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The Nurses. Chapter 10

A day of rest for Maria but her mother is troubled.

Munchen-Pasing. June 1st, 1940

 

 

Maria looked out of the window at the small garden below. The flowers her mother had planted in the spring were so pretty and bright, a small oasis of colour to brighten up an otherwise drab world.

 

She didn't have to work today and looked forward to enjoying the warm summer sunshine.

 

It was still early, six O'clock, but the sun had already risen and was streaming into her room, warming it.

 

She hadn't had a weekend away from the hospital for months. Sadly, her father had to work, but she hoped her mother would come to the shops in the city with her.

 

She took her robe off the bed and slipped it on before going down to the kitchen. The house was still quiet. Mama and Papa were still asleep.

 

The coffee was strong and bitter, and she curled her lip as she took the first mouthful, then sat at the table to get her thoughts together.

 

Munich was a beautiful city, in the heart of Bavaria. The rulers did not seem to see that though as they had built grey, imposing, very dark buildings for their local headquarters. They didn't fit in at all but stood out as dark and sinister. She supposed, though, that this was the whole point. Power and fear were at the forefront of Nazi politics.

 

She didn't dwell on these thoughts; instead, her mind moved on to the days ahead. It had been quite some time since she had relaxed and walked in the city and even longer since she had done so with her mother. Also, her father's birthday was in the not too distant future so she thought they could visit Hirmer and find him something nice, a shirt perhaps or a nice tie.

 

As she sat, lost in thought, the door opened silently. The movement made her look up suddenly.

 

"Oh, Papa," she exclaimed, clapping her hand to her heart. "You startled me!"

 

"Sorry, my dear," he said, smiling, "I didn't want to disturb your mother. She is still sleeping."

 

"The coffee is not too warm now, I will make some fresh."

 

"No, don't worry, I will just warm it again on the stove."

 

While he waited for the coffee to reheat, he sat across from Maria.

 

"Your mother is looking forward to go shopping with you, you know."

 

"Me too, Papa," Maria smiled back at him. "It has been so long since we went out together."

 

"Yes, she said the same." Herman went to the stove and poured himself a drink from the large pot on the stove.

 

"Another?" he asked indicating Maria's empty cup.

 

"Hmm... yes, ok then, thank you." She handed the cup to him which he filled and handed back to her.

 

Herman took a sip and grimaced.

 

"This coffee is getting worse," he said through contorted lips. "If anything good comes out of this war I hope it is the coffee."

 

Maria laughed.

 

"Yes, it is getting bad," she agreed.

 

"Would you like some breakfast Papa? I can do some eggs if you would like? And some sausages?"

 

"Mmm... yes please, that would be lovely," he paused, "I will just take some coffee to your Mama."

 

Maria busied herself with breakfast, frying the thin Nuremburg sausages and scrambling eggs in another pan. By the time she was done, her father had returned and set three places at the table.

 

"Smells delicious," he said, as he sliced some bread.

 

She turned and placed the plate on the table in front of her father.

 

"Will Mama be joining us?" she asked.

 

A voice from the doorway made her turn.

 

"I will," her Mama smiled. "How could I resist such a lovely aroma?"

 

She went over to Maria and kissed her on the cheek before placing her empty cup on the table.

 

"Good morning Maria. My, you have been busy!" she said as Maria tipped the last of the egg onto a plate and placed it in front her.

 

"It is a beautiful morning," Maria commented, "Another warm day ahead?"

 

"Yes, it is looking that way," her father replied, "It's a shame I have to work today. I would have liked to spend some time with you two."

 

"What time shall you be home, Herman?" Anna enquired of her husband.

 

He pondered the question for a moment before answering.

 

"Well," he mused, "I would think about seven."

 

"Then Maria and I will make a special meal for us to share together when you get home."

 

About ten, Maria and Anna closed the door behind them and set off toward the Rathaus to get the tram into the city. They alighted at the old city gate at Karlsplatz and passed through the archway.

 

The area was quite busy with shoppers. Although there were shortages, it was still nice to window shop.

 

The day was passing quickly, and Maria and her mother found themselves walking toward the English garden to relax in the sunshine on the soft grass and to enjoy the quiet.

 

They had been there only a short time when Anna turned to Maria.

 

"I wanted to ask you something, Maria."Her mother looked serious.

 

"Yes, Mama?"

 

Anna looked worried.

 

"I wanted to ask about your father. Does he talk to you?"

 

"Yes, Mama, Of course, he does."

 

"Well, yes, I know he talks to you, of course, but does he tell you about things he can't talk to me about?"

 

Maria looked down at the grass.

 

"Like what, Mama?"

 

"I don't know. I worry that things are troubling him, and he can't tell me."

 

Maria still stared at the grass.

 

"Mama... " she lifted her head and looked half sideways at her mother. "Papa does talk to me, yes but it is not fair to ask me. I promised him."

 

"I understand, sweetheart, but I know he is unhappy. I imagine it is to do with the day he collapsed?"

 

"Well..." Maria paused as she selected her words carefully. "It is the reason he collapsed, certainly. He was under a lot of stress, and he was exhausted, but he is well now."

 

Anna sat and waited a minute before taking her daughter's hand.

 

"Maria, tell me honestly, is he sick?"

 

Placing her other hand upon that of her mother, Maria looked her in the eye.

 

"No, Mama," she said, "He is not sick. He is just unhappy about some of the things he sees that the railway is involved with. I cannot tell you about it, I promised him I wouldn't, but if you ask him and explain that you worry about him, I am sure he will tell you himself."

 

Tears began to form in Anna's eyes, and she blinked in an effort to control them.

 

"Why does he not trust me, Maria? We have been together for many years, I have never given him any reason not to. I have always supported him in everything."

 

Maria put her arm around her mother's shoulder and wiped away the tear that had begun to roll down her cheek.

 

"Mama, he does trust you. You have no reason to fear that, he just didn't want you to worry about things over which neither he nor you have any control, or me for that matter."

 

Anna looked up, her wet eyes glistened in the sunshine.

 

"So why does he tell you and keep it from me? You are so young."

 

"I work in a hospital, Mama. I have seen many things that people should never see, so I understand his fears and anger. He just wanted to protect you. He would not have told me if he had not passed out while I was there. He just needed someone to share his burden with, someone who would not also be burdened. He loves you, Mama, he just wanted to protect you."

 

The tears began to flow more steadily down Anna's face.

 

"You have secrets too? Why could you not trust me? I am your mother...?"

 

"Oh Mama, please." Maria's own eyes began to moisten, "It is not trust. I would trust you with my life, but we see things that would sicken you. We just wanted to protect you. There was no point in all of us being unhappy. It is you who keeps us together as a family."

 

Anna dropped her head and began to sob gently.

 

"Oh Mama, please do not be sad. This war is terrible, but we cannot change anything. We just have to do our best not to become a part of it. I do what I can to ease the pain and suffering, and Papa can only do what his position requires of him. He is not directly involved in the military side of the railway, but sometimes he feels sad that he cannot do anything to stop what is happening."

 

"What is happening Maria? What is so bad that it made your Father collapse?"

 

Maria rubbed her mother's shoulder.

 

"That," she said, "is something I cannot tell you. You should speak to Papa. Tell him I talked to you. Explain to him what you told me, that you know something is wrong. I am sure he will be happy that he can talk to you."

 

For the next few minutes, they sat in silence, Maria with her arm around her mother, comforting her.

 

After a time, she looked at her watch.

 

"Mama," she said quietly. "It is getting late. We should go now, or we will not be home in time to prepare dinner before Papa gets home."

 

Anna took a handkerchief from her bag and wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She did not wear makeup but her eyes were a little red.

 

The conversation was not rekindled on the way home. They walked arm in arm in a sad silence and on the tram they just watched the world go by, lost in their own thoughts.

 

Almost on the dot of seven Herman Kaufman walked through the front door of his house. He hung his hat and coat on the hall-stand and went directly to the kitchen.

 

Maria greeted him as he appeared at the door.

 

"Hello, Papa," she said, "How was your day?"

 

"Oh, pretty much the same as usual," he replied.

 

His daughter pulled out his chair from the table and beckoned him to sit, saying: "Papa, I need to talk with you for a minute. Dinner will be a few minutes yet."

 

Herman sat down, and his daughter settled herself in the chair at right angles to him.

 

He frowned.

 

"Maria? Is something wrong?"

 

"Not wrong, Papa, but I think the time has come."

 

"Time for what, my dear?"

 

Maria took his hand and with a little squeeze told him about the day she had with her mother.

 

When she had finished the brief outline she ended by saying:

 

"So you see, Mama thinks you don't trust her enough with your worries. I think the time has come for you to explain to her. I told her as much as I could, but I think she needs to hear it from you."

 

Herman was silent for a moment and sat staring down at the table.

 

"Papa," Maria spoke softly. "This war is not going to be over anytime soon. I cannot help but feel that things are only going to get worse. I think you should talk to her."

 

Herman looked up at his daughter and heaved a big sigh.

 

"You are right, of course. I have dreaded this moment. I suppose it is important that we are solid as a family. No secrets, no trying to protect each other from things we all know exist."

 

At that moment, Anna appeared. She looked at her husband, her eyes full of sadness, her face showing the unspoken words that were milling around inside her head.

 

She walked slowly toward the table as Herman got slowly to his feet and, as she approached, he stretched out his arms to her and embraced her tightly and there they stood, silent. Maria knew there were unseen tears, and she stood and walked slowly and quietly to the kitchen door.

 

"Maria, wait. Please." Her father's voice. "This concerns you also, you are our daughter."

 

She stopped and turned to see her mother and father standing facing her, each with an arm out towards her, inviting her to join them in a family embrace, so she walked back and put her arms around them both and they became one.

 

A few moments later they sat at the table, her parents wiping their eyes.

 

Maria broke the silence.

 

"Mama," she said, "I have told Papa about our conversation this afternoon. I am going to finish the dinner if you two would like to talk. I will be near if you need me."

 

"Thank you, sweetheart." her mother replied as she left them to talk. "I don't know what we would do without you."

 

As she stood at the stove, stirring the pot and adding seasoning and herbs, she heard odd bits of the hushed conversation from behind her.

 

"Oh, Herman," she heard her mother say, "We got through the last war together didn't we?'

 

"Yes, my love, we did, but this is different. That was war, this is something far, far worse."

 

Maria didn't need to listen, her father had told her about all that that he saw. She, however, had not told him about all that she had seen. She told him some things, things she felt he needed to hear so that he would not feel he was burdening her with problems about his work but Munich had become a violent city and beatings were not uncommon, especially against the few Jews who remained.

 

She was pleased to hear that her parents could now talk openly to each other and when the supper was ready, she turned and saw that her mother was holding her father close to her as he promised never to keep anything from her again.

 

Then she heard her mother ask what it was about the railway that that was so distressing for him.

 

“ Well,” he began, “More and more trains are going to the east. They are not passenger trains, they still run as they ever did. No, these are freight trains, mainly made up of old box wagons. They have no windows, but I am sure, that as they pass I see fingers at the cracks in the planks, and sometimes I think I hear people calling out. Oh, I don't know, perhaps it is just my imagination, but I never see or hear these things on the trains that pass on the return.”

 

Anna took his hand.

 

“I am sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation, Herman. Have you asked about them?”

 

“I did once.” he said.

 

“And what were you told?”

 

“I was told to mind my own business, and in no uncertain terms,” he answered her sadly.

 

They sat quietly for a moment until Maria turned from the stove.

 

“You know, Mama,” she said, “It is not a good idea to be too inquisitive about things these days. It is safer to say nothing and ask nothing. If the authorities wanted us to know, they would tell us.”

 

“But why would they send such trains to Dachau and beyond?” her mother persisted, “It is only a small town.”

 

“I am not sure.” Herman pondered for a moment. “Unless...”

 

“Unless?” Anna repeated.

 

“Well.” Herman elongated the word as if not sure of himself. “I have heard that a camp was built there back in thirty-three. Some kind of prison I think.”

 

Maria interrupted before he could say more.

 

“Papa, I think it is best not to dwell on such matters.”

 

“Hmm, yes. I think perhaps you are right.” Herman looked up at her. “You know, Maria, for one so young you have a very wise head on your shoulders.”

 

She smiled at them both.

 

“I had good teachers.” she replied, “And besides, In my profession I have had to learn very quickly.”

 

As she said that, her mother, who had been looking straight at her father suddenly turned her head and looked up at her.

 

“Oh yes, your profession, Maria. I haven't thought much about what you do and see every day. How is it? You must have some pretty awful stories to tell and yet you never seem to be anything but happy.”

 

Maria smiled at her.

 

“You have no need to worry about me, Mama. You are right, I do see some bad things and hear about others, but I have grown up with it, I know nothing else.”

 

Her mother nodded as she listened, looking through tear-reddened eyes.

 

“I know, my dear, but will you promise me something.” she said.

 

Maria tilted her head, waiting for the question.

 

Her mother continued without waiting for a reply.

 

“Will you promise me that if you need someone to talk to you will come to me or your father. I couldn't bear, now, to think of you as having to keep things bottled up inside you because you didn't want to upset us.”

 

She stepped forwards and took her mother's proffered hand.

 

“Yes, Mama, I promise.” although she knew that some of the things she saw she could never tell anyone.

 

“Oh, heavens!” she suddenly exclaimed, “The soup!” and she turned back quickly to the stove and began vigorously stirring before the meal burned to the bottom of the pan.

 

Later, after she had ladled out the soup into their dishes, she sat and watched her parents, her father breaking up a pretzel and her mother sipping sedately at the delicious meal and she felt as though a great weight had been lifted from them.

 

Anna saw Maria looking at her, and she stopped, the spoon hovering before her lips. Maria smiled at her, and she was sure that her pretty brown eyes twinkled as she gave a smile in return and an almost imperceptible nod before allowing the spoon to complete its journey.

 

At that moment, Maria knew that whatever happened in the future, they would be strong together and she no longer needed to worry about them as she had been.

 

 

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