Stitching a Life by Mary Helen Fein
English | 2020 | Historical Fiction | ePUB | 2.7 MB
It’s 1900, and sixteen-year-old Helen comes alone in steerage across the Atlantic from a small village in Lithuania, fleeing terrible anti-Semitism and persecution. She arrives at Ellis Island, and finds a place to live in the colorful Lower East Side of New York. She quickly finds a job in the thriving garment industry and, like millions of others who are coming to America during this time, devotes herself to bringing the rest of her family to join her in the New World, refusing to rest until her family is safe in New York.
A few at a time, Helen’s family members arrive. Each goes to work with the same fervor she has and contributes everything to bringing over their remaining beloved family members in a chain of migration. Helen meanwhile, makes friends and-once the whole family is safe in New York-falls in love with a man who introduces her to a different New York-a New York of wonder, beauty, and possibility.
A mental picture of Max crammed into the dirt came to her. He would be listening to the sound of the soldiers’ boots on the wooden floor over his head, not knowing if these were his last few minutes of freedom. Her knees felt wobbly, but she could not allow herself to surrender to the panic that grew inside. There was too much at stake. The only chance of saving Max was to appear calm, sincere, believable. She would not give him away by shaking and cowering.
One of the soldiers went back outside, but the other one went over to the stove where the chicken soup bubbled away. With a sneer he looked at Hinde, then drew his heavy sword from its scabbard and raked the flashing metal across the stove top. The blade caught the pot with a loud clank, then threw hot liquid and chicken and matzo balls in every direction. The pot and lid crashed loudly onto the floor. The fire in the stove sizzled as liquid poured down. The precious chicken pieces, broken matzo balls, and carefully cut vegetables lay steaming everywhere.
Hinde froze, wanted to cry, wanted to scream. She stood completely still, knowing instinctively that this was a time to be as invisible as possible. She had heard stories of women and children being subjected to terrible cruelty by these soldiers. The man looked at her with a leer that told her he could do whatever he wanted to the soup, to the house, to her. She bit the inside of her lip as she realized her powerlessness in the face of this thuggish invader. Finally, he turned and went out the front door.
As she took several large, involuntary gulps of air, she realized she had been holding her breath. She followed the soldier outside. He raised his empty palms and shook his head to indicate to the officer that they had had no success in finding Max.
“Girl, go and get the fake birth certificate,” ordered the officer from high on his horse. He waved his hand through the air, shooing Hinde back into the house. She went to the trunk in the corner. The soldiers had left the heavy lid open with the pile of papers right on top. It took her only a moment to find Max’s birth certificate.
The officer knew it was a fake, and so did Hinde. Max was twelve years old, despite this document that showed that he was only eleven. She went back outside with the papers and handed them to the soldier near the door.
He lowered his head to read the document, then looked up and said to his officer, “It says that Max Breakstone is only eleven. Born in 1889, just eleven years ago. It looks valid, with the usual stamps.” The family had paid dearly for those stamps.
The officer brought his horse a few steps closer to Hinde. He leaned toward her. He bared his teeth at her, scowling. She felt his white-hot hatred as if she were standing too close to a raging fire. “We shall leave for now, but we will be back, filthy little Jew girl, you can be sure of it.” With that, he jerked his horse’s head so that its eyes went wide, and it turned back the way they had come.
The soldier who held the birth certificate gave one more sneer, then threw the valuable paper down on the dirt and ground his boot into it, all the while keeping his leering eyes on Hinde. He turned and leapt into his saddle.