Me: That is a good looking apple!
Prodigal: Yes, I plan to enjoy it.
Me: I hope you enjoy this story about an apple too!
It is bitter cold on this dark, winter day in 1944. But it is no different than any other day in the Nazi concentration camp. Back and forth I pace, trying to keep my emaciated body warm. I am just a boy, and hungry. I have been hungry for longer than I want to remember. Edible food seems like a dream. Each day, as more of us disappear, the happy past seems also like a dream, and I sink deeper into despair.
Suddenly, I see something moving in the field beyond the camp’s two barbed wire fences. Families are working in the field; near the outer fence is a young girl. With an eye out for the guards, I hurry to the inside fence.
The girl stops working and looks at me with sad eyes-eyes that seem to say she understands. I ask, across twenty feet and two fences, if she has something to eat. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a red apple. A beautiful, shiny red apply. She looks to the left and to the right and then with a smile of triumph, throws the apple over the fences. I pick it up, holding it in trembling, frozen fingers, then run away as fast as I can. If the guards see us, we will both be shot.
The next day, I cannot help myself-I am drawn at the same time to that spot near the fences. Am I crazy for hoping she will come again? Of course. But in here, I cling to any tiny scrap of hope.
She comes. And again, she brings an apple, flinging it over the fences with that same sweet smile. This time I catch it and hold it up for her to see. Her eyes twinkle. And for the first time in so long, I feel my heart move with emotion.
For seven months we meet like this. Sometimes we exchange a few words. Sometimes, just an apple. But she is feeding more than my belly, this angel from heaven. She is feeding my soul. And somehow, I know I am feeding hers as well.
One day I hear frightening news: We are being shipped to another camp. The next day when I greet her, my heart is breaking. I can barely speak. “Do not bring me an apple tomorrow,” I say. “I am being sent to another camp. We will never see each other again.” Turning before I lose all control, I run away. I cannot bear to look back. If I did, I know she would see tears streaming down my face.
Months pass, and the nightmare continues. Only the memory of this girl sustains me. And then one day, just like that , the nightmare is over. The war has ended. Those of us still alive are freed. I have lost everything precious to me, including my family. But I still have the memory of the girl, a memory I carry in my heart as I move to American to start a new life.
The years go by. It is 1957. I live in New York City. A friend convinces me to go on a blind date with a lady friend of his. Reluctantly, I agree. But she is nice, this woman named Roma. And like me, she is an immigrant, so we have at least that in common.
“Where were you during the war? Roma asks me gently, in that delicate way immigrants ask one another such questions.
“I was in a concentration camp in Germany, “I reply.
Roma gets a faraway look in her eyes.
“What is it?” I ask.
“I am just thinking about something form my past, Herman,” Roma explains in a voice suddenly very soft. “You see, when I was a young girl, I lived near a concentration camp. There was a boy there, a prisoner, and for a long while, I used to visit him every day. I remember I used to bring him apples. I would throw the apple over the fence, and he would be so happy.”
Roma sighs heavily and continues. “It is hard to describe how we felt about each other–after all, we were so young, and we only exchanged a few words when we could–but I can tell you, there was much love there. I assume he was killed like so many others. But I cannot bear to think that, and so I try to remember him as he was for those months we were given together.”
With my heart pounding so hard I think it will explode, I look directly at Roma and ask, “And did that boy say to you one day, “Do not bring an apple tomorrow. I am being sent to another camp.?”
“Why, yes,” Roma responds, her voice trembling, “But Herman, how on earth could you possibly know that?”
I take her hands in mine and answer, “Because I was that young boy, Roma.”
For many moments, there is only silence. We cannot take our eyes from each other as we recognize the soul behind the eyes, the dear friend we once loved so much, whom we have never stopped loving.
Finally, I speak: “Roma, I was separated from you once, and I don’t ever want to be separated from you again. Now I am free, and I want to be together with you forever. Dear, will you marry me?”
I see that twinkle in her eye I used to see as Roma says, “Yes, I will marry you.” We embrace-the embrace we longed to share for so many months, but barbed wire came between us. Now, nothing ever will again.
the story of Herman and Roma Rosenblat
Be at peace with each other
Jennifer Van Allen