With intense trepidation and dread, Shimon approached the Mother Superior of the convent where his daughter had been taken. While sympathetic, she insisted there were no Jewish children there, only Christian orphans. Shimon pleaded to see the girls who were Malka’s age. To his extreme shock and relief, the nun agreed to his request.
A group of about 10 little girls, similarly dressed in their convent smocks stood warily in their room, eyeing the Jew with wide-eyed horror. They had never seen a Christ-killer up close.
One by one he peered into their faces, softly calling each Malkala.
But for over three years – half her lifetime, Malka had been Marusha. No one reacted to his words. The Mother Superior, who had accompanied him, insisted he leave. A distraught and panicky Shimon begged for one more look and quickly ran up and down the row of beds. Suddenly he stopped, stunned. A ragged, stitched up doll that had obviously been held quite frequently, lay on the floor beside one bed, partially covered by a blanket. A white-faced Shimon scooped up the doll and faced its equally white faced owner, who had stepped forward to grab it back.
The look of terror in the little girl’s eyes sickened him, but he resolutely turned to the startled nun. “My wife,” he said, his voice cracking, “opened the back of the doll, removed the stuffing and inserted a photo of us. Please, open it so there will be no question as to a photo being planted.”
The Mother Superior ripped the doll’s back seam and pulled out a folded, crumbled photo that showed, despite its cracks, a healthier version of the man in the room, beaming at a pretty, smiling, toddler sandwiched between him and a woman – her mother.
The little girls gave out a collective gasp, crossing themselves as they quickly moved away from the girl who had been their companion for so long. “You’re a dirty Jew,” they hissed as Malka/Marusha stood miserable and isolated, her world and her sense of self demolished – for the second time in her young life.
Such a shame, the nun thought to herself, Marusha was such an intelligent, obedient child. She no doubt would have taken her vows one day. The nun had only allowed the Jew in because she knew he would be obstinate, as his entire people were – but was certain he would be unable to prove his claim. Tricky bunch, those Jews!
Malka left the convent as she entered it – screaming hysterically; torn from everything she had known.
Knowing that she had no memory of her previous life, and realizing she found him alien and repulsive, Shimon had tied a rope between their waists, terrified she would run away and he would lose her – again.
It would take many weeks before she stopped crying; several months before she would talk; and almost a year before she would look at him – and call him Tatty.
It would take, however, several years before Marusha stopped crossing herself – and became Malkala again.
Eventually, Shimon and Malka made their way to Israel, where Malka joined other emotionally traumatized child survivors in the long process of healing. Shimon eventually remarried. His second daughter was Ruchi’s grandmother.
“That is why Ema kisses the doll when she lights Shabbat candles,” Chana explained to her spellbound cousin. “Because her Ema, Savta Malka, always did. Savta would say that she was benching licht in Eretz Yisrael – instead of lighting church candles in Poland – because of the doll. It is only right that it partake in the mitzvah with me.”
Upon her return to America, Ruchi’s dolls remained whole and intact.