Mila 18by Leon Uris
In a bunker underneath 18 Mila Street, a determined band of Warsaw Jews resist Nazi occupiers Italian-American journalist Christopher de Monti finds himself in Nazi-controlled Warsaw before the outbreak of World War II. Though wined and dined by German officers eager for sympathetic coverage, de Monti’s nose for the real story soon leads him to/b>… See more details below
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In a bunker underneath 18 Mila Street, a determined band of Warsaw Jews resist Nazi occupiers Italian-American journalist Christopher de Monti finds himself in Nazi-controlled Warsaw before the outbreak of World War II. Though wined and dined by German officers eager for sympathetic coverage, de Monti’s nose for the real story soon leads him to discover the terrifying conditions of the Warsaw ghettos and the Nazis’ chilling plans for the ghettos’ inhabitants. He soon comes to know the Jewish resistance movement and joins their courageous—if doomed—last stand. Mila 18 is one of Uris’s most powerful and heartfelt novels and is the product of meticulous research of pre-WWII Warsaw. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Leon Uris including rare photos from the author’s estate.
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By Leon Uris
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Leon Uris
All rights reserved.
Journal Entry—August 1939
This is the first entry in my journal. I cannot help but feel that the war will begin in a few weeks. If the lessons of the past three years are any barometer, something awesome is apt to happen if Germany makes a successful invasion, what with three and a half million Jews in Poland. Perhaps the tensions of the moment are making me overdramatic. My journal may prove completely worthless and a waste of time. Yet, as a historian, I must satisfy the impulse to record what is happening around me.
Drops of late summer rain splattered against the high window which ran from the floor to the ceiling.
The big room was violently Polish, in memory of one of the landed gentry who had kept it as a nest for his mistress of the moment during his visits to Warsaw from his estate. All evidence of female occupants had vanished. It was solid and leathery and masculine. Its former grandeur was somewhat qualified by a practical consideration that the present occupant was a working journalist with the particular slovenliness that goes with bachelorhood.
Christopher de Monti was untidy but rather inoffensive about it. It was almost a pleasure for his housekeeper to clean up after him, for he had immaculate taste in records and books and tobacco and liquor and a wardrobe marked with the finest British labels.
In one corner, next to the window, stood a banged-up typewriter and a ream of paper and an overfull ash tray.
The single bedroom was formed by a deep alcove off the living room which could be isolated by drawing a pair of velvet drapes. A night stand beside the huge bed sported an ancient German table-model radio shaped like a church window. From the radio escaped the sad and foreboding notes of Chopin's Nocturne in A Flat.
That was about all one heard on Radio Polskie these days; Chopin performed by Paderewski ... nocturnes.
It seemed as though night was again to fall on Poland.
Chris grumbled in a state of half sleep and half wakefulness and stretched his lean, wiry limbs to their full reaches and felt across the bed for Deborah. She was gone. His eyes opened and searched the dark corners of the alcove. Then he quieted as he heard her moving about in the other room.
His hand groped automatically on the night stand and found the pack of cigarettes, and in a moment he watched the smoke laze upward as the nocturne raced to a pulsating crescendo.
Chris rolled over on his side and looked at Deborah through an opening in the drapes. Her half-naked body was bathed in late afternoon shadows. Chris loved to watch her dress. She balanced a foot on the end of a chair and stretched her leg and rolled up her stockings and slipped into her blouse and skirt with effortless grace. Then she stood before the mirror, her fingers darting pins into long raven hair and twisting it nervously into a firm knot. He remembered that first time when he had taken the pins from her hair one by one and watched it fall like black silk. She took her trench coat from the coat tree and buttoned it, never acknowledging that she knew Chris's eyes were on her back, and with determined abruptness walked for the door.
She stopped and pressed her forehead against the door.
She came into the alcove and sat on the edge of the bed. Chris snuffed out the cigarette, rolled next to her, and lay his head in her lap. Her black eyes filled with melancholy. Her fingers traced his cheek and mouth and neck and shoulders, and Chris looked up at her. How beautiful you are, he thought. She was biblical. Black and olive. A Deborah of the Bible. When she stood, Chris grabbed her wrist and she could feel his hand tremble.
"We can't keep this up. Let me speak to him."
"It would kill him, Chris."
"How about me? It's killing me."
"I'm talking to him tonight."
"Oh Lord, why does it always have to end like this?"
"It will until you're my wife."
"You're not to see him, Chris. I mean that."
He released his grip. "You'd better go," he whispered. He turned away, his back toward her.
"Chris ... Chris ..."
Pride kept him silent.
"I'll call you," she said. "Will you see me?"
"You know I will."
He threw on a robe and listened to the click-click-click of her footsteps on the marble hall outside. He pulled back the window drapes. The rain had slowed to a miserable drizzle. In a moment Deborah appeared on Jerusalem Boulevard below. She looked up to his window and waved her hand feebly, then ran across the street to where a line of droshkas waited. The horse clip-clopped away from the curb and turned out of sight.
Chris let the drapes fall closed, snuffing out most of the light. He wandered into the kitchen and poured himself cup of the steaming coffee Deborah had made, then slumped into a chair and hid his face in his hands, shaken by the impact of another parting.
On the radio, a newscaster speaking in nervous Polish recited the latest diplomatic setback in the growing mountain of them.CHAPTER 2
On the news we hear that Russia and Germany are about to announce a non-aggression treaty. It seems impossible that the two sworn enemies on the planet, pledged to destroy each other, have come to this. Hitler's tactics seem logical. He obviously wants to neutralize Russia for the time being to avoid the possibility of a two-front war (that is, if England and France honor their obligations to Poland). I'm willing to wager that the wages being paid to Stalin is half of Poland and I think we are being divided up at some long polished table in Moscow this minute.
In embassies, state departments, chancelleries, foreign offices, consulates, ministries, war offices, code rooms, newsrooms, frantic men scurried to all-night conferences, played war games, barked into telephones of flooded switchboards, cursed, prayed, pleaded.
A trail of broken treaties lay strewn about like corpses after a Mongol invasion.
Men of good will were stunned at the warped logic behind which eighty million civilized people rallied and shrieked and strutted like hysterical robots. Hammered into a hypnotic trance by the well-timed tantrums that were the mad genius of Adolf Hitler, the men of good will sank deeper into muck and mire, unable to divest themselves of the all-consuming monster in their midst.
The geopoliticians had drawn and quartered the world into areas of labor and raw material and presented the master plan which stood to make Genghis Khan and every archvillain of every age pale by comparison.
The German masses gave the edict in a terrifying redundance, "Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!"
"Lebensraum [Land to live]!"
And they poised ready to act out the role of Teuton war gods to the strains of Wagnerian Fire Music.
"We must save German citizens living under foreign tyranny! A German is always a German!"
Austria and Czechoslovakia qualified. Flushed with bloodless victories, certain that America, France, and England would not fight, the Nazi cancer spread.
"Danzig is German! Return the Polish Corridor! Return the 1914 borders! Halt the inhuman treatment of ethnic Germans!"
Once an indifferent world stood by and shrugged as little yellow men fought little yellow men in a place called Manchuria, and once France sputtered feebly as Germany broke the Versailles Treaty and marched into the Rhineland, and once men debated, then sighed as black men in mud huts armed with spears fought for their land ... a name that children used in games ... Abyssinia.
A mesmerized world quivered at the proving ground of democratic sterility; the rape of Spain by Italian and Moroccan and German hordes.
Now Austria, now Czechoslovakia, and the righteous cowed and the evil grew bold.
Once the harbingers of peace told their people they had made a bill of peace in a place called Munich. As Poland's hour grew near came that realization that there was no place left to run or to hide, nor words to say, nor treaties to make.
In Moscow, a shrewd chessplayer knew that the long dream of the Allies was to have Russia and Germany maul each other to death. His distrust of England and France was built upon decades of boycott, hard-learned lessons when republican Spain was abandoned, and finally when Russia was not invited to the sellout in Munich.
Hitler, positive of the final timidity of the Allies, positive their string of betrayals would extend to Poland, keyed his war trumpets to shattering highs and was responded to with black drum rolls and pounding boots.
Josef Stalin was no less certain of Allied betrayal. In a desperate bid for time he entered into negotiations with his archenemy. To ensure easy, unimpaired victory for himself, Hitler did business with Stalin, and the Allies cried, "Foul!"
And in the middle a proud and defiant Poland, which hated Russia and Germany with equal vigor, ended all hope of Allied unity by refusing to petition Russia for help.
Chris sped his Fiat down the rain-slickened boulevard and turned into the shop-lined New World Street. It was gray out. The late shoppers clung close to the building sand moved with haste past the elegant store windows. At the corner of Traugutta Street, where the line of shops ended, the New World Street changed its name to the Krakow Suburb Boulevard for reasons no one seemed to understand. Chris headed toward the semi-faded, semi-elegant Bristol Hotel. The hotel made a good newsman's headquarters. It gave him a twenty-four-hour-a-day switchboard service and it stood at the apex of a triangle that enveloped the Europa Hotel, the Foreign Ministry, the President's Palace, and Warsaw's city hall. Between them, there was always a constant flood of news.
Chris turned the car over to the doorman and brushed past the turmoil of the rumor-filled lobby to the opened-cage Otis elevator of World War I vintage.
On the balcony floor he entered the door of a suite marked Swiss News Agency.
Ervin Rosenblum, photographer and journalist and Chris's indispensable man, stood at the worktable, which was spilling over with photographs, cables, stories, and copy.
Chris walked beside him, wordless, and took a fistful of the late dispatches. One by one he let them flutter to the floor. Ervin Rosenblum was a very homely man who stood five feet five inches and was almost sightless without his thick-lens glasses. As Chris read, Ervin searched Chris's pockets for a cigarette.
"Boy," Chris mumbled. "They're surer than hell going to start shooting soon."
Ervin gave up his search for a smoke. "Mark my words, Poland is going to fight," he said.
"Maybe she'll be better off if she doesn't fight."
Ervin looked at his watch nervously. "Where the hell is Susan? I've got to get this stuff to the lab." He picked up his Speed Graphic and jiggled the flash bulbs in his pocket.
"Chris, do you think England and France will help us?"
Chris kept reading the dispatches. "When are you and Susan getting married?"
"I can't keep her still long enough to ask her. If she's not at the orphanage she's at a Zionist meeting. Did you ever hear of six meetings a week? Only Jews can talk so much. So I'm appointed to the executive council just so I can get dates to see her. Momma asks, are you coming to dinner tonight? She's made potato latkes for you, special."
"Potato latkes? I'll get there between stops."
Susan Geller appeared in the doorway. She was as short and homely as Ervin was. Squat, devoid of almost all features which make women pretty. Her hair was pulled back straight and flat and wrapped into a knot under her nurse's cap. Her hands were large and knobby from the life of lifting sick people and changing bedpans, but the moment she spoke the ugliness faded. Susan Geller was one of the kindest creatures on the earth.
"You're a half hour late," Ervin greeted her.
"Hi, honey," Chris said.
"I like you better," she answered to Chris.
Ervin grabbed a batch of negatives, film, bulbs, and his camera. "It's all yours," he said to Chris.
"Can you stop by the President's Palace? See Anton. Maybe he can fix us up for five minutes with Smigly-Rydz. He may be changing his tune now that the Russian German non-aggression pact is official."
The phone rang. Ervin snatched it off the hook with his free hand. "Hello ... Just a minute." He held his hand over the mouthpiece. "Wait outside," he said to Susan. "I'll bright there."
Susan and Chris blew good-by kisses to each other.
"Who is it, Rosy?"
"Deborah's husband," he answered, and handed him the phone and left.
"Why, hello, Paul. How are you?"
"I was asking the same question. I was just saying to Deborah how much we and the children have missed you."
"Things have been pretty hectic."
"I can imagine."
"I do owe you an apology for not calling. How ... uh ... is Deborah?"
"Fine, just fine. Why don't you break away for dinner tomorrow?"
Chris was finding it unbearable to keep the masquerade. Every time he saw Paul and Deborah together, every time he thought of them sharing a bed, the revulsion in him grew.
"I'm afraid it's impossible. I may have to send Rosy to Krakow and—"
Paul Bronski's voice lowered. "It is rather important that you come. I should like to see you on a pressing matter. Say, seven."
Chris was scared. Paul's tone had the authority of command. Perhaps Paul Bronski himself would call the showdown that Deborah had avoided. Maybe it was all fantasy. They were good friends. Why not invite him to dinner?
"I'll be there," Chris said.CHAPTER 3
I have studied the trend of the behavior of the ethnic Germans in Austria and Czechoslovakia. They have done a tremendous job in undermining in advance of the German armies. They have certainly been raising all sorts of hell in Danzig. Just before the Austrian "Anschluss" they became strangely quiet. This past week their activity here has all but stopped. Could this be on orders? Is this the lull before the storm? Is history about to repeat?
Everyone I know is being called up into the reserve. Smigly-Rydz means to fight. Polish temper and history indicate they will.
"We Poles unfortunately got ourselves located between Russia and Germany. The traffic between the two has been busy," Dr. Paul Bronski, dean of the College of Medicine, said to an auditorium overcrowded with students and faculty. "We have been trampled. We have even ceased to exist, yet Polish nationalism fires a breed of patriot that has always made Poland return."
A spontaneous burst of applause halted his speech.
"Poland is in trouble again. Our two friends are restless. The situation is so urgent that they have even called upon the senior citizens like this specimen before you...."
Polite laughter for Paul's overcritical estimation of himself. Although balding and sporting a scholar's stooped shoulders, Paul Bronski had sharp and handsome features.
"Despite the blunder of the High Command in calling me into the army, I predict that Poland will somehow survive."
In the back of the auditorium, Dr. Franz Koenig stood motionless, looking into the sea of faces. Bronski's leaving filled him with an exhilaration he had never known. His long, patient wait was almost over.
"I leave this university both heavy-hearted and joyous. The prospect of war is enormously real and it saddens me. But I am content for the things that we have done here together and I am happy because I leave so many friends."
Koenig didn't even hear the rest of it. They would all be dripping tears, he knew. Bronski had that faculty to put a tremor in his throat that never failed to move the recipients of his milky words.
They were all standing now, and unabashed tears flowed down young cheeks and even grizzly old cheeks of professors in a sloppy indulgence of sentiment as they sang school songs and anthems, which sounded like school songs and anthems everywhere.
Look at Bronski! Engulfed by his adoring staff. Shaking hands, slapping backs until the end. The "beloved" Bronski. "The University of Warsaw without Paul Bronski is not the University of Warsaw." "Your office will remain untouched until you return to us."
Your office, Koenig thought. Your office, indeed.
Dr. Paul Bronski, the "beloved" Paul Bronski, had finished the last of his instructions, dictated the last of his letters, and dismissed his weeping secretary with an affectionate buss.
He was alone now.
He looked about the room. Paneled walls covered with the symbols of achievement that one would gather as the head of a great medical college. Diplomas and awards and photos of students and classes. A billboard of glory.
He shoved the final batch of papers into his brief case. All that was left was a photo of Deborah and the children on his desk. He slid that into the top drawer and locked it. And he was done.
A soft, almost apologetic knock on the door.
Excerpted from Mila 18 by Leon Uris. Copyright © 1983 Leon Uris. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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