I am happy to post a second story by Nurit Henig (see her biography on the story "Yuda'le" below). Not only I find it an extremely well-writting story, but it is a powerful, universal account of a child's life and thoughts during war.
Children’s Games: A War Story
By Nurit Henig
The three of us, Nili, Koby, and I, sat on our sand hill which the truck dumped on the sidewalk.
The hill wasn’t only ours, it belonged to all the residents on the street, who filled sacks to protect the shelters’ doors from the air blast, but we turned it into a playground, and no one had the leisure to chase us away. It happened a little after Passover, and after I had celebrated my seventh birthday.
Mother thought I was too old to play in the sand, but there were no games in the little room we occupied on the third floor, except a box of Pick-Up Sticks, dominoes, two packs of cards the grownups used for playing Gin Rummy, and also an old chess set Father used to open when he was home, but he was at the wars for a long time. It was late afternoon on Friday so we knew we would have to separate any minute, since it was almost the Sabbath.
The sand hill dominated the street with its height, and inside it we dug tunnels, like those on the beach but much deeper. Three underground passages, like train tunnels, each from a different direction, which we aimed carefully so we should meet exactly in the middle. We fumbled inside the dark sand until our fingers touched and grasped each other with indescribable joy and refused to part.
Three hands, fifteen happy fingers, one undefeated fist.
Nili’s mother always left Enshel’s Grocery at the same time, with the challahs and fish for the Sabbath, and it was a sign for Nili to get up and help her, but that day she was delayed and Nili stayed with us on the sand hill. Before the war, when her father was still alive, she used to go with
him to the synagogue on Friday; those days her mother said that there was no God and only fools and weaklings went.
Koby continued digging and waited for his father. He did not go to war because he was handicapped by “Hitler’s Sanatorium,” Mother said in Yiddish. When talking about Hitler they always turned to Yiddish so the children would not understand.
Koby helped his father carry the slowly dripping block of ice which he dragged with great difficulty from the ice factory at the end of the street. We also had an icebox but most of the time it had water and only a little ice, and Mother said:
“If my mother, rest her soul, would have seen how I drag ice in Israel she would have turned in her grave.”
Friday’s ice block was large and heavy, since it had to last until Sunday. Ordinary people did not have refrigerators like in America, except perhaps the rich Kaufman family, who had everything,
but Koby’s father did not come with the ice block and Koby stayed with us on the sand hill and continued to excavate his tunnel.
I also went on digging, waiting for Mother to appear in the window the way she did every Friday, and lower a little wicker basket tied to a clothes line, containing the list of groceries I was supposed to bring from the store.
Enshel agreed to sell on credit to everyone, including Mother. He wrote what I bought in a black notebook that he kept in the pocket of his dirty smock, and sometimes he would add a little, and Mother whispered to the neighbor in Yiddish,
“איר איז אביסלה גענב (He is a thief)”
I understood because no matter how she tried to speak Yiddish so I would not understand, in the end I did understand everything and no secret could be hidden from me.
I knew what would be written in the list because I could already read for myself.
“Half a rye bread, half a herring, half a kilo of sugar, three eggs…”
And a few more “halves” except the butter, of which she wanted only a quarter of a package.
Koby got up, brushed the sand off his clothes and wanted to go home. He was a fat boy and did not participate in the school races which took place at Rothschild Boulevards, the most beautiful boulevard in Tel-Aviv. His mother said to my mother,
“Some day when Koby grows up he will be thin, but in the meantime he must eat because you never know when another Hitler would come and finish everyone off.”
They always talked in Yiddish about this Hitler, and even though he died a long time ago they continued to be afraid of him and to bury him in the ground a thousand times over, and curse his mother, and all sort of things I could not understand.
I told Koby that he should not go home, that he was my best friend, other than Nili, and I suggested we have a competition and see who would enlarge the tunnel and put both hands inside it. I knew Koby could dig easily, and I wanted to cheer him up.
A military jeep stopped with a screech. I raised my head and saw a tall soldier wearing khaki clothes get out of the car and start whispering with Mrs. Levin who had just stepped out of the grocery store with her baby carriage.
Mrs. Levin always had a baby on her hands and a huge belly with another baby and more children at home and besides she was a teacher in the Beit Yaakov School and still found time to volunteer at the orphanage near the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street.
Mother spoke only Yiddish to her because Hebrew was the Holy Tongue and she said
“Everyone’s way of thinking must be respected, and Mrs. Levin lost her first family at Hitler’s, curse his soul, sanatorium.”
Koby was the first to finish the enlargement of his tunnel and I and Nili declared him the winner and Koby was overjoyed.
Suddenly a squeaking sound burst out of the jeep like radio but not exactly.
I thought perhaps my father was in the jeep and maybe he came home for the Sabbath, but Nili said that surely it was not him, because the war was not over yet and maybe he would die in the end like her father, but my father did not die during that war; it only took a very long time for him to get back home.
Mrs. Levin hurried away with the baby carriage.
The man in khaki returned to the jeep and we saw that he was talking with the driver. Then he pointed in the direction of the grocery store and the driver got out of the jeep and shut the door.
Mrs. Levin saw her husband arriving from a distance and hurried toward him.
This was Rabbi Levin, who always wore a black coat and a fur trimmed black hat; on his chin he had a long white beard, and he always greeted me in Yiddish “שולם עליכם” which meant “Peace be with you” in Hebrew.
I saw that he and Mrs. Levin where whispering to each other and he hurried up and managed to stop the two soldiers in khaki a second before they entered the grocery store, and then he entered alone.
I felt something terribly important was happening there and I stood high up on the sand hill.
Koby and Nili began to dig new tunnels, and I did not stop staring at the entrance to the grocery store and every so often I glanced toward our terrace to see if the basket was being lowered.
Someone came running out of the grocery store, stopped in confusion in the middle of the sidewalk, and not knowing where to go, turned around and returned inside. I straightened up and called my mother, as loudly as I could,
I called her one more time, but she did not hear me. A few other people came running out of the grocery store.
Koby and Nili were busy digging and did not notice that something important was happening immediately in front of us.
I shook off the sand, descended the hill, and headed toward the grocery store.
I saw Mrs. Feldman from house no. 10 whispering with Mrs. Levin, then grabbing her own head, raising her hands to the sky, and running into the darkness of the grocery store.
I crossed the street. Nili and Koby noticed and cried out that they were cross with me, since I left them abruptly.
The soldiers from the jeep began to march toward the grocery store.
I then heard my mother’s voice, calling me.
I raised my eyes to the window. The wicker basket was lowered and I heard her saying to come immediately and take it. I wanted to tell her that I was coming but that something was happening, but I did not have the chance…
A horrible shriek unlike anything I have ever heard in my life. It was not my mother’s voice, and it was not Koby’s or Nili’s or anyone’s I knew.
People started running into the grocery store and some did not dare enter and just stood outside. Mrs. Luria’s twins began to cry, and then Mr. Enshel appeared at the entrance of the grocery store and said,
“Someone must go right away and get Dr. Kuris.”
Mother shouted at me again,
“Nurit… why don’t you do what you are asked?!”
Everyone heard her, and I could not explain that something important was happening at the grocery store which may be much more important than what she put in the basket, and that she must come downstairs, but I could not move and she yelled,
“Who is this howling like an animal?”
And immediately, she did not forget to add,
“Nurit… I am going right down and I will give you something you will not forget…”
Everyone heard that too, but I did not get “something” from her, that Friday. Not a thing.
Dr. Kuris came running with his black bag and entered the grocery store. The two soldiers in khaki came out of the store and lit a cigarette. Suddenly dead silence fell over everything.
Mrs. Carlotta Kaufman appeared at the store’s entrance, leaning on Dr. Kuris on one side and on Mrs. Feldman on the other side.
I thought she was about to faint, like our teacher Zipora, when they told her at school that her brother was killed in the war, but at that moment my mother arrived with the basket in her hand and the clothes line dragging on the ground and asked,
“Who shouted like a Cossack?”
And only when she saw Mrs. Carlotta Kaufman from house no. 14 being dragged, hanging on Dr. Kuris on one side, and on Mrs. Feldman’s on the others, did she became quiet.
Someone whispered in Yiddish,
“אר הוט גהרגט גווערן (He was killed).”
Because he thought I didn’t understand Yiddish, but I understood perfectly and whispered to
“He is dead…”
Later Mother told me that she knew Alex, Mrs. Kaufman’s soldier son, very well. She said he was as handsome as a prince…
“אף אלע יידישע קינדר (May all Jewish children look like him).”
Also that they were the richest people on the street and their home was surrounded by a high wall, and the stories went that it was a veritable palace inside, everything from America, with Persian rugs and servants and what not… Mrs. Feldman told my mother, who would not stop crying even on the Sabbath,
“Who would have believed that the Kaufmans’son could die in the war like everyone else,”
And Mother cried even harder and I knew it was because of Father who had not come back yet and surely also she remembered her entire family that died at Hitler’s Sanatorium and also because we were hungry since we did not have the chance to buy food for the Sabbath.
Koby, Nili and I continued to dig tunnels in our hill for a long time; after the residents emptied the sand it turned into such a tiny hill that we gave it up, and went to Rothschild Boulevards to look for
Koby became ill and would breathe so heavily he could hardly go down the stairs. Nili and her mother left the street and moved elsewhere. Father returned home after the war, taught me to play chess and a year later my brother Raffi was born, and Mother forced me to stay home and play with him.