The Death and Life of Moisha David

Submitted by Tony Hall to Contest #8 in response to: Write a story about an adventure in a small town.... view prompt


"Moisha, keep close, don't stray too far," his father, Yosef David, said.


"I won't, Papa. Just going next door to the barber shop to visit my friend, Uri."


Moisha and his father worked at the bakery in the Warsaw ghetto in Poland. His mother, along with all the other women, had been deported to a different settlement camp last month. Currently, the ghetto numbered about 60,000 Jews squeezed into a one square mile area.


Entering Able's Barber Shop, Moisha was alarmed to see about thirty men jammed into the room, all armed with handguns, knives, clubs, and wooden chair legs sharpened into stakes.


Able, the shop owner, said, "You shouldn't be here, boy. Your father, Rabbi Yosef, would not understand. Uri, take him back to the bakery."


"Yes, sir."


Outside, Moisha said, "Uri, what's going on?"


"The Nazis are planning to increase Jewish deportations to the Treblinka death camps. Papa, along with hundreds of others in the underground resistance, has banded together to organize a citywide uprising. Even some of the collaborating Council Elders have decided to make a stand. Papa said that if we're meant to die, then it is better to die on our feet as men, rather than walk meekly like lambs to the slaughter."


Uri broke down in tears, the enormity of his father's sacrifice finally taking a toll. Moisha placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, awkwardly trying to comfort him. "It will be ok, Uri. Everything will be ok. Please don't cry, Uri. Please don't..."


Moisha's voice faded as he spied a convoy of fifty military trucks, led by a lone jeep, enter the ghetto. The trucks peeled-off in different directions, down intersecting roads as they approached. The jeep stopped in front of the boys. The camp's second-in-command, the black-uniformed Lt. Hans Kruger of the Schutzstaffel (SS), disembarked from the back of the vehicle.


Lt. Kruger glanced at the clipboard he carried, which was filled with pages full of names. "Boys, gather your personal belongings for deportation to Treblinka. Also, tell your fathers. The convoy leaves in one hour."


Gunfire suddenly erupted nearby and in the distance. Moisha and Uri dropped flat to the sidewalk, hands covering their heads. The SS officer immediately took cover behind the jeep. A dozen men exited the barber shop and opened fire on the driver.


Yosef burst out of the bakery, running to Moisha and Uri. He snatched up the boys and turned back to the shop. Hans Kruger raised his pistol from behind the jeep and fired.


When the trio reached the inside of the bakery, they fell in a heap on the center of the floor. The boys looked at each other in abject terror. Moisha noticed his father still lying flat. He propped him up against the counter; his own hands came away wet with blood. Moisha wailed in despair as Yosef weakly caressed his son's face.


"It's ok, son. Love you... Moisha. Get out... stay alive." Yosef's hand dropped and his eyes glazed over. Moisha was inconsolable, weeping on the floor in the fetal position. Time passed.


Rough hands dragged him to his feet. He was gruffly struck twice across the face, forcing the boy back to his senses. Able held up Moisha by his coat against the bakery wall.


"Oy, vay! This is war, boy. No time for babies." He released Moisha and straightened the boy's shirt and jacket. "I'm sorry about your father, Moisha. He was a good man." He looked the boy up and down and handed him a sharpened wooden stake. "Come with me." The two boys followed him out the front door.


There were smoke and broken glass everywhere. Scores of bodies lay on the street and sidewalk. Near the corner, five resistance fighters surrounded Hans Kruger of the SS. He was on his knees, bruised and tied with ropes. Able walked right up to the German.


"Herr Kruger. I must thank you for bringing us these vehicles. Now we have twenty serviceable trucks that can move a thousand of our rebels anywhere in the city at a moment's notice."


Able received no reply but an icy stare. "Nothing to say, eh? Then let me introduce you to a young boy named Moisha David. You murdered his father, the Rabbi, today. Perhaps you have something to say to him, yes?"


Able pushed Moisha to the forefront until he stood before the Nazi officer. They stared at each other for a few moments. "D-did you kill my Papa?"


"Yes."


"But why?" Moisha began to tear up again. "He was a man of God. He wouldn't hurt a fly. How could you do that to him?"


"Because you Jews are like germs." Hans Kruger's reply was dispassionate and cold, without rancor or anger. "Diseases cannot be controlled unless you destroy their causes. Your infection will never disappear unless someone removes you from this world. That is why your father had to die. That is why you – and every Jew on this planet - must be exterminated once and for all. Your race is subhuman and an abomination to life. Always has. Always will."


An anger Moisha had never felt before, exploded. He rushed forward with a shout of rage, plunging the wooden stake deep into the Nazi. The man's eyes registered shock at first, then rolled back into his head, as his body crumpled backward onto the pavement.


Able placed a hand on Moisha's shoulder. "You have avenged your father's death. He would be proud. That part of your life is now over." The man got down on his knees so that he could speak to the boys face to face.


"The South Gate of the city is opened. My men eliminated the German guards posted there. Some people have already fled down that path. If you choose to leave, you must do so now, before Nazi reinforcements arrive.


"Don't forget: the entire country of Poland is now your enemy. Beyond our borders, we are surrounded by even more enemies. Your only hope is to continue south 180 miles until you reach the mountains of Kraków, a journey of two weeks. Stay hidden in those mountains until it is safe to come down."


His eyes were moist as he stared at his son. "I know there is much more I wanted to say to you, Uri. But there is no time. I still have much work to do here. Be brave, both of you. Look after each other." He hugged them both then briskly walked back to his shop.


About a dozen rebels now held the South Gate. They offered food, water, and supplies to Moisha and Uri. One rebel handed the boys rifles with three rounds of ammunition each, another gave Moisha a Nazi helmet with a bloody bullet hole on its side.


The boys exited the gate tower in silence. Their lives had just experienced a significant change that their minds were still trying to cope with. In the meantime, they were basically on auto-pilot. The boys gradually caught up to the refugees escaping the ghetto. They formed a line which seemingly stretched for miles.


They heard trucks back in the distance, stop by the South Gate. About fifty soldiers disembarked from the rear of one of the vehicles with half of them racing to re-take the gate tower. The rest ran into fields, in pursuit of the Jewish escapees. One Nazi setup a large machine gun atop the truck's cab.


"Everyone, run! Hurry!" Uri shouted at the families of fugitives. Machine gun fire erupted and mortars exploded around the boys. They ran on in terror.


Ahead in the path, Moisha saw a dead elderly couple on the grass. A white and brown Jack Rusell terrier lay whimpering beside them.


"C'mon, boy! You need to follow us now!" He reached down to grab the leash but the dog almost bit his hand. It remained by the dead pair, fiercely growling at Moisha.


"Leave him!" Uri grabbed his friend. "We have to keep going!" They got as far as twenty yards before a mortar shell blasted right in front of them.


Upon regaining consciousness, Moisha began coughing and blindly crawling away in the thick cloud of smoke. "Uri! Where are you, Uri!" He could hear the machineguns getting closer and closer, but he was still too dazed and woozy from the mortar explosion.


Moisha felt something tugging on his trouser leg. It was the dog from the dead couple! He picked up the leash and held on for dear life. The Jack Rusell terrier moved quickly and unerringly out of the kill zone set-up by the German soldiers. In a few moments, the boy was over the hill and safely out of sight from any onlookers.


Moisha dropped to the ground in exhaustion, grateful for this short respite. The dog lay beside him as the boy checked the dog's tag. "Bella? So, you're a girl, then. Thank you for saving my life, Bella. Now we have to find my friend, Uri."


Bella gave a short bark then dashed a little ways ahead. She sat waiting for the boy to catch up. "It's Uri's jacket! He must have come this way." Moisha stood up and stared into the distance. "Headed towards the mountains of Kraków."


*********


Moisha dreamed he was in bed in a strange room he'd never seen before. In what usually happens in dreams, he couldn't move or speak. Three strangers huddled around his bedside, looking down at him with deep concern.


"Hey, guy. Dad, here. We won't leave your side. Now rest, we'll look after you, Son."


"Jimmy, my little boy. Don't worry, dear. They say you'll be just fine. We'll wait right here for you."


"Hi, booger, this is your favorite sister, Jackie. Another Christmas vacation ended. I'm back at school. Everyone misses you... ok, I guess I miss you, too, little brother. Just... please wake up, Jimmy. Wake up. Wake up..."


********


Moisha awoke. The loud crowing of the roosters greeted the morning sun. "Bella? Where are you, Bella?" A white and brown Jack Russell terrier padded around the corner of the building and snuggled next to the boy. "Good girl." Moisha hugged her close. He then donned the Nazi helmet that was stowed beside him.


"I had another strange dream, Bella. I wonder who those people are, surrounding me in bed like that. They seemed to be concerned about me, but I've never seen them before in my life. At least they don't seem as scary as real life, eh girl? Come on. We'd better get moving and find Uri." Bella barked in agreement. Moisha stood, slinging his rifle across his shoulder, and followed the dog away from the war-torn mansion.


The uninhabited countryside was a wasteland of desolation. No structure appeared to have escaped the Axis bombings unscathed. The small town of Międzyborów – what was left of it - was a ghost town. Moisha walked down the center of the street, singing softly to himself a Yiddish ditty his mother had taught him.


"Shalom my friends, shalom my friends

Shalom, Shalom

I will see you again, 'til we all meet again.

Shalom, Shalom"


The boy avoided stepping on the dark silhouettes of people vaporized on the cobbled street. Bella, thinking this a game, awkwardly followed suit. The strange outlines also covered cement walls and staircases of the surrounding buildings.


By the lake, Moisha fished and caught two small trout for himself and Bella. While on shore cooking the fishes, Bella kept watch, while Moisha dozed off.


********


"Hey, booger. Mary next door says 'hi'."


"My name is not 'booger'."


"So sensitive today, aren't we, Jimmy."


"My name is not Jimmy."


Ok, Jimmy. Whatever. Sheesh."


"Don't call me that name."


"And just what am I supposed to call you, Jimmy?"


"My name is Moisha."


"Um... Mooshy? Sounds like a cat."


"Moy-Shaw. That's my name."


"Ok, but don't tell Mom and Dad. They'll flip if you tell them you're now a Russian."


"I'm not Russian. I'm Polish. Who are you?"


"I'm your sister, Jackie. Duh."


"I don't have a sister."


"Wha-what?! Now you're starting to scare me, Jimmy."


"Moisha!"


"Whatever. "


"Why are you inside my dream? I've never even MET a girl named 'Jackie' before."


"Wait... you're in MY dream! Oh my god, I don't know how this is possible, but we can somehow communicate to each other through our dreams! You're my little brother, Jimmy Caroll! You've been in a coma for over a year now at Mary's Help Hospital in Daly City, California. I gave you an Apple iPod for your birthday that you've downloaded over 1,000 songs on. You're in the 6th grade at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary Sch...


*******


Moisha abruptly awoke to gunfire and Bella barking. Moreover, someone had shot a bullet hole in one of his fishes! Oy, he thought, someone's going to pay! He laughed to himself until he remembered the name: Jimmy. Jimmy Carrol. What's this all supposed to mean? He intended to sort it out later. Right now, he and Bella needed to ditch these German trackers.


Four Nazi infantrymen ran to Moisha's deserted camp. Two wanted to continue the chase, but the other two senior soldiers, sergeants, sat and began eating the fish. Hunger won over the two privates and they joined in on the meal.


The boy and his dog ran on, wanting to put as much distance between themselves and their pursuers.


Unexpectedly, a single gunshot rang out. Moisha turned back towards the Germans. One soldier collapsed as the others brought up their rifles and aimed outboard. Like a life-size jack-in-the-box, Uri poked out from behind a nearby Oak tree and fired again. Another soldier fell. Only the sergeant and private remained. The senior Nazi barked an order. The private advanced on Uri while the sergeant kept him pinned behind the tree with continuous gunfire.


Moisha sprinted back toward the firefight. However, Bella was much quicker. She charged the sergeant and brought him down. The soldier jabbed the rifle stock at the dog, making Bella yelp in pain. As the terrier leaped for the German's throat, a gunshot from the German private found its mark and violently drove Bella backward into the dirt.


Uri shot the private with his final round.


"Bellaaaaaaaa!!" Moisha fell to his knees in despair. He looked up and saw the Nazi's weapon aimed at his chest, no more than ten paces away.


"You dirty little Jew. Now you die." He squeezed the trigger... just as Bella crawled from behind and bit deeply into his hamstring. Moisha could feel the bullet whizz past his head as the German screamed in agony.


The soldier viciously kicked the dog away. He turned back toward the boy. Moisha already had the Nazi in his gun sight and fired,ending the conflict.


Moisha cradled Bella in his arms. Uri kneeled behind them both, weeping in silence. The Jack Rusell's tail wagged weakly for a few moments. She licked the boy's hand twice and looked directly into Moisha's eyes. Then she died.


In the silence that followed, they could distinctly hear a steel safety pin bouncing off the cobblestone road. Then the live grenade as it fell out of the hand of one of the wounded Nazi soldiers. They watched in horror as it rolled slowly toward them.


The grenade exploded with a deafening concussion.


*********


"Code Blue in Room 47-A. Code Blue in Room 47-A." The announcement repeatedly blared through the hospital speakers. The parents had been hastily moved out of Jimmy's room while the emergency staff worked to stabilize the boy. They could hear Jimmy howling and wailing.


"My god," said Father. "Jimmy's finally awake! But he sounds like he's in so much pain!"


"Doctor!" Mother called. "What's wrong with our son, Jimmy? This isn't normal behavior when somebody wakes from a coma. Is it?"


"Yes," Doctor Pulaski responded, "Jimmy has come out of his year-long coma. And no, I don't know why he's in such a distressing state. We've given him sedatives to calm down. You can return to the room, but please keep in mind that he's still upset and rather fragile."


As they entered the room, Jimmy was quietly sobbing and talking to himself in a foreign language.


"What's he saying, Dr. Pulaski?" Mother asked.


"You don't know? I thought he was talking in your native tongue. He's speaking Polish. Something about losing a dog and fighting some Germans."


"We don't speak Polish. And I don't recall him getting in a fight with any Germans at school."


Jackie arrived. "What's going on? Hey! Jimmy's awake!"


The boy recognized her voice. He turned toward her. "Jackie?"


They hugged. "Are you ok, Jim... oh, I mean Moisha?"


"It's ok, you can call me 'Jimmy'. I'm fine. I remember you all, now. But I also remember my other life. My past life as Moisha." He tried but failed to stop the tears.


Jackie's heart broke for her little brother. She thought of something that might cheer him.


"There's someone who's been waiting to see you for the past month, Jimmy. It was love at first sight since the day she laid eyes on you. We just returned from her walk. We haven't named her yet. We wanted you to have that honor. Come up here, girl!"


She lifted the white and brown Jack Rusell terrier puppy onto the bed where it immediately jumped into the boy's open arms.


"Bellaaaaaa!!"


(end)

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