Berlin, 1942

June 29, 2008
By Kristin Brig, Knoxville, TN

The day they came for us, everything was quiet. Calm daylight spread out over the city; it foreboded nothing. And yet, I had awoken with the feeling of being cold and sweaty. The eyes opened up, finding myself sweating and having the chills. Was I sick? I smelled my hand. It certainly did not tell of sickness. Shrugging, I jumped from my bed to take a short bath before breakfast.

Bacon was sizzling in the kitchen by the time I walked in. I gaped at my mother, glancing at the stove and saying, “How did you get that? And please don’t say the black market!” Turning, she smiled secretively. “That would be for me to know only,” she replied. “All you have to do it eat it. But forget about my doings; happy birthday.” I fell into her thin arms and hugged her desperately. “You need to get more to eat,” I said softly, letting go. She waved me off. “Don’t worry about me,” she said. “It’s you who is growing up so quickly.”

Suddenly, a loud noise came from down below. Doors could be heard banging open, voices talking loudly. The cold chills that had left me in the bathwater came back for a minute. I disregarded them, however. “The Ghats must be back,” my mother said, turning back to watch the frying bacon. My brother Raul burst into the kitchen; his voice was washed of color. “I heard yelling downstairs,” he whimpered. Walking over to him, I gave him a quick comforting hug and said, “Our neighbors are home from vacation. Don’t worry. And guess what Mother got?” He sniffed the air carefully, as if afraid of smelling a skunk. “Bacon!” Scrambling over to the stove, he stood on tip-toe to watch the grease flying. “I’m going to practice piano,” I told them. My mother waved me off. “Get out of here,” she teased. “Do you expect me to finish so quickly that you must be impatient?” “I’m not running off,” I replied. “Just going to do my duty.”

Piano was my life. I could never have imagined life without Debussy, Chopin, Burgmüller, or many other composers. On the other hand, my absolute favorite composer had been stolen from me. Since Jews were not permitted to play German music, our lovely Beethoven that used to ring around the apartment was no longer available. Apparently, I thought as I sat on the piano bench, our hands are not good enough to play it. My eyes danced over to the German music stack we had made. The corner of the room where the stack lay was deliberately darkened; my family hated to see the music that we could not listen to or play on our own anymore. My hands this morning, though, itched to pick up a piece of the music of Bach or Beethoven and play my heart out.

My ears caught the sound of doors opening everywhere in our building now. As the doors approached ours, the voices were rising steadily. Everywhere they slammed into walls below. I began to play in order to drown out the sound of harsh German voices now capable of being made out. But my mind was focusing more on Beethoven than the Chopin Prelude I was playing. Finally, my hands stopped. The noise level was still rising from below, only now I heard screaming. I leapt up from the piano and dashed over to the corner of German music. Picking up the first piece of music from the stack, I sat back down to find the sheet music to Für Elise. It would, until the end of my life, remain my favorite piece as it was at this moment in time. Setting on the piano, I started with the theme.

Continuing on, I passed into the B section. A delightful melody rushed through the air about me. Our front door slammed open. “Out, Jews!” One of the harsh German voices from down below was in our doorway. Raul began to wail loudly from the kitchen while sets of boots clunked into the kitchen. “Take what you want! Whatever you want!” My mother cried out. “We take you, now!” The German voice sounded quite close, right outside the piano room by then. I started the theme again, and this led me into the C section. My left hand pounded out soft low As; meanwhile, my right hand played chords, using strong crescendos and small diminuendos.

Boots thudded into the room, but I dared not to look up from the piano and my flashing hands. I closed my eyes tightly, letting the music almost carry me away completely like whitewater. I returned to the theme softly with a pianissimo chromatic scale and grew faster gradually. By the time I had reached the dying of the piece, there was complete silence in the room. The last note was struck; I finally glanced up. Six Gestapo were standing behind me, and each of them had a strange look on their faces. I nodded to them. “Thank you for letting me finish,” I said softly. One of them nodded curtly, his face returning to what it probably was: an expressionless mess.

At that moment, the commandant burst into the room. He had my mother and brother by an arm each. Raul looked frightened; mother was pale and about to faint. The commandant snarled at one of the Gestapo. “Take her!” The Gestapo officer grabbed my arm, but not too roughly. He understood, possibly, what I was going through.

I stood up and walked out, leaving my music behind forever.

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