Monday, August 1, 1938. In Będzin, a small city in southwestern Poland, Fryda Kornfeld was about to take a lengthy summer vacation to go to the mountainous Zakopane on the Polish-Czechoslovakian border. The place was relatively close to Będzin and drew many Jewish vacationers. There were families and singles, religious and secular—mainly secular singles. It was the latter that interested the young woman. Planning her vacation at a time when the whole world was sizzling in fear and anxiety of Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric and deeds was not easy or relaxing. But life could not simply stop— it had to go on. . . .
“Good morning, Frymetush,” Tauba said to her daughter. “You’d better get up or you’ll miss your train.” She was the only one who occasionally called Fryda, Frymeta. “Ready for your endless vacation . . . ?”
“Yes, Mamuśh,” she said, yawning; she barely remembered her stepfather and little brother hugging her farewell earlier that morning, as she had plunged right back to sleep. Fryda brushed her curly hair, pinning it away from her face with stylish hairpins. She powdered her nose and applied a hint of color to her lips.
“Don’t forget to drop a line.”
“Of course not—Mamuśh—I will.”
“Is Moniek still going up there in two weeks?”
She nodded her head, showing tight lips. Moniek Brechner was her boyfriend—a young man from Sosnowiec, a city adjacent to Będzin.
“I suggest that you and he have a serious talk,” she said gently. “Personally, I think he is a nice man, he has a good job and it’s clear that he likes you a lot, but it’s your life and I have the feeling that you aren’t so happy.”
“I know, Mamuśh, he is a very nice man, but I don’t know . . . I’m just not sure.”
“Okay, I don’t want to pry into your personal life—all I’m saying to you is, think about it. He has the right to know what’s going on in your mind.” She put on a smile. “Eat your breakfast, it’s late.”
After a rushed, light meal, Fryda was anxious to be on her way. She embraced her mother, picked up her suitcase and headed for the train station at a brisk pace. The weather forecast was exceptionally promising—it was a gorgeous day.
In the nearly four-hour train ride with a transfer in Kraków, Fryda struck a friendly chord with a young couple from Sosnowiec, Bernek and Elka; they, too, were heading for a vacation in Zakopane.
“Fryda, do you know anybody in Maccabi Sosnowiec?” the tall, young man, said. “I’m on the management committee this year.” Maccabi was an established Jewish sport club with numerous Polish and international chapters.
“Yes, actually I do. I know Hershel Nuer—I know his wife, Sosia, from Będzin.”
“Oh—Hershel—we’re both cyclists. Anybody else?”
“Not that I can think of.”
“Maybe tomorrow you’ll meet another cyclist. His name is Nusyn—we all call him Natek.” He smiled. “You don’t know him, do you . . . ?”
“No, I don’t,” she said and then turned to look out at the rapidly changing scenery. A quick thought flashed in her mind: I hope this friend is as cute as Bernek. She closed her eyes.
Bernek’s friend, Natek, had arrived and the group stopped in one of Krupówki Street’s cellars; the district was the beating heart of Zakopane. The restaurant was small and smoky. A highlander trio, attired in their deep folkloric style, was playing Gorale love tunes.
“Bernek has told me you’re a cyclist,” Fryda said, striking up a conversation with Natek.
“Yes, we’re both members of Maccabi.” His hand lightly brushed his thick, wavy hair.
“Do you like Zakopane?”
“Very much. Bernek and I have done a lot of hiking and skiing here. It’s primitive, but the view—gorgeous. Have you been here before?”
“Quite a few times, but only in the summer—I don’t ski.” She laughed softly. “I don’t bike, either—I’m too short for that.”
“What do you like to do most when you come here?”
“Hike—I love hiking.”
“Well, we’ll start tomorrow.”
“Great!” She looked at Elka, who was leaning up close to Bernek, whispering.
“So you’re a Bendiner?” Natek said, using Będzin’s Yiddish dub.
“Born and raised—and you?”
“Sosnowiec—so was my father. My mother has a few relatives in Będzin and my sister-in-law was born there.”
“Now I know you have a brother,” she said, smiling.