When I looked out the window after the air raid, I saw that the house across the street had been partly destroyed. It was a strange feeling. I wondered whether there were any people there. This was my first encounter with near death. I felt an emptiness invading my heart, and I did not fully realize what had happened. I had to look that way again and again to ascertain that it was not my imagination. It was not clear to me why I had to keep checking: after all it was obvious that the house was in ruins. This was the very first image of the war, and as such I wanted to push it away. Then I asked another question: and what if a bomb falls on our house as well and we follow the fate of the people who used to live across the street? This is how I came to know the fear of death.
During the air raids that followed, we went down to a shelter, or rather a cellar prepared especially for that purpose. In the cellar there were several wounded tenants from the house across the street. One of them, Mr. Vova, an acquaintance of ours, had the most pitiful bearing. He sat against the wall, breathing heavily, his head covered in bandages. As it turned out later, he was in shock. Others had more superficial cuts. There were no gravely-wounded in the cellar; they had been taken directly to the hospital. In the air there was a powerful smell of iodine and valerian. The floor next to the first-aid kit, where the wounded had been dressed, was stained with blood. Among the victims, there was a woman whose face was terribly cut by glass: hers was the first blood I saw during the war.
From then on we slept in the shelter. Actually, we spent almost all of our time in the shelter because during the day there were new alerts every other minute. I remember that in the morning the milkman brought milk as usual, but everyone bought two liters instead of the customary one, and the entire milk was gone in no time. They would say: “It’s war time. One must buy things when they’re still there; later on they might be unavailable.” That’s when I remembered my grandmother’s stories about famine during the Great War. One of the women in the shelter helped me understand the gravity of the situation when she told my mother that she would exchange her diamond ring for bread in order to feed her child. On the third day of the war, the radio announced, “Gas alarm for the zone P.Z. 10,” and soon thereafter, “Gas alarm for the zone Lodz. Enemy pilots drop test tubes with bacteria as well as explosive candy and toys.” “The end must be near,” said some. “The Germans want to test the Blitzkrieg on us.” We prepared the gas masks. Someone suggested that the best protection is a cotton ball dipped in urine, to be held close to the face. A lady with a small Doberman pinscher was already preparing for a gas attack. She was holding cotton saturated with a liquid from a bottle now in front of her face, now in front of the dog’s snout. This looked hilarious despite the seriousness of the situation, and later on, when we were in a safe place, we laughed to tears remembering that scene.
Several women, including our servant Regina, were kneeling in front of the painting of the Madonna and, in a flood of tears, reciting litanies. Father wanted us to return to the apartment because he believed it made more sense to be higher up, because of the possible use of gas. On the way from the shelter to the apartment, I tried not to breathe at all to avoid the bacteria purportedly deployed by the Germans. I thought that they could penetrate to my lungs with the outside air. The alarm, however, was called off before we made it to the apartment. All our fear was for nothing because, as it turned out, there had been no gas or bacteria. My soul lightened up when I heard this. The danger moved away from me, and I had felt it so very close. That night I slept in our apartment. It was our last night at home, the last night before wandering off into the unknown.
The following day the Germans were already in Piotrkow. Father decided that we would not stay in the city. For several hours we discussed various possibilities of escape. We talked about renting a bus to get to Rowne, but had to abandon this idea because of insufficient fuel. The remaining options were to use our or my uncle’s car. At the time, we owned a white convertible Mercedes, which stood in the garage with a freshly charged battery. Father had gotten it ready when he heard of the approaching war. “I want the car to be in order so that the army can use it,” he said because we were certain that cars would be confiscated at once. That did not happen, however, and the car was at our disposal. In addition to securing enough fuel, we had to obtain a pass called “evacuational” because without it the army could indeed seize the vehicle. That particular pass was not easy to get. Hundreds of people stood in line while the person responsible for their issuance did not bother to hurry. On our behalf, a friend obtained it with great difficulty by paying a 1000-zloty bribe. It was a lot of money then, but no one minded spending that much in order to escape the Germans and the approaching front. We began packing at once. Only that which was absolutely indispensable could be taken along. I packed my own belongings. Priceless treasures remained behind in the armoire: a postal stamp collection, beautiful set of games, boxing gloves with a punching bag, etc. Naturally, I was very attached to all these objects, but at that moment they were useless to me because they were not practical. I left behind then all of my little and great stuff, and when I took a few steps with the suitcase in my hand, I turned to look back. The armoire was open. From its interior my favorite books called out to me; the toys of my childhood beckoned; my clothes, including the school uniform, all made to measure by the best tailor in town, Mr. Migdal, looked dejectedly at me. Brand new ski boots which I had not used even once were on the floor. I wanted to pick them up and take them along when Miss Hania, my cousin Majusia’s nanny, entered the room. Her eyes paused on the boots. “If you want to leave them, I’ll take them,” she said. “My shoes are not strong enough for the escape out of town.” Needless to say, I gave them to her at once. Oh, how the open armoire still attracts my eyes. The five volumes of the “World and Life” encyclopedia seemed to be saying, “How so? You abandon us and will never again look at our pictures?” I waved them away and stepped out of the room to re-enter it only six years later.