Author's Note: This is an original, award winning story. It is my own
cherished work. Please do not use any part of it without my permission.
A heavy malaise had descended upon the Warsaw Ghetto, permeating
touched. Life itself had been swallowed up by the torpid noon as the world
was saturated in
muted shades of gray, all other hues blotted out by a smear of charcoal
smoke and filthy,
A small girl sat in one of the squalid apartments, the stale air
filling her lungs with a
growing restlessness. Gazing out the window, she begged her father to let
her out to play. The
man adamantly denied this though, for even though the rain had abated, a
rancid current of raw
sewage had been carried into the streets with the runoff. He had lost his
wife to the Gestapo,
he would not lose his only child to disease.
Leah sighed softly and smoothed her doll's rumpled dress. Everything
stagnant, with only misery punctuating the monotony. She quietly arranged
her doll on the floor,
at loss for any dialogue the two could exchange. And yet, in this silent
wondrous reached her ear. It began with a long, tenuous note that hummed
vibrato. Almost instantly, the note transformed itself into a swiftly
ascending scale, B major to
the attuned ear, wonder to the girl. There came then a long pause in which
Leah sat at rapt
attention, waiting, hoping.
Suddenly, the music resumed in a sweeping crescendo that consumed the
mildewed tenement. The music was, at once, everything and nothing, beauty
and hell ebbing
through the ceiling. In her mind, Leah struggled to place the familiar
piece, and soon
remembered where she had heard it before; it was a sweeping sonata from
Leah's Da had said, before They had taken Mama and the radio, that
the song sounded
like angels singing. With this memory, Leah felt a hot vein of excitement
pulse through her.
Hadn't Frau Marqwitz said the angels took Mama home? The small girl leapt
to her feet,
certain that if she could only find the music's origin, Mama would be close
Narrowly averting her Da's watchful eye, Leah slipped out the door
and mounted the
stairs with rigid determination. The song created an infallible beacon
from which she could not
escape, and the stairs disappeared quickly under foot. In only a moment's
time, she found
herself at a doorway, and, without hesitation, she pushed it open.
The apartment wasn't so different from her own, but within the dank
light she saw him-
a young man holding the instrument of her adulation. He was indeed young,
maybe in his late
twenties, the face of a child himself. His dark hair cascaded over his
eyes, which were
wrenched shut, and his entire slender face was contorted by a blessed mix
of concentration and
passion. He possessed long, graceful fingers like she had never before
seen on a man, and
these grasped at the instrument's neck and bow, flying with an ethereal
Leah watched in pure amazement, finding her small body barely capable
the gale storm of emotions his music had summoned. She stood in the door
frame in utter
silence, lips slightly parted, watching and listening with every bit of her
soul. After what seemed
like a small eternity, the music died away with a final trembling note.
The man's eyes slowly
opened, laden with a deep sadness. He seemed unaware of her presence at
first, but then his
eyes fell upon the girl, surprise lining his face. Leah started to duck
away, but his voice stopped
"You were watching me, little one?"
Leah nodded with an uncharacteristic shyness brought about by hearing
He smiled at this, and beckoned her forward. "It has been a while
since we've had an
audience," he said, indicating the violin as the other included in "we."
"You play very nicely," she whispered.
"Thank you, Little One. What is your name?"
"Leah," she responded, edging closer. "Are you an angel?" She
questioned him in a
trembling voice, both fervent and hopeful.
"Me? An angel?" He chuckled softly, "Were I an angel I'd fly away
and have no need
for this music. An angel! No, child, I am only Herr Goldstein."
"But you were playing...so beautiful," Leah struggled to keep her
voice from betraying
"Little One, anyone can play."
"But I can't!" Leah protested.
"Then you must learn." Something came suddenly across his face, the
of a brilliant thought. "Yes, yes, you must learn! We'll drown the
Gestapo rats in our music!"
By now he was absolutely beaming at his own triumph and pacing the room
like a madman.
"Come here, Leah, I'll show you how to hold the violin."
Leah was hesitant at first, but swiftly fell in love with the thought
of making such music
herself and easily positioned the violin under her chin as instructed. Her
hands were small and
her fingers barely fit around the instrument's neck, but her eagerness
awkwardness of it. Herr Goldstein was encouraged by this same vivacity and
showing her how to strike a note, a scale, a chord, and a gradual tune.
Two hours time slipped
by in a smooth breath. Leah had barely noticed the time's passing, but her
shattered by a familiar voice.
"Leah!" her father's voice floated up the stairs. "Leah, where are
"Da!" the girl hissed in a startled whisper. "Herr Goldstein, I must
go," Leah cried,
fleeing from the room.
"Leah," he called after her, causing the girl to stop abruptly.
"You'll come back
tomorrow?" Leah merely nodded before disappearing from view completely.
As her small
form retreated, the man felt a smile spread steadily across his face.
"There is beauty," he whispered, "Pity it is caged in Hell."
That night, over a meager supper of molding bread with a smear of
aging jam, Leah felt
countless questions play through her tired mind. However, despite the
growing pangs of
curiosity that wandered towards Herr Goldstein, all was surpassed by a
she couldn't stop anticipating tomorrow. Life was no longer tedious and
fearful, but alive
with color and possibility. She could feel the weight of the violin in her
hands and hear its
poetry. It was this burning intensity that would carry her starving body
through that night and
many to follow.
The next morning came without event and the minutes seemed to crawl
by slower than
ever as Leah awaited a chance to escape. At last, around nine in the
morning, it came.
"Leah," her Da said, crossing to the door and putting on his shabby
coat, "I'm going out.
Be careful. You may go to Rebecca's to play, but don't go out."
"Yes Da," she replied dutifully, her heart skipping a beat. She
watched him leave, and
the moment he was gone, she headed upstairs. Barely capable of containing
she knocked on Herr Goldstein's door. There was the sound of footsteps,
and then the young
man was smiling down at her.
"Ah, Leah, you're back! Come in," he invited, swinging the door
open. "Have you
come to learn, I hope?"
Leah nodded eagerly, and the lesson began. With great dedication,
she followed his
instructions and watched him with adoring eyes. Once again time passed
into oblivion, but
today it was peppered with advice. Leah noted that his face would grow
solemn before each
"Leah, every time you pick up that violin, I want you to remember
that this is not only
about notes, but your entire soul. Music is passion. You may be trapped
here, but your spirit
and the song will always be free. Play with passion, or don't play. If
you do this, you will learn
"Like an angel?" she asked, eyes growing wide.
He chuckled, charmed by this constant reference. "Perhaps you will
not fly with wings,
but like an angel, you will fly to a paradise, hmm?"
Leah couldn't deny her confusion at his philosophy and turn of
phrase, but she knew in
her heart that he was right, and so she lifted the bow, determined to find
passion, and to make it
It was in this manner that day slid into day and weeks blurred into
weeks. For the first
few weeks, Leah's fingers had cracked and bled when she played, but now her
with a throbbing longing whenever she wasn't playing. For the first time
in as long as the small
girl could recall, she had been able to turn a blind eye to the surrounding
world and the pain that
encased it. She was learning the music, and it could take her far away.
Every lesson passed much the same, and Herr Goldstein continued to
speak less and
teach more. However, one day, she observed his face growing solemn, like
before and soon
enough he leaned back and began to speak.
"Leah, do you know the songs well enough to tell one from another?"
"Yes, of course," she responded, puzzled.
He sighed thoughtfully and then said, "Come here, I need to show you
Leah followed him across the room, curious. Herr Goldstein drew back a rug
and pulled gently
at a particular floorboard. The board lifted up like a trap door and
revealed a small
compartment below. "Leah, I don't want to scare you, but I think the
Germans mean to kill us
all. I have been put down long enough, and if they come for us, I will
fight, but I don't want you
hurt. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Leah offered feebly.
"If I should ever play a certain song, I want you to come here and
hide. Don't move,
don't breathe, don't make a motion that might betray you, no matter what
you hear or see. You
have to understand that, Leah, no matter what you hear, don't move!"
Leah quaked in disbelief, understanding for once precisely what he
not what else to do, she threw her arms about Herr Goldstein's waist in a
brief embrace. She
drew back then, attempting to regain her composure.
"What song will you play?"
Goldstein said nothing, but simply began to play a slow melody, sad
and sweet. She
knew it at once. When he had finished, he set down the bow and looked at
"Kol Nidre," she whispered, aghast.
"I thought it appropriate. 'All Vows', a song played only once a
year on the day of atonement. I fear the
next time I play it will be my last." He was quiet then, and Leah saw that
a great sadness had come over him.
"I will hide," she whispered, unable to find more suiting words. He
forced a smile for
"Then I will be happy," he said, and seemed genuine. Nevertheless,
his eyes still held
that deep despair. With a chill Leah realized that darkness would probably
haunt him until his
"Come," he said then, as if all was as before, "Let us get back to
the music before our
poor violin gets lonely." Leah laughed at this, but could not laugh away
the day's cold
Several weeks slipped past, all the while the loss around Leah grew
Stories were flying around the Ghetto of Nazi inhumanities and dead
children. The window
from which Leah had once watched a dull, empty street, was beginning to
show a filthy,
turbulent alley littered with emaciated corpses, both animal and human.
Strange men whispered
with Father in dark voices, and young men and women were always leaving
apartment as she was entering, the last words of conversations floating
heavy in the air with
words like "rebellion" and "uprising." As always, though, there was the
violin, the very
implement of hope. For Leah, it had now become the thought to which she
fell asleep and the
breath that awoke her each morning. That day was no different.
She awoke with a start, unsure why she had done so. Hazy tendrils of
were creeping about the desolate room, whispering false promises of warmth
through the winter
sky. Despite the bitter cold, Leah smiled and sat up. Yesterday Herr
Goldstein had told her
that a friend from the Aryan side of the Ghetto had smuggled him some sheet
music. He had
promised they would play through it. As Leah felt a rare happiness flood
through her at the
thought, she realized what precisely had awoken her. With a sickening cold
in the pit of her
stomach, Leah heard the soulful strains of a lone violin, singing out a
Jewish hymn, Kol Nidre.
The world and the Ghetto dissipated into nothingness as Leah tore up
the stairs and
threw open Herr Goldstein's door. The last chord was drawn and he looked
up at her with
tearful, knowing eyes.
"SS Troops have surrounded the Ghetto. You must hide," he said,
from his tired form.
"But what about my Da?" Leah questioned, as this thought came to her
every time she
thought of what the young man had told her what she must do.
"I will tell him his daughter is safe," Herr Goldstein offered, his
jaw set as he went about
opening the hidden door. When the space was cleared so that the girl might
Goldstein crossed the room and knelt down in front of her, putting his
hands on her shoulders.
"Leah, listen. You can survive. Remember everything I have told
you. Passion, Leah,
it is all there is. Music can save you. Please don't forget me, and no
matter what you hear, stay
hidden until it is safe." Herr Goldstein wrapped his arms around the
girl's small form. "I will see
you again," he smiled. "Maybe then I'll be an angel."
With no further ado, he lifted Leah and lowered her into the hidden
room. "Leah," he
said softly, lowering the violin and bow to her, "I can not take her with
me, please take good
care of her."
"Herr Goldstein!" Leah cried, voice drenched in desperation.
"What is it, Little One?"
"I will love you always and I'll never forget! And I know you'll be
an angel, my Mama
will tell them that you must be! Thank you, thank you...." Leah trailed
off, rhetoric at its very
demise. Herr Goldstein did not bother to hide his tears.
"God bless you child," he whispered as he quietly closed the trap
door. Leah cowered
in the dark, as still as a living thing had ever been. All around her, she
could hear the sounds of
the Ghetto waking up, of a normal morning starting, all seeming to create a
perverted sort of
calm before the storm. She felt her lower lip quiver as she heard her Da's
feet on the stairs and
heard his voice calling at every door.
"Have you seen my daughter? Has anyone seen my daughter? Leah!"
Then Leah heard Herr Goldstein's voice responding.
"Herr Reichamm," he said in a hushed tone, "It is today."
"What?" Leah's father cried.
"Today is the day we have feared. I have hidden your daughter," Herr
"She is safe?"
"Yes, She is safe. I swear it."
There was a silence and Leah's Da murmured, "You are a good man.
Come, we will
meet with the others." Leah listened to their footsteps disappear, knowing
all too well that she
would never see them again, yet somehow their strength fortified her. She
knew she would
For an undeterminable length of time, Leah crouched in fearful
praying and hoping. The terror came gradually, beginning as distant
thunder and growing
steadily until the screams and heavy footfalls of military boots filled her
ears. Leah bit fiercely at
her bottom lip, refusing to flinch, even when she heard a tortured scream
that sounded like
Herr Goldstein. Her entire body was rigid with fear. The smells of acrid
smoke, burning blood
and human desperation soaked the nauseating air so that Leah was certain
she could taste bile
rising in the back of her throat, but she did not move. Instead, she
remained curled against the
wall, like a blind man trapped in Hell.
Slowly, the screams quieted, the sobs abated and the boots were gone.
Leah did not move. Herr Goldstein had told her not to move, and somehow
she felt the danger
was not yet passed. Sure enough, another round of boots tromped through,
with growling dogs
and caustic voices barking German commands. Leah squeezed her eyes shut
and held her breath. A volley of
gunfire echoed around her, and one shot grazed too close for comfort. Leah
prayed harder but
did not move.
Time passed slowly and Leah gave up on trying to count the hours.
When it seemed at
least a day must have passed, she finally surrendered to her body's needs
and emerged from the
hold like a filthy, dazed butterfly from a dark, lonely cocoon. As she
struggled to pull herself
up with her weak arms, she looked around the sepulchral room, completely
barren of any signs
of life. She hoisted herself onto the cold, unforgiving wooden floor and
stood up slowly,
picking up the violin. With a deep shuddering breath, Leah crossed to the
small window in Herr
Goldstein's apartment, dreading what she might see.
The sky was the soft lavender of early dawn, and somehow everything
and subdued by the gentle light. No amount of conservative lighting,
however, could hide the
horror below. The streets were blanketed with corpses, and dogs ran about,
the bodies. Leah thought she caught sight of a head of Rebecca's tell tale
auburn hair, and
turned swiftly from the window, feeling the need to vomit. She turned to
the room, and the
weight of her solitude struck her.
"I'm all alone," she whispered, "And no one knows where I am." Leah
sat down in a
chair, holding her only companion to her chest. Feeling the sharp sting of
her eyes, Leah lifted the smooth, polished wood and tucked it under her
chin. She fumbled slightly,
but her tiny fingers soon found their position on the instrument's neck as
she tightened her grasp
about the bow. Leah set the bowstring against the first string of the
violin, and carefully drew it
across. A long tone emanated from the instrument, filling Leah with a
familiar calm, quieting the
silent sobs that were racking her tiny form. Leaning into the violin, Leah
played with everything
she possessed, quicksilver tears weaving watery paths down her dirty
cheeks. Fingers danced
through the pain, knitting the very personification of her soul in an
unchained melody, a
rhapsody of passion. Leah knew that she was free and that if the music
could not carry her on an
angel's wings, she would find her own escape. Herr Goldstein had been
was passion, and her passion for life could save her yet.