Today's Reading

Warsaw, Poland
September 1939

Plummeting from the ceiling, the library dome's chandelier exploded into a million crystal shards as it crashed to the floor—the floor polished three days before to a high sheen. Sophie Kumiega dove beneath the reading table as the bomb hit, shielding, as best she could, her stack of first editions, and the baby in her womb. A second bomb rocked stonework and shattered the floor-to-ceiling window, despite row upon row of crosshatched tape. Marble busts exploded. Great chunks of plaster crashed to the floor. Acrid flames burst from the shelves.

"Get out! Get out of the building now!" Stefan Gadomski, the library's junior officer, cried.

"Move those books first! We must save the books!" insisted the librarian in charge, shoving a cart at breakneck speed to the far end of the building.

"If we move them, the next bomb is likely to fall there!" Pan Gadomski shouted.

"Then we will move them to the basement," the librarian shouted back. Sophie could take no more. She'd worked hard to obtain her position in Warsaw's library—a coup for an English foreigner, a greater coup for a woman. But she would not risk their baby—the baby she and Janek had prayed for, saved for, planned for every day of their married lives. Even now, Janek played cat and mouse in his Polish fighter plane, dodging the Luftwaffe in bomb-bursting skies above. The least she could do was save their unborn child.

She dropped the first editions into their designated crate and had nearly made it to the door when the librarian thundered after her, "Pani Kumiega, come back! If we lose our library, we lose everything!"

But Sophie didn't turn. She feared she might relinquish her purpose, as crazy as such hesitancy was. She'd always submitted to authority, but not now. Two children had perished within her in two years. This child must live.

Sophie cowered in the shadow of the library door, uncertain which way to turn, to run. Day after day, more of Warsaw was being reduced to a war zone, and still the relentless bombs fell on new targets or punished old. Low-flying Heinkels strafed men, women, children, without mercy, without discrimination.

Finally she dodged between buildings, crouching beneath overhangs and awnings and in the crevices below steps as far and as long as she could. If they could not see her, would she be safe? Which could be worse? To be crushed by a familiar roof or gunned down in the street by German planes?

Block after block she alternately crept and ran through the rubbled city, praying for the safety of her husband, praying for their baby, praying that their apartment building had not been obliterated. She reached their street and had glimpsed her apartment in the block ahead when a brief whistling came from high overhead, a sudden silence, then a brilliant flash of white light and fire before her, opening a chasm without end.


"Sophia! Dear girl, you must wake up. Please, please, wake up."

Janek, dearest Janek. Sophie barely heard him through dense fog and a constant rumbling in her ears. She tried to open her eyes, but her lids lay too heavy.

"She's coming round." Another voice—Pani Lisowski, her neighbor from across the hall, surely.

"Thank God! We thought we'd lost you. I thought..."

Through slits Sophie did her best to focus, to find her husband's face, but it wasn't there.

"You're alive. That's all that matters." It was her neighbor, her friend, old Pan Bukowski.

Her heart caught. "Janek? Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?" Fear pushed her up.

"No, no, my dear, lay back—only your forehead and knees."

"I'll find bandages. You musn't get up, not yet." Pani Lisowski again. "Your Janek is in the skies, still fighting for us." She heard the pride in Pan Bukowski's voice.

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