By Christopher R. Whalen
It was cold. Even at noon the temperature didn't rise above freezing. Standing still it was uncomfortable enough, and he wondered what it would be like with frozen air hitting you at 70 or 80 kilometers per hour.
Border crossing duty was boring and the accommodations were barbaric this high up in the mountains. The soldiers were still bathing using a cup of water and their general issue helmets. The rations were canned and there were days when there were no vehicles to inspect. The past few months had been uneventful. The commanding officer had been given a commendation for having forged a fear in the population of attempting to smuggle goods, currency and especially people through his checkpoint.
Retter loved animals. When he was a young boy he would always be nursing an injured animal back to health. His mother had instilled a sense of love and respect that seemed to have stayed with Retter even after the indoctrination of the Hitler Youth commandants. His mother feared that her son’s “softness” would eventually be his undoing in the harsh world that surrounded them, but no matter how she tried, she was never able to thicken his skin.
A vehicle was coming. It was 4 am and Retter stepped in front of it and it came to a complete stop. They had seen this driver and his vehicle many times before. The other officer approached the driver's side and began to review a myriad of paperwork. Retter began his complete vehicle check. His shepherd was busy sniffing the surface of the van and she had been trained to react to narcotics as well as explosives. Fortunately Hitler hadn't devised a way to train the dogs to react to Jews.
He opened the back of the van and picked the dog up. He joined her in the back of the truck and began to inspect the cargo. He saw nothing unusual and he and his shepherd leapt down to the ground. He joined his fellow officer at the driver’s side of the truck, and they inspected the truck’s manifest and found it to be in perfect order. It was still quite dark and the cloud cover was like a blanket. Retter, as he had done over one hundred times before, tied his dog to the outpost door and prepared to get on his knees and inspect the bottom of the truck.
Holding his flashlight, he directed the beam toward the front underside of the vehicle.
Her face, although it had been made raw by the freezing mountain winds, was angelic, it still had a glow. Her long brown hair was hanging on the ground. She was the picture of perfect terror. She was hanging, as were her brother and parents, on the underside of the truck. Retter directed the light toward her father and his expression was like stone. In that instant, Retter looked deep into his eyes and realized that there was no way that this man could see anything beyond the bright light that was almost blinding him but he seemed, nevertheless to be able to see directly into Retter's soul. Retter could see the fear and fatigue caused by what was the most horrendous journey this man had brought his family through, but he could also see the strength and true resolve just behind his eyes. They had given everything up and probably had left on a moment's notice. They had probably paid for this passage with the last of their savings. They had probably been a prominent Jewish family and now they were penniless refugees with no idea of what the next moment would bring. Retter kept the beam on this man's face for a few more moments trying to understand the level of courage that was within him, trying to understand the level of fear that was within him, trying to understand the level of hatred that was within him. The whole family was holding their breath as they all thought that this was where their journey would end. All had been in vain. The months of preparation, the pay offs, the murder. Their lives would end with a bullet to the head and their bodies would be thrown off the nearest cliff.
The mother thought. This man holding the flashlight believes that this is our entire family. Verner and Gufenheiser should also be here. Her first children, the twins, were almost sixteen. Having twins had been an almost impossible burden, but the fact that they were severely mentally impaired made it nearly impossible. She had persevered and took the risk of having two other children, both perfectly healthy, a few years later. The younger children had been a tremendous help in the care of their older siblings.
When the Nazis started to step up the anti-Semitic
propaganda, father and mother had had a conversation that didn't last very
long. They knew that they had to flee,
and soon. They had converted all of their
currency to gold and made their deal with the driver. They were to meet 40 kilometers outside of
They had only a few short hours. Mother walked into the twins’ room. They were holding each other rocking on their bed as they had before they went to sleep since they were very young. They saw and smelled their Mother and their rocking's momentum increased. She knew that this was their way of saying we love you. She lay down between them and hugged them both. They buried their heads into her neck as they had since birth and both sighed at exactly the same time. Mother didn't know but the scent coming from her skin gave them a world of feelings inside their malformed brains. They were feeling love, but it came to them in colors and shapes and vibrations. They were feeling comfort at its greatest level. The comfort that only a new born can have in the embrace of her mother. They were experiencing this burst of emotions and could have had no idea that this would be their last time to feel them. Father had told mother that there was no choice. As she lay there with her first born sons clinging to her, she felt that she would never be able to get up. Father came to the door and told mother to go downstairs and that he would meet her and their two younger children at the place outside of town that they had agreed to. It was 3am and they had to get into the cover of the forest before the first light. She obeyed and took her other two children out of the back door.
Father stood there knowing that he was running out of time. He talked to them as he did since they were born. First in German and then in his more familiar Yiddish. He closed his eyes and prayed to God. He loved them and he could leave them here alive and someone would find them, but what would would be come of them? He knew of the euthanasia programs in the mental hospitals but also knew of how Hitler used twins for his experiments. One of the twins remained untouched as they would be the control subject to gauge the reactions of the other twin. Father could not bear this. He was a Jew and a strong one. He laid down in the exact spot that his wife left a few minutes before and within moments his sons faces were buried in his neck. They hugged him tight and he could feel their smiling and could feel how rapid their breathing had become. He closed his eyes and asked God for strength. He got up and prepared a glass of milk for them.
It was laced with something the pharmacist had given him.……….
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