An excerpt from

In the Heart of Warsaw
by Slozma Renglich translated by Zigmund Jampel

It was past noon on the Sabbath when I locked the store and began my long walk across the Jewish Quarter to Frau Liebe's apartment on Muranovska. The grayness of the clouds seemed to have settled over the houses. The streets were quiet, as if they too had been given a day of rest. Even though I was hoping to find a letter from Ruchele at Liebe's, I was worried about how we would manage after her arrival in Warsaw. Liebe had always treated me like family, but the basement apartment was crowded. Liebe and Hertzke slept in the small bedroom, which left only one room, a combination living room and kitchen, for Liebe's son and two daughters, and her husband's three grandsons. The times I had been forced to live in Liebe's basement, I had never stayed for more than a week or two. I had always managed to find work and a place to live quickly. With Ruchele, the situation would be different. She was still a young girl; she had never lived on her own; and even though she had been apprenticed to a seamstress in Lublin, I suspected that it would be years before she could earn her own living. And who knew how long it would be before I could support her?

These thoughts were dancing in my head as I walked down the steps to Liebe's apartment. From the staircase I could already hear a lively political debate going on. When I opened the door, I was greeted as if I were the guest of honor at a party. Suddenly, I heard my name called by a strangely familiar voice-my mother's voice before years of suffering had made it a hollow sound. I turned to the kitchen and saw a young woman in a pale blue dress who looked so much like my mother before grief had ruined her beauty that I was left speechless: the same green eyes that shone like summer leaves; the same soft, black hair full of curls; the same pretty round face.

"Schloime, don't you recognize me?" the young woman asked as she ran to embrace me.
It had been two years since I had last seen Ruchele. I couldn't believe how much she had changed. My little sister was taller than me. "I didn't think you'd come so soon," I said, in a daze.
"I've been here two days already."
"Why didn't you let me know you were on your way? I would have met you at the station."
"I didn't have time. Uncle Yankel was driving me crazy."
"How did you get here?"
"What do you mean? By train. And when I got to Warsaw, I asked for directions."
"You're surprised?" Liebe said. "Your sister isn't the little girl you left in Lublin."
"Everyone's been so nice to me," Ruchele said. "We went out last night and I saw so much of Warsaw. What a large city! So beautiful! All those lights! I could walk the streets here all night long."
Everyone laughed at Ruchele's innocence except me and Frau Liebe. We both knew how this beautiful city had ruined my mother's life.
"It may seem beautiful," said Liebe, "but you must be careful. There are many dangers for a young woman in such a big city."
"This is not Lublin," I added.
"Why're you scaring her?" Tsutel, Elke's older sister, piped up. Tsutel, who was tall, thin, and almost twenty-two years old, had her mother's plain, flat face. Tsutel, however, unlike her mother, knew how to use cosmetics and with red lipstick, a touch of pink powder on her cheeks and blue over her eyes, made herself look quite pretty.
"Don't listen to Tsutel, that great free thinker," said Elke to my sister. "Mother and Schloime are right. You have to watch yourself."
"You'll suffocate her," Tsutel scoffed.
Elke was ready to answer her sister when Leibel stopped her. "Enough," he said to his sisters. "Ruchele has a mind of her own. She'll take care of herself."

"Come children and sit down," said Liebe. "Now that Schloime is here I can bring out the cake."

... As soon as the cake was cut and the slices were passed around, the conversation turned to life in Warsaw and became very spirited. I ate my piece of cake, which tasted like sweetened air, and felt glad that attention had been taken off me and my sister. I could see that Hertzke's grandsons, Khiel, Nachme, and Yoinne, were taken with Ruchele. As they told her about the plays being performed in Warsaw, Ruchele listened with an open mouth. I followed the talk for a while but my mind wandered. I was overwhelmed with worry over how to take care of Ruchele, who was neither a child nor an adult.