ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION
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THE BABY- THE KISS OF DEATH
"Ania is pregnant! Ania is pregnant! The startling news hit the alley alike a bomb. Pregnancy in the Ghetto, was like a kiss of death, for all of us.
The news of the pregnancy created an upheaval and havoc in
the small community that shared the bunker. "Ania's folly
is endangering the lives of all of us," lamented my father.
"Yes," echoed Lustig, our neighbor. "We built the bunker
together and we share the night watches. This is not
Because we shared the bunker, the eight families living in
the two adjacent houses were dependent on each other for
the safety of their lives. The bunker was not a defensive
fortress at all. It was and old cellar, where the entrance
door was bricked up and camouflaged and with a small trap
door, located under and old piece of furniture. Ventilation
was provided by a small grill, hidden behind the shrubbery.
Inside the bunker, all the barrels containing the pickles
and sauerkraut were removed and long wooden benches
"Ania must have an abortion," was the unanimous verdict,
but Ania stubbornly refused.
"An abortion is not so simple. There is no doctor in the
Ghetto. All doctors were killed. Sam, spoke to Gittle the Midwife and
you know what she told him?"
"I can do it, but the risk is great. I am telling you straight. The
sanitary conditions are bad, I can't even get aspirins. It might kill
her, and you have to accept the risk involved."
Ania was right. We all knew Gittle the Midwife very well. She
shortened the lives of many women. A deeply superstitious woman, she
was more suited to be witch doctor. Ania had a point - she feared for
For years Ania could not conceive, and now nature played a dirty joke
on her. Her husband Sam, was a tall, gentle man, liked by everybody.
After his father died of cancer he took over the grocery store, and
having a good rapport with people, he improved the business. He was
running the store, but it was his mother who made the decisions. Sam
was a decent person and a good son. When his mother arranged the
match, he obediently fell in love and married sweet Ania.
The marriage was a good one; they cared for each other, and his mother
did not interfere in his marriage, except nudging him about a grandson.
"When will I have a grandson? What are you waiting for? I am getting
old." But Ania was infertile. "Your chances of conceiving are very
slim," Dr. Finkel told her.
After a few years his mother started to push for a divorce. "According
to the Jewish laws, you can divorce an infertile wife," she told Sam.
"Law or no Law, I am not going to divorce Ania, Forget it. I prefer
Ania without children that another wife with children." Sam told his
mother. It was the first time that Sam disobeyed his mother. His wife,
sensed the tension and was very grateful to her husband for his love.
Ania was a plump, pleasant woman, with blue eyes and blond hair. She
spoke in a low keyed voice, rarely argued, and always managed to have
her way. After the death of Sam's mother, she became the source of
strength to Sam. He sought her opinion on matters large and small, and
dutifully accepted her decisions.
Now, they argued vehemently. Ania desperately wanted a baby and she
believed in destiny, or "bashejt" as the Jews call it. She believed
that Providence is actively directs the life of an individual, and
humans have to accept this divine intervention. It made her life easy,
but annoyed Sam. "You know there is a Jewish saying that each baby
brings its won luck to the parents. I think the baby brought us
already luck. Just wait and see."
Ania's decision, split the small community into two camps: one camp,
comprised of mostly men, opted for an abortion, while the other,
comprised mostly women, was pro-choice.
The speaker of the first camp was my father, Leon: "It is a crime to
bring a child into this world, now. It will have no chances of
survival and it will endanger the lives of all of us. Remember Bloch's
tragedy. At the last action the hapless father strangled his own baby."
The other camp was headed by Chaja, the old spinster, the sister of
Sam. "An abortion made by Gittle is like a death sentence. We do not
have the right to ask Ania, to commit suicide. Let her make her own
decision," was the counter argument.
Meantime, the situation in the ghetto grew ominous. News of killing
in the surrounding towns was pouring in: Brzezany, Tarnopol, Buczacz,
etc. Killings, killings everywhere. The only good news came from the
Russian front. The battle for Stalingrad was in full swing. The fall
of Stalingrad, the official mourning period called by Hitler, lifted up
the spirits of the ghetto. "Maybe the war will come to an early end
and we will survive. "
The resurgence of hope made the question of a safe bunker more burning.
The two opposing sides hardened their positions. Ania herself had
mixed feelings. "The neighbors are right, but I cannot do it?" She
said to Chaja.
The open warfare between was averted by mother Pesia, who came up with
a good idea. "This is an old bunker, if discovered we all will be
killed. We need a more modern bunker, a piggy back type she argued. A
bunker like the Milch built recently. I am telling you that it is
destined "bashert" that we have a new bunker."
Once the "bashert" the destiny was introduced, the arguments were
settled. An honest Jew will never dare to challenge his destiny. The
idea was accepted and soon the construction of a new bunker proceeded
full speed. A community crisis was averted and Ania remained pregnant.
We were all involved in the construction of the new bunker and forgot
about Ania and her pregnancy. One day Sam came to talk to us. I do
have a problem. Ania is getting heavy and she can't pass through the
trap door to the bunker. In case of an action, we all will be lost.
It was Lustig that came up with an ingenious solution. Ania was due in
a month. "Ania should stay underground until she gives birth in the
bunker." An underground maternity ward was created. The wooden benches
were removed and replaced with a small bed. Lowering Ania into the
bunker became a complicated operation.
You can't push her too hard, she might loose the child. Ania was already too big to pass through the masking door. We had to remove the piece of furniture to enlarge the hole. After Ania passed through, the hole was filled to the original size. "Oh my God," cried Ania, "I am being buried alive and with a child."
Looking at those all preparations, Sam cried. "We just encased a
pregnant woman in an underground grave. To what is this world coming
to. Is there no end to this cruelty? Why? I am asking why, is this
coming to us?" Nobody could give him the answer.
Next day my mother lowered herself into to the bunker and paid a visit
to Ania. She came back very upset. "We can't leave her there alone.
She is going to die. It is damp place, the bedding is wet. The kerosene
lamp smells but doesn't give any light."
Later in the day she told Sam: "I am going to stay with her. I am going
to sleep there, to keep her company."
Thanks Pesia, from the bottom of my heart, Thanks. Such kindness is
very unusual in our times. Sam was glad that Ania will have some
Now like a bird guarding the nest and feeding the chicks, Sam was
constantly on the run: he cooked, washed, endangered his life
exchanging clothing or bedding for bread. Ania had the required
nutrition, so the child is healthy.
Ania was nearing the end of the pregnancy; she was due any moment. The
baby was kicking, she was anxious. "Who will deliver the baby in a
bunker? The midwife Chaja? Can she be trusted?" There was no doctor
in the ghetto.
"To deliver a baby is easier that to make an abortion. Gittle will
manage." Chaja said to her brother.
'Yes," answered Sam, "under normal circumstances Gittle will manage.
But are the circumstances normal. Ania had plenty of worries, poor
nourishment. We need a doctor."
One night my father came home with good news. "Sam, you are a lucky
fellow. Imagine that there is new doctor in town. Dr. Hudish is his
name. He is from Kolomyja and jumped the death train. I spoke with
him, and he is willing to attend Ania. He looks like a good doctor."
Next day Dr. Hudish was lowered into the bunker. He examined Ania and
prepared her for the delivery. "The patient is fine, she is due in
about a week, but the conditions of the bunker are appalling," said
Dr. Hudish coming out from the bunker. After ordering additional bed
sheets, a better kerosene lamp, and left promising to get some
scissors and delivery instruments.
Next day Sam came home and looked very worried. "What is the matter
Sam?" I asked him.
"Doctor Hudish said that the baby is in difficult position and he needs
special delivery tools, they call them high forceps. He doesn't have
An unusual urgent request was issued in the ghetto. A request for
delivery equipment. A few days passed and the instruments could not be
found. A week later, despite lack of the delivery instruments, Dr.
Hudish delivered the baby. In the midst of death a new life started.
The miracle of procreation took place in the most unusual
"It is a girl," Dr. Hudish cried to the father waiting at the opened
trap door. "Prepare a clean bed for her. She is beautiful." The baby
was born in the cull, a very good omen. The mother felt fine and soon
she will be able to rest in new bed.
In two weeks time the baby temporarily named, Aviva, meaning spring in
Hebrew, gained weight, but things looked bleak. The new bunker was
finished by now, and the pressure was off from the Hechts. The
neighbors, engaged in their own struggles to keep alive, kept out from
the Hecht's problem. Worst of all Chaja got sick; she was running a
high fever and could not swallow food. "It is typhoid," said Dr.
Hudish, "please keep her away from the baby. " Easier said than done,
when one room was occupied by a family.
It looks like that Chaja caught typhoid when sleeping in the damp,
dirty cellar. Constant worry about Ania and lack of proper nourishment
lowered her resistance. In the ghetto typhoid was a deadly sickness,
only a small percentage survived the disease. After a short illness
Chaja passed away. There is an old Jewish saying that "Every baby
brings its own luck." Until now Aviva did not bring any luck to her
The funeral preparations were short. The "Chevra Kedisha" - the Burial
Society was notified, Chaja's ration coupons were turned-in to the
Judenrat, and a simple reusable wooden casket was rented. The most
difficult thing was to obtain from the German authorities permission to
let the funeral procession leave the ghetto. The old Jewish cemetery
was far away from the boundaries of the ghetto.
On a clear windy day, the short funeral procession with the earthly
remains of Chaja Hecht proceeded slowly through the abandoned muddy
streets of the ghetto. Only four casket bearers and the closest family
members were allowed. The funeral passed almost unnoticed. I was one
of the pall bearers, I went along as a family member.
The arrival at the old cemetery was a painful experience for me. The
age-old part of the cemetery was destroyed, the stones with ancient
Hebrew inscription were uprooted and used as building material. An
enterprising farmer started to work the grounds, preparing for seeding.
"Even the dead are persecuted. This is total annihilation. Jewish
flesh will be used as fertilizers."
The new section contained rows upon rows of graves with simple stakes with wooden markings. No stones were allowed. It looked like Chaja found only a temporary resting place, soon the peasants will pull out the stakes and work the fields. From dust yea comes and to dust yea returns.
The burial ceremony was short. Sam recited the Kaddish, the prayer for
the death. The body wrapped in a shroud, was taken out of the reusable
casket and placed in the grave. A standard makeshift sign was placed,
declaring that this is the resting place of Chaja Hecht. The funeral
participants dispersed hastily, each trying to scourge around and maybe
buy some bread or potatoes.
Before leaving the cemetery Sam told me, "I am leaving this place with
a heavy heart. What is going to happen to us? It was a sin to bring
a baby into this cruel world. Chaja paid already the price, but her
sacrifice was in vain."
But mysterious are the ways of destiny. Little did Sam know that
Chaja's sacrifice was not in vain. On the way from the cemetery, Sam
decided to step in and see Xenia, that lived in their house. Maybe get
some bread for Ania and the baby.
Xenia was a part time Madam, and a retired whore. "She is a nice woman,
and she owns us some favors," said Sam to me. "Come with me maybe we
will get something to eat."
Xenia was a plump woman in the fifties. Her face showed traces of
worn-out beauty that was covered with layers of powder and rouge. She
was an intelligent woman, without education who rose through the ranks
of the common prostitutes, to become a madam. She had a good knowledge
of human nature, based on her observations and the numerous "special
requests" she received even from the mighty, rich or powerful clients.
She radiated motherly love, and even called her "girls - my children".
In the past she desperately had wanted to have a child, and under the
circumstances she lavished her unspent love on her puddle.
The neighbors liked her and were afraid of her big mouth. Xenia could
easily puncture peoples illusions and reputations. " Your lame husband
is no good. I can tell you a thing or so," she used to scream in a
full voice. It was also rumored that Xenia has German protectors. Her
abundant supplies of chocolate and cigarettes were a good prove of
Now Xenia received Sam warmly. "How is your mother?" She asked.
"She is dead," answered Sam.
"I am so sorry to hear it?" She also knew Chaja Hecht and was sorry to
learn the circumstances of Chaja's death. She prepared for Sam a
package: cheese, butter, bread. Sam hesitantly told her about the baby
and his predicament.
"I will take the baby. No problem," declared Xenia after a minute of
silence. Sam stood speechless, like thunderstruck, then he slowly
dropped to his knees, grabbed Xenia's hand and started to kiss them.
"Thank you! Thank You!" He murmured, weeping quietly.
After a few minutes he regained his composure. The good news slowly
sunk into his consciousness. He took the packages and swiftly run out
to share the good news with Ania. In the ghetto the running, smiling
Sam created a sensation. "He is gone mad." Who in the ghetto has
seen a smiling, joyous man returning from a funeral?
At home Ania received the good news calmly, without excitement. "I
feel so sad. I am going to lose the baby" she sighed. She understood
fully the good news Sam brought, but she was not happy. "To give a
month old baby to a prostitute for bringing up, is not the right thing
to do. What will become of Aviva? Will she become a prostitute?"
Sam pondered the answer for a minute. "What happened to you Ania? I
can't understand you? Xenia has offered life to our child. She is a
loving woman. Anything is better than death."
And so preparations were made for transfer of the baby. On an agreed
day or rather night, Sam took Aviva tucked in multiple layers of
clothing and wrapped in a blanket, waded the shallow river, and handed
over the baby to the waiting Xenia. On the other river bank, Ania was
weeping quietly. "God you have made a mockery of my life. He gave us
a baby to be given away to strangers. Why? I am asking why?"
Xenia told her best neighbor that one of her "children" got pregnant, and the father of the child, would not let her have an abortion. She implied that the father is a powerful German officer. Next day the whole neighborhood was criticizing Xenia for harboring a German bastard. On Sunday the baby was christened and given the lovely name of Luba.
Xenia settled down to a new life, with her own baby. Some neighbors
were suspicious but knowing Xenia and her big mouth, her German
connections, they kept those doubts themselves. Luba was growing up
peacefully, surrounded by all love given by her mother Xenia.