Read extracts of the new book-- Jacob's Gift - A Journey Into The Heart Of Belonging, as published in the Guardian.
With the birth of his first son, Jonathan Freedland felt the weight of the identity he was passing on. Was his Jewishness a blessing or a burden? To understand he delved deeper into his own family history, beginning with his mother's story.
Jacob was, if anything, too eager to see the world. In his rush to gaze upon all that life promised, he looked upward, his face aimed at the stars.
At least, that's how I like to think of it. The doctors called it "presenting the brow": instead of tucking his chin on his chest, curling himself into the right shape for a smooth journey out, Jacob was trying to lead with his forehead. He pushed and pushed like that for 24 hours, his brow bashing up against his intended escape hatch. Eventually, the doctors ruled that our baby would have to leave by a more direct route.
So Jacob was born in an operating theatre, pulled from the tummy of his sleepy, elated mother like a rabbit from a conjuror's hat. I gasped at the sight. Jacob's skin was clay grey, as if he had just been moulded, straight from the potter's wheel. Grey all over, but for one splash of colour. His mouth was plump and red.
"We have a beautiful little boy!" I said, breathless with joy and relief. Flat out, all Sarah could see was the screen installed to block her view of the operation. The "beautiful" was my way of telling Sarah that, at first glance, everything was OK. As my mother would say, "10 fingers, 10 toes".
With Sarah still prone and sedated, the nurses handed Jacob to me. After nearly 72 hours in the hospital, with next to no sleep and several midnight medical scares along the way, I was a wreck. I held this beloved stranger with the gentle nervousness of new fathers everywhere - all elbows and shoulders.
And then I heard a string of words I had not expected. They sounded strange in this antiseptic, stainless-steel place where everyone, including me, was clad only in surgeon-green scrubs. But here they were: Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech ha'olam, she'hechiyanu v'kiymanu v'higianu, lazman hazeh. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time.
It was the prayer Jews utter in thanks for something new and wonderful, and the voice saying it was my own.
Read further extracts from Jacob's Gift in G2 on Monday and Tuesday next week and on this site.
A week later and Jacob was home. Then - early in the morning, as tradition demands - Sarah and I, our parents and siblings, crammed into our London living room with Alan, a doctor during office hours and, in his spare time, a mohel - the circumciser.
Perhaps all new parents ask themselves this question: what exactly am I going to pass on to my child? We might give them our looks; perhaps a personality trait or two. We certainly give them a name. If we teach them a certain way, we might endow them with a set of values. Even if we do not plan it, our behaviour and actions will certainly affect them for life.
But this was about an influence greater even than the shaping of a personality. The morning of Jacob's circumcision - where I had enrolled him in the "covenant of Abraham" - I had seen it: I was bequeathing him an identity.
All parents do it, consciously or unconsciously. The very moment a child is born, he is enrolled in several groups, whether he likes it or not. His family is one; his place of birth dictates another. Born in Britain, France or America, a key part of his identity for life is already decided: he will be British, French or American.
Though this is universally true, my own case seemed to have a particular edge. For, by the ceremony of the brit milah, the circumcision, and Jacob's naming, I had formally inducted our son into the Jewish people, one of the two or three oldest civilizations in the world.
A person is a Jew if he or she has a Jewish mother, making Judaism, in the words of the scientist Steve Jones, "the most genetic of all religions", but genes cannot tell the whole story. Jewish teaching brands us a holy nation, a kingdom of priests whose mission is to serve as a light to the nations. We tell ourselves we are God's chosen people - but chosen for what exactly?
We are tiny nation - just 13 million scattered across the planet, a speck in a global population of 6 billion and counting. What did it mean to make my son a part of a minnow people that had somehow produced some of the defining figures of human history, from Moses to Jesus, Marx to Einstein and Freud?
Nor was this burden solely a matter of the past. By entering Jacob into this covenant, I was enlisting him into a current conflict - one of the world's bitterest. Strictly speaking, the battle between Israel and its neighbours should have nothing to do with Jacob - born in London, like his parents; a British citizen, like his parents. But it will.
Jacob was also being given a mark that had often brought suffering and pain upon those who carried it. Jews had been singled out for oppression from the very beginning. What kind of inheritance was this to give a child? To make him one of the despised, a victim-in-waiting for what one historian calls "the longest hatred"?
If I were ever to understand what I was giving Jacob - whether it was a blessing or a curse - I would have to look deep into the immediate, intimate clan he had joined that day. He was part of the Jewish people because he was part of a Jewish family. The two could not be separated. For me to understand what I was passing on to my son, I needed to know what I had received from my own forebears. I needed to know their story. I began, as we all do, with my mother.
Sara Hocherman was born on November 1 1936 in Petach Tikva, a small town outside Tel Aviv in what was then British-ruled Palestine. She was two months premature, weighing just three pounds. The doctors were not hopeful. "Her life is hanging by a thread," they told the child's parents. The couple prayed hard. They were people of faith, their lives punctuated and ordered by the stipulations and timetables of religious observance.
Feige, the young mother, was unusual because she came not from Russia or Poland or even Germany, which had delivered the Yishuv - the Jewish community in Palestine - the bulk of its population. Instead, she had made the journey from one of those countries whose Jews the Zionist ideologues coveted most. The true believers yearned for migrants who would come to Palestine not out of necessity, to escape persecution or destitution, but out of principle. They wanted volunteers from western Europe and the US, Jews from affluent, educated communities, who would enrich the new Zion rather than cling to it like a life raft.
My mother's mother did not come from America but the next best thing. Feige was from Britain. She differed from the rest of the Yishuv in another way, too. She had made aliyah once already: in 1926, her father, a milkman based in Old Church Yard in the East End of London, had packed up his barrow, cashed in his savings and moved his entire family to the Holy Land. Ever since he had arrived in London in the last years of the 19th century as an immigrant from a shtetl near Bialystock in Poland, he had made weekly contributions to a Zionist company that encouraged diaspora Jews to buy land in Palestine. He was not a wealthy man, but he was careful, and by 1926 he had become the owner of 112 dunams (about 28 acres) of land in Karkur, near what is now the modern Israeli town of Hadera.
He began his journey to Palestine full of dreams; he imagined himself the owner of an estate, lush, rolling countryside that would burst with the Lord's fruit. What he found was a swamp buzzing with malaria. He and his wife and their three sons and five daughters, along with his own mother and father, stuck it out for less than a year. The struggle was too much. They headed back to London, defeated.
Feige's mother, whose health was poor, did not have the strength for Palestine or the stormy crossing back across the Mediterranean. Not long after their return to Britain, she was dead. Two years later, her husband himself took ill. "It's minor," the doctors said. But he surprised them by refusing to get better. "He lost the will to live," they would say later. With his wife and his dream of Zion taken from him, he saw no reason to go on.
If Feige was a novelty in the Yishuv, her husband Avraham, my mother's father, was just as exceptional. While most of the Jews of Palestine were newcomers, he was virtually a native, brought up since infancy in Petach Tikva. It was his father who had been the immigrant. Yehuda Ze'ev Hocherman had come to Palestine in the 1920s, a pioneer. He was not one of the avowedly secular eastern Europeans who came to Palestine in those early days to build a socialist paradise. Instead, he heard the call of God. He was that rare species in the Jewish world of the time, a religious Zionist.
Of Yehuda's sons, Avraham was the one most like him, intellectually at least. He, too, was a natural scholar, with a knack for language that made the holy texts open up to him readily. He relished the fine, hair-splitting disputes contained within each sentence of the Talmud, within each word, often turning on a single letter. He would sit from dawn till night in the yeshiva, the religious academy. Avraham was noticed. The elders of his Gerer sect of Hassidim marked him out as a man of potential. In 1932, the sect's leader, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, appointed Avraham as an emissary. Aged just 20, he would venture into the diaspora, give weekly synagogue talks in authentic Torah Judaism to those starved of the word of Ger. He would go to London.
The East End was the obvious destination: more than 100,000 Jews were there, crammed into a few streets. On Friday night there would always be someone to invite him back for dinner. Which is how he came to be sitting across the table from young Feige Bitensky. She had many brothers and sisters, but she was the one he noticed.
The attraction was instant and mutual. Avraham sat at the Bitensky dining table, directing his charm, like a beam of light, at Feige. "You would have a wonderful life in Palestine, I guarantee it," he said. "You could wake each morning to blue skies and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. The earth is fertile and the divine promise is being fulfilled: this truly is a land flowing with milk and honey. It is a new life we are creating in our ancient land.
"And, Feige, I have big plans for the future. My brothers are builders and we will build a big house, large enough to house even the largest family."
He seemed so certain, Feige felt he must be right. Why not live in the Promised Land, alongside this man?
And so, for the second time, she set off on the voyage to Palestine. Avraham Hocherman had seduced her. He returned from his three-month sojourn in London having delivered at least one new immigrant to Palestine: his own bride. The couple, both aged 21, married in August 1933.
But Petach Tikva was not quite what Feige was expecting. True, the place was not the swamp her family had had to abandon six years earlier. But Avraham had built a castle in her mind and this was no castle. It looked more like a hutch than a house. Just three rooms, with a steel roof, low-lying and dirty, on the town's main thoroughfare, Ahad Ha'am Street.
Still, she had coped with dirt and hardship before. Back in London, she had had to fill the gap left by her parents, cooking, cleaning and keeping house. The trouble was, she and her new husband did not have the place to themselves. They had to share it with his entire family. In one corner, his father, distant and mostly silent. On the divan, her new mother-in-law, sighing at some new ache or pain. And, all around, her husband's brothers and one younger sister.
Feige was still finding her feet in this new land, and new home, when she realised she was pregnant. They had a boy, curly-haired, a ball of energy. They called him Yisrael Mordechai, in memory of her late father, the thwarted Zionist pioneer. The family would always know him as Yisrolic, or Srollik for short. Feige tried to do her best for him, but she did not know where to start in this shoebox of a house. It was all new to her: feeding the baby, coping in the Palestine heat, tending to a family not her own, surrounded by a language she did not understand. And then, when Srollik was three months old, she became pregnant again. Soon, she had a daughter, a dark, pretty little thing they named Ronni, after Feige's late mother, Ronya. Feige could contain herself no longer. "I can't breathe in this house," she sobbed to her husband. "You have to do something."
So they moved into a place of their own. It was only one room, but it was theirs. Feige believed she had turned a corner; things were looking up.
Avraham would go out every day but, Feige noticed, only rarely would he return with money. Feige soon realised the problem: he found physical work demeaning; it was beneath a man of his talents. He would work for a day or two, bring home a few coins, and then spend the rest of the week in his real home: the yeshiva, the talmudic academy. She could not work out this man she had married. Was he a dreamer, happier to lose himself in his books than deal with real life? Was he just lazy? Did he not care for her or their young family.
Money was so scarce, there was barely enough to buy food for the children. Yisrolic would tug at her skirt, Ronni would bleat: they were hungry. In the middle of it all, Feige fell pregnant yet again, the third time in two and a half years. She was desperate. Avraham was not the protector she had imagined those Sabbath nights back in the East End, when he had bewitched her with his talk. He did not even provide for his family. It was into this world that my mother, Sara, was born.
One night, as Feige mashed a few potatoes for the children's supper, she found herself consumed with rage. Where was her husband? She scooped up the three children, six-month-old Sara tucked under her arm, and strode over to his parents' home. She hardly ever went there, but now she marched through the Petach Tikva streets, rehearsing her lines all the way to Ahad Ha'am Street. "Mr Hocherman, you have to speak to your son!" she would begin. "You must instruct him in the ways of a good Jewish man! You must remind him of the solemn contract he signed on our wedding day. He has broken his vow. He is letting his children go hungry."
She knocked on the door and waited. The door finally peeled back. It was her brother-in-law, Menachem. Feige suddenly felt ashamed; but then she caught something in Menachem's face. He was looking down at his feet - and she realised he felt the shame, too.
Sat at the sparse wooden table was Avraham, his father next to him and his sister, Tova, serving them. In front of them were plates of food. Nothing special, perhaps a piece of carp and a slice of bread, but it was food.
Feige felt her lungs collapse. This was worse than any adultery. To catch her husband like this, his eyes wide with guilt, made the oxygen stop in her throat. He had run back to his parents' house to put food in his own belly while his children grew thinner by the day. In that moment she hated him so much she could not bear to see his face.
Feige's loneliness was broken by just one person. Her eldest sister, Annie, had also made the journey to Palestine: her father had arranged a marriage for her. Her contact with Feige was sporadic, but eventually she made a visit. Annie was shocked by what she saw. It was not the sparseness of her sister's home, though that was striking even by Depression standards. It was the children. They looked pale and sick, Ronni especially.
Annie held Feige's wrists and demanded to know, "What on earth is going on here? What has happened to you?" Feige tried not to tell; she was sure her religious duty was to keep quiet, not to defame the name of her husband. But the tears spoke for her.
Annie left Petach Tikva gripped by sadness. That night, she wrote to their brothers and sisters in London. The letter was addressed to Benny, the next eldest after her. "They are starving," she wrote, "literally starving. I don't know what will happen if we don't do something."
By the time the letter had been circulated around the family in the East End, it was too late. Ronni Hocherman, not yet two years old, was dead. She left no mark behind; there are no photographs or mementoes of her brief life. No one is sure where she is buried, or even what final illness killed her.
Through all this, Feige never once asked for help from her family back home. Perhaps she was too proud, or too ashamed. But Annie had no such inhibitions and now the Bitenskys acted. They had no money of their own - as my mother would put it years later, "They had tuppence ha'penny. They just about had a chair to sit on" - but they had a whip-round and somehow scraped together a small amount of cash.
Benny sent a money order to his sister and a letter: "This money can only be used for one purpose," he wrote. "My dear Feige, you must go to the shipping agent right away and buy tickets for the passage to London for you and your children. If you use the money for anything else, then I have to warn you there will be nothing any of us can do. There is no more money. Please, Feige, I am begging you ..."
Feige read the letter over and over again. She wanted so desperately to leave, to be in a place where her children would not starve. She wanted to have her family close by. And yet she was a Jewish woman, raised in the traditions of piety and duty. Such women did not leave their husbands.
Avraham was outraged when he discovered her intention to go home. She belonged with him, he insisted. "It is a crime to leave Eretz Yisroel and you will be punished. You must stay."
She worried away at the dilemma for days. But she had only to look at Sara, such a skinny, weak child, to know what to do. Or remember Ronni. For their sake she would have to leave. And so, one sweltering day, Feige, Srollik and Sara packed their bags and headed for the port of Jaffa to begin the long, arduous journey back to London.
They arrived in a country on the eve of war and yet Feige felt like a refugee who had crossed the border to safety. At last, she could feed Srollik and Sara properly; at last, she was in a place she understood, surrounded by people she loved. But lodging with relatives in Hackney could be only a temporary haven. The outbreak of war in 1939 meant she would have to get the children out of London and into the countryside.
For a while, Feige and the two children lived in the Hertfordshire village of Wheathampstead. They rented a workman's cottage by the River Lea, the children went to school and Feige worked in a local factory making batteries. Sara was happy there. But Benny, de facto head of the Bitensky clan, persuaded Feige that it was not right for the children to grow up in this place, as the only Jewish family, with none of their relatives around them. Life would be better for them in London; reluctantly, she agreed. Shortly after their return, they found a flat to rent in Hughes Mansions on Vallance Road.
The evenings in Hughes Mansion were fun; it was the nights Sara could not stand. First would come the noise, the droning moan of the air-raid siren. Next would come the hand on the shoulder, her mother shaking her awake. Still dozy, clutching her sheets and blankets, they would head for the cold stairwell. Down they would go, her mother shouting for Srollik to hurry up. He would be watching the dogfights, planes diving and looping, their engines whining, each hurling fire at the other. Sara would blink at the sight of the flames. She was desperate to get away, tugging at her mother's sleeve. "Let's go."
She would be heading down the stairwell, her mother still shouting for Srollik to catch up, and each time they reached another landing, the little girl would glimpse more burning. There were flames wherever she looked. The whole world seemed to be on fire.
There were a few public shelters nearby, several of them in warehouse basements. Sara found these almost as much of an ordeal as the raids themselves. All those unknown, bleary faces huddled in the dark: old men shrouded in blankets, mothers cradling wailing babies - it was a scene from one of those witches and ghouls fairytales she found so terrifying. She shivered against her mother's chest, begging her to make it stop and take her back to bed.
But the air raids were nightly and Sara would stay awake waiting for the siren, twitchy as an alleycat. Then she would be exhausted the next day; Feige would see the charcoal lines under her eyes. She faced what was now a familiar dilemma: she hated to uproot her children yet again, but how could she keep them here?
A solution presented itself when Feige secured places for her children at Avigdor High School, formerly of Stoke Newington in Hackney but now relocated to the Bedfordshire village of Shefford.
Plenty of children became evacuees. It was rarer for an entire school to move itself out of the city and start again in the countryside. And this was no ordinary school. Avigdor was the fiefdom of Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld, who inherited it from his father, its founder. As early as 1938, he had understood the mortal danger confronting the Jews of Europe and had turned himself into a one-man rescue agency. He crossed again and again to the continent, plucking out as many Jewish children as he could. He cut through bureaucracy, soothed diplomatic niceties, arranged transport - anything it took to pull young Jews from the fire he knew was about to engulf them. In one transport alone, in November 1938, he led 200 children from Austria to England. The parents themselves took their young to the Vienna railway station, promising they would see each other again soon, urging their kids to write often, not to crush the biscuits in their bag and to wrap up warm against the cold. They could not come, too, since Britain's hospitality was extended only to these kindertransport. So Schonfeld became known as the Pied Piper; and those who anticipated the coming catastrophe saw his school as a Noah's Ark.
A troop of 500 orthodox Jewish schoolchildren arrived among the white-painted cottages and green shutters, rectories, pubs and bowling greens of Shefford. More than half of them, thanks to Schonfeld, were foreigners, some with only a word or two of English. The newcomers gathered in the market square, where they were to be divided up and allocated to foster families. "I would like to have four little girls," said a Mrs Mitchell, getting proceedings under way. Others took six or one or three. The rector's wife set an example by volunteering for one of the least popular job lots: seven boys, all teenagers. Mr Taylor set a record by taking eight children, aged from seven to 17, all from one family.
By the time Sara and Srollik arrived in 1942, this island of Jewish orthodoxy was well established - which did not stop Shefford feeling strange to Sara. She liked the countryside - it reminded her of Wheathampstead - but she was seven years old, away from her mother for the first time, and she was anxious. Once again she and Srollick were to be separated. He was dispatched to a hostel full of boys. She was to go to 24 Clifton Street, across the river in the next village. She was to lodge with a Miss Slater, who shared the cottage with her sister, and soon came to dote on Sara.
For Sara it was a new world to negotiate, full of new things to be scared of. At seven o'clock each morning she would have to walk herself to school. The walk was fine in spring or summer; Sara quite liked it, swinging her satchel, listening to the unfamiliar sounds of birds and insects. In winter the same lane looked quite different. The trees now struck Sara as looming, baleful monsters, their bare branches gnarled, clawing arms. So Sara would close her eyes and run for it.
Once at school, the little girl was a free agent. For this was secondary school and she was too young for even the youngest class. So Sara was allowed to wander from lesson to lesson. She became well-known in the school - a kind of mascot who would either be drawing in a corner or else trailing after the school secretary on an errand.
But it was not easy to be the smallest child in the school. Each pupil had a government-issue ration book. The teachers took everything save the E-coupon, the one that entitled children to buy sweets. It was a treat. For Sara, though, every week it was the same story. The coupons would be handed out and within seconds the older kids would snatch hers clean out of her hands.
Still, there were times she was glad the older lads were around. Whatever peace adult Shefford had made with its alien guests, young Shefford was not always so sure. Friday nights were often the hardest. As the Avigdor kids trooped out of school, a crowd of the local toughs would be waiting for them in gangs. At first it was just chanting - "Hey, Jewboy", that kind of thing. Then it was attempts to grab the caps off the boys' heads. Before long, there was shoving and worse. All the children were scared, but a girl as young as Sara was terrified. The attackers seemed to be like monster-children, perhaps sent as a spell by the evil, swaying winter trees.
The greatest joy in Sara's life came from the visits of her mother. For reasons the little girl did not understand, Feige could visit only once a month. Sara would wait on a Sunday by the bus stop, willing the vehicle in the distance just coming over the hill now to be her mother's bus.
Miss Slater would always beg Feige to stay. She enjoyed young adult company in the house and knew how much it meant to Sara. Very occasionally, Feige would put aside her other family obligations back in the East End and say yes. To her daughter, this was the greatest bliss life had to offer, sharing her room with her mummy. "Oooh, now this is a mechayer," Feige would say at intervals throughout the night, deploying the Yiddish word reserved for physical pleasure, especially relief. In London she was used to sharing her bed with one of her adult sisters, and the beds were never as comfortable as this one; nor did they look out over lawns, hedges and flowers. Once the war was over, Feige thought, maybe she and the kids would live somewhere like this.
By the spring of 1945, plenty of people were thinking that way, looking ahead to life after wartime. The staff of the Avigdor High School were beginning to wind down, believing that the end of their Bedfordshire sojourn was approaching. The immediate focus was on Pesach, the sixth time the school would spend the Passover festival in Shefford.
The Hocherman children's plan was to be back home at Hughes Mansions for the seder, the first-night meal that launches Passover. The whole family would be there and with the air raids all but stopped, it was safer to return. But on post day came bad news. It was a letter addressed to Srollik, from his mother:
My darling children, I know how much you have been looking forward to spending Pesach here, and I have been too. But I really think it's for the best if you stay at school, just until everything is all sorted out. You enjoyed the sederim there last year, and I'm sure they will be just as nice this year. Don't be too disappointed. To make up for it, I'll come and see you on Sunday and we can have a lovely day together then.
Looking forward to that very much, and remember, eat well and, Srollik, be polite and do as your teachers tell you!
All my love,
Feige felt guilty about that letter. Maybe she was being over-cautious. Everyone knew the war was nearly over; the air raids seemed to be a thing of the past. That was certainly the mood as Vallance Road readied itself for Pesach, the season of liberation and renewal. People were coming home, either from the countryside where they had been evacuees or from the front. The East End was in festive mood, as if impatient to throw off the gloom of the previous five and a half years.
There was only one disquieting note. Yiddi, Feige's pious older sister, kept telling her of an odd dream. She had found herself suddenly sitting bolt upright in bed, shouting, "Feige! Get away from the window!"
Otherwise, Hughes Mansions was buzzing with preparations for Pesach. Everything had to be ready in time for the first seder, on Wednesday. She wished her children could be there for it. As she fell into an exhausted sleep, she realised it had now been years since she had heard her little Sara ask the Four Questions, beginning Ma nishtana ha'lila hazeh? Why is this night different from all other nights?
It was probably around that time, as Feige and her sister Rivvy lay sleeping in the flat in Hughes Mansions, Rivvy closest to the window, that the V2 launch team came on to the dawn shift at their base near the Hague. Their daily task was to fire what Joseph Goebbels and his propaganda ministry had insisted on calling the Vergeltungswaffe 2, the reprisal weapon 2.
The V2 was the fruit of nearly two decades' research by Germany's finest scientists, led by Wernher von Braun, and its transition from wild-eyed scheme to operational weapon was a source of great Nazi pride.
By March 1945, the rocket had been in active service for the best part of six months, pummelling cities in Belgium and liberated France. Antwerp had taken severe punishment and so had London. The team on duty this early morning, March 27, would have checked the logbook and seen the tally. This would be attack No 1358 on the capital. The launch process was now fairly streamlined. And once fuelled and fired, the missile raced through the air, higher than any plane and faster than the speed of sound. No wonder the Germans loved it: it was silent where traditional bombers were noisy. Its predecessor, the V1 flying bomb, announced its arrival with a characteristic buzzing sound. The V2 gave no warning before impact. There was no chance of defence.
So Feige and Rivvy would have heard no air-raid siren and, their family hoped, they would have had no moment of panic as they tried to hide under the bed, cower under a table or find some other feeble shelter from the plume of lead and fire that would descend upon Hughes Mansions at 7.21am precisely.
Yiddi heard a distant thud while loading the shelves in the grocer's shop she ran with her husband, but thought nothing of it. But then word reached her: they had struck Vallance Road. She ran, bleating a kind of involuntary moan that sounded with each step. There were crowds, and instantly she was asking friends, "Has anybody seen Feige? Has anybody seen Rivvy?" And, to strangers, "Has anybody seen two young ladies?"
She thought she would find them; there were so many people there. She saw a coat and hat and shoulders that looked like Feige's and she called out, but it was not her. She found herself remembering what Feige had once asked Yiddi's husband, Max: "What will happen to my children if something happens to me?" And Max had said, "We won't all be killed together. If you won't be here, we will be here, or you'll be here and we won't be here."
She suddenly pictured Srollik and Sara and immediately screwed her eyes shut to push such nonsense out of her mind. She had to find them, had to keep on shoving her way through the throng. They would probably be just around this corner, helping the wounded. That would be typical, Feige and Rivvy, sleeves rolled up, doing their bit. She saw a man beckoning over a team of rescuers, a look of exhausted joy on his face: he had heard the voices of his brother and sister through the rubble. She saw the men dragging behind packs of dogs, trained to sniff out any sign of life. It would not take long to find them.
Soon Max was with her and he gave Feige and Rivvy's names to the officials, who said they would let them know. Later that day, one of the rescue workers tapped Max on the shoulder and led him away. Yiddi could not hear what they were saying, but she could read her husband's face. Max was nodding and she knew. She felt her heart cave in.
They asked Max to identify the bodies. It was easy. "They had hardly been touched," he would tell Yiddi later. "Hardly touched at all. A little bruise on Rivvy's head maybe. Hardly touched. As if they died in their sleep."
In all, 130 people were killed by that rocket, the very last V2 of the second world war. Even though the weapon was notoriously inaccurate, its guidance system too primitive to hit specific targets, the Nazis would have been delighted by their luck on March 27 1945. The V2 made its exit by killing 120 Jews