Hans, South of Hamburg Autumn 1944
I was trying to make my new brother feel that he was with someone who cared for him, so I cuddled him that night. When he took my hand and placed it over his genitals. I was quite surprised and kissed him to show my approval and pleasure. He reached over and gently rubbed mine in exchange.
I was basking in his acceptance of my approach when he said…
“You can if you want to… Mama said I should always say you can… if you want to…”
I was a bit out of my depth … I had never met his mama.
“Why, when did she say that?”
“On the lorry… she was afraid we would be separated at the camp… that I would be put with the men. She said I should always say yes, that it would be easier and safer if I said yes”
“She said it isn’t sinful if someone else has you do it…”
“So, if you want, you can put your… you can put it…”
I was so shocked… appalled!
“Do you mean I can put it in your… do you mean… did she say…?”
“Yes… My mouth or in my bottom if you really want. You can… I shan’t try to stop you…”
I was cold with horror at the fate that his good mother had tried to prepare him for, telling him that it would be better if he didn’t try to fight the grown men who would rape him.
‘My God, what sort of a country have we become’ I thought.
I cuddled him gently… he was still aroused so I guessed that cuddling with me was making him happy, even if he had misunderstood my motives. But he probably still knew it could turn bad if he was unlucky.
Suddenly he seemed to me to be a very small boy. He reminded me of my small brothers and I thought of how I had worked to keep Herr Rohme away from their little bottoms.
“Hush, liebling… Jan… I’m not after your bottom… it’s your heart I want.“
“I want you as my brother… I shall never do anything like that…. Just be safe and happy!”
I cuddled him tight to me.
I continued to gentle him in the palm of my hand, as I kissed his ear and softly eased him into sleep.
I was still rigid with desire… with the need for release… but this wasn’t the time to satisfy myself… I had a very small brother to look after…
I was not Herr Rohme!
But… what a mother!
Now I understood why she gave herself to the gun fire… to give him a chance to avoid ending up in the camp, with the men who… might want to…
No! I wasn’t Herr Rohme!
Why did it have to be my family and not Herr Rohme that the bomb killed? If it had landed on me and the grocer the world would have been a better place. But then, two small boys who desperately needed help would not now have someone to look after them!
The next day we managed to find another sharp bend in the road and were able to gather more rations that wasteful army drivers discarded as they struggled with their unwieldy trucks.
Some wild apples had given us a stomach ache, but we had worse problems to worry about and just kept on walking.
It was a week later that we were absolutely exhausted and hungry. Our food had run out the day before and we had no luck with berries or roadside litter.
That was when we spotted an isolated farm house. We watched it for an hour or so.
There was an old lady and two small boys. There was no sign of a man in the house and there were no telephone wires either.
So, in a mood of desperation we decide to try to raid their kitchen.
The kitchen had a wire meat safe on the north side of the cottage. It contained the remains of a meat pie and some sausage. I quietly pointed to Solo to go watch the door and went to the meat-safe. I should have known better. The moment I touched it a bell tinkled indoors and the old lady came storming out of a back-door carrying a small rifle.
It was a little-old-lady sized rifle but nevertheless a rifle it was!
“Liebe Gott, I thought you were a squirrel!”
“I’m sorry, but we were so hungry. We’ve been walking for two weeks. Our parents are dead…”
I knew I was gabbling but having a rifle pointing at you is a good excuse for gabbling!
“Hush… Be silent!”
“Please don’t shoot us… my brothers are so hungry!”
She gestured with the gun. We went ahead of her indoors. She spoke to the older boy and he went to the larder and came back with a large loaf of bread, real butter and cheese. She sat us down and said.
“The meat pie is the last we have for the moment. You cannot have that, but cheese and bread we have, and you are welcome to share it.”
Her accent was a region of Germany that I could not exactly place. I suspected it was somewhere on the Polish border. The tone was more Russian than French. It wasn’t quite German.
Jan could have got us killed with what he did next. On any other day and in any other cottage he would have earned himself a good thumping… if he hadn’t got us killed.
He had been listening intently to a whispered conversation between the two boys. The elder of them was trying to keep his brother quiet, but he was intent on saying something. Jan understood what it was. The little fellow was afraid that we would betray them and that men would come to take him away…away to the camps!
What had really caught Jan’s attention was not the fear, a fear of strangers was quite normal in those days, as was fear of the camps… No, it was the language. Yiddish!
Like a fool, without thinking he reassured the youngster… in Yiddish!
I made a grab at him, and the old lady with surprising nimbleness swung the rifle at me.
“Stop!” She shouted.
Then she said, with serious menace in her voice…
“Now I have a real problem. Food was one thing, but now I have a real problem!”
“David!” She said to the older boy, never taking her eyes off me.
“What did Daniel say?”
“Gramma, he said he was frightened of the camps, and the other boy told him not to be afraid, that he was running away from them too.”
That was when I realised what had happened. We were either safe or in terrible danger. She was sheltering her Jewish grandchildren. Her obvious solution was to shoot us… me first because I was nearest!
Jan realised what he had done and was terrified. He started to rock quietly and then completely out of control with fear began to sing quietly to himself. The old lady seemed fascinated by what he was doing, and then joined in his singing. She laid down the gun and went to him, cradling him gently and soothing him.
She turned to me and said quietly… “Your brother is Jewish?”
“Yes… They both are. I’m trying to get them to safety… both of them… my uncle is in Berlin and he is a good man. He will help us if we can reach him.”
“But you are?”
“I’m Aryan. I met Solo when we were bombed. He was hiding in the roof of the next apartment when my family were killed by English bombs. I dug him out. I didn’t know he was Jewish then… later it didn’t seem to matter. He had become my family.”
She smiled gently and said…
“Their grandfather was Jewish… we were in love… it was a long time ago… a different Germany. Their parents… my daughter left them with me for safety. She had married a Jew and they were told that the Jews in their town were going to be re-settled in the east. They were happy to go. It was better than the ghetto, but just in case… she gave them to me. I got a few postcards from her later, but nothing for over a year.”
Then she started to cry.
I put an arm around her. “Gramma” I said. “At least you have them…”
She pulled herself together, visibly rejecting the opportunity to fall apart. I could see that she had got them this far and she had no intention of falling apart until the game was entirely played out.
“Well… you shall have to stay the night here. I don’t want you attracting attention by wandering around out there at dusk. When you leave in the morning I shall show you the road, and then… I want you to walk away from here as quickly as you can. If you are picked up I want it to be a long way from these two… from us.”
The idea, as decided by Gramma, had been for us to leave the next morning but when we rose and looked out of the window… there was snow. Here high in the mountains of the Harzwald winter came that little bit earlier. If we had not found Gramma’s home we would probably have died that night. The coverage in a bed of leaves would not have been enough to protect us.
Gramma was up and bustling about… she was busy because she now had a large brood to protect and cater for…
“You are going nowhere now… not until spring.”
I thought about that… It wasn’t what I had planned. As a novice fugitive, I had not thought of the onset of winter.
“What about food Gramma? We shall be such a burden on you!”
“I have been thinking about that… I can see how to make it work. You can work for a start! There are plenty of rabbits… and squirrels for the pot. I shall keep you busy, and… In the spring, well I have a plan now. I didn’t know how to cope before you turned up, but I do now.”
She had obviously come to a decision but I had no idea what it was. We had a home for the winter, and that was all that mattered at that moment. I had a warm bed and a warm companion that I loved to share it with… what more could a fifteen year old boy want?
I smiled… I had got Solo and Jan this far… if the soldiers didn’t get to us first we were safe for the winter… the spring was a distant land. Berlin could wait for a few weeks, or even a few months.
“Thank you Gramma… you’re welcome to whatever I can do to help.”
That December a small Jewish family deep in the forest of the Harzwald observed Christmas for me. It was Gramma’s idea. She decorated the house with holly and winter greenery. On Christmas morning she even gave me a present. It was her husband’s clasp knife. It had every tool you can imagine, even a pair of scissors!
“Now you are ready for every emergency! You can even do surgery if you have to!”
I had no intention of getting myself into that particular pickle… but I could see how useful her gift was and how much it meant to her.
“Thank you Gramma… I shall treasure it… it shall keep us safe”
It was a day in early Spring, the weather was warmer and the spring-flowers were out. Gramma was waiting in her rocking chair by the open cottage door. She looked more alive than I had seen her all winter.
“It’s nearly time for you to go on with your journey. Now I have a big favour to ask of you. It’s the boys… I have got them this far but… They cannot stay here much longer. The army keeps retreating. There are so many soldiers around here now. Sooner or later someone will find us… and we cannot trust anyone.”
She seemed to have come to a decision…
“Will you? Can you take them with you? Berlin must be safer than here. The army will fight to save Berlin… and your uncle… two more will make no difference to him?”
I sat there stunned… more children… and one of them couldn’t be trusted to remain silent and didn’t even speak German properly. Did I need any more problems?
The answer was obvious. There was nothing I could do that would guarantee anyone’s safety. But what needed to be done seemed obvious…
“Gramma, if I can I will see them safe… but you understand the possibility is…”
“Yes, I know.” She said…
“The probability is we shall all be killed in the next few months. I am old and I don’t fear it… but… “
“But…” I said gently… “If the little ones are to… then not here, not with you?”
That she would die she was obviously sure of… she just didn’t want to see it happen to them and she didn’t them to see it happen to her.
“Gramma, I don’t intend to die, and I don’t intend my little family to die either. My uncle is a good man and every day we shall be a little nearer to him. I have the papers for my original brothers and these little ones are a good match… I’ve been gathering a new family, your two will complete it. I promise to look after them, as if they are my own.”
We stayed there another two days. She made us up rucksack bundles of clothes and food. On the third day, she said it was time for us to go.
I had noticed that she had packed her very last scraps of food, and every blanket, even saucepans and a kettle! I said to her…
“Gramma, you will need some of these things… we need anything you can give us, but this is too much… you must think of yourself!”
“Oh I have. You cannot know what a relief it is to hand my burden over to younger shoulders. As soon as you go I shall be able to rest and move on… I have it all planned. I planned it long ago, but I thought I would have to take the little ones with me. Without them it will be so much easier.”
I gave up the struggle, and thanked her again. She just smiled gently.
David was now David… pronounced Daveed like the French painter. Daniel was now Martin… I just prayed that he would remember, if the time came!
They both cried a lot as we walked away. Their grandmother stood in the doorway as we disappeared down the woodland path. She waved until the last sight of us.
Twenty minutes later we heard it… a single rifle shot.
David smiled and said… “A squirrel!”
“Yes, a squirrel.” I said, but I didn’t smile.
I quickly took Martin by the hand. Solo cast a frightened look at me. I shook my head. He could see that I was crying silently. A look of realisation came over him, and suddenly tears were streaming down his face too.
The little guys had run on ahead, eager for adventure. Martin ran on to join them.
I took Solo by the hand and we walked on sadly. He said…
“Do you think she…?”
I said very quietly so that the others would not hear…
“She told me that she had a plan… that she would be free to go once the boys were on their way. I think she just left… she’s safe now… She was afraid that she would see the boys die… or that they would see her… She’s safe now!”
We had saved her from needing to take them with her, wherever she had just left for.
I sniffed… Solo squeezed my hand and said…
“Now we just have to get to safety too, but… maybe a safer safety if you don’t mind!” He smiled and put an arm round me and gave me a reassuring hug.
By the time the boys ran out of steam and came back to us we had cheered up. We had wiped each other’s faces… The sun had come out and the world seemed a more positive place.
He took Jan and David’s hands. I took Martin on my back, and we started to teach them the Horst Wessel song.
Still, I wished she’d waited just a little longer before taking her leave.
It had turned into a fucking awful day.
Feedback is the only payment our authors get!
Please take a moment to email the author if you enjoyed the story.