Stephanie Szwarce Reeve
We all see life through a window . . . obscured by our past and filtered by our hopes for the future.
The Rising Tide Writers Group has been a huge support as I make my way through the writing of a first draft of my book. These wonderful and patient people have instructed, commented, criticized, and praised my attempts at crafting this story, which still has a very long way to go. After a few false starts I think I'm finally on my way to completing a first draft.
I welcome any comments, suggestions or other constructive criticisms and/or accolades . . .
I can be contacted at: email@example.com
Please CLICK HERE to view a video of me speaking at a Rising Tide Writers' reading in April 2013.
A BIT ABOUT ME. . .
Having attended Parsons School of Design in NY, I was trained as a clothing designer, and worked for many years as a professional in the apparel industry. After moving to Cape Cod with my husband I have dabbled in retail, conference management, volunteered for the Cape Cod Symphony, took up playing the fiddle and started thinking seriously about working on this book.
I live in a beautiful area of Cape Cod, next to a salt water tidal marsh with my husband and our two dogs. I have a beautiful step-daughter and a charming step-son, both married to wonderful people. And, we have two adorable new grand-daughters.
A BIT ABOUT THE BOOK. . .
At the risk of sounding cliche', this book is a labor of love. It is a tribute to my father, Bruno, my two uncles, Stefan and Henryk and my grandfather, Jozef Szwarce, whom I never knew. It is their story. A story I heard many times as I was growing up. Sadly, they are no longer here to tell it and it is my hope that I can do it justice and pass on the legacy of their experiences to my four sisters, their children, and generations to come, as well as others who may find it interesting.
The writing is aimed at a young adult audience, however it is my hope that readers of any age will find it to be a good read. Thank you for taking the time to learn about the story.
A SYNOPSIS OF THE STORY. . .
The Way Home
(A working title)
It is the summer of 1937, just before his twelfth birthday, when Bruno and his two younger brothers, Stefan and Henryk, travel to Poland with their father, Jozef, who hopes to make a new life for his family away from the ravages of the recent depression in America. Traveling by ship, they leave Bruno's mother and two sisters behind with the expectation they will join them later in Poland. Bruno, excited at the prospect of returning to his father's homeland and the city where his grandfather, a national hero, is buried, looks forward to earning his father's respect when he can someday become a soldier in Poland's army.
Less than two years later, in September, 1939, Poland is invaded first by the Germans and then by the Russians. The boys and their father witness first-hand their newly adopted home brutally overrun and must survive a winter in the war-torn city of Lvov. Jozef, considered an intellectual because of his background as a writer and journalist, must go in and out of hiding to avoid arrest, leaving the boys to fend for themselves for days and weeks at a time.
Soon, Jozef realizes he must find a way to get the boys out of Poland and back to America. Having never gained American citizenship, and in ill-health, Jozef cannot accompany them. Exhausting all options, he makes the agonizing decision to put his three young sons alone on a train to Moscow and, hopefully, into the protective custody of the American embassy there in hopes they will send them home to their mother, Katy, and sisters, Mira and Annette.
Katy and her two daughters remain in New York, anxiously awaiting word on Jozef and the boys. Mira, eldest of the five children and an aspiring actress, uses her connections to track them down as they make their way home. Jozef, his whereabouts unknown to his family, disappears into the abyss of the Holocaust, never to be heard from again.
Based on a true story, and written primarily in Bruno's voice, this first-person account moves from a young boy's adventures traveling across the ocean, to witnessing the outbreak of war and the invasion of Poland, to the harrowing journey the boys must embark on alone. The things they see and the characters they meet along the way tell a story of courage, loyalty and survival as the boys must face decisions way beyond their years.
The boys' experiences are taken from recordings made of Bruno and Stefan's memories of their journey, as told to me more than fifty years later. I have taken some liberties to fill in the spaces between those memories, but for the most part, I have tried to stay true to their story.
Stephanie Szwarce Reeve
AN EXCERPT FROM A CHAPTER. . .
Papa stopped short in front of us. Setting Henny down slowly, he looked up at the buildings ahead.
"Ah, so it's true," he said, mostly to himself.
"What's true, Papa?" I asked.
"It seems that Hitler is in charge here. Just as they said."
Up and down the streets of Danzig, on both sides, bright red banners were strung up on the sides of buildings or hung from poles, like flags, fluttering in the wind. Each banner had a black sign in the middle. It looked like a windmill with the ends broken backwards. Papa said those were swastikas, the sign for Hitler's Nazis. Plastered on some of the windows were posters of an eagle holding a swastika. In large letters, across the bottom it said ‘DANZIG IST DEUTSCH’. Papa said it meant ‘Danzig is German’. I had seen the same symbols in the newsreels before the movies started back home when Stef and Henny and I snuck in to see shows like ‘Flash Gordon’ and ‘Tarzan Escapes’. Soldiers in a foreign country marched in long lines, one arm stretched out straight in front of them. The announcer said Hitler's Nazis had occupied the Rhineland. I didn't know where the Rhineland was or why Hitler and the Nazis were occupying it, or even what occupying meant, but I could tell it wasn't good. The newsreels also showed Hitler giving speeches to huge crowds of people. He had tiny black eyes and a funny black mustache that looked like the end of a paintbrush. Sometimes he looked crazy when he got excited, his hair coming loose, hanging down in front of his eyes.
"Is there going to be a parade, Papa?" Henny asked.
“No, son. Hitler is trying to scare us. I’m sure all of this will come down soon.” He waved his hand at the banners and posters.
Papa stopped a man walking down the street. He asked him something in Polish.
“What did he say, Papa?” I asked.
“He said, tomorrow someone named Dr. Goebbels will drive through the streets in his motorcade to let everyone know the Germans are the authority and they control the port from now on.”
“What kind of doctor is he?”
“Actually, son, he’s Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda”
“So he’s a Minister? In a church?”
“Well, no. It means he’s in charge of spreading Hitler’s lies.”
“But Papa, why do they call him Doctor Goebbels if he’s really a minister? But, not really?”
“Because, he was a doctor before he became a minister. Stop asking so many questions.”
“Sorry, Papa.” I didn't ask any more questions, but I still didn’t understand. Why was he spreading lies? I thought telling lies was bad. How could he be in charge of telling lies?
We noticed a group of people gathered around a man standing on top of a wooden crate. Talking loudly to the crowd in German, he waved a small leather book in the air.
“Papa, what’s he saying?” Stef whispered.
Papa’s mouth was tight. “He is spewing his nonsense about the Nazis. They think they can take this port and city over again. The Germans don’t want a free Poland.”
“But why, Papa?”
“Never mind. Come, let’s get away from here.”
He didn’t like to talk about the Nazis.
We found the train station and walked through the big front entrance. Papa asked the man at the ticket counter which gate the train to Warsaw would be leaving from. He bought our tickets, thanked the man, and found an empty bench. Just in case we fell asleep, he made us sit together, draping one arm over our suitcases so we would wake up if someone tried to steal them.
“Papa, I’m hungry.” Henny said, his eyes half shut.
“Yes Henryk, I know. We have a little time before our train leaves. I will go and find us something to eat. Bruno, watch your brothers. I will be back very soon.”
“Okay Papa,” I said. “I will.”
Papa’s footsteps echoed inside the large room as I watched him walk out through the main entrance to the street. Stef and Henny had both fallen asleep, their heads resting on their suitcases, just like Papa told us to do. I wasn’t sleepy and besides, I knew I had to stay awake until he came back. I looked around the station. The same red and black banners we had seen earlier hung on the walls. Polish and German announcements came over the loudspeaker, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Three policemen leaned against a wall. I was afraid they might be watching us but when I looked they were smoking cigarettes and talking to each other.
There was a large clock on the far wall of the station. I watched the big hand click as the minutes passed. It seemed like Papa was gone a long time. What if he didn’t come back? What if something happened to him? Should I ask the man at the ticket counter to help me? I didn’t speak Polish or German. Would he understand me? How would we get to Warsaw? I didn’t even know where Aunt Hania and Aunt Maria lived. Papa had the train tickets with him and I had no money. What would we eat? Where would we sleep? I started getting scared. I was afraid if he didn’t come back I’d have to get me and Stef and Henny to Warsaw on my own.
Several times, I looked over my shoulder at the door where Papa went out, but I didn’t see him. I waited and waited.
Then, all of a sudden, I saw him come back in through the same door he went out of. Carrying a bottle and a small package of food, he walked slowly across the big station.
I jumped up and ran to him, grabbing him around the waist.
He must have known I was scared because he put a hand on my shoulder, and said “What? Did you think I wouldn’t come back? Never worry about that, son. I will always come back. You understand?”
“Yes, Papa” I said, but inside, I could feel my heart pounding against my chest. I let go of him. The pounding slowed, then stopped.