“The Fortunate Ones” — An Excerpt from Ellen Umansky’s New Novel
“At least he doesn’t look Jewish,” Rose overheard her mother say to her father. It was true; Gerhard was rangy and blond, and at sixteen he had a good couple of inches on their father, hitting six feet. Rose knew that Gerhard’s looks brought her parents no small amount of comfort as they thought about him on the streets alone. She tried not to think about her own dark complexion.
In early November, a Jew murdered a Nazi in Paris. School was let out early, and Rose was told to hurry home, avoid the main thoroughfares and the trams. In the flat, they gathered around the wireless, glued to the broadcasts. Her parents wouldn’t let her go outside for days.
There were so many stories swirling: her mother’s old piano teacher, Herr Schulman, had been arrested and was being held in Dachau. The Begeleisens had had their apartment repatriated— soldiers had come in the graying hours of dawn—and had been forced to move into a flat with three other families. Rose hadn’t liked Peter Begeleisen; he had told her that witches like to yank teeth out of the mouths of little girls in the middle of the night, but still she felt bad for them. The Volkmans had managed to get out last week, their visas came through for Ireland. The husband had been able to land work as a machinist for a clothing factory outside of Belfast.
Their friends the Klaars had taken out a small classified advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle, seeking work in London, and Rose’s parents decided to follow suit. They fought over the language in the ad. They fought a lot those days.
Wolfe wrote: “Would noble-minded people assist Viennese couple, capable of every kind of housework, knowledge of English, French, and Italian? Exemplary references upon request.”
“No one cares what languages we speak,” Charlotte said to Wolfe. He was sitting in the velvet wingback chair near the window, trying to balance the writing tablet on his knee in the watery light of the late afternoon. He now avoided his study.
“What do you suggest?”
Charlotte took the writing paper out of his hands. Wolfe played with the loose ivory threads from the Persian throw covering the velvet head cushion. His wide face looked slack, jowly.
She wrote: “Married couple, cook and footman, Jews, seek position in household.”
“Everyone knows we’re Jews,” he said bitterly. “Why else would we be looking for work?”
“Then we shouldn’t hide from it, should we?” Her mother said the words with such sharpness that Rose half expected blood to bloom.
Yona Zeldis McDonough, Lilith’s fiction editor, introduce an excerpt from Ellen Umansky’s The Fortunate Ones.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.