Uncertainty: Chapter Seven
We should have been celebrating the Festival of Lights, but I was frozen in finsternish and fear, except for a dim, narrow beam of light that penetrated a thin space between the planks above our heads. From where I sat, I could nearly make out the shadowy forms of Abba and Eema stretched across the mattresses with Eva huddled between them.
They seemed so still and at shalom1. I so wanted to join them—to be snug in their arms while we waited for the world to return to normal—but I dared not move. I sat motionless next to the light switch, wishing I hadn’t volunteered to be so brave and responsible, and now, so far from my mishpucha.
Tante Ilse stood directly above me washing dishes–the plates and utensils clinking clanking against the sink, followed by the hypnotic rhythm of running water whooshing through the drain pipe near my ear. But none of it could drown out the sound of my anxious heart.
I wanted to sing and dance and play dreidel2, but we were trapped beneath the kitchen with no clear connection, and no way of knowing how long before the “all clear.”
When the front door shut and footsteps clogged across the creaky floor in my direction, I thought the danger had passed…until I heard his voice and gasped.
“Guten Abend, Frau Köhler,” said the Voice.
“Guten Abend, Oberpräsident,” replied Tante.
He crossed the crack in the floor and extinguished all light from above.
“To what do we owe this unexpected visit?” I asked, glancing over my shoulder as I finished up the last of das Geschirr3.
“Nothing of grave importance. I was in need of a Tannenbaum for the Bahnhof,” Terboven replied, “and dein Ehemann4 has graciously offered to provide one, heute Abend.5” In fact, he’s in the wald with my men jetzt6, picking out the tree that we will dedicate tomorrow with Reichsführer7 Himmler by my side,” he proudly proclaimed.
I shut the faucet and wiped my hands on the dish towel (also intended for decorating the kitchen, and most importantly, disguising the opening under the sink). I made certain to properly rearrange the towel when I was finished with it.
“Na sicher8. It’s just that I was never made aware of the appointment, and it is on the late side” I said.
“No appointment, Frau Kohler. I was in the area. I trust this is not too much of an inconvenience, but the Reich is very grateful for your cooperation,” he condescended, while seating himself at the dining table, close by the blackened menorah, it’s flickering candles burning through the last inch.
I was shaking on the inside. How could I have forgotten to replace it? I pulled myself together, pretending that nothing was awry. Calmly, I asked, “Can I put on the Kessel9 for you? Perhaps offer you some Kaffee10or Tee?”
He dabbed his nose with his hankie. “Very kind of you. Perhaps something stronger…if you have it. And you will join me, Ja11?”
I carefully weighed every move and gesture…mine and his. I needed to operate like a reliable German machine. First I grabbed the Teekessel from the stove and filled it at the tap. “Nein danke12, I’m fine with Tee,” I answered. Second, I lit the back burner, and placed the Teekessel on the flame. Next I removed my mother’s golden candelabra from a shelf above the stove, and placed it on the opposite counter. Then I returned for the hidden bottle of schnaps, but it was just beyond my reach.
I felt Terboven leaning into me from behind, pressing his rigid body against mine. I could feel his breath against my neck and I froze in fear.
“Allow me to assist you, Frau Kõhler,” he hummed. His right arm slid up the length of my right arm, and lingered on my outstretched fingers. I could feel his left hand spreading across my hip for balance, but I sensed that the Oberpräsident had bolder intentions. He lingered behind me for a moment longer than eternity, and I felt myself going limp.
That’s when the the Teekessel began to schrei13…and revive me…and energize me. I straightened my body and composed myself, and I yelled over the Kessel schrei, so Terboven could hear me. “HERR TERBOVEN,” I demanded, “RELEASE ME AT ONCE!
The Oberpräsident hesitated, but eventually retreated, taking one step back. I lifted the Kessel off the fire to silence the shreiend, but I never stopped screaming. “I AM A MARRIED WOMAN HOLDING A KESSEL FILLED WITH BOILING WASSER14, and I would hate to see you accidentally scalded, mein Oberpräsident.”
He carefully backed away and returned to his seat–his hand choking the neck of the schnaps.
We were at a reset.
“Kommen sei15, Sitzen16!” he invited, tapping the chair beside him. “Keep me company, while Ihre Mann arbeitet17.”
I took a breath to consider. “Einen Moment18, Oberpräsident!” I casually reached around him and snatched the menorah from the table. “But first allow me to replace the candles in the Kerzenhalter19 before they burn out.”
“Halt20!” Terboven commanded. “Nicht so schnell21!”
7Leader of the Secret Intelligence and Gestapo
12No thank you
17your husband works
21Not so fast!