Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you;
for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall
be my people, and your God my God
.. Ruth 1 v16.
am cold in my grave, but I still remember her; the orphan who became part of a
family of multitudes, the gentile who was the most devout of Jews, the woman
who was despised by the righteous, but who died a martyr. Wherever she is now I
am one step behind; my hand reaching out for hers.
Most people saw them
as Jews, and despised them accordingly, but the Jews too wanted nothing them to
do with them. Although it is true that they kept many of the same feasts
as the strict, kept a kosher household and did not work on the sabbath, stories
leaked out about their services; about magic and divination, interpretation of
dreams and spells, prophesies that the end was coming. This was the last thing
that anybody needed, when the Jews were always liable to be attacked at the
slightest excuse; many remembered the dead left piled in heaps and the sight of
the old synagogue desecrated and then burnt to the ground. Now they just
wanted to be left alone, to marry, have children and to worship G-d, and have
nothing to do with anyone who might disturb their peace and bring down another
wave of pogroms.
By his gait and
confidence, one could tell he was a soldier, or had been one quite recently; he
was someone who was used to being obeyed and to having people fear him, but if
you looked deep into his brown eyes you could see that they were full of
sadness and fear, and that he was not quite the confident young man that he at
you? asked Moshe as the man walked in from the busy street below.
He nodded and after
a quick glance round to get his bearings he sat down on the mens side of
the large room; his eyes lowered either out of modesty or to hide the confusion
that threatened to overwhelm him.
The Jewish sect met
in an upstairs room which smelt of perfume from the parfumerie below, whilst
the voices of the gentiles would drift up on the Sabbath morning, harsh like
seagulls. In the room there were usually thirty or so men and women, sitting on
opposite sides; their chanting of Hebrew and the gossiping in Yiddish
eventually drowning out every other noise. Considering the amount of
consternation that they caused the minyan were not a large group, nor
particularly presupposing, but Felix was desperate, and so he stayed.
I hear about
prophesies and visions said Felix.
dreams Felix told him, strange dreams, that is why I came here. I
left the army and came back to Koln, I kept dreaming of the cathedral and the
river, flowing red. A giant crocodile flowing down the river, eating everything
in its path. And bodies, always bodies.
A few people drifted
over as he spoke so earnestly to the leader of the group.
I see a modern town, a strange town, where we can live in peace, and there is a
young woman who I recognise, a friend, but she is a gentile.
Felix expected them
to laugh, even Alice, who was the woman in his dream, had not been able to take
him seriously, but Moshe just looked at him steadily, taking it all in.
Your sons and
your daughters shall prophesy,/ Your old men shall dream dreams,/ and your
young men shall see visions.
A young woman quoted
at him, he had not even noticed her listening. She had red hair, underneath her
cap, and looked at him intently; these visions come upon us all; visions
of death and destruction.
There was silence
for a moment and then she left, a whiff of something exotic trailing behind
You are not
the only one having such dreams, and that is all I know about. Something is
happening, something devastating. G-d is talking to us. Moshe told him,
but we do not know what the dreams mean, or what we should do about
I came here
because I thought you could help.
Moshe looked at him
with compassion, G-d will reveal it, perhaps through us, perhaps not. I
wonder if you are someone who has been called upon to do a great work, or
perhaps to reveal all to us. We are all in the dark just as you are, waiting
for a sign.
There were endless
lines of children marching forward like soldiers to battle, but he knew that
just ahead of them was the most fearsome of monsters waiting to devour them
all, so he tried to stop them, he grabbed hold of one little girl, but she was
strong and heavy and he could not stop her moving forward. He shouted and
screamed, and tugged at her dress, but eventually she pushed past him, leaving
him behind, helpless and in despair, whilst the children carried on walking,
oblivious to their doom.
He woke up with his
arm around Alice, she was snoring harshly. A
beautiful, seemingly genteel woman, but once undressed and in bed she was
strong and powerful and she dominated him as if she were the man and he a shy
maid, something he found strange but not unpleasant. He had not even admitted
this to himself, but she, more than his dreams and duty to his father, was why
he had come back. When he was fighting and marching down long roads,
lonely and tired it was her face that came to him, and which he missed, which
called out to him to return. They had met five years ago in a sweet shop, and
ever since he had felt much closer to her than to anybody else he knew, and yet
she was a gentile with none of his traditions or history, but perhaps this was
what love was; wanting someone despite it being forbidden or impossible.
Are you back
for good? she asked, as he stroked her hair.
I am not sure.
I feel as if I am on the verge of something else. As if I might be moving on,
but I am not sure where, I am confused. I am just waiting to see what happens.
I am unable to plan or think about the future.
He loved stroking
her head and hair; softly touching her skull as if he were a phrenologist
trying to trace her personality and her humours.
You can take
me with you she told him, I am so restless.
He said nothing,
wondering if she knew what she was asking, for him to leave his community and
his family, just for her.
offers when you were away, some from handsome rich men she told him,
understanding his silence and wanting to hurt him. He flinched with jealousy,
but I waited for you and I am not sure why. I suppose that I knew you
were my fate.
She was an orphan
and had worked in her uncles sweet shop since she was young, which is
where he had met her. He remembered seeing her for the first time staring
out of the window as if waiting for something, and she had been so beautiful,
with the endless jars of bright sweets behind her, he had gone in and talked
with her and that had been the beginning. Now he bent down and kissed her, and
she kissed him back, and pushed herself upon him so that soon they were making
love with intensity and without inhibition. Soon it was impossible to
tell whose limbs were whose, from whence came the groans of passion; it was as
if they were one creature, pleasuring itself again and again.
going? she murmured as she watched him get up and start to look for his
promised that I would eat with my father. And he swiftly dressed and,
after kissing her again, he left her room, and she lay back amidst the chaos of
blankets, still feeling the warmth of him inside her. Later she awoke with a
start, having dreamt of something that was just out of sight and memory, and
she lay there, her brain working, but her limbs refusing to move and for a
moment she thought she was dead, until slowly she found the energy to get up
and wash, and carry on with her day.
Felix continued to
worship with the ostracised Jews; reading the scriptures with them and
discussing dreams and portents, whilst during the week he worked in his
fathers shop, which at least made his father happy.
Look at my
son Isaac would proudly say to his customers; so big and handsome,
we are lucky to have him.
Felix knew that his
father wanted him to take over the shop in a year or two so that he could
retire in peace after a lifetime of hard work, study the Torah and gossip with
his friends in the citys cafes. Thus in the evenings, he would go through
the finances, trying to interest Felix in the business, or he would talk about
new deliveries of clothes, and take him to meet his workers, who made the
garments that he sold. But Felix resisted any such commitment.
know father, I dont think I will be here forever. Everything feels
temporary. I cannot imagine staying here for the rest of my life.
His father looked at
him sadly, Why dont you go to Schul they miss you there, and there
are some attractive young women. Whatever you decide to do you need to settle
down. It is no good running after strange gods and gentile women. Your mother
was the same; she was restless, but then she settled down with me and she
became a good Jewish wife.
Felix hugged his
father, and felt unutterably sad, as if he was in the grip of something
stronger that he realised was destroying all that was important to him.
And then he would go
over to beautiful, golden Alice and spend the nights with her, making love,
talking and reading.
I dreamed of a
wise man in the cathedral, shouting at the skies, and there was no roof. And
then he burst into flames and I could smell him, like something
she said half asleep, he had woken her with his cries. She snuggled up to him
and tried to soothe him back to sleep.
Do you not
dream? he asked her, as she languidly pulled the hairs on his
No, well I
dont know, I am too tired to dream, or perhaps I forget them. She
knew that her uneasiness and fear came when she walked the streets of Koln, did
her meagre shopping and talked to her friends, or served customers in her
uncles sweet shop; an overwhelming feeling that it was all for the last
time and that the world would end in fire and steel, and yet the buildings of
Koln stood firm, and above them all was the Medieval Cathedral which would
surely be there long after she and Felix were dead.
She had no memory of
her parents; they had both died of fever when she was two, along with her older
brother and sister. Only she had survived, and she had waited patiently in
their damp house stroking her mothers face, until her Uncle took her away
to live with his family. She had seen pictures; the wedding photograph, where
her parents looked serious as if anticipating their fate that was already
close, and pictures of her two siblings, also looking serious and as if from
another world. But Alice was different; ready to embrace life and not give in
to fever or man.
I saw you in
the shop Felix told her, the light made you like an angel, I could
Which made it sound
as if it was all Felix, that he had rescued her, but she had had plenty of
suitors and would-be lovers, and even some actual lovers, but once Felix came
into her uncles shop, she knew that he was the one that she needed, and
she took him as much as he had taken her. He was funny and intense, and when
they made love it was as if her body had been crying out for him, as if
everything beforehand had just been practice. Even when he disappeared into the
army, to escape his destiny, she knew that sooner or later he would return.
Perhaps there was a God after all, or something more impersonal like fate and
it was this that had brought them together.
Your son is
keeping strange company; the man had never been in the shop before so far
as Isaac could remember; he was well-dressed and smelt of lemons and expensive
scent; he was the sort of person who would buy his clothes in the richest part
of the city, and who would have little to do with Jewish Quarter.
He is a good
son and works hard. He is not the sort to keep bad company, Isaac told
him, feeling nervous.
The man looked at
him hard, tell him to be careful. These are strange times, and you do not
need any trouble I am sure.
He felt through the
reams of cloth admiringly with his long fingers, but then left, without buying
it is nothing.
But he keeps
coming back, and I see him across the street watching us. You do not want to
get a reputation.
I am sure they
are questioning lots of people; the police need something to do to justify
a fool, they can be dangerous. They just need any excuse to attack us. Just
because you were in the army does not mean that you are safe, you are still a
Jew, whether you like it or not.
Felix dealt with a
customer who had just come in, whilst his father seethed in the background;
once the customer had gone Isaac resumed his complaints.
You are mixing
with that unholy group; I hear tales of the occult and heathen practices.
Things are bad enough for us without you making more trouble for us. Whatever
you do comes onto all of us. And who is that Shiksa?
You know who?
Once I am gone you are the only one in our family left. Are you going to forget
your traditions, your people? Just become a gentile? You are almost thirty. It
was bad enough you joining the army, but now
unconcernedly and got on with working in the shop, although later, as he left
the shop to see Alice, for a moment he saw a figure in the shadows and there
was the faintest whiff of lemon in the air.
Felix was late the
day the police invaded the Minyan; he walked past the parfumerie and up the
stairs, preoccupied with thoughts of Alice, who he had rowed with the previous
day, and his father who he rowed with every time he saw him. He did not hear
the sounds of fighting coming from the room, until he pushed open the door and
became aware of a scuffle and suddenly he was pushed out of the way by the
young woman with red hair, she was running, with two men in uniform just behind
her. He had time to see that she was bleeding from her head and was shouting
something he could not understand, and then Felix slammed hard into the first
policeman sending him sprawling into his companion and then he aimed a savage
kick at his head and then another one, before leaving the two policemen,
temporarily helpless, at the top of the stairs.
The woman had
disappeared by the time Felix was back in the street and so he too took off, he
was a fast runner and knew the area well, so that although at first he heard
footsteps and shouts close behind him, they soon disappeared and he became part
of the Saturday morning crowd. Once he was sure he was safe, he walked through
streets, wondering what had happened and why. At about lunchtime he arrived
back at Alices room. She was up and dressed; eating bread and cheese.
told her, if you want to leave, we must do it now.
Without a word she
filled two bags, as if she had been preparing for this moment all her life, and
within thirty minutes they had left the building and were heading towards the
She never knew why
he chose Russia; was it an impulse or something else? When she asked him, he
just said well we had to go somewhere, but that sounded like an
excuse, as if it was something beyond his understanding.
They stayed in a
hotel in a back street, where it was cold, and often they spent the whole day
in bed trying to keep warm. But then when they were getting hungry Felix would
go out and try to earn money doing labouring work or by begging, whilst Alice
would go downstairs and talk to the Babushka who managed the hotel, and they
would sit beside the fire trying in vain to understand each other.
What are we
doing here? she asked Felix, one night.
.. he shivered and burrowed
himself into her; she smelt of dampness and sweat.
Why have you
brought me with you? she asked feeling as low as she could ever remember,
is it to die in the cold? At least in Germany I had food and
But you asked
to come with me. I warned you that it would be hard.
But why does
it have to be like this? You men, driven by visions and religion, why
cant we live a normal life?
Felix shrugged; he
looked exhausted and thin, and when they made love, she could feel his bones
pushing against her soft body, and she started to worry that he, who had always
seemed so healthy, was beginning to sicken of something.
One day he came back
after being out all day, he looked fragile and ill, as if only his spirit was
keeping him upright.
I have been
speaking to a Rabbi; he is an interesting man, very young though, younger than
us. He gave me work and then talked about G-d and the Devil. He said that he
dreamed about us; he is puzzled about you, he asked me lots of questions; where
you are from, who you are.
because I am not Jewish Alice suggested crossly.
The young Rabbi
ignored her as they sat in a small café drinking schnapps. He was pale
and looked austere and he kept a distance between him and the attractive young
woman. The two men spoke in Yiddish, and Alice, whilst not understanding every
word, knew what they were talking about, although Felix still felt the need to
He wants me to
travel to Moscow he told her, and then he coughed and coughed, she felt
she could hear his body rattle as he did so. There is another Rabbi that
he knows; an older man, a visionary, who has written to him of a couple who
will appear in St. Petersburg from the West, one of whom is a gentile, and they
will go further East and will do great things.
He does not
understand it all, there is something odd about it and I get the feeling that
he is not telling me everything, as if there is something unpleasant going to
happen. And then he wonders if his friend might be a bit strange, or he did,
but then here we are, and we came straight to him, well I did.
She looked across at
the young Rabbi, who resolutely stared at the table. Felix coughed again and
wiped his brow and soon they returned to their room and snuggled back under the
blankets but however much she tried to warm him Felix stayed cold, as if his
bones were made of ice and would never melt.
She made him stay in
the room whilst she tried to beg for money, and because she was pretty and
refused to give up, she did gain a few kopecks and then using gestures managed
to buy food from the market, but it was never enough, and Felix became thinner
and thinner, and however much she tried to warm him with her body he still
shivered and coughed.
Felix never did get
warm. The young rabbi came sometimes and sat beside him, and so did the
Babushka who made him soup and insisted that he drink it, but however much he
sipped he did not get better or become less wasted, until one day Alice woke up
and the man beside her was cold and silent.
They buried him in
the Jewish cemetery, the young Rabbi stood there with a few of his
congregation, whilst Alice, standing apart, wept and wept at the loss of Felix,
who had been alien but had loved her, and for herself who was alone in a
strange country, an orphan once again. She huddled herself into her
insufficient coat and hoped that she would die.
The young Rabbi came
to see her a few days later; she had not come out of bed since the funeral, and
lay full dressed under the blanket. He refused to look at her, but he had a bag
full of clothes and money.
wife he told her, you have to go to Moscow he spoke in a
mixture of German and Yiddish.
He looked at her for
the first and only time, I do not know why, but I have an
He shrugged and
walked out of the room, his job done, and once again she started to pack.
I see a
woman the Rabbi told them, a gentile woman, who comes bearing the
The years in prison
had left the Rabbi rather odd, and his congregation looked at him pityingly and
wondered when he would step down for someone younger and less strange. He was a
kind old man who had suffered, but then hadnt they all? It really was
time he retired and concentrated on the next life. They felt sorry for his wife
Chanina, who looked increasingly weary and talked of a husband that never slept
and continually talked to himself.
possessed she told them, that damn Czar and his minions, they left
him the shell of a man.
She wore black as if
to mourn the man that he once was, although those who had known him a long time
remembered him as someone always inclined to mysticism and madness.
The rabbi spent much
of his time sitting in Ekaterininskiy Park, nibbling on black bread and cheese,
and talking to passers-by, some of his congregation would see him and stop to
have a word, whilst others would pretend he wasnt there, and then talk
about him later at home. Sometimes he would not come home until the next day;
no wonder that Chanina was worried.
What do you do
all day? She asked him, but actually she knew what he did; sitting there
and if he had money giving sweet cakes to children and women. Twice he came
home with bruises and cuts but he refused to talk about it, and was back out
there the following day, even in the harshest wind.
Then one Wednesday
evening he came out of the dry cold looking tired and discouraged.
The woman you
were expecting has arrived said his wife, and there she was, dressed in
rags and looking weary and sad but with golden hair; she said something in
broken Yiddish and the Rabbi looked see that she was on the verge of tears.
He gave the young
woman a smile and they spoke for a while in a language that Chanina could not
German the Rabbi told his wife, and she is staying with
she asked, rather than saying no, or how dare you?
And with a sigh
Chanina got the room ready for her husbands guest.
That evening the two
of them spoke in German, whilst Chanina sat opposite them and knitted, until
she dropped off, and when she awoke they were still talking.
What did you
talk about? she asked her husband later in bed.
telling me about herself; how she came from Germany to St. Petersburg and now
here. She is the one; as soon as I saw her, I knew.
Oh Yakov. But
who is she exactly? What is she here for?
The rabbi smiled
all will be revealed. Be patient, we have waited long enough.
She sat in the
synagogue even though there was no reason to think that she was a Jew, and the
Rabbis family fed her even though they were not rich. During the early
mornings she slept, her snores vibrating round the house, but once she had got
up, she would help Chanina cook and clean the house and then once it had grown
dark she and the Rabbi would talk and talk; the harsh German tones rising and
falling so that it seemed meaningless, like chanting in a Christian church.
what? the rabbi asked half asleep.
What she is
And he rolled over and fell asleep.
continued to lie there, staring up into the dark, wondering what trouble they
had brought into their house.
She called the young
woman Alya as she could not say her real name and soon everyone else, even the
Rabbi, called her that. She was a pleasant enough woman, helpful and kind, and
she was company. Since the children had left, Chanina was often alone,
and having someone there by her side was pleasant, even though they could only
exchange a few words. Sometimes the Rabbis wife would be woken by weeping
from the next room, and then she would go to her and hold her and kiss her as
if she were one of her daughters, not that her daughters had ever been so
affectionate, but Alya clung to her and wept and then afterwards kissed her.
She stood on a bench
in the park and a few people gathered round, bored and curious at this
attractive woman who was speaking. At first she did not know what to say and
just stared at her sparse audience, and the few words she had prepared blew
away in the wind, but then she found inspiration and quoted from the prophets
Jeremiah and Malachi.
Behold I will
send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and terrible day of the Lord
continued to stare, so she spoke again.
We need to
flee, leave this country, this continent; hard times are coming, for Jew and
Gentile; death by fire, death by disease. Gather your possessions together and
be prepared to depart, and if your loved ones will not come with you, leave
There was no obvious
reaction from her audience; she could have been talking about anything, rather
than telling them to leave everything behind and escape. Close by the Rabbi
watched her every move, as if the proud father of a precocious child. Two
soldiers, who had been watching for awhile, eventually walked over and told
everyone to disperse, which they did with no fuss, and then after alternately
flirting and threatening the young woman, they eventually told her to go.
The Rabbi was called
before the Beth Din, it was probably inevitable, in fact he wondered why it had
not been called before. As he sat in front of them, he looked at the three men,
all of whom he knew extremely well.
Who is this
girl, this Alya? Stefan asked him.
She came to me
in a dream, so that I was expecting her, and then a few days later there she
was. G-d speaks through her.
The three men looked
at him which a mixture of sadness and anger.
She is a
gentile, how can G-d speak through her? Stefan asked furiously, and
she is becoming a nuisance; arrested four times. The Czar and his ministers
already hate us, especially now, and you and this woman are making things
worse. And she is living at your house and you spend more time with her than
with your wife, no wonder our congregation is disappearing, they are
embarrassed of their Rabbi.
Not all of
them, some are loyal, and we have many new people.
Yes idiots and
wastrels who want a cheap show. You are disgracing our synagogue.
Rabbi Himmel, the
most senior man of the three, spoke at last.
You need to
put this woman aside, send her back to her own people in Germany, and then take
time away from the synagogue. Study and pray, rest and spend time with your
wife. We will appoint someone to take over your duties.
He told Alya what
sorry she said, should I leave?
He held her for a
moment, and looked deep into her eyes.
Come let us
pack. He told her.
She had her
and saw their packed bags and without a word she gathered some clothes and
other items, and the three of them set off towards the railway station, just
another family leaving the city, scared of revolution and repression. As they
did so they called at various houses on the way and were joined by two more
families who had listened to Alyas preaching and a young man from the
synagogue, who they thought was special.
Where are we
going? asked the father of one of the families.
puzzled, as if he had not thought of this.
They stood in a
circle as they laid the Rabbi to rest. Ayla watched her community closely and
intermixed with her sadness at the loss of her friend and guide was the worry
about what would happen next? The Rabbi had kept them together when they moved
to England and then found this small Hertfordshire town where they had built
houses and settled down, he had been their focus, and now he was gone.
Would they now
disperse? Many of them were confident and part of the town and perhaps now the
Rabbi was gone, they would go to London and join the Jews in the East End or
move elsewhere. But they seemed at home in Ware, and happy, and were respected
by the local townsfolk who from the start had been welcoming and kind.
Not only had the
group survived as a community; they had increased; Jews and even gentiles had
come from other parts of England and from Eastern Europe looking for safety and
a community, and they had been made welcome. They had built more houses on the
outskirts of the town and then a synagogue and they had unofficially
a special corner of the cemetery. Other Jewish congregations in
the capital mostly treated them with a bemused respect; like a wayward
half-brother who had a lot of good qualities if only he would settle down and
Ayla had never
married despite having several offers; she said that she was too busy with her
haberdashery shop and her work in the community, but deep down she still missed
Felix and could not imagine being with anybody else.
What would I
do without you? asked the Rabbi one evening last year, as he and Chanina
sat with her over the Sabbath Meal.
What would I
do without you? she asked in return. She dreaded to think what would have
happened to her if he had not taken her under his wing, and ignored the
gossiping and jealousy. But now he was gone and she was at a loss.
They came to see her
a fortnight after the burial. She lived above her shop in a small flat, and was
drinking tea and lemon, and thinking about Felix, dead in a cold and alien
land, and who she still missed. What would he have thought of all this she
wondered? And what would he tell her to do now? Then there was a knock on the
door and four of her friends came in; Chanina was there, and three men, one who
come with them from Russia and two who had joined the community since they came
She hugged and
kissed the Rabbis widow, and for a moment smelt her perfume and the scent
of oranges. They sat together and drank tea. It was Chanina who spoke; she had
been a reluctant member of the community at first, but once they had come to
England she had been the equal of her husband in strength and encouragement.
She seemed happier and stronger since she had left her home country, and unlike
her husband she had picked up English easily and in the early days had been the
go-between for her people and the locals.
husband has died we need a new leader. She told her.
our best interests at heart, but also someone brave and clever. We have decided
that that person is you.
Alva looked at all
four of them; they all looked back with smiles.
But I am a
woman, and a gentile she reminded them.
said Chaim Benetok, who had twice asked her to marry him, you are also
gifted and strong.
We are all in
This was the seventh
time I had been back to Germany, but this time we were at war. I arrived at the
railway station and kept walking. There were uniformed thugs everywhere and the
strangest of atmospheres; fear maybe or hatred, and yet it was all so familiar,
this was my country; the smells, the language being spoken all around me, the
food and drink, just like when I lived in Cologne. It was only when I returned
to Germany that I realised I was still a foreigner in England, still a German,
as much as I hated what was happening to my country.
I had nothing
written down in case I was captured, but I knew the address, 21 Duisburger
Strasse and I had a single name, Alice, which is my real name of
course, although nobody has called me by it since Felix died. I had been
contacted three years ago by someone who remembered Felix and somehow had found
out about our community and thought we might be able to help to bring Jewish
children out of Germany to escape the persecution that was increasing week
after week. A few of our community had volunteered to go, but I am an old
woman, nobody would suspect me and as leader of our group I had insisted, after
all what mattered that I might die.
The first time it
had been Klaus and Frederich; brothers three and five, both very frightened,
and then I had somehow managed to take four young children out. There had
been scares and close calls but we had always made it safely back to England,
and in total I had rescued twenty children. Some of them had relatives in other
parts of England and had gone to them, but others had joined our community in
Ware and were adopted by various families, away from harm.
Things were becoming
more difficult now and I was frightened; I wondered what would happen if I was
caught. No embassy to protect me; I would be lucky to be beaten and then put on
a train back out of the country. The country had become governed by thugs and
hooligans who could do what they wanted without any repercussions.
I sat in a
café and ordered a coffee and a pastry; it was three in the afternoon
and suddenly I felt very hungry; and for a few minutes I allowed myself to rest
and to look around me; the café smelt clean and there was the hushed
talked of frightened people. I was an old woman now, my joints ached and I
wondered what on earth I was doing. I knew that I had probably achieved all
that I was going to, that I should be at home in England looking after my
community rather than risking my life for this.
Two men in uniform
came in, and after looking at the occupants of the café (two old men,
the young woman who was serving and me), they sat down and ate; their
conversation harsh and filled with laughter but not much sense that I could
hear. For a moment they watched me as I left my seat and headed towards the
door, but I was not young enough to hold their attention for more than a
second; and they had resumed their conversation before I had left the cafe.
The address was not
far from the city centre, and so I walked; the trick was not to pause or
in any way look as if I was lost, thus I would not attract suspicion. They had
given me a time, seven oclock and so once I had found the house I
wandered through a nearby park before returning again and knocking just on
time. A man answered the door; young and scared looking.
He opened the door
wider and disappeared back into the house without a word. I followed, which was
probably a mistake, but you have to trust somebody.
There were two
children and a young woman sat in a cold room. The woman smiled at me
Josef and Moshe, they looked at me and did not say anything. They looked
about eleven; Josef was dark and thin, Moshe had red hair, and kept picking at
the rug he was sitting on.
Fraulein? said Moshe, but the young woman
hushed him, you should get some sleep you will be picked up at five in
the morning, and driven out of Germany.
Alice? I asked, and she smiled before taking me to a small bedroom.
well she said with a smile you will be busy tomorrow.
At midnight I was
aware that someone was in my room and a small hand was touching my face.
name is not Moshe, and then he disappeared. I was already dressed so I
quickly walked down the stairs and passed the kitchen they will be here
in a moment I heard the young womans voice say and then I opened
the front door, where two soldiers seemed to be waiting for me. One of them
punched me hard in the face and watched me fall.
I thought that I
would be dead before I reached our destination; the heat of the train, the pain
from my beating and the electric shocks and the awful hunger, as if my tummy
was going in on itself. But then I felt a hand in mine and I realised that
Felix was here and that I was safe.
I dont know
why they did not kill me in the police station after they had realised that I
had told them all I was going to; I am sure plenty died in the cold cells in
the basement or in the interrogating rooms; when the prisoner was obdurate or
the soldiers bad-tempered and tired. My main questioner was cold and ruthless
but I felt he was in control, and knew what he was doing, but the others who
administered the beatings were thugs, given power for the first time, and
determined to enjoy it without restraint. But although they hurt me more than I
have ever been hurt in my life before, they eventually had me taken away,
bleeding and battered. But now Felix was here, with his calm and passion, the
same Felix who had died whilst I was sleeping and who had brought me on this
A child, the same
age as Moshe, gave me bread, I offered some to Felix, but he smiled and shook
his head, and I quickly put it into my mouth and eventually managed to swallow
it. I felt it lodge in my throat but, after a moment, slowly slide down into my
stomach, and then I felt sick, but I smiled at the child and hoped its mother
would not be cross.
As they lead us
through the gates and into the brick building, Felix was close to me, whilst
behind me I could hear the child talking quietly to his mother. And then it was
as if I was barely there, but that I was with Felix in bed in my old apartment
and he was lying in my arms.
Take me with
you, wherever you go I want to be there too.
Of course; my
country is your country, my people are your people.
And as they ushered
us into the building that smelt of gas and death, I walked hand in hand with my
people, knowing that I was part of a chosen race and that whatever happened we