Chapter 25: AN ALLY
I didn’t wait long. Immediately after work the next night, I went straight to the bus stop. I rode the coach to Herr Brauner’s neighborhood in Lichtenberg. It was an area closer to Treptow than Pankow but, once again, an unfamiliar one.
I knocked on his door a little too anxiously. He was slow to respond.
With growing fears of who would show up at your door next and whether they were there to take you away, I understood his reluctance. I saw his peephole grow dark and knew he was home. He finally cracked the door.
“Herr Brauner? I’m Ella!” It all came out at once.
The crack disappeared and the jangle of the chain was reassuring. As the door opened wide, he eagerly motioned me inside, a warm smile spread across his face. His wife was in the kitchen making dinner. It smelled like sauerkraut.
“Well, little lady,” Herr Brauner was a tall, thin man with a small curly mustache and thick-rimmed eyeglasses, “you are a difficult person to find!”
I smiled and sat down, the anticipation for this moment peaked as I scooted to the edge of the couch.
“Please, tell me everything!” I gushed.
Herr Brauner invited me to join him and Frau Brauner for dinner. I didn’t see any children in the home but felt it would be rude to ask. He spent the next two hours describing his visit to the west and how he met Anton. I hung onto every word. Often times, my tears sprang through spontaneously. My heart swelled with the knowledge of their good fortune and security.
The construction company Anton worked for was assigned to lay brick in a building where Herr Brauner oversaw improvements. It wasn’t until the job was nearly done, when Herr Brauner was approached by Anton, so they didn’t have a great deal of time to talk. Herr Brauner assured Anton he would do all he could to assist him in his search for me when he returned. The short conversation they had made it sound like Anton was doing well. He also told Herr Brauner Josef was going to school. I couldn’t believe my ears. Josef was being educated in a public school! He was smart and getting good marks as well.
“Do you have an address?” I asked. The eagerness in my voice was dampened quickly.
“No, Fräulein Kühn.” He wiped his nose with a handkerchief from his front pocket. “Our visit was too short, I am sorry. I do know they lived in a migrant camp for the first two months after their arrival.”
“A migrant camp?” I pondered. “I hope it was decent.”
“Oh, they’re decent. In fact, what they consider to be squalid living conditions in the west would be quite comfortable here.”
I smiled. It brought me a great deal of reassurance they were safe.
“Will you be going to the west anytime soon?”
“Yes, I leave next Monday.”
I lit up at this news. “Herr Brauner, may I please give you a letter for Anton and Josef, if you happen to cross paths?”
“Yes.” He wiped his nose again then handed me a pencil and paper.
“You know, Ella, it’s been well over a year since I met Anton. It’s possible he isn’t employed with the same company.” He pulled his glasses off his face and rubbed his eyes. They appeared tired and worn, and he seemed a bit unwell. I knew it was time for me to leave.
“Yes sir, I understand.” I didn’t want to dwell on any doubtful possibilities. We had come too far.
“But I will try my best to locate him.”
“Anything you can do to help is appreciated. They are my only family.”
“I’m sorry you are not all together, dear.” Frau Brauner’s sentiments were very kind.
“Do you get to travel to the west with your husband, Frau Brauner?” They kept their mutual glance subtle, but I saw the expression in her eyes—she was probably forced to remain in the east as a “hostage” of sorts. Herr Brauner would have to return. I wondered if his work was sanctioned by the DDR. This could be the only logical reason he was allowed to travel quite freely, but alone.
“Ella,” Herr Brauner spoke as he stood up to help Frau Brauner clean the table. “Please be careful what you say in your letter. The work I engage in is quite . . .” he stared at his wife again, “. . .delicate. I can be searched at any time.” I stopped myself from guessing. I didn’t want to know the details; I only wanted to find Anton and Josef.
I skimmed over the simple words I’d written. How do you sum up all that happened in eighteen months in a few short sentences? How do you describe the pain, anguish, and fear? All the emotion experienced from one decision made in one night?
I’d often thought about my choice to stay with my papa, and despite what I know now, I still could not have chosen differently.
Anton and Josef, 8, Feb 1963
I hope you get this letter. I have missed you more than you can imagine! I had to leave our home and now live with a woman by the name of mama G. My address is RotherstraBe 18 Treptow, 1012 Berlin, Germany. Please write to me!
I love you both with all my heart, Ella.
I folded it and handed it to Herr Brauner, hugging him, very grateful for all his help. He and his wife seemed more than understanding.
As I stepped out, away from their apartment, I felt a small amount of anguish lift off my shoulders. Finally, a possibility, a small sliver of hope with a long-awaited chance I could be reconnected with my family— even if it was only by post—was something.