All the Beauty
Since this is supposed to be a blog about writing, I thought I'd post some actual writing for a change. Actually, I've been wanting to post this story for quite a while, but it was entered in the lesson six contest at F2K so I didn't want to 'publish' it anywhere else. It didn't win the final competition, but I'm happy with it nonetheless.
For lesson six of F2K we had to write a complete story with a beginning, middle and end incorporating everything we'd learned over the session. We also had to keep it under 1,500 words. That's always a challenge for me, but I find the limit actually forces me to choose my words carefully. Ultimately I think it results in a tighter story.
My story is actually a fictionalized account of a very real person, Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum. If you can get your hands on this great documentary about him, and many other brave individuals from WWII, Unlikely Heroes, I would highly recommend it. I hope I did him justice in this very short story.
Here it is...
“Josanna, you know we aren’t allowed to go outside when papa isn’t home,” Aaron said as he gently guided his little sister away from the door. She protested briefly then dropped her arms to her sides.
“I know. I just want to go outside and play with my friends.” She looked up at him. “We haven’t been able to go out since—“
“Since momma died. I know, now go set the table so we can get dinner ready for papa.” She nodded then ambled to the kitchen. Before Aaron could join her, a familiar knock came to the door.
“Aaron it’s me,” came papa’s voice from outside the door. Aaron glanced at the clock on the mantle. It was only half past four. Papa was home early.
“Coming papa!” Aaron dashed to the door and unlocked it. Papa opened it quickly and pushed it closed behind him, resting his body against the frame.
“Where’s your sister?”
“She’s in the kitchen getting—“
“Has anyone come to the door today?” Papa asked as he walked to the window and peeked through the curtains to the street below.
“No papa. What’s wrong?”
“They came right into his home and took his family.” His father seemed to be watching something.
“Whose family papa?”
“The Meyers.” Aaron noticed papa gripping the curtain tightly. “They just kicked in their door, and…”
“And what papa?”
“Nevermind son. Go help your sister with dinner. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Aaron left papa and went into the kitchen to find his sister. She was busy setting plates and utensils on the dining table. He was about to check the goulash on the stove when a tremendous racket erupted from the front room. Josanna dropped one of the plates on the floor. Aaron couldn’t even hear it hit.
“Josanna!” he shouted as his sister ran to papa.
The door was hanging askew in its frame; papa was standing between Josanna and an angry man in uniform. Aaron recognized the outfit as those worn by the dreaded SS. A bright red armband stood out against a sea of black, and Aaron could see the silver SS emblem on the man’s lapel. The man was yelling violent words and pushing papa. Aaron placed his hands on Josanna’s ears.
“Don’t lie to me Jew dog! Your neighbors have told us everything. Get your papers and come with me.” He spat out every word.
“They are in the bedroom—“
“Then go get them dog!” The man kicked over the little table next to the couch, sending a lamp crashing to the floor. Josanna cowered against Aaron.
“Please don’t hurt my children,” said Papa backing out of the room.
“Mach schnell!” The man balled up his fists. Beads of sweat broke out across his brow.
Papa ran to the bedroom. Aaron could hear him rifling through drawers. “I’ve found them!” He hurried back and pushed the papers into the man’s hands.
The man glanced at the papers, folded them, then put them in the inside pocket of his jacket. “You will come with me now!”
“Please, take me. Leave my children—“
“Now!” bellowed the man. He grabbed Josanna by the arm, yanking her from Aaron’s grasp. She screamed in terror as he drug her towards the door.
“We will come with you, just please don’t hurt the children.” Papa took Aaron by the shoulder and guided him out the door and into the hallway of the apartment building. Aaron noticed someone looking out the crack of an open door across the hall.
“Down the stairs,” ordered the man. Papa kept himself between the man and Aaron. Josanna reached for her father, but the man kept a firm grip.
When they were in the foyer, they ran into one of Josanna’s school mates, Mary. She was standing with her mother looking at them with wide eyes. Her mother grabbed her shoulder and held her tightly.
“Where are you taking Josanna?” she asked. Her mother tried to put a hand over the child’s mouth, but she squirmed away.
“That is none of your concern little vermin. Now go and tell all of the other vermin that we will find them and take them to the camps!” The man pushed Josanna forward and out the front door towards a big black sedan. He opened the door and shoved Josanna up front. He drew his pistol and motioned for papa and Aaron to get in the back.
“Please don’t hurt her. We’ll do as you ask.” Papa opened the back door, and Aaron slid across the seat and next to the window. Papa sat down next to him, and the officer closed the door. Aaron felt like all of the air had been sucked out of his lungs. He stared out the window. It was beginning to rain, and there was no one on the street.
The man started the car, its massive engine roaring to life. The car lurched onto the roadway and sped forward. Josanna peeked cautiously over the seat at Papa. Aaron could see him mouthing reassurances to her. He motioned for her to sit back down. She did so as the car slowed and took up a steady pace.
“I must apologize,” said the man. Silence. “It was necessary to keep up appearances.” More silence. The man guided the car around a corner and onto an avenue that paralleled the mighty Danube. “There are informants everywhere. They had to believe that you were really being taken to the camps.”
“I don’t…” Papa couldn’t seem to get out any more words.
“There isn’t much time I’m afraid. We must get to the glass house quickly. The Nazis are rounding up everyone.”
“The glass house?” asked papa feebly.
“Yes, it’s a safe house established by the underground. Ambassador Lutz is writing letters of protection for as many Jewish families as he can.”
“So you’re not a Nazi?” Papa stared at the man. Aaron looked from his papa back to the man.
“I am Pinchas Rosenbaum, member of the Jewish Youth.” He smiled and nodded. Josanna peeked over the seat again as if looking for answers in her father’s face.
“Rosenbaum…the Rabbi’s son?”
“How is the Rabbi?” Papa leaned forward, placing a hand on the seat.
“Dead,” said Pinchas.
“And your mother—“
“Dead. All of them dead. Murdered by the Nazis.” Pinchas gripped the wheel tightly, and turned the car onto the next street.
“But what about—“
Pinchas slammed on the brakes and brought the big car skittering to a stop. He managed to put out his arm to keep Josanna from hitting the dash. There were people in the street, lying in the street. A soldier held up a hand and approached the car.
“You must all keep quiet. Don’t say a word unless spoken to.” Pinchas looked back at Aaron and then glanced at Josanna. He rolled down the window.
“What is the problem here soldier?” asked Pinchas.
“Damn filthy vermin trying to escape.” The soldier pointed to the man lying in the street. A woman was kneeling over him crying. Aaron saw a ring of red forming on the man’s shirt. “Where are you headed sir?”
“To the camps.”
The man looked at him oddly. “Aren’t the camps back that way?” Aaron could see Pinchas slowly moving his hand towards his holstered pistol.
“There is one other stop I must make first,” said Pinchas.
The man gave a curt nod. “Certainly sir. Do you have room for one more of the vermin in your car?” He gestured towards the woman in the street.
The soldier walked to the woman, and pulled her up hard by the arm. She wailed, and reached out for the man lying in the street.
“In the car vermin!” The soldier opened the back door, and shoved the woman in next to Aaron. “Thank you sir, that’s one less on the streets.” He tapped the roof of the car signaling that they were all set. Pinchas nodded and rolled the car forward.
Aaron strained to see over the woman as they steered past the man lying in the street. A barrage of gunfire rang out in the distance.
“What was that?” asked Aaron.
The woman spoke quietly. “The Nazis are lining up men, women and children along the banks of the Danube and executing them. The river runs red with their blood.”
They sat in silence until Pinchas pulled the car into an alley behind a big brick building. Aaron watched as he got out and walked up to the back door. He knocked several times and waited. The door opened halfway, and Pinchas motioned for them to get out of the car.
He ushered them inside. Papa shook his hand, but couldn’t manage any words. The two men just nodded at each other. Pinchas turned towards Aaron and placed a hand on his shoulder, looking directly into his eyes.
“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”