A prime example is the boy in the following photo. I wondered if he was a prodigy who in another life may have been another Mozart. Or was he like my character, Stepha, a performer of limited talent desperately scratching out a humble child's tune in hope of a coin? Was he performing for himself or did his family's livelihood depend on his talents?
|Young violinist in the Warsaw Ghetto - Circa 1942|
Young Russian entertaining Nazi soldiers - Circa 1942
* * *
“Ya know how to play this?” Ryzhy said pointing at Stepha's concertina.
Stepha answered with an unsteady, “Da.”
“Can ya dance?”
“Nyet,” said Vanya pushing his brother aside. “But I can.”
Ryzhy rubbed his hands together. “Good, good. We need someone to attract a crowd. If ya can play, ya might get a few coins and we might even do better. Let's hear a tune.”
Stepha strapped on the instrument and belted out the first three bars of The International.
“Stop,” Ryzhy shouted waving his hands above his head. “Are ya crazy? Do ya know where ya are? Ya play that at the market and they'll kick yar Bolshevik ass from here to Kiev. Can ya play anything else?”
Stepha squeezed out his old standby My Little Duck and Vanya squat danced across the dirt floor. Before the first stanza was over, the whole gang was hooting and clapping to Stepha's rhythm.
* * *We must also remember the homeless waifs were not pitied or helped. They were called "street Arabs" and were despised and beaten by many like Constable Gerous who saw them as vermin to be exterminated.
* * *Rats. Rats by the dozens, hundreds, and thousands swept through his mind with every word she uttered. He envisioned a carpet of the filthy, gray vermin sweeping across the market place and train station knocking over kiosk, grabbing food, stealing whatever they could, and mocking his authority. Constable Igor Gerous, once Commander Gerous of the Konarmia, scourge of the steppes, had been reduced to chasing hordes of children.
* * *There are no recorded images of young Stefan and John performing, but I did find this film clip from the 1950's. It was taken on the river bank which bordered Stefan's dacha.
Stefan and John performing
It appears the brothers' dancing genes have been passed down several generations. There does seem to be more than a passing similarity in their moves.
Stefan's great-grand children displaying their talent