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Escape

 

Heinz had managed to buy legal permits to Columbia for himself and Peter. They had no intention of going there, of course. They would just use it to cross the boarder and get out of Austria. He had to leave Ilse behind. But he had something to do before that. He took out the ring his mother had given him again and looked at it. It wasn't much, since he had no money of his own to buy one for her himself. The tiny square diamond set in the gold band twinkled at him. It had been seventeen months since his first date with Ilse in the Burgtheater. He was seventeen and a half.

 

* * *

 

Ilse had known that it was coming. She and Heinz had discussed it. Ilse had discussed it with her parents, Heinz had discussed it with his. Heinz had to leave. Young men were at special risk, they were being hauled away to God knows where, and they also had to serve in the military. Heinz had managed to buy a permit to Columbia. Of course, they both knew he would not actually go there. He was coming over that evening to say goodbye. When Ilse saw him standing there in the hall outside her apartment, she felt a jolt. He was so tall and handsome. They were together nearly all the time now, and she would miss him terribly. She had grown to realize that she wanted to be with him forever, and she knew he felt the same way. There was no doubt in their hearts that they were meant to be together. They spent a rather painful evening in Ilse's apartment, not really doing much besides simply being with each other. The next day was in the back of their minds constantly. Even Heinz, who usually did not allow either of them to be upset by the circumstances, was distracted. As they were saying goodbye, Heinz paused. He took something out from his pocket.
"Ilse, I have something to give you," he said. He took her hand, and slipped on the ring. "I want you to wear this as long as you love me," he told her. "If fate lets us, we will be together soon. I love you." And then he was gone. Ilse stood looking at the ring long after he had left. She knew they would get married, but she had never expected him to give her a ring. She was engaged, truly engaged, engaged to Heinz, the man she loved with all her heart. Oh why did he have to leave? she thought desperately.

 

* * *

 

Heinz was with Peter on his way to Switzerland. They had a temporary visa to get them through Switzerland to France, and a temporary visa to get them from France to Columbia. But they were not going to Columbia. They would stay in France and set up a tailoring business, since that's what they knew how to do.

 

* * *

 

Ilse was busy writing a letter to Heinz when they came. He had been gone a month, and they wrote each other regularly. She heard a loud knock at her apartment door. She got there as Vati opened it up to two men in uniform. They spoke a loud, harsh German, not the rolling soft Viennese her family spoke. They were Nazis. "We have come here to inform you that you have exactly 4 hours to leave this apartment. All Jews must be gone from this building in four hours and must move into a designated Jewish apartment building. Start packing now." Then they left. The apartment was silent. Ilse felt as if the air around them was thick. She couldn't hear, she couldn't move. Leave their apartment! The world was making less and less sense to her. "Four hours," Mutti finally whispered, aghast. "What can we pack in four hours? This apartment - everything we own is here. How can they just tell us to leave?" Ilse looked around the room. Mutti was right. The furniture, the dishes, the clothes, and the memories that filled the apartment were what made up her family. How can we save everything, she thought, how can we leave things behind? How do we decide? "We can't take everything," Vati said. "We must take the things which are most valuable to us. Gather all the photographs that you can find. These are irreplaceable. Diamonds. Take as many clothes as you can fit. The furniture and porcelain will have to stay." "I want to go stay with Eugenie and Robert", Ilse said suddenly. Mutti and Vati looked at each other. "I think it would be a good idea", Mutti said. Vati nodded. "It would be better, and safer", he agreed.

 

* * *

 

Mutti was upset. She had been walking that day with Hilde, a Jewish friend of theirs who had also been kicked out of their apartment. They had suddenly come across a large group gathered on the sidewalk. When they came closer, they saw a horrible sight. There were people on the ground who Mutti recognized as local Jews. They were hunched over in the cold November air, trying desperately to please the Nazi officers standing over them. They had toothbrushes and were trying to scrub the sidewalk, but toothbrushes were small and hard to handle, and kept slipping out of their stiff, cold hands. They hung their heads in shame and humiliation as the crowd around them jeered. The Nazis immediately recognized Hilde as a Jew and told her to get down on her knees and join the others. Mutti had not known what to do. She wanted to get away, but she could not leave Hilde behind. She stood at the edge of the enthusiastic crowd, wondering why she wasn't down there with them. Then one of the officers had turned to her and said, "If you keep hanging around Jews like that, you'll end up down there with them!" The Nazi had assumed Mutti was an Aryan because she was so beautiful - everyone knows that Jews are ugly. As Mutti was telling this story, Ilse was furious. They couldn't treat her that way, she thought indignantly. Those rotten, horrible men. What was happening? Vati was quiet while he listened to the story. When Mutti was done, he got up and put his arms around Mutti. "We have to leave", he told them.

 

Ilse went to find Georg. She found him busy writing something. "Did you hear Mutti's story?" she asked him. "Yes. And now I am writing a letter." "Who are you writing to?" "To England, to the Baron Rothschild. He is a Jew too. I want to go to school there. I am asking him if he will help me escape Hitler and give me a scholarship. When I am done, I will write another letter to America and get Mutti and Vatti out of here. Grandpa's cousins with the factory will help us. Then I will get you out. There are children's transports." He paused and looked at her. Ilse realized with a start that George had changed very suddenly. She did not know if it was because he was fifteen or because of what he had decided to do, but his face looked harder and older. It scared her. He looked back down at his letter and sighed. "We have to help ourselves now if we want to get out. No one else will help us."

 

Things were not much happier at Heinz's house. Robert had been arrested in the street a week ago. Eugenie was a wreck. She was sick with worry. She was pale and shaking, and the slightest sound would make her jump a mile. She and Ilse were horribly worried that they would never see Robert again, especially since he had been arrested during what the press now called Kristalnacht. Many men had been taken away and never seen again. After nearly three weeks of nerves, there was a knock on the door. Eugenie would not answer it, so Ilse went. Eugenie stayed in the hall behind her, frightened. Ilse opened the door, and there he was. Eugenie gasped. "Oh-h-h, Robert!" She was looking at her husband as if he were a ghost. She soon recovered and fell into his arms weeping with relief and joy. "How did you ever get out of there", she exclaimed. "Well, I think it was because of my service. They can't arrest a man who served in their own army, now can they. Especially one who has a medal. So they let me go!"

 

Christmas - and Hanukkah - came and went. George and Vatti had been let back into the apartment and had gathered all that they could. There was now no question that they were leaving. Everything had been carefully planned out by Georg. First Ilse would leave on a children's transport to England. She had gotten a job through the committee for refugees working for a family. The cousins in Pennsylvania had been written to, and hopefully they would vouch for Mutti and Vatti so that they could get visas. George had gotten his scholarship and would also leave on a children's transport to England in April. Ilse and Vati had gone into the city to take care of some things. First of all, Vati had to sign a petition to allow Ilse to be independent. He dated it January 21, 1939, the day she would be leaving. Children became independent of their parents legally at 21, but Ilse was only eighteen. It felt very strange.
"Now Ilse my love", Vati told her after he had signed it. "This means that you are now an adult. You are now free to decide for yourself what to do." Ilse could not help the feeling of freedom rising in her.
"I can do what I want, whenever I want now", she laughed to herself. "How funny!" Vati continued:
"And along with this freedom comes responsibility. You have to decide for yourself what to do." Suddenly Ilse felt a little lost. Then they had gone to get Ilse an exit visa. She was furious when she found out that her middle name had to be Sarah. All Jewish girls had to have the middle name Sarah.
"But Vatti", she protested, "what happens to the Renee?"
"You will always be Renee. Your name is your name, and no one can ever take that away from you. They can put any silly thing they like to on your visa, but that will not change the facts." She felt a little better, but it was still so ridiculous.

Now the time had come for Ilse to leave her country. She was scared. She had never in her life even left her parents before, and now all of a sudden she had to leave everything. They all came to the train station to say goodbye to her, even Robert and Eugenie. Ilse took off her ring.
"Mutti, I want you too keep this safe for me", she said, handing it over to her mother. If anything happened to it I don't know what I would do." Mutti nodded and took the ring.
"I will keep it safe for you, Mutzi-Katzi. Don't you fear. Then I will give it back to you, and you can marry your Heinz. We will be happy together. Someday we can continue our lives as we left them." Ilse gulped. Mutti pulled her Ilse to her and hugged her tight.
Vati said goodbye next. He handed Ilse two small packages.
"It's a camera", he told her. "I want you to take wonderful pictures of your adventures, and when we are all together again, we can look at them together." Ilse took the camera in her hands carefully. It was a precious present. She knew how much her father valued pictures.
"And this one is a pen so that you can write letters to us explaining all the pictures you take." The pen was the most beautiful pen that Ilse had ever seen. She put it carefully in her bag, not quite knowing what to say. She turned then to her brother.
"Goodbye, Georg," she said. She felt awkward. She did not know really how to speak to this person who was her brother.
"Goodbye, Ilse. I want to give you something too." He handed her a piece of paper. "I wrote down important phrases in English and French. They might be useful." Ilse looked at him gratefully. It was the closest as brother and sister that they had ever been. The train whistle blew. Suddenly, Robert recognized someone.
"Isn't that Hannes from my store?" he asked. "Hannes!" he shouted. The man turned, recognized them, and came over.
"Well, well," he said. "Are you leaving, Ilse?" Ilse nodded.
"Oh, Hannes," Mutti said. "Would you mind keeping your eye out for Ilse? She had never been away from us. It would make us feel so much better if we knew there was someone on the train that she knew."
"It would be my pleasure, Frau Nadel", Hannes said, smiling at Ilse. Ilse didn't like that. He was not a very nice looking man. It would indeed be comforting to have someone on the train she knew, but did it really have to be him? The whistle blew again, and it was time to go. Vati and Robert helped her find a seat and get her bags on the train. Vatti hugged her.
"Goodbye my little girl", he whispered into her hair. Ilse had to hold back her tears. Robert hugged her next.
"You take good care of yourself so that you can be my daughter too," he told her with a smile. They left and joined Mutti and Eugenie on the platform. Ilse looked at them out her window and waved. It was horrible. She felt like her heart was breaking. The train started, and she waved and waved and waved until she couldn't see them anymore.
"Mutti! Vati!" she yelled out into the black night, sobbing.

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