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The Fires of Lilliput is Shosha Mordechai's and Jakub Chelzak's epic story of courage, suffering, and love during the Nazi siege of Poland.
Through short excerpts from the book below, meet three people central to life in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto up to and during the 1943 revolt: Uprising leader Icchak Cukierman (aka 'Antek'); Nazi commander Jürgen Stroop and his predecessor, Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg; and the fictional counterpart of orphanage founder Dr. Janusz Korczak.
She and Jakub had walked from the cemetery, hiding in the usual places, and now they crouched in a doorway on an alley. Shosha heard her name, but didn’t recognize the urgent, hushed voice.
“Shosha.” She stood and bent around the edge of the doorway. “Up here!”
She looked up. From a building across the street, a man waved in a window without glass.
“Antek?” she said.
“Yes. Who’s with you?”
“Who is he?” Jakub asked.
“Icchak,” Shosha said. “But he’s called Antek. He’s our best shooter, but he hates to kill. The women are all in love with him.”
Photo: Icchak Cukierman (aka 'Antek'), a Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising leader, ca 1943
Monday of Holy Week, First day of Pesach
19 April 1943, Warsaw Jewish Ghetto
JÜRGEN STROOP WASHED SHAVING cream off his face when his aide, a young lieutenant, answered a pounding at the door of the general’s suite at the Hotel Bristol on the Aryan side.
Sammern-Frankenegg rushed past the lieutenant and looked in every room until he found his commander.
“We’ve sustained losses, Herr Stroop.”
Stroop was staring at himself in the mirror over the sink.
Excerpt from The Fires of Lilliput, Chapter 16
“To be expected,” Stroop said.
“I ordered a retreat.”
Stroop lit a cigarette.
“We need aircraft,” Sammern-Frankenegg said. “We could get them from Krakow in under an hour.”
“Bullshit.” Stroop spoke through his cigarette. “How long can these sewer rats resist?”
Excerpt from The Fires of Lilliput, Chapter 7. It's the morning after the going-away party for orphanage founder Dr. Janusz Jerczek and the remaining orphans. Jerczek is told the Nazi occupiers are building a new, fine orphanage well beyond the Jewish Ghetto.
But Shosha fears the worst.
THE NEXT DAY, IN the early morning, Shosha left her house by the back door and took a carriage to the Jewish orphanage.
She stepped off at a corner and walked the rest of the way and when she arrived, she saw the double front doors open.
She hiked her skirt and mounted the steep brick steps. At the top, she paused. She was hungry, she was always hungry, and every effort loosed wavelets of fatigue. She had lost twenty pounds and was not a large woman before.
When she took off her top garments, she no longer had to contract her diaphragm to see her ribs, which lay bare and malnourished, embarrassing protrusions that forced her to wear heavy clothes, even on warm days.
She leaned against the railing and breathed. Fatigue roiled her stomach, like a grinding wheel sharpening a dull and chronic pain that wanted to waylay her.
She rolled her head to stretch her neck.
She looked around and noticed the windows on either side of the doors were open as high as they could be forced. She peered in.
“Hello?” Her voice jarred the air.
“Hello?” A hollow echo returned.
She looked at the wood floor down the long center hall and the dark lights hanging from ceilings eighteen feet high. She heard water, dripping in the cavern. She stepped in and heard her hard shoes echo on the black slate tiles in the entryway. She pushed a door and it stopped against the wall. She looked into a room.
She walked into it—tap, tap, tap—on a hard painted floor and saw a long row of windows that looked out on an alley, and beneath the windows, a row of radiators connected by a thick pipe and a thin pipe that stopped at valves and stopcocks then turned and dove through round, coarse holes in the floor.
She stared. She thought about how she had wanted to speak with Jerczek last night, after the show, maybe stand outside with him, away from the others.
But well-wishers surrounded him and she may have missed an opportunity by spending too much time in the lavatory with Leiozia, who was drunk.
Photo: Dr. Janusz Korczak and an orphan, the real-life inspiration for the fictional Janusz Jerczek.