Tablet Original Fiction: A father and son go to Germany after the Holocaust to adopt a Jewish child
Joseph and his father climbed up to the “Deck Three Bar,” which was full of people drinking to one another, saying their good-byes. Moderate drinking was a practice the future grandfather permitted himself—the Hebrew Bible is full of blessings over wine, he was wont to say.
They were lucky that a small group left just as they were looking for a table. His father was halfway through his drink when a man dressed in a fine tan wool suit approached them and asked if the third seat at the table were free. They said yes and invited the man to join them.
They told the man the story they were instructed to tell, about rebuilding Hanover. They heard, in turn, that the man who had joined them was a Mr. Yoel Markovitz, an accountant who had a wife named Sophie and two sons named Arthur and Jonathon.
“And what is your business in Hamburg?” asked Joseph’s father.
“I work for The Jewish Agency for Palestine,” Mr. Markovitz replied.
Joseph nearly jumped from his chair. Could this man be Jewish? How could that be? Joseph had been taught that Jews looked like Negroes. That had to be the truth—had to be. Impossible that Jews could be like this Mr. Markovitz: impossible to tell from Christian men!
“Our mission is to convince the British to open Palestine for Jewish immigration,” Mr. Markovitz went on.
Joseph watched as his father slowly lowered his glass to the table. The glass tipped back and forth. Joseph told himself that was just the sway of the ship.
Finally his father said, “We are only sad that the Jews did not accept Our Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.”
Mr. Markovitz gripped the table. His face showed anger, but he said nothing, which gave him an air of dignity. Then he stood, adjusted his tie, and reached into his jacket pocket for his wallet. He left a pile of bills on the table. He nodded but did not wish them a good night.
“Did you know, Father?” Joseph asked when they were back in their cabin. “Did you know you could not always see them?”
“Members of the communion returned from the war,” his father replied, “and they said there were some Jews you could not recognize by their dark skin and hooked noses.”
His father had been too old to be drafted. Joseph realized that all his father knew about Jews was what the soldiers had told him.
Chaos greeted them at the Hamburg train station. Bodies were sprawled about the floor in the waiting area. Would-be travelers pulled great piles of baggage through the crowd, rousing shouts and curses as the bodies on the floor were bumped by suitcases, rucksacks, boxes, even caged roosters.
Joseph and his father were in a first-class compartment at least. The train was filled beyond capacity, and the other cars were overstuffed, people sitting two to a seat and in the corridor. The two men dared not leave their seats at the same time for fear their places would be taken. Joseph walked the train and found there was no dining car. When he returned, an old man in their compartment said, in accented but perfect English, that they should not worry. Sellers would appear at the stations from time to time, and all they had to do was lean out the window.
“Will they accept American dollars?” asked Joseph’s father.
The compartment grew silent.
“I will exchange some Deutschmarks with you, if you wish,” said the old woman who sat by the window across from them.
Everyone looked at Joseph’s father, then at the woman, then back at his father.
“Thank you,” he said. “Can you exchange fifty dollars?”
Every eye watched his father reach into his jacket, retrieve his wallet, and take out a stack of bills. He counted out five new tens onto his knee, licking his thumb to be sure the bills weren’t stuck together.
The woman fumbled around in her purse. She withdrew a wad of dirty bills and offered them across the aisle.
“Is that all right?” his father asked.
The silence continued. Everyone stared at the crisp pile of tens on the his father’s knee.
“Put it away!” Joseph whispered, grabbing the money.
He was fascinated by the woman’s face. Never in his life had he seen such malice lanced through with desperation.
The train made its halting way toward Hanover—it seemed to stop at every collection of houses, sometimes in empty fields where people scrambled on and off. Then it came to some station and opened its doors. Twenty, thirty, forty minutes went by. Gradually everyone left: the people in the corridor, a fat man at his father’s feet, the old gentleman who had assured them about the food, the woman who had offered them her dirty bills.
“I guess we get off too,” said his father.
It was dark but for the last sapphire glow of the sky. The station, no more than a platform and a ticket counter, was crowded with waiting bodies. The deep blue of the sky turned to black; there were no trains in either direction; the people on the platform curled up to sleep.
A new generation of women is being misled into assuming an ideological tension between feminism and Zionism