Vienna, October 20th, 1941, today is Celia’s tenth birthday. This is not the way she imagined celebrating it. She is with her family – her mama Miriam, her papa David, her elder brother Issel and her baby sister Liza. They are all crouched together in the back room of their tiny two-room apartment in Grosse Spielgasse, in the dark, barely breathing.
Outside the building, the boot steps get nearer and nearer – Celia hears shouting, screaming, gunshots. She crouches down even closer to the ground, wishing they could all somehow be swallowed up by the shadows. Celia holds her cat Max tightly in her arms, feeling his warmth, his soft tabby fur close to her skin, willing him to stay quiet.
Her mamma cradles little Liza at her breast, nursing her so she will not cry out. Outside the pounding footsteps get closer, closer: “Juden, Juden, Heraus, Heraus, Schnell, Schnell!!” Now they are at the door of the neighbors – the Wassersteins. She hears crying and a single gun-shot.
Miriam beckons to her, “Celia, mein Katzerl , come here,” she whispers, “I have something for you, for your birthday.”
Celia approaches Miriam cautiously still clutching Max to her, “What is it Mama?” she says gazing into Miriam’s green, green eyes – studying her prematurely wrinkled face, memorizing every crease. Mama, my mama, she thinks.
Still holding baby Liza with her left hand Miriam reaches round the back of her neck with her right and unclasps the chain that she always wears under her clothes close to her heart. It is a silver chain with a cat charm on it. “Take this Celia, mein Katzerl, wear it always, remember I love you. Ich liebe dich.”
“I love you, Mama,” she whispers as she fastens the chain around her neck, just as the doors burst open – six gestapo soldiers rush into their home – “Juden, Heraus, Heraus . . .” Celia watches as her family is herded out of the door . . .