Chapter 01 - Cold, War Kids.
(Written in 2008 and Published in 2020).
Past - Germany, World War II
My mother was a German you know. The beautiful kind, they say. She has the yellow, blonde hair and the glass blue eyes, from what I can remember of her. Her skin is fair, just like the beautiful German men and women. I guess I can never be beautiful like that. I am not blonde or blue-eyed, nor am I fair like the beautiful ones - no; I got nothing from her. Well, maybe one thing rightfully belongs to me. See, she fell in love with a Jewish man, my father, some odd years ago. They never married, but they had me, their daughter, Rebecca. I remember her telling me that her friends and family said she shouldn’t love a Jewish man. She shouldn’t associate herself with that filth. I guess this is what she gave me, a love for Judaism and my father. They tell me I shouldn’t love that filth, that I am the dirt beneath their feet. But I don’t listen to them, as she didn’t. I am in love with my faith and my father. I am a Jewish girl in the German world.
When the Germans came for us the first time, there was no way my father was going to let them find my mother, "the traitor of the German race." They would have immediately killed her. Who is to say they wouldn’t have killed us right then and there as well? I imagine them telling us that my father is the devil in the form of a Jewish man, who tricked my mother into making love with him so they could produce the child of Satan, me. I giggle as I think about these things, but I shouldn’t, because I know it isn’t funny. I know that they really do say these things.
That day they came for us, just four months ago - my father gave my mother what little money we had and told her to run. She fought him, begged him to say. She argued that I should go with her. He told her he would have none of that. He pushed her away; that I remember vividly. I sat there in the corner and watched as my mother ran to my father’s arms for love and comfort, and coldly, my father pushed her away. She stumbled backward, left to only stare at him from a couple of feet away. They looked at each other with disbelief, as I did, too. In my small existence of sixteen years, I had never seen them fight or hit, yell or push. There they were, standing in a stunned position. I waited for my father to apologize and take my mother back into his arms. She would cry and lay her head on his shoulder, and he would take her in his arms, standing taller than she, and with his caramel-colored eyes he would look at me and whisper, “I am sorry, my little darling.”
None of that happened. They never said sorry, or went running back to one another. My father simply pointed his thick finger towards the door and my mother, in a state of shock, walked quietly toward the same door. She opened it, peered back at me, and with her full, pink lips mouthed, “I love you, my darling,” and left. That was the last I ever saw of my beautiful German mother who loved a Jewish man.
That was the first time they came for us. We were lucky enough to have a neighbor who loved us more than he feared the Nazis. After my mother ran out the back door, down the unstable wooden staircase, and out into the heat of the summer streets of Munich, we ran one apartment over.
I knew my father and Mr. Fischer, our Jewish loving neighbor, were working together on some type of hideout for a couple of weeks prior to that day. I never figured, however, that we would actually use it. When we ran into his apartment, Mr. Fischer quickly and nervously removed a painting of a sailing ship from the wall. When he took it down I saw a cave-like hole in the wall. I started to cry - he did this for us? He smiled and told me, “Munich summers are too hot anyway Becca darling, and by winter I will be gone away from here.” I feigned a smile, took a deep breath to control my tears, and allowed him to push me into the hole. I cradled myself into the fetal position and watched as my father hid himself beneath the floorboards just before Mr. Fischer placed the painting back onto the wall. He smiled at me before rehanging the painting, shuttering me away from the hostile world around us. “All of this will be over, Becca, darling.”
That was the last time I saw Mr. Fischer. The Germans entered the building only moments later. There was screaming, "Where is the girl?!" The Nazis would demand our locations over and over again. "Show me the girl! The Jews! Where is the mother?!"
I fought hard to not cry or lose control of myself in my extreme state of fear. Mr. Fischer never gave us up and continuously told the Nazis to leave his home, for they would find nothing here. They didn’t care to find the truth. After a good while of fighting and yelling, I heard a gunshot, and a cry from Mr. Fischer. I threw my hands to cover my mouth from the screams. My chest heaved up and down, my body uncontrollably shaking, as I cried without audible sobs. Mr. Fischer was dead.
I heard the Nazis discuss what they were to do with the body. One man suggested that they should drag the body out to the street corner with the other corpses, and then come back to raid the apartment as if he had fled. Corrupt bastards, I thought. There was a small part of me that wanted to push through the picture and fight them, but then again, who was I?
That’s right, Becca, I told myself, you are just a Jewish girl in a German world.
I listened as the men dragged Mr. Ficher’s body out of the apartment. I imagined Mr. Fischer’s face, brave and cold. I imagined the hole that must be square between the eyes, the blood covering the rest of his face. I wanted to throw up, but I couldn’t stop myself from imagining this image of him, post mortem. There would be a blood trail on the dark, wooden floor of the apartment. As they would carelessly drag Mr. Ficher’s body, his arms would come up over his head, his hands would run through the puddles of his own blood. The only evidence of Mr. Fischer living in his own home would be the streaks of blood his fingers would paint onto the dark, wood floor.
All of a sudden, light beamed into my cave and there stood my father. He pulled me out and cradled me into his arms. The blood was everywhere; they were more careless than even I expected them to be. Yet, no fingerprints on the floor; no last impressions of Mr. Fischer anywhere. I panicked at the sight; I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. I was gasping for air.
“Shh, darling, shh, we must be quiet!” my father whispered.
My father ran with me in his arms to the back door my mother previously departed from. Like she, I peered back briefly at our apartment, and through the open door that connected our home with Mr. Fischer’s. An empty room, and a crime, seen through the second door. I looked upon the scene around me and made my final memories of my home - my mother was a German woman who loved a Jewish man. Mr. Fischer was a German man with a sympathetic heart for his Jewish neighbors. She was gone and he was dead, all because of my father and me.
We have been on the run ever since that day, the first day they came for us. My father and I are in Berlin now, as they closed the borders before we could flee the country to escape to relatives in Denmark. We are in hiding, in a cellar beneath a bakery owned by a portly and ever-demanding baker. He makes us clean and knead dough in the evenings when the shop is dark enough. He doesn’t love us, like my mother or Mr. Fischer. We are just cheap labor.
My father cried in the corner almost nightly. I just sit in the corner opposite him and watch. I have learned not to feel anymore, only to await the day they take my father and me away from here and kill us. No one loves us anymore - who should for that matter - it only brings them pain.
There is a small part of me that doesn’t want to love my father, myself, and my God. In that case, though, I have no choice. I may not be like the beautiful people, as my mother was or is. I don’t have the pale skin, the blue eyes, the yellow hair. That I don’t, but she has forever cursed me to love a Jewish man, and a God the world obviously hates. That I can rightfully say she gave to me; that I can rightfully call my own. What good does that do me though, sitting in this cold cellar, evading the truth of the war above me? Nothing, I tell myself; you are just a Jewish girl in the German world.
* * * * *
Browne, Oliver. I am an idiot for reading my tags over and over again, expecting something exciting to jump out at me. I am an idiot, but I guess that is what the Royal Forces gets for sending a bookworm into this war. Did they expect this to be my time to shine? They figured that if they planted the smart kid as a spy in the heart of all this fucked up Nazism they would be able to discover something. Really, is that so Your Highness? The only revelation I have thus far is that there are more Jews dragged off than the pictures actually depict. They show a fraction, maybe a third, of the entire line of Jews who walk forward like animals. They are all stuffed into the trains, like sardines.
Breathe, Oliver. I always need to calm myself down. I get so worked up over this situation that I start to shake, losing my cool like some mad man. No one on the streets is provoking me or anything, so I would just be an idiot mad man standing on the corner, shaking for no good reason. Fucked up bloke -that’s what they would think of me back home.
Home, London, maybe someday. I have been in this hellhole called Berlin for almost a year now. I am supposed to spy on the everyday surroundings, see what intelligence I can pick up. It isn’t like they gave me any specific mission. No, I just live in a shitty apartment by a bakery that makes hard bread. Only once has an official from Her Majesty’s forces come to check in on me, collect the intelligence that I may have discovered. All I could tell them was how they were rounding up the Jews, killing them on the spot in the streets, like fox hunting. I guess that wasn’t good enough; they haven’t come back to see me since. I figure, if I were so terrible at this post they would send me home, discharge me from her Majesty’s service. I would go home, walk the streets of London, turn on Bullranger Alley and go see my girl, who is waiting for me. I would, but they didn’t. I could, but they won’t.
I turn eighteen in a couple of weeks, if my mental calendar is still correct. What a birthday, right? Sitting alone in this stupid apartment, eating hard bread. What a happy fucking birthday it will be, Browne comma Oliver, I say as I attempt to gnaw at the rock hard bread I purchased as some sort of treat. Happy fucking birthday, Browne comma Oliver, I say to myself. It has become somewhat of a tradition. Seeing as I have spent the past two birthdays in this hellhole, might as well make something of it.
I get up, dress, and peer out the window. I watch as the Germans patrol the streets, armed and ready to kill. For as bloody brilliant as they make themselves out to be, I wonder why they still haven’t gotten to me yet. I don’t talk; I walk the same loop every day. I mean, Jesus, it’s a little repetitive, isn’t it? Then again, they walk the streets, pack the Jews into the trains like sardines, and then kill a couple waiting in the line, every day. They laugh in that cruel way, congratulate each other, and then keep on with their day. The same thing, every day. Maybe I am not such an outcast after all.
Browne, Oliver. Disgusted with myself for reading the same damn tags yet again, I through them down my shirt, and the cold metal against my skin gives me chills. I button up the same blue cotton shirt I wore two days ago and slip my pants on. I wonder how I look; I haven’t seen my reflection in a good while. There are no mirrors in this place I am forced to call home. There is just a cot on the floor, just a small table for me to eat at. There are no silverware or plates, no vase of flowers. Just breadcrumbs from the same hard bread I eat from the fat baker nearby.
My birthday tradition requires me to treat myself to two rolls of bread. My jaw aches afterward, but for once, I do feel full. I smile subtly at the thought of being full, and then frown again. I pray to whatever god is out there that my teeth won’t break. Whatever god - I won’t call him my god. My god wouldn’t do this to me; leave me here with nothing and no one. To whatever god I ever had, where the hell are you? You certainly aren’t here with me, as the good book says.
I push open the dust-covered door, with the rusting, squeaky metal hinges. Same torture, just a different day, I tell myself as I hustle down the creaking wooden stairs, and out into the war-torn streets of a cold Berlin afternoon.
It is only a short walk, about a block. The block seems short in distance, but it always feels as if it is the longest walk of my life. I have to pass the lines of Jews waiting to be sentenced to their death. Their faces are so aged, so long with worry and fear. The circles under the eyes aren’t just because they are tired - I don’t think these people have slept since all of this started. I bend my head down towards the sidewalk and pray to whatever god is out there to end this war, to save these people.
Oh god, not a little girl. She looks no more than five; my sister’s age. God, that’s my Ollie, waiting in the line to die. She is the one standing in the line in the gray dress, barely covering her shoulders in this cold weather. She must be freezing! Do her parents know she could get sick standing out there with nothing on? She could die! I stop dead in my tracks and realize the irony of my thoughts. A sweater is the last of their worries. I think they would rather her die in the cold than die anywhere else they are sentenced to. Tears start to well up, but I somehow manage to push them back and keep my composure. I pray to whatever god is out there and keep walking. Happy fucking birthday, Browne comma Oliver.
I pick up the pace as I turn the corner, only a few meters away from the bakery below. It’s almost over, buddy, I tell myself. The sign for the bakery of the fat man is within sight. Almost there, I pick up that pace just a little more, enough to walk faster, but not too much as to draw attention to myself. I throw open the door of the bakery and quickly shove it closed behind me. I try to settle my breathing down to a normal pace and finally collect myself. I look up but see no fat baker. No bread is on the counter, nothing.
I can hear screaming from a woman behind the counter. I panic - should I help her, or turn away like I always do? Like you always do, Oliver, and then I thought of my little Ollie standing in the line, waiting to die. I left her. Yet, who is to say the woman down there isn’t my Ollie twenty years from now? I didn’t save my Ollie before, but I can now. That enough is to compel me to jump over the counter and run down the dark, wooden stairs into the hell below.
“Dear Christ!” I yell as I see the fat baker beating the bloody crap out of a young woman.
The Baker proceeds to yell something in German that I can’t quite understand. He turns to me, zipping up his half undone pants, and begins to charge towards me. I can’t leave my Ollie, but what the fuck am I supposed to do? I don’t move as the baker charges me. I close my eyes and hold out my hands, weakly defending myself.
CRASH. I hear a yell from the baker, then all is quiet.
I retract my arms back into my body and open my eyes. The baker is lying on the floor, a bottle of wine is shattered, its contents are everywhere. I look up, and my Ollie is standing in front of me, looking to me for something. I look down at the wine for a moment, trying to figure something out. I watch as the wine runs from around the body of the baker to other parts of the cellar until it meets another red substance on the floor.
It is not wine; it is blood. I follow the trail of blood to a corpse of a frail Jewish looking man, whose eyes are still open. His eyes are just like Ollie’s. I look back at her. What am I to do or say?
“Love me, sir?” Olie asks me in her heavy German accent. She starts to cry and crumbles to the floor.
I run to her side. It pains me to see Ollie like this. Before she hits the ground, I grab her into my arms. She is tiny, so frail, beaten badly. Through the bruises on her face, I see gorgeous caramel-colored eyes and soft, brown wavy hair. She is beautiful.
“Name, girl?” I say, hoping my simple English may suffice. She just stares at me. “Me,” I nod my head towards my chest, “I… am… Oliver.”
“Oliver,” she whispers quietly.
“Oliver,” I repeat and smile. Maybe she can understand me.
“Rebecca,” she whispers. “I know… English,” she fights to get out. She smiles at me. Together, we laugh. “Love me, sir?” she asks again.
The question puzzles me. I am not quite sure of what she means, but I look again into those caramel-colored eyes and run a free hand through her brown locks. My Ollie is simply beautiful.
“Yes, Rebecca; yes, my Olie,” I tell her as I cradle her closer to my body, and stand up with her in my arms. She smiles and closes her eyes.
I carry her up the weak wooden stairs of the cellar, strewn with blood and wine, and head for the front door of the bakery.
As we reach the streets of Berlin I realize no longer am I lost in this place. I should run; I’ll surely stand out now. And so I start to run, not thinking of my actions, their consequences, of what I am actually doing.
Where I am going, where my Ollie and I may end up, I am not sure. What I do know is that we are leaving this place and as I promised, I will love her. There is nothing left here in this cold, war-torn place.
We are no longer cold, war kids.