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France

 

"Mein Freud ist das Wendeln, ich wendel Tag und Nacht..."

The words to the song he and Peter had made up were running through Heinz's head as they worked in their tailor shop. Peter cut the cloth, and Heinz folded it over and stitched it so that the cut edge would not fray. In Austria, they called that wendeln, and Heinz did it all day. "My joy is to wendel, I wendel day and night..." He and Peter had put the words to the melody in the fourth movement of Brahms' first symphony. Back in Austria they had played all the Brahms symphonies together on the piano - Heinz playing soprano, and Peter bass. Now they were in France, sewing away in their own tailor shop.
When they had arrived in France, it seemed the natural thing to do, to set up a tailor shop. It was after all, what they knew how to do. Even refugees have to earn a living they had told each other, and there were plenty of other refugees who needed to keep their clothes in good shape. So they had rented the first floor of an apartment, bought a few sewing machines at a flea market, and installed a floor-to-ceiling mirror. Soon word got around to all the emigrants, and now the shop was in full swing. Heinz's parents arrived in Paris about six months after Heinz and Peter had, and now they too worked in Londres-Paris Tailors. They all worked hard, but he and Peter worked the hardest. Peter insisted that they spend as many hours in the shop working as they could, and they stayed so late each night that they had to race to catch the last bus home to their rooming house along the river Marne in Chelles. Only occasionally did they miss it and have to spend the night in the shop. At the end of each day Heinz was exhausted, but he had Ilse, and that's all that mattered to him.

 

* * *

 

Unlike Heinz and Peter, Ilse lived in absolute luxury. Lydia and Paul's apartment was enormous, and weekly soirees were held in the drawing room. Ilse was awed with her surroundings, but while wealth and luxury is one thing, love is another. Ilse had come to France to be with Heinz, and that is exactly what she did. Every day Ilse took the bus from her plush surroundings to the tailor shop. Peter, since he had worked in his father's shop in Vienna, was very experienced, and taught Ilse all about sewing mens' jackets, lapels, pockets, trousers, and how to make buttonholes. He was a good teacher. Ilse worked six days a week uncounted hours at Heinz's side. Neither of them was too fond of tailoring, but this was not a normal time, not a normal life. They even all learned French. Heinz had insisted on it, and they would chat together in the language as they were going about their work. He and Peter had even changed their names - now they were called Henri and Pierre. When the day at the shop was done, Ilse would go back to the lap of luxury. Sometimes Heinz would come out and visit Ilse at her apartment, when he had time. The cousins loved him and he had a permanent invitation.

But this happiness did not last for long. The war came to France on September first, 1939, which signaled the end of the business. Now Heinz and Ilse were separated again. Heinz was in occupied Nice, and Ilse was in unoccupied Vichy. After all they had gone through, to be separated again too much for Ilse.
"I want to go to Heinz", she told Lydia and Paul one day. They glanced at each other.
"You know you can't do that, Schatzi", Lydia told her kindly. "It is much safer here."
"I don't care if its safer here or safer there, I want to be with my fiancée. I have to be with Heinz!" Ilse said. Nothing Lydia of Paul said could change her mind, and in the end, although they were quite angry with her, Ilse went. The house was rather crowded with Heinz, Ilse, Peter, Robert, and Eugenie, but that didn't matter for Ilse and Heinz. They never left each other's sides. They were so much in love that they did not notice, or even care, what was going on around them. Until the trucks came for them.

 

* * *

 

Meanwhile, Georg was still studying in England, and had secured visas for his parents to go to America. Mutti had fallen ill with scarlet fever just before they were supposed to leave, and had to remain in Vienna, but Vatti had left in June to wait for her recovery with his sister in Italy. Mutti was slowly getting better, and they hoped to be reunited by December. In England, the bombing was getting worse and worse, and children were being evacuated. Soon Georg was told that he was to be evacuated to Canada. He was frustrated that he had to leave his studying, but he figured it would be safer. So he took the ship to Canada. One night on the ship, he was suddenly awakened by a huge jolt, as if they had run into something. He got up quickly and ran to the deck to see what had happened. Out on deck people were running around frantically. He finally found someone who could tell him something. He found out that they had been torpedoed, but that a ship had seen their flares and was on its way to rescue. Their ship was evacuated as quickly as possible, and the voyage resumed on the rescue ship. They voyage, that is, to Australia.

 

* * *

 

The French were paranoid about foreigners. They came in with their trucks to take them all to internment camps. They came with their trucks for Ilse and the Wolfs. Ilse and Eugenie to one camp, Robert to another. Heinz and Peter did not go to a camp because they were the right age to serve in the French Foreign Legion.
Ilse sat in the truck, looking out the back. They were going down a dirt road, and she was jolted against Eugenie with every rut. How could she and Heinz be separated yet again, she thought. Then they heard shouting, and something hit the side of the truck, right next to Ilse's head. She heard jeering - "Estrangers allez! Spies and foreigners get out! Allez, allez!" There were people lining the road, holding rocks and mud, hurling them at the trucks. Ilse saw fear and hate on every single face. She tried her best to shield Eugenie. How ironic it was, she though, that they are treating us like the enemy we escaped from. They rode on and on, past fields, past villages with more people. Ilse had a bruise on her hip from where the side of the truck hit her every time they went over a bump. They drove on and on, until, in the distance, they could see mountains. "Look Eugenie", she cried, "the Pyrenees!" They both gazed out the truck at the majestic towering mountains. When they finally stopped, the soldiers pulled the prisoners out roughly.

They looked at their bleak surroundings at the camp. All they could see was dirt and mud, and rows and rows of long huts. The camp was named Gurs. After a month in the camp, Ilse was entirely sick of the horrible, horrible food. After you managed to choke it down, you felt all slow and stupid. They slept in a long hall with bunkers. The mattresses were filled with straw and were very uncomfortable. It was very hard on Eugenie. Ilse watched her carefully and tried to keep her company. It was different for her, she thought. She couldn't make friends as easily with the other women. Ilse herself had made a few friends with the other girls. The were together all day, and since there was not much supervision, they ended up talking to each other a lot. One day in October, a guard came up to a small group of women that Ilse was sitting in with Eugenie.
"All of you", he said to them. "You are going out for a few hours. You are allowed to go across the road only." He led them across the road. Ilse was busy helping Eugenie, who had grown quite weak. When she looked up, the most beautiful sight in the world met her eyes.
"An apple orchard!" she cried. "Oh, Eugenie look!" She ran to the apples and picked and picked. She brought back a pile of them to Eugenie and then went back for more. They sat together eating the apples in bliss. No food had ever tasted so good to them. The bit into them and the juice ran from the crispy apple down their arms and chins. It made them feel refreshed and clear-headed again. Ilse made sure that Eugenie ate until she could eat no more. Ilse finished off eighteen by herself.

 

* * *

 

At one point during their stay in Gurs, there were frightening rumors. People were being shipped back to Germany, and it was said that if you got shipped back, you were killed. Ilse wrote to Lydia and Paul, telling them where they were, and took three months before they could come get Ilse and Eugenie. They were not happy with Ilse.
"You see", they told her. "You should have stayed with us. It was much safer."
"Well, I was with Eugenie, and I'm glad that I could be with her. Can you imagine what it would have been like, Eugenie, if we had had to sleep on straw mattresses and eat food with tranquilizers without each other?" Eugenie looked at Ilse and smiled. Her Heinz was such a lucky boy to have found this wonderful girl, Alice thought.
"Your parents wrote to us", Lydia continued. "They are both in America now, and they have vouched for your visas." She turned to Ilse. "We will buy you tickets, and then I want you out of France."

 

* * *

 

Heinz was enlisted in the French Foreign Legion for the duration of the war in France. He was stationed in Marseilles, in the Fort St.-Jean. St.-Jean had a huge wall surrounding it, and that is where Heinz was headed now. He got to the edge of the fort and looked over expectantly. There she was, his Ilse. He waved furiously at her, and he saw her jump up and down, waving back at him and blowing him kisses. How he wished that he could go and be with her right now. He leaned on the wall and rested his chin on his arms, staring down at her. She beamed back up at him, and they stayed that way, staring at each other for hours.
When Heinz went back inside, after blowing one more kiss to Ilse, he was told that his superior wanted to see him. He steeped into the office in anticipation.
"Heinz Wolf", the officer said. "You have been chosen to be part of a group which will be sent to Morocco. You will leave in three days".


 

* * *

Heinz missed Ilse horribly. He often sat at his office desk just thinking about her, about the tailor shop, and about the rooming house. The French had lost to the Germans, but he could still not go home to Ilse. The soldiers had to be put to work doing something, so now they were building a railroad. The desert was hot, and wanted to go home, but at least he got to sit inside all day.

Poor Peter spent his days outside, taking care of the mules. Peter was a redhead. He got terrible rashes from the heat and the sand every day, never mind the sunburns. But they both did their work diligently, hoping that they would be allowed out soon.
Heinz sighed. Oh, to be back in Baden again, he thought. His family owned - well, had owned - an enormous estate in Baden, called Villa Berghoch. The whole family would spend the summer there, each in one of the six houses. Oh it was beautiful there. All except for Wolfie, that is. Heinz grinned as he thought of the huge dog. Never had he smelled an animal that stank as much as Wolfie did. When Ilse had come to visit him, she wouldn’t go anywhere near the animal. That was a wonderful summer indeed. Heinz remembered the walk they had gone on together in the woods.
“Come this way,” Heinz had told her, “and I will show you things you’ve never seen” The walk was very long and beautiful. They stopped to sit on a bench before turning back, and in the end, Heinz lost the nerve to show Ilse anything, whatever it might have been. They just sat together side by side on the bench for a long time before heading back up for dinner on the verandah of the big house.


* * *


Ilse finally got her tickets, but she couldn't leave without Heinz. She and Eugenie devised a plan. Ilse got dressed up in the best dress she could find. She put on make-up, and she carried a little purse with her. Then together she and Eugenie went to the general in Marseilles.
“You look so lovely,” Eugenie told Ilse outside the building. She put an arm around her. “Your French is very good now. You can do it.” Ilse took a deep breath and gave Eugenie a shaky smile. She straightened her skirt, patted a loose hair into place, and walked determinedly to the entrance of the building. Eugenie stood and watched her go. She would wait outside the building while Ilse went in to talk to the general in his office.
Inside the office, Ilse got very nervous. She sat waiting with secretaries and high officers all around her. All of a sudden she felt as if the plan would never work. Why on earth would such a high official listen to her? There must have been many wives and mothers in here, begging for the release of their sons. Just as she was about to give up, the door opened, and she was let in. There was no turning back now.
She was in there for a long time. Eugenie looked at her watch nervously and hoped that everything was going according to plan. Ilse was quite a pretty young lady, Alice told herself, but they were going to need more than that. Finally she saw Ilse leaving the building.
"Well, how did it go?" she asked eagerly. Ilse smiled.
"Heinz and Peter are coming back to us Eugenie," she said joyfully. Eugenie gasped and hugged Ilse wildly.
"Oh my little girl, I knew you could do it!" she shouted, jumping up and down. "Tell me, what did you say to him? Was he impressed? What did he say?"
"Well," Ilse said, "I got in, and as soon as I opened my mouth I started to cry. I told him our story. I told him how we met, and they went on from there. I told him everything, even about Gurs. He was a nice old gentleman, and after I was done he said that love like that had to be rewarded, and that he would do everything he could to get us back together again!"
“Oh Ilse!” exclaimed Eugenie, clasping her hands under her chin. “I knew you could do it!” The general kept his word, and by January, they were all on a train together to catch a ship to America.

Heinz and Ilse were standing by a window, watching the countryside go by.
"I want to get married as soon as we land", Heinz told Ilse.
"And then we can move into our new apartment," Ilse said.
"And have our honeymoon!"
"And get a job!"
"And have children!"
"And grandchildren!"
"And spend our vacations on an island with sun!"
"And swim all day!" They looked at each other and beamed. The train began slowing to pull into the station, and they turned to gather their suitcases. "Wait," said Heinz, holding her arm. "Look at them." They looked at both of their families there on the train, together at last, and could not imagine being any happier. They picked up their cases and moved to the door of the train, anxious to get on the boat. They were just stepping off, when a man in a uniform suddenly said,
"Hold up a minute there." The group looked at him expectantly, wondering if he wanted to search their bags. "You, and you," he said, pointing to Peter and Heinz. "You two are soldiering age. Come with me immediately."
"No, you don't understand", Ilse said desperately. "He was a soldier, he was. But they let him go, and we are all going to America now, you can't take him!" But the officer ignored Ilse's pleas and led Heinz and Peter down the hall in the direction of an office room. Heinz looked back over his shoulder at Ilse. They couldn't do anything. Heinz and Peter would miss the train to America.

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