Catching the Wind(8)

By: Melanie Dobson

Brigitte stumbled on a rock, and he reached out to catch her. But she kept walking, her bare toes crushing the summer blooms. The sun had freckled her cheeks, burnt her nose. Her eyes were often red too, tears blurring her vision as they trekked west together.

In her thin arms, Brigitte clutched a cookie tin filled with gold and silver coins. Dietmar carried her shoes and kerchief in the makeshift knapsack he’d tied together from a sheet, but she refused to let him carry her father’s box or even to hide it when they slept on the forest floor. The toy princess she kept in the pocket of her cardigan.

The cache of coins in the cookie tin had been useless on their journey, but the box wasn’t really about money for Brigitte. It was a piece of her parents, the only piece she had left. He would never ask her to leave it behind.

Dietmar kept telling her that they would see their parents again soon. That it was all a terrible misunderstanding. And as they plodded west, he kept trying to believe his words were true. That one day they would all return to Moselkern.

Herr Berthold had been arrested that same afternoon as his parents, their family’s cottage ransacked like the Roths’ sitting room. The scene scrolled painfully through Dietmar’s head again and again as they walked in silence through the fields and forest.

He never should have coaxed Brigitte away from their tree house that terrible day, back to her home. He’d never imagined that the Gestapo had come for her father too.

He’d wiped up the blood in her kitchen while she was upstairs, calling for her father, but even though she was young, Brigitte was smart. Smart enough to know where her father had hidden their family’s money from the Nazis. While Dietmar gathered blankets and a bit of food from the house, she dug up the tin box with a trowel. Herr Berthold had buried it under the pink stars flowering on a magnolia tree, hidden among the threads of roots that crept away from the trunk.

Dietmar had taken Brigitte to his classmate Heinz’s house on the other side of Moselkern. After Heinz hid them in the back shed, he explained that the Gestapo was rounding up anyone suspected of feeding the Jewish people still hidden in the area. Someone thought Brigitte’s father—a Lutheran minister—was helping them. While Heinz didn’t have any information about Dietmar’s parents, villagers knew Herr Roth was once an outspoken critic of Hitler and his party of Nazis.

Fear had silenced his father from speaking publicly against the Führer in the past year, but Dietmar heard his parents’ whispers at night, his ear pressed against their bedroom door. They thought Dietmar too young to trust with their secrets, but he hadn’t said a word to anyone about their work. Nor would he now.

“What’s wrong with helping the Jews?” Brigitte asked Heinz. “My friend—”

“Hush,” Dietmar said, squeezing her hand.

He hadn’t wanted to be harsh with her, but the way Heinz looked at her, then back at Dietmar, sent chills down his spine. His classmate’s eyes were full of suspicion. Scorn. In that moment, Dietmar knew that neither he nor Brigitte would be safe anywhere in Moselkern.

“Wait here,” Heinz had said as he backed out of the shed. Then he closed the door.

In the dim light, the image of Dietmar’s bruised mother flashed through his mind. And he heard her silent plea for him to run.

He peeked out the crack in the door and saw Heinz glance at the shed before slipping into the house.

Dietmar had to protect Brigitte, but even the shield of a knight, forged in fire, wasn’t strong enough to ward off the Gestapo. If someone like Herr Darre found them, he’d force Brigitte to join the Jungmädelbund—League of German Girls. And he’d probably send Dietmar to a labor camp.

From the moment they stepped out of the shed, Dietmar never looked back. For almost a month now, he and Brigitte had been running, following the path of the afternoon sun toward England.

They were far from home, yet he knew Germans had infiltrated the land between here and the wide channel that separated Belgium from Great Britain. But if he and Brigitte could get across the water, they could find his aunt in London. Surely his mother’s sister would help them.

The sun was beginning to settle behind the trees that flanked them. Soon they needed to find something to eat and a place to rest.