“Who are the people riding in rickshaws?”
“Oh, those are our rich folks. They probably are going to the Café Nowoczesna on Nowolipski Street. For the rich, life hasn’t changed that much. They have their cafés, restaurants, and theatres. If you have the money, you can escape from the reality of our situation here in the ghetto. I was invited once by an acquaintance of mine to the Café Nowoczesna. Not everyone can enter. The hefty doorman keeps out the undesirables. But once inside, I couldn’t believe my eyes. People were eating, laughing, and drinking like there was no tomorrow. Fancy foods were served—foods that one can only dream about—and waiters were busy pouring champagne and expensive liqueurs. The whole café was filled with smoke from imported cigarettes. The man at the piano was playing Chopin. I thought I had been transported to prewar Warsaw.”
“But how did they get such luxuries? It’s impossible to buy even beer in the city
even through the black market. And liqueurs—impossible. The only alcohol we can buy is vodka and of poor quality at that.”
“Money, dear lady, buys everything—except freedom. Most likely those luxuries were purchased directly from the Germans.”
We rode in silence. Szerynski spoke again.
“I don’t approve of such excesses, particularly when the rest of our population is
starving and dying like flies. But the status quo here in the ghetto may soon change. Rumors are flying that the Germans are building a work camp in the east. We have already released several hundred prisoners from the Pawiak prison to the Germans. They were sent to build this camp. We think that deportations to the camp will soon begin. I don’t know what to expect, but it certainly will change the habits of the rich folks around here.”
Again we rode in silence. I wondered what kind of a camp the Germans were building. A slave camp, no doubt, that would help Germany with its war effort. What would happen to the weak, who couldn’t work, or to the very young and the old? They would be left behind here in the ghetto to slowly starve to death. I gave a shudder at the thought.
Szrynski seemed like a conscientious sort of fellow. I wanted to find out more about him.
“What did you do before the war if you don’t mind me asking?” I said. I thought he might tell me to mind my own business, but he answered quite frankly.
“I was a fourth-year student in mathematics at the University of Warsaw. I wanted to become a teacher and teach math, get married, settle down, and live happily ever after. I’m joking of course. I was interested in teaching.”
“Did you frequent the Hole?”
“Why, yes.” His face brightened up. “Were you a student?”
“No, I was invited once by a friend of mine shortly after the occupation. You see, I arrived in Warsaw after war broke out.”