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There'll Be Bluebirds Over...
“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?” the man in the passenger seat says slowly. He looks at me in the rearview mirror, giving me a snide smirk.
“Wunderbar,” I reply after a moment’s hesitation. I look out the window at the hills of South Germany. Buildings have long since been replaced by trees. Civilization is sparse compared to that of Munich. We’ve been driving for nearly two hours, and by my estimate, we’re just south of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. That puts us very close to the border of Osterreich.
“Clear,” the driver comments. I look up. The stars are visible and bright against the blackness of the sky. It is a beautiful night, but only in appearance.
My heart is thudding in my chest and sweat is beading on my forehead. I take in staggered, wheezing breaths. I can’t keep my hands still. All of these things will give me away. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, holding it before letting it out slowly, and clasp my hands together to steady their shaking. I can think of only one reason why these men would pick me up on the streets as I walked home from school. Only one reason why they would take me so far from home without giving me an explanation or telling me where we’re going. And that reason is my best friend Ari.
I can’t control myself. My eyes open themselves and my breaths become increasingly frantic as I imagine Ari being taken in by the Gestapo. The terrible things they would do to him…that they would do to my family. And me.
“Are you alright, Alaric?” Herr Hoffman asks me from the passenger seat.
I close my eyes again and breathe slowly, willing myself to relax. It will be fine. This has nothing to do with Ari. They don’t suspect a thing. I’m an outstanding member of the HJ. And besides, Herr Hoffman works with my father. He’s a businessman, not an SS. He would be the last person involved in matters concerning Jews.
“I’m fine,” I answer quietly. “Where are we going?” I try to keep my voice calm and steady, but despite the effort, it cracks on the last syllable.
Herr Hoffman looks at me again, his perfect Aryan blue eyes flashing with some emotion I can’t place.
“We just have a few questions for you at Headquarters,” he says.
“Headquarters? You aren’t a Polizist.”
Hoffman just grins. The look on his face frightens me. He knows. He knows. It’s all over. I look back out the window and let out a long breath. To say I’m not afraid would be to lie. I knew this would most likely happen at some point. How could I possibly hide a Jew in my closet for the remainder of this war without someone finding out? It’s amazing I made it this far. But I’m scared regardless. There was nothing I could have done to prepare myself for this.
We drive the rest of the way in an uncomfortable silence, and soon we pull up in front of a small building made of bricks. Swallowing a lump in my throat, I climb out of the car. It looks somewhat like a police station, but there are no markings on it denoting what it really is. The ambiguity makes it even more intimidating, and the two large men standing at my sides only add to it. It feels as if I’m being led to an execution. My execution.
Entering the building doesn’t help me discern where we are. We come immediately into an office of sorts. It’s a dull looking place, with brown leather sofas and wilting plants, paintings of the great Fuhrer and his swastika. We could be anywhere in Germany.
I stand in the middle of the place, glancing around warily as Herr Hoffman and the driver speak with the woman seated behind a small desk in the corner of the room. There are two unmarked doors on the back wall. The one on the right is the one that opens. A man in a brown suit much like the one Herr Hoffman is wearing walks out, followed by Alphonse Walberg.
My heart has to have stopped beating. What is Alphonse doing here? There’s a confident smile on his boyish face. He’s my age at seventeen, but he appears by his facial features to be only fourteen. He’s short for his age and can’t grow facial hair to save his life. His size and youthful appearance are often the subject of his ridicule at school. I stay out of the humiliation as much as I can. I don’t like cruelty, and I try my best to benefit others, but Alphonse and I do have our differences.
Most of those differences involve my friendship with Ari.
Before Jews were removed from our schools, Alphonse would often insult Ari, and me in turn when I came to his defense. He would call me Judegeliebter. Jew Lover. We’ve been in many verbal fights, but have never gone so far as violence. He’s too small. I’m too much of a pacifist.
Alphonse is the only one that ever questions my loyalty to the Fuhrer. To everyone else, I am the epitome of what an HJ member should be; on my way to becoming an officer.
Seeing him here only tightens the noose I am holding around my own throat.
Alphonse nods his greeting at me as he passes. “Alaric,” he says, still grinning. I say nothing in return, only watch him as he leaves, escorted by the man in the suit, secretly seething.
“This way,” Herr Hoffman tells me, and leads me into the same room Alphonse has just exited. As I come into the room, I shiver. An old wooden table takes up most of the space. Situated on both sides are two chairs. An SS officer stands in the far corner. Seeing him there, and the swastika on his arm band, almost makes my heart pound right out of my chest.
The first thing Herr Hoffman asks me when we take our respective seats across the table from each other is, “Are you a member of the HJ?”
“Of course,” I answer without hesitation. He knows that already. Everyone knows that. I make it obvious, if only to cover myself up. “I was even before it was compulsory.”
“Hm. Where’s your uniform? You are dressed like a paperboy. You look more like a Swingjugend to me than a Hitlerjugend.”
“I am no Swing Kid, sir,” I say, absently feeling the thin brown band around my left arm where the wide Nazi armband would have been. I don’t bother trying to make an excuse for my lack of uniform. I normally wear it anytime I leave the house, to flaunt my involvement with the cult and avoid suspicion.
“Well,” Herr Hoffman says, folding his hands on the table before him. “I have a few questions for you, Alaric, and then you can be on your way.”
“Alright.” My voice cracks again and I clear my throat, wishing I hadn’t said anything.
“After questioning one of your peers about the hiding of Juden in your neighborhood, your name has come up. I want to hear what you have to say before we jump to conclusions. Tell me the truth and you will leave here without a problem. But if you withhold information from me, no matter whom you are trying to protect…well, let’s just say, I’m not fond of liars.”
I can feel my face getting hot. I’m going to kill that *******. No, I’m going to die before I can do that. What about Ari? He won’t see them coming. He’s dead too. And what about my family? They’ll all be killed, and it’s all my fault.
I need to tell them something. I need to lead them off track, as long as it saves Ari and my family. Even if I die for it. I can’t lie to them about hiding him. The ******* already told them.
“Na?” Herr Hoffman says after watching me contemplate for a moment.
I swallow and force myself to look him in the eye as I say, “What did he tell you?”
He never stops smiling at me. “You tell me.”
What am I supposed to say? The only thing coming to mind is the night Ari came to my house sobbing, telling me that he witnessed his parents and younger sisters getting dragged out of their house by the Gestapo and thrown into the back of a cattle truck, all while he watched from the bushes in their neighbor’s front yard. How could I possibly turn him away? He’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember. I honestly cannot recall a time when we weren’t friends. There was no way I could allow him to suffer whatever fate his family was about to.
“Remember, I don’t like liars.”
Ari is sitting in my closet now, buried behind all of my clothes, waiting for me to get home and feed him. He must be starving. I’m only ever able to feed him my dinner scraps. I eat as little as possible without my parents growing concerned for my appetite, and bring the rest to Ari when I leave the table, rather than throwing it away. I have been so lucky that they haven’t questioned my leaving the table early at all up until this point.
After some time, I sigh. There’s no way I’m getting out of this. Alphonse Walberg turned me, and lying will only make matters worse. I’m going to die. I don’t like the thought, but there’s no use in denying it. I at least have to protect my family. If I alter the story just in the slightest, it may give Ari a chance to escape.
“If I tell you, do you promise to leave my family be? They know nothing about this and have absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Herr Hoffman leans back in his chair, an honest hand over his chest. He’s interested. “You have my word.”
I swallow hard once more and let out a long breath. “In my basement,” I lie. “There is a Jew.”
Ari will hear them searching the basement. He’ll have time to get out of the closet and into the washroom and out the window into the backyard. From there he’ll have to find his own way.
“He has been there for two weeks. But I am being completely honest when I say my parents know nothing about it!”
I watch as Hoffman’s face turns from interest, to shock, to rage, and then to condescending. My heartbeat continues to race. My palms are sweating and I can feel it on my forehead as well. My stomach turns. I might vomit. It’s over, and all because Alphonse Walberg wants to feel important and get recognition at tomorrow’s HJ meeting.
“Hm.” Herr Hoffman grins again. He puts an arm around the back of his chair and lifts both of his feet onto the table. “That is very interesting. However, not nearly what I expected.”
He pauses. I stare at him, unsure of what he’s trying to say. What does he mean it’s not what he expected?
When I don’t respond he says, “Alphonse Walberg only told me that you and he witnessed a Jew enter the home of Josef Heidrich not two days ago.”
I still don’t understand what he’s saying to me. I gape at him, trying to process it. Josef Heidrich…Alphonse and I witnessed a Jew…What?
Josef Heidrich…oh God. The realization hits me like a sack of bricks. The feeling is immobilizing. I grip the arms of my chair so hard that my own arms start to shake. My breath leaves me and I can’t get it back. What have I done? Alphonse didn’t turn me in. I just committed suicide, and possibly three counts of murder.
“What shall we do with him, sir?” the SS man in the corner says, speaking for the first time.
I cannot tear my eyes from Herr Hoffman, who looks at me as well, ever smiling. I try to plead with him with my eyes, because I can’t find words. I’m the only son of a coworker! He’s been to my home before. He’s sat down and had dinner with my family. I’ve passed him the butter dish. I’ve laughed with him. He can’t hurt me. He can’t. He must choose loyalty to friends over loyalty to the Fuhrer. I’ve done it myself! It’s not that difficult.
“He shall be hung by the neck until dead, in his front yard, as an example. Do not touch his family. I gave him my word.”
“And what of die Juden?”
“Find him. Hang him beside his friend.”
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"When you do dance, I wish you a wave 'o the sea, that you might never do nothing but that." -William Shakespeare