Children of the Stars - Mario Escobar



May 23, 1941

“Every generation nurses the hope that the world will begin anew.” Those were the last words his father had said in the train station. The man had crouched down on his haunches in his ironed gray suit to be on Moses’s level. The child looked out with his big black eyes and sighed, not understanding what his father meant. The station filled with strangely sugary-smelling white smoke. His mother watched with tear-swollen eyes, and her cheeks were so red she looked as if she had just scaled a mountain. Moses could still remember her delicate white gloves, the damp, cold feel of that spring, and the sensation that his little world was ripping apart. His father attempted a smile beneath his thin brown mustache, but it ended up a tortured grimace. Moses clung to his mother’s legs. Jana smoothed the boy’s blond hair and bent down. She took her son’s chubby, rosy cheeks in her hands and kissed him with her dark lips, her tears mixing with the child’s.

Jacob pulled at his brother. A light steam emanated from the engine’s wheels, and the train gave a final whistle as if the huge frame of metal and wood were sighing in grief over the souls it had to separate. Aunt Judith hugged Jacob’s chest, both protective and worried. All around, German soldiers moved like moths attracted by the light. They had neglected to pin the yellow stars to their chest that morning. Judith feared the Nazis could detect them with a single stony blue glance.

Eleazar and Jana turned away. Their coats swirled among the crowd of people with hands waving goodbye to other loved ones. In the midst of that boundless ocean of raised arms, Jacob and Moses saw their parents melt away until they disappeared completely. Moses clung to his aunt’s hand with a ferocity intent on keeping her beside him. Judith turned her head and looked at her nephew’s short bowl cut, the blond hair gleaming in the sun that filtered through the station’s skylights. Then she looked at the other child, Jacob, with his dark brown curly hair. His big black eyes were set in a serious, angry expression, nearly rageful. The night before he had begged their parents to take them away from Paris, vowing that they would be good and behave, but Eleazar and Jana could not bring the children with them until they had a safe place to hide. Nothing bad would happen to the children in Paris, and Aunt Judith was too old to flee. She had taken them in six years before when the family could no longer endure the pressure in Berlin. Aunt Judith was more French than German; nobody would bother her.

They left the station as the sky began to turn leaden blue and the first cold drops spilled over the stone pavement. Judith opened her green umbrella and the three huddled together silently in the futile effort to avoid the downpour. They arrived soaked at Judith’s tiny apartment on the other side of Paris, just where the city’s beauty faded into a scabby, gray scene that made the glamour of cafés and fine restaurants seem like a distant mirage. They had taken the metro and then the noisy, rusty tram. The two boys had sat in the wooden seat at the front while their aunt sat just behind and allowed her eyes to relax their efforts against tears.

Moses studied his brother, whose brow was still furrowed. Jacob’s freckles blurred together with raindrops and his frowning red lips were tensed to bursting. Moses did not understand the world. Jacob always called him “clueless,” but the younger boy did understand that whatever had happened was bad enough to make their parents leave them. They had never been alone before. Moses still believed his mother was an extension of himself. At night, despite his father’s grumbling, he slept pressed up against her, as the mere proximity of her skin calmed him. Her smell was the only perfume Moses could stand, and he knew he would always be safe as long as her lovely green eyes watched him.

As the boy had looked out through the dirty windows of the tram, the ghostly figures of the pedestrians jumbled together with the delivery trucks and old wagons that left the streets littered and rank with the droppings of their workhorses. This was his world. He had been born in Germany, but he recalled nothing of his home country. His mother still spoke to him in