Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Attic

of the Baltic
"There was silence as deep as death; And the boldest held its breath, For a time"
Thomas Campbell, Battle of the Baltic
Winter was coming.  Sarah and the children could not stay exposed to the elements for the entire winter, so shelter had to be found.  As you can imagine, this was no easy task.  She first went back to the home that had been so kind the winter before.  But they refused.  She did get them, however, to agree to at least watch the children for a few hours each night so that she could go searching for another shelter.  Sarah had names of people that she would approach.  But she was smart enough to not go with just anyone.  If she went to a home and they accepted her too easily, with not much fear or resistance, she would say thank you, I will go get the children and return, but she would never come back.   She knew that would be the last shelter she would ever find.  Instead, she waited until she found a family that begged her to find another place, one that begged her to not put their family in danger, and then Sarah would beg even more.  She knew that a family that had that much fear would not turn her over to the Germans.  And so she found just the family.
The Dziedzic family lived in Brzostek and had been acquaintances of hers.  They gave her, Manek and Zosia, shelter in their attic, where Sarah and the children stayed and lived under the hay.  They would make a hole in the hay that was stored in the attic and live there for the whole winter. 
One day there was a knock on the door.  It was the Gestapo.  They had heard that the Schonwetter's were hiding out in this house.  Of course the whole Dziedzic family denied this allegation.  The Gestapo's answer was quite clear, "You know the consequences of lying, if you are lying you will be as dead as them." 
They then proceed to search the house.  They started by looking through all the rooms, every hole in the wall, the barn, and then they came to the attic.  Sarah had heard the commotion below and quickly took the children and burrowed themselves deep in the hay.  She covered each child's mouth with her hand, and then just waited.
She heard the German soldier climb up the ladder and enter the attic.  At first it sounded as if he  was just looking around, and then Sarah heard the noise.  He had grabbed a pitchfork and was jabbing it violently into the hay.  Sarah held the children closer and tightened her grip on their mouths.  One of the stabs just barely missed their bodies, it was so close they could feel the sharp, pointed ends of the tool that had turned into a deadly weapon.  But once again, luck would win out, and the German, satisfied that there was no living being in the hay, retreated back down the way he came.   
We visited Poland for the first time in the early 1990's.  It was my father's first time back to his home country that he had left over 50 years earlier.  We met Zosia Dziedzic, the daughter of the family that had hid Sarah and the children all those years ago.  Zosia recounted this story to my sister and I that day and took us to her family home.  My sister and I climbed up that same ladder and looked into the "shelter" that housed our family.  It was a humbling experience to not only put an image to the story I had heard so many times, but more importantly, to meet a member of the family that over the next two years would play such a key part in the survival of our father, grandmother and aunt.

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