Her youngest brother, the former Jacob Baecker, now Hebraicized to Ya'akov Barak (his chosen surname, the Hebrew word for "lightning") has always been quite the romantic as well as a Zionist, neither of which Friedl would ever be described as being. Given their secular upbringing, their parents' essential Germanness rather than Jewishness, her brother's longing for Zion, and his actual move there as an adolescent pioneer, surprised them all. However prescient she now believes her brother to be, at the time, she thought him daft to leave behind the comforts and excitement of Berlin for the hardships and uncertainty of the Levant.
Friedl might not be a romantic, but she's known her share of romance. In her youth, the former Frieda Baecker was considered a heartbreaker, though she felt fortunate to have met her Albert before her reputation as a woman of mystery had become one of disrepute, which it might have, had other, overly ardent suitors prevailed. She had always liked jaunty hats and well-made clothes that showed her shapely figure, been just a bit vain of her oft-praised milky complexion, blue-black curls and pretty hands. At her debut solo concert at seventeen, the critics used substantially more ink exclaiming the virtues of "Fraulein Baecker's scandalous figure" and "regal profile" than on her playing, though that too garnered praise.
As Friedl passes the looking glass in what will soon no longer be Johann's room, she is startled by what she sees: the gray hair around her hairline frizzed and unkempt, the lips nearly bloodless without a trace of lipstick. She looks like a tired middle-aged woman, which indeed she is, and not at all the way she wants her son to remember her.
Albert will be home soon, and after dinner, together, they will break the news to Johann: Tomorrow, Johann will be on his way to London. Before she goes downstairs, she must be sure to comb her hair, apply a bit of color to her lips and cheeks. She wants Johann to remember her poised and smiling. She wants Johann's last day with them to be a good one, not out of the ordinary, but a calm, happy everyday kind of day, the kind of day he will look back on and feel safe remembering. After what he almost saw in the park a week earlier, that gang of Brownshirts descending upon an elderly couple, she knows the time has come. Even though Johann only glimpsed a moment of what ensued, and heard less (thank goodness she kept her wits about her and quickly pressed the boy's face into her coat, covered his ears with her hands) he trembled all the way home, despite the promise of his favorite cake, Käsetorte mit Sauerkirschen.
The next day, Johann asked her whether the youths in the park had "hurt those people because they were old." She'd had to turn away before answering. "No liebchen," she told him, trying to keep her voice steady. "Not because of their age, but because they were Jews." Later, Albert told her that Johann said that he didn't think they should be Jews anymore. "It's not good for the health," he'd said, to which Albert answered that he supposed that at present, that might seem true, but that being Jewish was a blessing nonetheless.
Friedl Lerner is a woman who can count the number of times she has prayed in her life on one hand. Until recently, she considered religion as a whole and Judaism in particular to be rather backward. Music has been her form of prayer, the concert hall her cathedral. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler—these have been her prophets. Still, she prays now, not in Hebrew nor with any knowledge of the liturgy, but with eyes closed and quietly, under her breath, hands resting on the small green suitcase she will send, along with her boy, to a faraway place she's never been. She does not kneel, knowing this much: Jews do not kneel, and prays that her child will live.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers