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History Is Who You’ve Lost

By
September 1, 2015

I, without knowing, dreamed parts of a truth. One part is this: my grandfather on my mother’s side was a murderer. Or was he?

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/TUYMANS_TOP.jpg
Luc Tuymans, Shadow II, 1992. Oil on canvas, 23 3/5 × 19 7/10 in., 60 × 50 cm. © Luc Tuymans.

Dream one: I’m being hunted down. Whoever is after me and the reasons for their pursuit aren’t clear. I know they carry rifles. I know they have an instinct about small places; shelves with false backs that open into alcoves, shadows behind bulky furniture. They know where to look. They know how to listen for my frightened breathing. In the dream, my sense of the hunters is that they are methodical, zealous, unstoppable. They are after me; it’s a fact. Usually it’s night. I’m barefoot. Footsteps, heavy—slow at first and then louder, faster, clamor of voices, a sweep of light. I close my eyes, try to make myself invisible. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, the spit sucked away by panic. The dream is one of the earliest I remember from childhood. I had it for years. Often, in those days, my hiding place in the dream was my own house, on Greenway Terrace in Kansas City: house of our cat Mitzi, house with the doorway from which my mother called me in at dusk in her broken English. What was Lithuania to me then? It was a rag wrapped around my mother’s tongue, the dark bread of the sandwiches she gave my sister and me to take to school. The crust hard as the curb of a road, the meat inside an uneven slab. I wanted a white lunch. I wanted to sleep without dreaming.

Dream two: I’m a murderer. It’s not clear who my victim was. It’s also not clear that there is just one. I’ve buried whomever I’ve killed. I had help. There was planning involved in the placement of the graves. Usually my dead are buried near a construction site, a place where concrete will be poured, where floors will be laid, where the dogs (Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, because, again, this dream began in childhood) will sniff and paw at the ground, at the just-set turf, at the stone steps and the hedge of fresh ground around the foundation. The dogs alert only to the ordinary: leaves, bits of gravel, the clanging of a copper gutter, the evidence of a recent rain. In the dream I’ve forgotten the reason for the killing. I just know that I’ve done it—and the knowledge folds over and over inside me like one of those combines in the fields outside the city, in Kansas, where my brother was born, where my mother’s brother and his wife had a farm, where my Lithuanian Catholic grandfather lived the last years of his life. The steel teeth rend me. Guilt, I’ll call it later, when I dream the dream in my twenties and wake trembling because this time the dogs and the detectives are pulling down wallboard, bringing the heavy machinery in to break into the truth, dislodge it.

“You’re very angry,” a therapist I was seeing at the time said. Her name was Eva Brown.

Eva Brown. Eva Braun. Hitler’s mistress is your shrink. Who said it? Maybe the lanky, drunk philosopher who bartended at the restaurant where I worked during college, maybe my Jewish father, who didn’t believe in therapists. Though he wouldn’t have used the word “shrink.” He would tell me the story again, of my paternal great-grandfather, Wolf Treegoob, an inventor and village elder who left Vyazovok in the Cherkasy Uezd (uezd means “county”) of the Kiev Gubernia for Kalnybolota in the late 1800s, at a time when the Ukraine and Lithuania—and indeed, the whole of Eastern Europe—were teeth in the mouth of the Russian Empire.

Wolf Treegoob’s family name appears variously as Tregub, Trigub, or Tregubas, depending on where you look: a tax registry; a ship manifest; on JewishGen.org; the Vsia Rossiia business directory—a kind of yellow pages that listed businesses throughout Russia, updated several times during its existence in the late 1800s and early 1900s; Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims’ database; a three-by-five card typed out during his processing at Ellis Island—the last time he would use the name Trigub. When he moved to Philadelphia in 1908, the name would be forever Treegoob, a name I would one day touch on a plaque in a forest in Plugot, near the town of Kiryat Gat in Israel on a stunningly hot day, driven there in a car courtesy of the Jewish National Fund. The fund’s warm and informative representative, Avinoam Binder, arrived at my hotel in East Jerusalem and presented me with maps and a colorful version of The Book of Blessings for the Jewish holidays—a gift the serious, young, uniformed Ben Gurion Airport police in Tel Aviv would grill me about incessantly a week later (the luggage contents of noncitizens to and from Israel are routinely scrutinized).

“Anyone who had a problem would come to your great-grandfather for advice,” my father intoned. “That’s how it’s done. You don’t need someone to fix you. You don’t take your problems to strangers, especially someone named after Hitler’s girlfriend.” I seethed. I held up my love for Eva Brown like a flag. I buried the little seed of doubt my father had planted. Was she German? Was she corrupt, untrustworthy? She passed along no information about her personal life. I studied her dress: formal, stylish in a sedate way, nothing to call attention. Nice shoes. Skirts, pants sometimes but only with a jacket to match, or a sweater with pearls. I told her my dream of murder. I told her that every time I left the house, I panicked, fearing it would burn down behind me.

If my father were alive, I’d tell him what I learned about Eva Brown years after I stopped seeing her. She’s Jewish, like him. She’s a child survivor of the Holocaust. In her later life, transgenerational silence became a clinical and personal passion. I draft an email to her that I’m too shy to send in which I tell her what I’ve discovered about my recurring dreams. Whatever permutations of meaning they have in the immediate geography of my life, it turns out they are mirrors of what my grandparents on both sides of my family—Lithuanian and Jewish—actually lived. I, without knowing, dreamed parts of a truth. One part is this: my grandfather on my mother’s side was a murderer.

Or was he?

*

My father’s parents came to the United States from Belarus and the Ukraine in the early 1900s. My mother and her family, Lithuanian Catholics, immigrated to the United States after World War II. The two sides of my family remained, through most of my life, separate—with the exception of a week or two during the summer when my mother’s relatives would come east to visit. Growing up, I thought this separateness was a simple issue of geography; my Jewish relatives lived on the East Coast, and my mother’s Lithuanian family, after they moved early on from New Jersey, were Midwesterners. I never imagined that their histories, their lives, intersected beyond a gathering for a birthday, a cookout on the beach.

“This is my granddaughter,” he says, putting the accent on the middle syllable instead of the first.

In memory, my Lithuanian grandfather is tall and wide. He’s a wall. He’s a tree with low, spreading branches. Even though I knew him both as a child and a young adult, the images of him that dominate come from childhood. His hands, for instance; his right hand around my hand, the large fleshy enclosure, the calluses, the safety of it. I called him Senelis—Lithuanian for “Grandfather.” We’re walking somewhere—to the bakery maybe—in Jamesburg, New Jersey, where he ended up with his sister and my mother and her siblings after four years in a displaced persons camp in Germany at the end of World War II. It’s the early 1960s. I’m four or six or seven, on a street with only a few shops. It’s that lazy Sunday after-church time, in the spring. My coat is unbuttoned. Senelis doesn’t have a jacket on, just a plaid shirt, neatly tucked in. He’s freshly shaved. Maybe a white bit of shaving cream somewhere. The scent of it mixes with the smell of leaves and marshes. He shares a house—it’s more of a shack—outside town with his sister, my Krukchamama (“Godmother” in Lithuanian, which she was to my mother and became to the rest of us). It’s a wild place where rain pools and cattails grow. When the sun goes down, crickets call up from the crawl space under your feet in the little hallway between the kitchen and Krukchamama’s bedroom, with the crucifix above the bed and the lumpy mattress. Senelis’s neck, a little grizzled, is the only thing about him that looks old. He fishes and hunts. He doesn’t sit in a chair all day and read like my father. He’s a man who can move.

The woman behind the counter knows him. Everywhere we go, he introduces me: “This is my granddaughter,” he says, putting the accent on the middle syllable instead of the first. I choose the flaky sweet pastry called “butterfly,” but before the woman behind the counter can reach into the glass case and retrieve it, Senelis says, “More, choose more.” I ask him how much more. He sweeps his arm across the small room. “Anything,” he says.

*

New York City
2010

My mother came to visit me. I didn’t plan to ask her about her father. I’d been dreaming. I’d been helping to raise my stepdaughter, adopted at seven months from China. Before my mother’s visit, I thought: How lucky you are to be able to ask a parent (my father dead from cancer by then) questions, so ask. I thought: I don’t know who I am, I’ve never known.

In my college days, at the restaurant where I worked, I used to see James Baldwin, one of my favorite essayists, get stone drunk night after night in the back booth on Johnny Walker and be gently lifted out of his seat and half-carried past my station by his faithful companions. “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go,” he wrote. I kept it taped on the wall by my writing desk. Each time I read it I felt hollowed out. I’d left home at fifteen. My knowledge was about running forward and away.

My mother and I sat at a side table against the wall in a large, airy café on the Upper West Side. Her gray hair was freshly cut in an attractive bob. Her eyes were clear. Her purple cashmere sweater showed off her trim waist. She loves cities. She’s traveled the world, my mother, without my father, who never liked to go anywhere.

For many years I went nowhere to make sure I would never become like her. Now, her cosmopolitan bent is one of the things I love about her. The way she’ll stop at a busy corner and take in the chatty Mandarin of the two elderly women with a grocery cart, the young man speaking a rapid Spanish into his cell phone, the little girl crossing the street with a pink backpack, holding tight to her frazzled mother’s free hand. Really take them in, the way some people shut their eyes and then open them at a bakery counter, in Paris maybe, near the Luxembourg Gardens, in a small shop overheated from the oven in back.

“China,” my mother will say about the two women with the cart, “from the north.” Then recall a homely detail about the Great Wall or the dense, earthy taste of the mushrooms at a hotel banquet in Shanghai. Which will lead to a memory of her father, my Senelis, who tramped around the parks off the tennis court in Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard, where we spent our summers when it was still possible for middle-class families to have a second home there. He wandered for hours with a paper bag, looking for mushrooms, strange, bulbous, the caps soft as a deer’s pelt, the stems clotted with sandy dirt. His skill as a forager cultivated long before he briefly took to the forests and marshes of Lithuania and fought, along with his fellow partisans, the Russian invaders until the German invaders arrived.

The energy required to keep her at arm’s length, to refuse her love, was itself a form of furious attachment.

At the little table amid the bustling clatter of cutlery and chatter and milk being steamed and plates set down, my mother sighed. She was happy. I didn’t encourage her visits very often, but lately it had occurred to me that the energy required to keep her at arm’s length, to refuse her love, was itself a form of furious attachment. I was happy to see her, to sit with her.

The good coffee came. The sandwich with a bitter olive paste. Her hands were sun-marked. I used to examine them over and over when I was a small child, marveling at the infinite, tiny crosshatches and lines in the soft skin on top of her hands and at the joints of her fingers. Her palms always smelled vaguely of almonds.

I started to tell her about my haphazard family research. At a certain juncture I put my fork down, sat back. Said I had a question for her, which was not, after all these years, another accusation, that there were just certain things I was trying to understand.

“Where did the violence on your side of the family come from?” I asked.

She looked at me straight on, took in the absence of vitriol in my voice, straightened up a bit, as if I were the teacher and she the good pupil. By “your side of the family,” she knew I meant her and her sister and her sister’s husband.

“Well, there was the war,” my mother said.

“But lots of people lived through the war and didn’t end up doing—” I didn’t elaborate.

Our waiter interrupted with dessert specials, his face open, something sturdy about his hands—a carpenter’s hands, or a painter’s. From the table next to ours, a whiff of just-cut oranges.

“Do you remember your mother ever raising a hand to you?” I asked.

We locked eyes. My mother’s face was thoughtful. “No,” she said, “never,” and then added what she had shared with me before: Babita didn’t like her daughters very much, was practical, efficient, remote.

“And Senelis, what about him?”

My mother shook her head. She took a sip of coffee.

“Never. He was never that kind of father. My mother was the cold one. But he had a love of life, and he loved us, always.”

I pushed my plate to the side. The morning rush was subsiding, and the café was quieter. At the end of our row of tables, our waiter wiped a cloth in a slow circle.

I asked my mother if she was sure.

She considered, leaned forward, looked up. We were both quiet, and then, almost as an afterthought, she remembered something. “He did beat my brother Roy in the DP camp.”

After the war, displaced-persons camps were established and run under the aegis of allied militia in specified zones and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

My mother paused. She spoke again, slowly, drifting back to an interstice in time that began to take on dimension, particularity. “They were terrible, those beatings.”

I’d always been able to see the girl in my mother’s face, even when she was in one of her rages. I saw it then: the oldest child, her cheeks fat from the starchy DP-camp diet. Braids down her back.

“Why did Senelis do it?” I asked. It was hard to imagine Uncle Roy cowering before anyone. Him of the Brut cologne he must have showered in; when he visited, that pungent drugstore scent took over every room. A big man with a large tattoo on his huge right bicep, he had been a flight mechanic for the Army on a base in Kansas, pigheaded as a teenager in Germany in the deportation camp, the war still breaking up inside him. But he was smart. Math and biology came easily to him.

“I don’t know why. Arguments, Roy disobeyed him, I don’t know,” said my mother.

“Did he use his hands?”

“Sometimes. Mostly, I think—a belt.”

My mother and I looked at each other.

“Tell me more,” I said, “about my grandfather.”

What exactly did it mean, I asked, to have fought in the resistance? Who was he resisting? My ignorance appalls me now.

“The Russians,” my mother said.

And what did he do when the Germans came to power?

She paused.

“He was a police chief,” she said.

“Under the SS?”

She paused again before saying, “Yes.”

*

I email the Lithuanian Central State Archives in Vilnius, not sure what to ask for, not sure, at first, what I’m looking for. I ask for a copy of my grandfather’s internal passport during 1941, the document that’s supposed to show his comings and goings inside the country. I ask for the names of the gulags where my grandmother served her time after she was arrested by the Soviet secret police or NKVD. I ask for any information relating to my grandfather’s activities as police chief in Švenčionys in 1941 and his brief arrest three years later. I ask for a specific file—a pay voucher for local police in the Vilnius district in 1941, submitted to the German command. I give the file number, the page numbers. Two weeks later I get an email back. I’m asked to wire the equivalent of thirty-five dollars into a Lithuanian bank account. I’m told that after I do, there are three documents they’ll send me.

When my fever spiked, the dead in my life pulled at me as if they were still here.

It’s the end of my teaching semester. True winter has set in. Snow stops the city. Juvenile red-tailed hawks in the park go hungry. Buses skid sideways on every icy avenue. Cars hibernate in hard-pack drifts. I get sick. I email the archives, inform them I’ve wired the money, give them the confirmation number. Weeks go by; I’m waiting.

While I was sick and the snow fell and I shuffled around the apartment and our two dogs lavished their cold-nosed love upon me and my husband brought me soup and my stepdaughter told me to spit after I sneezed and the days fled, it seemed more and more possible to stop asking questions about my grandfather. But when my fever spiked, the dead in my life pulled at me as if they were still here, as if Senelis still drove the horse and cart between two front lines, his children on a bed of straw behind the buckboard. He lived in me. He was a wheel that turned endlessly in my family’s path without any of us knowing, exhausting the road, running across the shadows of who we all were and who we would become.

I sent out another query to another archive in Lithuania and in a few weeks got a reply:

“We…beg to inform you that in archival fund of department of Committee for State Security in Lithuanian SSR, in card index for operational registry files, there is a card which contains a record that Pranas Puronas had worked as a chief of Švenčionys police department during German occupation…. If you wish to have us carry out a search for persons who testified on P. Puronas and for activities of Švenčionys police department as well as for related files…then we beg to inform you…”

“Yes, I wish you to search,” I wrote back right away.

*

Finally, another letter from the archives; a thin, this time larger, envelope, a small sturdy thread secured around a circle below the flap to seal it closed. Even in my dread, I loved the antiquity of it. Inside was a pay roster with names I would parse through dozens of times in the months to come. On two other pages, in Lithuanian, was a list of file numbers. A brief summary of their contents led me immediately to Google Translate. There, of course, I ended up with a strange mishmash—a telephone operator who heard on this day and has since was…1941 saugumas…not mentioned…something about my grandfather…shooting…7000, 200…testified…when…gone…

My immediate reaction was not to swiftly find a professional translator but to decide on the spot to learn Lithuanian—a task that would take time, and so was partially a stalling tactic, a division inside me; to want to know, to look away.

I found Aldona, an old friend of an old friend, a second-generation Lithuanian. Her real profession was massage therapy, but she had two daughters who had both learned Lithuanian at her kitchen table. When the girls were small, she demanded that only Lithuanian, no matter how clumsily, be spoken at dinner. In six months, both were fluent.

Our few meetings took place in a small spare room, several floors up a cranky elevator, the same room where she worked on her clients. Stocky, with unruly short hair, she was warm and smart. In her presence, I felt the weight of her life, as if I were lying on her massage table and she was leaning into me, a forearm pressed hard on my shoulder blade, her knuckles kneading hard on my thigh. On her large desk, she flattened out the pages from the Lithuanian archives. She tried to get me to work at the words. She scolded; she insisted. I fumbled. I wanted to sleep. Black out.

She went through the Lithuanian vowels and asked me to mimic them. I tried, immediately forgot. “Again,” she demanded. I couldn’t. I wanted her to do the work. “Just read it to me,” I begged.

“It’s your nickel,” she said, sighing, but resigned for the moment.

A fair number of the files mentioned my grandfather. They confirmed that he was chief of Saugumas in Švenčionys from 1941 to 1943. In the small room over Union Square, my tutor, who was not Jewish, who had Lithuanian family members turned in, she said, to the Soviets by Jews and killed, read brief notes about a series of shootings aloud—no context given, just a trace, a notation, and then she stopped. Horror played long and deep across her face, and she looked at me finally and shook her head.

“What is history?” I asked her.

“History is who you’ve lost,” she said.

*

Mirele Rein/High Holidays
Fall 2011

That fall, rain every day, then every other day. A major flood in our apartment forced us into a rental on Edgar Allen Poe Street. A plague of mosquitoes descended upon Poe’s street (and only his street) the months we were there. Somehow this seemed fitting. It was written up in the papers; something about mosquito traps in clogged sewers. Our neighbors slept under netting. The invisible buzz and bites kept us up at night right until the first snow.

An invisible mosquito wakes me mid-dream; it’s a dream about Krukchamama, Senelis’s older sister who took care of me once when I was a young child. My mother has opened a long, low cupboard in her kitchen on the Vineyard. Krukchamama is wrapped in linen, the fabric just tight enough not to drape away from her corpse. She’s been dead for a long time, but no odor comes from her body. No decomposition has begun. Autolysis halted. The skin cells still alive. Her chest cavity neither bloated nor collapsed.

“In the spring,” my mother says, “when the ground softens, we’ll bury her.”

In 1925 a center for Jewish history and culture, rooted in the study of Yiddish, was founded on Wiwulski Street in Vilna. YIVO, originally the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, became a home to the poet Avrom (Abraham) Sutzkever, among many other writers, educators, and progressive intellectuals. Max Weinreich, an early force in the creation of the institute, would be instrumental, when war became a reality, in developing the New York–based branch of YIVO as the new anchor for the institution that was being destroyed an ocean away.

I take the train downtown to Fourteenth Street, walk east and up two blocks, check my coat, and take the elevator to the YIVO archives.

The back room is windowless, so the rainy day disappears. The carpeted floor makes the room even quieter, though there is much chatter at the reference desk. There are books from floor to mezzanine and from mezzanine to ceiling. I think of my Jewish father. Insofar as I know, he never came here when he traveled to New York to visit his sister and, a few times, me. He would have loved it. He would have driven the reference librarians nuts. He would have stood for a long time just looking at the sliding ladder and the old bindings and the students bent over a ponderous text or working the keyboard of a laptop, faster than the fastest typist could fly over the keys on a manual.

I stand still for a minute, as he might have; my thoughts jump. His mother, my grandmother Rachel, once saw Queen Victoria go by in her carriage in a procession in London. Grace (my husband’s first mother-in-law, my “second mother”) wrote that her great-grandfather Archie “watched the troops of the French Emperor Napoleon…along the roads and through the fields toward…Vilna…. Weak soldiers who could barely walk, were pulling carts of wounded men. Thousands of horses, along with their riders, had been killed.” I think of time all the time now—just as I think of Senelis, make and remake my questions about his wartime life.

The librarian brings a large cardboard sleeve from the massive collection of testimonies gathered by Leib Koniuchowsky after the war. The 297 pages I’ll end up copying concern all the towns that make up the Shventzionys region—Shventzionys, Shventzioneliai, Ignalina, Daugelishkis, Padbrade, Adutishkis, Stajatzishkis, Lentupis, Tzeikinia, and Tveretzius.

They are a fraction of the work he did. The attestations, signatures, witnesses to the signatures at the end of each narrative speak to Koniuchowsky’s meticulousness and also, I think, to some prescient awareness that as time passed the reliability of the testimonies he collected—traumatized individuals recalling the collapse of a world a second after it happened—would be questioned. He was right. But of course his work and that of his initial translator, Jonathan Boyarin, followed by the remarkable collection assembled by the late David Bankier at Yad Vashem (not yet in print when I went first went looking for Koniuchowsky’s material) stand.

Loan societies spring up, teenagers back-float in Lake Kochanowka, an old smithy brackets a leg back to a chair. Shokar had an iron business. Yankl Svirsky, a woolen boot factory—his four or five employees worked the good wool and the not-so-good wool, the gloppy oil, pressing and sizing. Whatever yard goods came his way, Svirsky saved the best for his granddaughter’s dresses.

I read the pages at YIVO quickly at first—skimming, skipping, stopping and going back again, looking for Senelis’s name. Not there. Not there or there. The horror of Poligon is mapped out; the roundup day, September 27, 1941; the Sabbath of Repentance. The Haftorah reading is Hosea 14:2–10: “Take words with you / and return to the Lord…. Forgive all guilt / And accept what is good…. I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.”

“All day Mirele watched as groups of men, and then groups of women and children, were taken out of the compound to be shot.”

I’ve gone through two-thirds of the material and am about to pack up the files and go home. The Germans Metz and Beck and Wulff are mentioned. Skarbutenis. The Lithuanian Antanas Kenstavitzius. My copy of all this will be ready in a week. I can retrieve it, read in privacy, read alone. I think of the dark apartment, keep going. Take words with you, take with you words—suddenly, there is a girl. Suddenly, there is my grandfather.

The girl is the cousin of Fayve Khayet, one of those whose testimonies Koniuchowsky recorded on April 30, 1948, at the Feldafing DP camp in Bavaria—the same region of Germany where, in a remote hilltop village, my grandfather and his children, having left Lithuania with the retreating Germans, waited for the war to end, watched the Allied bombers head for Munich, using the church steeple as a coordinate.

The girl’s name is Mirele Rein. She’s “very pretty…didn’t look Jewish and she spoke Lithuanian perfectly.” She is rounded up and taken the roughly thirteen miles from Tzeikiniai to Poligon with her family, with everyone she knows. On Wednesday, October 8, when the shooting begins, a Lithuanian policeman she can plead to in his own language, a man who remembers her lovely features—he’s seen her, maybe even knows her name—covers her with branches in a gulley, a pit in the earth different from the mass pit prepared with the work of the three hundred shovelers. “All day Mirele watched as groups of men, and then groups of women and children, were taken out of the compound to be shot.”

With the help of the policeman she makes her way to the Vidzy ghetto, a far fifty miles from Poligon, in what is now Belarus. When the Vidzy ghetto is liquidated and the Jews fit for work transferred into the crowded Švenčionys ghetto, Mirele Rein “stayed at Fayvl Khayet’s house…for exactly two weeks.” There she describes Poligon, the sound, when the children were killed, the “terrible weeping and screaming…like a slaughterhouse.”

She’s fifteen or sixteen, relentlessly determined to live. She leaves the relative safety of the Švenčionys ghetto and goes “to see the wife of a Lithuanian policeman who had promised to obtain papers for her. Instead the woman reported the matter to the Lithuanian Puronas, the head of the security police…. [Mirele Rein] had been a member of the Communist youth in Tzeikiniai under the Soviets.” My grandfather “summoned” the head of the ghetto, Moyshe Gordon, along with Dr. Taraseysky, a member of the Jewish Council. He demanded the girl be brought to him. The beautiful girl who speaks perfect Lithuanian. I can see him, slamming his fist on the table. What was started at Poligon can’t be undone. She won’t come to his office and get a reprieve. She won’t be put in a cell and sent out on a daily work detail. She’ll be shot, as she should have been on October 8, 1941, the third day of Sukkot—a time of joy and deliverance, when one dwells in a homemade hut under a roof of leaves. I see them in front of the synagogues all over New York City in the dark chill. They remind me of Missouri fields. Of cropland starting the winter rest, of the moon and childhood. “Bring her to me,” my grandfather demands. She finds out she’s been betrayed, takes off for Pastoviai, is killed when the ghetto there is liquidated.

I write her name in a small notebook, close the large file, and leave it behind me on the reading table. I don’t stop to thank the archivist. I don’t ask about the pickup time for my copies the following week. It’s already dark when I leave. I think I’m weeping, but I can’t tell. I can’t feel anything. Only late fall and, when I look up—rain.

G

Adapted from A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet by Rita Gabis. © 2015 Rita Gabis. Published by Bloomsbury USA. Reprinted with permission.

Rita Gabis is an award-winning poet and prose writer. Her grants and fellowships include a New York Foundation for the Arts Award for creative nonfiction and residencies at Yaddo and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She is the author of the poetry collection The Wild Field (Alice James Books). Her work has appeared in Harvard Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in New York City.

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