The next day we spent talking about the future. Gabriela was concerned about my new identity being unmasked in Krakow, since I had so many friends and acquaintances who would recognise me, and quickly alert the Gestapo, either intentionally, or by association. It was not obvious to me initially that there would be informers among the Jewish population, though Gabriela told me that it was so, but apparently the Gestapo’s level of influence, through so many pressures they brought to bear on people, was enormous. There were shop keepers whom I had known to say hello to, who held accounts in Otto and my names, who would recognise me, and would also be in the pay of the Gestapo, or under threat of arrest for non-co-operation. If I were to be seen on the street by someone who greeted me, the next thing might b a knock at Gabriela’s door from the SS.
“Miriam, I know you want to work, and it is possible to work in an office now, since you have Catholic documentation. There are probably jobs to be had for good secretaries, but you cannot afford to be recognized. I speak as a Catholic who knows the mind of my neighbour. Whilst many are indifferent to the Jews’ plight, there are more who feel that while the Nazis have been focused on rounding up the Jews, they have left the Catholics alone. When the troops arrived here, after you’d left, they persecuted our priests and so many were arrested, and even though Pope Pius has done a lot to help Jews escape from Hitler’s attacks, he has kept his head down when it comes to denouncing the Nazis publicly. I think that if you are known to catholics in Krakow, quite quickly, you will be known to the Gestapo, who are cracking down on people with false papers here.”
“That is valuable to know. I will have to consider moving on, as I must become independent, and the last thing I want is to put you in any danger for harbouring Jews. I heard in Lwow that the labour camps are being used for mass killings, and that ghettos are being set up across Poland to help the Nazis coral all the Jews, so they can be sent to their deaths. That’s the story coming from refugees who were arriving into Lwow in the last month or so. It’s going to be unsafe everywhere, but from what you say, it will be more unsafe where I can be recognized.”
“So I have been thinking. Would you consider coming with me to visit Helena, to see Emilia. You remember Helena coming to dinner with me and Stashek at your invitation a couple of years ago. She is very able and well connected in Czestochowa and I can write to her to tell her than my friend Miriam Wojcik is coming with me because she would like to move for work. Helena can look for an apartment for you and Anna, and may know of a job that would suit you, since she’s been running an office which deals with recruitment across the city. She will know you are Jewish, but she will not tell anyone.”
“Thank you, Gabriela. That would be ideal. Bjut is it a slow process to access a travel permit to visit?”
“For me, I can easily get a one-day pass which is enough for my monthly visit to Emilia. You would probably be able to do the same, but just not return to Krakow. I doubt that the authorities in Czestochowa would be checking on whether you returned to Krakow, and you have not registered your presence here, so nobody at this end would be looking for you to be here. The Gestapo is incredibly thorough, so I presume the only issue will be whether your ticket from Lwow to here will be checked.”
“Well, let’s do as you say. Can you send a letter to Helena, and I will keep a low profile till we travel, so as not to be reecognised. I would so dearly like to be able to get into the apartment and see if our belongings are still there. I would love to replace my clothing and Annas. Also, I would like to contact Celestyna because she is looking after some of our valuables, and since I have none of my jewelry left, I would be perhaps able to raise some cash from the sale of one or two things.”
“Miriam, if you are short, I can help you a little, and Helena will make sure that until you are employed, you won’t starve.”
Within two days, we were boarding a tain to Czestochowa, with Gabriela, on a day pass. When we got to Helena’s, Anna and Emilia were like two sisters, and I was heartened to see Anna smile for the first time in months. Helena was as I remembered her: a tall, stern, middle-aged woman with a straight back and her hair tied up in a tight bun. She wore a dark suit, and seemed very focused on her work.
“Good afternoon, Miriam. I’m so pleased you could come. I so much enjoyed meeting you before the war, and to hear about Otto’s business. I had hoped to open an office in Krakow with Gabriela and Stashek’s help, before everything changed. Now I am struggling to keep our business running here. Gabriela’s letter told me that you were coming for work, and would welcome my help with accommodation.”
“Yes, I would be most grateful of any help you can give us.” I pulled my forged papers from the handbag Gabriela had leant me and passed them to Helena. “As you can see, I am a Catholic and if possible I would like to move into the area around Jasna Gora, so that I can attend daily mass. I’ve been reading as much as possible in some of Gabriela’s books to make sure I will fit in.”
“I have a friend who rents rooms, and she will be able to find you something. But first you may be interested in a secretarial job I am trying to fill, in a firm of solicitors. They need shorthand and good typing speeds. I expect you may be a bit rusty, but I have a typewriter upstairs, and I have made you a bed in our spare room. It should help you to sette for a couple of days while you prepare for your interview, and I will invite my friend over to meet you here. I hope that is all acceptable to you. I felt it would be best to make advance plans.”
“Helena, you have dome so much for us, and we don’t want to impose on you, but this is so very generous. You’re right, I will been to practise my typing and shorthand before I can apply for secretarial work, not to mention Anna and me attending mass with someone who can guide us through the service.”
“good. That’s settled then.” And Helena went to make tea for Gabriela and me while the girls played in Emilia’s room. From that moment, Helena never asked me a question about the past, and never referred to my Jewish origins even in private.
I said a fond farewell to Gabriela, when she left to catch the late train home, and I could see how upset she was to leave Emilia behind as she returned to Krakow.