Uncertainty: Chapter Twelve
I gently guided Eva into the kitchen. “Promise to keep your eyes closed tight until I tell you,” I warned.
“Oh, Bertie! Can’t I peak just a little bit?” she contemplated.
“Absolutely not! And ruin your…”
“!!! SURPRISE !!!” in our loudest voices.
I opened my eyes and I couldn’t believe it! Everyone was standing around, and there was a birthday cake in the middle of the kitchen table for me.
“Make a wish!” everyone yelled out together.
I closed my eyes and immediately wished for the Nazis to go away and leave us alone. The ten candles were no match for my powerful lungs. I wound up, and took in a deep breath, and blew so hard across the cake that a couple of the candles fell over and melted some of the chocolate icing.
“!!! APPLAUSE !!!”
“It was a pretty good performance, so perhaps that will help make my wish come true,” I told myself.
My family broke out in song, with an enthusiastic rendition of Happy Birthday, which Bertie turned into an audition for the Berlin State Opera.
“This is amazing,” I announced, “but it’s not really my birthday. It’s not for another week.”
“That’s true, Pony…,” answered Berte.
(Sometimes Bertie called me Pony, after Emil’s little cousin, because when I was little, Abba and Eema often took turns reading “Emil and the Detectives” to me.)
“…but everybody here agreed to celebrate your birthday early,” she finished, and then she turned to Abba for guidance.
“But why, Abba? We always celebrate our birthday together!” I asked.
He stepped up to me, took my hands in his and crouched down to meet my eyes.
“Were you suprised?” he asked, and I answered with a nod.
“Fantastish1! And I have an even bigger surprise for you tomorrow. Do you want to open your presents now?” he coached.
“Menil! Is that all you have to say to Eva?” teased Eema.
“But I promised not to give away the big surprise until tomorrow.” pleaded Abba.
“Is there something you can tell her without giving away the surprise?” bargained Eema.
“Please Abba. Give me one clue, like Emil and the Detectives.” I begged.
“Okay. But you can’t ask for more clues. Agreed?” he brokered, and we did a pinky swear on it.
“So, here’s your clue,” he continued, “You and Bertie are going on a special adventure tomorrow, and to prepare for your adventure, your mother and I have some special gifts for both of you. Would you like to see your presents now?”
I wrapped my arms around his neck to thank him, but then I remembered, “Abba, you never answered my question,” I told him in his ear.
“And what question was that, meyn lib2?” he wondered.
“Why are we celebrating my birthday one week early?” I wanted to know.
“No, siree! We did a pinky swear. Not another word from me,” he said abruptly.
Eema squatted behind Abba to meet my eyes. “Your Tatti3 and I believe it’s not safe in Germany anymore, so we made arrangements for you and Berte to take the train to Arnhem in the morning while it’s still possible.”
“Is it because of what happened on Hanukkah?” I guessed.
“Ah gezunt ahf dein kup4; I’m so proud of you.” praised Eema, and she kissed the top of my head.
I tried to smile, but I could feel the tears building up inside me, and then I heard my voice quivering, “Why can’t all of us go together?”
“We already tried that, Pony. Remember?” she Bertie prompted.
I composed myself. If I was turning nine, then I needed to act like a grown-up. “What kind of arrangements, Eema?” I sniffled.
“There goes the surprise,” lamented Abba.
Eema pretend-cried to get my attention. She reached between Abba and me, and pulled a handkerchief out of his breast pocket to pretend-dab her eyes, and then she dabbed mine. That put a smile back on my face.
Tante Ilse took over the conversation. “Your Mama und Papa discovered something important called the Kindertransport5. It’s an organization that is rescuing Jewish children trapped in Germany–like you and Berte–and taking them to England for safety. But in order to participate, the parents must surrender their kinder, and also understand that legal adoption is possible in England.”
“Is that what we’re doing, Eema?” Bertie asked.
Eema slowly got to her feet by leaning on Abba for support. “I believe your Tante is right as usual–with one important exception…” Eema expressed.
“Which is?…” Bertie interjected.
“You have to promise me first!” insisted Eema.
“Promise what, Eema?” I asked, drawing the attention back to me. After all, this was supposed to be my party.
Eema’s mood suddenly turned serious.
She turned to Bertie, firmly stating, “Promise me…under no condition are you to ever separate from your sister. Do you hear me?”
“I promise,” Bertie pledged like a girl scout.
And then she turned to me, firmly stating, “Promise me…that you will listen to your shvester at all times, and you will stick to her like glue. Do you hear me?”
I gave Eema the same salute as Bertie.
Abba pulled himself up using Eema’s arm for leverage. “B’ezrat HaShem6, all of us will soon reunite in Holland,” he sighed. When he got to his feet, he lightened the mood again. “Can we open presents, now?” he called out. “And no more surprises for the day!?”
4A blessing on your head