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The Story of MICHEL MAYER and his FAMILY

ROMANIA. THE NIGHT AIR was cold and the wind cut through her as if she was naked. Her pending meeting with the corrupt official caused Golda to shiver more with fear than from the cold. She stood hidden at the back of the building, under the overhanging roof, waiting for the man to appear, not knowing if he was bringing Mordechai's freedom or her arrest. She was vulnerable to his demands; forged papers that could not pass close scrutiny, a purse with more money than was customary and by far the most suspicious, she was a foreigner, as well as a Jew. Without warning he was beside her; she smelled the alcohol on his breath before she saw him.

"Where's my money?" he demanded.

Golda pulled out her little bag of money, but before she could remove the amount she had promised, he grabbed the bag and thrust an envelope at her.

"When the train leaves," he said. "Make sure you're both on it or I'll have you arrested."

He left as silently as he had come, the only evidence of his presence his footprints in the snow and the lingering smell of cheap vodka. Golda ran back to her room, clutching the envelope, anxious to see its contents. Her hand trembled when she pulled out the documents and saw she held Mordechai's possible freedom.

Mordechai Mayer was a prisoner in the Siberian town of Chelvabinsk, buried in the northern tundra, by the foothills of the Ural Mountains, a million miles from nowhere, isolated by a desolate countryside and the loneliness of a vast uninhabited terrain. A place so far, it was not necessary to imprison the inmates, for where were they to escape? Death from the cold or starvation awaited anyone unfamiliar with the territory once beyond the town boundaries.

The following day, Mordechai went to the train station. He had arranged with his overseer not to work that day. He casually strolled to where Golda stood, and as he passed alongside her, she slipped him the envelope and then without uttering a word, she boarded the train. Mordechai continued walking, showing no interest in the train or the passengers.

Sitting by a window, Golda tried in vain to see where Mordechai had gone. The whistle blew, announcing the train was about to leave, and still Mordechai had not appeared. Soldiers boarded to inspect everyone's documents, and they gave Golda's a casual look before stamping them. As soon as they left, the train began to move, gradually picking up speed, entering the desolate countryside, groaning and squealing as it sped southward. Afraid to go into another car for fear she might draw curious looks, Golda covered herself with her scarf and tried to keep warm, and waited. Everything was now in the hands of luck. Had Mordechai boarded the train? Golda was speeding south, but Mordechai might still be a captive of the Siberian countryside, a captive that only his death would release. She closed her eyes and prayed she was wrong, that he was somewhere on the train.