Uncertainty: Chapter Six
Rochel and I jumped at the sound of the knock on the door, always aware of the present danger of being discovered by the authorities. Despite devising an escape plan in case of an emergency–such as now–and practicing our safety drill several times to perfection, we knew that should the time come, our lives depended on making no mistakes. We always knew we had to perform at 100 percent.
“Nur eine minute1!” shouted Max.
Berte and Eva went first. They scurried through the cabinet door and down the hole in the floor as quietly as possible. Rochel and Ilse cleared the extra telers2, gopls3 and mesers4 from the table, and handed everything down to the kinder, while I frantically checked around the kitchen for anything out of the ordinary.
The rap on the door intensified.
“Ich komme5,” Max reaffirmed.
Rochel and I awkwardly scrambled under the kitchen sink into the finsternish6, while Ilsa secured the floorboards from above, and replaced the basket on top as camouflage.
“Nit ein vort!”7 I whispered, and tapped three times on the boards to signal the “all clear.”
With everything secure, I opened the door to find two soldiers holding flashlights and standing at attention beside a high-ranking uniformed officer in a long black coat who easily fit Menil’s description of the Torah burner.
“Guten Abend, meine Herren8. How can I help you?” I inquired.
“May we come in, Herr Köhler?” asked the Officer. He was carrying a handkerchief in his hand, and wiped his nose.
“Of course.” I stepped aside, and allowed the party to cross the threshold before shutting the door.
“My name is Oberpräsident9 Josef Terboven, and I’ve come for a favor. I realize it’s past the time of your operating hours, but I’ve been quite busy handling a sensitive Jüdisch10 problem in town, so I must apologize for the inconvenience. However, I’m reminded by my staff that the Christmas holiday is nearly upon us, and we’ve yet to dress a Tannenbaum for the Hauptbahnhof 11 square…which brings me to my point for being here at this late hour. With your permission, of course, I’d very much like to procure your best tree to display at our office,” he stated.
“Wunderbar12! It would be my honor, Oberpräsident,” I feigned enthusiastically. “I’d be delighted to select the perfect tree for you, and deliver it personally, morgen früh13.”
“That is totally unnecessary, Herr Köhler. I wouldn’t think of troubling you any further. Besides, my men will see to it tonight, so you needn’t bother yourself about it in the least,” stated President Terboven, emphatically. “In fact, I insist!”
“In that case, perhaps I can assist by escorting you and your men through the feld14,” I replied cautiously, “to show you the very best selection, mein Oberpräsident.”
“I accept!” he nodded, “and appreciate the offer, Herr Köhler. But you’ll excuse me if I don’t accompany you, for I would much prefer to stay out of the weather. You see, I’m nursing a nasty cold at the moment,” he indicated, and dabbed his nose with his handkerchief.
I couldn’t help but notice the “SH” branding on the cloth–realizing that it must have come from Menil’s shop.
President Terboven turned to his recruits, “Bring me a tree that is worthy of the Reich, and see to it that Herr Kohler is treated with proper respect,” he barked.
“Jawohl15!” responded both soldiers in unison with a sharp salute.
“In the meantime, perhaps I can persuade Frau16 Köhler for a tasse17 of heisser Tee18 while everyone is off in the woods.”
“Natürlich!19, Oberpräsident,” I acknowledged. Yet I could feel the bile rising in my throat as I offered, “Mein Haus ist dein Haus20.”
1Just a minute!
7Not one word!
8Good Evening, gentlemen
20My house is your house