“Oh yes”! Sarah exclaimed, “This was one of the most precious times that touched me as a young girl. We had ridden the train to Paris and told there would be a delay, as we had to change trains for the coast.
So Mother, holding little Nathan, Father, Grandmother, Helmut, and I, got off the train. The Major advised us that it would be safer to walk out of the big station; I think it was Gare du Nord! He said that it would better to get out of the station into a less busy part of Paris.”
“We decided to just walk around and look around until it was time to board again. We walked for over half a mile; about one kilometer. We found ourselves in the district called Château Rouge, which even then had quite a lot of Algerians and exciting looking people. But exciting or not, I was feeling so sad. All I could think about was my dolls I had let behind.”
“After walking a while, we came upon a small shop and decided to go inside. I happened upon a doll collection book of beautiful French dolls. My heart just leaped with joy. Even though it was just a magazine, it took my mind off our troubles.”
“Do you understand what I am trying to say Ms. Thompson?”
“Oh yes, I truly do,” I said softly.
I thought that about the precious diamond I had given them so that they would be able to take care of themselves if they escaped.
Sarah continued, “The owner of the shop must have heard me tell mother how I missed my dolls, because before I knew it, he handed me an old doll.”
“Yes, it was very old and quite frightening if you ask me,” said Helmut with a grin.
“That is true Helmet,” said Sarah looking at Helmut with a perturbed expression, “but to me it was priceless.”
“Mrs. Thompson,” explained Sarah, “I still have that very doll; to this day. She sits so proudly in my china hutch. She reminds me there is always good in the world, even in the midst of chaos and pain.”
Suddenly Nathan held his hand up, and surveyed the group who were sitting watching Sarah as carefully as she finished her tale. There were not actually tears in her eyes, but there was a very hushed and emotional feel in that room.
“Now,” said Nathan, and there was a slightly mischievous smile on his face.
“I may have been a little kid in my mother’s arms, but I was there, and have heard this story so many times, I want to tell the story in my way… just a little bit of my way.”
Therefore, he started, and this is Nathan’s version of the story; exactly as he told it.
“The train ride was very long and the children were so very tired. Sarah had begun to cry to herself, out of pure exhaustion. She missed her home, her little girl things, and mostly a treasured doll collection that she had to leave behind so quickly. Mother tried to console her as she held her close; wiping her tears away.
“Mother leaned over to Dad and whispered, ‘perhaps when the train stops in Paris, we can buy Sarah something special. Do we have enough? It should not cost too much Dad was more than willing to oblige and make his little one smile once more. Soon the call came that the train would be arriving in Paris.
Once the train pulled into the station, the Wehrmacht officer suggested the family get off the train and stretch their legs, in case the passport control got on the train. He said they would be much safer to walk to the nearby district, as it could be a three-hour wait before they could change trains.”
“Mother gently nudged Sarah who had fallen asleep, ‘Come dear,’ said Mother, ‘let’s take a walk.’
Sarah was very much a young woman and did not make any sound, but like a good girl, obediently got up, arm in arm; mother and Sarah stepped off the train. Sarah was used to verbal orders, and obeying quickly without thought.”
Paris - The Jewish Quarter
“The family began to walk to the nearby district of Château Rouge. It was quite the busy place,but not like the area around Gare du Nord. Shops lined the streets. Small sidewalk cafés and bakeries caught their attention. The smell of fresh bread filled the air. No one seemed to pay them any mind. They had learned to blend in. As they strolled, it was nice to forget the horrors they were running from.
Even Grandmother was beginning to be optimistic that they would eventually be safe. Nevertheless, she was still missing her home in Germany; the home in which she and her husband had both been born; the country in which they had made a happy life for themselves; the place where she thought she would eventually share his grave when she died.”
“The family came upon a little store which caught Sarah’s attention. There was a magazine displayed in the window with a picture of a beautiful French doll. They made their way into the store and Sarah saw other copies displayed throughout the store.
She picked one up and began to look through the magazine. Her eyes lit up, as these beautiful handmade French dolls were breathtaking. She was reminded of the doll collection she had to leave behind.
“‘Mama,’ said Sarah, ‘do you think I will ever be able to have a doll collection again? I miss my dolls so much!’ “Mother stroked Sarah’s head and spoke gently to her daughter, ‘In time my love, in time.’”
“The store keeper was dusting the counter and could not help overhear the conversation between Sarah and her mother and it touched his heart. He made his way to the back of the store and came back with a rather old doll.
The storekeeper was able to explain that this doll belonged to his daughter who had passed away. He would be so happy should Sarah take this doll and care for her. Sarah was so touched at the generous heart of this storekeeper.
She said, ‘Thank you.’ and held the doll close.”
“The doll’s clothes were slightly tattered and the paint on its porcelain face had faded but to
Sarah she was the most beautiful doll in the world. The storekeeper then said, ‘Go! Go!’ as he pushed them out the door. Sarah's parents could not understand why this man had done this kind thing. It was a miracle, as Sarah had, just an hour before, cried herself to sleep for missing the doll collection she had left behind.”
“When the family started to walk away, the owner of the store came running out of his store. He shook hands with the father and placed something in his hands. When father opened his hands, he saw it was a Gold Star of David. It was a symbol of hope. Father still to his dying day never knew how this storekeeper knew they were Jewish. The family then began to make their way back to the train station. They would now board and be on their way to Dieppe.”
When Nathan had finished his version of the story, he turned to the little audience, comprised of his wonderful family, and with a very elaborate bow, waited for their applause, and then sat down.
However, when I thought that that episode had been finished in the telling, Helmut stood up again.
“Dearly beloved,” he said, in a semi joking voice, “And I include you in that Mrs. Thompson, our new friend Julie. I want to add just a few words to this story that both my dear sister Sarah has neglected to relate, and that my equally dear brother left out, because he has forgotten.
Shame on you, Nathan, I thought you said that you; being a much younger man would be able to
remember the whole tale”.
Everybody laughed and so Helmut started with this: “When our family returned to Gare du Nord, we made for the area where we had been told to congregate.
This was to be near the platform, from which our connecting train would have been departing. The Major had indicated that he meant to be there; and to meet them, if possible.
We stood among the small crowd of people who were milling around; some with hand luggage; others standing near piles of traveling trunks. Our family had nothing except Mother and Grandmother’s handbag, and the doll that Sarah was carrying.”
“The luggage had been left with the Major’s belongings on the train, as he had advised us.
Porters and station staff were standing around chatting to each other or being approached by would be passengers;requesting information.
Apparently, there had been an unforeseen delay, but everybody was also discussing an airship disaster; the Hindenburg had been destroyed in a freak accident in New Jersey, America.”
“Our family looked around us and nerves were beginning to make themselves felt. The Major was nowhere to be seen. Farther and Mother were capable of speaking some little French and were discussing how they would form the sentences when asking for some information from a porter, when we heard a familiar voice asking a familiar question that we had heard before, ‘no luggage?’”
‘The young driver had driven us the short distance past the checkpoint outside the station when we crossed the German-Belgian Border by train those many hours before. He was dressed in Oxford bags, a striped shirt and had a sweater tied nonchalantly around his neck. He hardly looked German anymore; he looked more English or like an American movie star; a cinema idol. When we had seen him at the car as we waited in trepidation outside the cafe-bar for the Major, he had looked so ordinary and German; here he looked affluent and cosmopolitan.
“‘Are you still with the Major?’ he asked, ‘Major Heimat.’”
“’He told us to come here and wait for the connection,’ said Father, and there was a look of worry on his face; partly diminished by seeing a familiar face. However, the young man barely acknowledged Father, except by nodding once and smiling; a reassuring and genuine smile. He
was looking over Father’s head.”
“He strode across the concourse, and walked up to a tall, very upper class looking; very English
Gentleman, ‘Just arrived, Sir,’ he said to the Gentleman.”
“Across the babble of conversation and the sound of trains shunting, the whistles, and letting off of steam; across the sound of arrivals, departures, and other announcements in English, French,
and German from the loudspeakers; across all those sounds and noise, we could hear the young man explaining something to the English Gentleman.
Some words we recognized. Some were mostly in beautiful English, French, and some in incongruously in High German with a Prussian
“We realized that the young man was explaining that a car, perhaps the Major’s car, had been taken to Dunkerque as the Major had requested, and that the young man had been advised to travel to Paris and then something about Dieppe… Nevertheless, what this had to-do with the English Gentleman we did not understand, and it was all very boring to the family anyway. Our priority was to find the Major or to find the platform for the journey to the coast. in addition, the Major was, yet, nowhere to be seen.”
“Suddenly Sarah squeaked, and we all looked at her. It was a squeak of happy excitement, and we all looked at her more closely. Even the young man and his companion turned to look at her in amused surprise. For some reason, only known to her, Sarah rushed towards the pair of
amused men. Rushed right up to them, and then, completely overcome with embarrassment,
thrust the doll towards the Gentleman, and said: “‘we’ve been shopping. Look what the man
“Her face suddenly colored; dark red with embarrassment.”
“‘How charming,’ said the English Gentleman, and looked into Sarah’s upturned face, saying, "Thank you Sarah, for showing me.’”
“Suddenly we all knew – as Sarah had already, that this elegant Gentleman talking to the Major’s
driver in beautiful English, was none other than the Wehrmacht Officer; our Major who had rescued us and protected us and brought us so far.”
“The Major smiled at Sarah and her doll, “‘It’s lovely,’ he said, looking at the somewhat ragged old doll with a half-smile.
“‘And look at these,’ said Sarah, putting the catalogue in his hands.
“‘Delightful. My daughter would love to see this.’”
“‘Oh! Please,’ said Sarah ‘you can keep it if you like.’”
“‘I’ll have a look at it later,’ said the Major, as he turned back towards the young man at his elbow; the young man who had watched all this with a gentle smile on his face. The Major handed the catalogue to the driver; then continued to discuss the arrangements for transporting his car to England.
Please stay tuned for Chapter 9!