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The Nurses. Chapter 12

Maria protects her patients and falls foul of the authorities.

Munchen.Pasing. June 3 rd 1940

 

 

It had been a long day for Maria, a day where she had been kept busy from the moment she had set foot on the ward at six that morning.

 

Throughout the day she had been hearing sketchy reports that the Luftwaffe had bombed Paris. She was immensely saddened as, although she had never been outside her homeland of Bavaria, Paris was known to be a beautiful city and she had often wanted to visit. Moreover, she also heard that a lot of the casualties were civilians.

 

She had heard the impassioned speeches from the Fuhrer, about how the rest of Europe had kept Germany on a leash, she had no choice, they were broadcast throughout the hospital on its loudspeaker system, but even so, war?

 

She remembered the stories her father had told her of the last war and how everyone had said it would never happen again and yet, here was Germany once again at war with the rest of Europe.

 

She tried hard not think about it and, for the most part, she was able to do so. Her patients had kept her busy. There was such a shortage of nurses and, even more, doctors, so she had no time for lunch and just about time for coffee as she worked.

 

There was something else to occupy her mind, though for today was her father's birthday and, after the weekend they just had, she wanted to make it an extra special one for him.

 

She had very little time because she would not be home until about seven but she knew her mother was making a cake and special dinner so she wanted to get home and spend as much time as she could with them.

 

She looked at the big clock on the wall at the far end of the ward, five-thirty. Another thirty minutes and she could leave.

 

She was looking forwards to the trip home today as it was one of those rare occasions that her shift finished about the same time as that of her father and she had arranged to meet him at the station where she would get the tram home with him.

 

“There you go, Herr Jansen. That should be more comfortable now,” she said to the middle aged man in the bed about half way down the room as she plumped up his pillows and supported him as he lay back against them.

 

“Thank you, Sister.” he replied and then stared suddenly and fearfully at the ward door as it crashed open without warning.

 

There, in the doorway, was a man dressed in the brown uniform of the SA!

 

“What on earth do you think you are doing?” Maria marched along the ward to confront this unwelcome intruder.

 

“Stand aside, Sister!” the arrogant man barked at her.

 

“I will not!” Maria stood firm.

 

“Do you dare to oppose me?” he scowled, “I suggest you reconsider your actions before you too find yourself in serious trouble for harbouring Jews!”

 

“I am not harbouring anyone,” Maria hissed at him. “I am here to look after the sick, and you are making that very difficult!”

 

“I have warned you and will not warn you again,” the Brown Shirt growled, “Now step aside.”

 

And with that, he pushed her hard and Maria lost her footing and fell sideways against the cabinet which was just inside the door. It was a steel cabinet and the sound, as she crashed against it reverberated around the ward.

 

She fell to the floor but was not hurt and immediately pulled herself to her feet.

 

As she did so, the bully marched into the ward and was standing at the first bed looking at the chart hanging on the end.

 

“Name!” he barked at the old man lying before him, shaking with absolute terror.

 

“Steiner,” he said quietly. The Brown Shirt said no more but moved to the next bed.

 

“Name!” he barked again.

 

“Bauer,” the middle aged man replied.

 

“Age?”

 

“Forty-five,” he answered.

 

The big brute turned to Maria.

 

“Why is he here?” he asked brusquely.

 

“That is confidential!” she told him, equally brusquely.

 

The big man narrowed his eyes.

 

“You, Sister, are treading on very thin ice. If I were you, I would be very, very careful.”

 

Maria felt a cold chill rise inside her but she rose up straight and looked him directly in the eye.

 

“I am not afraid of you,” she hissed, “This is a hospital. You have no right to treat my patients in this way.”

 

Of course, her words were sheer bravado. She was terrified and inside she was shaking but she could never allow such behaviour in her ward.

 

The arrogant bully stared back at her and, without breaking eye contact, hissed back at her.

 

“You will live to regret this,” and then, with a snap of his fingers to his companions, turned and stormed from the ward, his heavy footsteps echoing down the corridor until all was silent apart from the deafening thudding of Maria's heart.

 

As the adrenalin began to disperse her legs suddenly became like jelly and she needed to sit down. Although it was forbidden, she sat on the edge of the nearest bed and let out a big sigh. She couldn't control the violent trembling throughout her body, so she clasped her hands together in her lap and took deep breaths.

 

“You should not stand up against them, Sister. You know they will come back and next time...”

 

The voice came from the occupant of the bed upon which she had perched.

 

“Oh, I am sure they will not hurt me, Herr Bauer. I am only doing my job.”

 

Maria spoke calmly but inside she was terrified and knew that Herr Bauer was right. She had seen for herself how ruthlessly they had taken the Jewish staff. What was one more nurse to them?

 

“Maybe but please be careful. They are dangerous men and they will get what they came for. Even if it means taking you too.”

 

A few minutes later, the Chief Surgeon appeared in the doorway.

 

“Sister Kaufmann,” he began, “Are you all right?”

 

Maria nodded.

 

“Come to my office, quickly please,” he demanded, his face etched with concern.

 

She rose unsteadily to her feet, willing her legs to move. They ached now that she had relaxed a little but she walked steadily through the door and into the office across the corridor.

 

As soon as she was inside, the doctor quickly closed the opaque glass door behind her.

 

“Sit down,” he said, gesturing the metal framed chair in front of his desk.

 

The surgeon went around to his own side and sat down opposite her, resting his elbows on the table and clasping his hands together under his chin whilst he studied her for a moment.

 

Eventually, he spoke.

 

“I have had a request from the Red Cross headquarters. They need good nurses in France to support the wounded from the fighting there.”

 

The incident quickly forgotten, Maria responded,

 

“Herr Doktor, we barely have enough nurses to cope with the workload here. We cannot afford to lose any more!”

 

The surgeon once again studied Maria's worried face.

 

“Normally I would agree,” he said at length, “but I have decided to send just one... you.”

 

Maria's jaw dropped open.

 

“Me?” she said, “I can't go to France! What about my patients, my family?”

 

“Maria, you have to leave Munich and quickly,” he said in very low tones so not to be overheard by anyone outside. “You are the best nurse I have but you cannot stand up to these Nazi bullies. Their patience will not last indefinitely and I fear for what will happen to you.”

 

“But...” Maria began to protest but the doctor raised his hand to stop her.

 

“No buts, I mean it,” he hurriedly continued. “Those men will not tolerate your defiance. You know why they come here and every time you stand in their way. I am sure that if your hair was black and you eyes brown, you would not be here now but that will not save you forever.”

 

“Doctor, I would rather die than give up nursing, you know that!” she argued.

 

“Yes, Maria, I do know that, which is why I have arranged this posting for you. You will be safer there than you are here. I am sorry, I really am but it is for your own safety, and the safety of your parents too, of course. If you go now and the SA come back, hopefully, they will be satisfied and leave it at that. You have only irritated them up to now but they will only be pushed so far and I think it better that you don't find out how far!”

 

“All right, I appreciate that,” she sighed in resignation, “I will have to find a way to explain to my parents.”

 

“Good I will make the arrangements and in the meantime, please be careful.”

 

Maria smiled and inclined her head as if in agreement but said nothing, her mind was in turmoil now. She understood why she had to go and at that moment she had the heart-stopping thought that, once she left, she may never see her home or her parents ever again.

 

She heard the surgeon speak but through the hissing in her ears and the beating of her heart, pumping the adrenalin through her veins, she didn't hear any of his words.

 

“When will I leave?” was the only question she could think of.

 

“It will be sooner than later, Maria. You must be ready to leave by Wednesday at the latest but it depends on whether the Red Cross can organise the necessary transport. You are not the only one you know, there will be nurses from all over Germany.”

 

“The day after tomorrow!” she gasped, “I can't! I...”

 

The surgeon stopped her, raising his hand.

 

“There is no option, Maria,” he said gently, “Your safety is at stake. You know the SA will return and next time they will not be so easily dissuaded. They don't have the power they once had so they will certainly not tolerate you standing against them. Your duty is almost finished so hand over to Margarethe and go home. Don't come back here again. Take the next two days to prepare. I will contact you with the details of your travel and Maria...”

 

His words were fading as Maria's eyes began to fill, knowing that she would not come back here.

 

She looked up at him and smiled a sad smile as he repeated what she had missed.

 

“I said we will miss you, Maria. The hospital will be a gloomier place without you. You have been a shining light in an ever darkening world.”

 

She took a deep breath and wiped away a tear then got to her feet.

 

“I, I don't know what to say...” she replied sadly.

 

The surgeon, also standing, stretched out his hand to her.

 

“Then say nothing but take all our best wishes with you. I will just say, take good care of yourself and never change. You always were and always will be an inspiration to all who meet you.”

 

She nodded and took his hand, choking back another tear then turned and returned to her ward.

 

“Maria, whatever is the matter?” The oncoming matron asked when she sat down beside her at the ward sister's desk.

 

“I am leaving, Margarethe,” Maria replied simply.

 

“Leaving? Why? How?” her colleague answered in surprise.

 

“The Red Cross are sending me to a hospital in France to work with the wounded.”

 

“France? But why? Why you? Surely you are needed here!” Margarethe was astounded. “We don't have enough staff as it is, they can't send you away!”

 

“Please, Mags, don't. It's a long story and I have to go. I can't bear it.”

 

Maria was struggling to maintain her composure and, as her friend put her arm around her shoulders, she choked back more tears and whispered.

 

“I'm sorry, I have to go,” and quickly stood up.

 

Margarethe stepped to her and put her arms around her and held her tightly whilst she sobbed quietly into her shoulder for a minute.

 

“Don't forget us, Maria,” she said quietly as they parted.

 

“I won't,” Maria promised, taking a deep breath then walked quickly away, not daring to turn back even for a second.

 

The journey home seemed to take forever. There were no delays, no dramas and the vista through the tram window passed by completely unnoticed as Maria thought hard about how she was going to tell her parents. The one thing that she didn't have to worry about, though, was the fact that they shared everything with each other and supported each other completely since her father had collapsed. She knew that at least they would not fall apart as they may have done before when they tried to keep the bad things to themselves.

 

Eventually, she arrived home. For the few steps, it took from the tram stop to her front door she had felt as though she was wearing concrete shoes. Every step needed a great effort of will to lift her feet and make them move along, one in front of the other and now, at the door, even her arm felt so heavy as she raised the key to the lock.

 

“Hello Maria, you are early tonight,” her mother greeted her without turning away from the kitchen sink where she was washing some pots and pans.

 

“Hello, Mama. Yes, just a little,” Maria replied, trying to be as normal as she possibly could with such a heavy burden to carry inside her.

 

Anna froze. She knew her daughter well and could tell that something was wrong, very wrong indeed and, without lifting her hands from the hot water she whispered;

 

“What is it, Maria, what has happened?”

 

“Where is Papa?” Maria replied, avoiding the question.

 

Anna took her hands from the sink and slowly turned to face her daughter.

 

“He is upstairs getting changed, he got home just before you did. Maria, what is wrong?” she persisted.

 

“I have something to tell you both, Mama,” she replied as she went to the bottom of the stairs and called up for her father to come down.

 

Anna dried her trembling hands and sat at the table. She knew in her heart that whatever was troubling her daughter, she was not going to like it.

 

Moments later, Herman appeared, a towel still in his hands, dabbing his face as he sat. He looked worried but was afraid to ask.

 

Maria sat between them.

 

“I have some bad news,” she began at last. “I have to go away.”

 

Anna and Herman looked at each other and then back at Maria. They didn't speak but waited fearfully for her to tell them more in her own time.

 

She took a deep breath.

 

“The Red Cross are sending me to France.”

 

She waited for the news to sink in.

 

“When do you leave?” her father asked.

 

“Maybe Wednesday,” she replied.

 

“Wednesday?” Her mother raised her hand to her mouth, “But that is just two days away!”

 

“I know, Mama,” Maria was struggling to find the words. “I have to go as soon as possible.”

 

“Yes, but Wednesday, Maria. That is barely time to prepare.”

 

“I know, Mama,” she took her mother's hand, “But there really is nothing to prepare. I cannot take much, just a few clothes and personal items that I can fit into one suitcase.”

 

There was a stunned silence before Maria turned to her father.

 

“You have not said much, Papa.”

 

“No,” he replied slowly, “I have been half expecting this to come. I had hoped it never would but...”

 

Without releasing her mother's hand, she gripped her father's and gently squeezed them both.

 

“It is my own fault,” she told them, “I have been too resistant to the Nazi bullies.”

 

Herman smiled and pulled his daughter's hand against his heart.

 

“I know,” he said, “We both do.”

 

“Know what?” she frowned.

 

“We know how you are when someone is suffering. We know about the winter before last, for instance when you almost got beaten in the street and arrested.”

 

“You know? How?” she exclaimed, “I never told anyone.”

 

“You didn't need to. Did you think people wouldn't talk about the brave young nurse who tried to stand up to the Nazi thugs. We knew it was you as soon as we heard the rumours.”

 

“But you said nothing,” she replied.

 

Herman shook his head.

 

“We thought that if you had wanted to tell us, you would have.”

 

Maria turned to her mother.

 

“You knew as well?”

 

Anna also nodded.

 

“I knew something was wrong when you came home, even though you said there wasn't. I put the clues together and, when we heard the rumours, well... You were right, Sweetheart, no secrets, however well intentioned.”

 

“To tell you the truth, Maria,” her father continued, “Your mother and I have been very worried of late that you would get into trouble with the authorities. At least, you will be away from the thugs and villains you despise so much.”

 

Maria's heart melted at that moment.

 

“Oh Papa, Mama,” she sighed, “I was so worried about leaving you both.”

 

“You have grown so well, Maria and your strength has given us strength too,” her father replied, squeezing her hand. “You will be fine, God willing and so will we until you are able able to return safely home.”

 

Maria put her arms around each of them and they remained huddled together, reassuring each other for the next few minutes.

 

Finally, Anna broke their embrace.

 

“I suggest that we make the most of the next forty-eight hours and just enjoy what time we have left before you leave and we will begin right away with dinner. Herman, go and finish getting changed and you, young lady,” she turned to Maria, “You make yourself comfortable because you are doing nothing for the next few hours.”

 

“Mama!” she protested, “Don't be silly, you can't...”

 

“I can!” her mother replied abruptly, “For once you will sit down and I will look after you! You never just sit still, always helping. This time, for once, relax as much as you can and let me do the fussing.”

 

She gave her daughter a tight hug before returning to the sink to finish the washing up.

 

For the remainder of the evening, Maria and her parents made no further mention of her going away, determined to leave all that until the following day. For a few hours, at least, they chatted whilst Anna relaxed with a tapestry she was sewing until the light began to fade.

 

Herman stood up to draw the curtains and Maria also rose and picked up the cold and empty coffee cups from the table.

 

Her mother looked over the top of her spectacles and raised an eyebrow, wagging a finger at her.

 

“Not tonight, Maria, you promised.”

 

“All right, Mama,” she replied with a smile, “I will only take them to the kitchen.”

 

 

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