For as long as there have been people, there have been wars. Hundreds, even thousands of people fight on one side; as many fight on the other. Each side is sure that it is right, that it is fighting for good, for justice, for a better world. But both sides can't be right. And usually both are wrong. They have been tricked, deceived, confused. They are following leaders who have deserted them, have deserted their ideals. In their stupidity, they believe that wrong is right, that bad is good, that treachery is just. They betray the very values that they think they cherish.
I used to have such contempt for them. The blind masses. The thundering fools. Ready to kill at a moment's notice, unable to think in a thousand lifetimes. Destroying lives, destroying societies, destroying each other. Oh, how I hated them, loathed them! And how smug I felt about myself! I, after all, was not so blind as they were. I was aware of what I was doing. I was under my own control.
But I am much less critical of those mind-slaves now. For I have outdone them all. I did not just follow a corrupt leader, I bonded with a member of the most brutal force the world has ever seen. And I did not just give him servitude and cooperation. I let him in to the inner-most reaches of my heart.
I still remember the time before. I was a bold, confident young woman, living with my family in Poland. My family was not rich, but we were surviving. We were healthy. We were alive.
I was the oldest child. Independent-minded. A little mischievous. When I got to be old enough, I would go off on my own whenever I could. I sometimes walked alone in the woods, sometimes went to those strange cafes that were always open but never busy, and sometimes went in to the Jewish part of town. We weren't supposed to go there. If my parents had found out, they would have hit the roof. No one really trusted the Jews. They kept to themselves, and the rest of us never had anything to do with them. But I liked the freedom I found there. I never met anyone I knew, never accidentally bumped into a friend of my parents who would ask, always with such great concern, why I wasn't home with the family. Or worse, tell me that the dress I was wearing just wasn't right, didn't quite become me. In the Jewish section I was completely anonymous. I would get the occasional stare from people passing by. They would wonder who I was, what I was doing there, if I was Jewish, what family I was from. But I was just a young girl, and they would let me pass without any great concern.
There was a small restaurant I used to go to there. A cafeteria, perhaps, or maybe I should say a deli. When I'd been walking for a while, and felt tired, a bit hungry, I would slip in for a quick rest and a little snack. They served a lot of smoked foods: smoked meat, smoked fish, and so on. Sandwiches, soups, stews, they seemed to make everything out of nothing. It was sort of Polish food, but sort of different. It made me feel very worldly to be eating there, to be tasting food my parents had never thought of. It made me feel grown-up. Still, I could never tell my family about where I had been.
It was in that deli that I met Andrei. Ah, Andrei. Even now I feel weak when I say his name. I still feel his hands. So soft, so tender. I have never known anyone who was so gentle. When we lay awake together, caressing each other, stroking, rubbing, holding, my body seemed to melt into his. His skin gave way to mine. I felt so warm. So cared for. So protected. So comfortable. Even when Andrei was arguing about politics with the others, or announcing his contempt and defiance of the "imperialist police" as he called them, he radiated gentleness, warmth. The others would trust him, like him, respect him, but never fear him. He was soft like silk.
But I get ahead of myself.
Andrei used to come to the deli with his friends. The Others, we called them later. The socialists. There weren't many of them, but they were earnest and serious. They fancied themselves as plotting the revolution. They were going to build a Socialist Poland, to eliminate poverty and exploitation, to distribute the wealth fairly. They were young. They were enthusiastic. They were sure of themselves. And they enjoyed discussing their plans. All the little details. They wanted to work everything out.
"You can't have instant unification of different countries", one would say. "There are too many cultural gaps. Even with a workers', socialist orientation, there are distinctions to be overcome. With time, surely, the world will become one country, but not right away."
"That's just the bourgeois propaganda!", another would argue. "Marx said it right: the only true struggle is the class struggle. Workers in Poland have the same needs, the same desires, as the workers in the Soviet Republics, the workers in Germany, the workers in France, the workers in America. These so-called national differences are in fact just a wall put up by the international imperialist class to impede the workers in their inevitable march towards a united, socialist world. We need to oppose such ideas, to unify the international working class as quickly as possible."
And on it would go. They would argue for many hours at a time, sometimes angry, sometimes friendly, always excited, always taking their discussions very seriously. They made a racket in that little deli! I used to overhear them, listen to them, and form opinions of my own. My parents had treated me with respect, had talked to me, had given me an education. And I was a regular reader of the newspaper. I followed the world news. I knew about the industrialists in America, the Bolsheviks in Russia, the fascists in Germany, Italy, and Spain. So I knew what these Jewish socialists were talking about. And sometimes I had things to add. But of course I never said anything.
Then, one day, one of them saw me sitting alone. He invited me over, and asked me what I thought of their discussion. I can't remember which of them asked me; I'm sure it wasn't Andrei. They all had smirks on their faces; they didn't expect me to know what to say. But I had been listening, waiting to speak, on many different days. I spoke right up, I remember. "The workers and the capitalists shouldn't be fighting right now", I said. "They should join together in a common anti-fascist alliance."
That was all I said, and then I stopped. The men all stared at me for a while; some of their mouths hung open. Who was I, this young gentile woman, to have ideas about an anti-fascist alliance? Finally, one of the men said something in response, something about an alliance across class lines being doomed to failure because of fundamentally different class interests. Somebody else responded that fascism might well create its own deathbed, by encouraging precisely the sort of alliance I had suggested. A third fellow disagreed with both of them. I don't remember exactly. I do remember that I didn't say another word the whole night. For perhaps another hour I sat with them at their table, silently taking in the debate I had begun. And what I remember the clearest is that although I said nothing more, and although they got into some fierce arguments with each other about what I had suggested, they all continued to look only at me.
Oh, how fun it is to think about the old times. I felt so free. Able to go where I want. To say what I wanted. I was young and strong. Each day was a new opportunity.
I became a regular participant in the socialists' discussions. For a while I came every second or third day, and soon it was every day. Some of the socialists were quite clever; others were not. But I did so love arguing with them. There weren't many places, then, that a woman could even hear such discussions as these. And here I was, a full partner. After they got over their initial shock, the men started to take me quite seriously. They even looked to me as an expert on certain matters, such as the attitudes of the gentile shopkeepers (like my father). Now, I never really became a socialist. I didn't really agree with a lot of what they said. But I never left that deli without a lot of things to think over, and I was always happy to have come.
Gradually, slowly, Andrei and I fell in love. It started with his walking me part way home, when the discussions went very late. Not all the way home, just back to the main road where it was lit. After a while he started walking me to the main road every time, no matter when we finished. We started walking slower and slower, and taking a longer and longer time to get to the road. We took little breaks under the leaning tree by the bakery, and then the breaks got longer and longer, too. At first, we would talk during these breaks. But soon talking led to holding, and holding led to kissing. I always felt very comfortable, under our little tree together. Finally, one time when it was very late, we lay down and fell asleep there. I didn't get home until the next morning and my parents were very angry.
An actual marriage between us was unthinkable. Who could we find to marry a Jew to a Gentile? But Andrei lived in a house with some of the others, and they had a large basement with little mats for sleeping on. By this time I was having many arguments with my parents anyway, so sometimes I would just sleep for the night on one of the extra mats. One thing led to another, and one day, just after my twentieth birthday, I officially -- in my mind, at least -- moved into the house with Andrei and the others.
My parents wouldn't speak to me anymore, and some of the Others started to view me with suspicion. But Andrei and I were so in love, and so happy. We wouldn't have changed anything. We wanted it to go on just the way it was, forever. We had no idea what a terrible, terrible thing was about to happen. It was 1939, and Hitler had just decided to invade Poland.
I remember so clearly the fascist advance on Poland. For all of our talk about how best to stop the fascists, and the threats posed by the fascists, and what life might be like under the fascists, I don't think any of us actually thought they would invade. They wouldn't dare, we thought. They couldn't get away with it. The Poles would crush them. The Soviets would repel them. It would never happen.
But it did happen, of course. And happen quickly. The news came so fast there wasn't really time to evaluate it. The Nazis had invaded from the west, we heard. They were advancing more quickly than anyone had imagined. They were imprisoning the Jews, the socialists, the trouble makers. Even some upstanding gentiles were being arrested as possible "security threats". My parents urged me to stay home with them, to stay away from all the fighting. And above all, they insisted that I not go in the Jewish area again. They said they wouldn't let me out of the house unless I promised them that, so I did. But I had no intention of keeping my promise. I would not abandon Andrei, not at a time like this. I had dreams of organizing a resistance, of repelling the Nazis with sticks and knives, of making things safe again.
I never did, of course. We discussed the possibility with The Others, and they agreed it was necessary, but we argued over the details. Should our resistance have official leaders, or be anarchistic? What weapons should we use? Who should be involved? Where would we start? Should we seek out battle at once, or go into hiding and wait for the right moment?
It didn't matter what we decided in the end. Before we had time to even get ready, the Nazis had arrived, huge armies armed with the latest guns and bombs and other weapons. The idea of a few of The Others fighting them with kitchen knives quickly became a joke. We were immediately "discovered" and arrested. We were thrown into the back of some kind of army truck, and driven away. At first we did not know where we were going, but we soon found out. The Nazis were beginning to set up forced labour camps, and we were among the first Poles to be brought there. Later, of course, they started rounding up whole sections of the Jewish community, and later still came the gas chambers, the actual executions. But we were not so lucky. We were to be used as military resources, as manufacturers.
The trucks drove us to a makeshift camp that the Nazis had just set up. We were ordered not to speak to each other, and to march along single- file. We waited in line while each of us in turn was "processed", and then dragged along to places unknown.
One of the Nazis, a Commadante, was looking in on the proceedings. He didn't appear to be in charge, but was of high enough rank that the other Nazis were quite aware of his presence. He appeared to be inspecting us in the line, a sort of idle curiosity about what new items the fascists had acquired. I felt a loathing for him so strong that I had to restrain myself from just running at him, and perhaps punching him once before being shot by one of the many armed guards present. Then suddenly he noticed me looking at him, and slowly walked towards me.
My heart began to pound. He knew that I hated him. It was too much trouble to keep me around. They would march me off and shoot me now. It took all my strength to keep from crying. They had won. They had caught us. And now I was going to die.
But when the Commadante reached me, his attitude was not aggressive. "You are not Jewish, are you", he asked in German. I looked away from him and said nothing. I would not participate in their fascist plan, even if I were about to be killed. "What is your name", he continued, in a false sort of friendliness.
Fascists, I thought! You may have conquered us for now. But don't you DARE expect cooperation from me. You can torture me if you like, but don't expect me to answer your questions.
Seeing that I did not respond, the Commadante tried switching to Polish. Haltingly, he said in Polish, "What is your name?" When I still said nothing, he continued in Polish, "Don't be afraid."
Suddenly I exploded. "Don't be afraid? Don't be afraid??", I screamed in German. "Don't worry, you fascist pig, I'm not afraid of you. You can shoot us, you can kill us, but you won't destroy us. Fascism will die an ugly death at the hands of the true freedom-fighters!" As I was screaming these words, I knew I was sealing my death warrant. But I actually felt relief, knowing that I had not capitulated, had not been afraid, had remained defiant. The other prisoners in line looked around slightly, very scared and hoping to be spared the fate that now awaited me. One of the armed guards, who was standing nearby, heard me shouting and came running up to strike me with the butt of his gun. I flinched and closed my eyes, but felt nothing. Instead, I heard the Commadante's voice say, in German, "It's all right, it's all right, leave her alone." I opened my eyes, and saw the Commadante actually SMILING at me. How I loathed him! Instinctively I spit at him, but missed. The armed guard moved to strike me again, but the Commadante again held him back, still smiling, and said "Have her brought to the F building." Then he turned and left.
I was quickly dragged away by two of the guards. And they did have to drag me, for by this point I was kicking and shouting and spitting at all of them. The rage within me, that I had suppressed during the truck ride, that I had suppressed while waiting in line, had come right to the top. I wanted nothing more than to kill one of them before I myself was killed. Then at least we would be even. As they dragged me, I heard Andrei, also in line, call after me, but another of the guards quickly grabbed him, and I heard him no more. I was brought to one of the buildings, and was locked in a small, bare room, with no windows and no way to escape.
It seemed like I was in there for hours. At first, the only thing I felt was rage. I pounded on the door, I screamed about fascism and brutality, I decried the cruelty of humanity. What were the Nazis doing? What had we Poles done to deserve this? We would yet prevail! Nazism would die a quick death!
But gradually my rage and bravado gave way to worry and fear. What had they done with Andrei, I wondered. Would they kill him too? And what of me? Would they torture me? Rape me? Or just kill me straight away? And what was taking them so long?
Finally I started to think more practically. There must be some way to escape, I thought. And once I get out of this room, out of this building, perhaps I can find Andrei and The Others. They might be imprisoned somewhere, but perhaps not guarded now. And I, having been sent off on my own, would have an advantage of sorts. They wouldn't be expecting me. Perhaps we could all escape, and could form our resistance after all. The possibility even excited me. I could hardly wait to figure out how to get out of the small room that was my prison cell.
But try as I might, I just couldn't escape. The building was wooden, with a heavy door. It was latched from the outside. I heaved myself against the door, over and over again, but succeeded only in bruising my shoulders. It appeared that for the moment I was trapped. I was disheartened, but didn't give up on the resistance yet. I would just have to be more patient, that's all. That is, if I lived long enough to have a chance.
After what seemed like hours, I heard people coming to the door to my room. Then it swung open. It was the Commadante, with two armed guards behind him. Although I had been waiting all this time, they still took me by surprise. I was unsure of what they wanted from me, what they would do to me. But in a strange way I was emboldened. I knew that I could do nothing to make my situation worse than it already was. And the sight of the guards, Nazi soldiers, wrapped in swastikas, hiding behind their rifles, revived my contempt and hatred. "Nazi fascists!", I screamed. "You don't scare me! We'll get you yet! We'll ..." I wasn't sure how to continue. Something strange was happening. The Nazis weren't reacting to me as they had before. The guards stood perfectly still, and the Commadante was, well, smiling at me. "How dare he", I thought.
Then the Commadante spoke. But not angrily. "So pretty", he said, slowly shaking his head. "So energetic. So alive." He paused, and then said sadly, "But not calm enough to go outside. Pity. I wanted to take you for a walk." With that he nodded to the guards, turned, and walked away. The guards quickly closed and locked the door, and I was alone again. At first I was just sort of stunned. What had happened? What did he want with me? Did he really want me to go for a walk?? Was he serious? Does he really expect me to be his little plaything?? I was furious. Enraged! If they wanted to kill me, why didn't they just kill me? Why all this strangeness? And if they didn't want to kill me, why didn't they put me back with the other prisoners? Were they afraid of me? Not likely. So why were they dragging things on like this?
Once I'd recovered my wits, I thought about the events more rationally. The only possible conclusion, it seemed, was that this strange Commadante had taken a liking to me. But why? And what did he plan to do with me? I shuddered at some of the possibilities. But of one thing I was sure: I would never cooperate with their plans, even though sooner or later that would be my death. My only hope was that before they killed me, I could kill one of them.
Preferably the Commadante.
They kept me in that little room, with no windows, for such a long time. It was really so cruel. I did not know what was happening to The Others, I did not know what would become of me. I couldn't see the outside, and, except for a little crack of sunlight that found its way through the very corner of the room, I had no idea what time it was, or whether it was day or night.
They brought me food. Not very nutritious, but I was well enough fed. But the guards who brought the food were very curt, and even rough. In any case, they never said anything of substance.
My only real human contact consisted of brief, strange visits from the Commadante. To this day, I'm not sure why he persisted with me for so long. I know he thought I was beautiful, for he told me so. But even still. Was he so isolated and desperate, that he would return day after day just to be screamed at?
He would usually arrive shortly after I had finished supper. He would ask how I had enjoyed my meal, and how I was doing. I would respond only with contempt. "How am I? I am kept locked in a tiny room for day after day. I see no sunlight, I talk to no friend. I am held prisoner by stupid fascists like you. And you want to know how I am?", I would sneer. The Commadante would just smile, look at me for a few minutes, and then leave. And I would vow to get even angrier with him the next time.
But by and by, I grew tired. The Commadante seemed only to enjoy my outbursts, and in any case I wasn't accomplishing anything. Gradually my contempt gave way to indifference. I started to at least listen to what the Commadante was saying, and I even appreciated hearing another human voice (though of course I never told him that).
His name was Helmut, he told me. He was from the Black Forest region of Germany. He had been a member of Hitler Youth since the age of fourteen. He was fond of classical music. He had been studying to be an engineer before the war broke out. I never stopped loathing him, but I did learn a bit about him. Since he was the only person who ever spoke with me, he was hard to ignore.
But what affected me the most was when he talked about the outside. There was a place nearby, he told me, with a bubbling brook, and green grass, and trees and flowers. He would sneak away there sometimes, when he wasn't on duty. He hinted that he was of sufficiently high rank that he could really sneak away whenever he wanted to. It had been so long since I had seen anything green and alive. I couldn't help feeling envious, and imagining this brook of which he spoke. I was so demoralized, being trapped and alone in my little room.
He always hinted that he could take me with him. That if I would agree, he could sneak me out (temporarily, of course), and we could walk in the brook together. But of course I never accepted his offer. To do so would be to give in, to accept my captivity, to betray my hatred of the Nazi army.
Still, I did enjoy listening to him. By and by, I participated more in the conversations. I would tell him about my taste in music, about my fondness for languages, about my childhood. And he would listen seriously, intelligently. Yet he was a fascist! I kept having to remind myself that he was no ordinary person, that I could never think of him of as anything other than what he was, a viscous, ruthless person with no respect for human life. I felt myself becoming more unsure of my emotions, more unstable, not knowing who I was any longer.
And then a terrible thing happened. Even now, I shudder when I think about it. One evening, after another of our chats, when Helmut was turning to go as usual, I noticed something that I hadn't seen before.
I noticed that Helmut was a very handsome man.
It is hard to keep track of all the memories. There are a number of disjointed fragments from my many weeks locked in that room. I am not always sure what happened first.
I remember Helmut getting more and more frustrated at my refusal to leave the compound with him. After all of our discussions, he would say, we had become friends. And he was simply offering to take a friend on a nice drive in the country. How could I refuse him? I would insist that we were not friends and could never be, that he was a fascist and I was the resistance. But even as I said these words, I wondered about them. What indeed was I doing to resist, aside from stubbornly refusing to leave my prison cell?
Helmut then asked me if I really enjoyed being a prisoner so much, that I didn't want to leave. In his frustration, he pulled me out of my little room, and towards a large window in the hallway. I was completely unprepared for what I saw. There were prisoners everywhere, with shaved heads and flimsy striped clothes. They were carefully watched by uniformed, armed Nazi guards, and forced to lift big boxes, to dig tunnels, to build walls and stack wood. They all looked so sickly, so frightened, so defeated. It was heart-wrenching. I felt so badly for them, and suddenly so guilty at my own comparatively privileged situation. I saw that I had been so worried about myself that I hadn't really thought about what was happening to everybody else.
While staring in shock through that window, my gaze happened to fall upon my husband, Andrei. At first I didn't recognize him. He was so skinny, so weak-looking. His hair was gone. His clothes were much too large. His face was cut. Even his eyes looked tired. What I saw was not Andrei so much as Andrei's corpse. I can still remember feeling pain in my stomach, and feeling nauseous and faint. Helmut had to help me back to my room. Thank God he had enough sense not to say anything.
Another evening, when Helmut came in, he had a small purple flower in his hand. To show me what grew by the brook, he explained. He left it for me when he parted. I was so insulted by his childish games, that I grabbed the flower, preparing to tear it to shreds. But it felt soft and smooth, and I found myself pulling it towards my face. It smelled of sweet perfume. Furious with Helmut and with myself, I threw down the flower and stepped on it.
I once found a piece of paper hidden in my food at supper time. It was a scratched, unsigned note, from one of The Others (Misha, I decided). It said something like "Which floor has ammunition reserve? If know, pass note to Leonid at well." I had to think for a minute to even figure out what the note was saying. I gathered that some of The Others were planning some sort of rebellion -- doomed to failure, I was sure. They must have determined in which building I was being held, assumed that I was also plotting rebellion, and decided to try to find out if I had certain information I could pass on to them.
I immediately felt terrible. I realized that, for all my defiant talk to Helmut, I had long given up on actually finding a way to defeat the enemy. I knew nothing about the ammunition reserve, or even where The Others were being held. I couldn't bear to think about how they were being treated, about the sort of food they probably had to eat, about how they were brutalized and oppressed in a way that I couldn't even imagine. I found myself feeling fortunate for my own situation. I became afraid that it would be discovered that I was, however indirectly, involved in some rebellion plot, and that I would be tortured or killed or worse. I quickly swallowed the note, and tried to never think about it again. That was the last of my involvement in the resistance.
My own personal resistance was weakening, too. I had been trapped in this terrible room for so long. Helmut's talk of this beautiful brook became more and more appealing. He said we could just go for a little drive one afternoon, and maybe for a little walk, and still be back by supper time. Of course, I knew I couldn't believe him. But even still, it seemed so simple, and so preferable to my present life, that at last I agreed.
Helmut was disturbingly excited about my acceptance. I regretted it immediately. But sure enough, the next afternoon, Helmut was at my room, ushering me out a side door of the building, and into a waiting jeep. We sped past the guards with only a quick wave; it was quite clear that Helmut could do whatever he pleased. I kept my head down the entire time, out of embarrassment, out of fear, and most importantly, to avoid being seen by The Others. How could I ever explain this to them?
It was so nice to be outside again. And the setting really was beautiful. The brook, the trees, the grass, the flowers, it was just like he had said. Of course, I didn't let him know that I enjoyed it. Besides, I was just waiting for him to attack me, to kill me, to rape me, or who knows what else. I knew that I was finished, and part of me just wanted to see the end of it.
But the end never came. Helmut behaved respectfully, even kindly. He picked flowers for me. He let me choose where to walk. When we sat down, he spread out his jacket for me. "What do you want with me,", I wondered. But I said nothing to Helmut. Finally, when the afternoon was over, Helmut drove back to the compound. Another wave at the guards, another scurry through a side door, and I was back in my room again, alone.
A few days later, Helmut wanted to take me back to the brook. Having already gone with him once, it seemed pointless to refuse. Soon we were walking together again, soaking up the sun and the breeze and the smell of flowers. We walked a long way, and then at last Helmut spread out his coat and we sat.
"I have a surprise", he said, and he set down the small box he had been carrying. Inside was heavy sourdough bread, and butter, and roast beef, and caviar. And a bottle of red wine. And two small glasses. I was amazed. After weeks of potatoes and crusty bread and barley soup, the food looked so delightful. I almost started to cry. "Help yourself", he said, and without hesitation I did. The bread, the meat, the real, honest butter! And the caviar; where DID he get that? Soon we were both eating, and laughing, and drinking glass after glass of wine. For the first time since I had been with Andrei, I felt happy.
Oh, Andrei. Suddenly my thoughts turned back to him. They were treating him so cruelly. And here I was enjoying the brook and eating caviar. With his captor. Again I felt terrible.
"What's wrong?", asked Helmut.
"It is my husband, Andrei!", I shouted. "I miss him! I love him! And you treat him so terribly!"
Helmut didn't respond right away. Then he began softly, "Ah, your husband. Strange, we have found no record of this marriage. Where were you married?" He was smiling now, triumphant, like he'd found my little secret.
"It doesn't matter!", I insisted, refusing to be drawn into a discussion of marriage legalities. "I love him! I will not betray him! What are you doing to him?"
Helmut looked down at the food. Then he looked up at me. "You might as well know the truth. This Andrei of yours. The work routine was too much for him. He is dead."
I filled up with rage, with disgust, with hatred. "You killed him! You ground him to death! You kidnapped him and tortured him and oppressed him so badly that he died! He was so gentle! He was too gentle for your work routine! You killed him! You . . ." I started crying, and swinging my arms, and screaming. I felt so alone, so desperate. Here I had been, eating and laughing and talking with this . . . this . . . this NAZI! And Andrei, poor Andrei, my dear Andrei, they had KILLED him!
Helmut restrained my arms, and pulled me to him. "It's all right", he said. "I know it's hard. I know how alone you feel. But don't be afraid. I'm here. I'll protect you." He pulled me closer, gently, and stroked my face with his hand. He felt so warm. So strong. He would protect me. To my horror, I heard myself say, "Oh, Helmut!" I had never before spoken his name.
It's hard to remember exactly how it happened. But somehow, we were lying on his coat, kissing, touching, rubbing. I hadn't realized quite how lonely I'd been. He was a Nazi, yes, but he had been kind to me. And now, I realized, I trusted him. I needed him. I wanted to be with him. And here he was.
We didn't actually make love, though he wanted to. I wouldn't let him remove my clothes. But it didn't matter. As much as I hated myself for it, as much as I wished it weren't so, I felt for him. I cared for him. And though I don't like to admit it, even now, I knew that I loved him.
I awoke a little while later, with a start. It took me a second to remember where I was. But then I thought of what we had done, of the laughing and the kissing, and I felt so empty. The whole time I'd been locked in that terrible little room, the one thing I'd kept was my defiance. I might not be able to defeat the Nazis, I might not be part of the resistance, but at least I wouldn't give in to them. And now, to one Nazi at least, I had given everything. My body, my soul, and my love.
Helmut was still sleeping. He looked so peaceful, he was smiling even in his sleep. I had truly made him happy, this Nazi. Oh, what had I done? And how could I redeem myself?
I remembered the resistance. The defiance. The Others. The plans for fighting them with our kitchen knives. And here was a Nazi before me. A sleeping, helpless Nazi. It was clear what I had to do. The resistance would live again.
Helmut had not brought his rifle on our little trip. Perhaps he thought it would spoil the mood. He did have his dagger, though. If I could reach it, I could slit his throat while he slept. He would never know what happened. And then I could escape, and organize freedom fighters everywhere, and finally defeat the fascists once and for all.
The only difficulty was that the way he was lying, I wasn't sure if I could unclasp his dagger without disturbing him. Was he a heavy sleeper? I didn't know. And, if he woke while I was reaching for his dagger, he would kill me for sure.
There was also the knife we had used to spread the butter and caviar. It was sitting in plain view. But it was so small and dull. How to kill a man with such a knife?
I began to think of my freedom. If I ran off while he was sleeping, there was a chance that I could escape. We were far from the compound now, and there were no fences here. Perhaps, perhaps I could make it.
Looking back, I see that I could have killed him if I'd wanted to. There were various stones lying around, of various sizes. I could have found the right one. It wouldn't have been hard. I could have done it.
But maybe I didn't want to. I felt very unstable, unsure. Had I really felt that I LOVED this man? This fascist? This Nazi? I didn't know what I believed anymore. I quietly stood up, turned away, and ran as fast as I could.
I still wonder how I managed to get away. Surely they would come looking for me. Surely Helmut would not simply let me escape. Wouldn't he have to answer to the other Nazis? Wouldn't they demand to know how he had taken a prisoner out of the compound, and how she had never returned? I was so scared that they would find me, and torture me, and kill me. But most of all I was scared that I would have to face Helmut. It would be too painful to see him again.
I tried to get as far away from the compound as I could, as quickly as possible. I didn't see another person, and hardly ate anything, for about three days. I stuck to the wooded areas, and just kept walking and walking, as quickly and quietly as I could.
At last I emerged, feeling slightly safer. A kind family took me in and fed me, without asking too many questions, and I spent the night with them. I wasn't sure how to proceed. I decided not to return to my parents' house. I didn't want to endanger them, and in any case I knew I had to go far away. I wrote them a short note, telling them that I was okay but that I wouldn't see them again. And then I started the painful, difficult task of traveling great distances in wartime, without wanting to get caught by the wrong side.
I headed north and east, trying to get as far away from Germany as possible. I began to realize that so much of Europe was now under Nazi occupation. I considered heading further east, to Russia, to join with the socialist resistance. But I didn't have the heart for it. I wanted to leave Europe, to go far, far away.
Somehow I ended up making my way far north, sometimes by train, sometimes in someone's car, often just walking. I used all of my wit, all of my strength, and all of my beauty. And I'm still amazed that I made it. Somehow, after about six months, I ended up in Sweden. And from there, by befriending a young, visiting British soldier, I managed to get passage on a small British sailboat, and arrived in Northern England.
I stayed in England for about six months. There were the bombings and the shortages and the rationing, and everyone was always scared. But at least I was no longer in Nazi territory.
During that time I got to know some Canadian soldiers, fighting under British command, stationed in England. They were friendly enough, and very interested in my story. And more than one of them took a liking to me. When they were scheduled to be shipped back to Canada, they snuck me aboard, and after a long and difficult journey I arrived in Halifax.
After that, life was simpler. I became a Canadian citizen. I worked with the other Canadian women, sewing uniforms and parachutes for our troops, helping the war effort in our own limited way. When the war was over, I got a job with the government, translating Russian and Polish documents into English. I was very successful, and when Official Bilingualism became such a big thing, I was transferred here to Ottawa, and promoted to the Office of the Commissioner of Languages. I had a good job with nice vacations. I bought a house, I made friends. I was very comfortable. And I still am.
But I have never been very happy. I still carry around my guilt and confusion. Was Andrei really dead? I never heard from him again, of course. But I can only wonder what motivated Helmut to say what he said. And had I really loved Helmut? Had I really betrayed everything that I'd ever believed?
In any case, I never fell in love again. Oh, I did get some attention. I suppose I was something of a beauty in those days. The soldiers, my work friends, my neighbours, they never made me feel undesirable. But I was too uncertain, too confused about who I was and what I had done, to be ready to get involved with a man again.
There was one man that I dated for a while. A civil servant here in Ottawa, named Warren. Even on weekends, he wore the same suit. He would take me to the symphony and the theater, and for quiet walks along the Rideau Canal. He was intelligent and sophisticated, and always very nice to me. But I was never really touched by him. He was too ordinary, too routine. I found myself making comparisons. Was he as gentle as Andrei? Was he as strong as Helmut? And in any case, in my own way, I felt like defective merchandise. I was a Nazi-lover. I was unworthy.
I have found peace with myself, of a sort. I have remembered who I am, and what I believe. I am kind to my friends, I am a social activist, and do what I can to stop this terrible war in Southeast Asia. I have never forgiven myself for what I have done, but at least I have come to accept my fate.
A few months ago, in the summertime, I went to a big anti-war demonstration in the United States. Just over the border, in New York State, somewhere near Kingston, there is a U.S. Army base. We had heard that they were flying soldiers from there, directly to Vietnam. So off we went to protest.
I remember standing outside those big fences that surrounded the base. We were chanting, and singing, and holding hands. For once I was on the right side of the fence.
Then we saw a line of soldiers, the Nazis of the 1960's, marching quickly and determinedly towards one of the large army planes. "Bring the troops home!", the protesters shouted, and I shouted along with them. "Stop the war!", the crowd shouted, and I shouted along. "Peace now!", they shouted, and again I shouted along.
Then some of the protesters began calling, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" I started to join them, but somehow I couldn't. Who was I to make judgements about shame? Was I really so superior to these soldiers, ready to go off and kill?
I like my protester friends. They are mostly young, and serious, and committed to true human ideals. I think it is wonderful that they are standing up for peace, and opposing this terrible, brutal, unnecessary war. And I help them as much as I can. But I sometimes suggest to them that, while they continue to oppose the war, perhaps they should have a little more understanding for those who are doing wrong. It could happen to them too, I tell them. We all think we are so strong. But when circumstances are different, we may surprise ourselves. Each of us, somewhere inside, has an ugly, cruel, self-serving spot. Each of us, somehow, somewhere, could love a Nazi.