Monday, January 2, 2017

Precious Jewels by Dale Martellino - Lest We Forget...

Katarina began her story. "Over one thousand years ago, there was an Arab-Jewish merchant with the name of Ibrahim Ibn Jacob. He wrote about Prague, mentioning that Russians, Slavs, Muslims, Jews and Turks were arriving in Fraga (Prague) which was then the biggest trade town. In the years 995 to 997, Jews were allowed to settle in Prague, and there they founded their own township, a ghetto, as a reward for fighting pagans alongside the Christians. So it was not unusual for Jews to be in Prague since there was a very long history of them in the area. Therefore it was not unusual for my family to be living in such a magnificent city as practicing Jews many centuries later.
"The Jews had lived a very content life with the independent Czechoslovak Republic of 1918, but things changed. In 1941, there were approximately fifty thousand Jews living in Prague, and I was soon to be counted as one of them. The memory of my parents is so dim, it barely exists. It comes solely from an old photograph that I would like to show you."
...The camera had frozen a slice of life from another era stubbornly held on to by this nun...

Precious Jewels

By Dale Martellino

With a beginning and ending story that in itself adds a heartwarming story, Martellino quickly enters into the flashback tale on the life of a young Jewish Jewel who is now living in a monastery... She has taken the name of Katarina, in honor of Katarina Orbhan, a young girl living in Prague when the occupation was just beginning. It was November, 1941, as they watched the soldiers march into town and then walked on their streets and walks, proclaiming their superiority to all.

Katarina Orbhan marched through the streets of Prague surrounded by a series of gray buildings blocking out the sun's warmth. The occupying Nazis had sporadically plastered cloth swastikas that flapped within the breezy corridors. She was tired of watching the machinations of their occupation unfold in front of her and was constantly worried about the endgame. She felt abject horror that the red and black insignias found everywhere were staining her fleeting youth.
She strove to climb out of her personal downward spiral. She fretted that blood and bones were now seeping their way into the surfaces where she walked and were wantonly easing into the bowels of the earth, where they would reflect on all Czechs who would tread there for years to come.
"Halt," commanded the young guard who jumped in front of her while she obsessed on her own state of the state.
His baggy uniform draped over his average frame, but Katarina concentrated on his searing blue eyes. Those same eyes viewed an extremely attractive girl around nineteen, with her own beautiful set of blues that melted his recently trained military vigilance."
"I am halted," responded Katarina. "I am a social worker, sir. Here are my papers, which are all in order, you will see. I need to work now, please..."

Katarina was from a well-to-do Czech family who would not have been too affected by the invasion if Katarina had stayed home, but Katarina had her own opinions about what was happening. Her father had already begun to warn to stay away from the German Soldiers, as well as the Jews since they would be the victims of what was to come. However, Katarina's concern for her town, their lives, as well as all of its citizens, led to her great sympathy for how the Jews were already being relocated. Their possessions had already been hidden in their holy buildings, hoping to reclaim them sometime in the future...Now every Jewish child, man and woman were forced to sew a star on their clothes and wear it at all times. They were crowded into a desolated part of town with little space, less food, and poor health conditions. Fortunately, there had been one doctor and his nurse wife, who had also been moved there and were helping all that they could. It is their daughter, Naomi, who was first smuggled out of Prague, a precious jewel, born in the ghetto and meant to survive and bring some joy to those forced to stay.

"Young lady," said Mlle. Zelinsky,
who conducted her interview, "I see
you have no hidden star to set you
apart. There is not even a shred of
Jewishness in your file."
"...If it were up to me and there was
even just one person in Prague
forced to sew on a Jewish star, all
of us would set it on...
"My dear," she instantly responded
with authority, "I suggest you keep
such opinions quiet, or you will
find yourself in serious trouble.
And it was the young Katarina who became totally involved in what was happening...

Katarina, with her mother's support, because her father didn't want to agree, was able to get a temporary job with Social Services...There's is a strange backstory on her boss there, who hires Katarina with a personal goal in mind...connecting with her former doctor and bringing back news of he and his wife's pregnancy.

First, it was clear that Katarina had no business taking the job; she was clearly not only not qualified, she was required to go into the ghetto with no ability to communicate and no working experience. She was required to do what might be called a census of those presently living there...

What she did have was a shrewd mind and a unbeatable desire to help the Jewish people. But the first thing that happened was that she had to pass the guard who controlled entry. She was smart enough to handle the mechanics and to get inside...

But she wasn't smart enough to not become involved with the young German soldier, telling herself she was doing this in case she needed some future support in handling something... 

Nor the young boy who offered to guide her with her survey. Her boss had warned her that she was not there to make connections with the people...merely to gather data.

But Katarina was overwhelmed and quickly knew she would need his help...All he wanted was to have her help him escape...

Her boss had told her to find Dr. Bonn immediately, but that didn't happen until much later and when Katarina got there to talk to him, his wife had just gone into labor!

Soon Katarina was caught up into personal lives...that of the doctor, whose wife had died in childbirth and that of her boss...
and that of the German soldier who had assigned the job, and had planned it purely for the enjoyment he would take from the two women in the office... 

It is hard to say that such a story can prove to be an exciting thriller, but it was...With the main character being a young Christian girl, who goes against her parents' knowledge to do much more than could ever have been expected, it adds a dimension beyond the tale coming from those who were imprisoned. But given that many soldiers were also criminals, it was soon apparent that Katarina would be swept into the death and destruction that the German army had brought with them... 

And Katarina brought forth the second precious jewel, from an unknown father who could have been any of those that had taken her... But her child escaped with financial payoffs and help from the prisoners... This child's mother dead also--this time from a bullet...

The words of a favorite hymn has always stayed with me...Lest I forget Thy agony...Lest I forget Thy love for me... I find I cannot read a book about what was done to Jesus' Race, the Jewish people, without remembering Lest we forget  the Holocaust... It was a Christian girl who, along with many others, saved as many Jews as possible during that time... This book is a wonderful remembrance of that time as Christians fought, even though mostly unsuccessfully, against the Germans to save those wearing that star...

Highly recommended...


Dale Martellino lives in Middletown, Rhode Island. She is a retired English teacher. In addition to writing, Martellino loves traveling the world, both in real life and through her daydreams.

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