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The Nurses. Chapter 4

Tags: nazi, violence

Maria takes the tram home from a long night shift.

Munchen.Pasing. April 9th, 1939.

 

 

Maria Kaufmann awoke in the light-filled room. She looked at the clock on her bedside table.

 

Half past twelve. Five and a half hours since she climbed wearily into bed after getting home after a long night's work at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Hospital.

 

She had finished her shift at six and taken the bus and tram home. It was reasonably quiet at that time on a Sunday morning. There were some people even so, going to work for the essential services that operated all day every day. Shops, offices and factories all closed on a Sunday in Bavaria but, of course, the emergency services, transport services and other such institutions all had to work regardless.

 

She alighted the bus at Marienplatz and walked the few metres to the tram stop. As she waited, a man in a suit and an elegant young woman on each arm walked, well, staggered past. They were laughing, the ladies giggling, as they went by and Maria noticed one of the ladies had a ladder in her stocking, and the other had none at all, but a pencil line drawn, none too straight, up the back of her legs.

 

One of the women saw her looking and smiled. Making the other two stop, she said, “Gruss Gott, Sister. You look tired, going home?”

 

Maria smiled at her, “Gruss Gott. Yes, It has been a long night. You too?”

 

“I think so,” she giggled again and looked at the other two, “but I am not sure whose home.”

 

Maria smiled with her, “Take care now, Miss.”

 

“I will,” she replied as the other two dragged at her arm, “You too,” and, arm in arm, they all gradually disappeared around the corner.

 

Suddenly, Maria heard a crash and a scream from the direction they had disappeared. She jumped up and ran around the corner to see the woman she had just spoken to lying on the ground, the other woman was the one who screamed, and the man was kneeling on the ground beside her.

 

Maria ran over, shouting, “What happened?”

 

“I don't know!” the man said, “One minute she was laughing and the next she pitched forwards onto the ground.”

 

Maria checked the woman's pulse and breathing. Both were fine. Her heartbeat was a little fast but otherwise strong. After checking for any injuries or broken bones and being satisfied, there were none, Maria, with the man's help, turned the young woman onto her back. Immediately she saw the problem, the woman had tripped on the scarf she was carrying, fallen over and passed out from the alcohol she had drunk.

 

“She is all right,” Maria said with a smile, looking down at the silly grin on the recumbent woman’s face, “Does she live nearby?”

 

“Yes,” the other woman replied, “We live just over there,” and pointed to a doorway along the road.

 

“Then I suggest you get her to bed to sleep it off.” She helped them get the now giggling woman to her feet.

 

Behind her, she heard the rumble of an approaching tram and as she turned and looked in the direction of the tram-stop the woman said, “Go, quickly, we can manage here.”

 

Maria looked at the giggling girl, still struggling to stay upright.

 

“No,” she said, “There are others. Come on, let's get you home.”

 

Between them, they managed to get the almost senseless young woman to the door and inside. The stairs were a struggle with much giggling and shushing from the two women, and finally they reached the landing where the two women had an apartment.

 

As the door swung open, the man who was with them went to step inside but the less inebriated of the two women stopped him.

 

“I think you can find your own way home now, Viktor,” she said.

 

“What?” the young man wailed, “But I've never had a nurse before.”

 

“And that is not about to change any time soon!” Maria glared at him, “Now, I suggest you go before you disturb the concierge!”

 

As he tiptoed dejectedly down the stairs, Maria ushered the two women inside where, with a little effort, she got them both into their beds then, after bidding them goodbye, closed the door of their apartment quietly behind them and made her own way back to the tram stop.

 

She didn't have to wait long. At this time of the morning, trams were frequent and soon she was on board and rumbling back towards her own home.

 

Sitting by the window in the half empty tram, she looked sadly at the smashed and burned shops and businesses that had once belonged to Jewish people and had been destroyed just five short months beforehand during a time now known a Kristallnacht. She had been on duty that night, and the suffering had been abhorrent. Families were driven from their homes and savagely beaten before being loaded into trucks and driven away to goodness knows where.

 

She herself had almost become a victim. She had been on her way home, as she was now but after a long day shift and had turned the corner as a group of men were smashing the windows of a tobacconist's shop and dragging the occupants out into the street. One particularly burly attacker grabbed a frail old man and pushed him along toward a waiting lorry. The old man lost his footing and fell forwards onto the cobbles, hitting his head as he fell. She heard his assailant shout:

 

“Come on, you filthy Jew, get up, we haven't got all night!” and swung his foot hard, connecting with the old man's ribs. She heard the cracking of bone and the scream of his wife who ran to him.

 

The burly man raised his hand, in which he was holding a wooden baton and was about to bring it down hard on the head of the old woman when Maria grabbed him, screaming:

 

“No! Stop it, You'll kill them!”

 

The man swung around and raised the baton again, intending to strike her but, as he brought it down, he realised she was a nurse and relaxed his blow, allowing the baton to remain hovering.

 

“Get away from here!” he screamed at her, “This doesn't concern you!”

 

Although it was dark, her bright blue eyes flashed with anger.

 

“Of course it concerns me!” she screamed back at him, “You can't treat people like this.”

 

“People?” he shouted back, “People? These aren't people! These are Jews!” and he swung another kick at the old man, his boot connecting with the man's face, breaking his nose and causing him to lose consciousness. Blood poured out onto the cobbles, mingling with the shards of broken glass that glistened like so many crystals in the flickering flames of what had once been his livelihood.

 

“For God's sake stop!” Maria yelled at him, unable to move now as she was being restrained by several of the people who had gathered around the scene, the tears pouring down her face.

 

He glared at her for a moment.

 

“Perhaps you are a sympathiser,” he growled, pointing the baton at her, the tip just a few centimetres from her face. “A Jew lover maybe?”

 

The man turned once again and shouted to no-one in particular but in her general direction:

 

“Get her out of here before she ends up on the truck with the rest of this lot!” He then turned away and pushed the old woman along with his baton.

 

By this time, the old man had regained some of his senses, and as the people in the crowd pulled her away, Maria saw him being dragged and pushed onto the lorry along with the old woman who was also being struck and beaten by the bully.

 

The tears rolled down her face.

 

“Why won't you help them?” she sobbed as she struggled to break free from the firm grip of a couple of men who were preventing her from returning to the scene. “You know them, you were customers of theirs, you bought your tobacco and cigarettes there! How can you just stand there and let this happen?”

 

“Don't you understand?” a voice close to her hissed, “We are saving your life! It's the Nazi's. You cannot fight them. You will disappear yourself if you try, now go from here, go home, shut yourself away until it is over and don't try to stop them. They will kill you.”

 

Maria heeded the anonymous advice and walked on in shock, broken glass crunching unnoticed beneath her feet until a tram rumbled up beside her.

 

She climbed aboard, numb, and sat silently for the whole journey, just looking at the blazing shops, broken windows and, worst of all, the violence. The beatings, men, women, children. People who had lived their lives here, serving the community, friends, neighbours, now unwelcome and being treated worse than animals. She saw lorries being loaded with people and their properties destroyed. The scenes she had witnessed this night would haunt her for the rest of her life.

 

When she got home, that day, she went straight to bed with the briefest of greetings to her parents, and she never told them what she had witnessed.

 

“Have you been crying, Sweetheart?” her mother asked with a frown, “Your eyes look a little red and sore.”

 

“No, Mama,” Maria lied. Something she had never done before to her mother, but she couldn't bear to tell her about the things she had seen. “I am just tired, It has been such a long night.”

 

She smiled weakly, rubbed here eyes with her fingertips and left it at that.

 

She lay alone in her bed that night and cried softly until there were no more tears left and she slept little. The few hours she did get were haunted by terrible dreams of flames and violence.

 

That though, was five months ago to the day but this day was different. The streets were quiet and the tram was almost empty as it rumbled along taking her home.

 

Just before the end of the line, she alighted the tram and walked the last hundred metres wearily to her home. She passed the kitchen where her mother was making coffee.

 

Hearing her enter, Anna Kaufmann turned to the doorway and smiled, “Good Morning, Maria. How was your shift?”

 

“Good morning, Mama. Long and tiring as they always are these days.” Maria related the episode at the tram stop.

 

Her mother stepped towards her and cupped her cheek with her hand.

 

“You never stop.” she said. “If only there were more like you, the world would be a much better place.”

 

“No, Mama. I will never stop caring and helping.” Maria tilted her head slightly, against her mother's touch, feeling her love, “But now, I must sleep. Goodnight, Mama.”

 

“Goodnight, Maria. Sleep well.”

 

Four short hours later, Maria blinked and rubbed her eyes. They were dry and gritty and felt hot from such a short rest. She didn't mind working the night shift but she could never sleep during the day and by the last shift, of the week, as last night had been, she was always exhausted. At least today she could enjoy her birthday with the knowledge that tonight she could return to her bed and sleep, instead of having to go back to work.

 

Throwing back the blankets, Maria swung her legs over the side and placed her feet in her slippers, which were beside the bed, and pulled on her robe. She sat for a minute on the side of the bed, her face in her hands whilst she gathered her thoughts and brought herself to wakefulness.

 

At last, she stood and walked over to the window and drew back the curtains, letting the bright daylight fill the room. She winced, the light hurt her tired eyes but soon, they adjusted and this dishevelled young woman turned away from the window and went downstairs to the kitchen to find coffee.

 

The room was empty so she put the pot on the stove before going to the larder for some bread and margarine. Butter was a luxury that she hadn't seen for a long time. She wouldn't have a big breakfast, it was too late in the day for that, so, a slice or two of bread and maybe a little jam.

 

It wasn't long before the coffee was ready and she sat down at the table and poured herself a large cup.

 

As she sat and sipped at the hot dark liquid, she heard her mother in the living room, no doubt cleaning and dusting, as she always did and, gradually, the life began to return to her weary body.

 

A few minutes later, Anna appeared in the doorway.

 

“I thought I smelled coffee,” she said. “Happy birthday my darling.”

 

“Thank you, Mama,” Maria replied, “Would you like some?”

 

She poured another cup whilst her mother sat at the table opposite her.

 

“Where is Papa?” Maria asked, half guessing the answer.

 

“He is at work again, I'm afraid. He will be home soon. He went in at five this morning, so I expect him back around three-thirty.”

 

“Mama, will you tell me something?” Maria looked at her mother with a solemn look on her face. "Does Papa have anything to do with the Jews and how they are treated?”

 

Anna Kaufmann didn't answer immediately. She looked down at the table. After what seemed, to Maria at least, an eternity, Anna looked at her daughter.

 

“Your father,” she began, hesitantly, “works for the railway and the railway does indeed transport the Jews.” She paused for a moment. “You are fully aware that he is a manager at the main station and, therefore, does not have any contact with such matters but please, Maria, do not ask him such a question. He is unhappy enough that he works for the railway that is used for this purpose.”

 

“I won't, Mama. I just needed to know. I have seen how bad things are, and I hoped that he did not have to manage such things.”

 

“Well, he doesn't, Sweetheart, so you have no need to worry.”

 

They sat and finished their coffee in silence and Maria cleared away her plate and their cups.

 

Anna stood and put her arm around her daughter's shoulder.

 

“These are bad times, Maria, You know your father would never hurt an animal, never mind a person.”

 

“I know, Mama,” Maria replied, “but such terrible things are happening and I feel so helpless. I do what I can but we are not allowed to help and besides, the leaders have no interest in hospitals. We have little supplies and very few staff now. They don't seem to care that they took away most of our highest qualified doctors.”

 

“I know, my love,” Anna could think of nothing else to say as she pulled her daughter closer to her, “I know.”

 

Later that afternoon, at precisely three-thirty, Herman Kaufmann walked through the front door, closing it gently behind him. Maria didn't run to him but waited in the kitchen where she already had coffee percolating on the stove.

 

“Happy birthday, Sweetheart.” He said, handing her a large bouquet of flowers.

 

”Oh, Papa!” she exclaimed, “How beautiful, Thank you.” and kissed him tenderly.

 

“And for you, my love.” he said, handing a smaller but equally beautiful bouquet to his wife.

 

Anna kissed and thanked him .

 

“How was your day?” she asked him.

 

“Hmm, busier than usual. I think something is happening. A lot of soldiers have been going through the station today. I don't know where they were going as I only deal with scheduled trains but something is definitely going on.”

 

“Well, sit here, Papa, and relax.” Maria interrupted, “I have poured some coffee and Mama and I will begin dinner when we have finished it.”

 

Hermann held his daughter's hand and gave it a little squeeze.

 

“Ever, the thoughtful one.” he smiled.

 

As Maria poured the coffee, Herman reached into his pocket and as he did so, looked at his daughter.

 

"As you know," he began, "when you were born, your mother and I had very little money and it was all we could do to keep the house that your grandparents had worked so hard to afford. The war and then the depression meant we had to sell almost everything we had and we had to make some very tough decisions."

 

"Yes, Papa," she said solemnly, "I remember you telling me."

 

"Well," Herman continued, "We came very close to losing everything, but one thing we could not part with was this." He took his hand from his pocket and gave her a small box.

 

"Papa, What is it?" she asked.

 

Herman didn't answer but indicated that she should open it.

 

Slowly, Maria lifted the lid off the box and inside she saw a small gold ornate locket.

 

"Papa..."

 

Neither Herman nor Anna spoke as she took out the locket and carefully opened it. Inside were two tiny pictures, a man and a woman.

 

"Grandma and Grandpa?" she asked.

 

"Yes," her mother replied. "It was all we had left and kept it to pass to you on your twenty-first birthday."

 

Maria just looked at the beautiful gold piece with tear filled eyes until, looking at her parents, she quietly spoke.

 

"This is all you have left of your whole life?"

 

"Yes," her father answered, "That and the house." He paused momentarily, "And, of course, you."

 

As Herman recalled the desperate situation they were in back then his eyes too filled with moisture as though something terrible had happened that he couldn't change.

 

"We had to sell everything we had, just to keep this house and to feed you and your..." he stopped.

 

"My what, Papa?" Maria was puzzled

 

Herman took out a handkerchief and blew his nose loudly.

 

"Your Mother." he said finally, "Your Mother."

 

Anna Kaufmann quickly joined the conversation.

 

"Maria. Your Father and I have discussed the locket at length. Your Grandmother always said that she wanted our first daughter to have it but sadly, she was not here when you were born, as you know."

 

"I know, Mama, and she looks like she was a lovely person as you always said she was."

 

"Yes, well, we have decided that it is fine if you wish to replace the pictures as you never knew either of them."

 

"Mama." Maria said, "I would like you and Papa in here and I would also like my husband to be with me in here but, you two are here and my husband has not yet entered my life so, for now at least, I would like to keep Grandma and Grandpa just as they are."

 

Anna looked at her daughter with admiration.

 

"You know," she said, with a loving smile, "That is the answer I should have expected from you, Sweetheart."

 

 

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