Guinea Pig

By Tonia Blair, a member of Get Your WordsWorth

Sometimes when I look at Morning Glory II, my cat, sprawled on his back on my husband’s reclining chair, waiting for a stomach rub, my thoughts go back to December 1939, when proclamations were posted on every building wall and fence, for all Jews to deliver their pet animals to the main market on Zielona street, by a certain day at the end of December.

Morning Glory II would have been considered a Jewish cat and his fate would have been sealed. When M-Glory looks at me so endearingly with his yellow-green eyes, I drop whatever I am doing, walk over to rub his belly, kiss him on his moist, pink nose, and try not to think of my Guinea Pig, who met his untimely end on that December day.

Since ever I was a little girl, I have loved animals.  I remember bringing home skinny little stray kittens and petting every dog I encountered.  One of those kittens caused a minor tragedy when, during the night, the kitten played with my girlfriend’s new stockings, turning them into an uneven gray ball.

My home, a one room apartment, housed my father, my mother, my older sister, my little brother and me.   I had just graduated from sleeping in the same bed as my mother and sister to a brand new folding cot, and I invited my friend, Rozia, to spend the night with me. She came dressed up, wearing her new very fine stockings.  We may have been 9 or 10 years old.  In the morning as Rozia was getting dressed, we found her stockings, much to our horror, under the bed a ball like mess with treads running in all directions.

In the spring of the following year my tonsils were removed.  After 2 days in the hospital, my parents surprised me with a little puppy waiting at home for me.  I still remember him.  He was black with floppy ears, jumping on the bed.  I hugged and kissed him on his little snout.  Then he urinated in the bed which also caused a minor disaster, what with the down bedding being soaked.  It was a job to train him; he grew up to be a giant, knocking us kids over.  So my father took him away one Sunday morning to the country to be with the peasant family we knew.

Sometimes we had a chicken for a while living with us, before we had it for a Friday night meal, which made us kids very sad.  But chickens were not cuddly, and they were impossible to kiss on their beaks.

My father occasionally brought a fish, a carp, from the lake near the factory he worked in.  The fish was kept in a large bucket of water.  It was fun to watch, but again, not very pleasant to embrace.

Then on my 10th birthday, my father’s best friend brought me a little guinea pig as a gift.  The little white and brown guinea looked as if someone had dipped half his body in a vessel of melted chocolate.  He became my own, personal, prized pet. I made him a special place between the coal stove and the cabinet, a space about 1 ½ by 2 feet.  I shredded newspapers for his bedding.  When he came out to hop around the house he would drop little black pellets all over which were easy to clean up.  Every day I prepared him a meal of carrots and celery; and on special occasions he would get some lettuce with a sprig of parsley. I loved the sound of crunching carrots chopped by his four long, front teeth.  He was very clean and used one corner of the space to eliminate on the paper that had a faint smell of cut grass.  He also became our alarm clock.  Every morning at the same time he would stand, on his short, hind legs and let out the most piercing squeaks.  Kind of a thin sound like violin high notes, asking for food.  I loved him. The first thing I did when I came home from school was to find him to play with.  He was not as soft as a kitten, rather bony under the furry pelt, but so sweet, clean and fresh- smelling.  I loved watching him clean himself.  First licking his tiny paw, then in quick actions rubbing behind his hairless, short ears, then down his face, all the time sniffing, with his nose going up and down, in rhythmic successions.

In the summer of 1938 when I was 11 years, I was chosen to go to a special camp, called Medem Sanatorium, near Warsaw. At this truly democratic summer camp the children ate together with the counselors, janitors and staff.  All children had jobs.  I worked in a little museum of animals.  One of my duties was to feed a carnivorous eating fish pieces of meat at the end of long tweezers.  I also took care of the frogs and other aquatic creatures.   I stayed there a month.  When I was brought back home, my family was sitting around the table finishing dinner.  I burst into the room.  My little brother greeted me with shouts, my sister and my parents welcomed me back, but instead of responding to them, I went to the stove area where my guinea pig was sleeping.  I picked him up, cuddled him against my face, and cupped my hand over his muzzle, so he wouldn’t mistake my lips for a carrot, kissed him, crying happily, before I hugged my mother and father.

Then the day arrived when we had to deliver little guinea to the Zielona Street market.  Food was already very scarce for the Jewish people.  There were no vegetables.  We were hungry and miserable, and I was crying for days.  My whole family by then was also attached to and loved little guinea, who brought us so much fun.  They felt sad for me and were trying to be comforting.  So on that day, I found an old show box and asked our Polish neighbor, Marysia, for an old newspaper.  No more newspapers were allowed for the Jewish people.  I shredded fresh paper for his bed, procured a carrot and a leaf of lettuce from my Polish girlfriend who most likely took it then from the cupboard, without her mother’s knowledge. Then my mother, my sister, my little brother, and I, with heavy heart, holding the box with the guinea pig in it, proceeded to the Zieloma Street market, four blocks from our house.

The market was surrounded by German soldiers with bayonets on their rifles and was full of crying children hugging their pets, with parents pulling on them, beseeching them to leave the yelping dogs, meowing cats, rabbits, birds, and other small creatures.

The animals were beautifully groomed.  Some with decorative collars, confined in their carriers and cages, some of which were store-bought, others homemade.  Dusk was descending quickly.  We left our beloved pets, in the open market, on that icy December night never to see them again.

– by Tonia Rotlcopf  Blair, a member of Get Your WordsWorth

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6 thoughts on “Guinea Pig

  1. Tony,

    John and I loved reading your touching story about your pets and how painful the forced parting was for you. Thank you for sharing with Morningsiders.

  2. Nicholas Blair says:

    Great job Mom, for someone who’s native language is Polish, it is amazing that you write so well in English. Love Nicoya

  3. The regime’s cruelty is all the more glaring in this childhood memory of a forced sacrifice of a beloved pet. Beautifully told, Tonia. Thank you

  4. Joe Brodie says:

    Hi Toni,

    We’ve been in Israel for six weeks and I’m just now reading your beautiful essay which was forwarded to me by Ron Bruno. From the vantage point of a child, you illustrate such poignant and touching memories. I once heard a Nobel Laureate, Eric Kandel (from Columbia) one or two years your junior tell of the prize electric car he owned which was confiscated by the Nazis. These stories are precious. Thanks for sharing.
    Joe Brodie

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dear Toni,
    Thanks for sharing this story.
    Beautifully told, such vivid images: I could see you at that market, parting from your guinea pig, in the whole context of the WWII era.
    The fact that you love animals so much, says a lot about your kind heart.
    All the best,
    Rebeca Permuth

  6. Anonymous says:

    Dear Tonia:
    My name is Bertha Permuth, mother of Jaime Permuth, who has been photographing you and other members of EstaWriters.
    Thank you for sharing those revealing moments. My parents came from Poland, a village named Wyzkow. Most of my family on my mothers side, ended in Auschwitz.
    For me it was first knowledge that pets also had a misfortuned ending. But what could be expected of the nazis, anyway?
    May G-d bless you with having good memories, of those terrible days!
    Bertha Ostrowiak Eichenbaum de Permuth

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