Darkness was beginning to fall, and the monastery refectory was filled with the sounds of children finishing their dinner. Brother Jean-Paul, the head priest, walked slowly past the refectory, his long robes trailing along the polished floors. He knew that almost all of the boys were Jewish. Some of them had been at the monastery for several years. Everything Jewish had been withheld from them, and they had been taught Catholicism. Initially, this was done for the children’s own safety, so that no German would recognize their true origin,
but now…

Brother Jean-Paul let out a sigh of relief. The rabbis would not be back at this late hour. They had been unable to locate the evidence he had requested. It was not surprising. He knew that the children’s documents had been destroyed, along with the people to whom they had belonged. There was no way the priest could be forced to reveal their identities as Jewish children. Their parents had begged him to look after them, and he had done so. He had withstood the Germans who wanted to take away the children’s lives, and he would withstand the rabbis who wanted to return them to Judaism and take away their souls.

The priest was uneasy when, at this evening hour, the two young rabbis appeared at the gate of the monastery. He let them in, explaining once again that he had not taken in any Jewish children, so as not to endanger the gentile ones. Several of the other brothers backed him up. Jewish children? Never! Polish children, yes, with Polish names. Jewish children would have been far too dangerous. The rabbis did not believe them, but that didn’t matter, did it? They could prove nothing.

Somewhat hesitantly, Brother Jean-Paul acceded to their request to see the children, who were now preparing to go to sleep. He would be with the rabbis to make sure they did not try any of their Jewish tricks. He would not let them get too close to the children.

As the group approached the children’s dormitory, one rabbi suddenly shouted: “Shema Isroel, HaShem Elokeinu HaShem echad.”

Without exception, the children dissolved into tears. Some covered their eyes. They called out for Mama and Tatte, speaking in the broken Yiddish their souls had not forgotten.

The priest knew that he had lost.

Ruth Benjamin is a clinical psychologist, University lecturer and prolific author of contemporary Jewish fiction. She lives in Johannesburg, South-Africa.