A Scrap of Time and Other Stories by Ida Fink is a slim but powerful book of short stories of the Holocaust in Poland. The stories themselves are often just scraps, two or three pages in which we enter in the middle of something but just for a short time. But that short time is so often devastating that I frequently found myself in tears.
The stories have a sort of progression through the book. We begin at the beginning of the Holocaust before the Jews really knew what was going on. Very quickly we find ourselves amidst second or third actions – round-ups. Sometimes people would find a hiding place. Other times the person in the story is in such despair that he or she is resigned to die and does nothing to try and avoid it. Two of the most heartrending stories appear in this portion of the book.
In “A Spring Morning” a husband, wife and their small child are awakened early one morning by a buzzing sound. Lost in sleep the husband thinks that the buzzing is a fly but it turns out to be the Nazi trucks rolling into the town. By the time they realize it, it is too late to hide and they get caught in the action, are made to march with the rest of the Jews in the town to the outskirts where they know they will all be shot. The husband carries the child who grows heavier and heavier as they walk. As they approach a church where the service has just gotten out, he gets an idea that might save his daughter from certain death. I will not tell you what happens. I will say I read this during my lunch break and I am glad I was alone because by the end of the story I was sobbing.
The other story, “Jean-Christophe” any reader will find devastating. A labor group of Jewish girls is out clearing brush while being watched over by their “Aufseherin.” But today they are not working and the Aufseherin doesn’t force the issue because there is an action going on in the town and people they know are being taken away. As the other girls worry and fret, one girl sprawls in the grass reading a book and paying no attention to anyone else. The Aufseherin asks what she is reading, the girl replies “Jean-Christophe.” And then proceeds the kind of conversation all readers know: what’s it about? is it good? The Aufseherin finally asks:
“Will you lend it to me when you’re done?”
“Why not?” she answered. “I’ll give it to you to keep.”
“No, not to keep; lend it to me and I’ll return it.” She thought for a moment. “It must be good – you’ve been reading it all day; and especially on a day like this when they’re taking people away.”
“I have to hurry,” said the girl. “I want to make sure I finish it in time. There’s one more section, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish it.” She looked carefully at the book to see how many pages she had left. “I’m afraid I won’t have time to finish it.”
It goes on for a couple more paragraphs, but you get the picture. So do all the Jewish girls. But the Aufseherin is completely clueless.
There are tales of good people risking their lives to hide others. There is a beautiful one, “The Black Beast” with a dog in it (the dog does not die).
Another, “Night of Surrender,” takes place on the day the war is over. Ann was lucky enough to not look too Jewish. Her parents managed to get good forged papers for her and she spent the war “passing.” She meets a U.S. soldier in the park and they go on a few dates. He wants to marry her. But Ann, seeing as how she is now safe, tells him her secret. Her real name is Klara, she is Jewish. Her parents were taken away. The soldier, Mike, tells her it doesn’t matter, he still loves her anyway. Ann/Klara is relieved and dares to hope that maybe she will marry him and go far away from the horrors she has been through. But then Mike tells her that while he doesn’t care that she is Jewish others will so it’s best that she just forget Klara and remain Ann for the rest of her life. It’s for the best, don’t you see?
I could go on and on there are so many good stories in this book. But I will stop here and suggest that this is a book that should be read. The writing is gorgeous. All the stories are good, not a badly written one in the bunch. I highly recommend it. Just be sure to have some tissues handy.