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The Annie Weisz Case

A jagged bolt of lightning split the black sky, followed by a sharp crack of thunder. Short gusts of wind blew loose leaves over manicured lawns and well-kept walkways; rain fell, first in large drops and then in a deluge. An old woman moved slowly along a deserted residential street. She brought a hand to her chest, hoping to calm her racing heart. Glancing at the creased scrap of paper clutched in her right hand, she read the address once more. The rain pelted the writing, causing the ink to run, distorting the words. But it made no difference to her, for she knew the address by heart. She smiled in spite of her exhaustion. He was waiting for her. Fifty-nine years, five months and six days had passed since she’d last seen him. Her beloved husband was alive. Her smile broadened.

She glanced quickly at a small, darkened bungalow opposite her to see the number, then forced herself to approach until she stood before the front door. She swept her matted hair away from her eyes. Was he really there? Everyone had said he was dead, but he wasn’t to her. She had always felt his presence, no matter where she went, no matter what she did. She refused to accept any answer but the one in her heart. She looked at the windows for signs of movement – there were none. Why did the house appear deserted? The man on the telephone had said he lived here. For almost sixty years neither she nor her husband realized the other had survived the war. Not only survived, but lived in the same city! She knew miracles happened. This was to be hers. She gazed down at her wet clothes. She must look terrible. He’d be so disappointed seeing her this way. She took a couple of deep breaths and faced the door.

She knocked.

The steady drum of rain on the roof of the small porch was her only answer. “Please, open the door. It’s me, Annie.” She knocked again, then hesitantly tried the handle. The door swung open. Peering into the darkness, she called weakly, “Hello, Hershl, are you here?”

Once again the sky lit up and in that instant, she saw that the interior was empty. She stepped over the threshold, leaving the door open, placed a trembling hand on the wall and followed it to an adjoining door, only to find another empty room. “Hello,” she called again. “Hershl?”

She was crying, although she was scarcely aware of her tears. She turned towards the door and watched the fury of the rain. Her tears became sobs that wracked her fragile body, and from the centre of her being came a wail of pain. “No-o-o!”

She lowered herself to the floor and buried her face in her hands. He wasn’t here. He’d never been here. The man on the telephone had played a cruel joke on her. How had he known so much about her Hershl?

Her tired body sagged against the wall, and she ignored the sharp pain in her chest. She drew in short shallow breaths, letting her mind take her on the familiar journey back to when she and Hershl had first met at the University of Warsaw in Poland. She worked as a file clerk, but spent many nights in the library reading. She was sitting at a long table, an assortment of books scattered before her, when Hershl sat down across from her. He smiled, and she smiled back. She felt embarrassed when he continued to stare at her, making no attempt to look in the book he had opened in front of him. He suddenly got up to get another book and she watched him. Lord, he was handsome! Tall, hair black as coal, blue eyes and a dimple in his chin that deepened when he smiled. She dropped her eyes to her book when he returned and pretended to read. She could sense his gaze on her.

“Hello,” he said.

She looked at him.

“My name is Hershl Weisz. I’ve seen you here several times and I finally had the courage to sit at your table.” He laughed nervously. “I apologize for being so forward. I’ve never done this before, but I can’t get you out of my mind. Would you tell me your name?”

“Uh-h-h,” she stammered, “Annie Kapinsky.”

“Hello, Annie Kapinsky.”

“Hello,” she said. Her eyes sparkled, and then she laughed.

Hershl laughed, too.

Over the next five months, their romance blossomed. They were married in June of 1939 – she was twenty-one, he twenty-four – and the next two months were sheer bliss. She would rush home from work, desperate to be in his arms. Each night a memory to cherish.

In September the Germans invaded Poland.

They took him away. She screamed to go with him, but the officer kicked and punched her into unconsciousness. She was told he had been taken to a concentration camp in Germany called Dachau. The Germans sent her first to a labour camp, and then to Stutthof, a camp for women in Poland. The war ended, but Hershl never returned. She searched the names of the dead from the Dachau records posted every day by the Jewish Congress in Krakow. His name never appeared. She asked those who returned from the camp, but no one knew Hershl Weisz. Thousands had died and were buried in unmarked graves, she was told. Was he one of them?

No!

She knew he lived.

She came to Canada – to the city of Toronto. She worked as a seamstress and saved her money, always believing that some day they would be together again. A few days ago a man had phoned. A stranger. “Is Weisz your married name?” he’d asked. “Is your maiden name Kapinsky? Did you come from Warsaw?”

“Who is this?” she had responded.

He would say only that he was a private investigator. He worked for a search bureau and was instructed by a client about six months ago to find a woman from Warsaw, Poland, by the name of Annie Kapinsky Weisz.

Annie couldn’t contain her excitement. The investigator asked more questions. He fumbled with his words, but Annie heard only what she wanted. “Who is this client?” she asked. Her fingers gripped the telephone receiver so hard they turned white. “Where is he?”

“I’m sorry,” the man said, “I’m not at liberty to say at this moment.”

“Can I not speak with him?”

“No. We’re still not sure you’re the right person. I’ll call again tomorrow night,” and he abruptly hung up.

Annie was devastated by the delay. When every second is counted, a day can feel as long as a year. When the man did call, he told her that he was instructed to reveal his client’s name. It was Hershl Weisz. Annie gasped. Her body shook with apprehension. Tears rushed down her cheeks. “Is he coming here?” she whispered.

“No. Mr. Weisz has been confined to a wheelchair for more than fifty years. Recently he won a lot of money and he hired our bureau to find any information we could on what had happened to his wife. We sent one of our field agents to Warsaw, then to the German archives and located your name. The Jewish Congress in Europe assisted us, and to our surprise we discovered you lived in the same city as our client.”

All of Annie’s strength seemed to leave her. She gripped the table on which the telephone rested to prevent herself from slipping to the floor. Her heart raced and her body shook uncontrollably. “Please . . . I want to talk to him,” she whispered.

“Mr. Weisz said to tell you he sees you as when he first saw you in the library in Warsaw and that is the way he will always see you.” The man had laughed nervously. “I hope I said that right. I’ve never played Cupid before.”

Annie had beamed with joy. “Yes, yes. Thank you.”

“Mr. Weisz would like to see you right away. I believe he is arranging for a limousine to pick you up tomorrow morning and bring you to his house.”

“Oh! Why can’t I talk to him? Can’t I phone him now?”

“I’m sorry, I’m just the investigator. I don’t have all the answers. Maybe he wants to talk to you in person the first time. But wouldn’t it be marvellous if you showed up tonight and surprised him? What a great idea! Do you have a car?”

“No,” she said.

“I suggest you take a taxi, then.”

“Where does he live?”

The man had given her an address and she’d written it on a pad before she realized the location. “That’s all the way downtown,” she had said. “I don’t think I have enough money with me to take a taxi that far. I’ll have to take a bus.”

“His house is not too far from the bus route,” and again he’d encouraged her to surprise his client.

Annie shifted her body against the wall. She’d begun to shiver. Her thoughts focused on her present predicament. Why had this “investigator” been so cruel? The neighbours who knew her story told her to forget the past, but how do you forget such happiness? How do you ignore your feelings? She couldn’t. All she had from her all-too-brief marriage was a photograph of Hershl. They had lived in Praga, the gentile section of Warsaw, and fortunately the building in which they’d rented an apartment had survived the war. She had returned to Warsaw after her release, to their old apartment, hoping to find something, anything that belonged to him. The tenant had allowed her to look about. Her stubbornness had been rewarded when she discovered a faded photograph between a shelf and the wall in the closet. It was discoloured and stained; one corner was missing and the image blurry, but she’d recognized Hershl.

Annie noticed the rain had stopped. She felt her exhaustion. Her damp clothes were uncomfortable, and the pain in her chest was more pronounced. She was frightened by the pain in her chest. She struggled to her feet, and with small steps, made her way out of the house and back to the bus stop. It took forever to reach her apartment. She had considered going to a hospital, but she wanted to change her clothes. Besides, she felt foolish. She was eighty, for heaven’s sake; she should have known better. It was too late for her miracle to come true. She had let her emotions crowd out her common sense. She should have realized that Hershl was alive only to her.

Annie fumbled in her purse for her key. As she was about to place it in the lock, she noticed the doorknob was broken and hesitantly pushed at the door. It swung open. Her heart pounded anew when she saw the living-room floor strewn with her possessions. The drawers to her china cabinet were open, and her new radio, which should have been on the small table by the couch, was gone. Annie screamed, her thoughts on Hershl’s photograph.

She raced to the bedroom. The drawer of her bedside table was open and the silver-framed photograph, which always sat on top, was gone. A cry of agony escaped her lips as she dropped to her knees and peered under the bed. She saw the frame and reached underneath, drawing it towards her. An overpowering pain stabbed her chest. Her strength evaporated and she sagged to the floor, clutching the photograph. Her eyes closed as her last breath left her.

The tenant in the next apartment heard the scream. He looked out into the hall, noticed that her door was wide open and cautiously entered. When he saw her crumpled on the floor, he ran back to his apartment and called the police.