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. Thanks!



Leah's Rhapsody

A heavy malaise had descended upon the Warsaw Ghetto, permeating everything it

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,

drizzling rain.

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 seemed still;

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 play, something

wondrous reached her ear. It began with a long, tenuous note that hummed with growing

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 rotten,

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 Da's radio.

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 behind.

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 speed.

Leah watched in pure amazement, finding her small body barely capable of containing

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

her.

"You were watching me, little one?"

Leah nodded with an uncharacteristic shyness brought about by hearing her muse

speak.

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

her disappointment.

"Little One, anyone can play."

"But I can't!" Leah protested.

"Then you must learn." Something came suddenly across his face, the striking splendor

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 surmounted the

awkwardness of it. Herr Goldstein was encouraged by this same vivacity and went about

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 oblivion was

shattered by a familiar voice.

"Leah!" her father's voice floated up the stairs. "Leah, where are you?"

"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 quivering excitement,

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 her excitement,

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

address.

"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

to fly."

"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

her instrument.

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 hands ached

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 something."

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 meant. Knowing

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 her expectantly.

"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

her.

"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

death.

"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

realizations.

Several weeks slipped past, all the while the loss around Leah grew more poignant.

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 Herr Goldstein's

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 morning light

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, defeat radiating

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 enter, Herr

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 Goldstein was

saying.

"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

survive.

For an undeterminable length of time, Leah crouched in fearful anticipation, waiting,

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. Despite this,

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 was softened

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, scavenging from

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 tears in

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 right; everything

was passion, and her passion for life could save her yet.