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The Whore of Solna Street

From: Cream City Review
Volume 36, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2012
pp. 126-151 | 10.1353/ccr.2012.0049

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Arno would always remember how it rained that day, the day that the remaining Jews of Krakow moved into the Wlodawa ghetto. Before him, he pushed a cart with his most precious possession, his sewing machine, hidden safely under a canvas tarpaulin, along with a single suitcase of clothing. The rain beat a tattoo on his battered hat, on the tarpaulin, on the deeply rutted road, on the bent backs of the tired exiles.

Surprisingly, Arno felt himself lucky; by now, the others in the long, sad procession had lost parents, children, homes, businesses, fortunes. He, on the other hand, had nothing to lose; he had been orphaned long ago, and had never made enough money to marry.

He was assigned a room in a run-down brick building, which must have been grand at some point during the nineteenth century, a ground floor apartment reached by a dark, dank passageway through the courtyard. Down the block, there were blackened pits with stone stairs leading up to nowhere, fireplaces hanging from broken chimneys, relics of the first weeks of the invasion. Still, he was happy; others had to share rooms with strangers. At least he had privacy, a bed, a table, a chest of drawers, a stove. When he walked a little ways past the houses, he could see miles of undulating fields punctuated here and there by stands of trees and the sun shining on the River Bug as it bent along its way between Poland and the Ukraine.

His work papers said he was a tailor. The Jewish Council put him to work under the broad jurisdiction of Willy Reinhart, Commandant of the labor camp, repairing German uniforms. The people who worked for him said he was a fair man, a good German; if the Jews worked hard, they would survive. He had protected them so far.

His parents, when they were alive, had been soft-spoken and hard-working, and their son was no different. Occasionally, in Krakow, a girl would come to him for a wedding dress, or a young man for a suit to be married in. Eyes down, mouth full of pins, he would murmur congratulations, take his measurements, and they would flutter out the front chattering like songbirds, never knowing how much the little tailor envied them their happiness. Times were hard; he could barely afford to pay for his room, food, wood for the stove, let alone a wife.

He was in Wlodawa barely a month when the matchmaker came to him with a shiddoch, a match. Such a pretty girl, she said. Kind-hearted as the day is long. As cheerful as a little bird, always going about her chores with a song. A beautiful figure. And such a cook! But why had the matchmaker come to him instead of one of the other men in town, he wanted to know. Because her last husband had divorced her, the matchmaker answered him with a shrug. It’s a small town. You know how people are.

Upon meeting her for the first time, over weak tea at the matchmaker’s house, his heart thrummed with joy. The matchmaker had not exaggerated a single feature; if anything, she had neglected to do her client justice. Dora, that was her name, had a head of dark blonde curls and big brown eyes of a shade which could rightly be called gold. Her skin was an indescribable blend of cream and bronze that had almost the sheen of the satin he used to use back in the days when he still made bridal gowns.

He dared a timid smile. When she smiled back, deep dimples appeared in each of her pink cheeks. The merry eyes tipped up at the corners like a cat’s.

Stumbling over his own words, he suggested a walk. To his escalating delight, she accepted, and they dawdled together, side by side, down the path out of town toward the grassy banks of the Bug River. When they could just see the spires of the Roman Catholic basilica poking up above a copse of trees in the distance, she reached for his hand. Arno took her face in his shaking hands...

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