The first time was the charm for Palo
Alto writer Louis Fried.
Fried's Holocaust-themed short story, "The Slick," was the first piece
the retired information-technology consultant had ever submitted to a
Author of two books and 300 articles about the management of computer
technology, Fried turned to the study and writing of fiction when he retired
two years ago. To occupy his new-found free time, Fried started taking
writing courses at Foothill College, where he learned how to transfer
his technical, nonfiction writing skills to the world of fiction.
Also upon retirement, Fried and his wife, Haya, a Hebrew teacher at Foothill
College, began taking an annual three-month pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where
last year he found his inspiration for the story that became "The Slick."
In Israel during the April 1999 Holocaust Memorial observations, "I went
to the Holocaust museum, and when I returned from there, I just sat down
and wrote the story," Fried said.
"The Slick" tells the story of a man and his grandfather's visit to the
Serbian village where the grandfather hid while his father and brother
participated in the World War II Resistance movement. The term "slick"
refers to a secret place that resistance fighters used to hide materials
from the Nazis. In Fried's story, "slick" is also the source of a longtime
family secret. Although Fried is not Yugoslavian, the story has an autobiographical
tone, and much of his family died in the war.
"The Slick" is also a departure for Fried, because his main interest in
writing and reading fiction is science fiction. An admirer of Isaac Asimov,
Fried enjoys Asimov's "hard" science-fiction style, with its careful attention
to technological and scientific realism. But in his own writing, Fried
prefers "soft" science fiction, except when writing about computer technology.
Fried has written about a dozen fiction and science fiction stories, but
none so far have been published.
Writing fiction has been a lifelong ambition of Fried, who has lived in
Palo Alto since 1975. He began his 45-year career in computer management
"by accident," when he started working with computers as a way to put
himself through college. His eldest son, Ron, has continued the tradition,
working for SRI International in Menlo Park, where Fried worked for 20
years. The Frieds' other children, Eliana and Gil, are also grown. "It's
been a childhood desire to write fiction, and now being retired, I have
the luxury to write fiction," Fried said.
by Louis Fried
We were in a small, muddy, Serbian village, with a name I couldn't pronounce,
about 50 kilometers south of Belgrade. The last few kilometers of road
had only the vaguest memory of having been paved at some time in the past.
It was 55 years after the war ended ... the Second World War, that is.
My grandfather Hershel stepped out of the rented car I had been driving
and stretched his back. The sun gleamed for a moment between clouds and
reflected off his white hair. He pointed the crippled fingers of his right
hand in the general direction he was headed. "This is the place. Come
Even after years in the U.S., he still spoke with a slight accent.
I got out of the car and followed. Despite his pronounced limp, he held
his back stiffly straight. He was a short man, made even shorter by his
70 years, but he had always appeared to be taller than he really was.
We walked around the abandoned farmhouse facing the street and into the
back yard, toward a shaky old wooden barn, rough and weathered from the
region's winters. The yard was overrun with spring flowers releasing their
heady scent, but the barn stood gaunt and gray.
I watched him kneel down on the ground next to the side of the barn. With
his penknife he pried a board away from its place among the slats that
covered the stone foundation. With the board removed, the area revealed
a narrow opening that seemed to extend under the floor of the building.
"This was our slick." he said, rising and turning to me. He stood there
shaking his head for a moment, apparently deep in thought.
"A slick?" I asked.
"Yes, Joel. That name was used by one of the British agents who parachuted
in to help us. To help the Yugoslav resistance fighters against the Nazis
in 1942. I think it's a cockney word for a place to hide things, but it
might be from the Hebrew verb 'selik' that means 'to hide'."
Another pause. "This is why I came here, but now I'm afraid to look."
His lower lip trembled. "Look inside for me. Is anything there?"
I knelt down and peered into the hole. It was too dark to see anything.
With some hesitation about spiders and bugs, I reached in and groped around.
Nothing but the rough wood, except for a piece of paper. I grasped the
paper and pulled it out.
"Nothing but this paper, Grandpa!" I stood up and handed the yellowed
scrap to him.
"That's all? You're sure?"
"Yes. I reached in as far as I could. But the paper has some writing on
it. What does it say?"
He looked at the paper. Flakes fell off the edges as he smoothed it. I
looked over his shoulder at the block letters that I couldn't decipher.
"It's in Serbian. It says 'Achtung!' That's German for attention. Then
it says in Serb, 'I fooled you again, you Nazi bastards.'
"It is my brother's handwriting." His shoulders slumped and, for a moment,
I thought he was going to cry.
"What's it mean, Grandpa?" I probed, in part to get him talking.
"You sure that this is all there is in the slick?" he asked.
I nodded. "That's all that was in there."
"I need to sit down. Let's go back to the car," he whispered raggedly.
I held his arm as we walked back to the car. I opened the passenger side
door and he sat down heavily, his legs outside, feet touching the mud
at the roadside.
I stood silently, waiting for him to say something.
He breathed in and out slowly. Deep breaths, trying to compose himself.
"So, it was all for nothing," he said quietly.
"What was for nothing?" I asked, keeping my voice low.
At least two minutes went by as I stood there waiting for him to say something.
Finally, he looked up at me. "Joel, let me tell you what happened here.
"When the Nazis came, we were living in Belgrade. By that time, we had
heard what was happening to the Jews in the Sudetenland and Poland. We
knew that we had to get away somehow.
"My father took us, my mother, my older brother Isadore and me to this
village where he had some friends. They took us in, but Father and Izzy
had to join the Resistance. Me they didn't take. I was only 11 years old.
"That first winter was terrible. Mother was a city girl, born and raised
in Belgrade. The weather and the conditions were too difficult for her.
She died of pneumonia before Hanukkah.
"My brother and I were tough. We took after my father. My brother was
16 and especially daring. He was always the first on raids and he became
a crack marksman.
"We all hated the Nazis and the collaborators with our full hearts, not
only for Mother's death, but for what they were doing to Yugoslavia, for
what they were doing to the Jews, for all of their inhumanity. When the
Nazis started retaliation raids in this area, they would line up the men
found in the village and shoot them down, making the women dig the graves.
So the men started to hide out in the forests."
He paused a moment, then resumed, speaking slowly and matter-of-factly
about these horrible things.
"Food got scarce, because there was no one but the women and children
to do the farming. I was living here with a farming family and I was passed
off as one of their children.
"When the British started to drop their agents into our area, we had great
hope. They taught us how to hide arms in the slicks and they smuggled
in ammunition and guns. They helped Tito to organize against a common
enemy, even if he was a Communist.
"Izzy and my father built the slick here. It was for storing arms temporarily.
A part of the relay chain that was set up to smuggle contraband arms and
propaganda and even news communications. It was my job to keep the slick
hidden and to observe the movements of the Nazis. I reported everything
that I could find out about them to Izzy.
"They suspected what we were doing, the Nazis, but they didn't find much.
Very few people here would talk to them. Most had family in the Resistance.
One night in February they came to our house ... this house right here.
They asked Margit, the farmer's wife about the smuggling. She refused
to answer them."
Grandpa paused, took another deep breath and continued.
One of them stuck a bayonet in her. They left her lying on the floor,
bleeding. I jumped up and ran outside, right into the arms of a German
soldier. He grabbed me and laughed.
"I was small for my age, so they probably thought I was younger than I
was. The soldier threw me to the ground and I lay there in the snow, scared
so much I don't know how to tell you.
"He asked me about the slick. I was sure that Izzy had cached the last
shipment of arms there and that if the Nazis found it they would kill
us all. But even more than being scared, I had to protect Izzy and Father.
"I told him I didn't know anything. He laughed again, and before I knew
what happened, he smashed the butt of his rifle down on my foot. I screamed
and he smashed it down again.
"I don't know why I didn't pass out.
"He asked me again about the arms. I bit my lip to keep from talking.
He told another soldier to stand on my arm and then he smashed my right
hand the way he had done to my foot.
"Once more he asked me. I tasted the blood as I bit through my lip to
keep silence. He hit me along the side of my head with the rifle butt.
They walked away laughing and left me to die."
Grandpa paused again.
"You don't have to tell me all this," I told him. "Just relax for a few
minutes and then we'll leave. I don't know why I let you talk me into
this trip anyway."
"I want you to know, Joel," he continued. "Izzy came for me a few hours
later. He picked me up and carried me into the forest. There they did
the best they could to patch me up and to keep me alive, until they could
get me to a field hospital some 20 kilometers away. I never saw Izzy or
my father again.
"For three more years we lived like animals, doing everything that we
could think of to hurt the Nazis. Father died. My brave Izzy died. "I
fought and helped as I could, always remembering that I had kept the secret
of the arms in the slick. All my life I could be proud of not giving them
away to the Germans.
"Now we find nothing but this note! Izzy must have taken out the arms
before the Germans arrived at our house.
"It was all for nothing," he said bitterly. "I could have told them about
the slick. It was empty. I have been a cripple all my life for nothing."
He fell silent. I couldn't find the right words to comfort him. I took
his hand and helped him to stand up out of the car.
His body seemed to sag.
"You're wrong, you know," I said to him.
He turned to me, his eyes blank from the grief of his disappointment with
life. I had thought about telling him of his success with the family,
but that sounded hollow. Then I spoke almost without thinking.
"It wasn't for nothing, Grandpa. It wasn't even for your father and brother.
You saved your own honor as a human being." "Perhaps," he answered looking
"I'm so proud of you," I smiled at him.
"Let's go home, Joel," he responded, but his voice was again firm and
he stood straight once more, even in the mud beside the road.
War continues to rage among many of those who survive. "The Slick" is
a thoughtful exploration into one such survivor's personal tumult, while
offering the reader new insight into the meaning of honor and heroism.
The writer has captured so much in a moment in time. This is no arbitrary
moment. The grandfather has waited to return to his homeland because he
has something to learn. The writer takes us along for the ride.
Compelling dialogue gives this story the illusion of life.
--Kim Silviera Wolterbeek