Seconds Away Page 20

Nope. I soon learned that Rachel had ulterior motives for flirting with me.

In all that had happened, I had almost forgotten about that. Rachel had been deceptive at first. She may have had her reasons. But now that I thought about it, did I really, fully trust her—like I trusted Ema and Spoon? She had been part of our group that had taken down some very nasty bad guys. She had been brave and resourceful and put herself on the line.

But still, Rachel had first come to us from a dishonest place.

Could I just let that go? And what was with all that mysterious talk in her hospital room? What was with the Abeona butterfly on her door?

Was she still keeping secrets?

“For tomorrow,” Mrs. Friedman said, toward the end of class, “please read chapter seventeen in your textbooks.”

I opened mine up, checking to see how long chapter 17 was, and as I started thumbing through the pages, I spotted the header for chapter 36, something we wouldn’t cover until the final quarter of the school year:

World War II and the Holocaust

The bell rang. I sat there for a second. Mrs. Friedman was an expert in World War II and the Holocaust. Maybe if I showed her that old black-and-white photograph . . . well, no. That might be too much. And what would be the point? But maybe if I asked her about the Butcher of Lodz, maybe she could cast some light on all this.

I couldn’t imagine how, but what would be the harm?

Mrs. Friedman was at the blackboard, working the eraser. She was the only teacher I knew who still used a blackboard and chalk. She was old-school in every way, and I loved her for it.

“Mrs. Friedman?”

She turned and smiled at me. “Hello, Mr. Bolitar.”

Mrs. Friedman always addresses us as “Mister” or “Miss.” Again, with some teachers this would produce groans and eye rolls. Not with Mrs. Friedman.

I wasn’t sure how to start, so I just dived in. “I wanted to ask you a history question.”

She stood there, waiting. When I stayed silent a beat too long, she said, “Well, go on. I didn’t think you’d want to ask me a math question.”

“Right, of course.”

“So what is it, Mr. Bolitar?”

I swallowed and said, “Do you know anything about the Butcher of Lodz?”

Mrs. Friedman’s eyes popped open a bit wider. “Hans Zeidner? The Butcher of Lodz from World War Two?”


She seemed almost shaken just by his name. “I don’t understand. Is this for another class?”


“What then?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. Mrs. Friedman was much shorter than I was, but I felt myself shrinking under her gaze. I stood there, trying to come up with something plausible. A second or two more passed and then Mrs. Friedman held up her hand as if she understood and I didn’t need to go on.

“Lodz is in Poland,” she explained. “There was a Jewish ghetto there in the 1940s. Hans Zeidner served as a Nazi officer there. He was Waffen-SS—they were the worst of the worst. Responsible for the brutal murder of millions. But the Butcher is probably better known for his time in Auschwitz.”

Auschwitz. Just the word hushed the room.

“Do you know about Auschwitz?” Mrs. Friedman asked me.


She took off her reading glasses. “Tell me what you know,” she said.

“Auschwitz was a notorious Nazi concentration camp,” I said.

She nodded. “Most use that term. ‘Concentration’ camp. I prefer the more accurate one—extermination camp. Well over a million people were murdered there, ninety percent of whom were Jewish.” She stopped. “The camp was run by Rudolph Hess, but the Butcher of Lodz was one of his more ruthless henchmen. Do you know the legend of Lizzy Sobek?”

Again, I wasn’t sure how to answer that, so I went with something vague. “She was a little girl in the Holocaust, right?”

Mrs. Friedman nodded. “Lizzy Sobek was a thirteen-year-old girl from Lodz.”

“Lodz. As in the Butcher?”


“Did she live in that ghetto?”

“For a while,” Mrs. Friedman said. She looked off, lost for a moment, and I wondered where her mind was taking her. “Much of Lizzy Sobek’s story, well, the documentation is sketchy. We don’t know what exactly is true and what is legend.”

I swallowed hard.

“Are you all right?” Mrs. Friedman asked.


“You look pale.”

“This is tough stuff, that’s all. But I want to hear it.”

Mrs. Friedman studied my face. I don’t know what exactly she was looking for—maybe why I was interested in something so grim, maybe why I seemed to have a personal connection to these people. “By all accounts, the Sobeks were a close-knit family. The father and mother were Samuel and Esther. The children were Emmanuel, age sixteen, and of course Lizzy, who was thirteen. They were Jewish and hid in the Lodz ghetto until the Butcher’s men found them and transported them to Auschwitz. Her mother and brother were immediately killed in the gas chambers. Her father was put into a labor camp.”

“And Lizzy?”

Mrs. Friedman shrugged. “Let me go on with what we do know first, okay?”


“Somehow Samuel Sobek escaped Auschwitz with about a dozen other prisoners. They tried to hide in the woods, but the Waffen-SS, led by the Butcher, eventually tracked them down. They didn’t bother to return the prisoners to camp. They lined them up, gunned them down, and threw them in a hole in the ground. Just like that. Lizzy Sobek’s father was one of those executed and dumped in a mass grave.”

A chill filled the room. There was suddenly no sound, not anywhere. If my fellow classmates were still in the building, they were somewhere far away now.

“What about Lizzy?” I asked.

“Well,” Mrs. Friedman said, walking toward the bookshelf, “that’s the part that’s harder to document. We have records of Lizzy Sobek entering Auschwitz with her family in September of 1942, but we have no records of what happened to her after that—only the legends.”

“So,” I said slowly, “what are the legends?”

“That Lizzy Sobek escaped Auschwitz too. That she somehow evaded capture and joined the resistance. That even as a young girl, she actually fought the Nazis. But the most renowned tale of Lizzy Sobek involves a rescue mission she supposedly led in southern Poland.”

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