Good-bye, ME

Renate had to say many good-byes.  We have bid adieu to Anni, Candida, her school, her sister Eva, her town, and now, she, too, must go–an exile in the winter of 1936.

As a Jewess, I was no longer allowed to go to school: it was dangerous. As the Nazis gained power, I could not stay in my hometown. Arrangements were made for me to go to a boarding school in Holland. That was the winter of 1936. I was nine years old.

Under cover of night, our neighbors drove us to the railroad station in the next town. They knew that, as Jews, we were not allowed to drive and that it was too far for us to walk. They also knew that if they were dis­covered with Jews in their car, they would be arrested as well. They let us out near the station, and we walked the rest of the way, thankful for their daring courage.

Fortunately, since the waiting room at the station was empty, there was no one there to question us. We spent the rest of the night in our heavy winter coats on the hard, wooden benches that lined the walls of this small room. I sat wedged between my mother and father, silent and awake. I wanted to absorb their protection, their closeness.

A dim light bulb suspended from the ceiling cast eerie shadows that reflected in the copper spittoon standing in the corner. I repeatedly touched my ticket and passport to make sure they were still in the pocket my mother had sewn for them. In that same pocket was a piece of cardboard inscribed with my name, age, and destination. I was to hang that around my neck as soon as I left Germany. My backpack contained my doll, Giesela, and an apple: all I had in the world.

With the dawn, the shadows disappeared. My mother served a breakfast of bread and water, which stuck in my throat. I wondered if we would ever again break bread together. We left our night’s abode and walked up the stairs to the cold and windy station platform. A few snowflakes blew into our coat collars. We were a desolate, silent group as we waited for the train. Each of us knew this might be the last time in our lives we would be together. My parents had sent Eva to Italy from this very platform a few months ago; Helga would soon follow.

I was scared. I had never been on a long trip with­out my mother or father. My mind was full of questions: Is there a bathroom on the train? What if a Nazi comes into my compartment? Will I know how to avoid draw­ing attention to myself? But I also knew that I was in danger as long as I was in Germany.

As the train approached, we all turned toward it. The engine, spitting black smoke, chugged like a huge monster ready to engulf us—consume us. My father took out his handkerchief and blew his nose loudly. My mother had tears running down her face. She wiped them with the back of her hand. I had never seen both my parents cry at the same time. My father cried when his mother died; my mother cried when she returned from leaving my sister Eva at the station. Seeing their tears, I too started to cry and clung to them. The train halted only briefly at this stop, and my parents urged me to get on. Out of the dirty window, I saw my fa­ther wave his white handkerchief. My mother became smaller and smaller as the trained gained speed. I looked out the window and tried to control my sobs. I was traveling to a place where I knew no one, and no one knew me. I wanted my parents to come with me, comfort me, protect and hold me, and tuck me in at night.