Historical Context

Keith Morgan/Ruth Kron Sigal
From the book Ruta's Closet

Dedicated to Tamara Kron


The Shavl Ghetto – Late afternoon, Friday, November 5, 1943

All was quiet on the street outside the little house where Dr. Peisachowitz lived and the younger Krons hid.
Tamara awakened, disoriented and feeling somewhat claustrophobic underneath the planks beneath Uncle Wulf’s low bed. Ruta’s reassuring whispers calmed the little girl but soon Tamara began to fret and her tiny ribcage shook as the tears flowed.
Ruta tried to comfort her, repeating soothing words her mother used to calm her when she was younger and fretful. But her mother’s magic eluded her and Tamara continued to cry.
In the short breaks between sobs, Ruta strained to listen for any sign of activity beyond the thin walls of the shabby shack. As far as she could tell, just as young Adute Toker had mistakenly thought earlier, all was quiet outside.
Fleetingly, she recalled the words of grandpa about staying hidden until either he or another member of the family came to rescue the two of them. However, Ruta had to make a decision, one that would be an awesome burden for a person three times her age. She may have weighed the risks but it is more likely she feared Tamara’s restlessness would attract attention and thus certain apprehension.
She decided they would get out from under the bed and look for somewhere else to hide if it were not safe to return home. Slowly she lifted the loose boards and pushed them aside. It was late afternoon and there was no longer much light in the tiny room. She listened for a few more minutes for any sign of trouble outside.
Ruta got out first and looked down at her little sister. Again, her parents’ cautions ran through her mind. Tamara calmed down as she rose unsteadily to her feet and looked into the face of her sibling protector for further instructions. Ruta told her to remain quiet and they would run back home where grandpa would be waiting for them and maybe even mama and papa. The happy sounding, rising intonation of her final hopeful words made Tamara feel better just as intended.
With her sister’s tiny fingers squeezed between her own, Ruta led her out onto the street. The fading light signalled that Shabbat neared but there would be no celebration that night. The encroaching darkness offered the two girls no protection: two guards on the roof of the adjacent red brick jail spotted the dishevelled youngsters. Ruta looked up to see the two distant figures a hundred yards away pointing at her and her sister. Her heart pounded. She stood transfixed like a deer caught in a car’s headlights.
The Kinderaktion was by no means over. Within a minute, foul smelling, red-faced soldiers grabbed both sisters and pushed them into the street where two more soldiers, each with snarling dogs, frog marched them towards the green truck waiting by the gate.
The 20 years of maturity Ruta had acquired in an instant earlier in the day fell away and she became a frightened, screaming seven-year-old girl again. The two girls struggled to free themselves from their respective captors, without any success. The bigger and stronger Ruta kicked at the man who had her in a vice like grip but she was nothing more than an irritant for the determined dog handler, whose canine companion growled and gnashed its teeth with each kick.
As they neared the truck full of bawling children, Ruta composed herself and drew once again on some of her recently acquired maturity. She decided to try another more reasoned approach. “Please let us go. We will be good girls.” She could see that too was not having any impression so in desperation, she tried to grab the hand of the man and rain kisses upon it. It elicited a response in German: “Shut up, get up and keep going.”
Tamara was screaming hysterically. Ruta was crying also but was not about to give up and continued pleading with the big, bad men, undeterred by their cackling. Any hope of her pleas finding a warm spot in the chests of the soldiers disappeared as they reached the truck at the ghetto gate.
Just in front, a little boy of maybe five or six was making similar pleas for mercy as he was dragged along the muddy street. An exasperated soldier swung a large piece of wood catching the boy’s leg on the downward swing. The youngster dropped like a stone to the ground. There was a split second’s pause as the pain took its time to overtake the shock enveloping his young mind. Two soldiers lifted the boy up roughly and tossed him onto the back of the truck, his broken leg grotesquely swinging at an unnatural angle as he flew through the air.
The scene stunned Ruta, silencing her protests for a few moments. Tamara continued to cry, too absorbed in her own grief to take in what had happened to her peer.
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