and loved.
Cesia insisted that Lilly and Fela stay for dinner. All Lilly’s pleading and her threats never to come again did not convince Cesia otherwise.
That evening during dinner, Lilly told all about her trip to Turkey, about the wonderful Aunt Isabella and about the delicious foods she had eaten at various restaurants. The topic that interested Moses the most was the freedom of religion and of the modern and advanced laws in Turkey. He asked many questions; being a businessman, his mind was busy thinking about the future.
Before leaving, Aunt Cesia gave Lilly and Fela silk scarves from Paris. Moses called his private chauffeur, who lived in one of Moses’ buildings, to take them to Fela’s house.
The next morning, Lilly decided to return home. Fela accompanied her to the train station. Before they parted, Fela gave Lilly a sealed envelope and asked her not to open it until the train was well on its way.
Lilly could not wait and as soon as she settled in her seat she opened the envelope. Inside there was a portrait of Fela and on the back side there was a handwritten dedication.
To my dear Lilly,
When you are among people keep on smiling,
And cry only when you are in hiding.
Take your dancing with ease and in stride,
And treat the rest of your life with great pride.
Lilly kissed the picture and continued to look at it for a long time before putting it back into the envelope and placing it into her pocketbook.