Seconds Away Page 21

“What sort of rescue?”

Mrs. Friedman pulled a book off the shelf. “Somehow a group of resistance fighters were able to stop a train transporting Jews to Auschwitz. Not for long. Just for a few brief moments. They put downed tree trunks on the track. The guards had to jump down to remove them. But you see, on this train, there was one particular car that was carrying the children.”

I froze when I heard that. Children. Lizzy Sobek had been trying to rescue children.

“Someone broke open the cargo door, and the children managed to escape into the woods. Over fifty of them. And they claim that the person who broke the door open—the person who led the raid—was a young girl.”

“Lizzy Sobek,” I said.

Mrs. Friedman nodded. She opened the book in her hand. I could only see part of the title—something about illustrations from the Holocaust—but she started paging through it quickly.

“Do you believe the legend?” I asked.

“There is evidence backing up the story,” she said a little too carefully, like she was reading from a script she didn’t fully believe. “We do know that the children were indeed rescued. We know that most claimed that the leader was a young girl matching Lizzy’s description. But on the other hand, none of the children actually met or spoke to Lizzy Sobek. If the story is to be believed, she rescued them, led them up the hill, and then went on her way.”

“Still,” I said, “with so many witnesses . . .”

“Yes, there’s that,” Mrs. Friedman said. “But there are other issues that cast doubt on the story.”


She was still leafing through the illustrations. “Like the witnesses were all children. They were young. They were scared. They were hungry. It was dark out.”

“So it might not have been Lizzy Sobek that they saw.”

Mrs. Friedman nodded, but I could see a shadow cross her face. “But there was something more.”

“What?” I asked.

“It was February. In Poland. There was snow on the ground.”

“So it was cold.”


“And you think that, what, affected their judgment?”

Mrs. Friedman stopped on a page. She took off her reading glasses and I could see tears in her eyes. “This,” she said, pointing to the page, “was drawn by one of the children rescued that day.”

She lifted the book and showed me the drawing. When I saw it, my heart stopped.

There were children running up a hillside in the night. They were running away from a train and into the woods. The central figure in the drawing was a lone girl standing on a hill, waiting for them. And surrounding the lone girl were dozens and dozens of . . .

“Butterflies,” I said out loud.

Chapter 18

I stared at the drawing.

“According to the children,” Mrs. Friedman said, “the butterflies guided the children to safety. Butterflies. In the middle of winter.”

I stayed perfectly still.

Abeona, I thought, though I knew that it was impossible.

“Do you believe it, Mrs. Friedman?”

“Which part? That there were butterflies? In Poland, during the middle of winter? No, that’s impossible.”

“So the story about the rescue . . .”

“I don’t know.” Mrs. Friedman tilted her head. “There are many cases through history of mass delusions via mass hysteria—especially when it comes to children in harm’s way. Much of what we view as ‘unexplained’ is actually psychological trauma. And butterflies are common in such delusions. We do know that the train was stopped and that these children were rescued.”

“But we don’t know about butterflies or Lizzy Sobek,” I said.

I stared at the drawing, thinking that maybe I did.

“So the people who believe the legends,” I began. “What do they think eventually happened to Lizzy Sobek?”

“That Lizzy Sobek continued to fight for the resistance. That she was killed in a later raid”—she looked up from the drawing—“by the Butcher of Lodz.”

The same man who killed Lizzy’s father. The same man who, what, never aged and bided his time for seventy years before wheeling away my father?

I was missing something.

“And what happened to the Butcher?”

“That’s one of the great mysteries of World War Two,” Mrs. Friedman said. “Nobody knows.”

In the distance now I could hear students laughing, the sound echoing down the corridors. Here we were, discussing a man who’d murdered countless, and nearby, there was laughter.

“Some say the Butcher died during the war. Some say he escaped Allied forces and ran far away. Simon Wiesenthal and the Nazi hunters searched for him after the war—there were rumors he was in Argentina—but they never found him.”

The bell rang, making me jump. We both stood there a moment, but it was time to stop this, to leave this dark horrible past and somehow return to our regular high school life.

“You’re okay, Mr. Bolitar?”

Still in a daze, I said, “I’m fine, thank you, Mrs. Friedman.”

I stumbled out of the classroom and started down the hallway. When I got to the lunchroom, Ema could immediately see that something was wrong. Spoon, uh, couldn’t. I filled them in on my conversation with Mrs. Friedman.

“So what do you think it all means?” Ema asked.

None of us had an answer. Spoon was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crust cut off so neatly and with such perfect right angles that I wondered whether someone had used a protractor. He nudged me and changed subjects. “Are you going out for the basketball team today?”

Ema looked up and waited for my answer.


Something crossed her face. I wasn’t sure what. She had known the answer. She knew how important basketball was to me. I had waited my whole life to stay in one place long enough to be on a team. It was one of the main reasons my family had returned to the United States. My parents wanted me to have a normal life for a little while, play on a high school basketball team, maybe get a scholarship to college. That had been the plan.

“You realize,” Spoon said, swallowing down a bite of his sandwich, “that some of your games may interfere with your duties as our club’s new vice president. There may be conflicts.”

“Yeah, Spoon, that’s a chance I’ll just have to take.”

That answer did not make him happy. “Are you implying that basketball is more important to you than the MILF club?”

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