THEY LAY IN ONE bed together, six of them, including two boarders and the rabbi. The coal fire warmed the room into the dark, but the warmth faded.
The awful cold from the river winds dropped the temperature to twenty-four below zero centigrade, enough to freeze a fully-clothed man wrapped in underwear and a coat and heavy socks and boots.
The rabbi and the others burrowed under four layers of blankets and long woolen underwear, and two of them wore coats, and still they felt ripples of cold with every flick of an eyelid or turn of a cheek.
“I’m worried for her.” Rebekah spoke softly to the rabbi. Next to him on the other side, Leiozia slept. “How can a young person not emerge from something like this warped, if they live?”
“Shosha’s too straight and strong to be bent by the likes of this,” the rabbi said.
“And Lev?” Rebekah asked.
The rabbi turned and faced her.
“He’s coming back,” the rabbi said.
The rabbi lifted his hand from beneath the blankets and cupped Rebekah’s cheek in his palm, warm from the heat they shared.
She circled his wrist in her fingers and brought his palm to her lips and kissed it after a hesitation. She kissed it again and pressed it harder to her lips and her nose.
The rabbi didn’t draw away, but let his hand stay with her, pliable until she choked on tears.
He pulled her close to him, her hair under his chin and her lips on his neck where her fractured sobs settled into a low weeping, muffled in this tumble-down arrangement of the living, a muted bereavement.
-- The Fires of Lilliput, Chapter 4
Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, Poland
Photo: Destroyed synagogue, Poland, Henryk Ross, Winter 1940