by Eric Gutwillig
All was silent, except for Erwin snoring fiercely in the bunk below me. The others slept peacefully as I lay awake in the darkness. I felt an urge to go downstairs, and then I remembered why.
Steady breathing, accompanied by stentorian snoring, greeted me from the other rooms. Were they dreaming of parents and little siblings left behind in Hitler's Europe? Of the purgatory we had escaped? Perhaps they were too young to realize how fortunate they were to find refuge in England, but could imagine the horrors in the Europe we left behind?
Was it really ten years since my father died? For a boy just turned twelve, it seemed like forever. I heard so much about him that I felt like I had personal memories of him. What if father were still alive? Would he have taken us out of Germany before that terrible day in 1938 when they destroyed our apartment? Or would he have been arrested with the rest?
The moment passed, but it was a priceless one that remains forever. That moment alone made my effort to get the yarzeit light worthwhile.
It wasn't easy. Those months in Blackpool since the beginning of the war, thirty of us lived in a refugee hostel. We had little beyond the bare necessities, but at least these we had, except for money! Our basic needs were seen to. If we wanted anything beyond that, such as a birthday present, we just did without it.
As my father's yarzeit drew near, I wanted to light a yarzeit candle. They cost one shilling and six pence, but with a little bargaining, Mr. Koblenz, the local grocer, would reduce it to a shilling and three pence. But it made no difference. They might as well cost a hundred pounds. I had neither a hundred pounds nor a halfpenny for a lollipop. I had nothing!
The shop was empty as I entered, except for Mr. Koblenz snoozing on a stool in the corner. Hanging on the wall above Mr. Koblenz's head, was a black-framed photograph of a strikingly handsome boy in Royal Air Force uniform. The caption, "Reuven Koblenz, Killed in Action, March 1940," told me everything.
"He certainly was a nice-looking boy," I said.
"Was he your only one, sir?"
"How did he die, Mr. Koblenz?"
"You must be very proud of him! Oh, Mr. Koblenz, do you realize how helpless we were when they smashed our apartment? How I wished we could hit back at those creatures. And now your son did that very thing! How terrific!"
There was silence and then I remembered the purpose of my mission and hesitantly asked:
"A yarzeit light at your age?"
"Growing up without a father isn't easy, son. I guess we all have our troubles."
"That's all right, son. That shilling or two won't make me rich or poor."
"All right, son. Pay me whenever you can."
"Sonny, I have an idea. You're saying Kaddish for your father, right?"
"Well, there's no one to say Kaddish for my Reuven. It's a long time since I've been to Synagogue and I wouldn't even know what to say. So when you say Kaddish for your father, will you think of my Reuven and say Kaddish for him at the same time?"
He handed me the yarzeit light.
"Well, yes. I'd like a photograph of Reuven, so whenever I think of how helpless we were when the Germans ravaged our home, I'll look at it and remember that Jewish boys fought back!"
"I wish you a long life, my boy," he said, as he grasped my hand. "Here, I brought you the photograph."
A tear slowly trickled from his eye down his cheek.
"I will, Mr. Koblenz, G-d willing. I promised you, haven't I?"