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by Robert L. Hecker
Category: Historical Fiction
Description: The Nazi treatment of the Gypsies and other people during World War II is a matter of fact. Although mention is made of certain events and political and military leaders within the historical context of the period, this is a work of fiction and no reference is intended to living persons. The treatment of the Jews and the numbers imprisoned and exterminated as a result of the Nazi Holocaust is well documented, but little has been recorded regarding the fate of Gypsy captives. It is estimated, however, that 500,000 Gypsies were exterminated by the Nazis, amounting to 75 per cent of the world's Gypsy population! It is also not generally known that for centuries Gypsies were used as slaves in many parts of Balkan Europe. It was not until 1856 that the last Gypsy slaves in Rumania were freed by proclamation. But the Gypsies continue to survive, often unwanted, finding it difficult to assimilate, often persecuted, but asking no quarter, desiring only to be allowed to live their lives in peace.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing, 2002 DDP
eBookwise Release Date: December 2002
13 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [534 KB]
Reading time: 350-490 min.
Walking in a driving rain, Ravanna Zorka could almost feel the excitement that permeated New York City. With Europe already firmly locked in the jaws of war, the city appeared to be whirling on the edge of a maelstrom, as though all its activities, all its life forces have been heightened.
Ordinarily, Anna enjoyed the rain. But not today. The telephone call from Mr. Kipchak late the night before regarding her father's illness had filled her with alarm. Could she stop by in the morning -- yes, he usually worked on Saturday -- and discuss the situation?
Waiting impatiently for the light to change so that she could dash across 5th Avenue, Anna was too preoccupied with thoughts of her father to notice a man walking rapidly with his head down against the rain until he bumped heavily into her. Her thought, as she teetered on the edge of the curb, was not one of fear, although cars and trucks raced past like juggernauts. Rather, it was one of surprise. With so few people walking in the foul weather, how could someone bump into her?
The split second of teetering saved her life. It was just enough time for the driver of a big Mack truck to see her and slew to a stop at the instant she lost her balance and lurched into the street. The fright in her eyes as she stared at the big radiator of the truck scarcely inches from her face, stilled the angry words of the truck driver who had leaned out of his cab. He contented himself by yelling, "Watch where the hell you're goin', lady."
The grinding of the truck's gears shook Anna out of her shock and she leap back to the sidewalk just as the truck shot forward, its side panel almost brushing her nose.
Anna's legs were weak as she made her way to the shelter of a building and leaned against the blessedly cold marble. Her breath was coming in short, ragged gasps, and she could feel her heart racing, its beat so strong it thudded against her ribs. Stupid New Yorker. Rushing along with no thought of anyone except himself. My God! She had escaped being killed by a hair's breath.
She huddled against the building's facade and waited for her heart to stop its heavy thudding. The brief respite also gave her time to remember why she was out in the driving rain, and abruptly, one fear was replaced by another.
How ill was her father? He was only 45, too young to be in real danger. But then, her Aunt Sonja had only been 45 when she died last year of cancer.
The thought sent a stab of pain down Anna's spine. At first, news of her father's illness had made her want to rush to the nearest steamship office and purchase a ticket for home. But apprehension made her hesitate. Suppose she had to go back. The Nazis were in de facto control of the government of Hungary. If she went back now, would they allow her to return to America when her father got well? And would her father even want her to come? He had sent her to America in the first place because he was afraid the Nazis would take over Hungary. Would he want her to return now when it was a fact?
The desire to know even the worst drove her from the shelter of the building. She was probably worrying for nothing. Mr. Kipchak would tell her that everything was fine and she could resume her happily uneventful life.
Damn the rain. The cold, wind-whipped downpour maliciously sought out every miniscule opening in her raincoat, determined to drench her to the skin. Thank heavens she was rarely sick. She supposed her immunity to ordinary germs and viruses was because for generations her mother's Gypsy ancestors in Hungary had been forced by their Magyar and Walachia masters to work from daylight to sundown naked in the icy waters of the Borsog and Tisza rivers washing gold from the river bottom. Those who survived had developed an incredible immune system.
Anna made a vow to herself that if she ever had the money, she would have a beautiful plaque -- or better yet, a huge statue -- erected on the banks of the Tisza as a memorial to the hundreds of Gypsies who had perished so that their masters could live in luxury.
Thoughts of home brought tears that mingled with the rain. She wondered if her father had changed during the past 4 years. She knew she had. Now, at 22, she was probably as tall as he. And his eyes might be darker, but she thought her face with its high Magyar cheekbones and wide-spaced eyes was more like his than her Gypsy mother's, although she did have her mother's dusky, olive skin, which always made her look as though she had just returned from a vacation in Florida.
Perhaps his hair was now gray. The last few years must have been difficult for him. First there had been the death of her mother the year before he had sent Anna to New York. Then there were the Nazis who now occupied Hungary. Her father had certainly been right about that.
Anna could still remember his words as he put her onboard the ship at Fiume on the Adriatic. "This Adolf Hitler and his New Order will pull us all into war. In America you will be safe. You can return when it is over and that madman and all of his kind are dead."
"But, papa," she had said. "Come with me. You must be safe too."
But he had not come with her. Instead, he had elected to stay and manage the Zorka estate with its famous vineyards that had been in their family since the days of King Matthias. And now,... She did not want to think about what might be happening now.
At the Bradley Building on East 54th, she took the elevator to the tenth floor and the office of Mr. Kipchak. The elderly lawyer was an old friend of her grandfather. He had immigrated to the United States almost forty years ago, but had kept in touch with her family. So it was natural that he had practically become her guardian after she arrived in New York.
Mrs. Czacnic, his secretary, a matronly woman with an ample figure and thick, gray hair, said good morning to Anna and helped her take off her wet raincoat. When she saw the water-soaked areas on Anna's knit dress, she clucked in display and departed for the restroom to fetch paper towels.
While waiting for her return, Anna tried to pull a comb through her hair, but after a few futile strokes, gave up the task. Moisture had turned her naturally curly hair into an unmanageable mass of ringlets and long, twisting strands. She considered putting on some lipstick and rouge, but decided not to. The brisk walk had brought color enough to her cheeks and she really did not like to wear lipstick. It drew too much attention to her lips which she thought were a trifle too full. Ever since a boy had once told her that her lips always looked as though she was waiting to be kissed, she had tried to make them as inconspicuous as possible. She did have exceptionally good teeth, thank heavens. Again, courtesy of her mother. Slaves and nomads did not survive if they could not masticate anything that passed for food.
After she had blotted the worst of the moisture from her clothes, Anna went into Mr. Kipchak's office.
Before today, she had always enjoyed visits to Mr. Kipchak. His office, with its large windows, huge old desk and untidy bookcases, had the cluttered look reflective of a man who had trouble getting one task accomplished before he started on another. And there was always the aroma of pipe tobacco, just like the office of her father.
"Ravanna! Late as usual."
Jozsef Kipchak put his pipe in an ashtray and heaved his bulky form from the deep leather chair as though reluctantly leaving the embrace of a lover.
"I'm sorry, Uncle Jozsef. It's the rain."
She did not want to tell him about the near accident. He worried about her anyway as though she were still an adolescent.
He lumbered around the desk and wrapped her in his arms as he always had. She could remember when his hugs had threatened to crush her like a sear autumn leaf in the grip of a giant. Now she could give as well as she took, and he grinned at her through his scraggly beard, his small eyes twinkling behind the thick lenses of rimless glasses.
"I've got to stop that." He spoke in Magyar, the old Hungarian language. "You're beginning to hurt my ribs."
"Not much chance of that," she laughed, lapsing easily into her native tongue. "I can't even get my arms around you."
He patted his stomach with satisfaction. "I'm prepared for a long winter. I'll be alive when you skinny ones are nothing but bones."
"Skinny! You think I'm skinny?"
Kipchak peered at her over the tops of his glasses. "Well, they like them with thin waists and big bosoms today so I guess you're all right. You'll fill out more when you get older."
"Not I. I'll never be fat. My bones are too small."
"Ridiculous. You have bones like a dinosaur. You wait."
"Well, maybe when I'm old -- like forty -- or real old, like fifty."
Kipchak snorted as she knew he would. He had to be at least eighty and any mention of age threw him into a defensive angst. "Age is relative. If you have the right relatives, you don't get old. Remember that, young lady. Choose your mother and father carefully and you'll live a long time."
She felt her face grow sad at the mention of mothers and fathers and, noticing, he retreated behind his desk to hide his dismay at the faux pas. He allowed himself to be enfolded by the big leather chair and motioned her to a seat on a couch. She was forced to restack some of the papers on the couch before she could make a place to sit and Kipchak growled, "Careful there. Those are important cases."
Anna glanced at the dates on some of the papers. Most were months old. She blew dust from one sheaf that was beginning to turn yellow. "Whose case is this? Abraham Lincoln's?"
"Don't be facetious. I have everything under control. Now, let me see. Where did I put that telegram?"
Telegram! Anna hunched her shoulders against a sudden chill. Telegrams were always bad news. "It's my father, isn't it? Is he all right?"
The old man straightened and threw his hands up. "That woman. She's always moving things. But..." He turned to Anna, worry in his eyes. "You're right. It is bad. They want you to come immediately."
A fist closed on Anna's heart. "Why did Uncle Albrecht send it to you instead of directly to me? I could already be on my way."
"I suppose it was because I've been the official guardian of your welfare since you've been here."
That was certainly true. When she had arrived in New York, Mr. Kipchak had already prepared the way. An apartment was waiting and a checking account had been set up in the Chase Manhattan Bank.
"But it was about my father. Uncle Albrecht should have sent it to me."
"There's more to it than that."
The grimness in his voice startled her. "More? What?"
Instead of answering directly, he said, "How well do you know this man Albrecht Grantz?
"Uncle Albrecht? Well, he's not really my uncle, of course. But he seems like an uncle. I've known him since I was a child. He's been my father's solicitor for years."
"I see. I've been trying to telephone him, but the telephone these days..." He shrugged his heavy shoulders as much as the chair would allow. "However, that is now moot. I, uh, received a letter."
"A letter? From Uncle Albrecht?" Her fear at his evasiveness made her voice no more than a breath.
"No. From your father."
"A few days ago." He selected a folded sheet of paper from a scattering on top of his desk. "See. I know exactly where everything is."
"A few days ago? Why didn't you tell me?
"It did not seem important. Until I received the telegram from Herr Grantz. See for yourself."
Her fingers trembled as she opened the letter. It was in Magyar, written in her father's large flowing hand. Except for his occasional letters, she never read Magyar any more and she had to struggle to make out some of the long agglutinative words, many containing thirty letters or more. The gist of it was that her father was suspicious that someone in the government was attempting to usurp the Zorka estate. Thus far there was no concrete evidence, although he was sure that one attempt had been made on his life. At the time it had seemed like an accident, but after he had discovered power-of-attorney papers forged with his name, he was not so sure. If someone was trying to usurp the Zorka estate, an attempt might also be made on Ravanna's life. He did not want to alarm her. So without her knowledge, would Herr Kipchak arrange for her protection?
Anna jerked her eyes away from the paper, her breath caught in her throat. "My God. Maybe it wasn't an accident."
Joseph Kipchak stared at her, his eyes inquisitive. "What wasn't?"
"On the way here. Someone bumped into me. I almost fell in front of a truck."
Kipchak's pudgy hand went to his mouth. "Good heavens! We must call the police."
"It's too late for that. It probably was an accident. But... my father. What is his illness? When did it start?"
"Herr Grantz' telegram was not specific. But the timing of his illness does lead to speculation, wouldn't you say?"
Alarm pushed Anna to her feet. "I'm going back. He might need me."
Kipchak held up both his hands, palms out. "I considered that and I agree."
Anna hated the thought of leaving New York. During the past four years, she had made a home in America. She had her B.A. from Columbia University; she had a good job in a brokerage office; she had her own apartment just off 5th Avenue. And she had become an American citizen. Now, she felt more American than Hungarian. Her accent had virtually disappeared; she even thought in English. But her father needed her. "Good," she said. "Would you make the arrangements?"
"But... there are considerations," Kipchak continued in Magyar as though he hadn't heard her. "First, we must obtain an entry visa from the Hungarian government."
"Entry visa? For God's stake, I'm a citizen."
"I thought you became an American citizen."
"I did. But I was born in Hungary. That gives me dual citizenship."
"Perhaps. However, the Nazi's have peculiar views about who is and who is not a citizen. They are afraid of spies."
"From the United States? We're not at war."
"Not technically. But it's only a matter of time. We're already delivering lend-lease to the British."
"The United States doesn't want to get involved in another of Europe's wars. Hitler knows that. And I'm sure he wouldn't want anything to happen to an American citizen. Not at this critical time."
"You may be right. There is, of course, the matter of getting there."
Anna was fully aware of the dangers of travel across the North Atlantic: German submarines were sinking American ships even though the United States was not at war. The admonition that "Loose Lips Sink Ships" was displayed everywhere. Perhaps the Germans only sank freighters transporting war material to England and would not sink a passenger ship. But then, maybe they would.
"I can go by way of the South Atlantic. To Brazil and Spain and through the Mediterranean to Fiume. It'll take a little longer, but there won't be much danger."
Jozsef Kipchak made a tight little smile. He knew she was rationalizing away the danger. German submarines were ranging the entire Atlantic from Iceland to the Azores and into the Mediterranean. "And what happens after you get there?"
"Well, if my father is feeling better we'll have a nice visit."
"I hope you're right." He sounded cheerful, but deepening furrows between his eyes indicated his worry better than words. She understood the reason for his concern. She would be in a country controlled by the Nazis. Although, technically, Hungary was ruled by its Regent, Horthy de Nagybanya, Hitler had forced Hungary to become one more German satellite. Like it or not, Hungary was now part of Hitler's Third Reich. And even though, unlike other countries under German domination, Hungary was not overrun by Gestapo secret police and Sturm Abteilungen terror squads, it was the Nazis and their fascist sympathizers who were running the country. And if some Nazi bureaucrat was trying to take the Zorka land, there was no guaranteeing she would be safe. Nor was her father safe. So, she really had no choice. Whatever the danger, she had to return.
Copyright © 2003 by Robert L. Hecker