My Cousin Danny and his Mysterious Box is the story of a Jewish boy who survived the Holocaust thanks to the Christian family who hid him on their farm during the second World War. After the war, while searching for his parents, Danny encounters many rebuffs because he has no identification papers or a tattoo on his arm. Finally, Danny proves his identity by reciting the first of the four questions asked by the youngest child at the Passover Seder.
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I remember walking along the streets leading to my home. I passed collapsed buildings and the large craters left behind by bombs. I was pleased to see that the building that housed father’s shoe business and our apartment upstairs was largely intact. I took a deep breath, stood up tall and knocked on the door.
After a time, I heard a voice from the other side of the door say: ‘What do you want?’ I cleared my throat and declared in a loud voice: ‘I was born in this house. I am looking for my father and mother. Please let me in.” The voice inside said: ‘Go away. This is my home. It was empty when I came here and nobody will cause me to move now. You are probably a phony trying to fool me.’ When I shook my head and tried to insist, the voice commanded me to show my identification papers. I had to admit I didn’t have any proof of who I was or where I had lived at the start of the war. ‘Just as I thought you’re a liar,’ said the voice behind the door. ‘Go away or I’ll call the police.’
“The voice retreated. I was shaken. I sat down, hugging my shoebox close to my body. It was the only thing from the past that I had left in the world. I didn’t have identity papers and I didn’t know how to get new papers to prove who I was. I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”
“It was a very bad time. I was turned away from my home and was wandering without direction in my ruined city. As the sun started to set, I realized I was exhausted. I needed to lie down, but where? Then I noticed that the house I was passing looked empty. The front door was lying in the dirt. I peeked in cautiously and then entered. After making sure that the house was empty, I sat down on a torn sofa and soon fell asleep.
“I felt someone shaking me violently and shouting: ‘Get up, get up and get out of here.’ I opened my eyes and saw a tall, thin man with a bandage on his head, shouting: ‘This is my place now and for any Jews that are still alive after your stinking concentration camps. Go before I wrap my stick around your head.’
I was now fully awake and shouted back: Wait I am a Jew too!’ ‘Oh yeah!’ he sneered, ‘with those clean clothes and good shoes? You can’t fool me. You’re not a Jew. ‘But I am a Jew,’ I insisted.
“The man pulled up the sleeve of his shirt and pointed to the tattooed number on his arm. ‘If you are a Jew, show me your number.’ I hung my head. ‘I don’t have a number,’ I said, almost ashamed that I had avoided his horrible fate of being imprisoned in a concentration camp. ‘A couple hid me on a farm.’ ‘A likely story,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you go back to them then?’ He scowled and pointed the way out. Dejected, I picked up my shoebox and slowly moved to the open door. First I couldn’t prove that my home had indeed been my home, and now I couldn’t even prove that I was Jewish. Suddenly I had an idea. At the empty doorway, I turned and shouted: ‘Ma nishtano halayla hazeh michol halaylot — Why is this night different from all other nights?’
“It was the customary first question, in Hebrew, that I, as the youngest person present, had to ask my father on the night we celebrated the Jewish Passover so many years before. ‘I don’t remember the other three questions I was taught in Hebrew,’ I continued quickly when I saw the look of surprise in the man’s eyes, ‘but I remember we drank wine and ate matzos and when I found the piece of matzo hidden by my father, he gave me a coin as a reward, and then we sang a song with the word Dayienu. My name is Daniel Fineberg, I am a Jew. I was hidden by a Christian family for four years. I don’t know where my parents are. I have no papers. I don’t know where to go. Please, don’t turn me away!’
The tall man hurried over and wrapped his arms around me. ‘I’m sorry. I believe you now. I am Shlomo Grynzpan. I hope that somewhere I still have a son who is around your age. You can stay with me for now. I will look after you.
For the next few weeks, I walked with Shlomo who was also looking for any survivors of his family.
EXCERPT: MY COUSIN DANNY
additional readings into the Passover Seder is a
popular custom in many homes.
Danny, age 12, is searching for his parents after being hidden for four war years by a Christian German couple on their farm. He has no identification papers nor a tattoo on his arm. He cannot prove where he was born or that he is Jewish. How he resolves ths problem, will resonate with all young people at the Seder table and bring tears to the eyes of all!