you are safe here...

chapter 9.

the town was different, it was if he had seen very little war, almost everything was still in tact. johnathon even found two small cows and tied them to the back of the cart. we never knew how long they would last because they were the first thing taken by the soldiers for meat, but as long as we did have them they would provide milk for the children.

we found an empty house and crowded in, we found stale bread in the next house over but we had the delicacy of fresh milk and the two were an ideal dinner. we had no long we were going to be permitted to stay, but for tonight we were content.

i walked out the front door the next morning to find five soldiers standing by the cart, they were all carrying guns and i could see that they had already taken the two cows and our ox somewhere.

a german soldier lit up a cigarette and walked toward me.

         ‘are you russian?’

         ‘no we are polish, we are on our way home, we will be on our way this morning if we can retrieve our ox.’

         ‘that won’t be necessary, russia has need of you. i see that you know cattle is that true?’

         ‘no, we just found those on the side of the road yesterday. i have many thirsty children and i wanted to give them fresh milk.’

         ‘so you stole the cows?’

         ‘no, not at all, the cows belonged to no one.’

         ‘your going to come with us, all of you. pack up what you can carry, the cart will be fine here.’

my thoughts raced, am i to be arrested? are they going to take us to a gathering camp? i won’t let them take helen again, my God in heaven i won’t let helen out of my sight ever again.

we packed up what we could, and the russians took us many kilometers west, we were now in poland. they lead us to a larger barn and told us that we could stay in there tonight, they left us a little bread and said they would be back in the morning to get us.

         ‘should we run?’

         ‘i don’t know, have you looked outside the barn? there are at least thirty soldiers walking about.’

         ‘where are we? what is this place.’

         ‘i can’t tell. at all.’

         ‘ i don’t hear any guns or artillery.’

         ‘i will stay up tonight, if i see a chance to get us out of here safely we are going to take it.’

that moment never came, i sat up all night, but it seemed like the russian soldiers did to. the next morning we were awoken to the front of the barn door being pounded upon.

         ‘get up, all of you. the men and women will be coming with me, you can choose one women to stay behind and watch the children, but only one of you.

         ‘when will we be back?’

         ‘when your done.’

they took us in a truck not a kilometer down the road as we rounded the corner we saw a large farm with over 1500 cattle, we all looked at each other with a sense of relief.

         ‘this will be the farm you work on, we will tell you when you can leave in the evening, you will walk down this road to get back to your children. if you try to escape remember that we have your children back at the barn.’

we began to work with the cattle right away, even though the majority of us had never worked on a farm before. the russians thought that they had captured us, taken us to work but in all reality this was the greatest stroke of luck that we had received since the war began.

our jobs were to milk the cows each day, and there were five separate farms in all that we had to attend to. they also had other herds in fenced in pastures, to the point where i could not tell you the exact number of cattle that they had.

they taught the men how to use the equipment to make butter. we were overwhelmed, not because making butter was hard, but because we had so much to do every day and not enough time to do it in. we had very little time to eat, we had little time to sleep, but we felt safe. it was easier on the women because they could take turns staying back and watching the children, more then once they let two women stay behind, because there were so many children under one years old.

         ‘look there,’ mother bettig said. ‘there is a group of people coming.’

         ‘there walking up the road this way, i see soldiers.’

         ‘anton they are coming here.’

         ‘take helen and the rest of the women and go hide yourselves in the hay in the loft.’

mother bettig ran off and a few of the men joined me at the barn entrance, as the soldiers approached i began to hear voices, not soldiers but of children. as the guards go a few paces from entrance of the barn they broke off to reveal at least twenty more frightened men, women, and children.

father bettig called for the women, and we went outside to help them inside with their things.

         ‘i am nicolai,’ one of the men who approached me first said.

         ‘and i am anton, and these are my family and my community. where are you from?’

         ‘we are from kiev, displaced to germany, and now on our way back.’

         ‘we come from the ukraine as well, we were in germany as well and have been doing well to avoid a trek back to russia.’

         ‘what are they doing with us here, is this a gathering camp? i do not think some of the older family members would survive a trip back.’

         ‘no, this is a farm, we feed the russian soldiers with milk and butter, and occasionally meet. we have done well to be here. my children go to sleep every night with milk on their belly. the women take turns watching the children, the work may be hard but the russians need us, so because of our job we are safe.’

         ‘i have not had bread in a day, do you have anything that might satisfy my families hunger?.

         ‘of course nicolai. please come meet my family, eat with us.’

helen had already began her extraordinary gift of hospitality and was passing out food, nursing wounds, washing clothes, and even offering to bathe the smallest children. my heart races when i watch her work like this,  to watch as she cares for people, and as she takes care of my children.

the workload lightened a little, not a lot like we expected with so many new men and women.  with the influx of more able hands came the influx of higher expectations from the russians. 

a russian came to the barn one morning where we were beginning our walk to the various farms, he asked if they needed one person to go and bake bread, and since they only needed one i was not going to send helen, or any women for that matter to be by themselves. i volunteered, i did not think they would let me since i was a man in my prime and could be better served with the cattle, but they were desperate and allowed me to proceed.

i must admit i had only seen bread baked, and tried my hand at it very few times. but for some reason the soldiers enjoyed how i made bread, my mother in law showed me what to do with the ingredients and after awhile it was rather rote.

         ‘where are you from comrade?’ an officer asked after being in the kitchen for over a month.

         ‘the ukaine, HOMETOWN to be specific.’

         ‘HA! that is it, this bread tastes like home, i to am from your hometown!’

         ‘from now on take whatever bread you want home with you to your family, we are practically neighbors friend! when this war is over we will see each other back in the ukraine and you will bake bread for me there as well! and i will show you my small farm and you may have what you like from my garden!’

         ‘thank you friend, if you bring me sugar i will make you sweet bread as well, just for you.’

         ‘this is a deal, i will see that you get whatever you need in the kitchen to make this bread! and i will expect it tomorrow.’

i have no idea how to make sweetbread, so that night i had mother write down the recipe and i hoped that i would be able to recreate it the next morning. she laughed and said that she had never seen a grown man so interested in baking before.

the next day i asked for extra of every ingredient i needed, that way i can try my hand at baking the sweet bread and can fail many times before i get it right, but mothers instructions were perfect the first time. this was a good day.

         ‘this is WONDERFUL anton,’ the boisterous russian officer said. ‘i want this every day from now on, and tomorrow you will make it for all the officers. i will see that you get these ingredients each morning, and if there are any other baked goods you know how to make then please, ask for ingredients.’

i had found favor, something more valuable than gold in a war. with so many ingredients left i made more sweet bread in between baking mass amounts of breads for all the soldiers, and everyone on each farm. i wrapped 40 pieces of sweetbread into napkins and placed them in the basket i normally take bread home in.

that night i gathered all the children around, i sat them down and said how good they have been and that they deserved a special treat for being so good to their mothers. i passed out the sweet bread and watched as their faces glowed and laughed between each bite. it was a good day.

the officer and i would talk almost every day, we had discovered we knew many people and both of our brothers were killed in the russian revolution.  he wanted to know more about my older brother but i told him that that was all i knew, because i was so young.

         ‘what are you doing in a kitchen? you are a healthy young man, you should be fighting for russia  not baking soldiers bread!’

         ‘i have a family, there are 22 of us in all. my wife has two little children and i would not want to leave them for the front. i am well into my thirties, war is a boys game. ‘

he laughed in his normal boisterous manner 

         ‘you  are right, men like us should be telling people what to do, not being told what to do. have you worked on the farms yet?’

         ‘yes, when we first arrived i milked the cows, mended the fences, herded the cattle, and operated the machinery for butter.’

         ‘then you will tell men what to do, starting tomorrow you will be in charge of the nearest farm. you will find me a replacement who makes sweet bread as good as you do, and you will report only to me.’

         ‘my mother in law has taught me all i know about bread, she can start tomorrow morning.’ and then i admitted that i had never made sweet bread before baking it for him. i believed he loved me even more for the honesty. i was glad mother was taking over, she was getting older and needed to indoors and not working in the fields underneath the sun everyday.

managing a farm was not hard work, but tiring none the less. i had to make sure that each and every person pulled their weight each day at the farms, which is hard because i am friends or family with these people. the russian army was very strict and wanted to know how much milk each cow produced, counting in and out every cow every morning and every night.

i was up before dawn and coming in well after sundown. but we were safe, and well fed, and i would give up any amount of sleep for such as this. i helped with cleaning out the stalls each day, i could not order someone to do a job that i myself would not do so each day i was assisting whomever was called to do it that day, every cow was to be milked, which i put helen to work on since she could sit down most of the day.

the people were hard workers, they were all afraid of the russians and i protected them. i also made sure that no one went hungry, when the russians cut down our rations of bread i made the case for them, for if they ‘don’t eat well they cannot work hard.’

the officer loved my hard work ethic and made opalko and father bettig managers of neighboring farms. they would come home night after night talking about what new people they had met, all refugees, all russian or polish immigrants like us.

 

one evening, in may of 1945, i was returning from my farm when  i saw mother running frantically from the kitchen, her arms full of bread.

         ‘mother, mother! why are you running, what has happened?’ i yelled as i began to chaser her.

she did not slow down or stop, she was running right towards the road as if she had stolen this bread, and was trying to escape.

         i chased her all the way and when i got there i saw….

hundreds and hundreds of german soldiers, lined up, marching west. they looked sick, their pale white skeletons hanging on to the shackle of the person ahead of them. mother began to toss bread into the sea of nazi soldiers.

        

         ‘paul! paul!’ she was yelling. she was screaming out for her son, earnestly searching through the faces of the soldiers to recognize her own.

russian machine guns were shot into the air,

         ‘you there! stoy! do not throw bread to them or we will shoot you.’

mother still stood there with the pieces of bread resting at her feet tears in her eyes, still crying out softly for her peter. she and i stood there till all the soldiers had marched by each one, so hungry and thirsty. each one, not paul.

         ‘i miss him,’ mother said in between soft sobs. ‘i lay awake at night wondering if i will ever see paul again. what if he is dead, what if i have passed his body along the road. what if he is starving in a prison camp. my heart hurts every night, every hour of every day.’

there is a bond between a mother and a child that i have learned men will never quite understand, perhaps it is innate, perhaps it is in their spirit, buried in their soul.

        

         ‘what can i do for you my baker friend!’ my officer said.

         ‘i have come to thank you for protecting my family, and seeing to it that my friends go to sleep with bread and milk.’

         ‘well we are to grow old in the same town, together. it is the least i can do.’

         ‘there is something i would like to request, if you say no i understand. i do not want special treatment here but if there is any way to mend a broken mothers heart then i would ask that i could go back to our home of nieder bielau and search for her son who taken from her and forced into the german army, we would also like to go gather our personal items from our home.’

         ‘how long will this take you anton.’

         ‘this should not take long at all, i will take only one more man, and we will be on wagon.’

         ‘go. and return as fast as you leave. you manage your farm well and i cannot have production down with you gone.’

         ‘i will talk to the people, and beg them to work twice as hard in my absence.’

and i did talk to them, and my family promised to do so, and encouraged our friends to do the same. mother bettig saw us off, praying and blessing our trip. it was just marcus and i, and we set out with a little bread, and a little milk, and high hopes.

         the road was no different, except this time we had papers from my officer, which was even more astounding and useful then the polish papers. russian enlisted would not even look us in the eyes after reading the paper, and sent us on our way.

a few days later we arrived in nieder bielau, but it looked nothing like the town i remembered. father bettigs house was obliterated, every last piece of his home was left in pieces scattered about. hopefully paul was not here.

the place was deserted, there was traces of human life existed here, but no longer. a makeshift flagpole and russian flag loomed over the village, and smoke and a smoldering burning house darkened the sky across the village.

there were very few things in marcus’ house, nothing of use for him now. as like many forsaken and derelict towns the place was completely overgrown with weeds, everything was portentously quiet as well. it seemed marcus and i were the only ones alive here.

chapter 10.

on our way to my apartment we stopped in the forest to dig up our posessions we had buried in the ground, marcus went to his spot and i to mine.

         ‘they must have known it was here, everything i had is gone.’

         ‘i do not think it was the russians. i think it was those who had stayed behind looking for anything they could use to bribe whichever army was occupying the town.’

         ‘did you find anything of yours.’

         ‘nothing, nothing at all.’

we grabbed the cart, empty of anything and everything we came for (including paul) and went on our way. when we reached my apartment it was apparent that it was completely ransacked, there was absolutely nothing left inside my humble home.

         ‘there is nothing, nothing at all here. this town has been condemned and now we are leaving empty handed with not so much as news of whats become of our neighbors, friends, or family.’ i said in disappointment.

         ‘well no one can say that we are a materialistic people, we have never owned anything for more than a couple of days!’ we both laughed and headed toward the door.

         ‘wait, did you hear that?’

         ‘hear what?’

         ‘don’t move.’

         ‘lay down, there could be a sniper still hiding in these buildings.’

         ‘why?’

         ‘they wait in villages like this, for any type of enemy stragglers, they wait for days, weeks!’

         ‘whoever they are they are in this building, quiet now.’

we waited there for at least a half an hour flat on our bellies and away from the windows.

         ‘there listen its coming from above us.’

we heard a slow walk in the apartment above us, they knew we were here, we knew they were here. whoever it was they were walking out of their room. they were slowly, stealthily walking down the stairs. step. by step. by step. such light footsteps. as they reached our apartment floor they waited.

                  ‘hello?’ a small woman’s voice stumbled in german.

marcus and i looked at each other confused.

                  ‘hello, is anyone there?’

it was my neighbor, who used to live right next to helen and i.

‘hello, its anton, your neighbor!’ i said as i got off my stomach and headed toward the door.

         ‘anton, it is so good to see you. how have you been, is your family alive?’

‘yes, they are fine, we are working at a russian camp several kilometers from here. are you here alone?’

‘yes, i am the last one in the apartment, perhaps the last in town.’

‘what happened here?’

         ‘the germans had the town in their grasp, then one day we were hit by artillery, it was horrible, the ground shook for days. but i stayed. right here, right here in my aparment.’

‘alone? where is your husband.’

         ‘he is dead. killed by a russian soldier who took him for a spy. he was an old man, and never hurt a soul. the russians stayed here for 6 weeks then moved east. they had done all they could do to us here, i guess they needed to move on to terrorize another town.’

‘i am so sorry that you lost your husband. he was a good man.’

         ‘thank you, i miss him every day. you know several months ago boy came here looking for you, he knocked on every door in the apartment, he was in a uniform so i did not answer the door, but after he yelled through the door that he was looking for your wife, helen, i answered.’

‘was his name paul?’

         ‘yes! that was it, i had felt terrible that i forgot his name. he told me that if anyone came looking for him that i should tell them that he has gone to burkesdorf, to wait at his brother-in-laws home. is that your home?’

‘yes, my family lived there many many years ago, i do not know if anyone is there anymore.’ wondering to myself if any one of them were even alive.  ‘come with us, you can collect your things and ride on an ox back to the farm, we can take care of you there.’

         ‘no, no. my husband is here, if any of my boys return from war they will never be able to fine me;  i was born here, and i will die here.’

i could not help but fell empathy for the old lady, what if her boys do not return. what then? her whole life, lived in many years of peace, findng a husband, having children; and then a war she did not start, or want, breaks out and she loses everything. neigbors, friends, her children, her husband, her own life. i wish she would have came with us, but i understand now why she stayed. hope.

upon our return mother ran out to meet the cart but began to walk when she saw that it was only the two of us on the cart. her face looked as though she was expecting the worse news, and even ran to find father bettig before she would hear anything we had to say.

         ‘what news anton,’ father said.

         ‘as far as i know he is well, ( a sigh of relief swept the faces of my family as they looked at each other) he went to burkesdorf to wait for my return.’        

         ‘we must go right now! my paul is waiting for us there!’

         ‘i cannot go, the officer has been much to kind in letting me go this time. we can send word, a letter might get there.’

         ‘that would take months anton, and you never know if mail will make it, please anton, for me, please go. find paul.’

i have asked so much, and so much is given to me and my family. no russian has ever been more kind then the officer. they could kill us if they wanted, for we have no weapon. they could move us to a gathering camp and send us back to russia. they could hold back the food and force us to scavange in a weaken state; i was frightened of what the wrath of the oxymoron ‘kind russian’ might look like.

         ‘friend! what did you find! did you find your house and family in good health.’

         ‘to be honest comrad i found neither, our town is desolate and destroyed. which is fine, for my home is not in germay but our ukraine.’

         ‘that is true. that is very true. i think of home quite often, my wife must think i am dead by now! which is well with me, she has treated me like i have been dead for many many years now!’ he laughs at his own joke so loudly the whole room looks at the odd pair of us.

         ‘i did meet one neighbor who still lived there, she was a sad old women who wished the russian army would hurry and claim victory so she to could go home. but she mentioned that my family moved on to burkesdorf, which is only 30 kilometers away. i know i have troubled you but the two of us could make it there and back in just a few days, four days at tops.’

         ‘GO! go my friend, i do not know what you told those you left behind but they were done with there work before sunset! perhaps you should leave more often we will get more done!’

         ‘comrad i told them…’

         ‘i know what you told them friend.’ his face became stern and he looked away. ‘but when you get back i still want this type of production, you and i both want to go home and i will do whatever it takes to get there. this is your last favor anton, bring your family back and put them to work. the longer you are gone the shorter my patience grows.’

 then as if he was two different men in one he began to smile and said, ‘and before you leave you really must taste your mothers sweet bread. it is much better than yours,’ and again laughs at his own joke.

the next morning i found three bicycles at my front door, and a small, low ranking boy soldier with a gun strapped around his waist.

         ‘what is this? is the officer allowing three of us to go?’

         ‘no, my orders are to stay by your side, for protection. the lieutinient wants you to make it there and back in no more than four days and i want to make sure no harm comes to you or your comrad.’

i do not know if the officer was sending the soldier to protect us, or to keep an eye on marcus and i. we headed on our way towards gorlitz which was a few kilometers from burkesdorf,  where my family lived for some time.

we were only five kilometers in when me encountered a small group of russian soldiers, most of them were smoking on the road with a few up on an embankment. they interigated us, asking us so many questions as why to immigrants would be with a russian soldier.

         ‘can’t you do something boy?’

         ‘i am trying, but they are not listening to me.’

         ‘ask them where there officer is and explain the situation.’

                  ‘we want the bikes, our legs are tired and we want to ride around on them.’ one of the soldiers said. ‘you three look pretty healthy to me you can walk to wherever you are going.’

         ‘we need them, we must get back to the farm as soon as possible, we make the bread for you, and the butter and mild you use,’ i tried to reason.

                  ‘i haven’t had butter this entire war friend, you must be making it for someone else,’ and all the soldiers began to laugh. ‘are you making it for the germans, because you seem to be heading their way. if you work at the farms you are going the wrong way. go back and make me some butter!’

         ‘speak up boy, they are going to take our bikes, you don’t want to walk the rest of the way! we are 25 kilometers away and you told the officer we would be back in just four days!’

         ‘who is the commanding officer here?’ he said shyly, voice cracking.

                  ‘i am’, an officer said sliding down the short clay embankment,  ‘and i think my troops need a few bikes, not two immagrants and an undersized petite soldier. now we are letting you pass and go to wherever it is you say you are going, but you are going to leave the bikes.’

and that is what we did.  we began walking the 25 kilometers to get there,  it took the rest of the day and well into the night to get to gorlitz. that night i began to talk to the boy soldier.

‘you are in the russian army under orders son. they have to listen to you, no matter what your size or stature. do you want some roadside soldiers to be upset at you or your superior officer.’

‘but what could have i done? they were higher ranking soldiers!’

         ‘you take courage, even if you do not possess any in your heart you stick out your chest and you tell them what they are going to do. you do not ask these types of people.

the boy rolled over and just laid there, i felt empathy for him. he should not be in a war, he should have been playing with games with his neighborhood friends, coming home to borsht his mother has prepared, and sleeping under his fathers roof.

the war changes people. boys are men, and men are savages. war brings out the barbaric nature of the human mind, we struggle for survival, burying whomever or whatever stands in our way. i thought again of helen, and the toll this war has taken on her. i wanted revenge, but survival and belief that it is Gods duty to have justice overshadowed the daily desire.

walking into burkesdorf was much like walking back into the life of the child i was; memories flooded, this is where my brothers had died, where my mother died, where i became a man in the infant stages of my life. things began to look famailure, everywhere i looked there was a building with an image of someone i know or knew appeared.

it had been years but i remembered exactly where i was, i followed us around alleys, through abandoned houses and around apartments. for a split second i imagined it just like all the other cities and hoped that my fathers home would not have shared the same fate as father bettigs home.

         this city was much more alive with people and the buildings were for the most part still in tact. i rounded the corner and there i found it, still in one piece. i stood at the door a few seconds before opening it, i was scared of the truth on the other side of this door. was my family gone? was my brother in law dead?  i rapt on the door lightly expecting no one to answer.

                  ‘hello?’ the door swung open slightly to reveal a chain lock and a half face in the doorway. anton, anton is that you!?’

                  ‘yes, it is sister.’

                  ‘come quickly everyone, my brother is back from the dead!’        

         and with that the house came alive, from every corner of the house children and friends gathered to shake my hand and hug me, it was a joyous reunion. standing in the back of the room walking forward two shadows emerged, my father and paul.

                  ‘father! father! and paul! oh how your mother will love me. this is wonderful, how did you get here? what happened, did they put you on the front? we must get you back, your mother, oh she prays for you all the time.’

         after a few hours of reuniting and hearing story after story i realized that my family was able to survive here, even though they were harassed by soldiers many of them had small jobs, and were able to learn who and who not to trust in town.

chapter 11.

my russian soldier reminded me of our time constraints and the fact that we had lost so much time when our bikes were taken. my father told me he has plenty of bike parts, and that whatever we didn’t have he could get.

         we built four bikes that night after all four of my sisters went to bed. even the russian soldier helped us, it was apparent that he had built a bike before. we were a family again, it was good for my soul to see that my family was alive and in good spirits considering.

         paul seemed well too, he had been harassed many times because he used to be a german soldier, but my father had explained everything to the russians in town and it seemed to be fine as long as he remained out of sight.

         the next morning, with many tears of sorrow and joy, we began our journey back to the farm. my family was happy i was alive but sad to see me go. i knew that since they knew where i was that we would see each other again, hopefully.

         we did not have any trouble until we reached gorlitz, more russian soldiers trying to get our bikes again. i think next time i make a bike i am going to make it without a seat so it appears uncomfortable. i would rather ride having to stand up while riding a bike 30 kilometers then walk them.  we managed to convince the russian soldiers that we needed to get back, this time the ‘food’ supply excuse worked. the soldiers wanted to eat, and we made sure they knew who was baking it for them.

         about half way home we were stopped again by several russian soldiers transporting german soldiers.  this time after they saw our papers they wanted to take paul because they saw that he had been in the german army.

                  ‘but he is with me. sir.’ said my little russian soldier.

                  ‘he  doesn’t look like a prisoner, we are going to take him. he will come with us.’

         i stood there helpless, if they found out that i was related they might wanted to take me as well. i looked at our guard and i gave him a scowl and then looked at the russian soldiers. i think it reminded him of our late night conversation.

                  ‘that is not what i said. he is coming to work for me, if he is anyone’s prisoner he is my prisoner. what you are going to do right this second is get your hand of his bike! then you are going to keep walking and not even turn back to look at us!  you have your orders, and i have mine. NOW MOVE ALONG.’

         with that the russian soldiers looked at each other, i was hoping that they did not see me smile or we would have just antagonized them. after that no more words were exchanged and they just walked off.

                  ‘that is a good man!’ i said. ‘that is how you take charge of a situation even if your not in charge.’

                  ‘i don’t know what came over me, i just…’

                  ‘you just told them what they needed to know and do, and no more.’

        

         i had never seen mother run so fast, and being so pregnant it was rather a humorous site.  she met our provisional bikes and nearly tackled paul, everyone came running; mother kissed me, kissed paul, and even my little russian soldier. helen came out to greet her brother, and after holding him she looked at me, not just looked at me, but told me everything she needed to say and everything a man longs to hear, in one glance.

         though there had been joy, this was the beginning of a heavy hearted transitional time for our town. the germans had swept thorough poland HISTORY OF NAZI TAKEOVER, now the polish people were returning to their homes and farms. the polish military also came to our town, they were securing the area and establishing a polish police for our community. we now had three different armies to fear.

         germans who lived on these farms, much like us, who had been forced to work in farms, were not only being treated poorly by  the russians now, but by this new polish military as well. the polish people had a deep hatred and a need for vengence against germans because of this war, and refugees were a good target to take their wrath out on.

         the polish police, army, and even citizens would steal the germans belongings, everything they had. many times you would see displaced german citizens walking on the road back to their country and robbed blind as soon as they reached our town. then after the polish had taken what they could the russian army would join in and take whatever was left. for now we were safe from the attacks because of father in laws papers, but they were growing more and more suspicious of our background each day. constantly looking for whomever they could blame or take their retribution out upon.

                  ‘we are leaving friend!!!,’ my officer friend said. ‘it is a good day for you and i, we will be neighbors soon enough. this war is coming to a close, and i am on my way back home.’

                  ‘yes it will be good to leave someday, i am ready for this war to be done.’

                  ‘no, i don’t think you understand anton,  we are shutting down these farms, the russian army has pushed the nazi’s back to where they have come from and we are much to far away to feed the front line. tell your family to pack, we are going to start on our way home soon!’

         the war coming to a close was a good thing, but we did not want to go back to russia. we couldn’t! if they found out upon our return to the ukraine that pieces of our family are germans then we would be sent to siberia! or worse.

                  ‘this war is a series of hard decisions, one after another. a moment of peace, a moment of war, but arduous decisions the entire time. what are we going to do.’

                  ‘we can’t go, i can’t go. we do not belong to russia anymore.’

                  ‘we don’t belong anywhere opalka, the last place that felt like a home was underground with dirt for a mattress.’

                  ‘is the decision up to us?’

                  ‘is the decision ever up to us?’

                  ‘no, this time it is up to God.’

         he was right, the closer it got to the departure date the more it looked inevitable that we were leaving with the russian army back towards the eastern sky. i tried to hint to the officer that we could be of service here, that we could still tend to the farms and cattle. the officer informed me that he would be taking all the cattle with him to be distributed there among the people. i exclaimed that we were the people.

         i finally was blunt and i feel i offended him, here we had based on our relationship on the hope that we were going home one day. that day had come and i did not want anymore to do with his dream. we were leaving.

         we wrangled in all the cattle, and tied the one to another in giant lines, we then packed up all the machinery and strapped them down to the carts. we were leaving these farms, and the stability and safety of sweet bread bribes and hard work were gone.

                  ‘we leave in the morning…

 i cannot imagine what lies ahead of us, marching side by side with russian soldiers all the way back to the ukraine.’

                  ‘well at least we will not be in a war zone with artillery firing at us every step of the way anton.’

                  ‘might as well be in the middle of a war, i have felt more pain from the russians than any from any  bullet.’

                  ‘you know that your mother in law is in labor tonight.’

                  ‘what?’

                  ‘yes, she says she is going to give birth tonight, they have already named it peter even though she doesn’t know if its going to be a boy or girl.’

                  ‘but the transport, how are we supposed to walk hundreds of kilometers with so many children and now a newborn.’

                  ‘we shall see.’

                           _________________________________

 

                  ‘another one? another baby? what do they put in your waters?’ the captain of the platoon said.

                  ‘just give us a week, all we need is a week for her to recover and we can move the cattle back into the fields, i can make butter from only one machine. please sir, we cannot leave them behind and she is much to weak to walk.’

                  ‘this is ridiculous, there must be thirty children here and a now a newborn? you are going to slow us down days, even weeks. lieutenant these people are not coming with us.’

                                    ‘but sir we need them, for the cattle, who will watch the cattle at night?’

                  ‘you will find someone lieutenant, if you cannot find someone you will do it yourself. now leave these crying children behind. i am ready to go home.’

                                    ‘yes sir.’

         and with that they began to march east, every single one of them.  my lieutenant officer was not happy with me, he had denied me many times the opportunity to stay.

                  ‘you got your way anton, look at that.’

                  ‘im sorry friend, but i must watch over my family.’

                  ‘but your family is in the ukraine, with my family.’ and with that he yelled for a few of his soldiers to come over to us. ‘take these, you deserve them you have worked hard for russia. this is the least i could do.’

         and with that he gave me two goats and a cattle herding dog that i had grown quite fond of.

                  ‘i don’t know what to say comrad, no russian has shown me such kindness.’        

                  ‘well that changes now. as well as these goats go and  pick your favorite cow, any single one of them, it is yours. your children need milk with your mothers sweet bread.’

         the red army took everything else. everything else. anything that was not cemented down was taken and put on carts to bring back to russia. any german working at the farms were ordered to go to east germany over the river naisse. as soon as they had packed up they were ordered to begin walking, and to leave their carts behind. the russians stole everything left they had.

         as soon as the army marched out of town, like a swarm of hornets the polish people came in and claimed all the farm houses and land. they took our barn and our farm, we were at loss. when the people learned that we had polish papers they reluctantly allowed our three families to move onto one empty farm.

         our three families were like a well oiled machine, we took over the farm and were instantly beginning to cultivate a garden, figuring out with whom in the town had a steer we could breed the cow with,  and even making butter a small amount of butter. the work load was light because we had so many hands to help, as well as the fact we did not have thousands of red army soldiers to feed.

         i had lost all my papers all my papers a long time ago, and this had been causing me trouble all along, but now that the polish people had moved in and did not know me it was becoming a burden. i decided that i needed to go to gorlitz and see if i could not convince my former boss at the farm to write me some new papers to prove my citizenship.

         helen made some  bread and we made as much butter as would could to see if we could use more than words to get what i needed. there were no trains going to gorlitz so i had to walk, a few hours after sunset i found myself in the usually discordant town of warekircho. the guards at the edge of town didn’t give me a hard time at all and within a kilometers time i was looking to find a place to lay my head. i found a garden and used the bag of bread and butter as a pillow. it was an offensively cold and windy night and i got up to look for a roof to sleep under, or even a barn. as i packed up my things and set out on my way when  i heard dogs barking, as i looked up i saw 2 russians with large flashlights probing the treeline… looking for me. i was west of the river naisse, and this was still the red armies zone.

         it was to late, they were on to me, the dogs pulling their leashes in my direction. if i run they will shoot. if i speak russian and they believe my story i may have a chance.

         it was nothing. they just wanted to rob me, they took me in for questioning. took my butter and most of my bread and let me go. these people are not looking for the enemy, they are the enemy, stealing their own people’s food. i have avoided violence because i have embraced peace. sometimes i wonder if i had chosen a life of defensive violence what a night like tonight would have looked like. those soldiers were drunk, there aim could have been off. if i had a gun it would have taken me only two shots at the close range they came in before arresting me to kill them. but perhaps the reason i am still alive is because i have not chosen to hurt, kill, or seek my just revenge. perhaps.

         i spent the night in an empty railroad car, it was abandoned and had many bullet holes in its rusted doors, but it kept the wind from biting me all night. the next morning i began walking, past the soldiers that took my bread and butter. they smiled. i did not.

         east germany was better than poland. it was clear to see, the buildings were already being reconstructed, the towns were thriving with immigrants returning home. people assumed that they had survived the war, that for the most part it was over and they had waited out this war. it was easy to find my way around, it only took me asking a few people to find out the exact whereabouts of my old boss and his new location. the streets were alive with life, not quality of life but life.

                  ‘it is good to see you alive anton.’

                  ‘now days it is good to be alive.’

                  ‘yes, this has been tough, i lost my wife you know, she had a child and then within a few months she was shot by who knows who.’        

                  ‘i am so sorry comrad.’

                  ‘comrad? you are sounding like one of them, you are in east germany now, we may have been occupied but we are not russian.’

                  ‘i have worked on a farm for many years with them, their habits become my habits even if i do not want them.’

                  ‘i know, i know. i even heard myself say mother russia once, and it is no mother of mine!’ he laughs at his own joke as well. ‘what brings you here anton, you know i do not have work yet, but i will!’

                  ‘that would be wonderful, to get away from the polish and the russians would be wonderful, but no one is allowed to leave. i brought you bread and butter, but the army took them last night. i am sorry my friend.’

                  ‘sounds just about right, they are communists, they believe we should distribute the wealth to everyone, unless of course it is theirs.’

                  ‘i have come for papers, i cannot so much as walk out the front door of my farm without being asked to see them. i know i do not have a job here, but would you please give me papers to say that i do so i am not taken back to the ukraine. and when you do have work i will be glad to help. you have my word.’

                  ‘anton, if anyone finds out i could be in trouble. you can have papers but this can not come back to me or my family, we have had enough grief to last many lifetimes.’

         he was right, haven’t we all. i cannot believe that my children have become desensitized to death, they could look at a dead body and think or feel nothing. it hurts to know that they could sleep through bullets or bombs. we need out.

         on the way back we had to register in bunzlauto, we all had to. peter, father bettig, and opalko met me there so we could all register. we felt we must because if for nothing else we could use it as proof of our citizenship to the polish people back in neudorf.

         the red army were bad at harvesting grain, missing giant patches of wheat at a time. this was much to our advantage for upon my return the men and i, including brother paul now, began to harvest the grain in the fields throughout the local countryside. enough grain in fact that we had enough to store it in our barn for winter.

         the owner of the farm came back, we were given a farm that already had an owner by the polish community. we should have figured that owning our own farm was much to nice of them. she was a kind older lady and we shared food with her and grain, even baking bread for her. there is no way that she could have cared for this farm all by herself. she was so appreciative of our generocity that she allowed us to stay in the big farm house and she moved into one of the smaller farm houses by herself. we needed her, her survival depended on us.

         the thrashing of grain was almost impossible. the mills to grind flower had been destroyed in the war. the men and i converted a small coffee mill to grind mill and we would bake bread for many people in town.

         elderly farm ownder allowed us to register that we owned part of the farm so that the in the future they could not rob the land from her and throw us out of the city. it is sad to say but the polish rule is worse than the red army occupation. at least you knew who your enemies were with the russians, now the polish people are your friends when it benefits them.

                  ‘we got alcohol.’

                  ‘well i never thought i would never hear that from you father.’

                  ‘no,’ he laughed. ‘not for me, its time the russian soldiers that occasionally come through town. they are burdened with possesions they have stolen and will trade almost anything for whiskey.’

                  ‘where did you find whisky?’

                  ‘well you traded for it!’

                  ‘i traded for it?

‘yes you did. you traded bread every day for a week for a bottle of whisky, it is from a polish family who has brought it back with them.’

                  ‘well  i am glad to be of service.’

         the whisky came in handy, within a week father bettig had traded the whisky for a horses. he was right, drunken soldiers will trade their life away to maintain their alcohol intake. we now had cows for milk and horses to plow the fields. i felt like a wealthy man.

         the elderly woman’s son came home, we were worried that he would kick us off his farm and hire immigrants but the woman told him how kind we had to been to her, and he allowed us to stay as long as we would like. as life was getting better and easier on the farm life off our farm was getting harder. the polish people were trying to regain their lost lives but taking it out on the backs of germans and each other. war tears people apart, when it is time to rebuild they expect everything to return to the same way of life. but it can never be the same, those who have seen such atrocities are mentally scarred, those with wounds are physically scarred, those who have lost loved ones are emotionally scarred. nothing will be the same. ever.

         there was an empty bakery quite close to the farm, i waited for some time to see if the baker was ever going to return. and a few months after the russians had left the baker had still not returned. i spent most mornings baking bread for my family and for barter, even some of the towns people were coming to me from time to time to feed them as well. 

         i baked bread made of flax seed oil, over a black iron stove, much like the one at the russians camp. many people could not afford to buy the bread, even though i charged very little, and would trade me fire wood or their ground flower for the bread.

         people began to rely on my bread, many of the polish people did not trust me yet, but the immigrants loved me and brought my family gifts for being so generous. the money in poland was not worth anything so we would exchange services and barter with each other most of the time. i began to spend most of my time at the bakery and less on the farm, there was enough people to handle the work there and i provided the bread for everyone to do my part. 

chapter 12.

i would frequent bunzlau to buy salt, soap, and matches; after awhile people in neudorf began to give me items to exchange and barter for them because some were so weak, sick, or mangled they could not do it themselves. it became a regular route for me and people knew me to be an honest and fair man and treated me as such. i eventually hired a poor family to work in the bakery for me, i couldn’t always afford them but i paid them what i could and made sure they never went hungry.  even the polish people who did not like us learned that we were trustworthy and left us alone in the beginning.

         one of the family members knew how to make flax oil and we produced it right there in the bakery, for a moment i looked around and pretended that life could be like this, this was like a fairy tail my children would read about. a horse, a cow, a wife, children, a bakery, and bread to eat. what more could there be to life?

         russians leaving germany were our biggest threat to the bakery, the constantly helped themselves to whatever they wanted from our store. always took never paid. the polish people would incite the red army to harass us, telling them that we had an x nazi soldier working on our farm, and a german sympathizer running the bakery. i could never figure out why the polish never liked us, was it because we could speak russian, was it because we lived in germany at one point? was it because we were taking care of immigrants? helen always thought it was because they were jealous of what we had, consistent food on our tables and a roof over our head. a luxury now.

         they would yell obscenities at us, and tell people to avoid the nazi bread, they would constantly hassle us, interigating us one by one to try and see if we would break or give them some excuse to send us to russia.  they would even try to trick us with the polish language, but they could never pin us down because no matter how hard they tried, father bettigs papers were good.

         at that time there were trains transporting refugees from behind breslau right into west germany, where the cities were rebuilding and the people there would not hate us for where we were born. i wanted to move west, i still think of the time we could have moved west ahead of the russians over the river nice. we could be there right now, safe, sound, rebuilding.

         we needed to get on that train. someway. we were desperate, we would leave all this behind, everything and everyone, to get to west germany. we were all putting our heads together, figuring out a way that we could escape this town, while getting papers to say we belonged in west germany. during all of this plotting we did not mention a word to a soul, we went along with life as though poland was our motherland.

         i was given a motorcycle by a family who had lost their son in the war, i had done many runs on the bicycle for them to bunslau, and they felt i had earned it.  you would think that with so much going right in my life i would be in a state of contentment, but i find myself constantly looking behind my back, i view every soldier as suspect, and any time any man goes near my wife my i clinch my knuckles white.

         my leg, i don’t know what is happening but it is a severe pain shooting up my leg, i went to a doctor but he said nothing of what it could be, it was like a large light bulb under my skin, the more i massaged it the smaller it became. but i was not able to ride my motorcycle or walk to get supplies. people were getting anxious, there were a lot of people who relied on me, and i did not want to let them down.  particular relationships were strained as it was, and this was not going to help.

         it was not just me but all the children were growing sick, they had a skin disease as well, not like mine but a skin disease. most of the children were sick in bed most of the day, the worst was baby peter he would not even cry anymore, he would just lay there awake staring, then sleep for most of the day, then just lay there. mother grew concerned and would rarely leave his side.

         i felt like an animal, caged and bound to this small town that i wanted so desperately to fell. the russians were like a cruel master taking whatever they wanted, with the polish being the cruel task master, the war was over in our little part of the world but no one was treating us as such.

                  ‘we have to get away. they are talking about you in town, that you have changed and are taking money from the poor.’

                  ‘that is ridiculous, those in need know i want to help but cannot because of my leg. who cares what the polish say, let them talk’

                  ‘we cannot keep anything, how are we to survive if every time we barter for one horse one day the next it is taken?’

                           ‘i have seen dark clouds,’ mother bettig chimed in.  she paused and looked peculiarly into the open sky. ‘i went outside this morning and the sun was shining bright, then a dark cloud came down from heaven and landed on our house, then a dark cloud came down on your house, anton, and disappeared.  then i saw a billowing white cloud in the east and did not move.’

                  ‘she tried to show me the eastern cloud but i did not see it.’ father said.

                  ‘what do you think it means mother? do you still the clouds?’

                           ‘no, i do not know, and i do not see them.’

                  ‘its getting late, it has been a long day, you both get some rest.’

         the next evening around the same time mother took me outside to show me where the clouds were, she pointed into the sky and tried to illustrate what she could with her hands. as she was standing there trying to paint a picture of the cloud in the eastern sky about twenty polish police and soldiers in uniforms were marching right towards father bettig’s house.

         mother just stood there with her eyes wide, i did not want her to go into her own house while those soldiers were there. after i took her to helen i ran over to see what i could see, for over an hour i just watched from a distance as soldier after soldier carried out father in laws possessions, i could not imagine what they had left!

         i saw the last of the soldiers leave with father and they walked towards town, i wanted to follow but needed to go check on the children in his house. the children were visibly shook up, but no one was hurt this time. most everything was gone,  including now father.

         all the children and mother spent the night at my house, but by dawn father was back, he looked tired but not  beat. they had stayed up most of the night interrogating him, going over and over the papers. they were looking for anything suspicious, to make sure the papers were real. but the papers were real, everything checked out and they let him go.

         the next night it was my turn, the same guards were in my house, i recognized their faces. i knew they did not want me, they wanted everything i had owned. i was used to being robbed and hid what i could at the bakery, when my store was robbed they came for the bread and machines, never thinking to look for anything else. 

         they put me an extra room by myself and i heard the shuffling of feet taking what they wanted, i heard my table being broke, and i stood right by the door, if i had heard helen so much as whimper i was going not going to let as many as i could leave alive. but they did not want us, they wanted all we had. they left as fast as they came, not even taking me to the station, they knew there was no point.

                  ‘they destroyed everything anton,’

                  ‘we will get it back, someway we always find a way to get it back.’

                  ‘when you were put in the other room they held a gun to my head, they told me to keep my head down so i couldn’t see what they were taking.’

                  ‘what? a gun, in front of the sick children?’ i walked towards the door and stood in the doorway. what else did they want from us? they took or broke everything, beds, tables, even the doorframe in case they had forgotten something. what did we do? we gave and did not take, we plant and harvest, we bake and feed. as i stood outside i looked down the dirt path and saw mother, standing outside and staring off at the sky, as if she knew i was going to be outside she looked at me and then turned back around and pointed east. the dark clouds had come and gone, we had to go east.’

         the next day an official came, a friend of fathers from neudorf, but said that they were making him take father to bunslau to have his papers checked out there. he could not tell us how long he was going to be gone but mother never feared once.          ‘we have been through far worse than papers being checked out.’ she would say. and she was right. upon fathers return home a few days later he told us that his friend gave him a good recommendation to the officials in bunslau and he could return to his family immediately. he was also promised by the officials that his possessions would be returned to him, but his friend from neudorf laughed and told him that that was most likely not going to happen.

                  ‘anton, we have been friends for many years.’ opalkos came to me, his face looking as heavy as his heart sounded. ‘i have a request, and please, if you feel it to dangerous then say no, i would never want to put your family in jeopardy.

                  ‘what is it, friend, what could be this dangerous?’

                  ‘we can’t take it here anymore, everything has been taken from me, i am treated like a refugee everywhere i go, my wife and children are constantly taking abuse from the polish and the russians.’

                  ‘we feel the same, i have been to west germany, there are plenty of jobs there and the people are free to live their lives in peace.’        

                  ‘exactly! that is why i am coming to you of all people! i need you to take me to kalfort, i know it is 15 kilometers away, but i need you to take me and my family there.’

                  ‘what is in kalfort?’

                  ‘a train, a train that will take me and my family to freedom.’

                  ‘and how do you intend to get on this train opalko, the polish would never let you on, and if you were caught by the russians they might send you and your family away!’

                  ‘but i have talked to many germans passing through, they told me if anyone is a german citizen and has papers to prove it they will put you on a train to west germany! but the train leaves out of kalfort, it would be much to slow to walk with all my children, we would take the risk of getting caught for sure! you have horses and a cart, we could make it to kalfort in less than an hour!’

              ‘we only have one horse now, the rest are gone. i don’t know opalko, if i get caught helping you i would be put in prison, and you as well!’

                  ‘prison? this is prison! how could it get worse?’

                  ‘i have to talk this over with helen, i cannot make such a rash decision without her. if i were to be taken away i would be leaving her alone her with the hurting children. let me consult her and come back to you in the morning.’

                  ‘anton, once i am there i could do my best to get you papers as well. i cannot promise anything but if i get a job perhaps i could get you a job in the same place! i would do all that i possibly could for you.’

         helen wanted them safe, she wanted all of us safe. we decided that if we got them out and they sent word that it works that there might be a chance for us. opalko could get me and father jobs, all of us jobs. we had to take the chance, even if it meant i might get arrested.

         i did not do much business in kalfort, but i planned it out that i would go there to trade for what i could, that way if i were to be caught it would look like a barter and supply trip for the bakery.

         i did not wait, that night i went over to opalkos house and asked him how long it would take to get ready, he came over and hugged me, his wife began to cry. they said i would only take them minutes as they did not have much, and could not carry any type of large furniture on the way.

                  ‘anton wait!,’ father said as he walked in the front door of the house. ‘i am going to take them.’

                  ‘what? no, why, you could go to jail.’

                  ‘but i have papers, you do not. if you get caught there in kalfort you would be imprisoned immediately. i have been good at talking my way out of predicaments lately, i will go instead. stay and take care of my daughter.’

         father and i packed them up, it did not take long, a few bags, a few children. opalko hugged me, i did not know if this was going to be the last time that i ever saw him. his wife w as still crying and i watched them ride down the dark and sloping road.

         i waited up, one hour, two hours, three hours, four hours, he should be back by now. then  a single horse coming up the hill, and father bettig riding on its back.

                  ‘what happened?’

                  ‘they are safe, everything is fine. i waited to see how the guards were checking the papers, it was so very easy and they are on their way to the west! it was a sight to see! they were right, the train from kalfort takes them to the west!’

                  ‘what happened to the cart?’

                  ‘it was the wheel, it snapped off on my way back. i could not stay and fix it for fear of getting caught so i used the horse to put it deep in the woods and covered it the best i could. we can wait a few weeks and go get it. but for now let us go to our homes, i do not want to raise suspicion if soldiers were to pass.

suspicion were raised, the next morning opalkos house was crawling with police. how did they find out so fast? did they see us last night? did they find the cart? did someone in kalfort tip them off?

         the police came and asked us questions, i knew they did not believe us, they kept looking at us. after that we were under constant watch. the polish people did not want us there in their town, the soldiers and police would not let us leave. someone make up their mind.

         i envied opalko, if he made it. we all prayed for them each night, that they were safe and that he would find us work. we prayed for our own families, that somehow we would be delievered. oh Lord, deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and the power.

         the police were now watching our house each and every day. they were looking for any excuse to arrest us, hiding in the forest, sitting in their cars, just waiting. like vultures.        

         all of us men were served papers by the local polish police, we were to all be interrogated for the disappearance of opalko and his family. this could go terribly wrong. we spent our nights laying awake with anticipation, marcus thought they were going to arrest us and throw us in jail, paul thought for sure they would throw him in a military camp for german soldiers.

         then another round of papers were served by the local police this one was calling for everyone that was old enough to understand polish was ordered to be interrogated, the women and children. a looming cloud in the brooding eastern sky.

         father bettig went to the officials and explained the them that the children were sick with a skin disease, to our advantage they told him that they did not believe him and he was to take them to a doctor to the nearby city… the city of kalfurt.

         when father took peter and the sickest of his family the doctor was appalled and asked if there were anymore children like this, ‘yes, all of them!’ he said. the doctor ordered for all the sick children to be brought to him immediately. the doctor kept mother and peter there in the hospital, the baby had a hernia and needed an operation immediately. he sent father home with specific instructions.

                  ‘i found a place.’

                  ‘a place for what?’

                  ‘i found a german man there in kalfort who said they would house mother and the children till we could be seen by the doctor, and board the train!’ father said.

                           ‘who?’

                           ‘the doctor, he is german, he is going to help us and gave us the name of someone in town who is helping germans get home. he says there are even americans there who are helping find german papers to get to west germany.’                 

                           ‘an answer to prayer.’ helen said. ‘an answer to all our prayers.’

         indeed.

         the german doctor ordered  the entire family to go, father told him of helen and i, and our children and the doctor wrote a letter to the polish government that all the women and children must come immediately as this skin disease could be very contagious.

                           ‘the doctor sent me to the polish officials there in the town and they signed the notice, we have permission for our whole family to go see the doctor! all of us, except you anton.’

         helen looked disconcerted.

                         ‘don’t be upset helen, i need you safe, God will find a way for me to find you, and i will. we found paul didn’t we? i can find you.’

                  ‘but in four days the interegation starts. what then? what if you get arrested?

                  ‘then my heart will rest easy, i will go to bed each night in my cell knowing that my family is safe from harm and living a better life in east germany. i will come find you helen. do you have the letter with you father?’

                  ‘yes, its here with me now, it is all here signed by the officials and doctor! it says that we are allowed to go to the city, but not to leave the country. that’s where the american people will hopefully help us.’

                  ‘then we need to pack up the ox as soon as possible.’

                  ‘but we should not take much on the cart, on the way here there were much robbers in the forest, they were taking everything! pack the children light helen. we must make it look like we are going to see a doctor, not escaping the country.’

the next few days were spent getting everything ready, we needed to pack up everything that was important, while still making it look as though we were here to stay.  as if we were invisible the people in the village, the police, and soldiers did not seem to notice us at all. marcus thought it was because they knew we were going to be interrogated in just a few days.  i told the rest of the men what we were doing expecting them to be upset, this would only make for a much more severe interrogation , but they were not.  they understood and were actually well into their own plans of escape.

         that day any german or friend who came into the bakery i would give them double for their money, i gave them everything i had, even flour. they knew i was acting different, but knew to say nothing at all.

the night before our interrogation father pulled what was left of the whisky from the floorboards, we had one polish friend and we gave it to him to invite all the police to his house for a party. God forgive us for attempting to get so many men drunk. but it worked.

         at dusk we packed up the cart and hooked up the horse as quickly as possible.  sure they possessed papers from a doctor and an official, but the police and soldiers do not always care, and that is where the alcohol came in; we made sure they wouldn’t care, about anything.

         i watched them leave our village of neudorf as long as i could, i wanted to make sure they got out of the city, and from what i could tell they did. my heart was overjoyed and petrified. i was alone, and trying my best to hold myself together for their sake. i went home and turned on all the lights in my house and in fathers house.

         it was nine at night, everything was quiet i sat in a chair just staring out the window when i saw three figures approaching. was this my family? where were the rest of them! i ran to the door and slammed it open.

                  ‘hello? who is out there?’

                  ‘where are they anton? where is your father? there is no one home at his house and his lights are on!’ one of the three sober russian soldiers asked.

                  ‘they are on the way to the doctor. about 15 kilomters from here.’

                  ‘who gave them permission?’

                  ‘we have papers, i have papers. let me find them.’

         i went to gather the papers from what was left of the kitchen table.

                  ‘where is your family?’

                  ‘there names are in the manifesto as well. they are all sick, the doctor has ordered them to stay in kalfort.’

         they looked through the papers, and handed them to each other. the papers were good and there was nothing they could say.

                  ‘we need your horses, we need to go to town.’

                  ‘i do not have any horses, they were stolen by some of your police.’ they didn’t seem to like that. ‘my only other horse is now with my sick children on their way to kalfort, but they will be back soon.’

                  ‘then your motorcycle. give us your motorcycle.’

         i would have given them anything at this point to get them from drawing unneeded attention, or commotion. ‘take it, it has gas, its yours.’

         the men left, but i knew that they did not trust me, and for the rest of the night i would occasionally see a police or two drive by my house, they went to fathers house looking for anything they could take since he was gone. and they did.

         i turned off all the lights in my house, and waited in the dark for an hour. i saw someone walk by but could not tell if it was the police or not. nothing. silence. i just waited, laying in my bed.

chapter 13

i had no idea what time it was, but nothing was moving outside my house that i could tell. i opened up the back window and looked out. it was so dark outside, and all i could hear were the sounds of a few insects in the distance singing. i crawled to the edge of my yard and layed in the wet ground of the forest. silence, still, not moving but to breath occasionally. nothing else moved either.

         i got up and began to run, as fast as i could as long as i could. my chest pounded and my eyes began to go blurry. but i didn’t stop. the cold air slapped my face as the sweat soaked through my clothes. but i didn’t stop. behind me i heard shooting, were they looking for me? were they following me. i didn’t stop to find out.

         i went in circles, i took the most unfamiliar way to make it appear that i was not going towards kalfort. i tried to walk in as many streams as i could, so that russians or their dogs could not find me. it should have taken me only three hours to make it there, but i designed it to take all night.

         the forest is home to many robbers, they jump out and scare people and take what they could. i did not fear that for me here, but for helen and the children. i wanted to know if they were alright. i walked and prayed, then ran and prayed. finally i collapsed exhausted into the grass and slept for perhaps an hour when the sun jolted me awake. i had made it. alive.

as i walked out of the forest the fresh air greeted me and behind me in the distant forest a bird began to sing. my mind wandered to helen and i began to smile.         

i walked to the contact house and knocked on the door, expecting to see one of the children open the door, but instead an elderly women with a tattered red dress on.

                  ‘who are you looking for?’

                  ‘helen, my wife, and my children.’

                  ‘they are not here.’
                 

                  ‘what? did they not make it here? where could they be?’

’no, they made it here, but they are gone, they are on the train safe.’

         i have not known happiness like this in all my days, i slumped right there to my knees and wept. i had not known tears like this in all my years, but i sat right there, content. they were safe for now.

                           ‘are you being followed?’

                           ‘no, i don’t think so.’

                           ‘are you sure?’

 

                 

                  ‘father do you think he will be ok?’ i said.

                  ‘yes helen, but right now it is not him you should be concened with, you need to watch over your children. anton can take care of himself.

                  ‘but what if he can’t escape, what if he gets caught?’

                  ‘that is for God to determine now, right now keep your eyes out for robbers, kalfort is not far ahead and we need to find mother right away.’

         i found mother with the little ones at an elderly woman’s house, who was wearing a tattered red dress. she a contact the doctor had given them, and was known to be very kind to germans.

         we soon met with some peculiar english speaking americans, they were very happy to help us with their special program, which enabled germans to get out of poland. i had never encountered americans before, they seemed to have bathed recently and the man we worked with was smiling the entire time. peculiar. my father gave the horse and wagon to a poor polish man and his family, we had no use for it now because we could not take it on the train.

         we waited several hours because there were so many germans longing to get out of poland, even when it was our turn to register with the americans they had a difficult time explaining the situation and getting everyone registered. it was rather easy to board the train and get past the polish officials because it was time for them to eat so the guards were not checking people as thorough.

         the train was packed, it was an old boxcar with holes in the side to breath, father looked uneasy the entire trip because he said he had heard ‘horror stories of such cars’ but would not tell us woman anymore. the officials told us we were on our way into east germany over the river nisse. the children were becoming restless, they were standing up for hours on end and they were tired and some were crying out of exhaustion.

                  ‘mother, mother please hold me.’ my little anne said in ukrainian.

                  ‘i am holding your sister and she is asleep, as soon as she wakes i will hold you.’

         the other passengers began to look at me, a few had been staring at us and talking amongst themselves since we boarded the train. a few of them asked us to keep our children quiet, the trip was hard as it is and that our ‘children were making it harder than the trainride itself.’

         as the train stopped in east germany right behind the border a few of the passengers in our car went to the russian police and reported to them that some foreigners are trying to escape to west germany.

         our entire family was pulled from the train and searched us, looked through all our papers and even took the few silver coins we had hidden in the bottom of our baby wagon.

                  ‘these are not your papers!’ the russian soldier exclaimed.

                  ‘yes, i assure you those are mine.’

                  ‘how do we know you did not steal them, or buy them from someone before you boarded the train?’

                  ‘i am a german citizen i can assure you that i am, i was taken to work on a farm feeding russian soldiers.’

                  ‘you will come with us. leave your family, lets go.’

         the train sat there, it was waiting on us and the passengers were getting frustrated, saying comments in german in front of the children. he was being interrogated for some time until a man who recognized mother jumped off the train. he asked if that was mr. bettig in the interrogation room and we told him yes and he walked right over to the door and knocked on it.

         within minutes the man from within the train and my smiling father walked out of the room. my father thanked him over and over and finally came over to us and helped put the children into the boxcar.

                  ‘what happened father?’

                  ‘i will tell you when the train is moving.’

         within minutes father told us that a man he knew  from nieder nielau and their farm had come into the interrogation room and told them that he knew father bettig and that he truly was german, which was all true. the russians decided that the train had waited long enough and that fathers story did check out. we were back on the moving train safely.

we reached west falen, and we were finally free; free from the nazi invasion, free from the russian oppression, free from the polish cruelty. we were human once again.

when we arrived there were so many of us that they put us on 5 different farms. the girls and i were on one farm, father and mother with their 4 children to the farmer enlq. the the other nine, including paul, went to farmer nienhaus’s.

without anton this feels empty, yes we have our personal freedom, a bed, a job, and food for the little ones,  but none of this mattered without him here. i looked up and began to pray for him; i prayed to God that He would help my anton find his way to west falan, t

                             that he would find us.

                                         that he would find his way back to me.

 

 

 

                  ‘come in here quickly,’ the woman with the red tattered dress said. ‘you come here in broad daylight, you clothes are ripped and stained, you look like you haven’t slept in weeks, and you don’t think you didn’t arouse some suspicion?’

                  ‘i am sorry, i was hoping to catch up with my family before they got on the train, but i am glad they left, thank you.’

                  ‘where is your german paperwork?’

                  ‘i don’t have any.’

                  ‘none?’

                  ‘no mam, i was counting on using fathers.’

                  ‘that is going to be a problem, wait here.’

         within a few minutes her husband came down the stairs, a slow moving elderly man who looked disgruntled and did not even ask for my name.

 

                  ‘so you come in broad daylight, you have put us in jeapordy.’

                  ‘no one told me, i am so sorry, i will leave now if that is what you need me to do, i will find my own way to my family.’

                  ‘that isn’t necessary son, we can help you but not now.’

                  ‘what should i do? should i leave and come back?’

                  ‘no, that will only draw even more suspicion. the russians are looking for you, no?’

                  ‘i don’t know, i am sure they know now that i am not there anymore at my farmhouse, but they would have no idea that i came here to kalfort.’

                  ‘but they do know about the train, they will suspect kalfort first.’

                  ‘what do you want me to do.’

         he called down his wife who went immediately into the kitchen and came out with some fruit and bread in a small basket, then went back into the kitchen and brought me out a large jar of water.

                  ‘what is this for.’

                  ‘this is for you, you are going to hide in the straw on my roof, when i see that they are for sure not looking for you i will come get you.’

                  ‘how long do you think that will take?’

                  ‘days.’

         laying there the first few hours your adrenaline is running, any little sound you freeze and your heart races a little more. was that a knocking on the door? no. do i hear voices? neighbors. are they coming to get me? no they are doing to bed.

         i awake the next morning to dew soaking through my clothes, i take a few bites of an apple, its cold now, and i try my best to sleep but i am shivering. the midday heat takes care of the cold. now it is hot and my lips thirst for the water. but i cannot drink it all. what if i am here for a week? just a sip.

         the next morning starts the same but at least now i know what to expect, i sleep on my stomach so when i wake to the morning dew it will only be on my back and i will roll over and it will be a little warmer. so much energy, but i use it to concentrate on being still.

         its nighttime and i am restless, the adrenaline has died, except for the few moments where i hear a loud noise. i thought i heard a gunshot in the distance. but it was only one and it sounded far away. night two. i take a few more bites of the apple and finish it off. i am careful to move minimally as any sound could trigger someone searching the house below, if there is someone searching the house.

         day three, i am thirsty, i drink most of my water, there is only 1/4th of the jug left, i need to think of a way to collect water tomorrow morning, i will wake up early, lay out my coat, then rinse it out into the jug. it will be sour. but it will be water. i ate another apple, i am hungry but the thought of my family again safe satisfies me.

         clicking, getting closer, its coming from inside. someone is in the attic. the noise pauses, i hear a window crack. then it recoils. then the other window. someone is searching for something. or someone.

         i hold my breath, clicking. feet clicking. then i hear the wood move and rumble around me.

                  ‘anton… anton,’ a quiet whisper.

                  ‘yes.’

                  ‘it is safe to come in, be quiet, there is dinner downstairs waiting.’

         the russians didn’t come look for me, not at this safe house anyway, the old man never went to the station to see if there was an inordinate amount of soldiers, and did not dare ask anyone who they were looking for. all was quiet, and after three days, the old women said, they usually stop looking for escapees.

         the old man left the next morning to register me, he got the proper signatures from the officials and even the kind doctor signed off on the registration. i held the registration papers like gold, they were worth more than gold to me at that moment, nothing could keep me from my helen. he could not get me german citizen papers but we came up with a plan to get me onto the triain.

         once we were at the station the elderly man instructed me to use his papers to get through, if they let me through i was to go and buy a newspaper. then i was to meet him at the gate near the rubbish bin, we walked by it and i knew exactly where it was.  the soldiers asked for my papers, looked at them, looked at me. i was hoping they did not see the birth date, i was hoping their mathematical ability was bad, or i looked old.

         they shuffled me through, i was through! i would not let my face show my happiness and i walked non-chilantely to the newsstand, paid for the paper and walked toward the black iron bar fence. i looked through the gate and we nodded knowingly.

                  ‘thank you, thank you, thank you. how can i ever repay you for the kindness you have shown my family and i?’ i asked him quietly as i handed his papers back rolled in the newspaper.

                  ‘you can’t, but heaven will. now go, go get on your train and find your family.’

                  ‘God bless you friend. God bless you.’

         as i looked out the window of the moving train, for the first time in what seemed to be my entire life my shoulders relaxed, i breathed in deep and my eyes grew tired. i may not have had all the right papers, and that should have worried me, but i was relaxing, i slumped down in my seat but before i closed my eyes to sleep i watched as out my window we passed right through neider bielow where we had lived in such fear under hitler. i saw father bettigs fields and i prayed that this would be my last goodbye to this country, i prayed it would be my last goodbye forever.

         i woke up and saw that the train was crossing the river niesse, something i should have done a long long time ago. the first station we came to was werkirch and the train came to a stop. people were getting off, a lot more were getting on, the train whistled and i hoped that meant we were leaving right away. then out of the corner of my eye i saw some german police board the train.

                  ‘anyone who boarded the train in kolfort must show their papers!’ the german policemen shouted.

         how would they know if i did or not, but they were not just checking kolforts papers, they were checking other ones. please, please skip me. get off the train, be called away somewhere.

                  ‘you, where are your papers.’

                  ‘i am registered, i have the papers right here’.

                  ‘these are not right, where are your german citizen papers?’

                  ‘russian soldiers stole them!’

                  ‘get off the train, for all we know you are a russian soldier! get off!’

         they waited till i was the door of the train before they pushed me out, then they began to beat the back of my head, i felt kicks to the back, but my backpack took up some of the impact.

                  ‘get him!’, ‘kick him’,  ‘that is good! that is what they did to me!’, passengers on the train were yelling out of the window, they thought i really was a russian soldier trying to escape.

         i found myself at a police station, they undressed me, held everything i had and i found myself with just my pants in a basement, about two meters wide, and flooded with water. my only accommodations were two boxes and a board laid on top of it, i sat down and put my palms in my face. how am i ever going to get out. i’m here! i am in germany, my wife is in this country! so close. the basement had a double iron door and there was a single bullet hole in one of the doors, perhaps the last occupant complained about the lack of suitable amenities.

         my mind wandered to the bible story of jonah, here was a man that was called by God to tell people about him, but he refused and went the other way. as he was fleeing Gods calling in a boat a storm came, and the sailors were sore afraid. jonah knew it was because of him, this was God’s way of punishing him. so jonah told the sailors to throw him overboard, and they did. as soon as they did that the sea calmed. jonah was swallowed by a whale, for three days jonah pleaded with God to free him from the whale. jonah promised that he would go and preach to the people. 3 days later jonah was thrown up onto the shore where he set out to fulfill his calling.

          i am jonah, this is my whale. Lord i will fulfill whatever it is you want me to do, but get me out of the belly of this beast.

‘you are the only one who could get me out of this,’         i prayed on my knees, on the only dry spot in the entire cell. ‘please God, let me get back to my helen. my daughters this is the lowest, i can sink. i am lost. no one but you know that i am here, in this dungeon. Lord if you choose otherwise please take care of helen and my children, supply all their needs and prepare me for enternity. i am ready to meet you. ye though i have walked through the valley of the shadow of death though are with me thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’ at that i wept, i sank to my stomach and cried like a child.

         i heard clanking at the door and i quickly wiped my eyes and got myself composed.

                  ‘come with us russian.’

                   ‘i am no russian.’

                  ‘shnell! come with us, and bring your things.’

chapter 14

as they dug through my bag they found a ukranian and a german bible, they opened up and searched every page looking for anything suspicious. they opened up the german bible and told me to read it, i hoped that this would convince them that indeed i was a german citizen, what russia..n would know how to read german?

                  i read ‘praise ye the Lord.’

         with that they erupted into laughter, like water flowing from their mouths they started to spew mockery against the Lord, i have never in my life heard such blasphemy. they had not yet punched me, but they took everything out of my bag, dumped it on the floor, told me to pick it all back up and took me back to my cell.

         the german soldier opened up the door, and let me in, but as i turned my back to walk in the door the german soldier called me a communist and with the butt of his gun knocked me in the back of the neck, and i crashed into the water on my cell floor.  i had not had a headache like this since the truck accident, i could not sleep on my two crates and board that night. my head was spinning and it caused me to throw up into the water.

         the next morning two guards pounded on the cell door.

                  ‘get up, its time to go, get your coat and your bag and let’s go.’

                  ‘where am i going?’

                  ‘your marching, all the way to rhotenburg. we are giving you back to the russians, they can do with you what they want.’

         it was back on the west side of the river, and even if it were the russians territory at least it was not back on the train to poland. my head was still pounding, i had not eaten in some time and the taste of acid was all i had in my mouth. my backpack was heavy, and only getting heavier as my walk continued. it was hot outside and my jacket was causing me to sweat. i tried to take off my coat, i would have gladly left it on the side of the road, but the policemen wouldn’t let me.

         after more than half a days walk in the heat with no food or water i dropped my heavy bag to leave it on the side of the road, the policemen yelled at me, and for fear of another blow to my head i picked it up and carried on. i think the guard was tired of walking and at dust a truck passed by and the guard stopped it and we got in the back of the truck, the guards sat on either side of me.

         it did not take long to reach rhotenburg in the back of the truck, one policeman stood over me while i sat up against the wall outside a house, the other guard went inside talked to the russians and came back out. he hoped on the truck and the two policemen took off.  there was a commotion in the inside of the house and several russian soldiers began to file out.

                  ‘so it’s a russian, trying to escape to germany! how many of you were trying to run? where are your friends now?

                  ‘i am no soldier, i am no german! please, my family is here, i just want to…’

         and with that a blow came across my face, and then anther. the biggest one picked me up by the back of my collar and pushed me into the house. then he threw me on the floor face first, i started to pick myself up when i looked up at a little man walking towards me, he had black gloves on both of hands.

                  ‘do you know who i am?’ he asked in a low tone of voice.

                  ‘no, no i do not.’ then he punched me in the stomach, my body bended around his fist and i once again found my face on the floor.

                  ‘yesterday i killed a woman with just one punch! and that is about to happen to you.’ at that he clapped his hands and one soldier opened up a door to the kitchen. a group of russian soldiers, like hungry tigers, came in the room right towards me and began beating me, kicking my groin, punching me in the neck, stomping on my knee. i started to scream in pain, i didn’t know which part of my body hurt more, they tore off my clothes, they tore off my pants, and underneath was another pair of pants that looked like a uniform.

                  ‘partisan! you’re a partisan! how many russians did you kill!?”

         none. i had killed no one.

                  ‘’how many trains have you derailed?’

         none. i have never derailed a train.

         they threw me from corner to corner, there was nothing i could do, there were so many of them, at least twenty in all, half of them beating me the other half watching and laughing. besides the pain my head was clear, i could still hear every word they were saying. i could still see their faces, even though they had pummeled me to no end i was not bleeding.

         one of the guards set my boots on the table, ‘come and get your boots,’ he said with a wink. but as i walked over there they punched me and kicked me all the way to the other side of the room, trying to retrieve my boots. then they put my pants on another table. ‘come get your pant,’ they said laughing., and again i was struck the entire way. even while putting on my pants and boots they were striking me the entire time.

         ‘enough,’ the man with the black gloves said. but they did not stop punching me, they were trying the trick with my jacket, but i was much to weak to try to get it. after the extensive and blistering walk today they could have it.

         the pummeling never seemed to end, new soldiers would walk in the door, hear that i was a ‘partisan soldier’ and they would take out any wrath they might have had on me.

                  ‘enough!!!’ the officer finally said. ‘take him to the basement with the rest of them. you there,’ he said to me,’ if you so much as take a step left or right out of line i will have my men shoot you then and there.’

         the guards began to drag me out, i tried to walk but my knees were weak with pain and exhaustion.  they took me to a bombed out building, the only thing left in tact was the basement.

                  ‘don’t worry, we will get all the information that we need from you. have you ever had your fingers put in a door? well you will soon, even the bravest men learn to talk quickly.’

                           ‘why do you have so much money with you,’ the other guard asked.

         ‘for living, i need it for living’.

at that the guards both laughed and looked at each other, ‘then you won’t be needing it for long now will you.’ and with that they shut the basement door, i could hear them laughing to each other as they walked off.

         i looked around the room and there were five other beaten german men sitting in the basement. one of them was so badly beaten both his eyes were swollen over and he was clothes were washed in blood. the basement was artic, you knew that the other men were still alive because you could see the breath pouring slowly out of them.

         there was an worn out sofa and a three legged table leaning against the cement wall. the window had iron rods and the outside of the window there was another iron door resting against the windows iron bars. outside the blocked window was a porch where the russian soldiers sat outside and watched over the basement. they could see every movement we made, we could hear them talking, so that means they could hear us.

         they had kept my jacket and for the first time today i really needed it, one of the men in the corner was whimpering. i sat quiet as i heard the conversations.

                  ‘there going to kill us you know.  i heard them talking, they plan on killing us tomorrow.’        

         ‘shut up, all of you, they are not going to kill us, they just want to torture us. over and over.’

                           ‘no, he is right, they plan on executing us tomorrow morning, we are germans, the prisoner war camps are closing, what do you think they are going to do!’

         i crouched down against the wall and at that moment, for some reason, i had the thought that i would never again see the sunlight. it was a morbid thought but i wasn’t afraid. it was as if it was matter of fact. most men would be pacing or crying in fear, but i had come to terms with my mortality and i was done being afraid. i was going to die. and that was life.

         i wondered if this is what Christ felt like on the cross, when Jesus felt like God had forsaken Him, is this what it felt like, a dead feeling inside without the fear of a tragic end anymore?

                  ‘i am not going to make it out of here,’ i blurted out, ‘i will never see my helen or my daughters again.’

                             ‘look at me,’ the aged man with the blood ridden clothes said. he was so beaten that his words came out one side of his mouth, along with saliva and a little blood. ‘i still have not given up hope, why should you? you are still young, do not give up hope just yet.’

         i could hear the russians outside, so happy, so excited that they had caught me with so much money. they knew we could hear them and they made sure that they knew that they had taken everything me, and tomorrow they were going to take my life as well.

         they were so very loud, but all of a sudden it was dead quiet.

 

                           not a  sound.

 

         all six of us sat there looking at each other, what had happened. we did not make a sound either.

                  ‘go try the door.’ someone said in a whisper.

                  ‘no way,’ i said. ‘ there are two locks on the door.’

                  ‘are you sure?’

                  ‘yes.’

                  ‘try it anyway,’ someone  else said.

         locked.

                  ‘has anyone tried the window?’ the aged man said.

         the german man went to the window and tried each and every iron bar.

                  POP.

         one of the bars came loose. we all sat there looking at each other, had they noticed? was anyone out there? we all crept a little closer to the window. the man stuck his head out the window and turned around and looked at us.

                  ‘they have all gone away to drink!’

                  ‘we should run,’ someone said.

                  ‘that’s suicide!’ someone else said.

                  ‘im going, were going to die if we stay here!’

         helen.

                  ‘ i have to go,’ i said as i made my way to the window.

         one by one we all began to crawl out of the window, we all walked to the right, away from the porch, but it was a dead end. we started to go back towards the basement and once we got back to the basement we walked straight ahead, away from our prison.

         there were so many broken roof tiles that our steps began to make loud noises as they were crushed underneath our feet. so we all began to crawl, over rocks, and tiles, nails, and concrete blocks. once we got about fifty meters we got on our feet and ran as fast as we could, we all split up in separate directions so we would not be caught together.

         it was an absolutely still and clear night, the moon was shining bright which made it easy for me to maneuver in and through the trees, but it also made me an easy target for a russian riffle.  i followed one of the germans, not to close but close enough, i figured he would know the area better than i, and if he was spotted i could hide, and if i was caught he could keep running. i was a stranger in these woods, i could have been running in circles if it were not for him.

         we stopped in a creek bed, if they had dogs we could try to throw them off. we stopped to catch our breath and drink the water. we began to climb up the river other side of the river bank when the german whispered that he heard something.

         i began to run up the side of the river bank but as i reached the top i saw shadows dance only a few meters away from me. it was to late, the russians were right behind us. i didn’t have time to lay down and take cover, so i stood there behind a small tree, maybe only 6 inches wide. still.

         they came so close to me that in the moonlight i recognized some of the soldiers from the interegation, i even saw the little man, the little man with black gloves. they didn’t see me.

                  i held my breath,

        

 

         there feet marching on the sticks and soil so loudly. but they did not talk, they only looked, guns raised.

        

         they walked right past me, i could have reached out and touched one of them they were so close.

                  ‘how long have they been gone,’ one of the soldiers said to the other.

                  ‘i don’t know.’

                  ‘you are going to be in such trouble tomorrow.’

                  ‘me? why me? you…’ there voices trailed with each step.

 

         why me God? just minutes ago i thought you had forsaken me, and then you hide me from the my brutal captures. why me God?

         i waited a few minutes and then began to make my way to the german, by this time a few of them had found each other and they were talking about what to do next. they decided that the best route was to go to a long-standing bridge, they knew of a farmhouse there that still might be abandoned. i followed them as far as the bridge and then i watched them cross, i wanted to follow the river in case the russians came, i could lose a dog’s trail or simply swim down river. as i was making my way down to the river i heard a dog start barking.

                  ‘halt! halt!’ i heard someone say in the distance.

         i quickly made my way down to the river and sank in its cold waters. the river was not always deep and the moonlight made me an easy spot, so i would crawl most of the time beside the riverbank. i did this for what seemed like all night. crawl in the dirt, then swim when the forest turned dense. a deer jumped out and scared me, the moonlight illuminated everything, so i tried to bury myself in sticks and leaves.  it was may now, but the weather was still cold, it was so very hard for me to fall asleep even though my body was so fatigued.

         i awoke on the side of the bank, and i crawled up one side of it. i must have looked like a ghost from the war, just my pants and boots on, my body bruised and bashed from soldiers hands. i lay there exhausted but i knew i must keep moving. as i reached the top of the riverbank i found myself in a farmer garden.

         ‘there going to find you anton, and when they do what will you eat then?’ a voice inside me said.  and right then, in a nearby tree a bird began to sing and my fears were abolished.

         look at the birds, they do not sow or harvest, but the heavenly father takes care of them.

         a picked what a few things from the garden, but i did not want anyone to take me for a thief, or a typical russian soldier. i saw a cart full of hay up ahead, since i was so exhausted from the lack of sleep due to the frigid air night i crawled in the warm hay, buried myself and slept for many hours. the sunlight woke me up, its gentle rays keeping me warm. there was a house about half a kilometer from the garden and cart of hay, as i got closer i heard a baby crying.         

         i needed directions on how to make my way west, at least to the train tracks, from there i could just follow them wherever they go. i tapped on a window, a lady opened up the curtain, looked at me then closed the window in a hurry. i doubt that i would open up the window or door for me either. i was beaten and bruised everywhere with just my pants and boots on. i continued down the way, looking for another house.

         at the next house i saw there were a group of people sitting outside the door, they looked like poor refugees. i went up to talk to them, explaining the situation and they were a softhearted people. they poured me a cup of black coffee and gave me a piece of black bread. they gave me a torn jacket and a cap, which had a large hole in the top of it. if only helen could see me now. the kind-hearted refugees pointed me towards the east; i was so grateful to the people, thanked them, and was off.

         as i walked along the road, i noticed that even though the jacket was a much-appreciated gift it was torn so badly that it barely kept any of the cold out. i saw a women not much older than me cutting wood, a mans job. perhaps he was off in the army, maybe he was in the army, maybe she did not have a husband anymore. i walked up to her and asked her if she knew how to sew,  she said yes and i asked her if i chopped the wood would she be kind enough to sew. her face lit up and she fixed my jacket faster than i could chop all of the wood. she told me it was a sunday, i hoped that wherever helen was she was in a church with the family, safe.

         after walking quite a ways i knocked on another house and asked them for a drink of water, i was thirsty and everything i owned was in that backpack that the soldiers stole. not only did the people give me water but also they asked if i was german, i told them i was and explained the story of helen, the children, and the train.         the not only gave me water but invited me in for a meal.

         they told me that there was americans helping people with food, clothes, and helping them find their family, they were called the red cross and he gave me directions into town. i had never heard of this, but if they could get me any closer to my family i would try.

                  ‘hello, my name is anton, i heard that you could help me find my wife.’

                  ‘where is she?’

                  ‘i don’t know, she boarded a train in kalfort, and headed into germany. from there i do not know.’

                  ‘we do not know sir, it might take us months to find her, and that is depending on if she registers  on her farm.’

                  ‘that is much to long, is there anything else you can do?’

                  ‘she could have gone as far as hanover, i will go see what i can do for you.’

         the american man, trying his best to speak german, was more than gracious; they gave me some bread, and even a small amount of money. this is only the second american i have ever met in my life. the first one was a missionary to the ukraine when i was just a teenager. he was kind to my family, and me and told me about Jesus. i do not know much about americans or their america, but each encounter with them has me leaving a bettered man.  

chapter 15.

little by little i made it through east germany, i used the little money they gave me to take a train as far as i could afford. the rest of the way i walked, or jumped on the back of a cart, and once even a truck. it was there at the border i had come to the end of as far as i could go. i knew that helen had to be in west germany, it is where the american zone was that the man with the red cross told me my family might be.

         the border was heavy with soldiers and police, a year ago the allies divided germany with the russians. the war may have been over but the tension was thick.  the russians did not allow anyone to leave east germany without permission my the communist government.  i asked several people how to get across the border, and no one would talk to me, they simply walked away fast while looking around. one man called a russian and said all i wanted to do is arrest him.

         russian soldiers were walking towards me, i could hear them in the distance, they always laughed so loud, and in war men are to busy trying to survive to laugh. out of the corner of my eye i saw an elderly man unloading sacks of grain, as if it was natural to have random people help him, to look busy, he carried on without missing a beat. after the soldiers had left i continued to help him until finally he told me that i could stop, the russians had left.

         i asked him if he knew where i could find a way across the border, he said nothing but nodded for me to get into his wagon. outside of town i helped him pile more bags of grain into his wagon.

                  ‘when we go back into town i will take you to a tavern, at night i heard people gather and cross into the american zone.’

                  ‘do you know who i talk to?’

                  ‘no, i know nothing.’

                  ‘why don’t you cross old man?’

                  he laughs and touches his face as if he were feeling it for the first time          ‘i am not old, this war,’ he paused ‘this war has made me old. i have a family here, to many, i have heard about what they do to people they catch trying to cross into the american zone.’

                  ‘take them with you, every single one of them, these russians are not good men.’

                  ‘yes, but i must be. and i must be wise. you are by yourself, you should go.’

         the tavern was darkly lit, men sat in corners  and stared in silence. no one seemed to be to interested in drinking or talking, but looking out the window frequently to see where the sun rested.

                  ‘what are you having?’

                  ‘nothing, i do not want anything, thank you.’

                  ‘you come into my bar and you want nothing? well then move along. perhaps other tavern want customers who just want to sit but not me.’

                  ‘ill take a drink.’

                  ‘what kind?’

                  ‘anything, i am in here to…’

         his eyes bulged and told me to shut my mouth without saying a word.

                  ‘… i am in here to meet some friends.’

                  ‘oh very good, your friends should be in here well after dark they said.’ the bartender clamored as he walked off to serve me.

                  ‘can i ask you one more thing?’ i said.

                  ‘sure friend, whats that?’

                  ‘what is the date today?’

                  ‘you would be surprised on how many times i am asked that, these days people don’t care what tomorrow is, as long as it comes. the date is may 15, 1946.

         after my eyes adjusted i saw a man with two children in the back, he looked up at me his face was sunken in and looked as though he had not eaten in weeks. one of his children was sleeping in his lap and the other was eating bread as fast as i have ever seen. the child was constantly looking around while eating as if everyone around her was after that bread crust of hers. i was hungry but after becoming a paying customer for a drink i didn’t want i was left with nothing.

        

         after about three hours of patiently waiting in a dark lit corner myself a man yelled ‘ok that’s it, were closed, everyone not waiting on friends has to get out, lets go. and that means you!’ he pointed at a man who had his head on the table since i have been here, only holding his head up to take another sip of vodka, then putting his head right back down onto the table.

         after everyone had left a man with a button up khaki shirt stood on the bar and gathered everyone to him.

                  ‘ok this is how tonight will proceed comrades,  i am in the tourism business. that is all, nothing more or less. i have some rather interesting sites to show you and if you choose to go off course then i cannot stop you. the russian army will not like you to go off course so i am telling you right now that it’s not a good idea. i have heard talks of a wall being constructed soon so if you do not go with me tonight you may never  have the chance.’

         people began to gather what possesions they had, and i pulled the man on the bar aside.

                  ‘i do not have anything to give you sir, but i do have these boots, they are warm and still have the sole.’

                  ‘i do not do this for shoes,’ he laughed. ‘i do this for you, for me, for life. this war has taken everything from me; my wife, my child, my home, my soul. in some small way this is my way of stealing back what was stolen, by giving free men their freedom back.’

         with that he turned and lead us out the back door of the tavern, there were men on the lookout outside the bar giving us the OK that there were not any soldiers in the area, and the way was clear.  we began to climb over rocks and through ditches, the little girls were now crying because they were tired, but we had to keep marching in the cover of the night. our feet were soaked to the bones, we had to walk a good while in the water to lose the scent for any russian dogs. at one point we thought we heard a gunshot and laid on our stomachs for about an hour. i remember that for may it was rather cold and the warm earth felt so good. i tried to take off my shoes allow my feet to dry but i was making to much noise and just left them.

                  ‘this is it comrades, cross over this wire fence right here and you will be into american occupied west germany. ‘

         my heart raced as i watched one by one people crept through the unguarded and unsecure fence line. i could hear the father start to cry as he looked back at east germany. i wondered what he left behind or what memories from that side of the fence were going to haunt him on this side of the fence. memories are like imaginary ghosts, it is always at night that they keep you awake. 

         i shook the hands of the man on the bar and asked him once again if he would like my boots, he smiled and silently walked away by himself. i ran up the hill as fast as i could, trying to get as far from that fence as i could, the others did the same running from some imaginary force, and the our haunted pasts.  at the top of the hill the most beautiful site was waiting on us. it was a night sky without any air raid sirens, no fires in the distance, no screams, just peace. 

         i dropped to my knees, i had forgotten what freedom looked like and the sight of it made me collapse. i looked up and thanked my God for allowing me to go this far, then i looked as far as i could from left to right knowing that somewhere in that gaze was helen, now to find her. 

        

 

 

 

         ‘did you come with a transport?’ the man asked?

         ‘what?’

         ‘a transport!’

         ‘no, i didn’t, i mean i have been on several trains, and my wife, she came here in one some time ago. i am just trying to find her!’

         ‘well we cannot take you into the refugee camp.’

         ‘please, i am not here for a handout, i just want to find my wife and children, her name is helen’.

         ‘there is nothing i can do.’

         ‘please sir, i have been on foot for days, trying to outrun the russians, i am tired and only want to care for my wife.’        

         ‘ok, the best i can do is give you a log of refugees, what date do you think they got here.’

         ‘i am not sure, months ago, i will look through them all.’

         the man helped me sort through a few books but had to go back to his post, no one knew where they could be and most of the writing in the log book was illegibal and none were alphabetical.

         then i spotted her name! in a fury of excitement i ran to the  man at the post and showed him the entry.

         ‘well they were here, but they are gone.’

         ‘gone?’

         ‘yes, the entry does not say they stayed, but it does not say where they went. they moved on. i am sorry.’

         ‘what do i do now?’

         ‘well you did not come in as a refugee, you have no refugee rights. the only way you can stay in this area to continue to look for your wife legally is to get a job.’

         ‘do you know anyone that is looking for help, i can do anything.’

         ‘no, i am sorry, start looking around outside town, your best bet is to work on a farm.’

chapter 16.

i began to look for a job, with no such luck. there were so many refugees, and more pouring in each day that the jobs were taken before  a notice was posted. i started to go to outlying villages asking farmers if they needed help, and again my heart grew heavy under the weight of the lack of a job. they were going to make me leave, and i refuse to leave without my helen. a man offered me a job as a cow milkier, and i took it, except that i had no idea how to milk a cow which became evident my first day on the job. so i was let go that same day and once again kept walking village to village asking anyone and everyone i encountered.

         as i walked up to another small village i got down on my knees, looked back up to the sky and asked Jesus to help me in this time of need, again.  someone had given me a piece of bread several villages back, i did not have much and was trying to conserve what i could, but thanked God for the bite of bread i was about to eat. 

         as soon as i finished my bite of bread and decided to eat the rest, something inside was telling me that i didn’t need to save any. with each bite my faith grew and i picked myself up and walked on.

         left here.

                  right here,

         walk…

         i just followed the still small voice inside.

i don’t know how to explain it, it was as if someone was there with me saying ‘no, don’t go to this house, keep walking.’

         i walked past several houses and finally made my way up the lengthy path to an extensive farm where a farmer stood, looking as though he was expecting me.

         ‘welcome friend.’

         ‘hello, i saw that you had a very large farm and might need some help.’

         ‘well i don’t farm much anymore, my son is in charge. come sit down, it looks like you have been on quite a journey to end up here on my doorstep. i will go get him.’ he said as he slowly walked away with what looked like a limp in both legs.

         as i sat there, i wished i could just fall asleep. the wind had a stagger that walked across the front porch slapping my face as it crossed. i buried my hands into my face but quickly jumped up, i am sure that a tired man would not make a great first impression on a farmer needing help.

         the young man, younger than me, was walking towards me with a logs pilled so high that they hid half of his face. i quickly ran over to help relieve the load. the ‘man of the house’ couldn’t have been but 16.

         ‘who sent you to my farm’ the child-man said.

         ‘i wasn’t sent, i just came.’

         ‘you just came? we are a farm not easy to find.’

         ‘i have been looking for work, call it what you will but i have been praying for work for some time, and those prayers lead me here.’

         ‘well my friend, my fathers prayers lead you here to. come inside. eat.’

         with all that was in me i wanted to throw the food in my mouth, shoveling like a wild animal. but i behaved. i had to, first impressions of a sleeping laborer or a wild boar would have sent clearly the wrong message.

         after lunch we went right to work. i can see why the father longed for some help, the child was a very hard worker but neither of them could lift much weight and much time was consumed with just the two of them attempting  rigorous farm work.

         that night as we sat down for dinner the father asked me to stay, looking at his boy, who with a nod reciprocated the request. holding back i calmly said yes, knowing it was faith that got me here, prayers that got me this job, and both faith and prayers that were going to help me find helen.

         i wrote my father bettig who was in saxon burgerdorf and told them all that had happened, and to see if they had any news of my helen. i sent them several letters, just in case some of them didn’t get through. after awhile the letters were similar in content, but i needed to know.

         each day i would ask the farmer, after awhile i felt like i was annoying the elderly man, so i would just nod, and he would nod. no one in town had heard of my helen, and even though i knew that most likely she was not anywhere close i made sure to bring her up in every conversation.

         the boy would ask me at night my stories, at first i was hesitant not because i was trying to be a recluse, but because i wondered if it was over. it didn’t seem over, helen wasn’t with me. i left out a lot, not because i was sad, but because i didn’t think i could share such things with such a young mind. i wanted to keep him innocent to the world yet warm him of what power and a corrupt mind could do to a people.

         i was out feeding the cows one evening and found a gold watch, not thinking much of it i put it in my pocket thinking that the next morning i would find its rightful owner.

         the next morning i saw the elderly mans wife walking through the field in a distance, at one point it looked like she had sank to her knees saying something towards the heavens. i went about my daily work but ran into her pacing while feeding the cows.

         ‘why do you look so sad?’

         ‘i have been up all night, i cannot find my gold watch.’

         ‘you have been up all night?’

         ‘yes! this quite possibly might be the worst day of my life.’

         i was intriqued that such a possession had ahold of a person, and that of all the days of my life losing all my possesions was no where near the top 10 of the worst days of my life.         

         remaining quiet on the subject i reached into my pocket and pulled out her watch.

         ‘where was it?’

         ‘it was right her, in the cow pasture. i have lost everything, and yet i sleep like a baby.’

         she laughed as if i were joking about my lack, but my face never changed into so much an apologetic smile.

 

                  it was almost six weeks to the day i nodded to the old man, and this time he had a smile on his face. i grabbed the letter and proceeded to hide away as if the letter was a secret document, or more importantly a sacred relic clung to chest.

         they had heard from her.

         she was ok, alive, and healthy. she had written them some time earlier, and she was on her way to them in saxon burgerdorf. i could waste no time,  i told the farmer that day that i was leaving.

         ‘will you return?’

         ‘would you like me to?’

         ‘yes anton, we have come to rely on you and do not think we could go back to how this place was. bring your family. we will pay you what we can, but we can feed and shelter your whole family!’.

          ‘then i will come back, i cannot say when, but i promise as soon as i can.’

         with that he nodded, and i nodded. i went to grab my jacket and i set out. i don’t think i stopped for water or food, or even to sleep the first leg of my travels. my motivation was to great.

         i walked with such a brisk pace, and ran as much as i could. people must have thought i was trying to escape, even some asked who was chasing me, others asked if we were under attack again. such is the mindset of a post war world.

         as i approached the city wall i could not stop running, i passed my sister-in-law on a nearby street not even stopping to say hello. i needed helen. i nearly broke open the door as i arrived, and there she was sitting on the floor of the opposing wall. she was as i wanted her to be. helen. little anne ran to me and began crying, time had stolen a few opportunities to watch her grow, but never again. my little family just held each other, a moment to gold watch could compare with.

         we exchanged stories, moments, times, touches. i told them that we had work and that we had no rush to get back, but they needed me. i was caught up in the moments that were laid before me, not letting my family out of my sites for more than mere seconds. it all felt surreal. was it really over? was the war over? was our fear of starvation and stray bullets something of the past?

         my little family went back to live in a small shelter at the farm working for the farmer and his family. helen and i had a son, my first son, paul.  i wanted paul to hurry and be a man with me, working in the fields; but at the same time i wanted him to have a childhood. something i never had. the government were building houses for refugees and the house built for us was a slow process, so after i worked on the farm i would go help on my house, then go back to the farm to sleep next to helen.

         i found work at a local factory dying fabrics, i found that i could do that during the evenings after my work on the house was done. we were building a life. one job, one nail, one moment at a time.

         one day i found myself on my knees looking at my little brick house, helen saw me out the window and came out to where i was. she walked up to me and i buried my head into her stomach.

         ‘is it ours helen?’

         ‘yes anton.’

         ‘for how long.’

         ‘you have lived the same life i have, and you know that no one can answer that question.’

         ‘i don’t want to run anymore.’

         ‘we don’t have to.’

         i wanted to cry, but it was if the years of exhaustion caught me up with me in that moment. i had a house. i had a job. i had my helen. i had my children. i had… peace.

         ‘anton.’

         ‘yes.’

         ‘i am pregnant. our first child to be born in this new world of ours.’

         i leaned back, still on my knees in front of our brick house, and smiled at her, then buried my head back into her stomach this time knowing there was a little one being formed inside.

         there were refugee churches springing up, and we attended every sunday. not because we felt obligated, but that we had the freedom to do so, in harmony. we were getting ready for church one sunday when helen told me that she could not go, it was time

         that was the day that our precious mary was born. as i held my daughter for the first time i began to smile, knowing that it would be much easier to fulfill my promises to her.

         ‘you will be safe here.’

         it was april, 1951 now, and we were so happy in our new life. we may not be able to escape the horrors of our past, but we were bound to make the future better for those whose lives were now coming into fruition.         

         father bettig came and visited us, i remember how proud i was of showing him all i had built on our little brick house. i took him to the factory and showed him where my hands were put to work.

         ‘you love it here?’

         ‘yes father, i do.’

         ‘even though the country is still under distress?’

         ‘the war is over father, hopefully men learn from their mistake and move on.’

         ‘and if they don’t?’

         ‘we have survived this long, we will survive again.’

         ‘but what if you could go to america?’

         ‘i can’t, so i won’t entertain the thought.’

         ‘but what if we tried? america has jobs, and safety. i have two brothers living there, who have lived there since 1912. they know their country and say that we should come join them.’

         ‘i have a house and a job here.’

         ‘you have a job and a house here… but will your children, and their children?’

         i knew that i had to get to america, i did not need a good life for myself, but i wanted a better life for them. i was only 37, and knew that if i worked hard i could make the same life or even better in the ‘land of opportunity.’

         we began the long process of the refugee program to get to america, my father bettig was already underway with the process and that year, 1951, he left to america. it was not a sad goodbye, they were alive, heading towards safety and we knew we would see them again.  my father in law promised me that as soon as he got there he would help find a sponsor for us, which was needed for the program. we all watched the bettig family, with all six of their children, board the bus which was to take them to the giant boat. waving goodbye it gave me hope that someday we would be able to board a boat as well.

    

     one by one our family members and friends were able to go to america, letters back to us were something of a fairy tale life, freedom that they had never experienced or knew was possible. they worshiped without fear, they talked openly without the threat the government would drag them away, they even were in the process of buying land that would soon be theirs!

         year after year went by, its not that i gave up on american but it felt like slowly america was giving up on me. the paperwork seemed to move slowly, but i still had the job at the factory and though our family was growing (we now have 5 children) our house was adequate. people talked of war as if it couldn’t happen again, but those of us who really lived through it thought those exact same things afer the russian revolution. war is inevitable on earth, its that we don’t know when the first shot will sing out.

         i was now 45, but my body did not show signs of weakening any time soon, manual labor made sure of that.  as i walked in from another long day at the dye helen was there to greet me, as usual. i had seen that smile before, but where? the farmer. yes i remember it from the old man when he told me…

         ‘the letter arrived today!,’ helen said.

         ‘what did it say?’

         ‘we have a sponsor, we are leaving at the end of the month!’

         ‘helen, lets begin packing tonight.’

         ‘but it’s not for a few weeks.’

         i was much to excited to think rational in this situation. i had to read the letter. i had to read it again. and again. and again. we were indeed going to the united states.  i told my job the next day that i would no longer be working there, that i had to prepare for america.

         the day to we were to leave for america could not have come any sooner. we loaded up onto the bus, and looked back and waved at anyone who would wave back. we were on our way, all seven of us. together. safe.

we finally arrived in saint joseph, michigan where God blessed us abonduantly, including having another daughter, sandra. not a day would pass that helen and i wouldn’t walk outside our house and pray, thanking God that he directed our lives and led us step by step, priveledged to live in the greatest country in the world..

‘we are safe here.’