Over the years, I have learned that the lives of humans are filled with many things. Both joy and sadness, hope and despair, hellos and goodbyes. In this world, there is no such thing as one without the other. They are mixed in a terrible blend that defines just what it means to be human. It was that blend I was forced to watch during that cold, rainy night in 1941.
Mira and her mother Rachel hurried around the basement, which had been their home for so long, desperately gathering the few things they had left in the world and shoving them inside a cloth bag to take with them when Herr Klaus returned to take them away. Meanwhile, Sofia silently helped her own mother, Caroline, in the kitchen, packing what little food they could spare to send off with their guests.
It was several minutes before Mira and Rachel ascended the stairs. When they did, their faces were white. The four of them sat at the kitchen table together, counting each pounding raindrop on the roof as their ears strained to hear the slightest noise outside. The wait seemed like an eternity.
Then it came, the puttering of the truck battering its way over the cobblestone street. Her hands shaking slightly, Caroline stood up and made her way to the door, brushing back her tangled hair as she did. The man outside was short and rather round with a black hat, which he took off and held politely at his side as he came in. “Frau Caroline.”
“Herr Klaus,” replied Caroline.
“I’ve come for the packages,” he said, his voice just audible over the sound of the pouring rain. “Are they ready?”
“As ready as they can be,” replied Rachel, standing up from her place at the table and grabbing Mira’s hand.
The man nodded politely to her and hurriedly beckoned them to the door without a word, not even bothering to look over at where Sofia watched with wide eyes. Rachel led Mira along beside her, the small cloth bag with their few possessions and the food gripped tightly in her other hand. Caroline and Sofia followed the three of them out to the truck.
“You’ll have to ride in the back under the tarp,” directed Herr Klaus. “I might not agree with what Hitler and his goons are doing, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to risk having you up in the front with me.”
“The tarp will be just fine,” said Rachel, nodding to him quickly as she stepped out from the protection of the awning into the rain. “Thank you.”
Herr Klaus gave a curt nod and then hoisted himself up into the driver’s seat, leaving the women to say their goodbyes.
“Thank you for everything, Caroline,” whispered Rachel, grabbing her friend by the arms once their bag was in the wagon as the tears mixed with raindrops on her face. “I don’t know what we would have done, where we’d be if…”
“Don’t say that,” replied Caroline, grasping her. “Don’t even think it. I only pray God Almighty will be more merciful to you going forward than my homeland has decided to be.”
A yard or two away, unsure of what to say as their mothers embraced, Sofia and Mira stood looking at each other. “Mira,” began Sofia, biting her lip, “I…”
“Wait,” cut in Mira, shaking her head as she slipped two thin objects out from under her threadbare coat. “Here,” she said, pressing them into her friend’s hands, “I want you to have these.”
Sofia stared down in disbelief at the two silver candlesticks, the dripping wax remnants still left on the sides from when they had lit them earlier that night. “Oh Mira, I can’t take these! What would your mother say!?”
“I already asked her earlier,” replied Mira, forcing a small smile. “We want you to have them. And every Shabbat while we are gone, you can light them in your window so we’ll be able to find you again.”
Sofia clutched them close to her chest and just barely managed a nod, a massive lump forming in her throat. “I’ll keep them safe for you till you come back, Mira,” she whispered, “I will. Then we’ll light them together again like we used to, without having to hide them in the basement.”
“It’s time we get going,” called back Herr Klaus, turning to look at them through the rain.
Not wanting to upset him, Caroline and Sofia quickly helped their friends up onto the back of the truck and under the tarp with one final whispered farewell as they lowered it over them. Once the wagon had pulled away and they were safe under the awning again, Sofia leaned into her mother, still clutching the candlesticks. “What will happen to them?” she asked quietly, looking up at her.
“I don’t know, Sofia,” replied Caroline quietly, shaking her head. “I don’t know.”
For seven years Sofia never forgot her promise to her friend. The end of the war came and went, and life got back to a normal routine once again, but still she lit the candles every Shabbat, never giving up the hope that they might somehow lead Mira back home.
Then, in mid-December 1948, a stranger made her way down the cobbled street towards Sofia’s family home. The snow was falling terribly hard, whipping around in the wind so that the young woman pulled the coat close around her thin form, her long dark hair tucked neatly under her warm brown cap. Sofia was just lighting the candles at the window when she first caught sight of her. For a moment, she watched her, as if trying to pick out what exactly was so familiar about the stranger in the snow, until with a rush of gasping laughter and tears, she raced out into the night and ran to her.
The two of them flung their arms around each other and cried such loud, wonderful, happy sobs that the stars in heaven themselves must have heard them. That night was a long and bittersweet one. Sofia listened with tears in her eyes as Mira told her story. Where once there had been four family members, now there were only two. Mira’s father had stayed behind in their new home in Poland, unable to return to the city where it had all begun. The two sat by the window for a long time, watching the candles burn down with the realization of just how much they had gained and how much they had lost. Around midnight, Sofia broke the silence. “The candlesticks are yours now,” she said, reaching over and taking Mira by the hand. “Your mother would have wanted you to have them.”
Mira smiled slightly, the light from the candles dancing in her dark eyes. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “They will always be yours now, Sofia. I only pray that you will think of us when you light them, and that your children will learn, by the light of those candles, the love and bravery their mother showed in our darkest hour.”
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