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Sally, the Tour Guide

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 This is one of a series of family stories belonging to the Dub family of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, and the Zyngerman family of Radom, Poland.

The apartment building at 6 Rynek Street was an attractive one in comparison to other neighborhood buildings in Radom, Poland, in 1933. The people who lived there were working people. They worked, cooked, cleaned, shopped, prayed, led ordinary lives. The children played together at the park and didn't often gather in the apartments. Most of them attended the neighborhood school.

Sally Zyngerman lived on the top floor in the nicest apartment. She lived there with her mother, Jana, and her brother, Pinchas. Though her father had died when she was three, her mother had provided well for her little family. Sally loved her apartment because it was the best in the building and had such pretty views of the city. On a sunny day, Sally could see the park. If she leaned out the window and looked in just the right direction, she could almost see the gymnasium where she attended school. The gymnasium, of course, was just for the best students. And Sally was one of the best.

She loved the kitchen where her mother allowed her to eat a ham sandwich (as long as she used an upside-down plate). She loved the furniture and the books which she spent hours reading. She loved her room with her own stuffed chair.

She loved the fact that it was the nicest apartment in the building. She loved the fact they had a maid because no one else in the neighborhood had a full-time maid. She didn't mind that her mother worked even though no other mothers worked outside their homes. She liked all these things that set her apart.

Sally knew she was already a good businesswoman like her mother. She helped her mother in the lumber yard whenever she could. Customers would rave about how she could add a list of numbers in her head without making an error.

Sally knew her apartment was the nicest in the building just as she knew her clothes were a bit better, her shoes were a bit more expensive, and her dolls were more life-like. She wasn't usually part of the group when they played in the park. That was partly because she attended the gymnasium across town. She did very well in school and would go to university.

One day, she decided she needed a little extra spending money and knew right away how to get it. Her grandpa's birthday was only a week away, she wanted something very special. Her zayde doted on her, and she wanted to get him the best present ever. She especially wanted him to notice her present more than the book Pinchas had already purchased, wrapped, and hidden in his bedroom. She could already hear zayde's praise. How surprised her mother would also be.

As she climbed the stairs home, she first ran into Regina.

"Regina," she said. "I was thinking. If you really want to see my doll I got for my birthday, I can show you." The child-size doll scared Sally because its eyes seemed to stare right at her. She was not allowed to actually play with the expensive doll. It was put up in her closet, only to be taken out for special occasions.

"Sure," Regina said. "I want to see your doll. I don't believe you when you say its eyes move."

"Well, OK, Regina. For a special deal, only for today, I'll let you see her. It will cost you 5 groszy. But it has to be today because my mother won't be home until late. Bring your sisters, too, but remember their money."

Regina decided it would be worth 5 groszy so she ran to her apartment. "That doll's eyes can't really move," she thought as she could almost feel how good it would be to finally show up Sally.

Then Sally saw David sitting on the stairs. "Psst, David. Do you want to see the train set Pinchas got for his birthday?" Sally asked.

"Yes, yes," David replied. "I've been wanting to see the train set. I don't believe the engine can really smoke," he said.

"Well, yes it can," Sally assured him. "But you can only see it today because Pinchas is with Grandfather. It will cost you 5 groszy. If Jacob, Josef, and Rachel want to see it, bring them, too—5 groszy each."

On the last landing, Sally saw Miriam. "Miriam, do you want to see the new carpet in our living room?" Sally asked. "I heard your mother talking about it this morning. The colors are so pretty. She said she would love to have one just like it but would probably never be able to afford it."

"Well, when I grow up, I'll buy four of them," retorted Miriam. "So, I'd better come see what I'll be buying."

"Great. Go get 5 groszy and come see the rug," Sally said while adding up the total take in her head.

Sally hurried to her apartment to get things ready. She went to her room and got down her doll, trying not to look directly at it. She went to Pinchas's room and carefully poured a capful of water into the engine spout. She turned on the train.

She went to the door and waited. There she stood, with her hand out (palm side up) as the children filed in. Each place a 5 groszy piece in her hand. Sally stuffed the first coins in her pocket as she took more.

All the children in the building had come to see the doll, the train, or the carpet. Sally could picture the beautiful leather wallet she planned to buy with her profits.

"Ooooh, Sally. That doll's eyes do not move. I want my money back."

"Hey, Sally. The train stopped. I want to see it again. Bet you can't make it go again."

Just then, Sally heard steps on the landing. She had been sure Pinchas and their zayde would be gone most of the afternoon. But that was definitely Pinchas's voice she could hear. Their steps got closer. She could see only one solution to her problem. "Hurry! Everyone get under the table," she whispered as she shoved everyone into the dining room. "Don't anyone say a word."

The eight children huddled under the table trying to be very quiet. Sally hurried to the front door to welcome Pinchas and Zayde. Unfortunately, she had run out of time and as she turned, she saw Pinchas and their grandfather. Her heart sank. Grandpappa would not be amused.

As he surveyed the scene, he quickly figured out what was going on. After all, there is nothing subtle about eight children under a dining room table.

"Children," he said, "you've seen enough. It's time to go home."

When the last child filed quickly past him, Sally gulped and worried about what would happen next.

"Grandpappa," she said. "Do we have to tell Mama?"

Grandpappa stroked his beard and thought for a long, silent moment. "No," he finally said. "I think you know better, Salomea. Nothing was hurt. I think it would be a good idea to return that money in your pocket to the children. We don't have to tell your Mama."

Sally sighed deeply and gave her brother a long, serious glare. He wouldn't dare tell.

Pinchas Zygnerman died at Treblinka on August 17, 1942. He was 13 years old.

Grandpappa (Zayde) Hockenbaum also died at Treblinka on August 17, 1942. He was 62 years old.

Sally Zyngerman spent four years in ghettos and concentration camps. She was liberated four days after her 20th birthday on May 8, 1945, while marching to be shot. She died in Georgetown, South Carolina, on December 15, 2008. Sally was my mother. 

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Thursday, 29 February 2024

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