“Stop in the name of der Fuhrer!”
The footsteps of the soldiers pounded behind me and matched the rhythm of my pounding heart. The forest, I knew, would be the only place I could elude the Chancellor’s army. With no money and only worthless German citizenship because of my blatant rebellion against the Nazis, I was as good as dead. But I had a reason to fight to stay alive. It was on my back.
“Hans,” my reason whispered in my ear, “are the soldiers going to kill us?”
Gisela had a rough life ahead of her, I knew. She was only a baby when the Chancellor rose to power and could remember no life other than the one in Hitler’s regime. Seven now, she was my only sibling and I had deep feeling that she deserved a chance to live in peace–peace that Hitler would never bring.
“Hush. No. Not if I have anything to say about it.”
We were almost to the edge of the woods now. The city patrol following us had no idea what the significance of the forest meant. I had grown up playing there with my best friend, Benjamin, and knew all the deer paths and shortcuts. That was before Benjamin was taken.
The year is 1940 and the world is deep in a terrible war, comparable to the Great War, which happened long before I was born. My father, however, served in the Great War when he was not much older than I am now. It was in the middle of wartime France that he realized he had a knack for weaponry, which put him on the road to success when he returned home to a defeated Weimar Republic. Now he works almost directly for der Fuhrer, the man who destroyed everything right that ever was in Germany.
I may sound bitter. It is because I am. I had not seen war until I was seventeen. Then, suddenly, it was all I heard or saw. Children were dragged from their homes, women shot in the streets, men herded onto freight cars like cattle. Everyone, though, embraced the solution to the so-called Jewish problem, except for the Jews themselves. They didn’t have a say. And so, Benjamin, the person I was closest to in the world, was dragged out of my life on a cattle car to a concentration camp. A concentration camp that my mother helped plan.
My mother and father, loyal devotees of der Fuhrer–thoughts of them turned my stomach. All of the bloodshed they had caused overwhelmed me, and they had turned me in as a traitor of Hitler. I wore the title with honor, and allowed myself to be taken to the jail, where I “awaited” my death. I escaped with several other dissidents and doubled back to my home city, practically kidnapped my sister–though once she realized it was me she was more than happy to come–and now we were on the run for our lives.
Shots rang out, cracking the night air, and I ran harder, the image of what would happen to Gisela if we were caught spurring me onward. The forest loomed closer. I lifted Gisela up onto my back further and leaped over the small creek that guarded the forest’s treeline, and before I knew it we were in. My feet found the well-known paths in the darkness though my eyes could barely see. Gisela whimpered, and I knew we were safe–for a little while.
After I had slowed, I gently let Gisela down and let her walk beside me, her small, warm hand in mine, her other still tightly clutching a stuffed animal to her chest.
The original trails in the irrgarten, or maze, were winding, meandering things that crisscrossed several times. Benjamin and I figured they were game trails, paths of creatures such as deer. Fortunately, we had tamed the maze as much as it would be long ago. The trails Benjamin and I forged were not necessary new, but they were definitely altered. I knew them well–my footsteps in them now reminded me of the ghosts of my past–Benjamin, his sister Eliora, their little brother Aaron. Our romps in the woods flashed before me. I saw the first night we ventured into the maze’s night, the fear on our faces. Now the darkness comforted me, settling around me like a blanket that shielded us from the prying eyes of the Nazis.
I remembered the night before the Gestapo came to take Benjamin’s family away. Long before their bookstore had been forced to close, accused of selling “contraband items”, but both Ben and I knew the real reason. It was because he was a Jew. Eliora had been fired from her job at a nearby factory, and the neighborhood children shunned Aaron, calling him a rough translation of ‘star boy’ because of the bright yellow star stitched upon his jacket. Gisela and I had both been forbidden to talk to any of ‘the lesser race’, but I had no trouble justifying breaking that rule. Not when my parents were the uncivilized. Not when my parents were the Nazis–the killers.
The day before Benjamin was dragged out of my life, my father had hinted that soon there was going to be a raid, and so that night I met Ben in the woods. “I made Ben a promise” I said out loud to Gisela. “You remember Ben, don’t you?” She nodded. “Ben and I had a promise that no matter what happened, we would take care of each others and our own families. I couldn’t keep Benjamin and his family safe,” I swallowed as my voice started to crack. “But I promised him that I would keep you safe. That’s why I took you.”
“But what about Mama and Vati?” Gisela turned her face up to me, tears welding at her eyes. Her linen nightshirt caught the moonlight and made her appear as a phantom. “They’re part of our family, too.”
“Gisela,” I began softly, “I know you don’t understand this, but Mama and Vati aren’t good people. They have done mean things to people like Benjamin, the people who were the yellow stars. That’s why I had to take you away, so you wouldn’t grow up and be a bad person, too.”
“Mama and Vati aren’t bad!” she nearly yelled, and I covered her hand with my mouth.
“Shh, we must be quiet, or the soldiers will hear us!” Off in the distance, a dog bark sounded. I threw the little girl up on my back and started to run until I hit the stream, then followed it south. An hour later I slowed, my back aching and my legs soaked to the waist. For the second time, we had lost the soldiers. I hoped it would stay that way, that the soldiers were off our trail for good, but I knew it wouldn’t.
We came out of the woods to a farmhouse that belonged to former friends of my parents, who would have nothing to do with them after they found out they were Nazis. A glance at my watch told me it was nearly two in the morning, so instead of knocking I left a note on the back of a receipt I found in the breast pocket of my shirt tacked on the door, and Gisela and I trudged out to the barn. We slept in the hay loft, my hand tightly wrapped around Gisela’s wrist so I could be sure nothing would happen to her. Her steady breathing relaxed me, and I dreamed of a different place, a different time, when my father and mother were good, honest people and we were all together. And I awoke, knowing that that could never be, that I would never see my once-loved father and mother again.
(Authors note: To clarify, this story is and will be hastily written and briefly edited. The chapters will be shorter than conventional YA fiction chapters but, I hope, will not be lacking in content. This story will continue to be posted whenever I finish the next chapter, which will be extremely erratic, and I’m sorry for that. It mainly serves as a break from the full novel that I’m writing, titled The Alley Runners, as a way to rejuvenate my mind so I can go back to actually working on a novel I’m serious about. This story will probably be full of factual errors, but at this point I’m not extremely concerned about the facts as much as the story itself, as I have too many things to research in my novel. Thank you all for understanding! ;D)
~abilene (the authoress)