Not far from Warsaw there is a small village called Turkew.
There is nothing remarkable about the place and it has not changed much since the war. There are the same poor hovels, the same dilapidated sheds and inadequate back-yards where pigs and worm-ridden chicken are kept. There is, however, one nice, modern house. It. is situated at the end of the village, next to a field. It has been built with imported bricks and has a slated roof. There is a pretty garden with mallow flowers and one can see, through the window, a new television set in the parlor. The house belongs to Wanda Nowak. She talked freely about her newly acquired riches'.
The story begins with the German occupation of Poland during the Second World War and it concerns Wanda's parents Jan and Maria Nowak.
It happened nearly 64 years ago in this very village.
Maria was the first to hear the knock at the door and she woke her husband in a hurry, in order not to disturb their children. It was a cold, wet night and Jan grumbled as he got up from his warm bed. He lit a candle and cautiously peered outside and there he saw a group of people standing in the rain. It looked like a family, a man a woman and three children. They stood in silence and that silence spoke volumes. Jan knew who they were and his first reaction was resentment and then fear but as he gazed at the little ones, no older than his own, he felt a deep compassion and this led to a terrible rage rising in his heart. No one had the right to inflict such suffering on children .He made up his mind. He had an empty cellar under his shed and he was going to use it'for them.
And so the family moved in. Jan and Maria kept their secret well and not even their own children noticed that Maria was cooking, washing and sewing for any one other than the family. They never knew that these strange guests were living so near to their poor hovel. They never heard a child cry, or laugh. How was it possible? God only knows. Jan took food to the family at night and at night they were allowed to go for short walks around the shed. They lived in total silence. The children hardly whispered and they knew instinctively that their survival depended on their silence.
They survived the war and in the end, emerged from the darkness of the cellar looking thin, pale, bewildered and very solemn. The children did not speak, did not smile, as the parents said their thanks and the family departed. Where they went to, no one knows.
Many years passed and Jan remained a poor peasant until his dying day. His sons left the farm and settled in Warsaw. There was no future for them, struggling to make ends meet and tilling the sandy soil which never yielded good crops. Only the youngest, Wanda, remained at home to look after her mother, who refused to leave Jan. Jan's grave was just across the field, in the village grave-yard. The women lived a secluded life, relying on help from the family in Warsaw, seldom seeing neighbors or having visitors.
It was late in the afternoon and the women were alone in the dwelling when they heard a motor-car stop in the lane and soon afterwards, a knock at the door. Maria crossed herself in fear of some bad news and Wanda rushed to the door. There were three middle-aged men and an old woman standing outside. They looked foreign. Wanda did not know them'it was obviously a wrong address.
The old woman moved forward and peered inside as if she were searching for something. Then she saw Maria sitting at the table. She stepped in and Maria looked up. They stared at each other.
There was a fleeting sign of recognition, then they nodded. They smiled and rushed into each other arms.
'Oh, Maria.' sobbed the foreign woman, 'We're here at last'.
Now the men surrounded Maria, kissing her, shaking her hand. 'Your children?' Maria asked.
'Yes, yes'my children,'you saved them.' The woman repeated over and over again, crying and laughing.
Now Wanda understood and she was happy for her mother.
'Pity Jan cannot see you all. He would have been so happy'.
'And so would my Mossie'. The woman sighed. 'He always talked of coming back to see you all and repay our debt, but we never had enough money and he had this terrible sickness which took him before his time. But I have good sons and they promised their Dad to come and do what is right'and he died in peace.'
'You owe us nothing'. Maria said quietly. 'God sent you to us and He kept you safe'.
'You gave us shelter, you fed us and clothed us, having so little yourself, and you say we owe you nothing'. The woman was indignant. 'My boys will build you a proper house and we will take you both for a nice long holiday in Israel'.
Maria shook her head and pointed to the fields. 'For me there is only one journey left, to join Jan, there across the fields, but take care of my daughter And I shall be content. And when I meet your Mossie on the other side I will tell him he has a fine family'children to be proud of.'
The family kept their promise. Wanda is well looked after.
She took me to the grave of her parents. The willow trees have joined their branches over the grave. They sleep peacefully, these two quiet heroes who won their war and helped the world to be a more loving place.