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Authors: Aranka Siegal

Upon the Head of the Goat

BOOK: Upon the Head of the Goat
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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Epigraph

Komjaty

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Beregszász

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

The Ghetto

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Afterword

Books by Aranka Siegal

Copyright

 

This book is dedicated

to those who did not survive.

They are deathless and timeless.

Auschwitz could not sever the bonds

of love and friendship

which contributed to my survival

and which will live within me

to the end of my days.

 

And the Lord said unto Moses “… Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness.”

 

LEVITICUS 16

 

LEFT TO RIGHT

TOP ROW
: Rozsi, Lilli, Lajos

MIDDLE ROW
: Piri (Aranka Siegal), Etu

BOTTOM ROW
: Joli, Sandor

KOMJATY

1

F
ROM THE TIME
I was five my mother would send me from Beregszász to spend the summers with my grand-parents in Komjaty. The open fields, the river, and the forest of this. Ukrainian village became my playground. The color of the wild flowers, the feel of the forest, the sound of the water, the humming of the insects, the warmth of the animals—these experiences became the play from which I learned so much.

I rose to the rooster's crowing and roamed everywhere until dusk. What seemed strange at first—the people, their clothes and habits—quickly became familiar. Their language was Ukrainian, but Babi spoke to me in Yiddish. “No, not Hungarian, or Ukrainian,” said Babi; “you must learn Yiddish.” Soon I could ask questions in three languages.

In 1939, when I was nine, the impending war in the rest of Europe still seemed far away from us and my mother had sent me to Komjaty to spend the spring holidays with Babi and my older sister Rozsi. Mother, not wanting Babi to live by herself after the death of Grandpa Rosner, had decided to send each one of us five girls in turn to stay with Babi. She started with Lilli, the oldest. Lilli, however, did not last long as Babi's companion. She met her husband, Lajos, in Komjaty and, after a summer romance, was married at sixteen. Then it was Rozsi's turn to join Babi.

Like Babi, Rozsi thrived on the farm. She shared Babi's love for the animals and the fertility of the fields. Life in Komjaty was predictable and simple. The climate and the seasons made the decisions for the inhabitants. At twelve years of age, Rozsi knew that she wanted to live with the land. She wanted earth, not cement, under her feet.

A few days after I arrived, a major battle over disputed borders broke out between Hungary and the Ukrainian Resistance Fighters trying to hold on to their independent state. Babi, Rozsi, and I could hear bursts of gunfire from the border most of the day. The women, children, and old people huddled together in their small whitewashed and straw-thatched houses. The animals had been gathered and locked in the barns. Babi sat in her chair in the kitchen, with her shawl around her, fingering the worn pages of her prayer book as her mouth moved in silent prayer. Rozsi sat beside her, crocheting.

I was frightened and cried, wishing I were home in the safety of my own city in Hungary. Babi's house seemed small and exposed, set in the midst of her flat fields. The fence around it was only waist-high and the gates were without locks. The front porch didn't have a gate and led right to the kitchen entrance. The kitchen was the center of the house, flanked on each side by a bedroom. The larger of these served as dining and sitting room, as well as our bedroom. The guest bedroom on the other side was used mainly for storage. None of the rooms seemed very secure to me; anyone could easily enter at any time.

“I want to go home,” I said.

“Don't be afraid,” comforted Babi. “Nothing bad will come to us. Our house is full of His books, and they will protect us.”

I was not completely reassured when, toward the end of the day, I heard a rowdy bunch of victorious Hungarians march up the road. I ran out with my long, knotted scarf of red, white, and green and tied it to Babi's gatepost as a welcome sign. The village was kept awake long into the night with the sounds of celebration coming from the tavern.

Babi lit the kerosene lamp and let it burn until I fell asleep. In the morning when I awoke, I immediately went over to the window and looked out: I was curious to see if Komjaty had changed overnight under the Hungarian occupation. Dressing quickly, I went into the kitchen, looking for Babi and Rozsi, but they were in the barn, tending the animals.

I put on my sheepskin coat and red rubber boots and went out into the woods. The forest ground was a patchwork of colorful flowers, gray puddles, and white snow. By the time I had gathered a bouquet of flowers, my cotton stockings were soaked with icy water, and I realized that my boots had several small holes in them.

As I started to run back to Babi's house, I could hear the loud gushing of the river and went to look at it. All the lesser streams, as well as the melting snows, channeled into the Rika at this time of year, swelling the water so that it rushed down, taking away everything lying in its path except the largest boulders.

My attention was caught by a log floating toward me. As the current carried it closer, I realized that it was not a log but a body. It was a body clad in a Ukrainian uniform, face up, approaching head first. Despite my uneasy confusion, I stepped closer to the water's edge and stooped on a rock to get a better look. The face, puffy with death, was that of a boy between eighteen and twenty. He had the high cheekbones so typical of the young men of Komjaty, but I couldn't tell whether his eyes were open or closed. I dropped my crocuses, and soon they were floating, scattered on that young man's body as the stream flowed past me.

I saw two more soldiers in the river before I turned my back. These bodies, in the middle of the river, were being thrown from rock to rock. The bodies all had one thing in common; they were all missing hats and boots. Thinking of my stepfather, whom I had so often seen in his officer's uniform, and of my baby brother, Sandor, who would grow up to wear one, I started running again and did not stop until I reached Babi's warm kitchen.

Babi was standing in the doorway putting on her shawl, getting ready to go out to look for me. “Don't you know better than to run off without telling us where you're going?” she scolded with concern in her voice.

“But, Babi, I saw three dead men floating in the Rika!” I said. She didn't say another word, but took off her shawl, wrapped it around me, and walked us back into the kitchen while I continued, “They were Ukrainian soldiers. What will become of them?”

Without answering, Babi gently guided me down into the chair, took off my wet boots and stockings, fixed hot milk, and cut a thick slice of black bread which she buttered and sprinkled with coarse sugar. As I drank the milk and ate the sweet, crunchy bread, I watched the burning logs turn to ashes in the open stove while Babi carefully worked the thread through her loom. Her voice came toward me from what seemed a great distance, although she was not more than two meters away. “They are at peace now,” she said, as she worked her loom. Soon I fell asleep and did not awaken until Rozsi returned from her day in the fields.

There were no more reprisals by the Ukrainians, and a few days after seeing the bodies in the river I went into the fields, where the villagers were trying to make up for lost time. Because of the fighting, they had been afraid to go out to farm the fields. I watched them work for a while, and had just started toward the river when I heard the metallic sound of hoofs hitting the rocks in the dirt road. Horses were rare in Komjaty; most of the wagons were pulled by oxen and few people in the village kept horses.

Surprised, I turned to see a Hungarian mounted policeman—even more of a rarity in Komjaty. He was dressed in the traditional Hungarian uniform of gray-green flannel, fastened by rows of brass buttons and trimmed in braid. His hard-crowned hat was topped by long black and green feathers from a rooster's tail, and the hat was held in place by a narrow black leather strap encircling the young man's clean-shaven chin. He waited for my eyes to meet his before he broke the silence. “Am I on the right road for Komjaty?”

“There is only one road,” I said.

“I am coming from Salánk,” said the policeman, “and I have to get back before dark. I was told it was four kilometers.”

“You must be heading for Big Komjaty,” I said, “because Little Komjaty is just beyond the clearing.” I pointed the way. “Can you see it from up there?” I was no taller than the horse's legs.

“I was told that people here don't speak Hungarian.”

“That is true, but I am from Beregszász, and I am here on vacation visiting my grandmother.”

“Where does your grandmother live?”

“Just up the road—the sixth house on the left.”

“Would you like a ride back?” he asked, getting off the horse. Before I had time to answer, his gloved hands gripped my waist and lifted me up the height of the giant horse. He mounted behind me, and resting up against his chest, I could feel his brass buttons and belt buckle through my light cotton dress. He asked me my name, and I told him in a breathless voice, “Piri Davidowitz.” I was overcome with the thrill and pride of sitting up so high, and anticipated relating the whole experience to my friend Molcha.

Babi, along with a group of villagers, was in the road, watching in awe the unaccustomed sight of a mounted policeman. The scene had created almost as much excitement in Komjaty as the appearance of the first car in Beregszász.

“Is everything all right?” Babi managed to ask in Hungarian.

“Oh, yes, your granddaughter was giving me directions to the police headquarters in Big Komjaty. I am on official business from Salánk. She also told me that she is on a visit from Beregszász. I don't know if you are aware of it, but the borders are temporarily closed and the trains are not running. Piri's vacation may last longer than you planned.”

BOOK: Upon the Head of the Goat
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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