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IT'S TIME TO LIVE

The Story of JOSEF MORGENSTERN

POLAND. THE STREETS WERE quiet. Maybe to call them streets was a mistake. They were merely passage-ways between mounds of rubble that once were buildings, a mixture of bricks and mortar, rising like pyramids, sometimes wide enough to allow a vehicle through. Here and there a building still stood, a survivor of chance and circumstance, scarred, in need of repair, a battered reminder of the forces of man against man, jagged remnants of a past battle of good against evil.

The trucks and automobiles were all brown or grey in colour, similar in design and shape, not the variety of models seen during normal times. There were many men on the streets wearing a variety of uniforms, displaying the wearer's military status and country of origin. The residents were gaunt and pale, tired in body and spirit, humbled by the catastrophe that they had been a part. Very few smiled, very few talked. There was fear in their expressions, pain in their movements, and confusion in their actions. They showed their disorientation. Many were but bones and skin. Zombies - a living dead.

It was August 25,1945. The Second World War had just ended and the dead had still to be counted. Those who had survived were still unaccustomed to their freedom - freedom from being behind barbed wire, from concentration camps, from labour camps, from hiding, but still shackled with the memories of what they witnessed, what was done to them, and what they had done to themselves. Forget the past, they were told, and start a new life, but how?

The street curved around piles of rubble too big to be moved and wove between buildings partially intact, occupied by those who needed a roof over their heads, a wall to surround them and the security of a locked door. Stores with broken windows looked like toothless jaws, another reminder of the horrors that had taken place only months before. There was a time when this city was active with sounds of laughter and songs of joy - but not on this day and not for a long time.

A side street intersected the main road and appeared almost normal. Portions of the sidewalk were intact, and many of the buildings were occupied. A partially damaged synagogue was wedged between two of them. Its wide steps led up to double doors that opened into a sanctuary, which was defiled by the Nazis many years before.

A handful of people stood around a chupa, a sort of canopy, as another fifty or so watched. Beneath the chupa stood a bride and groom, heads bowed as the rabbi chanted a traditional tune not heard in this building for many years. When he finished, two women led the young bride out from under the chupa, and they slowly circled the rabbi, the groom and those beneath the chupa seven times, all eyes following their progress. Smiles were in the eyes of the guests, tears in the groom's, and tears in the bride's. The groom watched intently as they passed his view, and under his breath he counted until the last circle was made and smiled when his bride was brought to stand beside him again.

A ketubah was given to the groom to officially sanctify their marriage. The rabbi continued his chant, offered his blessings in song, and the marriage ceremony ended. A table with cakes and whiskey sat to one side for the celebration to follow. Two survivors, strangers only a few months earlier, had been united in matrimony in a building that had never been expected to hear the voices of Jews in prayer again . . . two lonely survivors who felt it was time to live again.