Sections from the Book "The Sandgame" Dealing with "The Game as a Way to Cope"

1. A game with bedbugs:
The building was constructed before electricity, and all the wires had been added later and ran along the walls. Bedbugs lived behind them, and at night they awoke and descended on us in our sleep, some creeping down on the walls and others dropping free-fall from above. In the end my mother donned a kerchief, gave me and my brother pot covers filled with turpentine, climbed a ladder, and swept the bugs from their roosts with a toothbrush. We collected them in the pot covers, fascinated by their attempts to stand on their hind legs and lift their bellies that were swollen with our blood. "They're rearing up like horses," said my brother, and my mother laughed.
(The Sandgame, Page 21.)

2. The cars game and the ranks game:
Sometimes I pretended to be an automobile that overtook everyone else. Or else I held a contest between the two sides of the street to see which had the Jewish policeman with the highest rank.
(The Sandgame, Page 23.)

3. Wars with toy soldiers:
The fact was that we had a game that we played. In it I was Tarzan, the Commander of the World, and my brother was either my chief enemy, if we were at war, or the friendly head of the neighboring country, if we were at peace. Each of us had a large army, and during the six years of the real war we fought our own imaginary one.
How we conducted it depended on the circumstances. If it was night or we were hiding in the dark, we fought by talking, each announcing his army's moves and countering the other's. If it was day and we could play on the floor, we fought with toy soldiers, chess pieces, and huge stacks of playing cards that I had brought back from various apartments. Some of these wars, interspersed with periods of peace, lasted a full twelve hours, until the grownups returned from work.
(The Sandgame, Pages 28-30.)
4. The Commands Game:
We built ourselves a castle in Mrs. Mileska's and lived in it with our wives. I was Tarzan commander of the World, and my brother was Richard Grenadier. Our wives were little paper dolls cut out of cardboard, and I sold my brother some of the clothes I made for them. I sold him all sorts of things - clothes, furniture, guns, cars, carriages, tanks, cannons - and since I also made the money, I was much richer than he was. He could earn as much as he wanted, though, by selling me commands. A command could only be disobeyed if it was totally senseless or made you give up what belonged to you. sometimes after I had used all my commands up and he still had some left, he would order me to build him a fancy closet for his castle bedroom or to give him an expensive fur coat for his wife. But I made sure to charge him so much for them that he had to sell me more commands.
(The Sandgame, Page 35.)

5. The war game:
The floor was nothing but packed dirt. Since the red brick walls weren't plastered and the mortar was sunk between the bricks, we could play war games on them too. Our soldiers were little pieces of wood stuck in the sunken cracks, in which our armies hid and could move either up and down from brick to brick or sideways along a crack. The rule was that you had to keep your head close to your side of the wall so as not to see the enemy's soldiers. Some cracks were shallow and hard to fit soldiers into, but others were deep and perfect for ambushes. We took turns moving our men along the wall, and whoever's turn it was could advance each soldier up, down or across a single brick. If a soldier landed within a brick of the enemy, he was "shot dead". As long as no one cheated by stepping back to peek, the game was full of surprises.
(The Sandgame, Pages 35-37.)
6. The fleas game:
We invented two other games too. One was killing fleas. My brother and I shared a single large bed, the mattress of which was a pile of straw with a blanket thrown over it. Every night when it got dark we were given a candle, which we lit before lying down on the mattress until the blanket beneath us warmed up. that's when the fleas came. As soon as they started to bite, we jumped up and hunted them by candlelight in the hot hollow of the blanket. We knew how to do it, because Aunt Stefa had once told us about my father's method of killing fleas when he was in the Polish army during world War I. Fleas are so strong that it's almost impossible to crush them and they're also the best jumpers in the world, but the minute they get their long, thin legs wet these stick to each other and they can't move. My father, Aunt Stefa said, would roll up his pants to offer the fleas a target and sit waiting for them with a glass of water in which he wet his fingers and drowned them. We ourselves wet our fingers ion our mouths and drowned the fleas in melted candle wax. By the time we were done, the wax looked like a poppy seed cake. We blew the candle out before going to bed and collected the candle stumps with the dead fleas in them.
(The Sandgame, Page 38.)

7. The touching game:
The other game was played in bed while we lay talking about our generals and armies and about our plans for them. This was a guessing game that we had invented back in the ghetto. One of us took the other's finger and stuck it somewhere on his body, and the other had to guess where his finger was. You weren't allowed to pinch the guesser's finger, which made it too numb to guess, and the guesser wasn't supposed to move it, although he was permitted to press down with it. The trick was to fool him, say, by puffing p your cheek, to make it seem like your stomach while trying noto let the air whoosh out of it when pressed.
(The Sandgame, Pages 38-39.)

8. The dream about the emperor of China:
One day I made up a story that everything that had happened - the war, the ghetto, the Holocaust - was a dream. I was the son of the emperor of China, and my father, the emperor, had ordered my bed placed on a large platform and surrounded by twenty wise mandarins. (They were called "mandarins" because each had a mandarin orange attached to the top of his hat.) my father had ordered them to put me to sleep and make me dream what I did so that when I became emperor myself one day I would know how terrible wars were and never start any.
My brother never tired of this story. Whenever anything scary or dangerous happened to us, he would ask for it. He was even ready to trade any of his generals for it, except, of course, Robin Hood. If I didn't have time to tell it all - how the imperial court looked, what I ate for each meal, the way I ordered around the servants - I made do with reassuring him that we were living in a dream. Once, when I was eleven and he was nine, we were caught on an illegal excursion outside the ghetto by two Germans in civilian clothes. They brought us to the ghetto wall, stood us against it, and drew their pistols to shoot us. My brother tugged at my sleeve. I knew what he wanted and whispered:
"Right, I'm dreaming it."
(The Sandgame, Pages 31-32.)