Barbara's Story - A 2nd Generation's Journey

Seeing the War from Outside the Ghetto
By Barbara, the daughter of my mother's non-Jewish school friend
A MysteriousHat Box                                                                          
By Barbara Drążkiewicz
A mysterious hat box was lying on the top of our wardrobe in our old house.
This round, dark brown box was covered in leather.
The tall wardrobe wouldn't allow a small girl to take a peek inside.
Believe me though; it was worth taking a look.
One evening, my grandmother with her daughter take down the mysterious hat box and opened it to the delight of me and my baby sister.
We immediately felt the scent of a dreadful history.
We discovered that inside was hidden: yellowed sketches, a picture of a stranger, a copy of the book "Gone With the Wind" and a felt hat.
Although the contents weren't very interesting, the story connected with this objects was fascinating. 
The story begins in a small town, situated near Cracow, where Catholic Poles and Jews live together.   Their children play in the same yards and attend the same schools.   
They take walks along the town's gardens and swing on the chains that surround the monument of Kazimierz Wiklki in the main town square.
Adolescent girls, Catholic and Jewish, attend the local high school.   Together they take school trips with their teacher.   In photos one can see these beautiful young ladies happy and full of dreams about their future.
In front of their high school building, the old photographer takes a photo of these joyful girls and their teachers.
But their dreams and plans are destroyed by the Second World War.
In the town, Germans create a ghetto. My mother’s friends, Cesia and Lasia, are sent there with their families.
My mother, Irena, goes to visit her friends several times.  They try to figure out how to solve the problem.  Irena brings them objects from the Catholic Faith: a holy painting, a Rosary and a prayer book.  Maybe these objects will help her friends get out.
In return, Cesia gives my mother  a box with something inside and asks her to keep it for awhile.
This time, Irena returns from ghetto more depressed then usual.  She’s not allowed to enter there any more.
Eventually the Germans decide to liquidate the ghetto and the Jews were deported to an unknown location.
Irena often thinks about her friends and waits for any message from them.
Finally the horror of war ends. 
My mother receives conflicting information about what happened to Cesia and Lasia. 
After the war, Irena raises her own family.  She has two daughters.
The curious girls grow up and the history of the mysterious hat box melts away.
At last in 2006, during a moving ceremony in the small town, the mayor unveils a memorial to the Jews killed in the ghetto. The guests recite the Kadish.
And I am there, among the town participants, that once ‘curious girl’.
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