Anna Stein took her first breath on a makeshift bed in a crowded Warsaw Ghetto apartment in 1940. At the time, not even a year had passed since the Nazis took over Poland and mandated all Warsaw Jewish people to live within a small neighborhood confined by ten-foot walls. The Warsaw Ghetto, as it would come to be known. A space slightly more than a square mile that nearly half a million Jewish people called home.
Anna’s mother came into the ghetto pregnant. It had been an accident, though a welcome one in her eyes. Another child is always a blessing. People, however, encouraged her to have an abortion. “Absolutely not,” she curtly would reply, glaring at anyone with the gall to offer such advice. But she worried when alone; ghetto pregnancy realities were atop her mind as she watched people dying from disease and hunger.
Anna became the fourteenth person in the small two-bedroom apartment. The others took her in with some trepidation and hesitant joy. But Anna’s mother had a plan. Unbeknownst to most, Anna’s mother worked in the resistance. Now she coordinated with collaborators to smuggle her young daughter out of the ghetto. At two weeks old, a gentle-looking nurse with snow-white hair and many wrinkles carried Anna out of the ghetto in a lunch box. That would be the last time mother and daughter saw each other.
It was 1959 when Anna learned about her roots. Her parents shared the little they knew. Words came as blurry, bubbled thoughts. “We’re not your birth parents…you were born to a Jewish family in the Warsaw Ghetto…your birth name was Anna, family name is Stein…most of your family died in the Holocaust…but you have an older sister who people say survived…we think her name is Inna, but we don’t know where she is…likely in Israel.”
“We know how difficult hearing this must be for you,” her mother continued. “We’ve secured necessary visas, and arranged travel for us all to Israel. We want to try finding your sister together.”
That weekend, the family took a bus, then a train, and two plane rides later arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel. As they deplaned into fresh Israeli sunshine and warm air, Anna felt an unexpected sensation: this is home.
A gregarious, jovial Polish man served as their taxi driver from the airport. He came to Israel after the Holocaust. “The Nazis killed my whole family. Nothing was left for me in Europe,” he told them. “Now this is home. So many Jewish people came here after the war, starved and broken. Now we have a home with a purpose,” he continued. “I fought in the Independence War, fought again in ’56. Life is difficult here, but I also get to start my day with a coffee and a swim in the Mediterranean.”
The family listened to his stories some but couldn’t help their distraction, thinking of how to find Anna’s sister. Or if they would even be able to. Anna felt certain, “she must be here,” Anna kept saying.
For weeks they tried finding Anna’s sister without any success. There was no record of an Inna Stein, and all the people the family spoke with didn’t know. As they approached the end of their time in Israel, they went to dinner at a new friend’s home, someone they were introduced to by a friend from Poland. With them, they brought a bottle of wine.
“I’m sorry, I don’t drink wine. I don’t have a wine bottle opener. But go knock on a neighbor’s door. Someone should have one.”
“That won’t be odd?” replied Anna.
“Not at all, dear. We borrow from each other all the time. Come with me, we’ll do it together.”
No one answered at the first door. At the second door, a woman in her late twenties opened. “Shalom.” Anna immediately knew this was her sister. They had the same curly black hair, soft face, and even the same mannerisms; Anna saw it in how the woman smiled. It was like looking in a mirror.
“Are you Inna Stein?” Anna blurted out.
“I’m not anymore. But I used to be.”
“Anna & Her Sister” is a historical fiction short story. While based on real events, the story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.
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