It really was Pietrik Bakoski’s idea to go up to the bluff at Deer Meadow to see the refugees. Just want to set straight the record. Matka never did believe me about that.
Hitler had declared war on Poland on September 1, but his soldiers took their time getting to Lublin. I was glad, for I didn’t want anything to change. Lublin was perfect as it was. We heard radio addresses from Berlin about new rules, and some bombs fell on the outskirts of town, but nothing else. The Germans concentrated on Warsaw, and as troops closed in there, refugees by the thousands fled down to us in Lublin. Families came in droves, traveling southeast one hundred miles, and slept in the potato fields below town.
Before the war, nothing exciting ever happened in Lublin, so we appreciated a good sunrise, sometimes more than a picture at the cinema. We’d reached the summit overlooking the meadow on the morning of September 8 just before dawn and could make out thousands of people below us in the fields, dreaming in the dark. I lay between my two best friends, Nadia Watroba and Pietrik Bakoski, watching it all from a flattened bowl of straw, still warm where a mother deer had slept with her fawns. The deer were gone by then—early risers. This they had in common with Hitler.
As dawn suddenly breached the horizon, the breath caught in my throat, the kind of gasp that can surprise you when you see something so beautiful it hurts, such as a baby anything or fresh cream running over oatmeal or Pietrik Bakoski’s profile in dawn’s first light. His profile, 98 percent perfect, was especially nice drenched in dawn, like something off a ten-zlotych coin. At that moment, Pietrik looked the way all boys do upon waking, before they’ve washed up: his hair, the color of fresh butter, matted on the side where he’d slept.
Nadia’s profile was also almost perfect, as was to be expected of a girl with her delicate features. The only thing holding her back from 100 percent was the purple bruise on her forehead, a souvenir from the incident at school, less of a goose egg now, but still there. She was wearing the cashmere sweater she let me pet whenever I wished, the color of unripe cantaloupe.
It was hard to understand how such a sad situation could lead to the prettiest scene. The refugees had fashioned a most elaborate tent city out of bed linens and blankets. As the sun rose, like an x-ray it allowed us to see through the flowered sheets of one tent to the shadows of people inside, dressing to meet the day.