The train was stopping. Ilse yawned and sat
up. Hannes leaned over from the seat across the aisle from her
and said, "Well, well, Ilse. How does it feel to be near
the great city of Cologne?" Cologne! Ilse grabbed her camera
and jumped up to looked out the window. Maybe she could see the
great cathedral. She felt a little nervous, but she really wanted
to get a picture for Vati.
"Putting that camera to good use, are you, little Ilse", Hannes asked her. Oh, he talked to much! She really wished she could get rid of him.
"Passports, please. Everyone take out your passports." Ilse quickly sat down again and reached in her bag for her visa. A lady with a Nazi arm band was coming down the aisle.
"Thank you, thank you. Passport please ma'am. Thank you...thank you. Can I see your passport please, young lady?" Ilse handed it over.
"Ilse 'Sarah' Nadel. Hmm. Is that a camera next to you there? You can't take that with you. It belongs to us." Shocked, Ilse handed the precious camera to the lady. "I'm sure you must have other valuable things with you," the lady said with a sneer. "Open up your suitcases and let me see inside." Ilse didn't want too. She stood there helpless while the lady rifled through her suitcase taking anything of remote value, including the beautiful little pen. She even opened Ilse's box full of letters. When the lady was finished, she left the suitcase hanging open and turned to leave. Ilse suddenly felt desperate.
"Excuse me, please," she asked the anxiously, "but will I get my belongings back?" The lady stopped and looked down at Ilse.
"They are not yours", she said slowly and clearly, as if she were talking to a child. "They belong to Germany". Ilse stood with her mouth open watching her camera disappear towards the back of the train. How glad she was that she had left Heinz's ring with Mutti.
Finally the train ride was over. Ilse gathered her suitcase and got off the train before Hannes could say anything more. Rid of him at last! Ilse rejoiced. Ilse looked with wonder all around her. She was in France, really in France. She had relatives who lived in France, but they weren't from around here. Heinz was somewhere in this country too, she thought. She carefully at the crowds around her, hoping to see Heinz even though she knew he was no where near there. Oh if she could just see him for a second, she thought. But no, she had a ferry to catch. She found the ferry with no problem. She was very excited, since she had never been on a boat before in her life. Taking a place near the railing, she sniffed the air. She had never smelled anything like it in her life. It was kind of salty and fishy all at once. She decided she liked it. Until the ferry started to move. The channel between France and England was not all that rough, but then again, Ilse had tended to get sick on the tram as a little girl. She clutched her stomach and hoped it would be over soon.
One week later, she wished she was back on
that ferry. Or back at home, anywhere but in England. She was
a maid. She had to wake up at four o'clock in the morning to
shovel coal from the bin for the stove. When the woman of the
house had found out that she didn't know how to stoke a stove,
she had gotten very angry. Ilse couldn't stand it anymore. She
had to get out of there. As an independent woman, she was responsible
for her own happiness, and this was horrible. She wrote to the
Committee for Refugees to ask for another job. When she got a
letter back from them, she was very happy to find out that a position
was found for her as a nanny in Scotland. She left as soon as
The father picked her up from the train station. "My poor dear", he said. "You must be so tired from the trip. What a brave lass you are to leave your home like that. Come, we will go home now and meet the wee ones." Ilse blinked. She could barely understand his accent, but she was grateful for his kind voice. He took her bag and they were off. When they got to the house, the man's wife was standing at the door waiting for them.
"Ah, there you are, finally. Go, take your bag and put it upstairs. I need some help now in the kitchen." Ilse was a bit confused. She was sure that she had been hired as a nanny. Well, for one pound sterling a month, she guessed she could do some kitchen work as well. She went and put her bags away. At first Ilse did not mind working there. The children were a joy to be with, and their father was always very kind to her. He was a dentist and very busy, so Ilse did not see as much of him as she would like. But their mother was a first-rate witch, and made life as difficult as she could for Ilse. One day, Ilse had decided to take the children on a walk, but had failed to realize that it might rain, as it often does quite suddenly in Scotland. She and the children had come running back soaked. Their mother had been furious.
"What do you think you are doing!" she had shouted. "Look at their shoes and their clothes! They are completely wet! You are not taking care of them properly! Go get them dry and changed and come back in the kitchen to peel the potatoes."
"I wasn't hired to peel potatoes," Ilse had protested. "I was hired to take care of your children." The had mother turned her steely eyes on Ilse, and had gotten right up close to her face.
"You should be grateful that you are out of your country and out of Hitler's grasp", she hissed. "Now stop your complaining and get to work!" After that, Ilse decided she would have to get out of there as soon as possible. She didn't care that it was safe here, she didn't care that she was getting money, and she didn't care about the children. All she wanted was to be with Heinz.
Her opportunity came in March, when she had her Easter vacation. After pondering her options, she decided that she would contact some relatives she had in France. Surely they would let her stay, and then maybe she would even get to see Heinz. She was so excited and eager to leave that she went right away to talk to the children's mother. "Easter vacation is coming", she told her. "I have relatives in France, and I am going to visit them."
"Fine, it's your vacation, do what you want", the mother said. "Don't tell me about it. Just be sure you come back as soon as your vacation is over."
It was better than Ilse had imagined. She had written a letter to her relatives, and was very excited to receive their warm reply encouraging her to come and stay with them for as long as she wished. In the ticket office, she felt almost free as she asked for a visa to visit France.
"Would you like a return visa with that," the lady behind the counter asked. "Don't forget that you will not be allowed back in the country if you don't have one." Not be allowed back in, Ilse thought to herself gleefully. The plan slowly formed in her head.
"No, thank you," Ilse replied. "I will not be returning."
Ah, the things you don't know, you nasty old woman, Ilse thought to herself on the way home. No return visas for me! I'll never help you with your stupid old potatoes again. Never walk your kids in the rain again. I'm on my way to Heinz! To Heinz and freedom! Now all that remained was to deceive the family.
Packing was so difficult. She had very little left, and had to leave things behind so that it looked like she was coming back. She sorted through her few remaining possessions slowly. She fingered the dark blue heavy dress which Mutti had sent her. It was a shame to leave it behind, considering what it had brought to her. She held it in her lap, remembering how confused she had been to receive a winter dress in spring. Mutti had included a note with the package. After she had read it several times, Ilse had realized that it was a cryptic note. She immediately had felt the hem of the dress, and there, sewn in, was a small, hard ring. She tore open the hem as fast as possible, and there, lying safe and sound inside her winter dress, was the ring Heinz had given her the day he left. Mutti was so wonderful and clever. The ring had made it across the border in spite of everything. Ilse sighed and put the dress aside. It would look very silly to have a winter dress for Easter vacation. The dress would stay here. The box of letters would come along, though. It was much more full than when she had come three months ago - Heinz had been writing her love letters in French. They were her most treasured possessions. The letters would come, but her best clothes would have to be left behind. She quickly finished packing and tried not to look at the things she was fond of that she would never see again. She was going to Heinz, that's all that mattered, she reminded herself. She picked up her suitcase and left Scotland for good. All she had was three pounds.
The trip was long. She had taken a train to Dover in order to catch a ship to France. From there, she took a train to Paris. She was so nervous and excited about seeing Heinz again thought, that it didn't matter. But first she would have to find her relatives. Lydia and Paul Guenzberg were Vatti's cousins. They were very well-to-do Russians who had emigrated after the First World War. When she got off the train, they found each other with little difficulty, and there were hugs all around. They took Ilse to their apartment right away. Ilse had known that they were well-off, but when she saw her new home, she could hardly believe her eyes. The apartment was absolutely sumptuous. She felt just a bit strange in such wealth, but Paul and Lydia soon made her feel at home. She had made plans to meet Heinz right away the very next day. She took a bus and it seemed like the driver couldn't go any slower. She was so excited that she hadn't been able to manage breakfast that morning. She clutched her purse and impatiently waited for her stop. As the bus finally pulled up, she saw Heinz standing there waiting for her. Oh how good it was to see him again! Ilse frantically waved from the window, but he couldn't see her. She nearly tripped over herself in her hurry to get off the bus. Then he saw her. Ilse thought she would melt as their eyes met. The world around them disappeared as they rushed to each other. As she fell into Heinz's arms at last, she felt something go flying. They looked down, and there was the contents of Ilse's purse, all over the side walk. She grinned sheepishly, and as they crouched to pick up everything, they both slowly returned to Earth. "Ilse", Heinz said, "I never want to be separated from you again." He helped her up, and hand-in-hand, they walked together from the bus stop. It was April first, 1939.
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