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Undertaken

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Chapter Three

June 14, 1940
My country has just won over France. My father must be very proud of his men right now. The newspapers are coming in and people are becoming engulfed in its information. Right now, there are rumors of Britain and the United States, our rivals, declaring war on our government. Father tells me not to worry though, for our Führer believes that the Higher Power is on our side, and we should believe that also.
“Annalisa! Your mother is calling for you this morning. Come down and eat some breakfast,” Claudia, the housekeeper, liked to call me.
I slipped on my morning clothes and made quite an entrance downstairs. The pleasant scent of fresh bread and honey slipped under the kitchen door. Boiled eggs and meat spreads blanketed the dining table as my mother elegantly sat in her gown smiling at me.
“Good morning, Darling,” she said.
“Good morning, Mother. Where is Franz?” Franz, my brother, always happened to be gone in the morning either in the city, with my father, or studying military strategies.
“He’s gone this morning gathering food for the party tonight.”
“Party? Since when are we going to have a party?” I remarked as I grabbed a spoonful of honey.
“Annaliese, your father is coming home tonight. It’s very important that we have his colleagues and friends over so we can celebrate their achievement.”
House parties in my family usually meant a large bunch of military men and their wives amusing themselves by talking about people or the government. I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to and wouldn’t talk unless someone talked to me first. Under any circumstance, my father wouldn’t even let me talk to him unless he needed to talk to me.
“Mother, I’m already fifteen. Wouldn’t it be nice to go out into the city today? You and father allowed Franz to roam the city when he was fourteen.”
“Yes, but Franz is a boy. He can handle it.” She paused. “Anna, I just don’t want you to get hurt. The streets are a very dangerous place nowadays.”
“Then why don’t you come with me? Just once. The last time I’ve been in the city was to gather groceries last year. And you wouldn’t even let me out the carriage. I’m always stuck in the house wishing I could go into the city with you. I’m just curious,” I urged.
“Annaliese, I can’t. Not today. I have too much to do. Now finish your breakfast and get back to practicing your schoolwork. You might as well, because the books are collecting dust in your room.” She left me alone eating my unappetizing breakfast in the kitchen.
I nibbled on a piece of bread and pushed the plate away. There’s no way my mother can’t make me stay. I’ve been in here too long, and I deserve to go out with or without my mother! I stealthily ran up to my mother’s study and told her I was still too tired to do anything, and that I was going back to bed, since it was still seven o’clock in the morning. She didn’t respond, just nodded slightly.
In my room, I brushed my hair and cleaned my teeth. My clothes looked perfectly fine, and I didn’t want to stand out in the city. Some of Father’s officials might’ve recognized me.
Before I slid up the window, I locked the door just so my mother wouldn’t come in and see me missing. Luckily, I climbed down the back wall thanks to practice with my brother. The dense and dewy ground knocked me off my feet when I hit the ground. Pain sliced through my feet as the feeling strained like fireworks.
I hurried to the stables and quickly looked for Dierck, the stableman, to round up the horses and the carriage.
“My mother sent me. I’m supposed to go into the marketplace so I can pick up decorations for the occasion.” Lying made my mouth taste sour.
“Lady Annaliese, are you sure? You’re mother never told me to drive you into the city. I’m surprised because lately it hasn’t been a very appealing place to be.” He looked at me with steady eyes.
“It is of short notice, I know. But we have to go now before the shops close,” I hastened.
Dierck seemed to suspect me as I fidgeted with my shirt. Look him in the eye and look natural, I told myself. He helped me climb into the carriage. It smelled musty at first, but maybe it smelled like that because of the rain and the horses. We left the estate and went onto the rocky, dirt road that led to the city. We passed thick woodlands and pastures on our way. After about half an hour, the dirt road led to a cobblestone pathway as I noticed a city preceding more hills and farmland. The city from afar looked lifeless and abandoned. The color drained of once a vital place with people as gloomy clouds covered the area.
As we neared the city, ruins of buildings crumbled into the alleys and walkways. Death was written all over the walls. Jews with their yellow golden stars were lying in the streets without a name for someone to search for. Bodies were not the only dead things lying around, but horses were also. The streets stank of blood and burned bodies, while the alleys smelled of urine. I had no idea how desolate my country had become. I then understood why my mother hadn’t wanted me to see this wretched place.
What happened to our leader? Our Führer? I thought he was trying to build an empire, not tear it down. “But the Jews aren’t like us,” my father had once said. “They need to be exterminated because they do not deserve to live.”
The golden stars reminded me of Daniel. His smile I had never forgotten. He would be a living mystery for the rest of my life. All these years, I have constantly dreamed about him. He was there like I could feel his touch. We would walk to his home and watched all his sisters play on the porch. They would run and chase me around their little house, and they were so merry. I would continue having those dreams almost every night and I promised I would return. The last time I had a dream of Daniel, I imagined four of my father’s men shoving and whipping his family as they pushed the Jewish family into a large military automobile.
“Is this what you want?” Daniel demanded. He stared at me and spoke to the military men and me in vulgar language. He pulled himself free but fell on his face as another soldier whipped him. Blood streaked down his face and he spat salty blood out onto the ground. He grunted in misery as a soldier practically tossed him into the automobile with the others.
“Ekelhaft Juden! Sie werden in unsere Hölle sterben!” One soldier hissed.
I held my palms over my mouth and pleaded to the soldiers. I pushed my way through the soldiers and held onto the bars that separated me from the Kaufmann family.
“No! No!” I screeched as a powerful German man pulled me off as the automobile spewed dust in my face as it accelerated away.
I turned around and saw my father as he held me securely on my wrists. “Why’d you do this?” I gasped between breaths. I said hateful things as tears mixed with the dirt on my face. Once the large automobile was out of sight, he let me free as I struggled to outrun it. I sprinted as far as I could carry myself and eventually gave up. I stared at my throbbing wrists. They were red with scratches and imprints of large hands. I looked up, and found that I was close to a place that looked very much like in my dream. Maybe this city isn’t much like a dream after all, I thought.
Many people, including Jewish families, were racing for shelter. Young girls, a few years younger than me, wore filthy clothes and had grimy, thick hair. They’re just like me, I thought. I had to pull myself together, so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of Dierck.
“Welcome to Berlin, Lady Annaliese.”
The carriage precisely stopped in front of a decoration store. As I had reached the front door, I noticed it had been shut and boarded up with long planks of wood and nails. I looked up at the sign and noticed a yellow star. Of course, the owner was Jewish.
“Dierck, is there another place we could--?”
“Annaliese!”
At the sound of a familiar voice, I glanced over my shoulder, finding my brother had been in this area of the city all along. He was passing by in his car until he abruptly stopped when he noticed me.
“Why are you here?” He swerved his car to the side of the road and vigorously walked towards the carriage. His face looked stern and grim which perfectly suited his menacing and threatening uniform.
Trying to look perfectly innocent, I gently said, “Mother sent me.”
“Mother would never send you here. Now tell me why you are here.”
I glanced at Dierck and looked back at Franz. “I’m here to get party supplies.” There, I had lied once more.
Franz continued to stare at me, as if he was looking right through. I began to fiddle with my locket, opening and closing it. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Unbelievable. Annaliese, look around. No stores are open. They haven’t been opened for weeks since the bombing. Now, I will ask you one more time. Why are you here?” He said it slowly, pronouncing the words to me as if I had not understood German.
“I just wanted to know.”
“Know what? A girl like you shouldn’t even be out here.”
“Oh, please don’t lecture me, Franz.”
“Fine, I will just tell Mother you sneaked into the city without her permission.” My jaw opened. “We need to get to the party early. This time you ride with me before you catch a train to Nuremberg.” He noticed Dierck leaning on the carriage. “I’m sorry, Dierck. I hope this will never happen again.” For the hundredth time, he eyed me like I was a little child.
An hour had passed until we came back home. I didn’t speak to Franz, for he’s just like Father. Unpermissive and uptight is what I have always thought of my father. He wasn’t always like that, I remember. He used to be a loving and amiable person, and I thought he was my hero as a child. But I think I grew up. We didn’t spend any more time together and often got into arguments. Perhaps this happened around the time I had last seen Daniel. I didn’t only lose Daniel as a friend, but I had also lost my father. During the war, tensions rose, and my family stopped being a family. We stopped laughing and listening to one another like before. Perhaps the war has been a season of misfortune, like a drought. I am waiting, waiting for rain to replenish my life.
We stepped out of the car into the warm air as Franz opened the door. Mother and Father were standing in the parlor, deep in discussion.
“Annaliese!” Mother rushed towards me and grasped my shoulders. I stood there stiff, looking across the room towards my father.
“Welcome back, Father,” I muttered.
“Strange, how you say that, for I thought this was my welcoming party, and not yours,” he said plainly, not even greeting the proper way I thought he would have.
“All right, Annaliese and Franz are home safely, and that’s what counts. I’ve had a hard time today, just as much as you have.” She looked at my father. “Now, guests are coming in an hour, so Annaliese, get dressed. I have to check on Claudia.”
I rushed upstairs, leaving my father and Franz, alone in the parlor. I pressed my ear to the door, faintly hearing their conversation. “. . . Yes, in Berlin . . . a Jewish store . . . Dierck was with the carriage . . .” Obviously, I could tell that was Franz.
I laid on my bed sighing deeply. I’m such a fool! Father must be ashamed of me. I should stay in my room the entire night, studying schoolwork like an appropriate daughter should, I thought as I pressed my pillow to my face.
Suddenly, someone knocked on my door.
“Yes?” I said. The door opened and my mother stood poised next to the post, her shoulders perfectly intact and her hands laced with gloves. She wore a pink and yellow chiffon gown that complimented her pale skin. Her auburn hair shined and looked glossy as it slid down her back.
“Lukas will be attending, so put on your best gown,” she smiled.
Lukas’s father was Erich Rothbauer, an officer, who happened to be one of Father’s most excellent confidants. Lukas had a special type of charm about him. I remember the last time we were at one party. He led me out to the courtyard and told me the story of Andromeda and Perseus as we gazed at the stars blinking right at us. Mother’s knowledge made me beam.
I dressed in my shimmering fuchsia outfit consisting of cherry blossom patterned silk and thin straps and belt. The red and purple highlights glided on the dress as it shone in the light. I added a delicate white cotton pair of gloves that nicely flattered my dress. Lastly, I curled my short blonde hair into loose waves that rested below my shoulders.
At a quarter ‘till, Franz escorted me down to the foot of the stairs and into the ballroom as guests began to arrive. In the dining room, just as I had passed it, the chandelier brightly gleamed as its crystals sparkled from the reflection. On the tables, a large plate was centered with pork roast served in rich gravy with boiled potatoes and dumplings. On another table, veal fillet served with salad had also caught my attention. Thick pudding and vanilla custard with cherries on top covered one part, and pound cake filled with white and chocolate flavored dough did also on the dessert table. The most scrumptious looking dessert of all was the apple strudel full of almonds, raisins, and apple slices as whipped cream and vanilla sauce drenched on top. I felt like I couldn’t contain myself, for I had missed even lunchtime.
Slowly but surely, couples and a few children poured through the doors. Mother sweetly greeted the couples and Father welcomed his adherents. Mother introduced me to quite a few people including the couples Kramer, Strohman, Volmar, Heinrich, and many more of which I cannot even remember.
About half an hour into the gala occasion, a black velvet Horch vehicle pulled up into the driveway, glinting in the moonlight. As I had hoped, the Rothbauers made their way into the ballroom. I waited, anticipating Lukas to notice me. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that he looked spectacular tonight. His caramel blonde hair was gelled and parted on the side, and he wore a pearl grey military suit completed with various sorts of badges, pins, and patches.
As soon as he noticed I was only ten feet away from him, I turned around walking in the other direction, hoping he would catch up with me. I bit my lip and crossed my fingers as I heard him call my name.
“Annaliese, hold on!” His voice just made my heart melt. I acted surprised like I hadn’t spotted him already.
“Oh, Lukas! I didn’t know you were coming,” I smiled real wide, trying to look as pleasant as possible.
He smiled back, and I hoped he was thinking the same thing I was. “You look absolutely stunning tonight.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
We talked more about unimportant things like weather, food, and the holidays. Lukas continued to ramble on and on about the military and the Führer, which made me think, No wonder Franz and Lukas get along so well. I visualized those two chums just like Father and Captain Rothbauer, discussing government and history in the future.
Moments later, Father saved me from hearing another opinion of the United States by making a toast. He stood up slowly with Mother by his side and mentioned how grateful he was to have such wonderful friends and family. I didn’t want to hear any more of it, because I knew he didn’t quite care much about his family as much as his work. At the end of his everlasting spiel, he mentioned, “And the Führer will lead us to victory, and the people of Germany will prosper forever!”
The audience applauded and cheered like my father was some sort of god, deserving praise and glory. I faked a smile one more time, agreeing with the approval of the crowd.
Shortly after dinner, Lukas took me outside once more holding my hand.
“Annaliese, it was such a pleasure to speak with you once more today, but I fear this will be our last time.”
I purposely made my face looked puzzled. “Why?”
“I will be going back into the army for more training. Many new men are being recruited, and my father needs me as well.” He took my hands and gently rubbed them back and forth with his thumbs as we stood in total darkness.
“But you heard my father. He said Germany will prosper.” I shook my head.
“He’s not telling you everything, Anna. Men have already died at the front lines, and the army will need more soldiers.”
“Aren’t you going to come back?”
He turned to me, and in his eyes I knew his response.
“Are you?”
“Anna, I don’t even know if I will make it back. I have to say goodbye. I will be moving to the training camp tomorrow.”
He pulled me close, which quite surprised me, and after that little moment, he, too, was like a little flame that was blown out unexpectedly by the wind. I ran upstairs and put on lip balm, sealing in the kiss.
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