Authors note: On September 1, 1939 Adolph Hitler thrust the world into World War II by advancing his armies into Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany. This is a fictional account of a woman from Kansas who was called to help the Jewish peoples residing in Poland. This is the first of many letters she wrote home. Music to Read by: “Barber: Adagio for Strings, Op 11” David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
2 September 1939
Hello my love, I wish I could bring you wonderful news of my stay here in Poznan, but darling I cannot do such a thing, at least in these dark times. The Germans have done the unthinkable and have entered our beloved country. Last night they came across the border unannounced and certainly unprovoked, Although miles away, we heard planes diving through the sky. The people here are fleeing for safety and I am so very terrified…my Polish is limited, but horror in the eyes is a language anyone can understand. And most of the locals are filled with it, including myself. Oh! How I wish you were very near to me right now my sweet, sweet Bartholomew! I need your strong arms wrapped around my waist, I need you to pray for the safety of these poor creatures. They are still scarred from the first war, I am afraid all the progress they have made these past twenty years is all for naught. The men in the village have been up all night discussing ways to defeat the invaders without the aid of their own army! They are very brave, but I don’t think they are talking practical. I believe it was a rather serendipitous time for the Lord to send me here to help, the small villages on the outskirts of town are filled with old men and young boys, one young man, the same age as our Thomas, rode all night on his horse to bring us news from the border. What I gathered from my translator is the Nazis have monsters made out of metal (I assume he meant tanks) rolling across the landscape, thousands of heavily armed troops, and blood, oh Lord, how he described the blood and destruction! Those poor souls, my heart is breaking as each hour passes, the boy, Jedrik is his name, is weary from his travels and the women are feeding him bread and sausages. But he is talking in a fury, the peasants are smoking pipes and listening with rapt attention. I cannot bear to look at their downtrodden faces, their eyes are empty, and I think so are their hearts. Some are drunk and yelling retribution, but many men are already defeated knowing the might of Hitlers military. Many Jews are here with us and how I love them so! Bartholomew, they are the most fearful. There is a man here by the name of Ezekiel, he received a letter from a relative in Munich last month, telling him of the dreadful things being done to his people in Germany. They cannot buy bread, or soap, their synagogues are being razed to the ground! Bartholomew can you imagine that happening at home in Kansas? Why, Mrs. Leroy would run those thugs out-of-state herself! But I am afraid it is happening here darling. What can I do for these people other than comfort and pray and bake pies? I know nothing of wars and armaments and peace treaties. If they were to hand me a gun I would be liable to shoot myself, or worse, my host family.
My love, I had to stop writing because we’ve moved from our house to a farm ten miles east. I am scared. Never in my life have I known such dark terror. We had heard horses galloping close by and Mirka and her twin brother Mirek went out to see what was happening, the Germans are coming Bartholomew, they are drawing near quickly so we have fled to a small church. I have come to the realization that you may never receive this letter of mine, you may never see me again my precious husband and how that hurts me so! What will become of my Thomas? Was it foolish to come here to help the Polish resettle? I am not so sure, but as always, I believe His hand will guide my little group. My mind is playing tricks on me, I think I hear gunfire in the distance. Little children are crying, men are dying because of the wickedness and greed of mankind. Innocent boys will go to their graves fighting for this small nation. Pray Bartholomew, tell our friends back home what is happening to the world…now I know I am not going mad, planes are flying overhead, dropping bombs! The noise is hell. I am looking at the people huddled around the dark tables, they are exhausted due to our long journey today. I don’t know where we are, I am too skittish to ask our translator. I feel very much alone now. What was I thinking love? I am a homemaker from a farm in Kansas, I thought I could change someones life. But maybe I am. There is a little girl sitting next to me Her face has dirt smudged across her forehead, she is wearing a brown dress with a white apron. There’s a blue handkerchief in her hair, she must be no more than four. She is a Jew. How could anyone want to hurt such a precious child because of their heritage? This is madness, pure and simple madness! You know my anger is nonexistent, you know I wouldn’t hurt a fly, but now I want to hurt those Germans. May our Lord forgive me, but I am looking at this child, watching her watch me and I would risk my own hide for her. Do you remember the stray cat that managed to find its way into our chicken coop last year and caused all that trouble? Remember the broom I used to chase it away? That is how I feel now Bartholomew. I want to chase those horrible Nazis away from my roost.
They are such a peaceful people, farmers and bakers and homemakers like myself. They don’t want trouble anymore than we would want it at home. Things are quiet at the moment, but things are very tense, no one wants to make a sound and it is dreadful. The silence is downright dreadful, not that it matters because I could not communicate even if I wanted to. My rudimentary skills would not be appreciated at the moment, I am just waiting and listening. Waiting for someone to tell me what to do, listening for inevitable gunfire to erupt. You know how I bake when I am nervous? It sounds so silly but I wish I could bake something right now. Anything to keep the fear away from this small sanctuary. The men are arguing now over something, I think it has to do with us just sitting around. Luckily the women here are talking some bit of sense into them. I keep hearing the words “Jews” and “Nazis” and “death”. Oh, I think they want to banish the Jews from here! Bartholomew! This is such a devastating travesty! They’ve done nothing wrong! I must go now sweetheart. I must do something because things are quickly getting out of hand and I will not allow this to take place, not while I am here. I love you with all my heart, tell our son that I love him too. I will write as soon as I can…
Love forever, Gracie