Hannah’s Rugelach

Yolanda Renee and Denise Covey of the WEP website came up with this delightful Valentine blog hop, but as long as I tried to write anything in the milieu I usually write in – fantasy or magic realism – the story eluded me. Only when I started thinking about my family, about the tragic reality of the Holocaust, I came up with this tale. I managed to keep the word count under 1,000 but I think the story could benefit from a couple hundred additional words. With a few more details and the longer dialog, it could’ve been subtler, more life-like. Still, it seems to serve the theme of love even as it is.
Hannah smiled as she entered the kitchen. For almost two years, ever since she arrived in America, she smiled every day. She smiled while measuring flour. She smiled while she rummaged in the pantry for the apricot jam. She smiled as she rolled the dough.

“Good morning, Hannah.” Mrs. Goldberg, the owner of the cafeteria, sailed into the kitchen.

“Good morning,” Hannah echoed. “The first batch of rugelach will be ready in half an hour.”

“Good. As soon as you put it in the oven, have some breakfast. I made coffee. You’re still too thin.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Goldberg.” Hannah kept smiling.

“I swear, your smile leaks into the cookies,” Mrs. Goldberg grumbled. “Must be a secret ingredient. Everyone wants to buy your rugelach.”

Hanna didn’t comment, although her lips twitched. She was glad people liked her baking. She felt exceedingly lucky to be among them, to have survived the horror of the camp, to get the American visa. Lucky that nobody touched her anymore, no dirty German hands or repulsive lips. No derisive sneers of her fellow prisoners either. Yes, she had done what she could to survive. She had been the camp slut. She endured the filth and the everyday rapes, while her barrack mates kept their dignity and perished. She had given up her pride in exchange for her life and she wasn’t sorry. Her pride or her body didn’t matter. What mattered were her soul and her grandmother’s baking recipes, the rugelach recipes that made everyone coming to the cafeteria happy.

Hannah shook off her gloom, pulled the last batch out of the oven, and went to the dining room to fill the glass domes behind the counter with fresh rugelach.

“Miss, could I have a refill of coffee and a blueberry rugelach,” a man at the corner table asked. Dressed in an expensive suit, with his hair thinning despite his relative youth, he looked like a lawyer or doctor. He also looked a bit like Rafe, her sweetheart before the war. Rafe adored her rugelach too.

“Of course, sir.” Hannah smiled at him and picked up his cup.

Suddenly, he gasped. “Hannah?”

Still holding his empty cup, she peered at him. Oh, no! A cold fist squeezed her heart. He didn’t look like Rafe. He was Rafe. Her hands started shaking. Before she dropped the cup, she lowered it carefully on the table.

“Rafe?” she whispered.

“You’re alive. I looked for you after the war. I wrote tons of letters but I couldn’t find you. Hannah, beloved.” He surged to his feet, overturning a chair in his haste to get to her, and opened his arms wide.

Wretched, Hannah backed away, her palms out, warding him off. “Rafe, no.” Her mouth felt dry, and her head spun. She didn’t have words except for his precious name but she knew she couldn’t allow him to touch her. Frantically, she shook her head and retreated towards the kitchen.

“Hannah, wait. What’s wrong?” He caught her arm before she could escape. “Hannah, talk to me. Why are you running? I missed you so much.” Still holding her arm, he steered her into the kitchen. “I never stopped loving you. I searched and searched—”

“I can’t, Rafe,” she interrupted miserably. “We’re different people now. We were very young when we kissed and made promises. Your family left. Mine didn’t. They’re all dead. I spent two years in that terrible camp. I survived, but the price was high.”

“I know. I’m a doctor. I have patients who survived the camps. I’ll do all I can to help you. Don’t push me away. If I knew what this war would bring, I’d never have left you behind. I didn’t know. I was young and stupid, but life granted us a second chance. Please, let’s try again.”

“I can’t,” she repeated.

“Are you married?”

She shook her head.

“Then why? I’m not married either. I’ve met many women, but each was lacking compared to you.”

What could she say? In the camp, she often shut her eyes and imagined his sweet face, while the German guards defiled her body. He was her refuge, her shining star in the end of the dark and fetid tunnel. Her hope that he was alive had kept her clinging to life too. But she was soiled for him. She had been immured in slime for two endless years. She could never wash the muck off. He didn’t deserve the Nazis’ leftovers.

She closed her eyes and told him the truth. At some point in her recital, his hand fell away from her arm. Of course, he was disgusted. Expecting to see his retreating back, she lifted her eyelids.

He stood facing her, his eyes full of tears. “Hannah,” he said. “I have been coming to this cafe for the last two years, ever since one of my colleagues mentioned your rugelach. I love them. Every bite reminded me of you. I always loved your rugelach, remember? I should’ve known it was you. How come I didn’t know? It must be fate.”

She was mute, her throat closed.

He kept on talking. “What happened in the camp was… not about us, Hannah. It was… it is a war wound. You’re wounded, but I’m a doctor. I treat wounds. Let me treat yours. Let me help you heal. Please. I love you. And I know you love me too. You said it yourself: thinking of me let you survive.”

Did she say that? Yes, she did.

He smiled gently—the smile she remembered so well. “You can teach me to bake rugelach.”

“No!” Hannah blurted. “You tried once and ruined the batch.” She shivered. “It might take a long time to heal this wound.”

“As long as for me to learn baking?”

He opened his arms again, and this time, Hannah accepted his embrace. Maybe she could teach him to bake after all.
Word count: 985; full critique acceptable

This entry was posted in Olga Godim, Short Story and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Hannah’s Rugelach

  1. The healing that happened because of this meeting was beautifully written, and in such few words. She couldn’t stand to be touched in the beginning but by the end she accepted his arms. Truly lovely, such horrors to overcome. Love their salvation. A wonderful Valentine!

    Thank you, Olga, for participating in the WEP – Valentine Challenge.

  2. Oh Olga.
    My father survived as so many didn’t. I think he was the only one in his family who did survive.
    He could never talk about it and is gone now.
    This is moving, and so very beautiful. And hurtful. And hopeful.
    Thank you.

    • Coming back to clarify. He survived the war. He escaped the camps, though we believe others in the family did not.

      • Olga Godim says:

        I’m glad your father survived the camp. I didn’t have any close relatives in the occupied territories; both my sets of grandparents evacuated east from the occupied Moldavia, to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It was hard on them, but they survived.Their family members who didn’t evacuate were all dead when the war ended. We don’t know if they were killed in concentration camps in just shot outside of town and buried in a nearby ravine.

  3. Denise Covey says:

    Olga, this touched me to the core. Stories of Holocaust survivors always do. Such stoicism, such bravery, so many hard choices if one is to survive, and even so, so many didn’t. I love how you craft your story. The rugelach is such a homely motif to weave your story around. Makes it all the more poignant and leads to a believable ending. I agree this story could be expanded to be so much bigger. I could see it starting with young love, then the camp/s, then present day. It would be a story of renewal and redemption. I hope you do expand it…your way of course.

    Thank you for coming up with this fantastic entry for the WEP Valentine’s challenge. Enduring love is what it is all about.

    Denise 🙂

  4. This is moving and painful and uplifting and joyous and poignant and altogether epic. Absolutely agree that it could be longer, not just by a couple of hundred words, but novel length. Beyond beautiful! Loved your post.

  5. patgarcia says:

    Your story is beautiful. Your descriptions had me in the concentration camp. I visited the one in Dachau, Germany, so it really came to life for me. Hannah is a strong woman. What she endured from her fellow prisoners and from the German soldiers shows her strength, but it also shows that she hadn’t forgiven herself for doing what she needed to do to stay alive.

    I love the way the story ends with healing in view. Rafe is not ashamed of her. He does not see spoiled goods, but war wounds.

    The story touched me deeply.
    Great job.
    Shalom Aleichem,

  6. mplanglinais says:

    What a lovely story! Well done!

  7. I loved how America made her smile and that smile leaked into the rugelach. WWII was so terrible but I am so glad both your characters survived to find love again. When I was a child, one of my sisters friends’ parents were concentration camp survivors. Good story.

  8. Wow, Olga. I learn from you each time you post. Just wow.

  9. odell01 says:

    I liked the introduction of Hannah, and the hint at what might be coming with Mrs. Goldberg. It was nice for me to see how you present the character of Rafe, too. Rafe’s words seemed heartfelt to me when he said, “I’ve met many women, but each was lacking compared to you.” I have to admit, however, that I had little idea what a batch of rugelach actually is. I guess if I were writing about Hannah, I would try to explain why her rugelach is as amazing as people feel it is. Last but not least, although I appreciated that you wrote a happy ending, I wondered a little why Rafe would want Hannah to teach him to bake after so much time between them had gone by.

  10. river says:

    Such a beautiful story and I’m so glad Rafe found Hannah through her famous rugelach. And now I have to google rugelach.

  11. Olga, this is a stunning piece. I had to read it over twice because it touched me so. I loved how the ending circled back to the end. Perfect. A wonderful entry. Thanks for visiting my site and reading my poem. 🙂

  12. WriterlySam says:

    This was intensely emotional and gripping, and you didn’t need the extra words to convey compelling characters for us to care about. Bravo!

  13. artman413 says:

    Learning the horror hiding behind Hannah’s cheery smile was painful, and I can’t even begin to imagine how one picks up the pieces after that.

    I’m glad the story had a happy ending. Hannah has laid her past out to Rafe, and now she can begin the process of healing with him by her side. And who knows, he might just learn how to bake a decent rugelach…

    A wonderful and moving story!

  14. Sally says:

    A very moving story with what promises to be a healing and loving process for both Hannah and Rafe. I’m glad she was honest with him from the beginning and able to realise that none of what happened to her was her fault.

  15. HBF says:

    Wonderful, beautiful, filled with feeling…. such a gift, I wanted to the story to continue unfolding! I’m sure I speak for others when I say I would love to read more from Hannah and Rafe, see where they end up and such. Regardless, congrats Olga and way to go, I really enjoyed your story!

  16. It would have been terrible for a woman in those years to carry this kind of secret shame. Others may have judged her. It was great that Hannah and Rafe were reunited and he could accept what she had to do in the camps. A rebirth in a new country.

  17. madilynquinn01 says:

    So beautiful and really well written. I felt the tragedy and then the triumph! Really lovely 🙂

  18. Congratulations. Totally deserved congratulations.
    Your story has found a home in my head and heart.

  19. Pingback: Write On! | Tales of Unusual Strangeness

  20. Pingback: Sometimes we succeed | Olga Godim writing

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