Jacob Kolb (nee Bienstock),
The greatest of my father's many passions was fishing.
He began to fish as a boy during visits with his grandparents in the country
and continued into his 70s, nearly until the end of his life.
My father knew every river, stream and lake in eastern Poland. He could tell you where each fish lived and how each fish lived. My father was intimately familiar with their eating, breeding and sleeping habits. He would travel at seemingly odd times of the year in order to fish, often standing in water wearing high boots, always using the appropriate bait.
It was from a fishing trip that my father returned on September 1, 1939 to be mobilized as an officer in the Polish army. It was while fishing that his life was threatened by bombarding planes when the Germans attacked our part of the country again in 1941.
After my father's death in Germany in 1973, it was only his fishing rod that
I brought back home to the USA. I must have been quite a sight-a tearful woman
in mourning, with a fishing rod in tow, crossing the Atlantic.
But my father's lifelong love for fishing is only the background for the story I want to tell here.
In order to reach the most coveted, best-stocked fishing places, one needed a car. In our small town, where the total number of cars could be counted on the fingers of both hands, my father had two cars, a Fiat and a Skoda. But the cars were not new, and since the countryside roads were poor, at least one of his cars was always in need of repair.
One of my father's closest fishing partners was Mr. D., the owner of the town's auto repair shop. The shop was located on the outskirts of town, and my father loved to visit there almost daily to discuss fishing and cars with Mr. D. One day I was privileged to accompany him and this soon developed into a routine-the long walk with Father, some storytelling, candy, maybe a toy, and a friendly pat on the head from Mr. D.
On weekends, the entire pack of fishermen dileitantes drove out to the country. My father, a successful businessman, generously provided the car, food and beverages. There was a great camaraderie and Mr. D. was a steady fixture in the group.
I believe that during my childhood I saw more of Mr. D. than I saw of my assorted uncles and aunts. I grew up on his lap and he called me by my pet name, "Lap," which only a few people were allowed to do.
Our idyllic small-town life was shattered by the outbreak of World War II. After numerous troubling episodes, our family was relocated to the Jewish quarter, where all four of us lived in one room, on the brink of poverty. My father was forced to work hard physical labor, as part of a demolition squad that dismantled Jewish homes.
* * *
It is the summer of 1942. We are too well acquainted with death, having lost
many relatives and friends, and are very frightened. Our entire existence
has been reduced to a single strategy of survival: how to best hide in order
to escape our persecutors.
One day my father returns home early. He is frantic. A rumor is circulating that within the next few days all the Jewish children will be deported and killed. I am only 11 years old. My parents are devastated. I am terrified. My father undertakes a most dangerous trip. He goes to the forbidden-to-us non-Jewish part of town, to the shop of Mr. D.
Mr. D. readily agrees to come in the evening to provide me with shelter for several days. His wife does not object. He tells my father not to worry. After all, my father is a very close friend.
My father returns home with the good news and we are all relieved. My mother irons my best dress, braids my long hair and packs a small picnic bag with the barest necessities.
That night, I sit by the door and wait. And wait and wait. I silently recite some old poems and songs to keep from falling asleep. After midnight, my mother convinces me to go to bed. I get under the covers, fully dressed, with my little bag at my side, in case Mr. D. arrives.
Mr. D. never comes. We never hear from him. He does not send a message of apology or explanation. The rumors of a roundup prove to be false that night. I am lucky-on that night we are left alone.
We miraculously survive the war. My father returns from a concentration camp in 1945. Due to the post-war political conditions, we are evacuated from our hometown and resettled in another part of Poland.
One day, my father meets Mr. D. in the street of our new town. There is much hugging and great joy in seeing one another again. Neither man mentions one word about the broken promise. Apparently, Mr. D. does not feel it important enough to apologize for. My father, in his jovial manner, is ready to resume their friendship.
For the first time, my mother, who is usually very supportive of her husband, puts her foot down. The relationship with Mr. D. must be severed. My sister and I support her. My father avoids any further contact with Mr. D. We never see him again.
Many years have passed. I have built a new life in the USA. I have raised a family, undertaken a career, lived in the suburbs. Like my father, I love to be surrounded by friends. We have met many nice people at different points in our life here. We are all of different backgrounds, religious denominations and nationalities. We respect one another's beliefs and exchange good wishes on each other's respective holidays. I love my friends dearly, but sometimes, when I reflect, in the darkest corner of my heart, a nagging doubt arises. Would these friendships survive a serious trial?
I hope that I will never have to find out.