Recap: More Jews came to the zoo. Mimi is leading a game for the children when Mrs. Zabinski plays the Chopin – a signal to be very quiet and stay hidden upstairs. Nazis march in and accuse Mrs. Zabinski of setting fire to a Nazi warehouse on the zoo premises.
Mrs. Zabinski responded. Her voice soothed like a steady flow of water over pebbles in a stream. “I assure you we would not do such a thing. We have been here supporting your troops. I believe that your soldiers go there with bikes and cigarettes and their girlfriends. Some take a bit of alcohol. Soldiers need some sort of break. I’ve seen them bicycle there, and one of them must have fallen asleep and his cigarette probably caught the straw in the warehouse on fire.”
We waited for the Nazi’s response.
There was a long silence and then, surprisingly, he laughed. “Bring me some whiskey, Fraulein.”
Her tranquil tone had softened this beastly man. She had a way to calm animals and even wicked people. Mrs. Zabinski poured him a glass. We heard them talking some more and then the door slammed. She went back to the piano and played Bach Invention #13, which means we could all breathe again.
That night, two girls appeared at the door. We heard Mrs. Zabinski whispering. “You will have to hide in the chicken barn till we can find you a safe hideaway.”
“Why can’t they come upstairs?” I asked Mama.
She whispered in my ear. “Those girls are very brave. Antonina told me that they are Girl Scouts who are only 15 years old. This war makes children into adults too fast. They set the German warehouse on fire.”
Rys came into the room and asked me to go with him to the barn to bring the new girls some food. Mama said I could. It felt so special to be outside. It was weeks since I felt the sun on my face. I heard the rumble of army vehicles in the distance, but I didn’t see any German soldiers outside.
We brought the girls some bread and cheese and water.
Rys was holding a pet parrot.
The girls greeted us. “Thank you so much. Who are you?”
The parrot parroted, “I’m Rys.”
The girls both laughed. Rys shook his finger at the parrot. “George, stop imitating.”
It repeated, “George stop imitating.”
One of the girls, who said her name was Patricia, laughed so hard her face was bright red. “That’s the funniest bird I ever saw and a Rys means lynx. A lynx comes to the chicken barn.”
The other girl, who was named Mira, smiled. “Thank you, Rys. And what’s your name?” she asked me.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Did you really set––”
Patricia interrupted me. “Please, don’t say it. Too many ears.”
“You’re so brave,” I said. “I wish I could be like you.”
“We better go back. My mother needs me to help her with the animals,” Rys said.
Just then, we heard a shot.
Patricia and Mira both huddled under the hay.
I took Rys’ hand and we raced back to the villa.
Mrs. Zabinski hurried us in the door.
“The Nazis sent some men to hunt for fun in our zoo.” Tears streamed down her face. “I’m thankful you are safe. Both of you go upstairs.”
She had pulled down all the black-out curtains, but they didn’t block the horrible sounds. There were many successive gunshots and the sound of howls and screams. I covered my ears with my hands and pictured the beautiful animals downed by these cruel men. I thought of Patricia and Mira alone in the barn and I prayed the soldiers wouldn’t find them.
Mama tried to keep us busy with different tasks so we wouldn’t think about the gun shots, but I kept my fingers in my ears.
Rys was crying.
Hours later, the shooting finally stopped, and we could hear the men laughing and stomping away from the zoo.
That night, we heard Mrs. Zabinski talking to her husband. “They’ve killed so many of the animals. So heartless, so cruel. Hunting for no reason at all.”
“We have to think of a way now to keep the zoo going, or the Nazis will close it and we won’t be able to keep hiding our guests,” Mr. Zabinski said.
I heard this, and my heart began pounding. Mama put her arm around me.
“I have an idea,” Mr. Zabinski said. “It might work. I will tell Hecht that we want to open a pig farm to help the Reich.”
“A pig farm?”
Two days later, Mrs. Zabinski came upstairs with news. “We are officially a Third Reich pig farm now. She was holding something squirmy in her arms. Rys and I were playing checkers. She bent close to Rys and said, “Here’s a baby pet for you.”
Rys squealed with pleasure. It was a baby piglet.
“You’ll need to feed him with a bottle until he gets bigger.”
Rys held the pig and stroked its back. “Isn’t he a beauty?”
“Yes, you’re so lucky,” I said. I never knew a baby pig could be so cute.
“I’m naming him Morys,” Rys said. “Do you want to come help me feed him?”
I followed him downstairs. I didn’t think to ask if it was safe to go down and that was a big mistake.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes the community column for The Queens Jewish Link and she writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivahs and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.