Palo Alto Weekly 22nd Annual Short Story
Second Place Child
TOO LATE FOR JOY
by Sabrina Lui
“Elsa! It’s past seven!”
I groaned, pulling my warm quilts up to my chin. My toes snuggled deep into the cottony material.
“Elsa!” the voice, now agitated, repeated.
“I’m coming, Mother!” I yawned. Reluctantly, I sat up, but my eyelids refused to open.
“Don’t forget, today Herr Hitler will lead the Nazi Mass Rally!”
Suddenly, my eyes burst open, and I sprang out of bed. “The Nazi Mass Rally! How could I forget?”
In a moment I was wiping the washcloth over my face with chilled water and painfully pulling the comb through my short, brown hair. Selecting my best skirt and brown blouse, I grinned as thoughts raced through my head: Herr Hitler is really coming to Nuremberg! How exciting! I buttoned the matching jacket and fastened my shiny new shoes. Then, with a confident smile, I marched down the hall to the kitchen, pretending I was a soldier in the rally.
“Good morning, Lise!” I spoke in a chipper voice. Lise had been our servant since before even my younger sister and I had been born. She was always warm-hearted and modest, eager to help us. Although she was Jewish, my mother especially enjoyed her company, chatting with her for hours in the afternoon while having tea in the parlor.
Lise smiled, amused, and replied in her gentle voice, “You’d better get to the dining room, miss. Your mother’s been calling.”
I marched to the dining room where Mother and Gaby, my six-year-old sister, were waiting. “Ooh! My favorite!” I exclaimed. Gazing at the steaming pancakes, I stood impatiently behind my chair. My eyes then moved to Mother, begging to begin breakfast.
“My goodness, Elsa. Where have your manners gone? Wait for Father. He’s getting ready for the rally.” Mother smiled her beautiful smile and turned her blue-eyed gaze toward the hallway.
I moaned and stared at Gaby, smoothing her long, soft, blond hair that I had always envied. My own hair was never smooth—always knotted and tangled. And it was a brown color, which always reminded me of dirt.
“My angels!” a deep voice boomed behind me. I turned away from Gaby and nodded as my father strode in, his chin up and eyes twinkling. His flaxen curls fell perfectly on the sides of his forehead. A jubilant smile, so bright and huge, spread naturally across his face. After giving a friendly nod in my direction, he acknowledged Mother with a peck on the cheek before turning to squealing little Gaby. Well-built arms scooped up her small body effortlessly, then set her down.
“Franz, you will not have your uniform dirtied again! I’ve just ironed it,” Mother scolded, but with what I hoped was a playful tone in her .
I peered at my father’s Nazi uniform. A light brown coat and trousers showed off shimmering gold buttons. His shoes gleamed, and as Father turned about, the light reflected off them, as if winking at me.
It was then that I realized Father was regarding me carefully. “Elsa! What a fine outfit!” he exclaimed as he sat down, signaling that we now had permission to begin our breakfast meal.
“Thank you, Father.” My voice was polite, even solemn, for after all, I’d been taught to respect Father’s authority.
“I agree, Elsa. What brings you to choose such special clothing?” Mother smiled, sprinkling maple syrup over her potato pancakes.
“I know that only Herr Hitler’s soldiers, the elite SS guard, and some other important officials can actually attend the rally. In my Nazi Youth meeting, I was told that we could at least get a glimpse of Herr Hitler as he enters or leaves the Nuremberg Rally Grounds,” I answered promptly, knowing that it was true. I had prepared answers for any questions that my parents might have had.
My father nodded, and I glanced at my mother. She had seemed so still when I had begun talking about the rally. Her eyes seemed dark. In order to cheer her up, I asked, “Would you like to come, Mother?”
“Certainly not!” my mom retorted in a sharp voice. My father and I were taken aback. “Pardon, what I meant was…I must be doing the chores and such—I shall not be able to. But, Elsa, before you leave, you must go to greet Hannah. You know how much Lise appreciates your kindness to her daughter.”
So as soon as I had finished my pancakes, I rushed back into the kitchen, where eight-year-old Hannah sat eating her breakfast.
“Good morning, Hannah!” I greeted Lise’s daughter cheerfully.
She looked up, still chewing on a piece of pancake.
I mussed her black hair. “When I get back, want to play with the dolls?”
Her eager eyes sparkled. I smiled and hugged her before bounding down the hall and out the front door. I’m not supposed to like Jews, but she’s just so adorable! I thought.
One hour later, while I stood outside the gates of the rally grounds, I could hear Herr Hitler’s words from the blaring microphone. He seemed so serious, even outraged. “The Jews are our affliction! It is time to annihilate the Jews…”
Tentatively, I took a step back. My head beginning to spin, I thought, Hitler, the most powerful man in Germany—even the world…. Was he really correct about the Jews? Hour after hour, staring at the microphone speaker on the street and listening to Hitler, I felt overcome. Annihilate the Jews…annihilate the Jews…Hitler’s words repeated over and over in my head.
And suddenly a large crowd of people surrounded me, cheering. I jumped up, anxious to see what the commotion was about. Slowly a black car emerged, exiting through gigantic iron gates.
It’s him! I waved and screamed, “Heil Hitler!”
A small uniformed man in the back of the car scanned the crowd, smiling. Abruptly he saw me attempting to catch his attention. I drowned in elation as he waved back and smiled. His eyes, although piercing and somewhat menacing, twinkled madly.
The moment I returned home, I spotted little Hannah, sitting on the front porch with dolls in her clutches.
I glowered at her. “I don’t have time to play. Do something else; go wash that dirty brown Jewish hair!” I snapped, remembering a phrase Hitler had used in his speech but forgetting that my hair was as brown as hers. Hannah’s eyes dimmed, and her grin melted. Our dolls dropped softly to the wooden planks. Breathing in quick gasps, the small girl backed away and ran down the porch steps, around the house, and toward the small cottage we provided for Lise and her.
My heart skipped when I saw her pain and confusion. I closed my wet eyes and, as one salty tear after another rolled down my cheeks, I repeated, “The Jews are our affliction. It is time to annihilate the Jews. The Jews are our…” With each word, my voice grew stronger, until finally the tears stopped falling.
When I opened my eyes, Gaby stood in front of me, open-mouthed, one fist on the front door knob. In curiosity she stared at me. “What did you say?”
I could not think of anything to answer my little sister—the one who was supposed to look up to me, the one who was supposed to follow my example. Speak, mouth. Speak!
Confused, I shoved past her and sprinted down the hallway and into my room. After flinging myself on the soft pink quilts of my bed, I sighed, then stared up at the ceiling. Was I doing the right thing on that summer day in 1935?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Suddenly, in the winter of 1936, they came. The soldiers. Despite the fierce winter winds and merciless storms, they came every couple of days, gathering the Jews, collecting them in cramped trucks. They came, dragging Jews from the warmth of their homes. They came, banging on doors and shouting gruff orders. They came, beating the Jewish people till they screamed for mercy—but the Nazis never showed signs of pity. Three times they had pounded on our front door.
The first time they came, Mother had answered, and, being terrified, she lied. “My own husband is a Nazi. We are certainly not concealing Jews.”
Father was furious at Mother for deceiving his fellow soldiers. Although he seemed determined to report our servant and her daughter, when the soldiers came the second time, he answered the door and denied hiding Jews again. I was sure it was because he was afraid of being caught.
The tragedies kept coming. One after another, and no one could stop them. Many of the Jewish girls and boys in school went away to the Nazi “relocation camps.” (It was not until after the war that we heard the phrase “concentration camp.”) I wondered what kind of dreadful treatment they would undergo. All the screams during the night, children crying, men shouting…. I shook my head. Herr Hitler had been wrong.
So I promised to the heavens, I will never be prejudiced against anyone. Including Jews.
I will never forget the third night that the soldiers came. It was late at night. Gaby and Mother had already fallen asleep. But every time I closed my eyes, a scream or bang would force me awake again. Father sat in the parlor, perhaps dozing off while reading a book. Suddenly a loud knock on the door caused me to jump to my feet. I crept into the hallway and watched as my father hurried to the door.
Muffled conversation met my ears.
“Good evening, Heinz…” My father’s voice was hushed.
“Franz…I’ve seen your Jews…I know.”
“You know?” Father seemed frightened.
“Franz…if you tell now…maybe you won’t…punished…”
I felt as if there were bricks smashing into my chest. My head throbbed, and I found it hard to breathe.
“I need…tell family…. Take them tomorrow evening, Heinz…they are…small cottage behind our house.”
I gasped softly, tears smarting in my eyes. Whimpering, I tip-toed back to my room. My attempts to muffle the horrid screams with my pillow failed as the piercing sounds still found their way through to my ears. That night, I cried myself to sleep.
It was the next day that the rest of our family found that Lise and Hannah were going to be taken that evening. I seemed like the only one able enough to do the chores—Gaby and Mother were too shocked, and Father seemed to be in his own world. I could still picture him that morning as he sat silently at the dining room table in his Nazi uniform (although that day there was no Nazi training or ceremony), his bacon and scrambled eggs pushed aside. I felt hollow as I glanced into his unfathomable gaze.
As evening approached, I went out to buy bread and meat for our dinner. The cobblestone streets seemed unusally quiet, and when I shouted “Hello?” there was only the wind to answer me.
Suddenly a huddle of carolers pushed past me and began singing “Joy to the World.”
“Oh, it’s Christmas Eve!” I exclaimed, my hand over my mouth. I had almost forgotten. Maybe it was because, instead of the usual cheery Christmas decoration, Hitler’s formidable Nazi flags and posters hung in store windows. Herr Hitler had taken away our town’s holiday spirit and replaced it with his terrible deeds. Angrily, I purchased the bread and meat. Even in at the bakery, I could hear the merry carolers.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let Earth receive her King…
I strolled slowly home despite the howling winds, resisting the thought of warmth and instead picturing the nightmarish event to come.
Joy to the Earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ…
Reaching home, I blew on my shivering palms and tried to warm my back near the hearth. My father was staring quietly at the fire, the flames reflecting in his otherwise dimly lit eyes. His Nazi coat was draped on the arm of his chair. Lying on the couch, my mother was shivering, cuddling a whimpering Hannah by her side.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found…
My eyes wandered out the window, where the cottage stood. “Father, come!” I cried out when I saw it. The soldiers were bashing their fists through the cottage windows.
Lise stumbled out in the clutches of a bushy haired soldier, screaming.
Father strode to the window and hugged me close.
We saw Hannah in the arms of a well-built Nazi soldier. She was thrown into the truck along with her mother.
The pounding on the door drew my attention away. “We’re here for Franz Reinhardt!” a gruff voice shouted. Mother jumped up and answered the door. Two Nazi soldiers stood rigidly on the other side of the threshold.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Father demanded.
“Herr Franz Reinhardt, you are being arrested for dishonesty and disloyalty to the German state. Herr Heinz Engel has reported you crime.”
Father’s eyes hardened. Taking one last deep breath, he held out his wrists. “Wait. May I please wear my Nazi coat? It is symbolic to me,” he pleaded.
One soldier snickered. “He still thinks he deserves it. Come along! You’ll not need a coat where we are taking you.” He grabbed Father’s wrists, while the other prodded Father with his rifle. They led him into the passenger side of the truck. Not once looking back at us, Father stumbled at first but quietly and quickly submitted.
“Father! Father!” I wanted to shout, but I did not. “Father,” I whispered instead, and reached out with my hand as the truck sped into the distance, leaving me in the wake of the road dust.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love!
Just as the truck disappeared from my view, something caught my eye. It was one of the Nazi posters, surrendering to the howling wind. And as it fell to the cold, hard ground, a glimmer of hope washed over me. My heart beat more powerfully as I stood straighter, my shoulders erect and chin up confidently. A smile forming on my lips, I could imagine Father looking back at me, proud. I swerved around, not once looking back, and marched into the house. Now only one thought repeated over in my head: I can make a difference. I can make a difference.
It is not too late for joy…
A highly sophisticated story of Nazi Germany with a new and
refreshing point of view -- that of a child in a Nazi family. The
young writer skillfully weaves tension and drama into a tale that is
hard to put down. Although the ending left the judges somewhat
nonplussed, the message and the overall quality of the story are