Gypsy Spirit
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Gypsy Spirit is the story of fifteen year-old Zilka Sucuri, a Gypsy girl who is thrust into the horrors of the Holocaust. Her life of traveling from town to town, singing and dancing the Gypsy way comes to an unconscionable stop when a SS death squad shoot every man, woman, and child in her kumpania. If she had not literally been up a tree, she would have been among those lying dead in a mass grave. Her lungo drom (the long road) takes her across Poland, Austria, and Germany in a driving struggle to help an American pilot return safely to his unit so he can return to bomb the many concentration, work, and death camps all across Poland and Germany. Her efforts reveal the truths of Belzec, the challenges of the partisans, and the burning desire to survive to be a living witness of what truly happened to the non-Aryans of Hitler’s Germany. Gypsy Spirit is a story of the driving spirit of a Gypsy girl, who took it upon herself to document the truth. Her strength and determination brings to light a story of magnanimity and the fears and atrocities such a Gypsy girl might have lived through.



Publié par
Date de parution 30 octobre 2012
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781773621418
Langue English

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Gypsy Spirit
Tango of Death ~Book 1
By RitaKarnopp
Digital ISBNs
Print ISBN978-1-77299-320-2
Amazon Print978-0-2286-0105-0

Copyright 2016 by RitaKarnopp
Cover art by MichelleLee
All rightsreserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reservedabove, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in orintroduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, orby any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orotherwise) without the prior written permission of both thecopyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


For centuries,the people known as Gypsies roamed Europe. They preferred lungodrom, ‘the long road;’ they had no home and wanted none. Their lifewas an endless journey to nowhere in particular.
It is widelyrecognized that the persecution and murder of the Roma and Sintihas been largely overlooked by most scholars studying theHolocaust. Because most Romani communities of Eastern Europe weremuch less organized than the Jewish communities, it has been moredifficult to assess the actual number of victims, though it isbelieved to range from 220,000 to 1,500,000.
The firstmemorial commemorating victims of the Romani Holocaust was erectedon May 8, 1956, in the Polish village of Szczurowa commemoratingthe Szczurowa massacre. In 1996 a Gypsy Caravan Memorial crossedthe main remembrance sites in Poland, from Tarnów via Auschwitz,Szczurowa and Borzęcin Dolny, gathering the Gypsies andwell-wishers in the remembrance of those murdered during the Naziregime
I dedicate thisbook to those Gypsies who found their free spirit stolen from themwithout provocation or justification . . . and to the survivors whobore witness of what truly happened . . . and to their descendantswho now carry on the free spirit of the gypsy.
I wrote thisstory to create awareness and to pay homage to those Gypsies wholost their lives during the porraimos (the devouring) as theGypsies called the Holocaust.
Being of Polishdecent, I’ve been drawn to the struggles and incredible spirit ittook to survive this unconscionable time in history. I pray thisbook touches your spirit with compassion and new understanding.
Chapter One
Poland – Slovakia– Germany 1943
The twins ranpast Zilka, their skirts blowing in the breeze nearly trippingthem. The coins tied to their blouses jingled with each step. Theirlaughter carried on the wind.
“Mayla, Vanya,where you running off to?” Zilka hoped they’d ask her to jointhem.
“Varekai,”Mayla shouted.
Zilka stompedher foot and frowned at them. “Don’t wherever me. I know you’reheaded to the pond. You want the boys to find you. I’m tellingpapa.”
“Shush, youbaby. Don’t be tellin’ papa anything or I’ll tell him you and Petrewere up in that tree last night.”
“You keep yourtongue or I’ll tell papa you and Vilas were kissing out by thehorses this morning.”
“Quiet, both ofyou before everyone knows, including papa.” Mayla leaned toward thegirls and whispered. “A vardo came in late last night.”
“Just one? Whywould just one wagon come?” Vanya asked.
“Who was it?”Zilka looked around the encampment and adjusted the woven flowerring on her head.
“It was afamily of diddakois.” Mayla answered with an exaggerated expressionof distaste.
“So what, we’rea family of half-gypsies.” Zilka shook her head and rolled hereyes.
“They stayedwith Natsi’s family. She said they were nervous and scared. Theyall went to the Shero Rom and talked and argued for hours beforefinally settling down for the night.”
“What were theyarguing about?” Vanya whispered.
“I asked Natsi,but she didn’t know. The diddakois did a lot of crying.”
“You think theywere sent away from their kumpania and they want to join ours?”
“We’ll have toask papa. He’ll know.” Mayla reached over and pulled on Zilka’snecklace.
“Atch,” sheshouted, then grabbed Mayla’s long, sandy braid and gave it atug.
“You littleschej.” She yanked Zilka’s flowers down over her eyes and ran.Vanya followed on her heels.
Zilka smiled.She loved it when the twins called her a little Gypsy girl. Theearly morning chill sent her fetching a shawl before followingthem. Their house on wheels snuggled under a tree on the edge ofcamp. Zilka smiled. She loved the blue and green carved gildedspokes that housed a sitting space just outside the front door. Thewindows of the wagon were covered by lace curtains and the wheelspokes were painted gold. The curved roof edges were carved andpainted yellow and red from which they hung copper ornaments.
She picked upher shawl and readjusted the flowers she always wore.
“Bajram, youcannot be serious. Mayla deserves a much younger man than IstvanRadita. Even his son, Ivan would be a better choice. She will neveragree to it.”
“We shouldnever have promised the girls they could approve or disapprovetheir tumnimos. Mayla is the eldest and must choose her betrothedfirst. They are all getting too old for me to arrange marriages forthem. We should have taken care of this long ago.”
It wasn’t rightto listen to her parent’s conversation, yet Zilka couldn’t bringherself to leave.
“Bajram, youare a good taj and the girls love you.”
“A good fatherwould do what’s best for them even if they don’t understand. Theyknow I love them and want them happy. I’m the laughing stock of ourkumpania where the girls are concerned.”
Zilka smiled toherself. Everyone knew Bajram Sucuri could not say no to his girls.He was fiercely strict and protected them, but in the end the girlshad the last word. There would be no abiav until Mayla agreed tomarry. Then they’d have a fabulous wedding feast.
“What ifRosalia and Adam Bogdan are telling the truth? We must—“
“You want todivorce me and go back to the city? Would you take my chavis fromme? It would tear my heart out, Elise.”
“You know Ilove you, Bajram,” Elise stifled her emotions. “If the SS are nowarresting Gypsies, we must consider what this means.”
Zilka sat andleaned her shoulder against the front door, afraid what she wouldhear next.
“It can’t betrue,” Bajram slammed his fist on top the wooden table. “We areGerman citizens.”
“We are alsoGypsies.”
“No. I amGypsy,” Bajram shouted. “You are Arian and our chavis aremischlinge.”
“Yes the girlsare of mixed ancestry, but they could easily pass as Arian becausethey are jenische. Maybe being a white Gypsy is a blessing now. Icould take them to my grandmother’s chalet in Switzerland. We couldwait out the war there until you return for us. I am not divorcingyou.”
“I’m notconvinced we have to do this. We should wait until we can confirmthese rumors. What if—“
“We can’t takethe chance. We have to think of our girls . . . “
Zilka didn’twant to listen to another word. She bolted from the wagon and randown the trail. A sharp rock pierced the bottom of her bare footand she hobbled a short time, then sped ahead. Tears filled hereyes and streamed down her face.
“We’re overhere, Zilka!”
She heard Vanyain the distance. Blinded by tears, she ran along the edge of thepond. Finally out of breath, she stopped and sat on the dry shore.Pulling her legs into her chest, she cried until it hurt.
“Zilka, why onearth did you keep running?” Vanya asked, gasping for breath.
“Are you okay?”Mayla slid her arm around Zilka’s back.
“I heard mamaand papa talking.” She paused and hiccupped. “They said they weregoing to make Mayla marry Radita.”
“Ivan isactually really nice. He has been—“
“Not Ivan. Hisfather, Istvan.”
“What? That isdinilo. He’s almost as old as papa.” Mayla stood and paced back andforth. “I won’t do it.”
“You won’t haveto.” Zilka wiped her wet cheeks with her palms.
“You’re notmaking any sense. Why are you crying?” Vanya sat and pulled Zilka’shand between hers.
“Mama isleaving papa and is taking us to our gadze’ grandmother.”
“No, that can’tbe true.” Disbelief edged Mayla’s tone. “In Switzerland? Why wouldshe do that? You must have heard wrong.” She sat next to Zilka.
“No, I knowwhat I heard. It has something to do with those people who camelast night. Papa said the SS were arresting Gypsies. Mama is goingto make us look like gadze’—“
“She wouldn’tleave papa,” Vanya interrupted.
“I’m not goingto dress like a non-gypsy. I refuse to act like a gadze’ andpretend to be only Arian. I won’t leave papa and Petre.” Zilkawiped at the new stream of tears. She found comfort sandwichedbetween her sisters.
“We need totalk with mama and papa.” Mayla suggested.
“They can’tmake us leave. This is our jamarokher. We are not gadze’ and we’llnever think like them. Never to travel. To be confined to one town.It is not for me.” Zilka pulled her flower ring off her head andstudied the yellow and pink flowers. It always brought her comfort– until now.
“It is ourhome, schej,” Vanya soothed. “Let’s see what mama and papa have tosay before we get all upset and worried.”
Zilka allowedher sisters to pull her to her feet. A dark cloud settled over heras they headed back to their vardo. She had not known suchunhappiness. How could she leave papa? She would stay with papa andthe kumpania. How could she live without mama, Mayla and Vanya? Newtears surfaced and freely rolled down her cheeks.
* * *
“What you’retelling us makes no sense.”
“Surely theydidn’t . . . kill them,” Bajram said.
Zilka sat withher family, as did all the members of the camp. Such stillness forthe large kumpania was unusual.
“You don’t haveto believe us.” Adam Bogdan pulled Rosalie’s shoulder into hischest.
“Why didn’tthey take you and your family, too?” Shero Rom, Ljatif Nyari,asked.
“My horse threwa shoe and so I settled our vardo in a clump of trees just shortthe camp. I took the horse into town and left him to be worked on.I would go back in the morning to get him and join the kumpanialater.”
“We could seethe main camp lights from our vardo. They weren’t all that farahead of us. Adam turned out our lights and we settled down for thenight. The children were exhausted and I must admit, we were quitetired, too. Instead of talking like we usually do, we settled downnext to Stane and Kallai and quickly were asleep.” Rosalia’s voicecracked and she swallowed hard.
“We hadn’tslept more than a couple hours when we heard several guns fire. Ijumped awake and asked Rosalia to keep the children quiet. Shortlythereafter we heard crying and shouting from the camp. I told mywife that I was going to go and check it out and they should stayin the vardo.”
“I could not,”Rosalia interrupted. “I could not have him go and never come backto me. So I followed him with the children. Stan is fourteen andKallai is ten, they know how to keep quiet. So we—“
“We quietlymoved in the woods . . . closer . . . and closer . . . until wecould see what was happening.”
“Who werethey?” Someone asked in a hushed tone.
Zilka glancedaround the circle of people. Silence and fear stared back ather.
Adam shiftedhis feet, then continued. “I think there were eight or tenblack-uniformed SS officers with guns rounding everyone up. Thetwin silver flashes on their collars flared in the firelight. Theymade the men hang their wives and older daughters.” Adam cried intohis hands.
Everyoneremained silent, respectfully waiting for him to continue. Zilkawelcomed the comforting arms of the twins as they sandwiched herbetween them as they always did.
With shakingpalms, Adam rubbed his cheeks, then cleared his throat. Theyordered the men to dig a deep hole and throw their . . . throw thedead into it. At gun point they had the men hold their youngchildren and stand at the edge of the trench . . . and shot themdown.” Adam choked back the lump in his throat. “Once it was donethey drove away laughing and talking like they had just stopped fora casual gathering. They didn’t even cover them.”
Zilka wiped atthe tear that rolled down her cheek. She glanced around at themembers of their kumpania. Adam and Rosalia’s loss showed deeply onthe faces of the men and women alike.
The Shero Romswallowed and quickly drank some wisniak made from wild cherries.“Were they . . . are you Kelerari?”
“Yes, fromPoland. They were our entire kumpania. We have no one left.”Rosalia’s cry tore from the depths of her soul. Stane and Kallaiclung to her.
“You are notalone. We are all Gypsies here. You are now part of our kumpania.We will have a great celebration to welcome you at a proper time.Right now our council must meet and decide what we should do.”
“We must go toHungary where there are no Germans,” someone shouted out.
“Maybe we couldhide out in the Matra Mountains until this nonsense stops. Theycan’t kill Jews and Gypsy forever.”
“Only untilthere are none left perhaps,”Ljatif Nyari rose and leaned hisleader stick against the arm of the chair. “It is my responsibilityas your Shero Rom to lead you as it was my father before him andhis father before him. We have always been persecuted in one way oranother. We have always felt the hatred of the gadze’. But thishatred is different. It has no conscious.”
“Where will wego?”
“Who can wetrust?”
Zilka shook asthe crowd grew louder and frenzied.
Ljatif raisedhis arms and patted his palms downward, encouraging them to quietdown. “All good questions my people, all good questions. Ourcouncil will discuss this matter. Right now everyone should go backto their vardos and pack your belongings. What you don’t need youmust leave behind. Our wagons must be as light as we can makethem.”
“We cannot justleave our beloved possessions behind,” Johann cried out.
“My dear Mrs.Debarre, would you rather have your children to your breast or yourbelongings? It is that simple, my people. We are at a crossroads ofdecisions. I do not want you to be wiped from this earth as Adamand Rosalia’s kumpania was. Hurry . . . hurry and prepare foranother lungo drom.”
People rushedaway in every direction. Zilka allowed her sisters to each take ahand and guide her back to their vardo. “Will the SS men find usand make papa hang us?” Her voice choked back with fear.
“No, schej, wewill not let that happen to you. Papa won’t let anything happen tous.”
“Girls, comeinside. Papa and I must talk to you quickly.”
Zilka glancedat Vanya, then Mayla. She didn’t miss the uneasiness and sadness intheir posture. “I’m not going to be a gadze’.”
“Shhh.” Maylapatted Zilka’s shoulder.
She sat on ablanket between her sisters. Never had there been such tensionbetween her parents. Papa glanced around the small area, carefulnot to look them in the eyes. He washed his hand in the male washbowl, careful not to drip water into the female or vegetable andfruit rinsing basins. Mama handed him a towel, then fussed with hercoin necklace as she always did when uncomfortable.
“Mama and Ihave been discussing what we should do. Our shero rom must protectthe kumpania as is his responsibility. My responsibility is with myfamily, all of you. What is happening around us is serious. Wecan’t afford to make any wrong decisions. I must decide what isbest for each of you. It is my decision you girls will go with yourmama to Switzerland and –“
“I will not go!I will not leave jamaro kher. I will not leave you papa,” Zilkastood and clenched her fists to her sides. “I wish to stay andmarry Petre Sidako.”
“It is not yourdecision!” Bjram Sucuri glanced down at his feet.
“Zilka, youwill be safe with your grandmother. Papa will come and get us afterthe danger has passed. We will return to the kumpania after thewar.”
Vanya stood,remaining silent for a short time. “I do not wish to go toSwitzerland with mama. I will not stay with the kumpania either. I. . . I am going to marry Vilas Kochanowski and—“
“You will do nosuch thing!” Elise shouted.
“Mama, we arein love and—“
“He ispartisan,” Bjram said. “Everyone in the kumpania knows this. I willnot have my daughter running the countryside with a rifle andkilling Germans. You will go with your mama. All of you will.”
“I will not!”Vanya ran from the wagon.
Zilka turned tofollow but Mayla grabbed her wrist and pulled her onto her lap,holding her tight as she fought to get free. “Let me go. I want togo with her.”
“No, Schej. Youmust stay here. She needs time alone to think.” Mayla wiped awaythe tears that streamed down her face.
“Mayla, goafter your sister and make her come back. You two should not beseparated.” Bajram pulled Elise into his side. “I am losing controlof my family. Mama, find Vanya and take her with you. I cannotallow her to—“
“Papa, she justneeds some time alone. She will come back like she always does. Wedon’t want to leave you and go with mama. But we will. Zilka isGypsy in heart. She will not be happy being a bareforytka.”
“You won’t bebig-town Gypsies if you go to your grandmother’s house to live,”Elise smoothed the front of her dress. “You will be Aryan. You willhave to forget you have Gypsy blood. You will all go with me.”
“I’ll not go,mama. I could not live anything but the Gypsy way. I would ratherdie as a jenische than to live a gadze.’ I will stay with papa. Wemust not all desert him.” Zilka stood, feet spread and placed herhands on her hips. “You cannot force me to leave the kumpania.”
“Zilka, youmust stop this stubborn nonsense. It is for your own good.” Elisepressed her palms upward in exasperation.
“Mama, I loveyou. But if you force me to go with you I will only get youarrested. I will not dress or act gadze.”
“Mama, Zilkahas always been more Gypsy than the twins. She will be fine withme. We will take care of each other. Won’t we, Schej?”
Zilka drew in along breath and ran into the arms of her papa. He held her close tohis heart and she closed her eyes. She was staying. What would lifebe without mama and her sisters? She didn’t want to think aboutit.
Chapter Two
Zilka rolledonto her back and stared up at the stars. “You won’t see anythinglike this in Switzerland.”
“Of course wewill, Schej. It will be the same stars and we will be thinking ofyou,” Mayla said.
“Exactly,”Vanya added. “We will be wondering if you’re staring up at the skyjust like we are.
“I can’timagine what it will be like . . . not to . . . be safe between youtwo. I don’t want you to go. Why can we stay and mama can go tograndmothers?” Zilka choked back the emotions that built.
“Mama can’t goalone. Besides, she is only going to save us. If we stay then shewill also have to stay. That saves no one in our family. We willall be arrested and—“
“Vanya, pleasesay no more. It’s best not to upset Zilka more than she is. Schej,you belong here at the kumpania. You must take care of papa. Ifthere is danger, you must promise you’ll hide. You must do whateveryou can to survive.” Mayla sat and pulled her shawl tight aroundher shoulders.
“I promise.What if I never see you again? I can’t bear to see you both leave.I don’t want mama to go either. She shouldn’t be doing this. Sheshould keep us together. She is wrong in this decision.” Zilka satand leaned into Mayla.
“I’m not goingwith mama,” Vanya blurted out.
“You’re stayingwith papa and me! Oh, I’m so relieved and happy.” Zilka clapped herhands together.
“You’re notcoming with me? We’ve never been apart. You must come with mama andme. I . . . we must stay together. Why have you decided to staywith papa?”
“I’m not . . .I . . . I’m running away with Vilas.” Vanya sat and faced hersisters.
“I’m tellingyou now because I need to say goodbye. I couldn’t just sneak outwithout telling you why I left.”
“You can’tleave,” Mayla shouted. “I will tell mama and papa before you runoff. I won’t let you do this.”
Zilka grabbedVanya’s hand. “Where are you going? Why would you not go with mamaand Mayla or stay with papa and me? I don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry,Schej. I’m sorry Mayla. This hasn’t been an easy decision. I can’ttell Vilas goodbye. We’re in love. He’s leaving in the morning withthe partisans. I’m going with him.”
“Vanya, youcan’t possibly want to be a partisan. Could you carry a gun andkill Germans? Live in the woods with a bunch of people you don’tknow? What are you thinking?” Mayla stood and paced back andforth.
“You don’tunderstand. You don’t even like Vilas.”
“That’s nottrue. I do like him. You two are great together. I don’t like himtaking you away from me. Ask him to wait for you . . . and if heloves you he will agree. After the war is over—“
“We can’t waitthat long to be together. I need your blessing, Mayla. I have giventhis a lot of thought. Now that mama wants us to go to Switzerland. . . well, I can’t go with you. I must follow my heart.”
“Mama will bedevastated . . . I must go with her. Deep in my soul I know it’sthe right thing to do.”
“Vanya, youwant to follow your heart. Mayla you talk about what you feel inyour soul. Well I feel a need to protect my spirit. This is notgood,” Zilka said. “Our family is breaking apart.”
“Maybe we arejust growing up and choosing our own roads to travel,” Vanyasaid.
“We each mustchoose our own lungo drom,” Mayla nodded.
“I’m the onlyone willing to keep on the Gypsy long road. I believed we’d alwaysbe together. Why is it so wrong to be Gypsy,” Zilka cried into herhands. She clung to her sisters as they sandwiched her between themin a loving hug.
“You girls mustcome inside now,” Elise called out to them.
“Can we sleepunder the stars tonight, mama?” Vanya asked.
“Please, wewon’t get to sleep outside like this once we are in Switzerland.Please, mama,” Mayla pleaded.
“If we get coldwe’ll come inside,” Zilka added.
“Alright. Butdon’t be up all night giggling and keeping others awake. If it getscold you be sure to come inside so you don’t get sick.”
“Thank you,mama.” They sang in unison.
“You didn’thave to help me, but I’m glad you did,” Vanya whispered.
“We’re sisters,we . . . need to . . . “ Mayla dropped to the blanket and smotheredher tears into her pillow.
“Please, don’tcry.” Vanya leaned into her sister and rubbed her shoulder. “Weknew this day would come sometime.”
“We must make apact.” Zilka maneuvered between them.
“What do youmean?” Mayla asked.
“You know . . .an agreement to meet after the war so we know where to find eachother.” Zilka looked at Mayla, then back at Vanya.
“That’s veryclever, Schej. Since Switzerland is neutral, as mama calls it, weshould meet at Grandmother’s chalet.” Mayla rubbed her palms acrossher wet cheeks.
“I don’t thinkGrandmother would appreciate papa and me driving up to her fancykher with our vardo. Do you?” Zilka giggled into her hands.
“Maybe not, butI don’t think there is any other place we could meet. If any of usare in trouble we must get word to mama. I think this is a goodplan,” Vanya said.
Zilka foughtback the tears that threatened to surface. “We all know the addressand how to get there. Mama has talked about it ever since I canremember. I think she is happy to be going back. I’m angry ather.”
“Don’t be,Schej. She is trying to keep us safe. We can’t be angry with herfor missing her grandmother,” Mayla said.
“Do you thinkshe is a Nazi?” Vanya asked.
“Bite yourtongue, Vanya! You are already thinking like a partisan.” Maylapulled the covers up under her neck. “When are you leaving?”
Silencesurrounded them. “Shortly after papa turns out the wagon lights,”Vanya finally answered.
“Papa will beangry and mama will be hurt,” Mayla said.
“I told mama Iloved her and hugged her earlier. It was my goodbye, she justdidn’t know it. Papa talked to me about doing the right thing andmaking the right decision for me. I thanked him and we hugged agood long time. He will understand and mama will not.”

* * *
“Gone? What doyou mean she’s gone?” Bajram Sucuri shouted.
“Gone. Vanyaran off with Vilas Kochanowski.”
“When. What I’dlike to know now is when did she run off with this tshor?”
“Papa, that’snot nice. Vilas is a good man and they are in love.” Mayla trembledas she always did when he was this angry. “He is not a thief. Vanyawent with him freely.”
“He isn’t manenough to come and ask if he can marry my daughter and you think heis good. He is a dilo if he thinks he will ever win my approvalnow. Go after your sister and bring her back here.”
“I could notfind her if I wanted to. She was packed and rode off to meet Vilasshortly after your wagon lights went out. They—”
“You knew thisand did not come tell us? Why? She left you and you let her? Twinsshould not be separated.”
“Papa, she hadto choose her way as I must choose mine. I don’t like her choice,but I have to respect it. You taught us that. You told her justyesterday that she must always follow her heart.”
“We must gofind her, Bajram. She must come with Mayla and me to Switzerland.”Elise wrung her hands together.
“This Vilas isa farmer? A business man in a town? What? Tell me he’s more thanjust a partisan.” Bajram tossed his jacket across the room.
Zilka crossedher legs beneath her long skirt. “He’s just a partisan, papa. Hekills Nazi pigs. I wish they had taken me with them. I’d like tohang their wives and daughters—“
“You stop thatthis minute, Zilka Sucuri,” Elise rushed across the wagon andkneeled next to her daughter. “Talk like that will get you killed.You must hold your tongue.” She looked over at Bajram. “She mustcome to Switzerland with me. Surely you must see what all thisviolence is doing to our daughter. I thought maybe staying herewith you was her destiny. Now, I cannot agree. Before you know itshe will be picking up a rifle and running off to kill someGermans. What will you do then?” Elise shook her head and closedher eyes.
“No! I willpromise not to run off. I will do as papa says. I will never go toSwitzerland until . . . after the war.” Zilka glanced quickly atMayla and smiled.
“Zilka willremain with me,” Bajram said. “She does not belong among the gadze’and we both know it. No amount of crying or pleading will change mymind. You have one daughter to take with you. Be happy you havethat.”
“Bajram, I amnot doing this for me. I want to protect my daughters from theNazis. There is one way . . . and only one way I can do this. Ifyou keep Zilka and she is killed by the Germans, I’ll never forgiveyou. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, wife, Ihear you. She will die if I let her go with you. Better you hate meif something happens, than I lose all three of you because weforced her to go. I will not discuss this again. You will pack andbe on your way after our noon meal.” Bajram stomped out of thewagon.
“Mama, youshould not go,” Zilka said. “You are breaking up our family. Thisis not right. Papa is a Gypsy. He is proud to be a Gypsy. You arerunning back to your grandmother and pretending you have nothing todo with the Roma. I think you are ashamed of us.”
The sting ofher mother’s palm across Zilka’s cheek shocked her. Mama had neverlaid a hand on her until now. Tears immediately surfaced.
“Mama, howcould you?” Mayla shouted and pulled Zilka to her chest.
“I’m sorry,baby. I didn’t mean . . . come to me.” Elise opened her arms. Hermany gold coin bracelets clinked together.
Zilka clung toMayla and shook her head. “Go to Switzerland. I never want to seeyou again.” She pulled from Mayla’s embrace and ran from the vardo.Blindly she raced from camp, heading toward the pond.
Zilka heardMayla, but continued running. The sting of her mother’s slap hurtmore than the sting. Keeping on the path, she headed for theshoreline. Overcome by it all, Zilka sat facing the water. A familyof ducks glided across the water in effortless motion.
“Must youalways run so fast?” Mayla asked, gasping for air.
“Let her go.Stay with papa and me.”
“I wish Icould. It just wouldn’t be right. If I don’t go with mama, I’ll gochasing after Vanya. I don’t think that is the life for me. Theonly choice I have then is Switzerland. Besides, we must have aplace we can keep in touch. Mama taught us to write and you mustsend me a post now and then so I know how you two are doing. Justdon’t let papa see you writing.”
“Mayla, why arethe Nazis trying to kill us? What have we done to them? Why arethey killing Jews? I keep asking myself these questions . . . and Ican’t make any sense of it.”
“I don’t know,Schej. I don’t think there is an answer.”
“Petre’ told mehis brother was in Poland and saw a train had stopped for water.Cattle car after cattle car had a yellow Jew star painted on it.People were reaching their arms out between the bars. He heard themcrying and begging for water. They were holding their babies to theopenings so they could get some fresh air. Petre’ cried. Is thatwhat they are doing to Gypsies?”
“I don’tknow.”
“It scares me.I dream about those babies trying to get fresh air. I don’tunderstand what is going on.”
“Zilka, I knowyou are Gypsy in spirit but maybe you should come with mama and me.I can’t stand to be away from Vanya and now to not have you either. . . I don’t know if I can survive without my sisters. Come withus and I promise I’ll do anything to make you happy.”
“I wish Icould, Mayla. Leaving the kumpania is the greatest fear of all.It’s a part of me. The people . . . the singing . . . the dancing .. . the freedom . . . the traveling . . . I would die if Ileft.”
“I know, Schej.I know. We will be together again . . . I just know it. You, Vanyaand me. When that day comes, we will never be apart again.”
* * *
Sulking, Zilkaleaned against Mayla outside in the front door in the entry seatingarea of the vardo. Mayla had already finished her packing.
“The kumpaniathinks I am divorcing you. Did you tell them that?” Elise tossedanother skirt into the suitcase, then took it out and tossed it ina corner with the others.
“You know howit is. They believe if you leave and take my daughter with you thatmeans you are cutting the ties that bind us. I have explained tothe Shero Rom how it is with us. He does not understand. I am tiredof explaining it.”
“You think Ishould stay?”
“We are nolonger discussing. You and Mayla are leaving for Switzerland andthat is final. Finish your packing. I have struck a bargain withMilan Brajdich for a small cart and one horse.”
“What kind ofbargain?”
“His son,Polde, is going to take you to your destination and return.”
“What did youhave to pay him for that?” Elise asked.
“My father’swatch.”
“No. I will nothave you do that. Offer him my pearls. I fear they will only bestolen from me if I take them . . . and I could not imagine leavingthem behind.”
Zilka wanted toshut out their conversation, but couldn’t. Mama was leaving andtaking Mayla with her. It was all a bad dream.
“Do you likeyour clothes? You look like a gadze’ without even trying. I’m gladyou still braid your hair down your back.”
“Mama wanted meto let it flow free. I’m too old for my mother to tell me how towear my hair.” Mayla twirled Zilka’s long hair on her finger.
“I miss Vanya.Once you leave I’ll be all alone. I hate mama for doing this.”Zilka buried her face into Mayla’s shoulder and cried.
“Don’t blamemama, Schej. And you should stop crying. You are not a babyanymore. You must grow up fast. Petre’ won’t want a wife that criesfor her sisters and mama.”
“I’m not cryingfor mama. I’ll miss her . . . but I won’t cry for her. She isn’tgoing to save us girls. She’s leaving because she’s too scared ofdying with the Gypsies. She is Arian and knows she’ll be safe withgrandmother. She is taking you as an excuse.” Zilka sat back andlooked at Mayla.
“I know. Butyou can’t blame her for being afraid. Everyone is frightened. Iwould rather be shot than to be hung by the neck.”
“Mayla, how canyou talk of such a thing?” Zilka swallowed hard.
“It’s true. I’mafraid like mama . . . that’s the real reason I’m going withher.”
“I don’t hateyou for it, Mayla. I could never hate you. I don’t hate mamaeither. I’m just angry she is leaving.”
“I know, Schej.I know. Things are changing for our kumpania. Everyone is afraid. Iheard the men talking they are moving the camp tomorrow.”
“Petre’ saidour travel papers are in order only until the end of next month.They do not know what they will do then. There is more talk aboutGypsies being sent to a place called Auschwitz, near Cracow. Theyare killing Jews by the thousands.”
“You should notbe talking of such things. You are much too young to be talking ofdeath camps.” Mayla pulled Zilka against her.
“I am a womannow. I’m fourteen and old enough to marry. I’m also old enough totalk about the fate of my people.”
“Yes, Schej,that you are. When I leave with mama you will be free to marryPetre’ and set up your own vardo.”
“I will notleave papa. We will wait.”
“So you havetalked about marriage with Petre’?”
Zilka giggledinto her palm. “You tricked me, sister. Yes, we love each other. Wehave loved each other since we were born. He has been my bestfriend my whole life. Papa has other ideas but we won’t let himchoose anyone else for me to marry or I will not marry.”
“I see. I wouldlike to be at your abiav.”
Zilka laughedas color rushed up her cheeks. “If we are on the road there won’tbe much of a wedding feast for you to attend. I want you and Vanyato wish me baxt on my special day. I’m not sure that will everhappen now.”
“Girls, it’stime to hug goodbye,” Elise called out to them. “Zilka, I know youare angry with me. I wish it were not so. One day you might find itin your heart to forgive me for this decision. Until then know Ilove you.”
“Shero Rom . .. Shero Rom . . .” A rider shouted, racing through the camp onhorseback.
“What ishappening?” Bajram hurried past the women.
Elise chasedafter him, running to keep up. Zilka grabbed Mayla’s hand andfollowed. This was serious. No one raced through a Gypsy camp withsuch disregard unless it was bad news.
“Shero Rom, Imust have audience,” Pirvan Regalie shouted outside the Shero Rom’svardo.
Pirvan clutchedhis left arm and blood dripped from his fingertips. Zilka gasped.Several men reached up and helped him to the ground. His eyes wereswollen and he had several cuts on his face.
“What happenedto you? Where is your family?”
“The Germansattacked our wagons. I was down by the riverbank because my stomachwas turning upside down. I heard the women screaming and childrencrying. Then there was gunfire. I ran to them and fire struck myarm. I fell down the hill.”
“They thought Iwas dead. I wanted to go to them but I caught my father’s attentionand he shook his head. He wanted me to warn you . . . and not getcaught. I’m sure of it.”
“Did they killthem?
“No, that iswhat I expected. But instead they told my father they were beingtaken to a Gypsy family camp in Auschwitz.”
“A work camp ora death camp?” The Shero Rom asked.
"A soldier saidnothing would happen to them . . . for now. But the SS man incharge said they were like the Jews. They were nonpersons, offoreign blood, and labor-shy. And soon Germay would be free of suchasocials. I should have gone with them.”
“No, you didthe right thing, Pirvan. You will join my family,” Ljatif offered.“We will have a meeting of the council and make a plan. No more ofour people must be taken to Auschwitz. Now everyone go back to yourvardos and get ready. We set out on the lungo drom and pray we willbe protected. We will not sit and wait like sheep ready for theslaughter.”
“Where will wego? There Germans are everywhere,” Bajram asked.
“Why are thosegadze’ from your vardo still with us?”
“They will tellthe Germans where our camp is,” a woman shouted out.
Elise steppedforward. “You all know me. I am wife to Gypsy Bajram Sucuri. Youall have been my friends. I’ve tended many of you when you or yourfamily had been ill. I only wish to protect my daughter . . . andyou turn your back on me. I would not do so to you.”
“Go, take yourjenische daughter with you.”
Zilka ran up toher mother. “I am also her daughter. I am Gypsy,” she raised herchin with pride. “I would ask you wish them well on their journey .. . in the Gypsy spirit. We are a loving people. Don’t let theNazis make us turn on each other. Don’t let them put hatred in ourhearts where there has always been love and happiness.”
“This child hasmore wisdom than all of us,” Ljatif said. “We are wrong in showinghatred to one of our own. Elise Backer Sucuri has been a valuedmember of our kumpania. She saved my daughter, Hasani, whenchildbirth nearly took her life. It does not feel right to turn myback on this woman.”
“Thank you,Shero Rom,” Elise said. Mayla and I are now leaving. I am notdivorcing my Gypsy husband, Bajram. We will return . . . after thewar.”
“Why leave? Whydesert your husband? You are married to a Gypsy. Your children areGypsy. Then die like a Gypsy with your people. You leave and youdenounce this kumpania.” Dushano Dimitraskcu moved to the front ofthe group.
“It is so.Bajram and Zilka Sucuri will be welcome to stay. We will neverwelcome you back, Elise.”
“You are abitter woman, Jean Stenegry. You wanted my Bjram since you were alittle girl. He chose me and you have been itching to get even withme ever since. Now is your big chance. I see you have wasted notime in pushing me out of the kumpania.”
“You don’t needpushing . . . you are running away of your own making. You havealways thought you were better than us pure Gypsy women. Youpretend to be Gypsy, but always your white gadze’ skin reminds usof who you truly are.”
“That is true,look at you and Mayla. No one would know either of you are Gypsy.Go, run to safety. We no longer wish to have you among us.”
Zilka glancedaround at the those she called her people. They were turning bitterand angry. She swallowed hard. Mama and Mayla did look gadze’ . . .had she not said it herself? They had turned away from the kumpania. . . and papa and her. Zilka ran from the crowd, pushing her waythrough them, tears blinding her as she fled.
“Schez, pleasewait for me,” Mayla shouted.
Zilka ran intothe vardo and slammed the door. She tossed herself onto hersleeping mat and cried. Why couldn’t mama and Mayla have leftbefore publicly embarrassing her and papa?
“I’m so sorry,Zilka. I’ll stay if you truly want me to.” Mayla pulled her ontoher lap and rocked her like a child.
“I want you tostay but . . . you must go now. No one will ever treat you the sameagain. Mama humiliated papa with her accusations. When he walkedaway . . . he divorced her . . . didn’t he?”
“I think hedid. I don’t blame him, Zilka.”
“Mayla, we areleaving now.”
“Will you tellmama goodbye?” Mayla asked.
Zilka clung toher sister. She kissed her right cheek, then her left. I love you.I will try to write . . . and one day we will be together. I knowit.”
“I know it,too. Bye little Gypsy. I love you.”
Zilka huggedher sister . . . knowing it would be a long time before they wouldsee each other again.
“Mayla, wecannot wait a moment longer. Zilka, would you give me a huggoodbye?”
Zilka stood andbacked away from the door. “Stay . . . and papa and I will take youback. Leave and you are dead to us both.”
“That is notfair and you know it. I’m doing this to—“
“Don’t lie,mama. You are doing this because you cannot face dying at the handsof the Nazis. You are gadze’ and you don’t want to be caught in thecamp of the Gypsies. Go. Be safe. I forgive you. Take care ofMayla. Make sure she marries a gadze’ . . . maybe a Nazi officerwould be a good choice. For sure you won’t end up inAuschwitz—“
“Zilka, do nottalk to your mama in that tone,” Bajram Sucuri said in a deep,nearly hushed tone.
“Papa, you cameback.”
“I must saygoodbye to your mother for the last time. I have a daughter to hugand . . . “ His voice cracked and he swallowed his emotions.
“Bajram . . .I’m—“
“There isnothing left to say between us, Elise. You have made your choice .. . and I have made mine. God go with you.”
“May I hug youone last time?” Elise asked.
“We have huggedfor the last time,” Bajram said, moving toward Mayla. “Daughter, Ipray the day will come that I can hold you in my arms again. I wishto see you, Vanya and Zilka together . . . laughing . . .sharing—“
“Papa, I loveyou. I want to stay . . . but I must go. Take care of Zilka and shewill take care of you. I love you both,” Mayla cried into hischest. “I will never forget my Gypsy soul.”
Zilka movedbetween them and hugged them both, then broke free and ran. Shefollowed the trail out of camp and to the pond. This time shedidn’t hear Mayla call after her. She heard no footsteps following.She was alone . . . the twins had separated and they no longerformed a bond to protect her.
“Petre’ . . .oh, Petre’ . . . I am so alone,” Zilka cried.
“No, I am herefor you. As long as I breathe, you are not alone.”
“Where have youbeen? I haven’t seen you in days. Did you hear . . . see . . . mymama made a fool of us?”
“No, she didnot make a fool of anyone. She was right. You should have gone withher. My mother said she would have done the same thing for us ifshe was Arian. Parents do what they can to protect theirchildren.”
“Petre’ she ranaway because she was afraid. She didn’t do it for Mayla . . . Vanyaor me. I know she didn’t. She would have gone even if Mayla choseto stay. That is why I’m so angry with her.”
“Can you blameher? Everyone is afraid. I’m afraid.” Petre’ skipped a stone acrossthe water.
“I would ratherbe afraid and shot by the SS with my family than to run out onthem. I would shout I’m a Gypsy from the mountain top beforeturning into a gadze.”
“That is what Ilove most about you, Zilka. Your Gypsy spirit gives us allhope.”
Zilka reachedup and slowly pulled Petre’s face closer and closer to her. Sheleaned up and brushed her lips across his. They were warm and softand she gasped. She had never kissed him before. He pulled her intothis chest and she searched his eyes. She read the deep emotion hefelt in his heart for her.
“We shouldnot—“
She pressed herlips to his . . . silencing his words. He kissed her back, deep anddemanding. “I—“
“Zilka Sucuri,step back from Petre’ this minute. Your mama might be gone, but Iam still here to watch over you.”
“Papa, you knowPetre’ and I—“
“Silence.Nothing will happen with Petre’ Sidako until I say so. Too much hashappened this day for me to even give this some thought.”
“Papa, you havegiven this much thought already. So—“
“Zilka –silence! Go back to the vardo and make us a meal. Petre’ you willsteer clear of my Zilka until I say otherwise.”
“But, sir, we .. . we love each other. We have been friends always. She is myspirit.”
“Save yourfancy words for the ladies. I have a daughter to protect and thatis what I intend to do. Stay your distance or . . . I’ll be forcedto talk with the Shero Rom.”
“But why? Iwill not take her from the kumpania. We will stay—“
“I will notdiscuss this with you. We have more pressing issues facing us. Onceit’s dark we will be leaving this camp. I cannot be worrying aboutyou stealing Zilka and running off.”
“I would neverdo that, Bajram.”
“Vanya did.Mayla and her mama did. I cannot lose the only member of my familyleft. We won’t discuss this further until . . . I’m ready.”
“Yes, Bajram. Ido understand. If I promise to speak no more of love and marriage,may I stay friends with Zilka? She needs a friend right now.”
“Please, papa.I promise not to kiss him again. Please, papa. I need hisfriendship . . . if nothing else.”
“Do . . . do Ihave your word? Both of you . . . your word . . . you won’t run offand . . . leave?”
“I promise,papa.” Zilka hugged him to her.
“I promise,too, Bajram.”
“Then I giveyou my permission for you two to remain friends. I see anythingelse happening and you won’t be allowed to talk to each other. Do Imake myself clear?”
“Yes, papa.Thank you.”
“Gestena,”Petre’s said, stepping back from Zilka.
“We must keepas quiet as possible. Wagons travel in a single file and leave somedistance between your neighbor’s vardo. We will meet on the otherside of Lvov.” The Shero Rom adjusted his hat on his head todismiss the group.
“That is tooclose to the Lwowskie Ghetto,” Bajram said, pulling Zilka againsthim.
“I agree. Thereare thousands of Jews detained there after the joint Nazi-Sovietinvasion of Poland.”
“It must behome to over two hundred thousand Jews.” Seppel Debarre’s tonetensed.
Zilka clung toher papa, trembling as the men shouted out their concerns.
“Listen to me,”Ljatif raised his arms and lowered them for silence. “Please . . .listen to me. I would not lead us into a concentration camp. Iheard some time ago that the ghetto was closed.”
“What does thatmean – closed?”
Seppel Debarrestood next to the Shero Rom. “The Germans liquidated theinhabitants of the Lwowskie Ghetto in June. That’s two months ago.They won’t be watching for us there.”
“That is whatthe Germans are calling it when . . . when the survivors are sentto their deaths in cattle trucks to Bełżec extermination camps orthe Janowska concentration camp.”
“How do youknow this? They can’t be killing people like this and getting awaywith it. Surely someone must be trying to stop the murder of theseJews . . . and Gypsies.”
“What have wedone to be killed? We are Aryans.”
“We areGermans. That doesn’t matter. They are killing Gypsies atBełżec.”
“Please . . .please . . . “ Ljatif raised his Shero Rom stick. “I do not havethe answers you are seeking. We don’t have time to question why . .. we must escape the arms of the Germans. We must hide so theydon’t shoot us . . . or hang us. I want us to live so we can bewitness to what we have seen.”
“No one willbelieve us.”
“We will makethem believe. Stop stalling and get those vardos moving,” Ljatifturned and headed toward his horse.
“Are the travelpapers in order?” Seppel asked.
“They are goodfor two more months. Then, I don’t know what we’ll do. We won’tworry about it now.”
“We must takethe canvas covers off our carts. We must get rid of our Gypsy dressand trim our hair. We must break the caravan up into small groupsof two or three wagons, so if the Germans see us they will think weare peasants going to market or riding home.”
“That is a goodidea, Seppel. That is what we will do,” Ljatif said withexcitement. “Everyone, tear the frames from your wagons and removethe canvas covers. Do away with the Gypsy dress . . . we are Polishpeasants on the outside. We will remain Gypsy in the inside.”
Zilka glancedup at papa. “Should we have gone with mama?”
“No, mydaughter. I would rather die a Gypsy than live as a forytka.”
“Even the townGypsies are being arrested. Petre’ told me so.”
“I think Petre’tells you too much.”
Zilka grabbedher father’s hand and headed toward their vardo. “At least he talksto me like an adult. You treat me like I’m only five. I’m not alittle girl anymore, papa.”
“To me you willalways be a little girl,” Bajram said. “Ride inside and try to getsome sleep. If you want to be treated as a big girl, then you willtake over when I am too tired.”
“Yes, papa, Iwould like that very much.” Zilka settled on her sleeping mat,missing the security of Mayla on one side and Vanya on the other.She wondered what Vanya and Vilas were doing. She worried aboutMayla and mama traveling to Switzerland. There was no way offinding out if they were safe . . . until Pirvan returned.
* * *
Distant gunfire brought Zilka to a startling awakening. She ran to the doorand held on as her father led their vardo off the road and into thewoods as far as it would go.
“Papa, what ishappening?” she asked, jumping down the last step and helping himsettle the horse. She rubbed Kanny’s nose.
“He’s living upto his name once again,” Bajram chuckled.
“You shouldn’thave let me call him chicken. I don’t think he likes it.” Zilkaunhooked the bite and gently rubbed his long nose with her palm.“You’re a very brave Kanny,” she cooed by his ear.
“You stay hereand keep Kanny quiet. I’ll be back as soon as I find out what isgoing on. You want me to send someone to stay with you?”
“Papa, I amfine. Go . . . and stop—“
“I know,treating you like a five-year-old. It isn’t easy for a father.”
Zilka drew inan unsteady breath. She wasn’t as brave and grown-up as she wantedher father to think. She shook beneath her long skirt. She rubbedKanny’s nose more to soothe herself than him. She heard men talkingsome distance away. Another shot rang out. Zilka jumped andstrained to see in the dark.
“Zilka . . .you there?”
“Petre’ is thatyou?” She hoped it was.
“Since mybrother could stay with my family, your father sent me back to helpyou. Are you okay?”
“Like I toldpapa, I’m not a child. Of course I’m okay.” She hoped he couldn’thear the quiver in her voice.
He slid upbehind her and kissed the back of her neck. “You sure you’reokay?”
“Stop it,Petre’! If papa sees you . . . I don’t want . . .” His kisssmothered her words.
He jumped backand stood on the other side of Kanny. “I won’t let him see me. Tellme you didn’t enjoy it.”
“You’re verybad.”
“I happen tothink I’m very kushti!”
Zilka laughed.“You have a high estimate of your worth. I wish papa would come andtells us—“
“I’m here. It’sgood to see you two are behaving.”
“Of course weare, papa. What is happening? Who is shooting?” Zilka waited.
“A plane wasshot down. Germans are looking for the pilot.”
“Really?” Zilkalooked at him with amazement. “Did they catch him?”
“No . . .Petre’ come over here and help me.”
Zilka firstnoticed her father nearly dragged a young man dressed like agadje’. “Is this the pilot, papa? What country is he from?”
“By the looksof his uniform, he’s an American.”
“You shouldn’thave helped him. You’ll bring the Germans to our kumpania. Theyfind him among us and we’ll all be killed.

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