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Unwanted

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Unwanted
The sounds of rubber hitting wet pavement. That’s the first thing I remember when I think of that night. Even now, in my old age, reminiscing on my front porch in the heart of the German countryside, that is still the most prominent memory of that night. The night that started it all. The night we ran away.

The year was 1942. Our pockets were weighted with our parents’ savings. It had rained all day, and the pavement Daniel and I ran on was wet, our footsteps ringing out through the neighborhood. I, Abraham, the older brother, was crying silently and trying to hide it from Daniel. Daniel, my younger brother, was thinking about the mitten he had left inside in his haste.

My brother and I had been shaken awake in the dead of night by our parents. As our father quickly dressed seven year old Daniel, my mother dragged me into our father’s study. The colorful birthday cards stood on his desk, reminding me of my thirteenth birthday a week before. I savored the memory as my mother looked deep into my eyes. I noticed tears were brimming at the corners of her own.

“Abraham,” she said shakily, “they’re coming. The Nazis. They’re coming to take me and your father away.” I was stunned into silence as my mother continued, “They are not going to take you,” she paused, shoving something bulky into my shaking hands. “Our savings,” my mother explained, “it’s not much, but it should get you and your brother there.”

“Where? And why are they taking you?” I asked.

“We are an unwanted religion, honey,” she replied. “And you will go to Switzerland. You and your brother will be safe there. Your Aunt Gavriella will be waiting for you,” she paused, removing the silver locket from her neck and fastening it on my own, “take this, it will remind you that no matter what, your father and I will always love you both.”

Ten minutes later, Daniel and I were being shoved out the door. We looked back at our parents, tears streaming down all of our faces.

“Wait!” our mother shouted, pulling us close. She fingered the gold stars sewn on to our coats and ripped them off, sending a fresh set of tears tumbling down her porcelain face. My brother and I turned and ran.

We stopped at the large stone gate that separated our neighborhood from the thick German woods and looked back. I had one arm around my brother, trying to offer some support, and the other hand clutching the necklace my mother had just given me. I looked down at my little brother’s small face, the tracks of fresh tears glistening in the street lamp. I knew I had to be strong for him. Suddenly, shouts erupted from down the street. We cautiously peered around the stone gate to see what was going on. We watched as our parents were dragged out of the house. Our mother was resisting and screaming, trying to break free. The man pulling her hit her with something. She stopped moving. Daniel and I gasped, and I reached for Daniel’s hand. We began running in the opposite direction, away from everything we had ever known. I was tempted to look back, but I knew I couldn’t. We kept running.

By the soft light of morning, Daniel and I had lost all of our energy and were slumped against a tree. I clutched the necklace, thinking of my parents. As my eyes began to droop, a low, loud rumble sounded in the distance.

“A train!” Daniel exclaimed excitedly, recognizing the sound immediately. “Where do you think it’s going?” he asked me.

“I don’t know, but somewhere better than this, I’m sure,” I replied. Suddenly, remembering the brave cowboys of the Western books I loved to read, I knew what we had to do. “We have to jump on,” I explained, looking down at my brother’s surprised face, “come on.” I quickly stood up and ran in the direction of the sound, with Daniel on my heels. We soon reached a train track, stretching endlessly in each direction. The sound grew louder.

“Stand back,” I warned my brother, “when it comes, do exactly what I do, and jump when I jump. Got it?” Daniel nodded, and the train came speeding down the track. I grabbed Daniel’s hand and we began running as a green box car approached. We ran a little faster, and then we were jumping.

We landed with a thud safely inside the car, surrounded by various animals. Our eyes were drooping as we pressed ourselves between our new neighbors. I clutched the necklace, and soon we fell asleep to the rhythm of the train jostling down the track.

Daniel and I were startled awake when the train came to an abrupt stop. We looked out and saw a pink and purple sunrise obscured only by tree tips. We heard muffled voices outside, and then someone stepped into the car. Groggily, I closed my eyes again, but I snapped awake, remembering that my brother and I were unwanted guests.

“Move,” I whispered harshly to Daniel, and we silently inched out of sight behind our nearest roommate, a big brown cow.

“See,” a husky voice said, “no one is here.”
“But,” protested another, kinder voice, “I could have sworn I saw someone jump in.” All Daniel and I could see of the newcomers were their feet. One pair of black leather shoes, and the other a pair of brown lace-up boots. I recognized the boots immediately. Nazis.
“Look, old man,” Brown Boots barked, “there’s no one back here. You must be seeing things. It’s truly sad when a good man like yourself grows old and loses it so quickly. It’s a wonder how you were ever the soldier you claim to be.” The man laughed, a deep, long rumble, with plenty of mean undertones. The two men stepped out of the car, and the train lurched forward.
A few hours later, the screeching of the brakes was accompanied by the conductor’s shouts, “Last stop! Konstanz, Germany! On the Swiss border!”
“This is us,” I whispered to Daniel, “let’s go.” We inched our way to the hatch on the other side of the car and peeked out. Seeing no one, we jumped out and landed in a soft patch of grass. Lying there, catching our breath, Daniel rolled over to face me.
“I’m starving,” he complained, “let’s get some food.”
Stopping in front of a brick building, Daniel and I noticed a small sign above the door proclaiming that it was Der Lokal. Happily, Daniel headed for the door, but I stopped him.
“Wait,” I said, “our names give away our Jewish heritage. You are… Francis. And I’ll be Timothy. Remember that. Our last name will be Petersen. If anyone asks, we live here and our mother gave us some money for lunch. Got it?” Daniel nodded, and we headed for the door, but stopped short. In large gold lettering, beneath a sloppily painted Star of David, were the words ‘Keine Juden.’ No Jews. We gulped and stepped inside.
When we entered, the people in the pub looked up, and then quickly went back to their meals. Daniel and I nervously walked to the counter and ordered, both getting h?nchenschnitzel, a chicken dish that we knew wouldn’t reveal our Jewish heritage.
We took a seat at the nearest table, and our food came shortly. Daniel and I gratefully dug in. When we looked up, there was a large man standing at the end of our table.
“Guten tag,” I said shakily. The man nodded.
“What brings you boys here?” the man inquired.
“Well, um, lunch, Sir,” I stuttered. I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants. Even though I knew it was gone, I could still feel the weight of the gold star through my thin jacket. The man nodded again.
“Your names?” the man queried.
“Timothy,” I quickly replied, “and this is my brother Francis. Petersen.”
“Ach,” the man bellowed, “and I would imagine you boys dream of one day fighting with the Nazis, for the great Hitler, to help get rid of those God-forsaken Jews. If we don’t, they will take over our government, destroy the economy, and ruin Germany.”
Anger boiled up inside of us. “Of course, Sir, it is our dream,” I replied firmly, “isn’t it, Francis?”
“Yes, Timothy,” Daniel replied, as expected. “Our dream.” The man, satisfied, smiled and walked away. We let out our breath, paid, and got out as fast as possible.
“Where do we go next?” Daniel asked once we were back in the street.
I looked around, squinting in the bright sunlight. I shrugged. “Let’s head this way,” I suggested, “and see where it takes us.” We began walking. I felt the strange looks of the townspeople piercing into my back, a constant reminder that we were outsiders; unwanted. I stared down at my feet. One foot in front of the other. My scuffed black shoes suddenly met something hard. A pair of brown boots. I looked up, but all I saw was red and black.
“Watch where you’re going, kid!” the angry Nazi officer barked, “And, by the way, where do you think you’re going?” Next to me, Daniel was shaking. I reached for his hand, but pulled back, not wanting to show any fear.
“Well, Sir, we were, um,” I stuttered, “we were just on a stroll. You see, um, my brother and I, we, well we just have such a fascination with the Nazi forces. We just thought we would come and take a look at your headquarters.” The man smiled a devilish smile.
“Well, I suppose I could bring you into our building where you could meet many more of our forces.”
“Oh could we?” Daniel exclaimed with feigned enthusiasm. “Please Timothy? Please please please?” I nodded slowly, unable to think of an excuse.
“By the way,” the decorated soldier said as he walked, “my name is Officer Christof.” I stared ahead silently, looking at the large fence that loomed ahead. Atop it was barbed wire, its shining spikes dancing with glee as they reflected the sun in all directions, laughing at Daniel and me because they knew they had trapped us. I followed the fence with my eyes until I reached a large brick building. On either side of the door stood a Nazi soldier clutching a bulky gun. On top of the building, more Nazis stood at attention, each holding more guns. My fear grew as the distance between us and the building shrunk. Finally, we were just footsteps from the doors. I felt the barrels of the guns pointed at our backs, poised to strike. I forced myself to take the final steps, even though all I wanted to do was turn and run.
“Soldaten,” Cristof said to the soldiers manning the doors. One of the men nodded towards us. Cristof whispered something to him, and the men stepped out of the way. I shakily took the final footsteps inside the building.
The room we entered looked last minute and low budget; the carpet we walked on was stained and the chairs looked incredibly stiff. On the wall hung pictures which seemed misplaced and didn’t appear to have a connection to one another. One picture was of the famed Erfurt Cathedral, another was of a forest that hardly looked German, and another was of Hitler, the Nazi leader, giving a speech. In the corner of the room, a woman sat behind a desk typing away on a typewriter. She glanced up when we entered, and then looked back down. A soldier then hurried in, whispered in Officer Christof’s ear, and the two ran out of the room, leaving us behind.
“What were you thinking?” I whispered to Daniel. “We are in their territory! Do you realize what you’ve done? These people could kill us! And you go and put us in danger because you’re fascinated by the Nazi’s method of border protection?”
“Don’t you see?” Daniel asked excitedly, “That’s the whole point! We’re in their territory! And we asked to be! So no one will suspect us! And besides, their territory doesn’t stretch much further. A few feet away is Switzerland, and then they can’t hurt us. We can hide here, and when they close and everyone leaves, we’ll just sneak across the border!”
“You’re brilliant!” I screeched, realizing Daniel might have just saved our lives. “A real betrüger!”
Once we had composed ourselves, we stepped back out into the hall and located Officer Cristof. For the next few hours, Christof talked of the amazing things the government was doing for the German people. “We’ve trampled our enemies,” he raved, “and greatly crippled all those who resist until they give in. Back in ’41, when Hitler declared war on the United States, they were all shaking in their fancy little government buildings. They’ll give in. Just you wait and see.” Christof was clearly proud of what Germany had done, and he liked to talk about the ‘victories’ as if he had had a part in them. He didn’t seem to realize that he was just a patrolman for Border Patrol, and, from the way he was treated and the things he did, didn’t seem to hold a very important position. I had also noticed that his medals were from his Hitler Youth years.
We passed a large window overlooking land that looked nothing like the town we had just been in. I glanced at Daniel, who seemingly had come to the same realization. That was Switzerland. “But, the most amazing thing Hitler has done, with the soldiers’ help, of course,” Christof continued, pointing at himself, “is get rid of those Jews! Thank goodness for that! Heil Hitler!”
As we headed back towards the way we had come in, I began to get more nervous. How would we pull this off? He would probably walk us out, and we would be in the same position we had been in three hours ago. However, a few feet before the doors that led to the lobby, our saving grace came in the form of a mop. It was thrown to Christof with a remark about how he was awful at his job. “I assume you know your way out,” he mumbled. We thanked him vigorously, and he soon sulked away and we were left alone in the hall. I looked at Daniel.
“Where should we hide?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I think it’s your turn to come up with something.”
“Hey!” I said. “There was a storage room down this hall. I’m sure we could hide in there.” Daniel nodded, and we headed, ever so quietly, down the hallway. When we reached the closet, we cracked the door open, just to make sure it was empty. Inside, we hid behind a large shelving unit, and blocked all openings with old Hitler campaign posters. Every time we heard footsteps down the hallway, we held our breath and prayed the soldiers wouldn’t come in. They never did.
“Let’s go! Wake up!” Daniel demanded. I slowly sat up, forgetting where I was. Unfortunately, the momentary bliss didn’t last long. “Finally,” Daniel said, exasperated, “they’re gone. Let’s move.” Again, I was stunned by his maturity.
“I’m sure the gunmen outside are still out on night watch,” I whispered as we silently crept through the hallway, unheard and undetected. Finally, we reached the window we had passed before.
“How do we get out?” Daniel whispered. I shrugged, looking for a door. I started fidgeting with the window, trying to see if it would open. I tried pushing on it, and it flung open and I tumbled out.
Crouching in the dirt outside laughing at my fall, a loud, mean dog barked in the distance. Daniel looked at me wide-eyed. He had always been afraid of dogs. “Come on!” I whispered, and he jumped out the window too. I pushed it closed, and we kneeled underneath it, praying we wouldn’t be found. The dog’s bark got closer, and then we heard the handler’s shouts.
“If anyone’s in here,” he called, “you best get out!” the pair got closer and closer until they reached our window. We held our breath. They ran right past.
Ten minutes later, when we decided we were safe, we stood up. In front of us, there was a hill, and we decided to climb it.
When we got to the top, the sun was just peeking out over the horizon. The pinkish light illuminated the land in front of us, and with that, it illuminated our hope, too. Because there, at the foot of the hill, was a little town. A Swiss town. A neutral, Nazi-free town. Daniel and I looked at each other, and our eyes welled up with tears because we knew, finally, we were safe.
Once we made it to Switzerland, we tracked down Aunt Gavriella and lived with her. By the time the war ended, I was sixteen. I remember we had a party. Aunt Gavriella invited all of our friends, and she wore her best pearls. We listened to the radio proclaiming the end of the war. Aunt Gavriella, and many of the people at the party, cried when they read the names of those from our town who had died in concentration camps. When they read our parents’ names, Daniel and I started crying with the rest of the party-goers. I still wear my mother’s necklace.
In two years, I was eighteen and could do what I pleased. While many Jews decided to leave Germany after the war, I went back. They had done enough to us, and I decided they couldn’t keep me out of Germany. It was my home, and I had just as much of a right to it as they did. As for Daniel, he stayed with Aunt Gavriella, and when she died six years after I left, he was left the house in her will. We visit each other often. We both married fine Jewish women, and had five children between us. We know this is just what our parents wanted for us.
I no longer hide my religion; I embrace it proudly, because I can. I will never take that for granted again.
My name is Abraham B?r. I am Jewish, and I survived the Holocaust. And this is my story.



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