knocked at the door again.
It’s Maxine. I know you’re in there.”
door opened and Abraham moved to the side to allow Maxine to enter.
for pity’s sake. Just look at you. You haven’t shaved. You look like one of those little puppies with the wrinkles
all over them only they’re kind of cute that way. And where have you been? I’ve been here twice now. Well, Abraham?”
shut the door, throwing them into the gloom of the dim room. “You’re in now.”
had turned to inspect the room, but now faced Abraham. He looked so tired. What is
it, my dearest? What can I do to make it go away? “You look like death warmed over. Like something the cat coughed
up,” she said.
you’ve already told me.”
came by here the other day. When you were out and I was here cleaning up this…this—”
told me. That was the day she thought she was losing the baby.”
I’m so sorry. It was my big mouth. I told her where you’d be. I got you beaten up and I nearly got Macie killed,
sideswiped by that maniac pro-life witch who’s been following her.”
No, I told my neighbor. I didn’t know she was plying information out of me, Abraham. I didn’t. She brought the
Danish and I was just so flattered that a cute young thing like that with so much on the ball would want to be my friend.
Honestly, I think if she’d talked about diets I’d have told her how much I weigh. Well, maybe not, but I was such
a big mouth and—”
not your fault, Maxine.” Abraham’s shoulders sagged and his feet shuffled as he led Maxine to the sofa.”
You might as well sit.”
Abraham. I just came to tell you—”
sank onto the worn blue couch. Her stomach was beginning to churn. After all these years, then the start, the tiniest flicker
of a flame between them and now….What had he called her? A Yenteh. And he
was right. She looked up at Abraham and remembered that old TV program: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that was it. Abraham looked
like Lou Grant, Mary’s boss. After Lou’s wife divorced him, Maxine always wished he’d win Mary. But she
only wanted the dark, handsome young guys. She never saw how Lou’s heart was breaking.
not your fault,” Abraham said again. “I am to blame for this trouble.”
am a coward to bring you in to this, but I am so tired of being alone in everything. Do you remember, Maxine, when you asked
to know my story?”
you like to hear it now?”
hands iced. She felt the cold moving up her arms to her spine. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know it now. After all,
it brought Abraham such pain. She looked up, met his eyes, and extended her hand to him. He took it and sat beside her.
I’ve ever wanted, Maxine, was to be a choshever mentsh. A man of dignity
and honor. When I was a child, I would watch my papa go to work dressed in his dark suit and he always put on a hat. ‘A
proper gentleman should never go into public with his head uncovered,’ he said. People looked up to my papa. Mama adored
eyes narrowed, Maxine saw his Adam’s apple work up and down.
took Papa first, on a train, shoved in with the others like fish in the bottom of a fishing boat. Then they came for us. Mama,
Saul and me. When we got to the camp, they said it was just a place to rest. A man came, with a gold-tipped cane and pointed
it at the women, first one, then another They took Mama away with the rest of the women.
men and the boys, they herded together and we waited for another train. They told us the little girls and the women had been
allowed to shower and to rest. We looked up later and saw them, across the field, naked. Marching in the cold, stripped naked.
Many of them kept their heads down for the shame. But Mama… I saw her looking, searching the crowd. I called to her.
She screamed my name and a guard grabbed her arm and shoved her against the woman ahead of her. Saul later told me they took
them to a cement room, and let gas in upon them. Then they stacked the bodies outside in the sleet. He found this out from
another prisoner. The train came, and they threw us into a cattle car as they had Papa. I never saw my mother again.”
stopped talking. Maxine brushed the tears from her cheeks, then squeezed his hand. He faced her and the look in his eyes made
her suck in her breath. He pulled his hand free, shook his head and continued.
traveled, hours more, then arrived at Bergen Belsen. The soldiers screamed at us to get off the train, but some of the older
men had arthritic legs. We’d been cramped up, folded in on one another for all that time. The old men couldn’t
just jump down, you see, and the guards pointed machine guns at them and yelled louder.
wind was bitter, blowing ice and little stones against our skin. Some of the men had no coats. They lined us up on the frozen
mud and shouted orders. For hours, we stood there in the cold. I remember one boy, about my age, was alone. He’d been
crying on the train, and had wet himself as well. His cheeks were so chapped they seeped blood, and it froze on his face.
Finally, he began to scream, and ran out of the line. A guard…not a German, but a Russian trustee from all the gypsies
imprisoned there…yelled at him something in Russian. In Russian, he yells. The boy didn’t stop. They shot him.”
hand ached to touch Abraham’s face. She raised it, but then laced her fingers in iron grip and forced her hands to lie
still in her lap.
told me not to be afraid. He said he’d promised Mama we would live, and to break a promise to a dead person was a terrible
sin. Every day, he promised me. Every day, someone in the barracks died. Almost everyone had dysentery. The smell turned your
stomach, walking in from the outdoors, but after you were inside for a time, you no longer noticed. There was an old rabbi….”
stopped again. Maxine watched a shadow creep over his face. His eyes widened and lost focus.
was a rabbi,” he whispered. “Liebbeman. A hard man. All he cared about was his religion. People were not important
to that one. Not as important as taking our food and shredding our clothes to make his Hanukkah candle.
agreed to help in the hospital. They gave us a warmer place to sleep and more food. We did nothing wrong. Sometimes, when
the poor people, the hospital patients, were in terrible pain, Saul would give them something. It was dangerous. If the Nazi
doctors had found out….But they didn’t. Those people would have died with or without my brother’s help in
the hospital. The Germans permitted some prisoners to live because they were of use. Why should it not have been Saul and
Abraham Sorkin? They called us Kapos. To the Nazis the word meant nothing more than Jewish slaves; but to Rebbe Liebbeman,
it was a curse. He spat on us. On my brother and me. He spat.”
sank into the sofa cushion, his eyes closed and his face pinched. Maxine sat for a minute in silence, watching him steel himself
against the pain.
it’s enough. You don’t have to say any more.”
opened his eyes, turned to look at her. “No. To me, it’s important you understand, Maxine. Especially you.”
I did it.”
went to the hospital every day. Saul helped them with procedures, mostly administering drugs, restraining the patients, things
like that. Afterwards, I cleaned up. I learned many things, Maxine: living is the most important thing. My papa cared for
honor, for dignity. Perhaps he would have understood Rebbe Liebbeman’s zeal for his religion. But what good is honor
when you’re dead? What good is religion when there’s no one to practice it?
Maxine. Don’t be so quick to give me your hand. You don’t know what I’ve done.”
you were a child. You didn’t make the decision to collaborate. Your brother did.”
yes. But now….”
do you mean?”
am again a Kapo, Maxine. I thought it was for good, the research, the secrecy. I thought, when it was done, I would be choshever mentsh. The Sorkin name again would have dignity and honor. Stem cell could
do so much good, I thought. Worth taking a few fetuses to use in the experiments, I thought.”
used fetuses without…”
paid the mothers for some. Others…they didn’t ask…I didn’t tell. I said to myself, it’s okay.
These mothers think I will destroy the tissue. A waste. We could accomplish so much.”
bit her bottom lip. Her eyes were closed, her arms wrapped tightly around her.
the money came from dirty hands. From criminals, it came. From gambling and probably more. To get back this investment, they
will sell the transplant organs we create. I have tried to get out, Maxine.”
Pro-Lifers didn’t beat you up.”
shook his head.
new eyes, the new heart will be sold to the person who can pay the most. This I did, Maxine. I am again the Kapo.”
felt sick. A sour taste invaded her mouth. When she finally looked at Abraham, his eyes were glazed, his face expressionless.
But what sickened her was the lack of pity she felt for him. She said nothing, but stood and started to the door.
Abraham jumped, as though just remembering she was there. “Maxine, please. You do understand? Tell me you understand.”