Chapter 3 -- In a Small Town

It was quite a shock for Paul to adjust to the simple life-style of a small town. Even life in poverty had some stimulation in a big city. Here in the country there was a lack of shops, playgrounds, public transportation, theaters and other cultural institutions. Most of the population were tillers of the land -- peasant smallholders, or agricultural laborers working for the larger estates. The small Jewish community existed by providing professional and other services. Many were active in skilled trades and other small businesses.

The community was divided between an orthodox and a more liberal synagogue. The orthodox synagogue was the larger of the two. Paul's aunt belonged to this congregation. He started attending the religious services, and began to learn the additional dimensions of Judaism. His previous education was rather superficial, concentrating mostly on stories of the Old Testament and some simple prayers. Here he saw the practice and faithful adherence to the 613 commandments, as demanded by the Covenant of God with Abraham.

Soon Paul's attendance at the religious services became mandatory. Two months after his arrival he learned that his mother died. Lack of finances made it impossible for Paul to attend her funeral. Only a photograph, and the memories remained of Paul's mother. According to the Jewish religion, memorial services had to be said for a full year. Thus Paul participated in the complete annual cycle of the religious practices: the New Year, the Day of Atonement, Passover -- the commemoration of the liberation from Egyptian bondage -- and all the other festivals and fasts of Judaism.

Paul's personal tragedy coincided with two momentous events of the world. On the day he was crying over his mother's death, word swept across the small town: The forces of Imperial Japan attacked and destroyed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. In Russia, the German army's offensive on Moscow was defeated. Little did he know that the converging of these two events also will have a huge impact on him and many others.

In spite of the tragedies, life had to go in. Because of his good literacy Paul was apprenticed to a printer. He became an indentured servant, receiving room and board in exchange for working six days a week for his master. But he was learning a skilled trade, and continued his education informally through reading. He also started to appreciate living on the countryside. He saw and valued the hard labor of the peasants that provided the daily bread for all. He observed the several Christian churches practicing their way of worshipping God according to the New Covenant. The tremendous military battles and campaigns of the world at war seemed far away.

But as the world war continued its fearsome devastation, some almost unbelievable stories and rumors started to circulate. It was alleged that great massacres were taking place of Jews in Poland, Russia and other countries occupied by the Germans. Paul found these stories hard to believe. His understanding of Germany was that of a country with much culture, in forefront of Western civilization. His skepticism was shared initially by much of the community. But gradually a dread of the future emerged, as the rumors became more persistent and factual.

Even through the filter of propaganda it was becoming obvious that Nazi Germany was losing the war. American forces captured North Africa and invaded Italy. The Soviet armies were pushing back the Wehrmacht. Germany decided to occupy Hungary. A fascist government was installed. Hitler's Final Solution was to be implemented in Hungary, just as it was inflicted on all of the countries under German control.

Paul for the first time saw militarism in action. Although Hungary had its share of warlike attitudes, these were relatively feebly expressed. Paul observed some marching troops, cavalry and horse-drawn artillery, but little of the mechanized forces needed for a powerful army. He now saw passing through the village many trucks, motorized artillery and tanks. And everywhere there were the field gray uniforms of German soldiers. For the next 12 months he continued to see the enablers and facilitators of the Holocaust -- both the professional and the citizen soldiers of the German Reich.

The Passover of 1944 was the last one for community. There was no doubt in anybody's mind that something dreadful was going to happen. Yet the religious observations continued undiminished. Only the final day of the service was different than usual. Led by its venerated rabbi, the congregation continued to sing fervently, repeating many times the last verse of the prayer: "I believe that the Messiah shall come." Although God seemed to have forsaken the congregation, the congregation has not forsaken God.


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