An excerpt from Tasa’s Song
Background for this passage: Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, and thus began World War II. Seventeen days later, Hitler and Stalin made a secret pact that would divide Poland. The villages and cities of eastern Poland — including Brody, where Tasa Rosinksi boarded to continue her schooling, and Podkamien, her family’s village — became the Ukrainian Republic, controlled by the Soviets. The Poles and Jews now faced oppression and fear, but not yet from Germans. The Soviets bring new rules and regulations about everything, including the literature and music to be enjoyed. Art was valued for its social function in support of the people rather than as creative expression, and many Polish composers were no longer acceptable. In this scene, two months after the war broke out, 16-year-old Tasa has just experienced a frightening moment. Soldiers had entered her classroom unannounced, singled out and removed one of her classmates, likely one whose parents were associated with enemies of the state. After the class, her Soviet-appointed teacher begins interrogating Tasa about her background and capability with languages.
After Professor Vetrov was finished questioning her and his oversized figure disappeared around the corner, Tasa realized all she wanted to do was practice her violin. The lunch period nearly over, she opened her bag, took out the rugelach she’d brought from Frau’s latest batch, and bit into it, relishing the tartness of the raspberry in her mouth as she headed down the hall toward the music room.
No one was in the cavernous classroom. Each wooden chair was empty, every metal stand bare. She scanned its stark white walls, focusing on the gaping space where the giant chart of the Hebrew alphabet once stood. She walked to the back and opened her leather violin case, lifting her treasured Johann Kulik as if it were a delicate baby. She adjusted the pegs and with her bow drew out several notes. Softly, she began practicing Szymanowski’s first violin concerto and then moved on to her favorite Chopin nocturne, disappearing in a melody that made her think of her family and home. After several minutes, she sensed a presence and looked up. Standing inside the doorway was one of the soldiers who’d been in her classroom that morning.
She lowered her bow and froze, holding the instrument tightly to her chest.
As he approached, his clipped steps resounded on the concrete floor. His steely black eyes bore into her. He reached his hand toward her expectantly.
She kept a neutral affect. “Do you want to hold my violin?”
Tasa looked down at the floor, willing herself not to race from the room. She took in a silent gulp of air and carefully handed over the instrument.
The soldier grasped the violin clumsily by its neck before he used both his hands to level it, balancing one hand underneath. He began to slide his thick fingers down the ebony neck and along its strings. His index finger was missing the top knuckle. With it, he started to carelessly pluck several strings, which fell flat. Tasa tensed up and gritted her teeth to keep from saying something reckless.
He asked her, “What music were you playing?”
Her heart hammered in her ears as she watched how loosely he was holding the violin. She wanted to grab it back from him. He slowly began swinging the instrument.
“I was practicing Shostakovich.” Tasa instinctively knew what she should say, looking the man in the eye as she spoke. She took a chance that he didn’t know one composer from another. He held the instrument more tightly. She thought he might break it. In her worked-up state, she began to perspire and hoped it wasn’t obvious. Several moments passed in silence. The soldier’s left eyelid twitched as he handed her back her violin.
Excerpt of Tasa’s Song by Linda Kass published with permission by She Writes Press.