They had saved me a seat in the auditorium. When I sat down it was just as I suspected it would be: Punk on my right, his arm tangled around mine, his head on my shoulder, already bracing himself, attempting to take comfort, to escape from what he knew to be true. Kooka did not even bother to drop her theater seat, but instead perched herself of top, head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, eyes focused hard on the speaker.
They both knew the basic gist of the story: If you were Jewish you had no rights. If you were Jewish Hitler hated you. If you had Jewish blood in your veins, you would be exterminated.
Baby Yoda is 1/4 Jewish. Now it is not just a story. Now it is hitting home.
So we listen. Punk's eyes meet mine often. Deep and sorrowful, his eyes say what his mouth doesn't. "Can you believe it?" He sits up straight for a minute when she tells about being locked in a shed with a time bomb attached. He relaxes only when she tells us that God sent rain, so the fuse never lit. And for minute he is OK, everything is right with the world - God's still doing his job. It is overwhelming for Punk. Too many thoughts in his head, and not enough ways to save every person who needs it.
Kooka does not look at me once. She never takes her eyes off the podium. I have no idea what she is gleaning from this, only that she is not missing a thing. Her head nods imperceptibly when she hears, "Some of you may grow up to be inventors that create a cure for cancer." Kooka has a plan. I am never sure what it is, and it changes daily, but by God, she is prepared to do her part, to make sure the world is better off when she's gone.
When it is over I ask them what they remember most. I have already made my assumptions. For Punk, I think it is the time bomb - the horror of being trapped and the miracle of being saved. For Kooka I think it is the story of the rescue - the real life story of Prince Charming arriving by Jeep to rescue his princess and take her away to a wonderful land.
But I am wrong on both counts. There are two things that stick with them.
Both kids agreed the part that hit them most, was when Mrs. Klein was reminiscing about spending another "boring evening at home" with her brother sprawled next to her on the living room floor, her mother working on needlepoint, and dad reading the paper. It was an unremarkable evening, nothing exciting to do - boring. She then said, that she spent the next 4 years just praying for one more night like it. Just one more empty, boring, do-nothing-day with the people she loved. Just a chance to be close to them again.
"When she said she never saw her family again, that was the worst." Kooka said.
The other telling part of our discussion was a story Mrs. Klein told, about her friend finding a solitary raspberry, and giving it to her as a gift. I set the plot up for the kids, and asked them if they could do it. If they could imagine themselves 10 times hungrier than they had ever been. If they could imagine finding one lone Starburst candy - what would they do.
This part was exactly what I expected.
"Yeah, I would give it away. Giving somebody else such a great gift, and making them healthier would make me feel less depressed." That was Punk.
And Kooka - I knew it before she said it - "No, I would not give it away. I would split it in half, because then we would both get more energy to fight the Nazi's." Never trust anybody else to fight your battles. That's how my girl works.
I think there is more stirring in their little souls. We had a lengthy conversation, but for now that is enough - even for me.