By Manya Friedman
The snow had fallen, uninterrupted, since morning. Big, fluffy flakes fell on top of each other, covering the everyday grime with a pure white blanket. Our side street was devoid of any traffic, only here and there footprints made by men or animals were visible, breaking up the smooth surface. It was fun looking out the window and enjoying the weekend off from school. By afternoon we ventured out, so bundled up one could hardly see our faces, trying to throw some snowballs. The snow was too dry and fluffy to form a ball, and the sleds were useless; the runners sank into the snow and would not move. Only the young children had fun, stretched out in the snow trying to make angels.
By evening the snow had stopped, after accumulating about a foot of white powder, and the temperature dropped sharply, creating an excruciating chill. The frost-covered windowpanes let the imagination form all kinds of patterns. We huddled around the tall tile stove, fed by chunks of coal from the bin outside. The waves of warmth emitted from the stove reminded me of sitting around a campfire on a chilly evening; though my front was warm, I could feel the chill on my back.
Mother served hot soup; we did some homework, read, played games, or asked grandmother to tell us a story, until it was time to go to bed. There were a few moments of shivering between getting undressed and jumping into bed, but once under the heavy down-feather blanket we were quite comfortable. The grown-ups stayed up longer, sipping hot tea, till it was their time to retire for the night.
Late that night there was a tap on the door, at first lightly, then more intense. Nothing to be concerned about, I thought. Most likely a neighbor needed some help, maybe to borrow some aspirin for a sick child. Father opened the door. It was Father’s business partner; I recognized his voice, though he only whispered. Probably a machine broke down, I thought, and turned over trying to go back to sleep.
When I woke up early next morning, curious to find out about the world outside, I noticed Father’s warm coat hanging over the kitchen chair. He must have gotten dressed and gone out during the night.
Though it was still very early, the sun was shining bright and some of the frost from the windowpanes had started to melt. Assisted by my warm breath, I rubbed a spot in the window pane to look out. (I had learned from experience not to use the warm palm of my hand to melt the ice; it could freeze to the pane. We had had many long and cold winters to experiment.) The view outside was almost blinding from the glitter of the snow reflecting the sun’s rays. The snow on the roofs had started to melt. The house across the street looked like it had been decorated for Christmas with all the icicles hanging from the eaves of the roof. There must have been a strong wind during the night; a drift of snow was almost up to the windowsill. I went back to bed under the warm covers.
Except for Father, who got up to tend to the stoves while there were still live embers, we all slept late that morning. Later in the day two policemen knocked at the door. Mother let them in, offered them seats, and tea, but they refused. They asked Mother some questions, and asked where Father was. My two younger brothers were very excited with the officers’ visit, this being a time when every young boy hoped to grow up and become a policeman, but somehow we sensed that this was not exactly a social visit. However, it never entered our minds that our parents could have done anything unlawful. Mother told them where they could locate Father, and after they left, she seemed so preoccupied with their visit that she did not even hear or respond to our questions. We were curious for a while, but being so young we did not linger very long for an answer; we went back to whatever we were doing before the officers’ visit. When Father came home the boys greeted him excitedly: “Daddy, daddy, do you know two policemen were here, and they were asking for you? Did you see them, did you?” Father glanced at Mother’s face, and from her expression knew that he would have a lot to explain.
Several days later we learned that some young people were arrested in town, accused of belonging to a Communist organization. My father’s partner’s daughter was on that list, but somehow she had disappeared, hence the visit from the police to find out if Father could provide any information. Quite some time later I found out that on that snowy night in the mid-1930s the urgent knock on the door late at night had had nothing to do with a broken-down machine—it was indeed Father’s business partner who came during the night, only to ask Father for help assisting his daughter to leave town. It was a risky decision, especially on such a bright, snow-covered night, where every silhouette was visible, but Father was not one to refuse a friend a favor, even when he had to take a risk.
Our house was quite a distance from the railroad station, and on that night every footstep left a distinguishing mark in the snow. Behind our house was a large fenced-in yard, adjoining a large fenced-in field where we played volleyball and the boys played soccer. After that was a farmer’s field. Father decided that in the backyard and in the adjoining field, he and the young woman should trample around in the snow leaving the impression that the kids had been playing there, but when it came to crossing the fence that separated the soccer field from the farmer’s field he crossed over by himself and carried the young woman on his back until they reached a grove of trees. This way there was only one set of footprints in the snow. Father put her on the next train that left the station and returned home by a different route.
After the war ended I found out that Father’s business partner had survived the Holocaust and had gone to Brazil to live with his rescued daughter. Unfortunately, my father, though much younger, did not survive; there had been no one around to rescue him.
©2011, Manya Friedman. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.