Title: The Puppet Maker’s Daughter
Author: Karla M. Jay
Genre: Historical Fiction
The war comes late to Budapest. Nineteen-year-old Marika, forced out of nursing school, believes she and her Jewish family will remain safe, even as Nazi soldiers fill their cobbled streets. With Russians to their east, the Allies to their west, everyone assumes the war is nearly over. Her father, once a prominent engineer, returns to his passion for puppet making. Soon, she is pulled into the resistance to rescue orphans and displaced Jews while keeping her family one step ahead of Eichmann’s extermination plans. As the world turns dark around her, the fanatical Arrow Cross Party, a ruthless group that listens to no one including the Germans, unleashes a killing spree on the remaining Jews of Europe. One day, as peril intensifies, she must make a decision that puts her in extreme danger to save herself, her family, and the orphans she’s sheltered. Will she regret that moment for the rest of her life?
This book was shortlisted for the Selfie Award in June, a Publishers Marketplace contest.
It appears the Germans have taken the matter into their own hands and begun to play games with Regent Horthy. For days, the radio reports nothing from him, and the silence in the streets is worse than if there were shouting and gunfire. A foreboding gloom descends, and the weather changes to match the mood. It’s hard to stay positive when a cold wind is blowing across the country. Through the treetops it may sound musical, but we Jews hear nothing more than a high-pitched howl, and shivers race up our spines as the wind courses through the streets, sending bits of paper and cigarette butts with it.
Earlier today, a friend of Father’s called with more information. The entire city is overrun by Germans. They’ve settled into our nicest hotels and now dine at the best restaurants and coffee houses. The palace is surrounded by their troops, and the Regent’s hands are tied. He either needs to appoint a new right-wing government more pleasing to the Germans or face the bombardment and destruction of our city.
Not one bomb has fallen on us during the first three years of the war. If we turn a deaf ear to the radio broadcasts, we wouldn’t realize a war rages around us.
We’re seated at our kitchen table, finishing our breakfast of tomato and pepper ragout with scrambled eggs.
“They’ve arrested Caelen.” My father scrubs a napkin across his mouth. “And hundreds of others.”
Caelen is Father’s distant cousin, a top manager at the Hungária Elastic Fabrics and Bandage Factory. Like so many Jews, he converted to Christianity decades ago. And it isn’t as if our family is all that devout in the first place. We rarely attend synagogue and only celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When I was younger, I asked Mother about it, and she said it was Father’s choice.
Mother’s Jewish family was always highly accepted in the mixed religious Győr community. But Father came from a life of persecution by other Jews when his father was thought to support the Bolshevik cause in the early 1900s. When he was a teenager, Father was spit on and beaten for his father’s political beliefs. The harassment ended with my grandfather’s suicide, and my father couldn’t forget how he was treated.
“Their souls are full of scars,” my mother once said. “Oppression will do that to a person even though deep down, your father believes.”
“Why take Caelen?” My father is on his feet now, pacing the apartment.
My mother pushes her food around on her plate as if trying to rearrange the breakfast, along with what’s happening outside.
“Sister Sára Salkaházi talked about this just last night.” I volunteer at the Sisters of the Social Service orphanages, and Sister Sára oversees them all. She allows people of all religions to work there, not only women from their order. We learned she sees holiness in anyone offering service to another person in need. I trace the coffee cup rim with my finger, my nails bit ragged, an unwomanly sight my mother likes to point out. “She said they took away Social Democrats and any prominent Jew who is an artist, musician, or businessman.”
“But took them where?” My mother’s face pales, and she shoots a quick look toward Father who’s staring out the front window. He’s both an artist and a businessman. I can almost read the question in her eyes. Will they come for him?
“To the Nyugati railway station,” Father says, pulling the lace curtain fully aside to peer out. “I’ll make some calls again. I know the supervisor there.”
Was another Labor Force being created? Thousands of men are still missing or haven’t made it back like Gellert. There’s no question that if this is the case, the men in Budapest will need to hide.
“I’m off to the hospital then to work.” I stand and kiss both my parents on the cheek. “We’re expecting a new shipment today at the orphanage.”
Shipment means refugees. And now more than ever, the Sisters of Social Service will need to be extra careful with the cargo the village wagons and trucks unload at the Working Girls’ Homes and Orphanages spread throughout the city. I’ve been volunteering there for two years, using what I’ve learned so far in nursing school to help.
I leave the apartment with my parents’ wishes for my safety following me out the door.
If they knew I have been helping the Resistance for the past few months by meeting families on the run and bringing them to the orphanage, they’d be much more worried.
The Germans have made it clear—they won’t tolerate anyone helping a Jew and threaten arrest if discovered. But I fell into helping the underground by accident and I stayed because I need to do something other than worry. And what safer place than the cover of working with nuns protected by the Pope.
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What’s your favorite thing about autumn:
The scent of leaves on a crisp breeze.
What inspired you to write this story:
We visited Budapest and learned about the plight of the Jews in WWII as the war neared the end. I read a lot of WWII stories and had not heard about the Yellow Star Houses, the death march from Budapest or the Arrow Cross gang. So I decided to tell the tale.
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Runs September 1 – 30
Drawing will be held on October 3.
Karla has written in a few genres from humor to historical fiction. Honors include recognition from The Independent Press, the Jerusalem Post, Reader Views (the Tyler R. Tichelaar Award), Book Excellence, NYC Big Book Awards, the US Review of Books, Independent Book Publishers Association, the Selfies, and others. She lives in Utah with her husband and one very big dog.
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