Home > Lilac Girls(9)

Lilac Girls(9)
Martha Hall Kelly

Matka heated water for Papa’s tea as he watched it all. I did my best to keep us all quiet as could be. Maybe if we were silent, they would not bother us? To calm myself I counted the birds crocheted on Matka’s curtains. One lark. Two swallows. One magpie. Wasn’t the magpie a sign of imminent death? The rumble of a truck grew louder.

I breathed deep to quell the panic inside me. What was coming?

“Out, out!” a man shouted. The terrible clatter of hobnail boots on cobblestones. There were lots of them.

“Stay away from the window, Kasia,” Papa said, stepping back himself. He said it in such an offhand way I knew he was scared.

“Should we hide?” Matka whispered. She turned her ring around and closed her hand so the stones hid in her palm.

Papa walked toward the door, and I busied myself with prayer. We heard a good bit of yelling and orders, and soon the truck drove away.

“I think they’re leaving,” I whispered to Matka.

I jumped as a rap came at our door, and then a man’s voice. “Open up!”

Matka froze in place and Papa opened the door.

“Adalbert Kuzmerick?” said an SS man, who strode in all puffed up and pleased with himself.

He was two hands taller than Papa, so tall his hat almost hit the top of the door when he entered. He and his underling were dressed in full Sonderdienst uniform, with the black boots and the hat with the horrible skull emblem with two gaping holes for eyes. As he passed, I smelled clove gum on him. He looked well fed too, his chin held so high I could see the blood through a little piece of white paper stuck on his Adam’s apple where he’d cut himself shaving. They even bled Nazi red.

“Yes,” Papa said, calm as could be.

“Director of the postal center communications?”

Papa nodded.

Two more guards grabbed Papa by the arms and pulled him out without even time for him to look back at us. I tried to follow, but the tall one blocked my way with his nightstick.

Matka ran to the window, eyes wild. “Where are you taking him?”

Suddenly I was cold all over. It was getting harder to breathe.

Another SS man, skinny and shorter than the first, stepped in with a canvas bread bag across his chest.

“Where does your husband keep his work papers?” asked the tall one.

“Not here,” Matka said. “Can’t you tell me where they’re taking him?”

Matka stood, fingers locked at her chest, as the skinny one went about the house opening drawers and stuffing whatever papers we had into his bag.

“Shortwave radio?” the tall one said.

Matka shook her head. “No.”

My stomach hurt as I watched the skinny guard fling our cabinet doors wide and toss what little food we had into his bag.

“All provisions are the property of the Reich,” the tall one said. “You will be issued ration cards.”

Tinned peas, two potatoes, and a sad little cabbage went into the skinny one’s bag. Then he grabbed a rolled paper bag that held the last of Matka’s coffee.

She reached for it.

“Oh, please—may we keep the coffee? It’s all we have.”

The tall one turned and looked at Matka for a long second. “Leave it,” he said, and his underling tossed it onto the counter.

The men stepped through our three little bedrooms and pulled drawers from bureaus, dumping socks and underclothes on the floor.

“Weapons?” said the tall one as the other searched closets. “Any other food?”

“No,” Matka said. I’d never seen her lie before.

He stepped closer to her. “You may have heard that withholding that which is due the Reich is punishable by death.”

“I understand,” Matka said. “If I could just visit my husband…”

We followed the men out to the back garden. The yard, fenced on all sides, suddenly seemed smaller with the SS men standing there. It all looked normal, but the ground where we’d buried our things the week before was still beaten quite flat. It was so obvious something was buried there. I counted the guard’s steps as he walked into the yard. Five…six…seven…Could they see my knees shaking?

Our chicken, Psina, moved closer to our buried treasure spot, scratching near it, looking for bugs. My God, the shovel was there, leaning against the back of the house, dirt still clinging to the blade. Would they take us to Lublin Castle or just shoot us in the yard and leave us for Papa to find?

“Do you think I’m stupid?” the tall guard said, walking toward the spot.

Eight…nine…

My respiration shut off.

“Of course not,” Matka said.

“Get the shovel,” said the tall guard to his underling. “You really thought you’d get away with this?”

“No, please,” Matka said. She held on to the St. Mary medal she wore on a chain around her neck. “I am from Osnabrück, actually. You know it?”

The taller guard took the shovel. “Of course I know it. Who hasn’t been to the Christmas market there? Have you registered as Volksdeutsche?”

Volksdeutsche was the German term for ethnic Germans living in countries other than Germany. The Nazis pressured Polish citizens with German heritage like Matka to register as Volksdeutsche. Once registered, they got extra food, better jobs, and property confiscated from Jews and non-German Poles. Matka would never accept Volksdeutsche status, since that showed allegiance to Germany, but this put her at risk, because she was going against the Reich.

“No, but I am mostly German. My father was only part Polish.”

Psina scratched the soil around the smooth spot and pecked something there.

“If you were German, you’d not be breaking rules, would you? Withholding what is due the Reich?”

Matka touched his arm. “It is hard dealing with all of this. Can you not understand? Imagine your own family.”

“My own family would have handed what they had to the Reich.”

The SS man took the shovel and continued toward the spot.

Ten…eleven…

“I’m so terribly sorry,” Matka said, following him.

The man ignored Matka and took one more step.

Twelve.

How far would he dig before he hit the box?

“Please, give us another chance,” Matka said. “The rules are so new.”

The guard turned, leaned on the shovel, and gave Matka a thorough looking over. He smiled, and I could see his teeth clearly, like little chewing gum tablets.

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