First Love

Falling in love for the first time is an important milestone in nearly everybody’s life. My milestone came at a highly unexpected time. It was the first year of WWII, the summer of 1940. I was home for my school vacation in our little town called Nagyszollos. Hungary was not yet visibly affected by the war; there were no air raids, and the life went on as before–that is, for people who were not Jewish. Each day, new laws appeared regulating the existence of Jews in Hungary. These laws stripped us of our right to go to school beyond the elementary level, to hold jobs, to own businesses, and to earn a living. In our Jewish community, people were deported if they could not prove their Hungarian roots. Jewish men at the ages of 18-45 years old were sent to forced-labor camps. We were not wearing the ominous yellow star yet, but we were easily recognizable by our worried expression. We were living under doom, in a state of collective psychological depression. The apprehension grew when a military company came to our town. There were rumors of atrocities committed against Jews by the soldiers. My family was ordered to accommodate two officers in our spare room. After they had moved in, a third officer knocked on our door at 11 p.m. He apologized profusely for his lateness. “I had to see to my troops’ accommodation first,” he said, and produced a “slip of occupancy” with our address on it. He looked incredibly young, strikingly handsome, and painfully exhausted. When he heard that the room was already taken, he started to leave, uttering new apologies. Suddenly, to my own surprise, I heard myself saying, “Please don’t go! You can have my room. I’ll sleep in the living room.” My mother’s puzzled expression changed to comprehension, and she joined me in persuading the lieutenant to stay. From this day on, I lived for the moment when our guest, Gabor, walked through the door. My nagging fears and depression disappeared as if by magic. I listened adoringly when he talked with my mother about his family, his fiancée, his plans for the future. The fact that he was madly in love with his “Treasure,” as he called her, did not matter to me in the least; it added to his fairy-tale quality. He stood far beyond my reach for heavier reasons than his being engaged; he had come from a world that was light years away from mine, a world where the rules differed dramatically from those that applied to me. I was fascinated with this other world, where people could live without anticipation of catastrophes every moment. Gabor was apparently ashamed of the anti-Jewish laws, and he was extremely respectful to us. He brought little, thoughtful presents and kissed my mother’s hand after each meal. I basked in these expressions of kindness and felt safe and protected just being in his proximity. I diligently did favors for him just to please him. When “Treasure’s” framed picture broke, I had the glass replaced from my allowance. When Gabor complimented us on the beautiful giant daisies in our garden (his girlfriend’s favorites), I wrapped a bunch in moist moss and prepared a package for her. I even mailed the parcel. I was preoccupied...

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