Chapter 24: Leaving Lwow (3)

“Without the right papers, you cannot travel, but if you have a catholic identity, you can easily move out of the ghetto and you can travel, perhaps to Krakow where you have people you know well. You know I will always help you if I can. I have made enquiries, and I have still got some good friends here. I have arranged to buy some new identity papers for you both, and some travel permits. They will be drawn up tonight by a reliable man I have found, who deals in these things, and I can return later with them, provided I have all the information I need now. You must choose a suitable surname, and you must give me your ages, and an address I can use. How old is young Anna?”

“She’s thirteen. But Alexandre, isn’t this very dangerous for you, helping us? Will you not be found out? Also, I’m so sorry but I cannot afford to pay for these papers.”

“Miriam, I have to live with myself in this uniform. Do you think I could live with myself if I didn’t try to get you to safety?”

I had become so terrified of being picked up by the NKVD since the closure of the soup kitchen, and because of what had happened to Paul, I would have done anything for some forged papers for myself, and Anna, that did not show us as Jews. Many people in the quarter had traded their possessions, or their bodies, for such papers, and most had been let down by poor fakes or by false promises. I had almost given in to the temptation to accept an offer through my dentist contact to trade the diamond he knew about for papers, but had resisted, on the grounds that I didn’t trust him enough. Now, my salvation had arrived in the form of a man I could trust absolutely, and someone who would do everything in his power to ensure our safety.

“Mrs Wojcik was my neighbour, and she’s moved in with her sister. She’s a Catholic and it is an easy name to remember. Wojcik. Miriam Wojcik, aged 41, from Krakow. Do you think it is enough? Can you really have papers made that will fool the guards at the station or soldiers on the roadblocks? I can’t believe it might be possible. I don’t know how I can ever…” I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer, and there was nothing I could say that would express my gratitude. I handed him our documents in my married name, Weiner, and he took these as they had our photographs, and so that the forger could alter our names and address. Szeroka street is in the Jewish quarter in Krakow, so I gave Celestyna’s address, which is in a Catholic neighbourhood, and at least if the Gestapo called there, and she was at home, she would have the sense not to give us away. I could visit her if we had papers, and let her know. I had no idea how this would all be effected, but after what Alexandre had told me, these papers as they stood would be arrest warrants, and so would be no use to us again.

Alexandre left me his handkerchief and stepped quietly out of the room, saying he’d return as soon as he could.

True to his word, he returned two hours later, once it was dark, with papers in the name of Wojcik, for myself and Anna, together with travel permits and train tickets to Krakow. I had no idea how he had managed this since the station was in the hands of the NKVD, but Alexandre was always well connected in Lwow, and I could only assume he knew a local Pole who did a lot of the work for him in booking our tickets, once the papers were forged. I had never looked overtly Jewish, and my new identity as a Catholic Pole, gave me some protection. The papers were, as far as I could tell, as genuine as the originals, and had probably costs a great deal. By the time Alexandre arrived, it was very late. I stood shivering on the landing, and whispered my thanks into his collar, as he held me. We both knew in our hearts that this might be our last private moment, ever. How could we hope to meet again in Vienna or Berlin or Krakow in peacetime? How could he and I both survive this war in our respective places, on opposite sides of the chasm, which Hitler’s ambitions had created? Alexandre looked all his 45 years and more, and he must be so tired. His poise was gone, his happiness too. Could he outlive this tragedy, and could we maybe see one another again? When Otto seemed to have deserted his family and failed us, only this man had come to our rescue, at any cost. I knew then, as I had known before, one true feeling for him, and I told him what I had never dared before, that I loved him.

Then, like a ghost, he’d gone and I crept back into the bed with Anna, to plan for the next day.