Write a Review


All Rights Reserved ©


Balconies and stairways of houses along the narrow street yielded sweet scents of honeysuckle and bougainvillea. Inside the long, black car leading the convoy, Major Reinhard Hurst, who occupied the sleek vehicle along with three staff officers, was not taken by the pretty appearance of the village. His electric blue eyes seemed focused upon an inward vision, one of glory. In his vision he was seeing mighty throngs of people saluting him and the Führer, “Sig Heil. Sig Heil.”

The convoy reached the village square. One of the drivers, so taken with the upper balconies of flowers, ran up a curb by the iron two-tiered ornamental fountain, and stopped so abruptly that the truck immediately following, swerved to avoid a collision and ran over a small brown dog.

“That was Anna’s dog!” gasped Gerald, ten-year-old nephew of Monsieur and Madame Gille who was on his way to deliver two pair of mended shoes to Madame Sabrine. Alerted by the noise of squealing brakes, he witnessed the accident out-of-sight

alongside a building by another narrow avenue converging upon the town square.

He felt his heart leap in his chest and turned to sprint toward home. “Tanten - Onklen,” he called, bursting into the tiny flat above the shoe repair shop, his eyes frantically seeking either his aunt or uncle.

“Shush, Gerald. Onklen is working downstairs.” His aunt enfolded him into her round girth, then, pushed his slight figure back. She saw terror in his eyes and knew the Germans had come. “So, finally it has happened,” she acknowledged.

“Anna, you know, the butcher’s wife, the big one who got so angry at Onklen last week? One of the trucks ran over her dog. Somebody ought to tell her.”

“Such a hard thing to see; however, we must let someone else carry the bad news.”

“Or, she might blame us.”

Gerald vividly recalled the impression the Gilles made upon him when he first came to live with them in Villepente, the little village seventy-five kilometers south of Paris.

He must never call attention to himself or get himself involved in any messy situation. But, he didn’t have to be warned. He had learned from an early age that no one liked Jews. In Warsaw, from the age of six, for three years, he had worn a “J” armband and carried an ID card with its addition of the name Israel and his fingerprints. Although his mother tried to reassure him that everything was alright, every day he could see for himself the dangers of being a Jew.

“The soldier kicked the dog off and got blood on his boot, then screamed something nasty. They must be rotten . . . all of them.”

“Did anyone see you?” Quivers of fear ran through her voice. He shook his head. She said gently, “Go help Onklen. He needs you. All these shoes piling up.”

She watched him run through the door and felt a surge of pride. He’d been through so much for someone his age.

Demanding sounds of the heavy iron lion’s head on the Gauthier front door reached Antoinette in the kitchen. CiCi, her fluffy orange cat, startled, then leapt from the soft cushion of a chair, to scurry and hide.

“Attendez, s’il vous plait.” Antoinette yelled it out in a stern voice but her heart was pounding as hard as the persistent door-knocker.

She moved quickly to the entry hall, pulled the door latch and flung the door open.

Three Nazi officers clustered together on the steps like statues. She saw their tight jaws and eyes as cold as the bottom of the farm well.

Nazis. And these wore the black Waffen-SS uniform, the uniform of death.

Everyone in the village was well-versed on Nazis. They knew they were the party in power in Germany, the National Socialist Party; the Waffen-SS the military police who guarded Hitler, pledging their souls to the Führer.

Jacques told terrifying things about what Nazis did. The Gilles, neighbors on the next row, had a nephew in Paris who had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and followed a loved one to a camp where Jews were sent east to be killed within an hour of their arrival.

She had read about the six Jewish synagogues that had been blown up in Paris. Les Temps Nouveaus called it a spontaneous act of French people, which she hadn’t believed at all. French people did not blow up other people’s places of worship. It was Jacques who had shown her the magazine as well as the literary magazine, Aujourdhui which told of Nazi roundups of people and how great these roundups were to clean and purify France.

She thought, ‘No one in my village is Jewish.’

From what she had heard, the Nazis were drunk with violence and power, superior because they were together, and could do whatever they liked without being subject to anyone. Not even their own courts.

They were clever and manipulative, these Nazis with their rallies and night parades. They were such masters at the psychology of manipulating people that they could put them into ecstatic states, as if Adolf Hitler had sprinkled sinister powder over every German and some residents of occupied countries, so they would pledge their obedience to his orders.

Could they take old Monsieur and Madame Gille away just because they looked like Jews depicted in Aujourdhui? Could they send someone whom they merely thought looked Jewish to one of those camps?

“Qui Messieurs? A votre service.” She was the gracious hostess her father would have expected her to be when receiving official guests. Her arm pointed them into the entry hallway where their heavy black boots left a trail of dirt clumps on the newly polished floor.

As the door closed behind them, the officer in the middle, the tallest, stepped towards her, clicked the heels of his boots and said, “Mademoiselle, your father sends you a message.”

Antoinette felt more surprised by the officer’s fluent French than by the fact that he carried a message from her father, the mayor.

“He has offered quarters to us at this house. He says to tell you to ready all rooms on the first floor immediately. You are also to prepare food for us. Our first requirement will be the evening meal served precisely at . . . ”

When he hesitated, another officer spoke, “Major Hurst, tonight, might I suggest the hour of nine so the young mademoiselle will have time to make preparations . . .

Antoinette’s mind raced with what she heard -- empty their own bedrooms and prepare a meal. What right did they have to occupy their home and make demands. However, she reasoned quickly enough, on the other hand what a wonderful opportunity to be so close to the enemy -- to hear their secrets.

“Lutjemeir, your suggestion is out of place. You know I prefer the Abendbrot earlier,” came the sour retort of their leader, the major, the one who carried so many medals on his chest and the death’s skull on the peak of his hat.

The officer who had been first to speak, the youngest, the one who had such skill with their language that if he were not wearing the black uniform he could be mistaken for a Frenchman, put in, “Sir, Lieutenant Lutjemeir is well intended. If you would not mind, Sir, that extra time today would let us get on with our business . . . ”

In a tone of finality, the major roughly gestured the

discussion closed and the officers’ comments ceased. “On this first day, it will Abendbrot at seven, as is our custom,” he said sternly.

“And, set all clocks ahead one hour. We are now on German time!” Roughness of his order made Antoinette cringe.

Then the major’s tone changed. His voice took a softness as he addressed Antoinette. “We return soon. Be ready for us to occupy our rooms. There are four of us. I am to have a room to myself.”

He stepped out from the group of officers and pointed from the hallway up the steps. “That one up there with the balcony.” He stepped back even further for a better view of the upstairs, causing the other officers to separate from him.

“Yes,” he continued. “That room. That one at the top there. That will do. Yes, it will be quite right.”

They turned on their heels and marched down the steps into the narrow, cobbled street towards the Place de la Madeline.

The footsteps of Major Hurst danced across the cobblestone rocks in the street as he and his officers returned to the town square by foot, the row too narrow for their sleek Mercedes. A faint smile with a sensuous glint appeared on the major’s face. For a fleeting instant, as Antoinette watched them depart, everything seemed to come alive, to be in a state of brilliance. That moment of supreme fullness vanished into the newness of the morning as she raced through the door and down the steps toward the house of her friend, Danielle.

The cat ran out the door after her as if chased by the devil.

The grandfather clock in the dining room struck nine times as Antoinette and her friend, Danielle, finished emptying the last three of the first-floor bedrooms of family belongings.

They carried the last armload of clothing to the third-floor attic, a place which years ago had been converted into three tiny rooms for overflow of visitors and storage.

Danielle plunked down clothes she had in her arms. “How exciting for you. I wish I were you. There is nothing exciting happening to me. I can’t even visit my grandmamere in Marseilles because we don’t have enough money for the train. If I did find money to go, it would be hard to get out from under the embroidery hoop she hangs over me.”

Antoinette stooped to pick up a sweater.

Danielle continued. “You’ll be right in the thick of those handsome officers. What do you think they’ll be like? Are they better looking than Jacques? What will it be like with them in the house?”

“Work. Hard work. See how discourteous they are? Bringing in so much dirt. What horrible guests they are going to be.”

“But, did you think they are good looking?”

“Let’s not talk about those Nazis. We have so little time. Instead of telling you what I think about them now, help me finish up. Help me hide the best silver, the porcelain, the heirloom rugs. I’ll use second and third best of everything, even dishes.”

Antoinette knew her friend well, knew she could easily be swayed by her emotions, become giddy over men with blond hair and blue eyes. There seemed a mighty pull for Danielle to such men. When they were little girls playing with dolls, Danielle would say, ‘Someday, I will love someone just like this,’ as she dressed her handmade, blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy doll she had begged her mother to make.

They changed the bedding, scrubbed the wooden floors in the first-floor bedrooms, and set the wide-polished dining room table for the guests’ dinner. Then they finished hiding the last of the items in the attic rooms. The clock struck twelve.

“Oh, we forgot to put the clocks ahead,” cried Antoinette, calling out all the rooms in which there were clocks to reset.

Thanking her friend, Antoinette opened the front door and whispered, “I’ll tell you more about them tomorrow. Every detail. Maybe I’ll even find a way for you to meet one.”

Major Reinhard Hurst’s large body sprawled over Mayor Gautheir’s desk. He shoved a slew of papers off the desk onto the feet of the mayor who was standing gravely in front of the him.

The chief leader of Villepente, mayor Henri Gauthier,

watched the violent actions of the man before him. Arrows shot warning signals throughout his body. His wisdom about the ways of men, achieved through a long life of observing and participating at leadership levels, warned him that the village was in for trouble. The mayor’s fist could be seen rubbing into the palm of the other hand. His dark eyes were alert but steady.

The Nazi pushed a few remaining sheets off with violence. “Anyone can be taken into protective custody for suspicion of activities inimical to the state. Do you follow me?”

“Perhaps it would be helpful if you clarified Nazi policies and all you intend us to do,” cautiously replied Henri Gauthier, alert to every nuance of the man before him.

“Eric, bring up a chair and get him something to write on.” Lieutenant Larsen brought forward a wooden chair and handed Henri a pad and pencil.

“Remove all crucifixes from homes and school classrooms. Replace them with pictures of Hitler. I see you have no such religious tripe in here. Good.” A red Nazi flag with its crooked cross inside a white border, for racial purity, was tacked behind the desk. Henri breathed deeply and was glad he had stripped the crucifix off the wall before the Nazis entered town hall.

“Every Friday you are to prepare a detailed report on the preceding week’s attitudes of local citizens. I want accounts of any joke about Nazis. I want names of anyone who opposes me or my men or our war aims. I also want the name of any Jew, Communist, gypsy, or member of a resistance group.”

Henri vigorously shook his head, to indicate none such lived in Villepente.

“Every village has its Jews,” he countered.

“No music of any Jewish composer is to be played, especially that Jew, Felix Mendelssohn! No dancing either.

“Appoint ten ward leaders. Each will have a block captain responsible for eight houses. The first thing they are to do is take a count at each house for every living person in the house and each and every pet. This includes servants.

“Any organization such as a church, club or school will also be part of this census.

“Employers are to give a complete account of their employees, tell their special skills, salary, and number of dependents.

“Especially emphasize to these ward leaders and block captains that they are to put down the name of anyone who neglects to give any of us the ‘Heil Hitler’ greeting. Those persons will lose their ration card for two weeks, to start, longer if there is a second offense.

“This is enough for your first bulletin for the villagers. I will have more regulations for you tomorrow. These I have just given you must be by posted tomorrow morning, no later.

“Oh, yes, most importantly, if ever a German soldier or civilian is killed, we will select thirty hostages to be shot at once. For any other act of terrorism, we will also shoot that number. That is all for now. You may go.”

Henri stood up and gripped the top of the chair but his feet seemed locked to the floor. His eyes riveted upon the major’s regulation SS officer’s circular belt buckle with its death’s head which he could see from his standing position. He read the German words, “Meine ehre heisst treue”, meaning “Loyalty Is My Honor.” He pounded the palm of one hand into the other as he so often did when deep in thought. Finally, he turned and as he was almost through the door, he heard Major Hurst say, “Oh, incidentally, I must give you my compliments.”

“Yes?” replied Henri with a degree of apprehension, uneasy about what Major Hurst might be inclined to be flattering him.

“Your daughter is exquisite. I shall look forward to getting to know her better while we are here.” The sinister smile left no doubt in Henri’s mind as to the Nazi’s intentions.

Later that afternoon, Antoinette and her father whispered together in the Gautheir kitchen. Antoinette held a stenciled draft of her father’s official notice.

“But, what do we do about Leon when the count is taken?” Her fingers clutched the paper. “Pierre’s too young. He’s only ten. No one’s going to care about such a little one.”

“I’m thinking of what to say,” replied her father, veteran of the Great War, who at fifty-nine was too old to carry a gun in this war. The gassing he suffered in the trenches now caused frequent dizzy spells. He was tall but often said he would trade some of his height for more hair on his balding head. However, his height gave him respect from men and women, and, his wife often reassured him she liked men with less hair on their heads.

Henri had a way of getting people to work together, with a presence that put people so much at ease that they felt safe in speaking their ideas. He had a quality of goodness that even when he labored in a sweaty work shirt at the farm, or had an unmended hole in the heel of a sock, his demeanor appeared immaculate, which lent him an air of confidence.

His genes were evident in Antoinette’s rich brown eyes. She had his quiet self-confident ways, although life had not yet worked out the rough edges through experience, especially the naive belief that all people were good. The trying days ahead would eliminate the deficiencies of her worldly wisdom, but not without exacting a price.

Her father assumed she could handle physical and mental challenges better than her brothers. He had seen that quality in her risk-taking and fearlessness ever since childhood. Now that her mother had taken over activities at the farm, he had to caution himself not to overly burden Antoinette with his problems.

They sat at the wood plank table. Antoinette had interrupted meal preparations to embrace him and was listening to him tell about the Nazi directives.

“I’ll have to come up with some reason for Leon’s absence.” Henri spread the palm of his large right hand over the draft. He pounded the fist of his right hand into that of the left, the habit that so annoyed his wife.

“I’ve met many men in my life but this one I truly fear. I hate having him in this house with you. He’s a man with Nazi training, Nazi ideals. He believes things to be true that are false. This kommandant, as he wants to be called, will expect all of us to bow to his will. I’ve been watching these Germans almost a lifetime and I know how he’s been raised . . . like a prince. And now he’s following the devil.

“Hurst, this Hurst, is someone who’ll smile and tell you one thing, then do something different. Watch and see if your ol’ papa isn’t right. I would not have a man like that in my town or my house if I had a choice, but I can do nothing. They came in, demanded.” Sadness and pain shown in Henri’s eyes.

“Papa,” replied Antoinette as cheerfully as possible, even though she felt the same gloom as that emanating from her father. “I know. They will be with you day as well as night. They picked our house and what could you do? Papa, come over here and stir this carrot soup so I can roll out these apple dumplings. Then, I’ll dish you up some soup. But, I can tell them after they’ve eaten, that the carrots were infected by this terrible field worm, but I used them anyway.” She tried to joke a little, to help lessen the tension.

“I saw Maman this afternoon. I took the bicycle . . . ”

The mayor paused as he stirred the big pot on the yellow porcelain stove to study the daughter bending over the table rolling out pastry.

“They’re all doing well.” She lifted the rolling pin. “I had to get more vegetables for dinner. Leon was there so he killed a chicken for me. Oh, he’s fine, just so thin. I told him about the Nazis at the house. What about you and dinner tonight? Will you eat with them?”

“They have not asked so I will not impose,” he replied, angered that he was not asked to eat in his own dining room.

“Oh, Papa. I won’t have time to go through the phonograph records to pull out the Mendelssohn. Maman so loves Mendelssohn. Can you do it?” Her hands fluttered through the air, specks of flour darting to the brick floor. “And, pull the drapes tight, too. Then, come, I’ll fix you something else to eat.”

With a glitter of tears in his eyes, Henri composed himself and said, “Come here to Papa.”

She came to him as he stirred the pot on the stove. His frustration and anguish were plain when he put down the spoon. “I know what that Nazi wants. He wants you, Antoinette. He’s said as much. If you resist, he could send you to one of their camps, could say you’re Jewish, a gypsy, anything. I don’t know what to tell you to do. I wish your mother were here. She’d know what to tell you.”

“Papa. These days are so terrible. You here. Maman at the farm. Our family split apart, each going our way alone. Things we need to make it through a day so hard to get. Everything wearing out. Then, these Nazis come here to our very house.” She paused and with great love continued. “You’ve given me seventeen years of your love. You must believe that I have listened to your wisdom and will do the best I can. I have faith that God will not desert me.”

“Daughter, just get through this. Do whatever you can to endure. Brighter days will be here. I have lived long enough to know that life moves in cycles, up and down, always returning to a time when the sun shines.”

“Don’t be concerned about me, Papa. You have so many others to think about. I feel I am always in God’s hands.”

Under ordinary circumstances, the kitchen of the Gautheir house radiated a coziness. This afternoon there was tension, a feeling of apprehension. The blue and white tiles, with their little pictures, along the walls over the high, white wainscot boards usually beckoned Antoinette to visit with them. This afternoon in the heat of the kitchen, if Antoinette and her father were not so anxious, they would have seen the hat droop on the man who was riding in the cart, a tear drop on the cheek of the girl carrying the water buckets, a cloud form over the rainbow.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.