Small Compromise
Bev Vines-Haines

I'm trying to think of a way to teach my great granddaughter the value of her self, her soul, the truth that if she compromises those things she believes, she will ultimately lose everything that she is. I know. I came from one of those Jewish families that took pride in our heritage but we weren't active in our faith. In fact, before World War II, we didn't give it much attention.

I left Poland in 1937 because I wanted to be a singer in Berlin. I was good. Even now as years blur both memory and emotion, I cannot think back on the nightclubs where I sang, on those performances and the way men threw themselves at my feet without weeping. I had "the look" that was so coveted in those days, blonde hair, high cheekbones, blue eyes. I obtained my papers in the name Alice Wayne and had every reason to believe I would one day rule the European stage.

There were small skirmishes and rumors of war everywhere. My family worried but I simply didn't care. I was above politics, a gem and a flower that might encourage military men to get in touch with their gentler side. But Europe turned dark faster than I'd imagined possible. My documents were not professional enough to pass all the tests the entertainment industry demanded and I ended up taking a temporary position in a clothing shop near downtown.

At first I didn't realize what it was we were stitching. Yellow fabric, heavy, six-pointed stars about 3-4 inches across. Not all the same. Some were emblazoned with "Juif," others "Jude" and even "Jood." But in the evenings, in bars and clubs, I heard that Jewish people were being forced to wear these stars in order to work or shop or even walk on the streets. So what? Jews have endured so much over the years, I thought. But the rumors became more frightening. Trains. Camps. People rounded up in advanced states of panic. Families separated.

I stitched those stars day after day, wondering who knew what, afraid someone would ask about my family members. I wove a rich and gentile past. No one asked. My secret went undiscovered. But inside, I began to rot. Cells, bones, muscles and even my heart corroded and broke with every yellow star I sewed.

When the war ended I became a Jew again. I lived it, breathed it, loved it to my very core. My penance has been my devotion, my life. And now this little heart of my heart decides it is all right to bend the rules, pretend?

Tonight for the first time, I tell her the truth. I tell them all.

First published: May 2005
comments to the writer: Knob'