A Path Less Taken
The streets of Berlin were uncomfortably quiet as Emila walked home from her part time job at a small neighborhood store. Ever since the new police force called the Gestapo moved into Berlin people had been more inclined to stay home rather than deal with the new law enforcement. She thought the addition of this new law enforcement was strange and she didn’t understand why they were needed.
The store she worked at was owned by a very nice Jewish family and since her father’s death two years before the family had taken the 17 year old under their wing. They would send food home with her to make sure that she ate balanced meals. They added small amounts to her pay to make sure she could pay the bills and have a roof over her head. Every year Sophia, the mother, would make her a sweater as she did for each member of the family. Without them she was alone and their acts of kindness had already made her question the pamphlets and flyers that warned about the dangers of the Jewish people.
As she rounded the corner to her run down apartment building a Gestapo officer stopped her. “Where are you heading miss?” he asked.
Emila pointed to the building “I live here.” she replied shyly.
The officer nodded “Who do you live with?” he asked.
She shook her head “No one, my father passed away.” she answered.
The officer was young, strong and had piercing blue eyes that caught her gaze when she finally looked up at him. He smiled at her and it made his features even more handsome. “Do you work around here?” he asked.
She nodded and pointed back the way she had come. “The store around the corner. I work behind the counter.” she replied.
“The Jewish shop?” he asked.
Emila nodded “That’s the one! It is a nice little store.” she replied with a smile.
The officer looked sad at her reply. “You should get inside and you should find a new job.” he said with a sigh.
Over the next few weeks the officer, who she learned was named Felix, walked her home each night from the store. She didn’t understand why he was so worried that she worked there or the fact that the Rosen family was so afraid of the young man. The young man was intelligent and well spoken and it was the first time a boy had shown an interest in her.
One day the reason for the concern on both sides becomes obvious. As she came towards the small neighborhood store she saw a large sign over the window that called for the boycotting of Jewish businesses. As she walked closer Felix came to her side and began to steer her away from the store. “You can’t work there anymore. The Chancellor has called for the boycott of all businesses run by the enemy of our way of life.” his voice was full of concern.
“Felix! I have to work! I can’t stay in my apartment without a job.” she replied in panic.
He looked at her with a mixture of caring and concern on his face. “I know Em, but I can’t have my own girlfriend defining the order.” he said.
Emila stood in shock at his words and she wasn’t sure what part of what he said to reply to, the fact that he was trying to make her leave her job or the fact that he had just called her his girlfriend. Taking advantage of the stunned silence to guide her away from the store. “Where are we going?” she finally got out.
“Somewhere to talk.” he answered quietly, as he saluted another Gestapo officer.
She walked alongside him down the street wondering where he was leading her and what he was talking about that the shop was run by the enemy. Eventually he led her to an apartment building. “Where are we?” she asked.
“This is my apartment.” he replied “Come on up we can have some coffee and talk.”
Once she was seated at his kitchen table he served her a cup of coffee and a pastry from the local german bakery. “Why can’t I go to work again?” she asked.
“Because the store is run by Jews.” he said in a matter of fact tone.
“So?” she replied, very confused.
He sat down at the table and let out a sigh. “I know this might be hard for you to hear. I know they have been good to you, but it has only been to blind you to the truth.” he explained.
Emila looked at him in shock “What truth?” she asked, exasperated.
“They are only out to take money from the hard working Germans. The Jews are the reason that our strong country lost that World War. they sold out our military to our enemies.” He continued “Em, you are very important to me and I don’t want you to get caught up in what is happening.”
Emila let out a sigh, “Felix, the Rosen family has taken care of me since my father passed away. Without them I would have lost my apartment, I would not have been able to eat or really survive. I can’t just turn my back on them!” she exclaimed.
“Let me take care of you.” Felix exclaimed “I get paid well and get this apartment as a part of my allotment for being an officer. I can take care of you.”
His offer was appealing, it was the fairy tale of a white knight coming to rescue the poor girl, but the suddenness of the offer had her questioning the young man’s motives. She liked Felix and had been wanting him to ask her out for weeks as she got to know him. Part of her wanted to take him up on his offer, the thought of not needing to count every penny in order to make rent on her small apartment. However the sudden offer still made her uneasy. “Why are you suddenly wanting to take care of me?” She asked “We have been getting to know each other over the past few weeks and this is the first time you have even mentioned us having a relationship.” she admitted.
Felix’s face went blank for a moment before he realized she was right. “Oh Em! I am so sorry! I meant to ask you out and then this came up and I just wanted to protect you.” he spat out in a rush.
“What do you mean? What came up? I know there have been some pamphlets about the jews but you are talking as if they have declared war or something.” She replied.
A pained look crossed over his face and Emila’s face filled with fear. “What does that mean for the Rosen’s?” she asked in fear.
“I don’t know, exactly.” he admitted “but I do know I don’t want you caught up in whatever is going to happen.” Felix seemed to be sincere in his concern for her safety and well-being.
Emila had no idea what she should do, but then she noticed a look in his eyes that told her he was not telling the whole truth but decided it would be better to ask later. “I still need a job Felix. I can’t just be a burden on you. I need to help out and what would people say. Living together and not married. That alone will bring a scandal.” she admitted.
Felix wiped away her worries “I can get you a part time job at the bakery around the corner. You can have your own room until we figure out our relationship.” he explained.
A thought then occurred to Emila, if she took him up on his offer she might be able to figure out what is really going on and maybe she could help her friends from whatever fate might await them. Over the next few weeks she began her job at the bakery and moved from her small run down apartment to the moderate apartment the Gestapo leased for their officers. Each day she would come home and make dinner for herself and Felix. The couple grew closer as the days moved on.
Emila would talk about her time working at the story and all the ways the Rosen family helped her. She could tell that Felix was starting to question the information the government was giving him, at least as far as the Rosen family. She found that she enjoyed working at the bakery and there was a very nice chapel just down the street where she could attend church.
Then one day Felix came home in a rush and seemed to be very upset over something that had happened that day. “Felix! What is wrong? Are you alright?” she asked in fear that he had been hurt.
Felix shook his head “No I’m fine. The Rosens are in great danger!” he admitted.
“What?!?!” Emila replied in horror.
“We are supposed to start rounding up the jews in this neighborhood and send them somewhere else. I have been hearing rumors about camps, where terrible things are happening.” He explained,
“What can we do?” Emila asked
“The only thing we can do is to warn them,” he admitted.
Emila then thought about something she had heard at the chapel on Sunday. She turns to Felix and relays what she thought she heard from the church, that the priest there was helping Jews if they just came and said they wanted to convert to his church. Felix admitted that he had heard something about it but did believe it because there was nothing they needed to be saved from as far as he knew.
“We have to be very careful though, if any of my fellow officers think either of us is helping them we could be brought up on charges.” Felix admitted.
The pair talk for several hours about how they could warn the family without letting anyone know what they were doing. They couldn’t look suspicious, or too quiet, but at the same time they didn’t want to draw too much attention to what they were doing. How could they find the perfect balance to look natural. Then Felix had an idea and Emila just prayed that it worked.
Before they left for the small shop Felix walked into his bedroom and came back with a small box. “Before we leave there is something I want to ask you.” he said with a nervous tone to his voice.
Emila was confused by his sudden nervousness. The whole time they spoke about a plan he was perfectly calm and then he seemed to be a bundle of nerves. “Alright, what is it? You can always ask me anything .” she replied.
Felix nodded and got down on one knee “Emila, you have taught me so much about life and love. I never thought I would love someone and the day I met you that was thrown out the window. You had me and you had my heart the first night I saw you. The more time I have spent with you the more I love you. Will you marry me?” He asked.
Emila was in total shock as she looked down at Felix “What? Really?”
Felix let out a laugh “Yes really.”
Emila nodded unable to find her voice again and Felix placed a beautiful ring on her finger before he admitted “I have wanted to ask you for a few weeks but this will also help with my plan.” He placed a gentle kiss to her cheek. “Let’s go.”
The pair walked down the street towards the store and just as they had hoped Sophia saw her coming and tried to stop her when she passed.
“Miss Em! We have missed you so much!” she called out before she realized who was with her.
Felix looked at the woman with disdain in his eyes and Emila stood silently by his side. “Are you speaking to my fiance?” he asked in anger.
Sophia shook her head “No sir. My mistake sir.” she said as her husband Emilo came out of the shop and their young son looked around the door jam.
“You are just trying to bring her back into your scam you call a store.” Felix accused “She told me all about it.” He then picked up a Jewish paper they had for sale by the door and crumpled it up, Emila saw him slip a paper out of his pocket and into the paper. “You use these to spread the word of the devil, and you tried to use this innocent girl to further your plan. At least I was in time to save her from you Jews.” he finished, still sounded angry. He then straightened his jacket and looked down on the family. “Come my love, you don’t have to worry about their evil plans anymore.”
Emila hung onto his arm as she looked back at the family who had made it possible for her to survive the loss of her father. She looked into the shocked eyes of Sophie and then down to the paper before she raised her face to the sky and said on a sigh “Thank you for saving from that dear.” as they walked away.
In the Jewish paper Felix had slipped a small folded piece of paper that had a message written in hebrew “You are in danger, see Father James at Holy Days Church ‘convert’ to save yourselves.” They just hoped they got the message. The following Sunday Emila went to church and was relieved when Father James leaned in during his blessing and whispered “They are safe.”