Children of the Stars - Mario Escobar Page 0,1

their native tongue, though he always answered in French, thus somehow making a statement against the place they had been forced to flee. Where would they go now? He felt like the world was closing at his feet, like when schoolmates avoided him at recess, apparently struck with fear or nausea at the sight of the yellow star on his chest. “Children of the yellow star” is what people called them. To Moses, stars were the lights God had created so that night would not swallow everything up. Yet the world now seemed orphaned of stars, dark and cold like the wardrobe where he would hide to trick his parents and from which he always jumped out as soon as possible so the immense blackness did not devour him completely.

Part 1

Chapter 1


July 16, 1942

Jacob helped his brother get ready. He had been doing it for so long he went through the motions mechanically. They hardly talked as Jacob pulled off Moses’s pajamas and helped him into his pants, shirt, and shoes. Moses was quiet with a lost, indifferent expression that sometimes broke Jacob’s heart. Jacob knew Moses was old enough to get dressed on his own, but this was one way he could show his younger brother he was not alone, that they would stay together until the end and would be back with their parents as soon as possible.

Spring had gone by quickly enough, but the hot summer promised to drag on. Today was the first day of summer vacation. Aunt Judith left very early in the morning for work, and they were to fix breakfast, straighten up the apartment, buy food at the market, and go to the synagogue for bar mitzvah preparation. Their aunt insisted on it since Jacob was almost old enough to assume the bar mitzvah responsibilities of Jewish laws. He, however, thought it was all nonsense. Their parents had never taken them to the synagogue, and Eleazar and Jana themselves had known practically nothing about Judaism until they got to Paris. But Aunt Judith had always been devout and became even more so after her husband died in the Great War.

Jacob got his brother dressed and helped him wash his face. Then they both went to the kitchen, whose blue tiles were now dull from decades of scrubbing. The table, painted sky blue, had seen better days, but it held a basket with a few slices of black bread and cheese. Jacob poured some milk, heated it over the sputtering gas stove, and served it in two steaming bowls.

Moses ate as if safeguarding his breakfast from bread robbers all around. At eight years old, hardly a moment went by when he did not feel rapaciously hungry. Jacob was just as capable of eating everything in sight, which forced Judith to keep the pantry locked. Each day she set out their humble rations for breakfast and lunch and at night prepared a frugal supper of soup light on noodles or vegetables in a cream sauce. It was scant fare for two boys in their prime growing years, but the German occupation was exhausting the country’s reserves.

In the summer of 1940, the French, especially Parisians, had fled en masse to the southern parts of the country, but most had returned home months later as they saw that the German occupation was not as barbaric as they had imagined. Jacob’s family had not left the city then, despite being German exiles, but his father had taken the precaution of seeking refuge in his sister’s house, hoping they would not easily raise Nazi suspicion.

Jacob knew that his family was doubly cursed: his father had been active in the Socialist Party and had written satirical tracts against the Nazis for years, not to mention that both Eleazar and Jana were Jewish—a damnable race according to the National Socialists.

Paris was under the direct control of the Germans, represented by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and the Nazis had exploited and exhausted the populace. By the spring of 1942, it was nearly impossible to find coffee, sugar, soap, bread, oil, or butter. Fortunately, Aunt Judith worked for an aristocratic family that, compliments of the black market, was always well stocked and gave her some of the basic supplies that would have been impossible to acquire with her ration card.

After their meager breakfast, the brothers headed out. The previous night had been muggy, and the morning foretold an infernal heat. The boys ran down the stairs. The intense yellow of the Star of