CURVE BALL

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Chapter Twenty-Five

The train approached the station at Szczecin. At least a dozen Nazi flags hung from the rafters several feet apart. Pytor could see groups of soldiers lined up on the platform. The screech of metal on metal temporarily blocked out all other sound as the train slowed then slid to a stop. As if a play was to begin quiet crept through his car… not of anticipation but of fear.

A shrill whistle sounded and was repeated along the length of the train. Seconds later the car doors opened and the soldiers boarded. There were distant shouts coming from other parts of the train. The yelling became more distinct as the sound came closer. The door that connected Pytor’s car to the other was flung open.

“Haben Sie Ihre Dokumente aus. Have your documents out,” shouted a soldier who looked like someone’s little brother. Behind him were three uniformed men. Those behind the young man snatched up each document and examined them. They compared the photographs to the person. Seconds ticked by and then one of the soldiers said, “yah” and the passenger sat back and put his papers back into his pocket.

Pytor glanced at Katalyna. She touched his hand. “It will be all right,” she said. “I’ve been through this many times. Their purpose is to make you uncomfortable, but then they’ll leave you alone.”

The group of men came closer and stopped several rows in front of them. An older man with a trim beard handed them his papers.

“Sie gehen mit ihm. Ihre Papiere nicht in Ordnung sind . Sind Sie ein Jude. You go with him. Your papers are not in order. Are you a Jew?”

“Nein, Ich bin kein Jude, No I am not a Jew,” the older man said. His voice cracked. “Please, I am from Prague. My wife is waiting in Berlin. I am not a Jew.”

He was grabbed then pushed out the door. Pytor looked out the window and saw the man lose his balance and fall to the ground.

“Aufstehen, Get up.” A soldier seized the man’s arm and dragged him toward the station.

“My God,” Pytor said under his breath, “animals.”

“Good evening, Herr Professor.”

Pytor spun his gaze from the window. To his shock Herr Farber and his blond girlfriend stood in front of him. The civilian clothes were gone. Instead each had a brown shirt with a swastika armband. Out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed the color drain from Katalyna’s face. He cleared his throat. “Herr Farber, how nice to see you and Frau Bauer, again. I did not …”

“Oh, Professor, of course you did not know. That is what Frau Bauer and I do. You are not the first or the last. Please stand up.”

“Herr Farber.…” he said as he rose clutching his documents.

Farber motioned for him to step back. “Frau Paternoskov your papers.”

She handed her passport and travel forms. She didn’t look at Pytor.

Farber took out a pair of prince-nez glasses and studied them. He held up her passport. “Ah, Frau Paternoskov under religion, it is blank. A mistake?”

“No, I told the clerk I was an agnostic.”

“What kind of religion is that?” Farber asked.

“The clerk gave me a choice…an atheist or agnostic. I hedged my bet.”

Farber put his glasses back in his pocket. He half turned to Frau Bauer who grinned. “You must be a free thinker, Frau Paternoskov. Aren’t you?”

“I do not understand your question.”

“Jews are free thinkers. They make things up to confuse others. Is that what you do?”

“Herr Farber, I am a representative of the Gesellschaft für Musik und Literatur für Czechoslovakia, the Society of Music and Literature for Czechoslovakia. I travel throughout Europe to organize lectures on books, music, and yes sometimes ideas. In Berlin…”

“It is what I thought. I admit that Frau Bauer and I were a little fooled at lunch. You travel with a man who is obviously Polish. You ordered pork and ate your schnitzel with relish.” He wagged his index finger, but then we thought smart Jews would do that too. They are clever people. Yes? Of course they’re clever they run everything, but no longer.” He nodded to two soldiers. “Nehmen diese Juden Hündin aus . Ich werde ihr später zu besuchen. Take this Jew bitch out. I will attend to her later.”

The soldiers pushed Pytor out of the way and grabbed his seatmate. For an instant he saw her face. Her eyes were defiant. She did not scream or cry.

“Take your hands off of me,” she said. Her voice was low but authoritative. The soldiers froze and looked at Farber. She stood and edged herself into the aisle.

“If you are taking me off the train, Herr Farber, I will go without any assistance. But you are making a grave mistake.”

They stared at each other and then Farber raised his right hand and slapped her hard across the face.

“No Juden hund talks to me that way. We are on German soil. You will do as I say. Out.”

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