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The Midwife Of Auschwitz Ending Chapter 36 PDF– ESTER
Ester sat on the cathedral steps staring at the birds pecking eagerly at the crumbs of her pasztecik. Ana had made the crumbly pastries fresh this morning to tempt her failing appetite and Ester tried to eat, really she did, but her stomach seemed shrunk these days, either by the privations of Birkenau or by the gnawing emptiness of life since she’d escaped its wires. She was lucky, she knew, to have a safe and caring place to live with Ana and her sons, and she loved her friend dearly for it, but it was not home.
They were all getting on with their lives and that was right. Bronislaw was moving to Warsaw to head up a department in the hospital there, Zander had passed his final medical exams, and Jakub was doing well at the printers and courting a lovely young woman.
Even Ana was moving forward, working hard and bringing ever more babies into the world. Ester had felt privileged to be with them for the small memorial ceremony they’d held for Bartek in their local church, restored after its time as a mattress factory, and had sent up her own prayers for Sarah, who had been forced to work there in the ghetto years, and for Ruth. With the synagogues starting to run again she and Leah were planning their own memorial to honour Mordecai and Benjamin, who had died so bravely, but she was determined to wait until Filip could be there for it.
The clock struck midday and she looked up at it and into the blue sky beyond. It was 1 September, exactly six years from the day when Germany had marched into Poland, driving the cruel tanks and machine guns of the voracious Third Reich across all their lives. It was also exactly six years since Filip had dropped to one knee before her and asked her to be his wife and the ‘yes’ had exploded from her in a glorious burst of joy that was almost impossible to even remember now. Every day that passed without news of him eroded the edges of their too-brief marriage until she sometimes began to wonder if it had ever happened at all.
She touched her hand to her stomach. There were lines there, etched into her camp-ravaged skin, that spoke of the baby she’d borne him, the baby she had held in her arms for three beautiful days before she’d been snatched away to be ‘Germanised’. Ester didn’t want to hate, really she didn’t, but Lord forgive her, it was hard not to.
She forced her mind away from Nazi darkness and on to sweeter things. She had had a letter from Naomi, sent via the Jewish relief committee. Somehow the girl had talked her way onto three different trains south and was home in Salonika and reunited with her father and sisters, all miraculously alive. They had been overjoyed to meet baby Isaac, she’d written, and were naming the restaurant they were opening in his honour. Ester must come and stay with them, as they’d discussed in Birkenau.
‘You will have to come and visit when this is all over,’ Ester remembered her dear friend saying to her the very first day they had met in the filth of Birkenau. She had stared at her then, amazed at her simple optimism.
‘You think it will be?’ she’d asked.
‘One way or another it has to be, and what’s the point in thinking the worst?’
Well, Naomi had been right and now it was over and Naomi was home and she was asking Ester to visit. But there was no way she was going to Greece without her husband. She let her eyes follow a white cloud as it drifted innocuously above the clock tower. It had been the same sort of weather on this day in 1939, but barely had she and Filip shared their first kiss than the planes had cut, dark and menacing, across the bright blue sky.
‘Quick,’ Filip had said, taking her hand and pulling her up the steps and into the cathedral, and Ester had had no idea whether it had been the happiest day of her life or the worst. It was a question she’d asked herself again and again over the dark years since, and one that she feared would haunt her forever more. Was it better to have known such beautiful happiness if its subsequent absence brought such pain? At least in the camp her emotions had been dulled along with all her other bodily functions, but here, in Łódź, where they had first been together, it seemed to stab at her constantly.
Ester reached into her pocket and pulled out her copy of the letter she’d found in Ana’s bedroom last week. She hadn’t been snooping, hadn’t even known there was anything to go snooping for. She had just been looking for a dark ribbon to tie back her hair for work and there it had been, sat on the dressing table, wedged beneath Ana’s hairbrush. Even then, she would not have touched it save for the stamp on the envelope: ‘Society for the Recovery of Jewish orphans.’ At those words, though, she had been unable
to resist and, checking guiltily for any movement in the rest of the house she had edged it open.
The letter had been from a Rabbi Isaiah Drucker, reporting back on a trip around Germany looking for Jewish children. Ana, it would seem, had asked this man to look out for infants with numbers tattooed in the armpits and he had found some. Five, to be exact, and this apparently on top of three from a previous trip – but none of them with 41400 written into their delicate skin. He had enclosed photographs, small and murky but still clear enough to see a run of tiny armpits with her own, careful tattooing tucked into the fold.
She had stared and stared at them, trying to picture which mothers had held their children while she’d carved such a hideous branding into their fresh new skin – all for this, all for the moment when they might surface again after the war and be found. And some were doing. Some truly were. The letter made it clear that Ana had written to this hardworking rabbi to tell him that one baby – 51294 – had been returned to her mother in Belorussia. Ester had been battling ever since to feel happy for her. Sometimes though, the only true emotion was screaming, raging jealousy.
‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered to the skies.
Another cloud drifted benignly past and she tried to see God’s great goodness in it. The Nazis were gone. She’d heard that both Irma Grese and Maria Mandel had been captured and would stand trial for their crimes, along with so many others, and would almost certainly hang. It was kinder than they deserved, but what mattered now was that peace was here and families were being reunited. There was much to be grateful for, but, oh, how she longed to feel Filip’s arms around her again, how she longed to tell him they had a daughter, how she longed to have him at her side to try and find Pippa. Without him, it all felt so pointless.
She forced her eyes down from the skies and across the road to the hospital. It was not pointless. There was her work and her patients and her fellow staff. There was Ana and her new ‘brothers’ and there was Leah. Her sister’s baby boy had been born just two days after the German surrender, as if it had known it was now safe to come out. Leah had been back out on Adam’s farm and sent word for Ana but by the time she and Ester had made it there in Jakub’s cart, the baby had already been born and Leah had been tucked up in bed with Adam fussing proudly around her.
‘Look!’ he’d said excitedly. ‘Look what she’s made.’
It had been so sweet that Ester had burst into tears and Leah had held her and said she’d be a wonderful auntie and she’d not wanted to spoil the moment by talking about her own lost baby, so she’d just nodded and let it go. She felt bad about that now. Losing Pippa was not a shameful secret but a tragedy. It was not something she had done, but something that had been imposed upon her in the cruellest possible way. And yet… How could anyone who had not been there possibly understand? And why sully Leah’s happiness with her own sorrow?
She could still picture the dread night when she and Ruth had stood in the shadows watching the cart ride up to the ghetto gates with Leah stashed beneath the sacks of Wehrmacht uniforms. She could still see the soldier produce his bayonet and still hear her mother’s cries as she’d faked a fit to draw attention away. The bruises the SS had imprinted upon Ruth that night had weakened her so much that she’d stood little chance of surviving, but she had made that sacrifice to get Leah free, to keep her safe and innocent, and she had succeeded. Leah’s continued naivety about the true ravages of the war was to be celebrated, not resented. But it sometimes felt as if there was only so much Ester’s slim shoulders could bear.
A single dong above her rang out the half hour. Her break was over and she should get back to work. The stone of the steps was cold against her legs, just as it had been the day Filip had bounded down the street and proposed. There were no planes in the sky this September, but no husband at her side either. She scattered the last of the crumbs onto the stone and watched the pigeons land and peck, cooing gratefully, around her feet. How many more times could she keep doing this? How many more days could she sit here in the fading imprint of her former life? Perhaps it was time to call a halt to her foolish optimism? But if she did that, what would there truly be to live for? What—
‘Ester?’ She blinked, stared at the pigeons as if they might have spoken. ‘Ester, is that truly you?’
Someone else’s feet stepped into the line of her vision and the pigeons gave an indignant squawk and flew away. Still she did not dare look up. Too many times her hopes had been dashed and she couldn’t take another disappointment. But then a hand reached out and oh so gently cupped her chin, lifting it so that she was staring into the dearest, warmest, most loving eyes in the world.
‘Filip,’ she breathed, then louder, ‘Filip!’
She clutched at him, clawing at his clothes to pull him closer, to be sure that he was real, that he was here before her.
‘Ester,’ he said again and then he was bending and his lips were on hers and the world exploded into the brightest, most joyous colours.
She gasped against his lips, “You’re here! You’re alive!” He smiled, grateful that he had finally made it.
Tears were streaming down her face, mingling with his own. His arms were around her, his hands stroking her back, his lips kissing her face over and over and suddenly all the hurt was gone. The darkness of Birkenau was shoved into the shadows of the past and the light of love dazzled so that she would have staggered beneath it had he not been here, holding her up.
‘Where have you been?’ she stuttered when they finally pulled apart and she could look up into his dear face.
‘Everywhere. I escaped from Chelmno. Oh Lord, Ester, it was awful.’
‘I know,’ she said, tenderly running her fingers down the war-sharp line of his jaw. ‘Noah told me.’
‘Noah? He made it too? He’s here?’
‘Right here in Łódź. He told me about breaking out of the storehouse, but he didn’t know if you’d survived the German shootings.’
“Barely. My leg was caught, but I wasn’t about to stop running. Down to the river I went, and I hid in the bushes by the water, then worked my way downstream into some woods.”
He sighed and sat down onto the steps, pulling her in tight against him.
‘I was weak, Ester, so weak. I might have died save that some Resistance fighters found me. They bound my wound and fed me. They kept me safe until I was well enough to walk again and then a recruiting officer came from the Polish army and asked us to join them in the final push against Germany. So we did. We fought all the way to Berlin – right onto the streets. It was glorious, Ester, but in the final battle for the Reichstag I was shot.’
He gave her a wry smile and she clasped his face in both her hands, laughing.
‘Don’t apologise, my darling, darling man. My husband. My Filip.’
He pulled her close, kissing her until she was almost too giddy with the touch of him to care what had got him here, but finally he drew away.
‘I was in a Red Cross hospital for a while, unconscious. Even once I came round, it was a bit of a battle to get them to let me out to come and find you.’ Nervously he pushed his hair back and she gasped. The top half of his ear was missing and a jagged scar ran back from it into his scalp. ‘It’s not as bad as it looks.’
‘Thank God, because it looks awful!’ ‘I know. Can you still love me, Ester?’ She hit out at him.
‘Loving you is the only thing that’s kept me going all these horrible years. Well that and—’ She cut herself off. ‘One scar isn’t going to stop me.’
She reached up and traced the line of it, marvelling. One millimetre deeper in and she knew she would have lost him. By such tiny margins had survival been decided in this bitter war but theirs, it seemed, had fallen on the right side of the line. Somehow, they had both made it through and the future was theirs once more.
‘And you?’ he asked with utmost tenderness, ‘What happened to you?’ ‘I was at Auschwitz-Birkenau.’
His eyes filled with sorrow.
‘All this time? You survived?’ She smiled.
‘I survived. And so did Ana and so, perhaps, did…’ She stopped herself. ‘Filip, I have something to tell you.’
He looked deep into her eyes and she had to blink again to believe he was truly here.
‘What is it, my darling?’ She swallowed.
‘We have a daughter.’
‘A daughter? Oh Ester – truly?’ He looked around. ‘Where?’
Ester finally let the tears flow once more, leaning in against Filip. She dared, at last, to let her true sorrow envelop her completely.
‘I don’t know, Filip. I’m so, so sorry but I don’t know. She was taken from me when she was just four days old.’
Filip’s eyes filled with sorrow and he tried to draw her in against him again but this time she resisted.
‘There is a way of finding her, Filip. Ana has been looking but I have not felt strong enough to properly help – until now.’
This time she did not resist when Filip pulled her close.
‘We are together now, Ester. We have found each other and next we will find our daughter.’
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