At Aunt Paula's

My Aunt Paula did not attend services Friday evenings or Saturdays because, as mentioned earlier, she had to stay home with my cousin, Lily.  She also had to get busy preparing the Shabbat or holiday food.  This meant that she had to cook the things she had prepared earlier, among which were the noodles she had prepared by hand and the carp, which always mysteriously appeared in the bathtub.

Noodle preparation meant rolling dough absolutely thin and flat, then draping the sheets of dough to dry over chairs and anything else available, even the footboard of Lily’s bed.  Later, after the dough was dry, she either folded it or rolled it into long tubes, and then cut them into noodles.  This was always exciting because it meant the next day we’d have delicious chicken soup and noodles, and as mentioned before, I was always hungry.

The carp, I believe, was for special occasions only.  It was bought alive, and would usually swim for a couple of days in the family bathtub.  Then came the tragic day when the carp was hauled out of the tub, although it vigorously resisted, and placed on the table where it continued flopping around and beating its tail.  Then my aunt would administer a couple of whacks over the head of the struggling fish, and the carp stopped wiggling.  All that would occasionally happen was a bit of tremor, a nervous tick, even after it was dead.  It would then be cut into slices and made into a wonderful, sweet and pungent dish called Polish Carp, that came with a gelatinous sauce that was  even more delicious than the fish itself.

Friday evening, after everything was prepared, my aunt blessed the candles and the formal meal was served, starting with the carp.  Sometimes we were joined by Aunt Paula’s and Uncle Nuhim’s children and grandchildren, and while this had a tendency to crowd the table, it was nevertheless warm and peaceful, the whole surrounded by a golden glow which started with the candles and enveloped the room and the people themselves.

I spent a lot of time at my Aunt Paula’s doing a variety of things.  Mostly I think I played solitaire, but I also played rummy with Lily.  And there were a variety of people who came and went during the week.  One of them, and important one, was Herr Ullendorf, who was a sort of family “fixer.”  He was an elderly gentleman, white-haired, with a small, white, neatly trimmed goatee.  He always wore a homburg and a black overcoat with a velvet collar and carried a cane or walking stick, all of which gave him an extremely distinguished appearance.  He was the family’s contact with the outside world, that is the world outside of the apartment, and knew everything that went on, including the latest regulations, what new documents were required and where and how to get them.  He was simply invaluable, because the streets were dangerous for Jews.  Although he was also Jewish he seemed to come and go without fear, and it is through him that we first heard about the possible placement of Jewish children in Catholic institutions.

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
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