SIGNS OF LIFE
Close to the borders of the great city of Warsaw where the railway tracks form a wide angle, a small hammer is lying near the rails, lost in this deserted place. The hammer could hardly be used, for its handle is split down the entire length and is only held together by a piece of string wound tightly round it.
Having finished his night shift an old workman is returning home. He is tired and decides to take a short cut across the railway tracks. He notices the broken hammer but thinks it not worth while even to pick it up. However, a coloured bit of paper tied to the handle kindles a spark of interest in the old man's eyes; he bends down and picks it up. To his great amazement the bit of coloured paper turns out to be a five Zloty6 banknote, folded up into a small roll. After straightening it out he finds in it several more banknotes. Altogether the amount of thirty Zloty. The workman examines the banknotes carefully: they are slightly moist with dew, very crumpled, but genuine.
An extraordinary joke: he had very nearly passed the broken hammer lying on his path. It is all very odd and probably means something. He turns the hammer about, and at last realises that the handle was not accidentally broken but must have been split purposely.
Feverishly he unties the string and unwinds it from the wood. As the handle comes apart, small paper rolls fall out. The old workman unfolds one and reads the following:
"We implore the finder to take the enclosed notes immediately to the given addresses. We were caught in the streets of Warsaw yesterday. We enclose thirty Zloty for fares. We are throwing out the hammer through an opening in the carriage. Please make haste!"
The workman is no longer in a hurry to get home. He sits down on the railway bank and quickly arranges the notes. Here is Praga, there Powisle, there the surroundings of Mokotow, here Zoliborz7. He works almost like an experienced postman. After he has finished sorting out the notes he does not waste a moment, but walks off in the direction of the city. He catches a tramcar and starts his rounds. He visits various homes – some are under roofs and some in basements, some big and some small. There is an atmosphere of strain and anxiety everywhere. He comes as a messenger – and nobody knows whether one of life or death, and even if he brings a message from one alive, the victim may in the meantime have entered the gates of Auschwitz.
Many of the people who receive messages would like to help the tired workman, but the old man refuses. He wants to hand over all the notes personally; he has been chosen by fate to pick up the hammer.
Crowds are gathering in Aleja Szucha – the chief lair of the Gestapo: people are anxious to find out what has happened to their relatives or friends who have vanished. There are those who had already received the notes scattered in the streets, those who had been visited by the finder of the hollowed hammer, and lastly those who, without word of explanation, had understood the grim meaning of the prolonged absence of one of their family.
The Gestapo, however, does not give any information. "Come back in two weeks' time – after a month." The mail from Auschwitz is sometimes more helpful, it gives information in the form of a letter coming from 'Schutzhkftling8 number so and so'.
6 Polish currency .
7 Districts of Warsaw.
8 Germ. Prisoner, put under protective arrest.