We strolled into a Gestapo office in central Warsaw and faced three self-assured Aryan. They were easier to snuff than a cigarette, Renia K. wrote later.
Dragon sisters we called ourselves. We guised as farm girls with braids, kerchief tied around. Took them and like sacks of potatoes left them in the shade.
The blond dye and chutzpah, rage, a deep buried hope, a housemaid job, belts for the contraband, an iron will. Women so unlike me--they were the fight to my flight--hope was daily, a put on like lipstick you reached down for it, the rest of your face obsessively cluttered in a jute bag.
I was sixteen when I left Hungry for Palestine, but had come back to Europe. The "courier girls" confused me, the active pride of them at parties held by a smuggler. They had money too, and fake IDs, plenty of jokes to relieve fear, and said marmalade jars were perfect for grenades. One said my smile wasn't fake enough and I should practice looking at my Nazi killers directly in their eyes--she pointed her cocked finger at my head, "Let me see it, Sunshine."
Zelda T. was back from the woods. Faye had just performed surgery. Ruzka gave us the Finn recipe we used for explosive picnic baskets. Word was Haviva and Hannah were now paratroopers.
Renia was too fashionable, I thought, preferring dresses and tango. But Renia was tough enough to cross the Tatra Mountains by foot. She lay in that medieval dungeon suffering torture until we plied the guards with cigarettes and whiskey. She was last seen running away in the clothes we brought.
Every passover I look at the danger--bullets flying overhead, an amputee surgery to do and only me with the stomach to do it, cursing the kit with a dulled knife, prying a soldier's wounded finger with my teeth. What was I doing on a combat mission in the first place? There were holes in the wall I could pass through but I was blessed with disbelief. The girls had trained me in the skill necessary for "staying" with it. How to impersonate and imitate, and that was why I came to know a black-market arms dealer living beside a cemetery, wandering about thee city and sleeping in a cellar until the need for medical help seemed more important than just passing bits of gunpowder.
"Take this" one of the girls said before I left. "The priest gave us a stash once and then took us to a box and let us each pick one out. Relics he called them, for good luck or something."
I had a peculiar sensation when I first put it over my neck, like I was in the middle of a Tango, dipped suddenly by my partner.
"Bit weird to be honest," she said. Her coy face was pale like she had just given her boldness to me.
This segment of the story jumped into a realist present narrator that imagines a tiny holdover of faith. The article of faith passed like a mysterious object is not fully explained, nor the meaning of the title. To read in full, see the opening fable "The Dragon Story."
Renia Kukielka, Niuta Teitelbaum and Hannah Senesh--these names and hundreds others were real. Tosia Altman, Gusta Davidson, Frumka Plotnicka--whom Judy Batalion describes as thriller Polish-Jewish ghetto girls' who paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in teddy bears, flirted with Nazis and then killed them. They distributed underground bulletins, flung Molotov cocktails, bombed train lines, organized soup kitchens, and bore the truth about what was happening to the Jews." While I to my core believe in pacifism, the value in this story is boldness. Even as Pope Francis puts the just war tradition to rest in Fratelli Tutti, the story of armed resistance will continue to motivate replicas. In the peace movement, a story teller may perhaps not get away with a story like this. You would have women active, question, critique and plan, secret about their experiences linking youth resistance groups, risking certain death, smuggling food, writing diaries about the hope that led them to experiment (perhaps not only with homemade explosives) and design underground bunkers with elaborate thoughtfulness, strapping in her undergarments cash and false passports, moving grenades and transporting Jews.
Judy Batalion, "The Women of the Jewish Resistance" 21 March 2021 New York Times. Author of forthcoming "The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler's Ghettos" from which her opinion essay was adapted.
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