Looking for the Dust

Jules Steinman needed to dream to make his life bearable. Trapped in his marriage of fifty years, he was an unhappy man. His wife, Ester, was a bossy, disagreeable little woman whose non-acceptance of his old age was merciless. Now they were arguing about the home-help who had just left after cleaning their house.

   ‘Now, Mr Steinman, where shall we look for the dust? Out of your chair you lazy man – we must find what she has missed.’

   ‘Hush Ester, she’s worked hard all day, done her best.’

   ‘Rubbish! She never does the job properly and now we must finish it. You act like an old man, Mr Steinman – now is not the time to put up your feet.’

   Jules sighed and ignored his wife. He lifted his newspaper in front of his face, though he was not reading. The past was almost too painful to think about, but he had to go back in time to re-engage with his feelings for Ester.

The room in Jules memory was large and crowded with women sitting at sewing machines stitching Nazi uniforms. Mostly they were young and chosen from the female prisoners as seamstresses becse they could operate a treadle sewing machine. They laboured in poor light, hour after hour, seven days a week, to turn heavy woollen fabric into soldiers’ uniforms. They were the lucky ones, though they did not then understand how their forced labour could be at all fortunate.

   Jules had been in this room a few times. He, too, was a lucky Jew. He had a reasonable food ration and remained strong enough for heavy chores – he cleaned, lifted, carried, built and fixed things for fourteen hours every day. One of his chores was to oil and repair the sewing machines used by the women in the sewing room. He stretched and fitted the new leather belt drives, replaced snapped needles and freed jammed bobbin holders.

   Jules had noticed the youngest, smallest worker – a girl of only fourteen years. She worked deftly and quickly, proud of her ability and the fact that she was more useful to the Nazis than most of her peers in the camp. They may have come from wealthy and aristocratic families, they may have looked down on her, but Ester sensed that her working class skills could possibly help her plight.

   Talking was not possible in the sewing room. An armed guard was on constant watch for any kind of communication between the workers. The defiant tilt of Ester’s head of curls and the determined look on her pretty face charmed Jules, but to acknowledge her would have compromised her safety. When he entered the room, he looked for her and then struggled to look away. She knew. Then, one day, she recklessly smiled and then nodded at him. From that moment on, Jules wanted to protect, save and nurture her.

In 1945, Allied forces entered the concentration camp of , and uncovered the appalling atrocities that had occurred behind its walls and barbed wire. Jules and Ester, survivors of unspeakable horrors, still had not spoken to each other, though two years had passed since she first had smiled at him. However, he was her unproclaimed friend and protector.

   Now they were both waiting for a train to take them away to their freedom. He approached her and addressed her in the only language allowed in the camp for the four years they had both been there.

   ‘Ich bin Jules Steinman. Darf ich nach Ihrem Namen fragen?’(May I ask your name?).

   ‘Ester’ 

   ‘Kommen sie mit mir?’ (Come with me?)

   ‘Ya. Danke.’ (Yes. Thank you)

   . Their only witness was an obliging, elderly innkeeper.

Jules eyes were moist as he remembered. Maybe he had never really loved Ester, but he understood her better than anyone else ever could. His tenderness for her still made him weep.

    He lowered his newspaper.  

   ‘Sit and rest a little, Ester, and then we’ll look for the dust’ he said.

 

© Margaret McConachy 2012

 

  

  

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