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By Charlene Schiff

Dawn came much too early that day. I was returning from the forest after spending all night looking for food in a neighboring village. I didn’t find much—just some cucumbers and one tomato. Now it was getting light and I still had about a mile to go to reach the darker, safer forest. I walked as fast as I could, considering my blistered feet, and the forest gave me relative cover. Darkness was my only shield and protection. Walking in an open field was dangerous.

I heard steps behind me. I kept walking—there was no way for me to run and escape. The steps got closer. After a short while a young woman overtook me and greeted me with a friendly hello. She was young, probably 18 to 20 years old. I don’t remember what she was wearing, but I do remember she was pretty and had light blond hair, which she wore in one thick braid. Her eyes were a lovely green. She seemed very compassionate and offered to help me in any way she could.

Her name was Kasia. She was home from the Gymnasium (high school) in Rowno on summer vacation. She helped on her parents’ farm, tending the cows early morning and at dusk. She had one older brother, Sĺavko, she told me.

All her suggestions to help me made sense. She could bring food and clothing to a designated area on a regular basis, or she could ask her parents to hide me on their farm. Kasia explained to me that she could put herself in my place and she understood, she said, how difficult it was to live like a hunted animal.

It sounded wonderful to me and she seemed sincere. We agreed to meet the next morning at the edge of the forest. Kasia hugged me and left to gather her cows and I proceeded to the forest and my pit where I usually spent the days. As I tried to think over the early morning meeting with Kasia, I marveled at my extraordinary good luck. By the time I reached the forest and my pit, I became quite doubtful. How could I trust a complete stranger? I wondered.

All day I was wrestling with the decision of whether or not to meet Kasia early the next morning. Everything seemed too good to be true. I felt a sense of foreboding and dread. It was tempting, but I could not take a chance. Why would a stranger offer help when I didn’t ask for it? My instinct dictated caution. I decided against meeting Kasia. That night I stayed in my pit even though I was very hungry. Usually at night I searched for food, but I was afraid of running into Kasia like I had the day before.

When dawn arrived, I climbed a bushy, very full tree and made sure the branches were covering me from view. Soon I heard voices. It was Kasia and a male companion. They were in search of the “little Jewess”—me. They were arguing. The man accused Kasia of not being friendly enough to gain my trust. Kasia described her conversation with me and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong.

The man who I took to be her brother, Sĺavko, revealed in a continuing conversation with Kasia what they had planned. The two of them had been hunting down Jews. They robbed them of all their possessions and then took them to the authorities, who gave them a monetary reward before murdering the Jews.

Fear and suspicion saved me that time. I learned a hard lesson: Do not trust anyone. To this day, when I think of Kasia, I think of her betrayal.

©2011, Charlene Schiff. 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.

Tags:   charlene schiffechoes of memory, volume 6

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