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The Nurses. Chapter 14.

Maria sets out on the longest journey of her young life.

Munchen-Pasing. June 8 th 1940

 

 

Maria's travel papers had been delivered in person just two days after the surgeon had told her she would be leaving and she was relieved to find that she had a little longer than she thought.

 

The past few days had been somewhat sombre. Her father, Herman, still had to work as usual but she at least had some time with her mother, helping her around the house and preparing for her long train journey.

 

The documents she received had stated that she was to report to the hospital administration office at Nine o'clock on Monday morning but there had been a hand written note attached which had postponed the arrival until Tuesday as the trains were somewhat unreliable due to the situation in France and the priorities given to the troop movements.

 

The extra time they had together had passed in a flash and so, Maria was up bright and early to ensure she had packed all she needed.

 

The final items she placed in her case were the two small boxes in which to keep her grandmother's locket and her nurses watch. These two items alone meant more to her than anything else she owned and she never went anywhere without them.

 

Finally, Maria closed the lid and pressed the two latches slowly into their slots with a gentle click, click and took a deep breath before taking the handle and lifting the case from her bed.

 

She stood for a moment, the case at her side, as she looked for the last time around her room, the only room she had ever slept in and was her own small world.

 

“Are you all right, Sweetheart?”

 

She jumped as she felt her father's hand on her arm.

 

“Yes,” she nodded. “I think so.”

 

“It is time to go,” Herman said gently.

 

They turned and Maria took one last look back into her room and wondered when would be the next time she would see it. Pulling the door quietly closed, she sighed deeply and followed her father down the stairs.

 

Anna was in the kitchen, looking out into the garden. When she heard them approach she turned to face them. Maria could see she had been crying but she had wiped her eyes and was trying to put on a brave face.

 

She smiled and put her arms out to her mother and they embraced and held each other tightly.

 

Maria felt her mother tense not once but twice and then again as she tried to suppress her tears and she gently rubbed her back as they stood together.

 

Finally, they separated and Anna took her daughter's hands in her own.

 

“I will pray every day that God keeps you safe,” she whispered.

 

Maria smiled but was too choked to speak and a single, stray tear fell from her eye and rolled down her cheek.

 

“We must go,” Herman reminded them, gently and they hugged each other once more before a final kiss goodbye.

 

There were no words left in either of them so Maria turned and followed her father to the front door where, for one last time, Maria turned and waved to her mother who smiled weakly and waved back, mouthing the words, 'I love you'.

 

Marie nodded in agreement and then turned away, her heart heavy as she followed her father through the door and out towards the tram stop.

 

It was a sombre journey and lasted about twenty five minutes, stopping every few metres.

 

Maria was totally oblivious of all the people getting on and off as the tram squealed to a halt and buzzed into life again every few minutes until, finally, they were at the central station.

 

Maria's father knew exactly where the train would be and they walked hand in hand through the great arches at the entrance and towards the platform.

 

As they approached the ticket gate, the inspector demanded Maria's documents.

 

Her father glared at him. 

 

"Hans! You know damn well who we are!”

 

The man looked a little sheepish but persisted. 

 

"I know that, Herman but you know we have to be so careful nowadays,” he whispered. “You just don't know who might be watching.”

 

Herman relented.

 

“Yes, that is true, Hans,” he sighed as Maria, already with the documents in her hand, passed them to the ticket inspector.

 

“Amiens! You are going to France, Miss Kaufman?”

 

“I will explain later, Hans,” her father interrupted, “We need to get on now.”

 

Hans smiled sadly.

 

“Good luck, Miss and may God go with you,” he said, handing the papers back to her.

 

“Thank you, Hans,” Maria replied with a half smile, taking the documents and putting them back into her bag.

 

The train was already at the platform, the big black engine at the far end, just outside the canopy was partially obscured by the steam from its cylinders but Maria could vaguely hear it hissing above the general hubbub in the station, like a great living, breathing monster.

 

Herman guided his daughter to the door of the first carriage but Maria stopped suddenly and turned to face him.

 

“Not this one, Papa. This one is first class.”

 

Her father smiled.

 

“That's right,” he replied with a broad smile. “I cannot stop you going but at least I can make your journey more bearable,” and he handed her a small card.

 

“This is your permit to travel,” he said. “First class on all the trains you have to use.”

 

Once again, Maria had to choke back a tear.

 

“Oh, Papa,” she whispered, “I don't know what to say...”

 

“Then don't say anything,” Herman answered her. “You just take good care of yourself and come home safely to you mother and me.”

 

“I will, Papa,” she said, putting her arms around him and hugging him as tightly as she could.

 

Together they stepped up into the carriage and found a seat in an empty compartment.

 

Ensuring his daughter had all she wanted, Herman Kaufman took his leave of her, holding her once more then returning to the platform and hurried away.

 

He could not wait for the train to leave as it had taken all the will power he possessed to let her go and walk away from her.

 

There was another twenty minutes until the train was due to leave so Maria got herself settled into the deep, comfortable seat, ready for the long journey ahead.

 

She had brought some books but, although she had one ready she would not open it until the train had left the Munich boundaries.

 

As she waited patiently for the long minutes to slowly pass, she watched the people as they walked past on the platform or in the corridor.

 

There were many soldiers on the platform, returning from home leave perhaps, mingling with the ordinary folk who were travelling for whatever purpose.

 

In the corridor she saw some well dressed men and women and even a small group of army officers.

 

Maria didn't know much about the army but, as their uniforms were grey and not black or brown she guessed they must be regular army officers.

 

Whistles began blowing and doors slammed, she vaguely heard the engine whistle but it seemed far away.

 

Slowly at first, the platform began to move, seemingly by itself but as the train picked up speed and she could feel the movement, her senses returned to normal and she watched as the station disappeared and they rolled faster and faster through the city.

 

She knew, as she passed under the huge steel arches of the Hackerbrucke, that there was no going back.

 

Moments later she was jolted from her thoughts as the carriage window was obscured by another train standing at a signal. That train was a freight train consisting entirely of wooden wagons with no windows but a vent at one end just below the roof line. She assumed they were for cattle as they had a large sliding door on the side.

 

She watched each one absent mindedly as they passed but then... no, she must have been mistaken, a trick of the light perhaps but she could have sworn she saw a small teddy bear poking through a broken plank on one of the wagons. She craned her neck and pressed her forehead to the carriage window but she could not see the wagon any more, it was obscured by the smoke and steam from the engine.

 

Maria sighed and assumed it was her imagination, her mind remembering her childhood perhaps.

 

She had no more time to consider it as, at that moment, the compartment door slid sharply open and a gruff voice demanded,

 

“Papers please!”

 

She looked up and saw two men. One wore the uniform of a train conductor but the other was wearing just a suit and coat.

 

It was the the latter who had spoken.

 

Maria knew who he was, Gestapo!

 

Without a word she reached into her bag and took out her identity papers and travel documents and passed them into his outstretched hand.

 

She waited patiently whilst this unpleasant looking man looked at her papers, then at her and then back to the papers.

 

He stared at her for a moment.

 

“You are a nurse...”

 

Maria wasn't sure if he was making a statement or asking a question so she said nothing but stared back at him.

 

His eyes narrowed.

 

“A nurse with a first class travel pass...”

 

She still didn't answer but continued to hold his gaze.

 

“You must be a very special nurse,” he stated, “to be travelling first class.”

 

He turned to the conductor.

 

“A little unusual don't you think?”

 

The conductor remained impassive and replied simply,

 

“If you say so.”

 

He turned back to Maria and stared her again but as her documents appeared to be in order, he handed them back to her, not once breaking eye contact until turning away and moving to the next compartment.

 

The conductor raised his eyes, shook his head and, with a sigh and shrug of his shoulders, followed the Gestapo agent to the next compartment.

 

Maria breathed out slowly with relief. She had done nothing wrong and had nothing to fear but, nonetheless, her heart was pounding inexplicably.

 

Any contact with the Gestapo was enough to instil fear into the heart of even the most law abiding of citizens.

 

She turned her attention back to the window and saw that the city buildings had given way to open countryside now, the green fields bathed in the warm sunlight where cows grazed peacefully totally unaware of the plight of their human neighbours.

 

With an inward smile at the idyllic vista, she sat back in her seat and took out a book. She had read it before but she liked it and besides, it would help pass the time.

 

After about two hours Maria felt the train begin to slow. There was a little jolting and swaying as it turned onto a loop and stopped.

 

She looked out of the window and saw they were in the middle of nowhere. All she could see were fields and small clumps of trees.

 

Because Maria had never travelled outside of Munich before she wondered if this was normal and it was many minutes before she discovered the reason.

 

The virtual silence was suddenly shattered as a train thundered by.

 

First, the two huge black engines, belching white smoke and steam and then wagon after wagon containing tanks and other military vehicles. Most were covered in tarpaulins but not all and some of the tanks had the ends of their long guns uncovered.

 

She jumped to her feet and went quickly to the compartment door and watched in amazement as this incredible sight rumbled past.

 

It seemed to take forever but, eventually, the last wagon disappeared and peace returned once more to the carriage.

 

Maria was stunned, she had never seen anything like it and she slowly pulled the door closed again and returned to her seat.

 

Not long afterwards, her carriage gave a small jolt and the train returned to the main line and on with its journey.

 

It didn't seem at all long before the train began to slow again but this time it was stopping at a station, Nuremberg.

 

With a sigh, she realised just how long this journey was going to be. She had been travelling for around three hours now and she hadn't even left Bavaria yet!

 

Once more she turned her attention to the window and watched the passengers milling around on the platform. Some had alighted and others were waiting to board.

 

The door to her compartment slid open and she looked across from the window.

 

A Luftwaffe Officer was ushering an extremely elegant woman inside.

 

The woman smiled at Maria who immediately returned the smile with a cheerful;

 

“Gruss Gott!”

 

The elegant lady return her greeting and sat down opposite her, beside the window as the Officer closed the door. He then sat down beside her.

 

“Gruss Gott, Sister,” he said with a pleasant smile and Maria smiled.

 

“And to you,” she said, politely.

 

She wondered whether they were married or if the woman was just a friend.

 

Soon, the whistles blew and the engine hooted and the train began to move slowly away again as she watched this platform pass by, increasing in speed until it too disappeared and they left the city behind and returned to the steady rhythm of steel wheels on rails.

 

The officer and his wife sat quietly looking out of the window, exchanging a few whispered words from time to time. He had removed his peaked cap and placed it upon the seat beside him. He looked very suave, black hair glistening with pomade and combed back.

 

Maria noticed that he wore a black cross on a black and silver ribbon around his neck.

 

'He must be a pilot,' she thought and immediately blushed as he smiled at her.

 

“Are you travelling far, Sister?” he asked her.

 

“Oh, er, yes, to Amiens,” she stuttered with embarrassment.

 

“Ah, you are going to the war?”

 

Maria wasn't sure how to reply, whether he was asking or just implying.

 

“I am going to the hospital there,” she replied. “I don't know about war though.”

 

“From what I hear the British are just about finished at Dunkirk so by the time you arrive the war will probably be over.”

 

Maria didn't reply. She knew little about the mechanics of war but she did know that people were injured and killed and that families were torn apart. That alone was enough for her to hate it. She could not share in the pleasure that this suave, cocksure officer before he seemed draw from it.

 

She opened her book once more and pretended to read but she could not take in the words. When she reached the end of the page she realized she had absorbed nothing. In her head were a myriad of images that those few words had triggered.

 

Finally, she closed the book and placed it on the seat beside her, turning her attention to the passing countryside once again.

 

Time and again the train pulled into a passing loop so that another military train could pass unhindered. She was no longer drawn to them as all she could think of now was the purpose all that equipment would be put to.

 

The train stopped in Frankfurt for almost an hour and by the time it approached Cologne night had fallen. She had been on the train all day and was still little more than half way to her destination!

 

Slowly, the train squealed to a halt at the platform beneath the high canopy.

 

Maria gathered her belongings and stood up. She had been alone again since Frankfurt after the Luftwaffe Officer and his wife had left.

 

She stepped down onto the platform and took her documents out of her bag to check where she was to spend the night. It seemed that no arrangements had been made for her. There was no mention of a room being provided, just the times of the trains and when she was expected to arrive. She guessed she was expected to stay in the station!

 

“Well,” she thought, “There must be somewhere I can get some sleep.” and with that thought she headed for the ticket gate and passed through to the main concourse and out onto the street.

 

She gasped as her eyes took in the immense cathedral. She had heard of it, of course and seen pictures but they had not prepared her for what, even in the darkness of late evening, was an amazing building.

 

As she stood and looked she became aware that someone was standing near to her and she turned to see who it was.

 

It was a porter from the station.

 

“Are you all right, Sister?” he asked, “Only, you shouldn't be out here alone at this time of night.”

 

“Not really,” she replied, grateful for his presence. “I need somewhere to stay until my train in the morning.”

 

“I see,” he said and rubbed his chin for a moment. “There is a hotel but it is very expensive and is often full. Would you like me to take you there?”

 

“Oh please, yes, would you mind?”

 

“Of course not,” he smiled, “This way...”

 

The porter picked up her suitcase and together they walked around then along the front of the splendid station facade and around the corner.

 

Very soon, she saw the hotel. The porter was right, it did not look cheap at all!

 

The concierge appeared behind the desk as the two of them approached and looked Maria up and down.

 

“Can I help?” he asked with a look of disdain.

 

“This young lady needs a room until her train in the morning,” the porter stated before Maria had a chance to speak.

 

“Well, I'm sorry,” he replied, looking down his nose at her “I only have the penthouse suite which is not occupied and that is Five Hundred Reichsmarks per night.”

 

“Oh gosh!”, Maria gasped, “I can't afford that!”

 

The concierge stood impassively, his nose held high in the air.

 

The porter frowned and looked as though he was about to protest but Maria put her hand on his arm.

 

“It's all right,” she said to him, “I will wait at the station.”

 

The porter shrugged, sighed and picked up her case again.

 

As they turned to leave the concierge stopped them.

 

“Look, what time is your train?” he asked.

 

Maria looked at him,

 

“Six o'clock, why?” she queried.

 

“You can stay in the night office but you must leave by five. There is a comfortable couch in there, big enough to sleep on and you can use the bathroom to wash.”

 

Maria smiled.

 

“Are you sure?” she asked, then added as a thought struck her. “How much will that be?”

 

“Don't worry, I won't charge you,” the man smiled back at her, “Just make sure you are gone before the morning manager arrives at five-thirty!”

 

Maria turned to the porter who was looking at the concierge with a, 'should think so too' kind of look. She took out her purse but the porter held up his hand.

 

“There is no need for that Sister,” he said feigning offence, “It would be a sorry day that I couldn't help a young lady in her time of need.”

 

She thanked him gratefully before he continued.

 

“I hope you get some sleep. Good luck.”

 

“Thank you,” she said as he turned away and returned to his duties at the station.

 

 

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