Night and Fog
By Sarah Weiss
Adam Schiff took a sip of his tea, watching Stone wrestle with his conscience. The case of David Steinmetz, or Yaakov Skulman, or whoever the hell the man was, was a difficult one. Stone was right; whatever was decided could only be partial justice. One woman's death would go unpunished or the deaths of hundreds, even thousands, would never be answered for. With a sigh, he shifted in his seat. The worst thing about New York in winter was the damned heating. The over-heated restaurant felt like a sauna.
He looked around the room. So many memories. This restaurant reminded him of his mother with its heavy European furnishings. And this case... Stone wasn't the only one with doubts. Once again he pushed the ghosts down, brutally suppressing the memories to concentrate on the law like a drowning man lunging to grasp a lifeline. Black and white, no room for emotion, for history. Too much history. Too many ghosts.
"Greater evil? Since when did you get so philosophical? This office doesn't care about Poles or Nazis, any more than it does about Serbs or Croats. We're not in the evil business, we're in the crime business."
"Adam, I may be wrong, but I thought of all people, you would want..."
The room seemed to close in around them. It had been a stifling day, the worst of an early summer heat wave. He had almost fallen asleep in his English Lit class as the teacher droned on about Shakespeare's sonnets. Sleep hadn't been easy in his family's apartment for a long time. His parents' whispering voices in the dark, speaking the language they thought he and his brothers couldn't understand. A language of another country, of another time, lost forever.
Sometimes his mother cried. The letters had stopped when he was still a boy as the shadow had fallen over Europe. Friends, family... cut off abruptly. It was hardest on his father, however. Yaakov Schiff didn't let his emotions show, but he'd aged decades in the months since the end of the war. Long, silent months without any news from relatives scattered by years of fighting.
Until that day. Adam had left school and walked home slowly in the oppressive weather, the air so thick it was hard to breathe. He'd known something was wrong as soon as he turned the corner onto the street he'd lived on his entire life. David was outside, huddled on the steps. Not playing ball like he did every other after, but sitting. Waiting.
"Papa got a letter." David didn't have to say anything else. Adam knew from the expression on his younger brother's face, from his hushed voice. Other families on their street had received letters, responses to their frantic inquiries.
Adam climbed the steps to the apartment and opened the door. His father sat in his chair, staring blindly at the piece of paper in his hands. The room was silent, so quiet he could hear the clock ticking on the mantle. The drapes were pulled to keep out the heat of the afternoon sun but in the murky half-light he could see the tears on his father's cheeks.
His father didn't respond, didn't protest as Adam took the letter and read it. He read it once, twice... and again, as the letters danced and blurred together.
'Dear Mr. Schiff: We regret to inform you that we have been unable to locate any surviving members of the families you listed....'
Through his own tears he finally understood what the harsh black type meant. All of them were gone. His father's family in Europe. Uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents... all of them, gone. Most of his mother's family as well. He tried to think of how many in total, but they were faces in old photographs, names and addresses on letters, characters in stories his parents told. Names and faces of people he'd never met and now would never get the chance to.
Time had dulled the pain of the loss, but it hadn't dulled the memory of that brutally hot June day. It had been the first time he'd seen his father cry. The only time. Even now, as the memories flashed back he could feel the sweat break out on his forehead. Grimly he pushed the memories back and turned back to the business at hand.
"A man killed his wife? Try him, convict him, that's all I want."
Ben could only nod.
As they rose to leave Adam was silent. He thought about his words to Ben. So easy to say, but so hard to believe. He'd been trying for years to forget. It was the only thing he could do, because it wasn't his place to forgive. He didn't have the right to do that. As he exited the restaurant he pulled up his collar against the cold wind and made his way across to where his car waited.