Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts
Munchen-Pasing. April 9th, 1918: A Beginning
“Magda! Magda! Quickly, it's coming!”
A young Anna Kaufmann called desperately for her closest friend and neighbour.
In an advanced state of pregnancy, her contractions had become unbearable and frequent.
“Quickly, Magda!” she gasped, panting heavily in an effort to delay the inevitable.
Magda Langsdorff ran quickly from the living room to the kitchen where she found her closest friend leaning heavily against the solid wooden table, panting hard.
“Don't panic, Anna.”
Her words were soft and soothing.
“I'm here, and everything is ready, just as we planned.”
Taking Anna's elbow, she guided her friend slowly to the bedroom where, after laying out some clean towels helped to prepare her.
Anna lay back on the bed; her knees bent upwards.
“Arrrgh...” she cried out as the next huge contraction began and all she wanted to do was to push the baby out.
“It's all right, Anna, push if you want to, you are ready. I have the water on the stove.”
Anna pushed, growling through clenched teeth but fighting the urge to cry out, although she felt she was being torn apart.
“I can see the head, Anna!” her friend called out excitedly. “You are almost there.”
Anna took a deep breath and as her muscles contracted she pushed as hard as she could and this time holding back was not an option. She cried out loudly, and as the tiny baby's shoulders pushed painfully into view, she panted and prepared for the final push. It had taken some five minutes from the baby appearing, but to Anna, it seemed so much longer. She lay back, exhausted.
There was a moment's silence, and then suddenly, her baby cried.
“Anna, it's girl!”
As Magda held the tiny, crying bundle up for her to see, Anna felt another contraction.
“Don't worry,” Magda reassured her, “Remember what we were told about the Placenta? That has still to come.”
After a moment or two, Anna's muscles contracted once more, and she prepared to make the final push.
Again, the pain increased, as she made that last effort and she cried out, her body weakening and the effort becoming more difficult.
As though through a haze she heard her friend's voice.
“Oh my Lord, Anna, there's another baby coming!”
Again and again the urge to push washed over her and it took all the remaining strength she could muster until she heard the unmistakable sound of a second baby crying.
The last words she heard were those of her friend.
“Anna, It's another beautiful girl!”
Magda worked carefully to sever the umbilical cords from both babies and then handed them to an exhausted Anna who looked at them both with such love, a love that she had never before in her life experienced.
Without stopping even for a moment, Magda bathed and cleansed her friend and her new children and when she was satisfied that all was well placed the babies end to end in the basket that they had both expected to be for just one tiny child.
When Anna was finally settled Magda stood beside her and stroked her hair back from her face.
“This war cannot last much longer, Anna,” she said gently. “Then Hermann and Siegfried will be home, and all will return to normal. Until that time I will be here to help you look after the babies.”
“You are a good friend, Magda,” Anna whispered and closed her eyes for a moment.
“Have you thought of names yet?”
Anna frowned, thinking.
“I have one name. Hermann and I had always wanted to call our child Maria should it be a girl but we never considered that we may have twins.”
Magda thought for a moment.
“May I make a suggestion?” she asked.
“Well, as you know, I cannot have any more children because of the infection I had after I miscarried...”
She paused, the memory from two years before still strong in her heart.
“I, that is Siegfried, and I would have called her Katarina had she survived...”
Anna gazed up at her friend and saw the tears forming in her eyes.
“You didn't tell me that at the time, Magda. Katarina is a lovely name. Would it please you if I chose that for my baby?”
Magda nodded but was too choked speak.
Anna raised her hand and gripped her friend's arm.
“Then that shall be her name, Magda.”
For the next few hours, Magda Langsdorff fussed around the house, looking after her friend and her two new children. She was so happy that Anna had agreed to name the second child Katarina, but she was also aware that things were going to get very difficult indeed.
Her husband, Hermann's parents had both died shortly after Christmas, and he had not been given leave to attend their funeral. Such was the intensity of the fighting that no man would be spared the front line.
Magda's husband, Siegfried was also fighting at the front, and so the trauma of dealing with their passing and the joy of the birth had to be dealt with by Anna alone save for the help of her dearest friend. There was very little money available, and she had the house to maintain, and now they also had two tiny mouths to feed.
By the end of the year, Germany had been defeated.
Hermann Kaufmann arrived home alone at the beginning of December, much to Magda's concern. She was very relieved that Siegfried was alive and well but Hermann said he had been sent to Berlin. For what purpose, he could not say but was sure that he would return soon.
Christmas had been hell. They had made of it what they could, but with no money coming in and Germany being made to pay reparation for the war, Hermann and Anna could barely afford to keep the roof over their heads.
Nevertheless, they had made it as loving as they could since it was their first as a family.
One morning in late January, Hermann, Anna, and Magda sat together around the kitchen table.
The babies were crying.
Anna had tried to settle them but, like their parents, they were hungry.
“I do not have enough enough milk for them, Hermann, I don't know what to do anymore.”
Hermann sat with his head in his hands.
“We have little food left for ourselves either,” he said, his voice muffled and despairing.
Magda herself felt sick. In her hand, she held a letter from her husband.
Seeing the heartbreaking situation, she steeled herself to speak.
“I don't know how to tell you this,” she began, the words difficult and her heart heavy as her dearest friends looked at her. “I have to leave.”
“Leave?” Anna stared at her through reddened, sleep deprived eyes. “What do you mean?”
Magda took a deep breath.
“I have a letter from Siegfried. He has been given a minor position within the diplomatic service. It doesn't pay much, but we will have an apartment...”
There was an awkward silence as her words filtered through and realisation dawned.
Anna was the first to speak.
“You, you mean in Berlin don't you?”
Magda nodded unhappily.
Anna took her friends arm and tried to smile, but it barely materialised.
“I am happy for you, Magda. Really I am.”
“I don't want to go, Anna. It breaks my heart to leave you, but I don't have a choice. I can barely pay the rent on our place, as you know.”
“I know, Magda, I don't blame you but...”
Anna looked at Hermann who seemed to be pleading silently with her.
Anna's words stalled, caught in her throat like she didn't want them to escape.
“I, we... well...”
Magda looked at Hermann.
He wouldn't look at her but stared at the tabletop.
“Anna, what is it? What is wrong?”
Her friend began to cry, silent tears rolling down her desperate face.
“I cannot feed my babies,” she sobbed. We barely have any money, and all we own is this house and its contents which soon we will have to sell.”
Magda felt her own eyes filling, and she could barely speak with such a lump in her throat.
“I know, Anna. I don't have any money either. If I did, I would gladly share it with you.”
Hermann finally looked at her.
“We wouldn't ask for your money, Magda.”
He waited, struggling to find the words.
“We have something far more important to ask you. It is...”
He stopped again and swallowed.
“There is something we need to ask. I don't know any other way.”
Magda felt a deep fear building up inside her, her heart pounding. What was Hermann going to tell her?
He took one final deep breath.
“When you leave...”
Magda waited, afraid to even breathe, the air in the room had become heavy and oppressive.
“No, it is too much to ask...”
“Hermann, you two have been Siegfried and my closest friends since childhood. I would trust you with my life, and there is nothing I wouldn't do for you.”
Anna stared hard at her husband, silently begging him to go on.
“When you leave,” he said almost inaudibly and with great effort. “Will you... Will you take one of the babies?”
Magda's jaw fell open.
“But... but... Hermann...” she stuttered, staring at him then turning to her friend. “Anna! I... I... can't...”
Anna stared hard at her friend with eyes filled with tears.
“Magda, I can't feed them,” she sobbed. “They will be taken from us if we don't do something. Please, Magda. I know you and trust you, you would give her just as much love as I would.”
Magda sat in stunned silence and several heartbreaking minutes passed.
“Please Magda, it is the only chance we have to survive...”
Finally, Magda closed her eyes and sighed.
“All right,” she agreed at length. “You are asking a lot, though. Can you imagine how hard it will be when I have to return her to you?”
Both Anna and Hermann nodded.
“Do you think this is what we wanted?” Hermann asked. “Do you think it is easy for us to give up one of our children?”
Magda reddened immediately.
“N...no, Hermann, of... of course I don't...” she stammered with embarrassment.
“We can only do this because we know you and trust you,” he continued. “We know that you and Siegfried will give her a good life, otherwise... well, I don't know what would happen.”
And so they were agreed.
For the next few days, they made all the necessary arrangements and all too soon the day arrived on which Magda would take her leave of them.
They had reached an agreement which suited them all. She would take Katarina and would raise her as her own.
They also agreed that they would tell no-one about their arrangement, especially the girls themselves. If they remained ignorant then it followed that there would be nothing for them to worry about. Since they were taking her to the other end of the country it was highly unlikely that they would meet but, if they did? Well, they would be none the wiser.
The day finally dawned that Magda and Katarina were to leave and the cases were packed and ready.
The three of them stood together behind the front door, eyes reddened with tears and hearts heavy.
Anna broke the silence.
“Magda. Hermann and I have talked at length. If we manage to get through all this and survive, we don't think it would be fair on any of you, including Katarina to ask for her return so we have resigned ourselves to the fact that she will be your daughter, always.”
Magda could not reply but simply nodded and gave a sad smile. This wasn't how she had envisaged to begin her own family but it was better than what faced her friends if she refused.
Hermann placed his hand on her arm.
“There is one more thing,” he said slowly and revealed a small rectangular box he was holding.
It was about twenty centimetres long and bound in leather.
He didn't open it.
“It is my mother's wristwatch and is all we have left of any value. I would like you to give it to Katarina on her twenty-first birthday. Just tell her it belonged to her grandmother.”
Magda looked down at it and then took it from him and nodded.
“I will do that, Hermann, I promise.”
She lifted the baby from the old pram that had belonged to Hermann's mother, and they wrapped her snugly in a blanket.
Anna broke down and sobbed uncontrollably as Hermann unlatched the door, allowing it to open slightly.
Holding the baby firmly, Magda hugged her friend, allowing her one last contact with her daughter.
“I w...will take g... good c... care of her Anna,” she sobbed. “I...I p... p... promise you with all my h...heart.”
They remained thus until Hermann cleared his throat.
“It's time,” he said quietly.
He had wanted to accompany Magda and the baby to the station, but he couldn't bring himself to leave his wife alone in such distressing circumstances, and so he had enlisted the help of a friend whom he knew would ask no questions.
They wished her a safe journey and as soon as she was away from the door he quietly closed it and turned to Anna. They spoke no words, none were necessary but stood holding each other tightly as their tears flowed freely.
The following months passed slowly. There was no work, and Anna took in washing so that they could at least benefit from the coal they had to use to keep warm.
Maria's first birthday was the most heart-wrenching day. They tried to carry on as normal but there was no money and worse still, her sister was not there to share the day.
Maria herself was often hungry, but she never seemed to mind and cried very little. Maybe she could sense her parent's anguish.
The summer of 1919 was at least warm but, by now Maria's parents had sold most of the furniture they could manage without and, what they couldn't sell had burned for heat.
One evening, as Autumn approached, Hermann and Anna sat together at the kitchen table.
Hermann took his wife's hand.
“I think the time has come, Anna,” he said quietly.
Anna looked at him sadly but said nothing.
“The winter will soon be upon us, and we have nothing left. No money for food and fuel. We can't even afford the water or the gas...”
Anna knew what was coming and her heart felt as though it would stop beating at any moment as Hermann continued,
“I think we must now sell the house...”
There was no use arguing against it, the house had belonged to Hermann's parents and their parents before them, and she knew that he wouldn't make such a decision until he had exhausted every other possibility.
Now he had decided she knew that their life as they knew it was over.
He took his wife's hand and held it tightly.
“I will go into town tomorrow and make the arrangements.”
Anna nodded, and her head slowly sank towards the table where it rested upon their closely entwined hands.
There were no more tears left to cry, just a resignation that all was lost.
They remained thus as the light slowly faded from the window.
Suddenly, there was a loud, urgent banging on the front door and they both sat upright, startled.
The banging continued, and a voice was heard calling,
Hermann ran to the front door and quickly opened it.
“Hans! What is it, What's wrong?”
Hans was Hermann's closest friend who had accompanied Magda to the station what seemed a lifetime ago.
“I just heard that they need workers on the railway. They will be advertising tomorrow. If we go now, we may have a chance.”
“But Hans, who will we see? Surely the managers will have gone home.”
“No Hermann! I have a friend who told the station master about us, and he will wait, but we must go now! Come on!”
Hermann grabbed his jacket and hat from the banister, the hall stand having long gone.
“Anna, I'll be back shortly!” he yelled before slamming the door closed behind him.
His wife remained were she was. There had been far too many disappointments to allow herself to get her hopes up. Hermann was a hard worker and barely a day had passed when he hadn't been out looking for work and so she just tidied the kitchen, and went slowly up the stairs to check their daughter and await her husband's return.
Hermann was gone for an hour, but it seemed so much longer.
She heard the front door open and closed quietly, Hermann not wishing to disturb her and the baby.
The stairs creaked as each footfall put pressure on the old timbers beneath the worn carpet.
When the bedroom door creaked open Hermann put his head inside and seeing she was awake, he smiled widely.
“I got it,” he whispered happily. “The station master gave us both a job, and I start tomorrow!”
Anna jumped up immediately and ran to her husband but stopped short.
“Does this mean we don't have to sell the house now?” she asked tentatively.
Hermann nodded, and she threw her hands around his neck, almost suffocating him.
A few minutes passed and when they parted Hermann explained what his job was to be.
“I am to be a porter at the central station,” he said. “It doesn't pay that much, but it will be enough.”
For the first time, in what felt to Anna a whole lifetime, she allowed herself to smile and held her husband tightly.
From that day their lives changed.
Hermann worked hard at the station, but he didn't always remain a porter. Two years later he became a dispatcher, a position which paid considerably more.
His cheerful demeanour and helpful attitude brought him to the attention of many of the passengers and those who saw him regularly soon knew him by name.
Even when the great depression struck in 1929, he knew that it could be no worse than those dark days after the war and he was determined that he would not lose any more of his family.
He was fortunate that the railway afforded him the security of employment, but he still worked hard, even when, in 1931 he became a Station Supervisor.
His and Anna's thoughts often turned to Katarina and what she looked like, how well she was growing up but after the first few months, the letters from their friends had stopped because they were becoming too hard to bear.
They knew she was safe and that would have to be enough.
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