By Rebecca Zielke
I scrambled to get the papers together, trying to figure out which documents were most important, the ones that I would not burn in the fireplace. The regime had found out about the resistance and there were rumors that names were released. While I was not high in command, my name was on that list regardless, and I had no idea how much time I had left before the army started looking for me. I had heard stories of public executions of those who dared to disobey the Germans’ command in France. I knew I may not be so lucky.
After deciding which papers were crucial, I threw the rest in the fireplace. The flames consumed them within minutes; names and locations disappeared as if they never were. I hid the rest in a concealed location in my suitcase and started to pack the essentials for traveling. We were told that if our names were made known to the Gestapo, we were to flee to Switzerland. As a mere contributor, we were told by our leaders that it was best to make smaller differences from afar, than no difference being dead. The top officials of the resistance would stay behind and fight until the Gestapo or the French army got them.
I heard a knock on the door. My heart sank. Was it them already? What if it was just a neighbor?
Yes, it could just be Mrs. Dawnay. She might need help with her garden again. The poor lady is too old to continue to work in the ground and yet she still does.
I composed myself and walked to the front door to look through the peephole.
It was Nathan and another man behind him. Nathan was my boyfriend, and it seemed more daring that we were together considering he was in the French army, the army controlled by Germany. Any one at that very moment would have seen that two French army soldiers in uniform were at my door, which left me with no chance of running out the back door. I opened the door to let them in.
“Nathan,” I started nervously. “I thought you were still out…” I trailed off as he and the other man pushed past me inside and into the main room, closing the drapes of the windows. When the windows were covered, he turned around to look at me. He did not seem warm and inviting as he usually was, but cold and distant. I slowly walked towards him but he pulled away. The other man walked towards me and grabbed my arm so I would not run away.
“Calais Montague,” He started in a commanding and monotone voice. “The government has evidence that you have been participating in secret underground group to sabotage the war effort that Germany is fighting for the benefit and wellbeing of France.”
The whole time I could not take my eyes off Nathan, watching him in horror as he avoided any eye contact with me.
“We have orders,” continued the other man, “to rid of any force, no matter how seemingly small, which would prevent the Axis powers from winning this war.”
As soon as he finished his sentence, I turned to him with an expression that showed no defeat or fear. I knew he was downplaying the effectiveness of the resistance. Last week, a train bringing supplies to the front was stopped by a section of a train track that had been blown up. They suspected it was the resistance and their suspicions were correct, but they had no proof.
“You wish it was only a small force or your superiors wouldn’t even bother looking for us.”
At that moment he struck me hard enough where I lost my balance and fell to my knees. He then pulled up my head with my hair, which was pulled back with a hair tie. I suddenly felt a knife to my neck. My heart beat fast in fear, but I did not show any emotion.
“Shut up, bitch!” The man yelled, holding the knife steady while holding my head back with my hair. “Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with?”
I said nothing. I just calmly readied myself for my imminent death, knowing that there was no way out. Nathan had no choice in what was going to happen, and his colleague was to make sure orders were carried out. I knew that I could not blame him for this. I looked back at Nathan, hoping he could make eye contact with me. He continued to stare at the ground.
“The Gestapo wants you and your kind out of the way.” The man nearly yelled. He kept yelling, but I was not paying attention to what he was saying and nothing registered in my mind. He was going to kill me right in front of Nathan and he would not see my face that was trying to communicate that I did not hold this against him. Before, all those times we spent together, after every time we made love, he promised he would make sure nothing happened to me. I wanted to tell him that this would not be his fault even though he was right here, watching.
Seeing as he would not look at me, and the man had stopped talking, I closed my eyes and braced myself for the impact of the knife. I felt it move away from my neck. I knew it was going to come back at me hard, being the last thing I felt. Instead of the knife against my neck, I suddenly felt a release from the man’s grip of my hair, causing me to fall forward. I caught myself with my arms from falling face down. It took a second to register that I was not dead and that my head was lighter. I turned around to see the man had cut off my hair from the neck and held it in his hand. Before I could say anything, I felt Nathan’s arms pulling me onto my feet. In a moment the fear I should have felt came rushing in, causing me to tear up and let out a deep, shaky exhale.
“What just…” I started to say with a shaky voice, but Nathan pointed to what his fellow soldier was doing. He had sprinkled what I assumed was blood onto my hair over the floor, then put the blood covered hair into a paper bag.
“That should be believable.” The man concluded in a calmer voice, but with no emotion. I could feel my hair had been cut and it was all still processing in my mind. Seeing my confusion, Nathan started talking to me as he walked me into my bedroom.
“We were assigned to execute all those on the list of the resistance. We made sure we had you for our assignment because I did not want you to be one of them. The man, Jerome, is a friend I trust. He and I are making sure it looks like you are dead. Get your essentials packed because we have to burn the house down; if there is no body to be found, we have to make it look like the fire destroyed it.”
Still shaking, I threw some clothes, all the money I had, and my identification papers, both real and my fake identity in a case where my life could be in danger.
“Get onto the 8:20 train to Switzerland and write to me using your fake name when you get there. Say that you’re happy to be with my cousins. I will let you know when it’s safe again.” We embraced for a minute, which I wanted to be longer. I ran out my room and out the door into the darkening evening sky. I couldn’t let anyone see me. Everyone has to think I’m dead. After a few minutes I turned around in the direction of my house and started to see smoke in the distance. I saw what looked like Nathan and Jerome walking away in the opposite direction, as if all was well in the world.
I turned back around to continue to town and to the train station. No one would ever know how lucky I was tonight.
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