About The Takeaway Men
With the cloud of the Holocaust still looming over them, twin sisters Bronka and Johanna Lubinski and their parents arrive in the US from a Displaced Persons Camp, hoping to build a new life. Soon after their arrival, however, a neighbor is arrested by the FBI for suspected involvement in the Rosenberg spy case―and they find themselves in the midst of one of the most notorious court cases of the Red Scare. In the years after WWII, they experience the difficulties of adjusting to American culture, as well as the burgeoning fear of the Cold War.
Years later, the discovery of a former Nazi hiding in their community brings the Holocaust out of the shadows. As the girls get older, they start to wonder about their parents’ pasts, and they begin to demand answers. But it soon becomes clear that those memories will be more difficult and painful to uncover than they could have anticipated.
Poignant and haunting, The Takeaway Men explores the impact of immigration, Jewish identity, prejudice, secrets, and lies on parents and children in mid-twentieth-century America.
Meryl Ain’s articles and essays have appeared in The New York Jewish Week, Huffington Post, Kveller, The New York Times, Newsday and other publications. In 2014, she co-authored the award-winning book, The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last, and in 2016, wrote a companion workbook, My Living Memories Project Journal. This is her first novel.
“WHEN THE TRUCK WITH THE painted Red Cross on its doors left Edyta off on the dirt road leading to her house, her neighborhood was already dark and quiet. Only the barking of a dog shattered the silence. The myriad silvery shining stars ignited the night sky like a pattern of delicate sequins and illuminated her path. Although she was exhausted and sweaty from her long day’s work, and her nurse’s uniform was damp and clung to her body, she could not help but reflect on the magnificence of God’s creation. But how was it possible, she pondered, that the barbaric Nazi destruction that was overrunning this corner of the earth—her town and her country—coexisted against the backdrop of God’s masterpiece?
Earlier that day, she had smuggled three toddlers out of the Kielce Ghetto and into the safety of the Convent of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mother superior there had now sent her home with a small basket of bread, cheese, and apples for the two Jewish adults she was hiding in the attic of her father’s house. She knew hiding Jews, especially in her own home, was a risky proposition and not within her comfort level. Her expertise was in rescuing small children, not grown-ups. But when she was asked to smuggle two adults from the ghetto, one of whom she had known since childhood, she’d had no other choice. She knew full well that her decision was not without peril, particularly because her father, a Polish policeman, supported the Nazis in their hatred of Jews.
Despite her concerns, she convinced herself that this is what her late mother would have wanted her to do. Her mother had been a nurse, and Edyta’s choice of a helping profession was no accident. Her mother had always been kind and caring, and had had a good relationship with her neighbors, including the Jewish doctor for whom she worked. Sometimes, as a small child, Edyta would accompany her mother to the office, which was located in the large stone house where the doctor and his family lived. She would fetch bandages and cups of water for the patients. As she got older, she became her mother’s assistant, and was determined to become a nurse like her. The doctor had even offered to pay for her tuition at the nursing school in Radom when the time came.
Edyta had been infatuated with the doctor’s son, Aron, ever since she could remember. He told her how he planned to become a physician too and go into practice with his father. As she got older, her crush on him grew. She had secretly dreamed of working beside him, and perhaps even marrying him one day.
But before Aron had an opportunity to apply to medical school, Jews were barred from higher education and from the professions. Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and the ensuing chaos dashed Edyta’s dreams of attending nursing school. She was forced to stay home with her widowed father, who had taken to drinking excessively and spewing forth anti-Semitic vitriol.
As she approached her street, she saw her small two-story house with its slanted roof and brown weather-beaten shingles. She was grateful for the cover of night because she could walk home without neighbors asking intrusive questions.
“Thank you, Jesus,” she murmured as she crossed herself. But she was still nervous, thinking about her father. She became short of breath, and her heart started racing, as if she were being chased. The Jews had been in the attic for only a couple of days, and she was deathly afraid that her father would discover them.
Calm down, she thought to herself. It is late; surely Tata is sleeping by now. But as she got closer to the cottage, her fear intensified.
She opened the door gingerly, so as not to make a sound. As she looked around, she saw the telltale signs of a drinking binge—empty beer and liquor bottles were scattered on the floor and kitchen counter. And her father was awake. His eyes were glazed, and his clothes were disheveled. She could smell the honey and spices of the Krupnik on his breath. She could hear that he had been drinking for some time because he slurred his words as he screamed at her.
“Where have you been? What are you doing in your late mother’s uniform? Up to no good, I’m sure. You belong in the gutter with the Zhids. I will kill the Christ Killers—and you too—before you get me killed.”
He threw his drink at her, and the golden yellow liquid landed on her white uniform. The glass narrowly missed and shattered against the wall behind her, a shard lodging in her bare left leg. As it began to bleed, she ran upstairs to her room and locked the door.
While her father had been prone to angry outbursts in the past, he had never physically attacked her like this. Was it the loss of her mother or the drink or the Nazi occupation that had turned him into a monster? Or had he always secretly hated the Jews, and Hitler’s invasion had just given him license to express it?
One thing was certain. He was a policeman with a prejudice, a gun, and a temper. With the encouragement and approval of the Nazi government, he was in a position to potentially inflict great harm. She shuddered to think about the evil her father might do.
She now knew for sure that neither she, nor the two Jews hiding in the attic, were safe from her father’s wrath.”
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The Takeaway Men (c) 2020 by Meryl Ain will be published on August 4 by SparkPress. All rights reserved.