The history behind “The Clearing in the Autumn”

Two young girls, one from Ukraine and one from Germany, meet in an mysterious, magical forest glade a day before World War I breaks out, and swear eternal friendship.

“The Clearing in the Autumn” may be the first story that appears in The History of Soul 2065, but it was one of the last to be written. Along with “The Clearing in the Spring,” it’s among the few stories written specifically for this book, and it introduces the two girls whose lives begin this intergenerational saga: Chana and Sophia.

Chana knew her mother well enough not to say so, but somewhere inside herself, she hid the hope that one day she would meet a real ghost child.

The Clearing in the Autumn

Chana is loosely based on my mother’s mother, whose name was actually Chana (later changed to Anna after she came to America). My grandmother had four older brothers and a younger sister, and was well educated for a girl in those times — her parents were well off enough so they could bribe the local officials to let their daughter into the regular schools.

As I recall her (she died when I was 21), my grandmother was a sturdy, strong, intelligent, opinionated, radical woman. She was a nurse in Russia during WWI, and also lived through a revolution, pogroms, and the chaos that followed. She and her family (including her new husband) emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1920s, just before the the Immigration Act of 1924 slammed the door on Eastern Europe Jews and other “undesirables.”

Sophia — at least, at this phase of her life — is completely fictional.

The glade where the girls meet has its origins in my own experience. Back when I was an early teen, I went to a sleep-away camp for disadvantaged kids where there was little real supervision, and where I was badly bullied by several others in my cabin. There was a small wooded area on the grounds of the camp, and I found a clearing there where I felt hidden, and could sit and read my books without having to deal with any of the other campers.

Lviv (previously known as Lvov or Lemberg) sits near the border of Poland and Ukraine. After WWI ended, it was claimed by both countries, resulting in a small war (as if WWI wasn’t enough). There was a large Jewish population living there whose members declared their neutrality, and then organized their own militia in defense of the country. However, when the Poles (who suspected that the Jews were actually supporting the Ukrainians) occupied the area in November of 1918, they disarmed and interned the Jewish militia. Several days of violence followed. Accounts of the number of people killed and injured vary widely.

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