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The Anschluss

 

Ilse!
Du bist das erste Maedchen, in meinem Leben, zu dem ich hingezogen fuehle!

Ilse looked often at the little card of paper that Heinz had given her. She was so in love with him. "The first girl in my life I feel drawn to", she whispered to herself. They were going to the opera today, which had become a regular event for them during the past year. Standing room, of course. In order to get a place, they had to stand on line for several hours. They met directly after school.
"Servus Heinz. Do you have a lot of homework this time?"
"Just a little bit of math. You?"
Ilse made a face. "I have a lot. No math today, thank goodness. I do have some German though." They took their place in line, and she started unpacking the sandwiches that Mutti always made them when they went to the opera together. She handed Heinz his. "Did you have a good day in school?" he asked, taking a large bite.
"It was pretty good. We had theory and harmony today," she said, giggling. Heinz smiled through his sandwich.
"So how are the Corpse and the Stick today?" A pair of sisters taught Ilse's class. One was very pale, and the other very thin.
"Well, the Corpse taught us about major and minor chords, while the Stick was running around poking everyone in the ribs so that we would sit up straight."
"Well, that's what sticks are for, what do you expect!" They both collapsed giggling on each other. The woman in front of them turned around. She had gray hair and lots of lipstick and jewelry on. She gave them a very sour look. Ilse and Heinz just looked at each other and laughed harder. When the doors opened at 6:30, they pushed along with everyone else. If you acted quickly enough, you could get a place to stand in the balcony where you could spent the whole concert leaning against the railing. Ilse and Heinz held hands and took the steps two at a time together, passing the lady with the sour look and laughing the whole way up.

 

* * *

 

Mutti always waited until Heinz brought Ilse home before they ate dinner. Ilse thought that was so nice of her. Tonight when they sat down, Mutti seemed worried. "Fredi, have you read the paper? People say that Hitler is coming closer every day. What are we going to do? They are taking businesses away from Jews in Germany."
"Alice, come on. That wouldn't happen here. Hitler is in charge in Germany, not here, and that's how it's going to stay. Can you imagine our Austria letting in that maniac? We have the right people here, who would never let our country be taken over. I really don't think that we need to do anything." Mutti was
silent. Ilse, whose mind had been wandering, noticed the sudden silence and looked up.
"Mutti," she said, "you wouldn't believe what Heinz said about the Stick today!" Mutti's face softened.
"That's my little Mutzikatzi Hertzbinkerl Kugelgesicht. You hold on to that boy. Heinz is a good one. You two simply belong together." Ilse beamed. She already knew that, but it felt good to have Mutti say it. "Now, my little Mutzikatzi," Mutti continued, "after dinner I think you should pay a little bit of attention to that piano..." Ilse's face fell. She loved the piano dearly, but she would really rather not practice it. "Yes, Mutti", she sighed.

 

* * *

 

Heinz' parents were also talking that night. He was in his room, but he could hear them. "Robert", his mother was saying. "my sister told me today that they have decided to go to America." Heinz' aunt was very different from her sister. Hilde Sorter was tall and just a bit heavy. She didn't make pronouncements.
"America? Why, because of Hitler?"
"That's what she said."
"Look, Genie. If Hitler comes here, which is still unlikely, it could not possibly be as bad as everyone is making it out to be. You know how much they exaggerate things in the press just to make a show."
"Well, I told that to her, and she said that just the same, they were packing up everything they own and going where it's safer."
"Safer!" Heinz's father exclaimed. "Where could be safer than a man's own country!" Heinz was not too sure. For once he was glad that his mother had spoken English to him all his life. Maybe someday he would have to go to America too.

Yet several months later, on March fourteenth, 1938, Heinz and Ilse stood looking out the three big windows of the tailor shop as Hitler marched into Vienna, right beneath them.
"What is our country coming to," Robert said angrily, watching with them. "The best form of government this country ever had was under the Kaiser." The proud man looked contemptuously down at the street. "Ostmark," he spat. "What a horrible name for our country. To me it will always be Austria, no matter what Hitler calls it." Ilse agreed. She was watching Hitler below, sitting with Goerring. They were both such horrible looking men. Hitler had a devil's face, with cold dark eyes that stared and stared. He looked like a caricature. Goerring was no better. He was a flabby man, a blob of fat with protruding eyes that reminded her of those of a cow. She turned away in disgust.

From then on, life was different.

 

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