TENTS OF WHEAT

A Jewish woman and her seven year old son are walking in sun drenched fields of wheat, barley, and oats in amber hues. Polish soil certified cleansed of Jews. In September 1944 fuel is scarce. Harvesting is done as it was a hundred years ago. Men swing scythes, women and youngsters gather tying stalks into bundles with rough rope. Leaned each against the other in a circle they form what Italians call a "cove." These tents of wheat will stand against an open sky until the sheaths are dry and thrashed to make the kernels fly.

Mother and son want to survive another day. Their plan is simple. They walk from village to village on dirt roads. To farmers, in good Polish dialect they explain German soldiers had forced them and other Poles off a train. Could they stay the night and rest? For this plan to work at twilight they beg. "We are hungry and tired," Mother says, "The next farm is far away."

This evening things do not go well. Surly and suspicious, the farmer's wife does not let them stay. Some Poles take pride in saying I can smell a Jew a mile away. Mother says, "Tonight we will sleep outside. Go ahead, pick a tent you like, I will put an extra bundle of wheat on your side. Don't forget to say the Shema, and don't worry dogs are silent now."

- Bernard Otterman