The Worst Day of My Life

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Based on a true story


One would think that the day you returned home after the war would be wonderful. To return home to your family, to hug your daughters who you’ve missed so much, or to kiss your loving wife who you thought about every day for the past year, what a wonderful feeling that would be.

Today, I, Richard Bauer returned to my home in Munich, Germany after spending the past year constructing a wall between my homeland and France.

I admit it. I am an opportunist. I refused to join the Nazi party. I had many friends and neighbors who were Jewish and I would not turn against them.

The government, however corrupt it may be, was willing to pay a very nice sum for a simple wall to be constructed at the boundary between Germany and France. I have a family to feed and so I did the job.

My stomach did back flips the entire train ride to the city. My life, of course, would be very different from what it was before the war. My eldest daughter, Rosie would now be seven and my younger daughter, Helga, three.

I smiled to myself. The last time I had seen Helga she had been sleeping in the laundry basket. I chuckled. She would have a bed of her own now.

When the train finally arrived I got off as quickly as I could and hurried to the street. I couldn’t wait to see the happy, surprised look upon my wife, Marie's face when I stepped through the front door of our home.

However, the closer I went into town, the more nervous I became. The Americans had done their best to make their mark upon our city. Once familiar buildings now stood in ruins. Rubble covered the streets. Some streets were even blocked by the mass piles of debris.

My heart beat faster with every step I took. My entire journey so far I had not seen one familiar face.

I was now almost at our street. It was all I could do to keep from sprinting. Then I saw it. What was left of it that is. Where there had once stood a cheery little cottage now remained a sad pile of bricks.

I fell to my knees right there in the street. Tears began to well in my eyes. This couldn't be happening. It must be a nightmare. I'll wake up any moment. I'm sure of it.

I actually slapped myself a few times, hoping to wake myself from this horror, but it was no good. The cold, hard, truth began to sink in.

Alright. I thought to myself in desperation, Alright, the house is gone. That's all. That's all it ever was, just a house. My family must be somewhere. They must be somewhere.

I looked up and down the street. There wasn't a living soul in sight. Someone must know where they are. I ran back the way I had come, towards town. I passed a few people, but none that I recognized.

Finally, as I neared the Marienplatz I found someone I knew: Frau Fischer; an elderly widow, whom had a reputation for being a busybody.

She stood a short distance away from a group of men, all of whom were digging hopefully through the rubble in the main square. She took a drag from her cigarette and continued to glower at them through a thick pair of spectacles.

I slowed my pace as I approached her, trying to contain my anxious energy. She did not look at me when I had finally stopped, standing next to her.

“Disgusting isn't it?” she asked, not tearing her eyes from the men. “Scavenging through dirt, hoping to find something of value. What a disgrace,” she turned to face him finally. A look of surprise flickered across her face as she took in my disheveled appearance.

“Herr Bauer, you are back from France,” it was not a question.

“Yes,” I replied simply, not having the energy to say anything more on the subject. All that mattered at the moment was finding my family.

“I wonder if-” I began but she cut me off.

“Can you believe this? Our beautiful city turned into such a ruin. What has the world come to?”

“Yes,” I said again, though it came out sounding more irritated, “Would you-”

“I mean really! Some of these buildings have been here for centuries and-”

“Frau Fischer!” She looked at me, taken aback by my outburst. I admit it did come out much louder than I had intended, but I had to know what had happened to my wife and children. I gritted my teeth, trying to keep my temper. “I wonder if you might help me,” I began again. She thankfully did not interrupt this time. “I do not know what has become of my family. Would you know where they might be or how I could find them?”

She must have realized that she had been insensitive, for her gaze softened.

“I'm sorry Herr Bauer, I do not know what has become of them,”

I bit my lip, struggling to hold in my emotions. She placed a hand on my shoulder.

“You might try the grocer on Volkart Strasse. I know many people have posted notes in the window for their families.”

I mumbled a small 'thank you.'

“Good luck Herr Bauer,” she replied, offering a small smile.

With that I hurried towards the grocery. Volkart Strasse is not far from Marienplatz. The journey took only a few minutes, but to me it felt like an eternity. Not knowing what I might find made it feel like an eternity. My feet seems to be made of lead. They seemed to drag me down rather than surge forward to my destination.

The grocery store was easy to find. Not because I knew it so well, but because of the gaggle of people all peering tentatively at the grimy front window, which was plastered with what seemed like hundreds of scraps of paper, each of which held information for loved ones who may or may not ever find them. I pushed my way to the find of the crowd, searching, desperate to find my wife's neat scroll.

As I examined each note I became more and more anxious. What if they had never written a note? What if they couldn't?

I suddenly remembered a letter my wife had sent me a few months earlier, about how she had been followed home after work one night. She had worked for a family of Jews. After work one evening Marie had been followed. She had been afraid to leave the house for the next four days. What if the Nazis had taken her? What if...

Then I saw it. I was surprised I had missed it, written on that ever familiar stationary. It was all I could do not to press my nose to the window. It read:



Richard,

We are safe. When you find this note you will probably already know that the house is gone. Helga, Rosie and I are living on a farm. What we've always dreamed of. The address is below.

Love,

Marie


I sank to the ground, overwhelmed with relief. They were alive. They were safe. They people around me stared. I probably looked ridiculous, covered in dirt and dust, I was sweaty from running and my eyes were red from both fatigue and crying, but none of that mattered, not one bit.

I soon gathered myself together and memorized the address. It was not too far out of town. I walked briskly up the road, with a new bounce to my step. It was all going to be alright.

An hour later I could be found hiking my way up a country road. The sun had set and there was a chill in the air, but I was nearly there, nearly home. A short way up the road I could see a light from a window. The window of my new home. I quickened my pace. My aching feet protested but I ignored the pain. I began to run. I was so close. The front door opened and a little girl ran across the lawn toward me. Rosie fell into my waiting arms. I hugged her tightly, not ever wanting to let go.

“Daddy, you're hurting me,” she exclaimed in a strangled voice.

A figure appeared in the doorway, holding another young girl. I released Rosie and rushed to the door and embraced my wife. Tears of joy welled in my eyes.

I was home.





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