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The Nurses. Chapter 22

“I didn't, I didn't... They hate me and I did nothing... why do they hate me?"

Amiens. December 24 th 1940

Christmas eve, the first that Maria had spent away from home and she felt it acutely.

She had received a parcel from her mother and father containing a card and some Lebkuchen and Stollen which her mother had made and one or two little tree ornaments 'to help you feel more at home' as they had said in the accompanying letter.

There was also an old 'friend' which, when she saw it brought a lump to her throat and a tear to her eye. It was the little Rauchemann which she always loved and they had not forgotten the incense to burn in it.

She decided that, as she had been unable to convince the authorities to allow her to have a small tree on the ward she would keep the little fellow on her desk and perhaps the smell of the incense would help make her patients feel a little less ill disposed towards her.

It didn't help that the Gestapo and the SS would drop in from time to time and drag people away on one pretext or another. She always tried her best to prevent such things but if they had a specific person on their list nothing and no-one could stop them.

She arrived on ward seven to begin her shift and was immediately met by Hedda and Madeleine.

“Gruss Gott,”

She greeted them in the Bavarian fashion as she always did.

“Good evening, Maria,” they replied and smiled when they saw the little wooden figure in her hand.

“My parents sent him,” she said. “He has been around for as long as I can remember.”

Madaleine sighed,

“It won't do any harm to bring a little Christmas cheer into this God forsaken place.”

“Madaleine!” Hedda chided the young nurse but with a wide grin on her face, “How can you say God has forsaken this place when he has provided us with a Matron like Maria?”

Maria laughed but couldn't help but to blush a little. She didn't say anything but gave Hedda a playful punch on her upper arm.

“Oww...” she said with great exaggeration and rubbing her arm animatedly but laughed also. “Good night, Maria, see you in the morning.”

Madeleine and the other nurses had already begun their duties, moving from bed to bed, taking temperatures, checking dressings and administering medication where necessary.

Maria checked each patients notes, smiling at each one and greeting them with 'Bonsoir, Monsieur' in a effort to make them feel at ease.

Most of her patients were there only for a short time and scowled at her but she was used to it and it only made her more determined to win their trust.

A handful of the patients though had been on her ward for over a week and they smiled, albeit secretively so as not to be ridiculed by the others or be accused of 'fraternising with the enemy'.

Once she had completed her checks and was satisfied that all was as it should be, she went to her desk and separated the two halves of the little Rauchemann and placed a little scented incense inside then struck a match and lit it, quickly refitting the top half of his body.

A tiny plume of smoke began to rise from the small round hole that served for his mouth and soon the ward filled with the aroma of cinnamon.

The night passed without drama. Although she still tried to keep her civilian patients at ease and treat them just as she would her patients at home in Munich, her efforts made little difference when the authorities were constantly in and out looking for this person or that person and once they took someone she would never see them again nor even hear about what happened to them.

The strain was also beginning to take its toll on her nurses. They too tried to make things as pleasant as possible but every time the ward door opened they would freeze and stare until they saw who it was.

On the far wall, at the opposite end of the ward to the door, the large clock ticked away the hours and, as her shift drew to a close she went to her desk to write up her notes about the night's activities.

As she sat down so the telephone on the desk rang and she immediately lifted the receiver and held it to her ear.

“Ward Seven, Matron Kaufmann,” she said automatically, listened and then replied “Oh, yes Ma'am, certainly.” and returned the receiver to it's cradle.

“Madeleine!” she called, rising quickly to her feet, “I have to go and see Senior Matron Eberhardt. Shan't be long.”

The young nurse waved back an acknowledgement and continued with her work.

A few minutes later, Maria stood outside the Senior Matron's office and knocked on the opaque glass.

“Come!” she heard and turned the handle to push open the door.

Matron Eberhardt looked up as she entered and smiled.

“Ah, Matron Kaufmann, Frohe Weihnachnten.” she greeted Maria, looking over the top of her spectacles. “Please, take a seat.”

She indicated the chair on the opposite side of her desk.

As Maria sat, and returned the Christmas greeting, the Senior Matron placed her pen on the blotter in front of her and rested her elbows on the desk with her hands clasped in front of her.

“You have been here several months now, Maria, haven't you?” she began.

Maria nodded her agreement knowing that her senior officer didn't require an actual reply.

“I have been watching you with great interest.”

Maria's stomach dropped and her heart jumped into her mouth. Was she in trouble? She knew she was very unco-operative with the Nazis and decided that she was either in big trouble or the Matron was about to tell her she was sending her to another place... again.

“You have?” she asked nervously.

“I have,” her boss smiled. “Don't worry, I am not about to say anything bad.”

Maria frowned and opened her mouth but the question was answered before she even had a chance to form it.

“I can see it in your face.”

Her mouth closed and she returned the smile.

“No,” the older woman continued, “I have noticed that you have had barely a day off since you arrived and on one of those that you did have you ended up back here anyway!”

Maria remembered the incident clearly.

“I have a pass here for you. You are to take a weeks leave so that you can go home and visit your family for a few days. You leave tomorrow.”

Matron Eberhardt handed her some papers which she took in a stunned silence and looked down at them.

“Oh, well, erm, thank you, Matron. Thank you very much.”

Maria hadn't given a thought as to when she may return home, and now she was going.

“You do want to go home don't you?”

“Oh, oh yes, of course. It is just so unexpected. Thank you,” she replied.

“I will get the other matrons to look after your ward whilst you are away.”

Maria paused for a moment, thinking and then said,

“I don't think there will be a problem, Matron. I will show Madeleine how to fill in the paperwork daily but they should be able to cope for a few days.”

The Senior nurse looked at her through narrowed eyes.

“Yes,” she said eventually, “Yes, I think you are probably right. You have done a tremendous job of training them I have to say.”

Feeling the blood rush to her cheeks, Maria smiled shyly.

“They are good girls,” she said, “Eager to learn.”

“Don't be so modest. Between you and Matron Langsdorf, my work here has been so much easier of late, only...”

“Matron?” Maria raised an eyebrow.

“I do so wish you wouldn't antagonise the authorities as much as you do. I really don't want you to get into trouble with them.”

“But Matron, what they do is so...” she stopped as Senior Matron Eberhardt raised her finger quickly to her lips.

“Not another word, Maria, please. Now go and prepare for your rest, you have earned it.”

Maria smiled and nodded. She was fully aware that her boss was stopping her from saying something that could be overheard so she smiled, thanked her once again and returned to her ward.

On the way back, Maria gave a little skip. She had missed her family so much but hadn't thought for one minute that she would be able to get to see them and even though she had missed the main part of Christmas she would be home to celebrate with them for a few days at least.

She began to hum 'Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum...'.

The sight that greeted her as she passed through the ward doors stopped her in her tracks.

“What is going on here?” she demanded as two men dressed in suits dragged one of her patients from his bed, pushing aside Madeleine and Renatte as they protested.

Maria knew exactly who they were but she had no intention of letting them just walk onto her ward without a protest.

The taller of the two men turned and faced her.

“Geheime Staatspolizei,” he hissed.

Gestapo!

“Your identification, please!” She demanded with heavy sarcasm.

The man's eyes narrowed but she was entirely within her rights to demand them so he reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out a small hard booklet which he opened with thumb and finger, holding it up for her to clearly see the eagle and swastika and his photograph.

There was nothing else she could do to prevent them taking away her patient. She had made her protest, which, she had no doubt had been noted by the Nazi but she couldn't stop them now, any more than all the other times they had appeared and she watched angrily as they dragged the Frenchman out through the doors.

“Damn them!” she cursed under her breath. “I hope they rot in hell!”

The other Frenchmen were silent, as they always were after such an event. They glared at Maria and the other nurses with eyes filled with hatred.

None of them were willing patients. All were victims of accidents or beatings, generally at the hands of the Gestapo. No Frenchman would come to an enemy run hospital willingly but still, Maria tried to make them understand that it was nothing to do with her or her nurses. They were there to help people recover, nothing more.

It was all to no avail, though, so long as the Gestapo took away people for questioning, there would be no trust.

She and Katarina could never share the picnic they had once set out to enjoy. They could never be sure that the next Frenchman who pointed a gun at them would not see them as an enemy to be liquidated.

She sighed deeply and turned back to the ward just in time to see one of the other patients push Renatte away and spit on her.

The young woman froze and then slowly stepped back, wiping her cheek with the back of her hand, her eyes brimming with tears.

“I... I didn't do anything...” she whispered, the shock clearly showing on her face, “I... didn't... do...”

Maria rushed to her side.

“Sale Bosch batards!” the Frenchman hissed, words which Maria didn't understand but could see from his expression that it was something unpleasant.

“Whatever you may think of the Nazis,” she growled at him through clenched teeth, “We are not like them so leave my girls alone!”

The Frenchman just stared at her, eyes full of hatred. He hadn't understood a single word but he knew from her expression that he should say no more.

Renatte stood unmoving but trembling violently.

“I didn't do anything, I didn't,” she said, half to herself.

“Hey, come on now.”

Maria took her shoulders and spoke softly.

“I know you didn't. You are a fine nurse, Renatte.”

“But I didn't, Matron, I didn't, I didn't.”

She was moving her head slowly side to side as she repeated the words and Maria saw that she wasn't looking at her but had withdrawn into herself as though something within her had snapped. The words were just escaping from her mind.

“Madeleine!”

Maria called the other nurse.

“Would you bring me a cup of strong coffee please.”

Madeleine didn't stop to ask why, seeing that her young colleague was struggling, and went quickly, returning moments later with a hot steaming mug.

In the meanwhile, Maria had taken Renatte to her desk and sat her down then found another chair and sat beside her.

Renatte still shook her head slowly, whispered words escaping from her thoughts.

“I didn't, I didn't... They hate me and I did nothing... why do they hate me? I am not a bad person, not a Nazi...”

Maria took her hand and gently stroked it.

“No Renatte, you are not, you are a very good nurse and a caring young woman. They see all Germans as enemies, as Nazis.”

Renatte looked up at her, looking more like a frightened young girl now.

“I can't bear it, Matron, I don't want to be hated I just want to be a good nurse.”

The tears were flowing freely now and Maria could feel a lump forming in her own throat.

“Your are a good nurse, Renatte, an excellent nurse. I am so proud of you.”

“But they hate me, they spit on me...” and once again she lowered her gaze and the salty drops pooled on the desk top.

Just then, Hedda Braun appeared with her nurse shift to take over for the day.

“Good Morning, Maria, Merry Christmas. What has happened?” she asked gently.

Maria explained about the Gestapo visit and the subsequent events.

“Damn them!” she hissed, “Damn them all to Hell!”

Leaving Renatte alone with her coffee for a minute, Maria handed over the nights work to Hedda and then turned to Madeleine who was now kneeling beside her colleague.

“Can you take care of her, Madeleine, see that she gets a good rest?”

“Of course, Matron. She will be better by tonight, you'll see.”

Once all had settled again, Maria sat at her desk.

“Aren't you going to get some sleep too?” Matron Braun asked her, an eyebrow raised.

“Oh yes, in a moment,” she replied, “I just have to make a call.”

A few minutes later Maria knocked on the opaque glass door of the Senior Matrons office.

“Come!”

Senior Matron Eberhardt looked at her over the top of her spectacles.

“You have a request that can't wait I believe, Maria.”

“Yes, Matron, I do. It is about my leave tomorrow.”

“All right, so what can I do?”

“I cannot go, Matron. I would like one of my nurses to go home instead if that is possible.”

The Senior Nurse took off her glasses and laid them carefully on the blotter on her desk.

She looked hard at Maria before speaking.

“You don't want to see your family?” she asked.

“Oh yes, very much so but I cannot go when others need a break more than I do.”

Maria explained about the night's events and about Renatte.

“I think she will be all right if she gets a good rest and going home will help her I think. She is very young and works extremely hard so, if you could let her go instead of me...?”

Her boss didn't reply immediately but just looked at her, studying her for a moment and then sighed.

“I don't think I have ever met anyone who cares so much about others...” she paused, “Although, if appearances are anything to go by, perhaps there is one other.”

Maria smiled. She knew exactly who the matron was thinking of... her friend Katarina.

The Matron took the file from Maria's outstretched hand and went to tear them up but before she did she looked at her younger colleague over her spectacles again.

“You are sure this is what you want?”

Maria gave a half smile and nodded.

There was a pause as her manager studied her again and then sighed.

“All right,” she said and tore through the sheaf of papers.

“Get some rest, Maria and come back this afternoon when you have slept. I will have the new documents ready then. Now, what about the youngster's replacement?”

“Oh, that's fine, Matron,” Maria answered, “We shall be all right for a few days. The ward is not busy at the moment.”

Senior Matron Eberhardt kept her gaze firmly on Maria as though deep in thought.

Eventually she asked,

“Do you think this young girl will come back?”

“Oh yes, I think so. I think she is exhausted, as we all are but after a good rest and time away, I think she will want to return.”

“And what about you, Maria? What about your break?”

Maria was startled at the use of her name. She was used speaking only formally with her boss.

“I am all right, Matron,” she replied, realising that she didn't even know her first name, “Katarina and I look after each other.”

The older woman chuckled.

“Yes,” she said, “I have heard how the two of you like to confuse people by dressing your hair the same way. Did you know some refer to you as the Terrible Two?”

Maria smiled.

“No,” she chuckled, “I didn't.”

As Maria closed the office door behind her she sighed as she thought about not seeing her parents after all.

She decided that she would write to them as soon as she was rested. She wouldn't tell them about the leave she had just declined but would just let them know how much she loved and missed them.

With the activities lately in France, she hoped that things were no worse in Munich but she knew that however bad things might become, her parents would never tell her.

“Gruss Gott, Maria. Frohe Wiehnachten!”

Maria jumped as she felt hands unexpectedly grab her waist.

“Katarina!”

At that moment, no-one could have made her more happy than her friend.

What are you doing here?” she asked, “Have you only just finished?”

“Yes, a long night,” Katarina replied, “I had a number of wounded soldiers brought in and the SS and Gestapo have been in and out ever since.”

“Are you hungry?” Maria asked and Katarina nodded that she was.

“Come on then, let's get some breakfast and you can tell me all about it.”

And so, with linked arms, the two friends walked away towards the canteen.

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