“So,” she said, “what happened when you went after Antoine LeMaire?”
“Why don’t you go first?”
She played with the straw in her milk shake. “I still need time to wrap my head around this.” Ema took a sip and leaned back. “By the way, do me a favor: if you want to play overprotective daddy with me, just say so.”
“Okay,” I said.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“Good,” Ema said. “So what happened with Antoine?”
I told her about my visit to the Plan B Go-Go Lounge. The waitress came and brought our food, but neither one of us noticed. When I finished, Ema said, “I won’t even bother with the ‘whoa.’ This is beyond whoa. It’s like whoa on steroids. It’s like whoa raised to the tenth power.”
The smell of Kung Pao chicken rose up from the plate and suddenly I realized that I was starving. I grabbed my fork and started digging in.
“So,” Ema said, “you think, what, your prim and proper Ashley danced in a go-go bar?”
I shrugged mid-bite. “So what did you learn about that tombstone?”
Her face lost a little color. “It’s about Bat Lady.”
I waited. She hesitated.
“When Chief Taylor was dragging me away, I saw Bat Lady in the window. She was trying to tell me something.”
Ema’s eyes narrowed.
“I can’t swear to it,” I said, “but I think she was telling me to save Ashley. I know that makes no sense. But whatever it is, whatever you’ve learned, I need to hear it.”
She nodded. “We already know about that Jefferies quote, right?”
“So I searched the other stuff. That line about a childhood lost for children.”
“I found nothing on that exact quote, but I did find this website on…” She stopped, shook her head as if she couldn’t believe that she was about to go on. “On the Holocaust.”
I stopped with my fork half in the air. “As in Nazis and World War Two?”
“I don’t understand.”
“It was a reference to some of the Jewish children who joined the underground resistance in Poland. See, some of the kids who escaped the death camps lived in the forest. They fought the Nazis in secret. Kids. They would also smuggle goods into the Lodz ghetto, for example. Sometimes, when they could, they even rescued kids heading toward Auschwitz, the Nazis’ biggest and most notorious concentration camp.”
I just sat there and waited. Ema picked up her milk shake and took a deep long sip. “I still don’t understand,” I said. “What does this have to do with the tombstone in Bat Lady’s garden?”
“You’ve heard of Anne Frank, right?”
I had, of course. I had not only read The Diary of Anne Frank, but when I was twelve, my parents took me to the house in Amsterdam where she hid from the Nazis. The two parts I remember best: One, the moveable bookcase that hid the stairs up to the secret attic where the Frank family stayed. Two, the Anne Frank quote you see as you leave this somber memoriaclass="underline" “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”
“Of course, I’ve heard of her,” I said.
“There was another girl. A thirteen-year-old Polish girl named Lizzy Sobek who escaped from Auschwitz and worked for the resistance.”
The name rang a bell. “I remember reading something about her.”
“Me too. We talked a little about her in eighth-grade history. Lizzy Sobek’s family was slaughtered in Auschwitz, but somehow she escaped. She is credited with saving hundreds of lives. In one documented case, Lizzy ran a February raid that slowed down a cargo train loaded with Jews heading for the death camps. More than fifty people escaped into the snowy woods-almost all under the age of fifteen. And some of those she saved claim”-Ema stopped, took a deep breath-“that when they escaped, they saw butterflies.”
I swallowed. “Butterflies?”
She nodded. “In February. In Poland. Butterflies. Hundreds of them leading them to safety.”
I just sat there.
“Lizzy Sobek became known as the Butterfly.”
I may have been shaking my head, but I can’t swear to it. I knew that we were both thinking the same thing. Butterfly-like on those T-shirts in the old photograph, at my father’s gravesite, on the tombstone in Bat Lady’s backyard. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
“Lizzy Sobek,” I said-and suddenly my blood went cold again. “Lizzy could be short for Elizabeth.”
“It was,” Ema said.
Elizabeth Sobek. E.S. The initials on that tombstone. Another coincidence? I asked the obvious question: “What became of Lizzy Sobek?”
“That’s the thing,” Ema said. “No one really knows. The vast majority of scholars believe that she was captured during a raid to free a group of children starving to death near Lodz. They believe that she and other resistance fighters were shot and buried in a mass grave, probably in 1944. But there has never been any proof.”
“A childhood lost for children,” I said. “That phrase makes more sense now.”
Ema nodded. “There’s more.”
I waited. The restaurant was bustling. People coming and going, enjoying their food, laughing or texting or whatever it is people do at restaurants. But for us, they were gone now. The room was just this booth-just Ema and me and the ghost of some brave, long-dead girl named Lizzy Sobek.
“I did all kinds of searches on those numbers-the ones on the bottom of the tombstone and on that license plate,” Ema said. “The A30432. But I came up with nothing.”
I sat very still. If she had ended up with nothing, there wouldn’t be tears in her eyes.
“So I read more about Lizzy Sobek,” Ema said, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a piece of paper. “I found one of those Q and A sites on her life.” She unfolded the paper and slid it across the table.
I took it from her. Ema looked off. I turned my attention to the paper:
Question 8: What was Lizzy Sobek’s concentration camp tattoo ID number?
It remains unknown. Most people mistakenly believe that every person in a Nazi concentration camp was tattooed, but in truth, the Auschwitz concentration camp complex (including Auschwitz 1, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Monowitz) was the only location in which prisoners were systematically tattooed during the Holocaust. On September 12, 1942, Lizzy, along with her father, Samuel, her mother, Esther, and her brother, Emmanuel, boarded a transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The transport arrived in Auschwitz on September 13, 1942, with 1,121 Jews on board. Men and women were separated. The women selected from this transport, including Lizzy and Esther, were marked with tattoos between the numbers A-30380 and A-30615. Records indicating their exact numbers have not been preserved, so to this day, the number Lizzy Sobek bore on her forearm remains a mystery.
I looked up at Ema and now I had tears in my eyes too. “Have we solved this particular mystery?”
“We may have.”
“Which leads to another.”
Ema nodded. “How would Bat Lady know the exact same number?”
“And why would she have a tombstone for her in her backyard?”
Ema stopped. We both knew what she was thinking, but I don’t think either of us was ready to say it out loud. Maybe we had solved a mystery deeper than a tattoo number. Maybe, after all these years, we had solved the mystery of what really happened to Lizzy Sobek.
THE NEXT MORNING, I called my mother at the Coddington Institute. The operator said, “Please hold.”
There were two rings and then the phone was picked up. “Mickey?”
It wasn’t my mother. It was the rehab’s director, Christine Shippee. “I want to talk to my mother.”