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The Nurses. Chapter 2

A new dawn for Maria

Munchen-Pasing. April 9th, 1933: A New Beginning

 

 

In the quiet Munich suburb of Pasing, a new day was dawning. As was usual, Maria Kaufmann was rising along with the sun.

 

She went to the window and, in the half-light, drew back the curtains and took a deep breath.

 

The light was slowly increasing, but the clear sky was still a deep blue.

 

She smiled as she surveyed the view from her window. It was going to be a beautiful day and not just because of the weather. No, today was Maria's fifteenth birthday.

 

She was growing into a very beautiful young woman. She was tall and slim. Her long blonde hair was hanging loosely around her shoulders and her ice blue eyes twinkled as she looked out at the quiet street below.

 

She turned from the window and put on her grey robe then slowly crept out through the door and down the stairs to the kitchen.

 

The house was an old house that used to belong to her grandparents. Her father had grown up there and when they passed away in nineteen-eighteen, the year she was born, Maria's parents remained. It was a nice house, homely and warm but due to the recession, Germany had suffered terribly, and her parents had struggled to maintain the house. Despite making some life changing decisions and giving up almost everything that was dear to them, had come very close to losing it. Things were improving though and, although not rich, they managed.

 

In the kitchen, Maria busied herself with preparing some breakfast for them all. Her mother and father would be up soon, even though it was Sunday. They were all early risers, so Sunday was just like any other in that respect.

 

It was still only six-fifteen, but she lit the stove and placed a kettle of water upon it. Next she began to slice bread and set three places at the table, Papa at the end and Mama and herself opposite each other at the sides.

 

From the pantry, she took three white eggs and pricked a small hole in the round end of each before placing them in the kettle of water on the stove. Finally, she sliced ham and cheese and placed both onto the plates set on the table before making a pot of coffee for them all.

 

Before long and just as the eggs began to boil, her mother and father appeared at the door.

 

“Good morning, Papa, Good morning, Mama.” Maria smiled at them.

 

“Good morning, Maria,” they both replied to her greeting, “Happy Birthday.”

 

They walked to her and hugged her simultaneously then sat down at the table.

 

Her father, Hermann, clasped his hands together and bowed his head, a signal for Maria and her mother to do the same, then, raising his head and spreading his hands, said:

 

“Come Lord Jesus and be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed.”

 

Maria and her mother, Anna, both responded,

 

“Amen.”

 

Maria jumped up and went back to the stove. The eggs were ready now, and she carefully scooped them out with a spoon, placing one on each of the three plates, then went back and brought the steaming coffee pot to the table where she poured out three cups.

 

She returned the pot carefully to the stove and after ensuring it was turned off, returned to the table and sat with her parents.

 

They ate in silence for a while, enjoying their breakfast until Hermann spoke.

 

“So, Maria. Another year older.”

 

“Yes, Papa. Isn't it wonderful?”

 

Hermann Kaufmann smiled benignly.

 

“You have grown into a beautiful young woman, Maria. A daughter, a father can be very proud of.”

 

"Oh, Papa! thank you." Maria blushed, "I do try my best to be a nice person, but sometimes it isn't easy."

"I don't think you have any need to explain, Maria." her mother rejoined, "We live in dark times, and you shine brightly."

 

"Now, young lady,” her father continued, “I think it is time."

 

"Time Papa? Time for what?" Maria frowned.

 

"Your birthday present of course." her father replied.

 

"As you know, Maria, you should have joined the Bund Deutsche Madel before now, and people at work often ask whether you have."

 

"Oh, but Papa..." Hermann Kaufmann held up his hand to interrupt her.

 

"You have no need to worry, my little one. I know that for a long time you have wanted to be a nurse. Am I right?"

 

Maria looked at him intently.

 

"Oh yes, Papa, very much so."

 

"Well then," he continued, "Your mother and I have spoken at length, and we have managed to get you an interview at Ludwig-Maximilian's University here in Munich."

 

He paused and smiled as Maria's jaw dropped and her ice blue eyes opened wide.

 

"The principal in charge of medicine has assured us that if you pass your final exam at school and impress him at the interview then you will be offered a place there to study nursing. How does that sound?"

 

Maria looked across at her mother, jaw still open, then back at her father.

 

"I...I don't know what to say," she said, slowly, "That is wonderful."

 

Suddenly, she jumped to her feet and ran to her father at the head of the table, throwing her arms around his neck.

 

"Oh, Papa!...Thank you so much." Then she turned to her mother who held out her arms and held her tightly.

 

"Thank you so much, Mama, it is wonderful news, thank you."

 

"Well, Sweetheart, it is up to you now. I know you will work hard, you always do, and I am sure the Professor couldn't fail to be impressed. You just need to be yourself."

 

“When will the interview be, Papa? I will need to prepare.”

 

Her father paused for a moment as if considering his answer carefully.

 

“Well...” he began slowly, “I have spoken to the principal personally, and he says the best opportunity would be...” He paused again, smiling, “Tomorrow morning at eight!”

 

The blood drained from Maria's face.

 

“Tomorrow morning! But Papa, I will never be able to prepare in such a short time!”

 

Hermann Kaufmann took his daughter's hand and held it gently between his own two hands.

 

“Maria,” he spoke gently but firmly. “The Professor does not want you to prepare. He wants to see you just as you are. You will learn all you need to know about nursing at the University. All you have to do is show him that you have the maturity and discipline to be a good student.”

 

She looked imploringly at her mother.

 

Anna Kaufmann smiled.

 

“Don't worry, Maria,” she said, “All who know you are aware of how hard you work and how much you put other's needs before your own. This interview will be just a formality, you will see.”

 

“So, tomorrow morning I will make sure you are awake when I rise at six,” her father continued, “and we will take the tram together, yes?”

 

“Oh yes, Papa, I will enjoy that!” Maria's eyes sparkled with excitement.

 

“I know you will, Sweetheart, but I will leave you at the Hauptbahnhof.” Hermann paused, and Maria waited patiently, “You will have to continue to Marienplatz and then take the bus to the University. Can you do that, do you think?”

 

After a moment's thought, Maria replied.

 

“Oh yes, Papa, I surely can.”

 

Her mind was in a spin. This morning was just another birthday. Maybe not exactly like any other but now, it was the start of a whole new life.

 

Munich was in the grip of the National Socialist Democratic Workers Party, their leader, Adolf Hitler, having been proclaimed Chancellor just a few weeks before, had given rousing speeches.

 

Maria didn't understand politics, but she could see that things were happening. Men in brown uniforms roamed the streets in gangs, but thus far she had seen nothing of the troubles that were beginning to happen in the city.

 

Hermann Kaufmann stood up after they had finished breakfast. As a railway worker, he often had to work Sundays.

 

“Well,” he said, “I must get dressed. The railway cannot run without me.” and laughed, as he always did when he made that same statement.

 

In a way, he was right. He was the shift manager at the central station. He had worked his way up from a porter after being demobilised after the Great War. When Maria was born money had been very tight but he had worked long and hard to support his new family and at times it had been almost impossible, even reaching the point where he had considered selling the house. Together, they had made huge sacrifices to survive. He and Anna had been just twenty years old at the time of his parents death and without adequate income some heartbreaking decisions had been made. Soon, though, through hard work and determination, Hermann Kaufmann had kept both home and family together and begun to make a better life for them. They were not rich by any means, but at least they didn't worry anymore about paying the bills.

 

He went to the bathroom, leaving his wife alone with their daughter.

 

Together they worked in silence, clearing away the dishes, returning the bread to its bin and the remaining ham and cheese to the larder. After cleaning the cups, plates and cutlery and returning them to their rightful places in cupboards and drawers, they swept the floor and scrubbed the work surfaces until they were spotless.

 

Soon after, Maria's father reappeared, smartly dressed in shirt and tie with the grey suit. Trousers neatly pressed with sharp creases and brown shoes polished like mirrors and his hair neatly combed back, glistening with pomade. Over his arm, he carried his raincoat and in his hand he held his trilby hat.

 

Maria noticed a small badge pinned to his lapel, just below his Bavarian Railway badge.

 

It was an eagle with its wings outstretched and in its talons it held a wreath with a swastika.

 

“Papa, what is that?” she asked, pointing.

 

“Oh,” he replied, glancing quickly at his wife, “don't you worry about that, it is just a membership badge.”

 

“Membership of what?” she persisted, “a club?”

 

“No, not a club.” Hermann looked sad, “I suppose you would have to know sometime. In order to keep my position on the railway I have to be a member of the NSDAP.”

 

“The National Socialist Party, Papa? But I thought you didn't like them.”

 

“Maria, you must never say anything like that outside this house!” Hermann's sharp response took her by surprise. “I must leave now, or I will be late.”

 

Her stroked Maria's blonde hair and kissed her forehead.

 

“Your mother will explain it all to you, won't you dear?”

 

He looked at his wife, an apologetic look in his eyes.

 

Anna put her arm around her daughter.

 

“Yes, dear, I will,” She replied and kissed him goodbye. “Have a nice day at work.”

 

Hermann Kaufmann turned and left, the front door closing behind him with a gentle click.

 

Maria turned and looked at her mother, a puzzled look on her face.

 

Anna led her daughter back into the kitchen where they sat face to face at the table.

 

“Maria, you are growing fast now, and we can no longer keep the world hidden from you.”

 

“I know that, Mama, but I don't understand why Papa has joined a group he didn't like.”

 

“Well,” Anna searched hard for the words, “Herr Hitler has decreed that the people in important positions, such as that of your father, must pledge allegiance to the party and to do that, he has to be a member.”

 

Maria was puzzled. She had always been brought up to believe that she had the choice to do as she wished but now...

 

Anna continued.

 

“We cannot afford for your father to lose his position, so he did as he was told and joined. It is very important when you are out that you never say anything against Herr Hitler or his policies. He has brought Germany out from the oppression that held us down. We must be grateful to him.”

 

Maria thought momentarily then smiled.

 

“Alright, Mama, I will only say good things then.”

 

Anna Kaufmann stroked her daughter's face with the back of her fingers.

 

“You are a good girl, Maria. Your father and I are very proud of you.”

 

Maria looked at the clock on the wall. Eight thirty.

 

Papa would not be home before six, and she wondered what she would do for the rest of the day. Already, her mother was busy with cleaning and washing, as she did every day.

 

"Mama?" she asked as Anna scrubbed at a particularly dirty collar of one of her father's shirts.

 

Anna stopped and wiped the hair back from her forehead with the back of her hand as Maria continued.

 

"Mama, do you think we could go for a walk in the park today?"

 

Her mother waited for a moment before answering then replied:

 

"Yes Sweetheart, I don't see why not. It will be nice to take a break for a while. Wait until I finish the washing and I will set your hair before we go."

 

It seemed an eternity until her mother had finished and hung the washing out to dry, but it was only two hours before Anna called her daughter back to the kitchen and told her to sit on the dining chair. Then, standing behind her, took strands of her long blonde hair and plaited them into braids. Finally, she set them around Maria's head in the typical Bavarian style, matching that of her own hair.

 

Closing the door gently behind them, mother and daughter walked arm in arm towards the park.

 

They had to walk through the town to get there.

 

Bavaria being a very religious area, the town was quiet. They passed a few people out for a stroll and greeted them.

 

"Gruss Gott," they would say, and Anna and Maria would smile and say,

 

"Ich auch" or simply repeat, "Gruss Gott."

 

Maria began to notice that some of the shops had stars painted on the windows and the word 'Juden'.

 

"Mama, Why have they done that?" She asked

 

"Shhh...I will explain to you when we get home." They walked on in silence, but Maria remained puzzled.

 

Anna and her daughter chatted happily as they strolled through the park, The bright spring sun bringing joy to their hearts and warming their faces. Time passed quickly, and it seemed like no time at all until she turned to Maria and said, "It is getting late. We must start walking home so we can prepare supper for Papa when he gets home."

 

Maria asked what her mother had planned for them and was very pleased with the reply.

 

"Well," Anna smiled at her, "Because it is your birthday, Papa has bought some pork steaks, and I am going to make Wiener Schnitzel with potatoes and Sauerkraut."

 

"Mmm...Mama, Delicious! It is so long since we had that." Maria skipped a little. This day just couldn't get any better.

 

She put her arm through that of her mother and held it tightly as they walked home. Anna was careful to take a different route this time, being sure to avoid the shops, and remain on roads and paths that took them past houses and apartments.

 

When they got home and removed their outdoor clothes, they went into the kitchen and began to prepare the supper. They worked away in silence until Maria heard a key in the front door.

 

"Papa," she called out, "We are in the kitchen."

 

Hermann Kaufmann hung his coat and hat on the hall stand and went through to the kitchen.

 

The table was laid for three and the smell of cooking filled his nostrils. He smiled.

 

"Mmmm... that smells good."

 

Maria pulled out his chair, and Hermann sat down and watched his wife and daughter as they busied themselves serving up the schnitzels and potatoes.

 

Maria placed the sauerkraut on the table in a dish and sliced some bread and, finally, they sat at the table and Maria's father clasped his hands together but instead of praying, he looked at Maria and said:

 

"Would you like to lead us, Maria, as it is your birthday?"

 

"Yes' Papa, I would." Then she bowed her head and repeated the prayer of thanks her father had recited that morning over breakfast.

 

Hermann and Anna waited until she finished, then together repeated,

 

"Amen."

 

No-one spoke as they ate, enjoying every mouthful. Such a meal was a treat.

 

Placing his knife and fork on his empty plate, Hermann Kaufmann wiped his mouth with his napkin and reached into his pocket and pulled out a small package.

 

“Maria,” he said, turning to his daughter, “what I told you this morning wasn't your only gift.”

 

Maria looked at him curiously and then at the package in his hand.

 

“It wasn't?” she said slowly.

 

“No,” he continued, “I saved this until I could enjoy the time to see you open it.”

 

He handed the package to her.

 

It was a small, velvet-covered box, and Maria took it and looked carefully at it.

 

“Open it, darling.” her mother said, softly.

 

Maria opened the hinged lid, and her eyes opened wide. For there, inside, was a silver and marcasite fob watch and the face was upside down, such as a nurse would have pinned to her uniform.

 

Maria's eyes began to fill with moisture.

 

“Oh, Papa, it is beautiful. Thank you so much.” She stood and leaned over her father and hugged him then went over to her mother and hugged her as well.

 

“Thank you, Mama. This truly is the best day ever.”

 

Anna Kaufmann wiped away a tear and held her daughter tightly.

 

That night, fifteen-year-old Maria Kaufmann lay in her bed, sleep in no hurry to come to her. The memories of the day running round and round inside her head and the worry of the interview in the morning all conspired to keep her awake, but eventually, she drifted off, and the darkness overtook her.

 

 

 

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