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￭ Escape Gates
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2012-10-16 | |
A loud knock at the door echoed through the small rooms of the house.
‘Who could that be?’ whispered the old lady.
‘I don’t know, it is not even four a clock yet. It can’t be Helmut already! He said he’ll be here at six’, answered a young woman jumping out of her bed and rushing to the door while pulling a white bathrobe from the chair next to her mother’s bed.
‘Who is it?’
‘Soldier S. and Soldier B. from battalion X! We are here in regards to Miss Martha. Please open the door.’
‘Martha, don’t open’ whispered fearfully the mother.
‘I need to mum, I am sure everything is fine’. Saying that, Martha, who had slipped into her bathrobe, unlocked the door and opened it slowly gazing outside. Two young soldiers were standing on the porch, casting long shadows on the path that was leading to the sleeping street.
‘Are you Miss Martha?’ asked one of them with a serious, grave voice.
‘Yes, I am. How may I help you?’
‘We have instructions to escort you to the train station, Miss Martha.’
A silent scream broke through the dimly lit room. The old lady managed to stop herself from screaming out loud by pressing her hands painfully against her mouth. Her eyes were wide open with terror and tears started running down her pale face.
‘To the train station? What for? My brother has already sorted all that out. He is on his way with the papers from the General Hudson. He will be here by six a clock.’
‘I am sorry, Miss, but we have strict orders and those are to take you to the train station before five.’ The soldier started feeling uneasy and that showed on his face. His companion took over.
‘Miss we can’t waist any more time. You really need to get ready. You are allowed to take a little suitcase with a few clothes and some personal items. Nothing of value or too heavy. Please don’t put us in the situation that we have to force you to come with us.’
‘Please Miss’ timidly added the other one.
‘She is not coming!’ shouted the old women running up to her daughter and grabbing her arm. ‘She is not coming. This war already took my sons away from me’, sobbing she cried out, ‘and my husband, who is dying in prison. And now you want to take my daughter, my last hope, my sweet baby?’ Crying uncontrollably, she threw herself in front of the soldiers. Martha jumped quickly to get her mother and tried to calm her down by gently caressing her white, soft hair. One of the soldiers jumped back as he saw the woman falling in front of him. With tears running down her face, the poor woman clanged to the leg of the other soldier, who to start with thought he had everything under control, but now felt so moved by the tragedy of these women, he could feel a lump in his throat and sweat dripping from his temples.
Eventually Martha managed to lift her mother up from the floor and help her to the nearest chair. She filled a glass with water and gave it to her mum and as you do with a child, she wiped her mother’s face with the corner of her bathrobe. The woman was still sobbing, wringing her hands, but she seemed to realize that there was nothing she could do. Once again, she had to accept the decisions taken by others. She could only weep with a broken heart watching how her daughter silently went to the cupboard and got a small brown suitcase out.
‘I’ll be only a few moments, gentlemen’. Martha looked at her mum and went towards the bedroom.
‘Miss, please don’t run away. Please don’t cause us any trouble’, said one of the soldiers shyly.
‘Don’t worry, I won’t. There is no need for anything like that. I am sure my brother will arrive with the papers any moment and everything will be clarified.’ Saying that, Martha disappeared in the bedroom and a few moments later she came back fully dressed, carrying the suitcase in one hand and a light brown hat in the other.
‘I am ready. Can I please just reassure my mother, that everything will be fine? As you can see she is very upset and rather poorly.’
‘Of course. We’ll wait for you Miss at the gate. Madam!’ The soldiers saluted the woman and rushed down the path, stopping in front of the gate. They were simply relieved to be able to get out of the woman’s tearful sight. Till now they never had to deal with such a case. It was wrong to have to take the daughter away, when she was clearly too young and her elderly mother needed her so badly. They both knew that, but there was nothing they could do about it. They were only soldiers having to follow orders, otherwise they would face treason charges. They waited in silence.
‘Mach dir keine Sorgen, Mutti. Helmut wird schon mit den Papieren kommen und alles wird gut sein. In ein Paar Stunden bin ich wieder zu Hause.’ (“Don’t be worried, mummy. Helmut will come with the papers and everything will be fine. In a few hours I will be back home.”)
Calmly, Martha kissed her mother’s forehead and hand and even managed to smile. She needed to be strong and not worry her mother even more. But while walking towards the door and hearing her mother’s cry, she could feel tears coming to her eyes. She wasted no time and with one last ‘See you soon!’, she stepped outside into the cool air of the early summer morning.
Helmut is going to sort this out, I know he will – she kept saying to herself while she was following with quick steps the two soldiers. He won’t let me down, he always watches out for me.
They arrived at the train station just as the sun was rising. Golden orange shades veiled the stationary trains and the pavement was filled with suitcases and bags on which women of different ages were resting.
A man dressed in a black suit came running towards the crowd of women, who were surrounded by soldiers. ‘The train is ready!’ he shouted with a coarse voice. ‘Start getting them in.’
The soldiers made a line and one of them, who seemed to have a higher position, started guiding the lines of women towards the wagons. The train was an old carriage train used for transporting cattle. The wagons were still covered with some straw and the smell of cattle was suffocating. Young girls, elderly women, all had to climb up into the wagons.
Martha kept looking around. ‘He will be here’, she whispered to herself.
‘Come on, move you German dirt!’ A soldier pushed her so hard that she lost her balance and she would have fallen over, if it wouldn’t have been for one of the soldiers that picked her up from home. He just managed to grab her arm and prevent her from collapsing. With an angry look he said something to the abusive soldier and then gently pushed Martha in the direction of the wagon she was meant to get on.
‘My brother will be here soon. He will bring the papers and you’ll see it is all a mistake. I am not supposed to be deported.’ She was talking quick and keeping a smile on her pretty face. But her big green eyes were telling a different story. She was starting to panic and worry. What if he was not going to make it in time? What if she will end up being deported and won’t be able to go back to her mother? Her mother who didn’t have anyone else to help her would be at the pity of strangers for even a slice of bread to survive. Her father, who was imprisoned for having been a decent and hard working man, but under the old political power, would be devastated by having lost also his daughter to this cruel war. Was it not enough that both his sons have been recruited by opposed armies and could end up facing each other on the battle field? All he had to keep him company each dark, grey day was a picture of his family taken on Martha’s holly confirmation, but with his eyesight rapidly deteriorating he could only vaguely make out the loving faces that were starring happily back at him.
She looked down to her hand. The ring, that her parents gave her as a confirmation gift, was turned with the little, red ruby hiding inside her fist.
A young girl helped her and her suitcase get into the wagon. Before the soldier closed the heavy, rusty door, she gazed over the crowd trying to recognise Helmut’s silhouette. A whistle and the engine started puffing and howling. Cries, shouting, prayers... erupted from the depths of each wagon. Martha stood motionless, still holding her suitcase, peeping through a little gap between the doors. Even with the train setting off, she still hoped. Helmut was the General’s secretary. He had the power to stop the train.
One by one the women were reduced to silence by the overwhelming sound of the train zooming through the fields, forests, cities and villages, mountains and waste lands. Martha couldn’t move.
‘Come child, sit down!’ an older woman pulled Martha’s sleeve and guided her to a little space next to her.
Martha sat down starring at the grotty doors. ‘Helmut, why did you not come?’ Tears rolled over her cheeks and with a sigh she closed her eyes.
‘It’s six a clock.’
Five years she would work in a stone mine to help rebuild Mother Russia together with other women... young and old, healthy and ill. They all had one thing in common: they were from the German minority and were regarded as being guilty for all the sins of those few who made the decisions to go to war. A very high price to pay...
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