The roar of engines shook the ground. Then it stopped in front of my house.
I may not have known much, but I did know that it wasn’t a good sign. In our little Dutch village, we all rode bicycles. An engine meant an automobile. And an automobile meant Nazis.
My palms sweating, I pushed three stolen ration cards down the front of my blouse before running into the kitchen. My hair was a mess, with locks flowing out of the bun I had made that morning in an attempt to restrain my unruly hair. My face burned with desperation and I stood frozen, not knowing what to do next. Why me? Why now? No one else was home but me and three Jews upstairs. I wasn’t ready to face the Gestapo. That was a job for Mama and Pa, or my brother Coen. But most definitely not me.
A sharp knock startled me, and my terrified thoughts fled. I focused on taking one step at a time till I reached the door. I tried to breathe steadily but it came out as a wheeze instead. Why me? Why now?
Closing my eyes tightly, I opened the door. I felt someone push past me roughly, and then another one, and then another and another. Boots clicked against the floor in a familiar way. When I opened my eyes and turned around to see who had entered, my heart fell even though I had expected this sight since I first heard the automobile.
A German in a greenish uniform stood glaring down at me. He was tall, pale, blue-eyed, and blond-haired, a fine specimen of the Aryan race, no doubt. And a cruel Nazi as well — his beautiful eyes shone with wickedness as they swept over me, studying me, and pausing to look at my trembling left hand. A diabolical smile spread across his handsome face.
He bent down to my level. “Where are the Jews, girl?” he asked me in halting Dutch. Although he asked in mock gentleness, his voice was gruff and it scared me. His voice felt like a splintered plank rubbing against the flesh of my wildly-beating heart.
“There aren’t any here,” I said.
The Nazi turned to three other men who were behind him and barked an order in German. Immediately they began wrecking everything apart. They turned over chairs and slammed cabinets and doors open and shut, they tore apart cushions, and books went flying off the bookcase. Yet I could have fainted with relief. They were being so noisy as they ransacked my house that they couldn’t hear the Jews shuffling in their hiding place upstairs.
I went back to the kitchen as I tried to look like nothing was going on. I searched to see if there was something I could give the soldiers to eat. Maybe that way they would think I didn’t have anything to do with the Resistance. Maybe. But maybe not.
One of the men entered the kitchen. My heart nearly stopped again. This man was no soldier. Again my thoughts turned to the sweat-moistened ration cards in my blouse. “Aldert?” I managed to gasp. “Aldert, what are you doing here?”
“Hannie,” he said, his voice unusually strained. “Where are the Jews, Hannie?”
“Aldert?” My face went white. This was the neighbor that only days before, upon somehow finding out that my family was sheltering Jews, had offered to steal some ration cards so that we could feed the fugitives without raising suspicion. “Oh God,” I whispered, so quietly that I could hardly hear myself. “Help me — we’ve been betrayed.”
Aldert took a step closer. “Answer me, Hannie!” His voice began to rise. “Answer me! Where are the Jews?!”
I burst into tears. I wanted to flee but my feet were glued to the floor. “I – I don’t know, Aldert, I don’t – I don’t know,” I sobbed. “We don’t have any – any Jews here, Aldert, you won’t find any.”
“Ha!” a deep voice came from the direction of the staircase. “Well, look what I have here.”
I tried to catch my breath but I only sobbed louder. They’d found the Jews, I knew. The tall Nazi came into kitchen, the other two soldiers trailing behind him. Each held one of the Jews who had been hiding upstairs. There was the stooped old man, his daughter, and his granddaughter. Their dark eyes were big and afraid.
I hung my head and wept.
The tall German reached out with his free hand and grabbed me by the collar of my blouse. “No dirty Jews here, eh?” he laughed nastily in my face.
I gasped for air and wiped my face. The ration cards pinched my chest. “Aldert!” I cried out. “Help me, oh, Aldert…”
Aldert turned away and walked out of the kitchen, his hands in his pockets.