Yellow Jackets In Contrast To Red Armbands My father was not a very successful businessman, nor was he a very successful cook. Of all the bakeries and restaurants he formerly owned in Czestochowa, he never had one open for over two years.Often, I would ask him why he opened a bakery when he knew not how to bake bread. He pinned it on his father for making him resort to the culinary arts, he said Grandpa always wanted him to be an accountant, and when Father refused Grandpa would ask him what he instead would like to be. A baker, my father said, was the first thing that came out of his mouth. Alas, here he is. Managing and working the Denenberg Bakery on the corner of Wolności and Kopernika. However, he isn’t a baker all day. Before mother passed a few years ago from the Spanish flu, she taught him how to sew. Mother was a fiercely independent woman, at least that’s what Father always said, and she was not to be the only one making clothes for the child. Father became quite good at the textile arts,though he never opened a shop out of respect to Mother, and made me a new pair of clothes every month. Lately, however, we’ve been short on fabric, but it is alright, it is just temporary. Denenberg Bakery was a five story building. Father and I resided on the top floor because of the splendid view. It wasn’t much, but sometimes I envisioned I was on top of the Eiffel Tower in France, and it made the chiseled windows more miraculous. The other three floors were almost all full of renters. Father was always very peculiar about who live in our building, and recently, he’s been even more scrupulous. The Porters’ moved in the eighteenth of August, 1939. Father closed the bakery that day, which was becoming less rare recently, to meet the Porters’. I helped him brew our last package of coffee and serve it to the chilly renters. They said that they had just moved from Liverpool, England to here to research some paintings at the local museum, so their stay was to be short lived. While the parents were chatting, I got to meet Hattie, their daughter who was the same age as I. She remarked that her sister was a terrible nuisance and that I was taking for granted that I didn’t have any siblings. “How’s Poland different than England?” I asked her as we walked through the shop. “Oh, it’s very different,” she purred as she scanned the bakery countertops, “for starters we don’t have guards on every street corner, that’s for sure.” “Father said they should be gone soon. He said there was a robbery in this section of town, which is why the guards are everywhere.” “Marian, it’s not just this section of town, you know that, right?” “Hmm?” “When we we stopped in Warsaw they were everywhere too.” “Oh,” I blushed, “I guess maybe there’s an issue there too. I’m sure they’ll go away soon though. If they haven’t already caught that robber they are on the brink of it” “I suppose you’re right,” her eyes drifted off to the office, “what a nice piece of fabric!” “I know,” I agreed cockily, “It’s bumblebee yellow. One of my favorite colors.” “What are you to make of it?” “Oh, my father makes it, not I” “A father as a seamstress? That’s new. Well whatever he is making I would like one too. Could you ask him?” “Yes,” I agreed, “I suppose I could. We’re quite low on fabric though. I don’t know why.” “Is the store running low?” “Oh no it’s always in full stock,” I added, “but Frau Leiker never sells to us anymore” “Does she sell it to others?” Hattie asked inquisitively “Oh yes. Anyone else.” “How odd” “How odd indeed” “Hattie, dearest,” Thelma called as she entered the store, “we’re going to go ahead and bring our luggage up!” “Coming, mother!” Hattie shouted from the office, “I’ll come back down when I’m done. Don’t forget to ask your father!” Hattie ran into the main area to meet her mother. They quickly embraced and went back outside to grab some luggage. I seldom thought about what it would be like if mother was still alive. I am only nine now, and she passed away five years ago, when I was four. I barely remember her. The only puzzle pieces I can tie together is her laugh, her eyes, her springy brown hair, and her soft coo that would always whisper “I love you” in my ear. I remember the panic of her final days. Doctors were always rushing through the apartment to aid her, and father kept me locked in my room so I wouldn’t catch her ailment. I could hear her pain from down the hall, and it was torture to have that echoing through the doors. Needless to say her suffering ended soon enough, and the world felt as vacant as her eyes. My father helped the Porters’ move some extra bags up to their flat and soon returned to his office. I was sitting in his upholstered chair, running my hands through the soft fabric. “Like the fabric, Marian?” “Why are their guards on the street corners?” “Marian, I already told you. There was a robber on this side of town.” “Yes, well, Hattie said that when she and her family stopped in Warsaw they were everywhere too” Father did not speak. “Also is there a reason only we are excluded from buying fabrics? Hattie thinks it’s strange.” My father continued his silence. “Father? Won’t you tell me what’s going on?” For the first time in his life, my father began to cry in front of me. Knowing I had pushed him too far, I excused myself from the office and walked up to my room. While up there, I stared out upon the few streets visible from my window. Guards stood at every corner with red armbands snugged closely on their biceps. I closed my curtains, blew out the candle, and fell asleep in my work clothes. The following day was of equal awkwardness to yesterday. The bakery was closed again today, much to my father’s disdain and he seemed to be spending an awful lot of time with Thelma and Edgar. Meanwhile, Hattie and I were making acquaintance. She loved my brown corkscrew of a mess I called my hair and adored my cocoa eyes. “My father has eyes like yours, and so does Cynthia,” Hattie groaned, “I have hideous blue ones though, and not to mention my hair is so blond it's practically white!” “That’s not a bad thing!” “In my mind it is! Think of all the people in the world who look just like me. There’s no one that looks like you. You’re unique.” “I prefer uniformity, actually” “Oh shush,” Hattie remarked, “uniformity is boring”. The next month was not a good month for business. Father said the shop would be closed for a very long time now, but he failed to tell me why it would be. More guards hurried in and they brought big dogs and untarped wagons. People would be escorted into the wagons, leaving their possessions behind. I was inquisitive as to where they were going, for I never saw the same people come back in the wagons. I never asked my father why though, he seemed too depressed about the closing of the shop. The jackets were coming along nicely, Oddly, halfway through monograming my name into the jacket, he removed the stitches and added the name Liesl. I didn’t know who Liesl was, but I hope whoever she is she enjoys the jacket. “Father?” I peeped from the staircase, where I was sitting. “Yes, Marian?” “Why did the guards take the Rosenzweigs’ away?” “Come again?” “The Rosenzweig family. They live on the corner. Remember? They have that awful boy who pulled on my braids in school?” “Oh, yes. I know who they are, but what did you say about them being taken away?” “This morning,” I said as I stood up, “There was a scream so I got up to look outside my window, and the Rosenzweigs’ were being put into one of those carts. But, Noah, their son, was crying and screaming. I just wanted to know to where they were going that beckoned such an sad scream”. Father hung his head against the wall. “I’m sorry, Father” “No, it’s okay Marian,” he said, his head still embracing his sleeve, “It’s okay. You’re curious,” he paused, “Marian things are tough here. They’ve been tough since you were only three, but back then we all thought it would go away. However, much like an untreated wound, it only got infected. Attacks got more severe, threats publically intensified, and now, actions are being made. Believe me, Marian, if your mother and I were able to leave Poland all those years ago we would’ve, but they marked our identifications so we couldn’t leave the country. We were mice stuck in a cage.” “Who marked the identifications?” “The guards did, Marian” “So,” I murmured, “the guards aren’t here because of a robbery?” “No, Marian,” he sighed, “Marian they’ve been here because they’re waiting for the right moment to pounce. They have the word know, and that’s why they're taking families.” “They didn’t take the O’Malleys’,” I added, still confused, “and the live right next door to the Rosenzweigs’. Why is that so?” Father sighed and quietly let out, “the O’Malleys’ weren’t taken because they were Christians.” “So,” I paused, “the Rosenzweigs’-and all the other families-were taken because they were Jewish?” Father carefully nodded his head, “Mostly.” “But, Father,” I whispered, “we’re Jewish” “Yes, Marian,” tears welled in his eyes, “yes, we are”. I turned around and walked upstairs. I didn’t know why I wasn’t crying, I felt phantom tears sliding down my face, I was to be like Noah Rosenzweig. I was to be taken out of my house into the unknown. Why wasn’t I crying? I closed my door behind me and walked the window again. The Rosenzweig house looked so empty; so sullen. I scanned the street below. It was all under my nose. A slight knock rung on the door, pulling me away from my epiphany. “Marian? May I come in?” “Yes” The door creaked open, my father bore a yellow jacket around his right arm. “Was that a lot to take in?” I nodded lightly and he softly embraced me. “Marian,” he huffed, “I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Porters’, as you know. They have have a nice estate in England they’ll be returning to next week. Permanently.” “I have to say goodbye to Hattie?” “No, dear,” he hugged me again, “you’ll have to say goodbye to me”. “But-” “That’s why this jacket has Liesl sewn into it. Mrs. Porter is going to bleach your hair so it’s blonde, and you’re going to be Liesl Porter from now on, okay?” “Wait, why?” “Marian, you have a chance to get out of here. The Porters’ moved here specifically to take you back with them as a member of their family.” “What about you?” “I have to stay here, dear” “But-the wagon will get you, Father” “You don’t have an identification, and since you’re under thirteen, you have not been fully accepted into the Jewish community. I’ve lived in Czestochowa my whole life. They know I’m Michael Denenberg. No bleach or name change will alter that. But it can for you. You were only sent to school for one year before I homeschooled you, you barely leave the bakery. I need you to go with the Porters’.” “When do have to go?” I felt the tears coming now. “Mrs. Porter’s getting the bleach ready tomorrow morning. You’ll leave the following day.” “When were you planning on telling me?” “I wasn’t. Not about the situation. I was going to originally make it seem like a vacation with their family, except you’re playing a character, which I know you love to do, but, at some point, I thought you might want to know.” “Aren’t I on your records?” “As far as records are concerned, you died from the Spanish flu with your mother” “Oh.” He sat down next to me and just held me. Taking it all in, I closed my eyes and fell sound asleep in his lap. The following day was a blur. My head felt as if it was underwater and all sounds were muted. Twenty four hours felt like two minutes. They colored my hair and cut it to rid of the curls, they dressed Hattie and I in matching jackets, they took my Star of David necklace and put it with my father’s things. For once in my life, I looked like every Aryan out there. I had become my ideal, uniformed self, and I detested it. Whatever I had owned was burnt, and all my new clothes I shared with Hattie. I couldn’t express emotions, I didn’t know how to at that time. But sure enough, when the sun rose early that next day, everything was ago. My father sat in his office in the bakery. Tear marks stretched along his cheeks and his nose was sniffing intensely. He embraced me one last time and held me close. He told me to keep that yellow jacket until the day I die, because one day he’ll find me, and I can be his daughter again. I departed from him and grabbed Hattie’s hand. I walked out the door Liesl Ann Porter, and that’s how I was to stay until I reunited with my father. I’d like to say I had a lot of courage that day, starting a new family to escape persecution, but my father was the lion of the pride. He died at Bergen-Belsen in 1942, knowing his daughter had escaped the same harrowing fate he had in store, all because he had the courage to love and let go. I moved to America in 1961 to Brooklyn, New York. I took sewing classes at the Jewish Community Center every other night, and in 1965, I opened Denenberg Sew Shop on the corner of W 37th and Mermaid and the yellow jacket sat complacently in the show window, staring out onto Lower Bay.