Josua slept restless. Would the Red Army move on with the prisoners of war without missing Jonnie and Freddie, the Hitler Youth. If they were missed what would happen? Would the soldiers search the cottage? Would they discover the hidden storeroom in the basement? What would happen to them, to Lukas, to the Old Man to himself? He knew of drumhead trials! Would a firing squad shoot them or would they end up on the next tree as a deterrent for others? "My fault! My fault!" his conscience told him again and again! "What can I do? Should I scare away Jonnie and Freddie? Have I to chase them into the cold night to save Lukas' and the Old Man's life, my own life?" Finally he fell asleep, in a restless sleep.
Long after midnight the creaking of the trapdoor to the basement aroused Josua from sleep. Spying from his straw sack behind the shelf he noticed the Old Man and the two Hitler Youth leaving the basement and sneaking out of the cottage door. Spying through the window pane he saw them crossing to the woodlot and vanishing in the dark of the trees. He waited for a long time not knowing what to do. Should he follow them or stay with Lukas? He decided to stay with Lukas, as he was sure he couldn't trek the three in the darkness. About an hour later the Old Man came back. When Josua asked him what happened, he just said, "You better don't know! If someone asks swear you have slept the whole night like a log!"
In the early morning light the tired soldiers of the guard quad scared up the prisoners of war. After receiving their daily ration, a piece of bread per man, they had to leave the chapel in rank and file for the day's march. The officers in their heavy winter coats walked ahead followed by the regular servicemen most of them in light clothing. Josua watching them marching off, waved goodbye to the corporal and then turned to the Old Man with the question that had given him no rest during the second half of the night. "What happened to the wounded Hitler Youth? Where did you take them? What happened to them?" "I told you already, you do not have to know! However they are safe for the moment."
The three had just finished breakfast, when loud voices and heavy blows against the cottage door for called for immediate access. The door flew open and two soldiers of the guard squad came rushing in followed by one of the German officers. While the Red Army soldiers pointed with their sub-machine guns at the Old Man, Josua and Lukas the former German officer spit out a volley of questions, "Where are the Hitler Youth, where are these deserters! Do you hide these cursed traitors, the scum of the German army?"
The Old Man was foaming with rage. He knew this kind of people very well, peoples trimming their sails to the wind. Yesterday Hitler's henchman, today Stalin's the best friend. In his Klepper coat the tall man was the typical collaborator betraying his own fellow captives for an extra piece of bread and a packet of cigarettes! The long coat proved well enough that the guy was a former member of the Nazi Security Service, responsible for killing thousands and thousands of Jews. The Old man swallowed his anger and decided not to answer. "Not now," he thought, "I am not his divine judge!"
When neither the boys nor the Old Man answered, the soldiers pushed all three into a corner of the room and forced them to kneel down face to the wall. Despite the fear for his life Josua pressed his lips and remained silent. Lukas however began to cry! Unafraid of the ready to fire guns he turned to Josua and held fast to him pointing with his head backward to the intruders, crying "Get out of here! Go away, go away!" The young soldiers having pity with Lukas and being tired of the useless interrogation by he Nazi officer began to search first the kitchen, then the room in the back and finally all around the cottage and the chapel. Not finding the escaped youths, the soldier pulled the pin of a hand grenade and threw it through the side door into the chapel. Then he released the safety catch of the next and the next and next and threw one after the other into the chapel.
The force of the detonation blew out what was left from the stained glass windows, blew off tiles from the roof, wrecked what was left of the pews in the nave and broke the window panes of the cottage leaning to the chapel. Ordering the Nazi officer to stop swearing the Red Army soldiers left signaling with their guns to the Old Man that he and the two boys had to leave the place as fast as possible.
The Old Man knew they had to comply with the order. He asked Josua to pack supplies into his rucksack and take two rolled up blankets. For lack of an own backpack the Old Man himself used an old potato sack for the carrying more supplies. For Lukas he found a schoolbag suitable for carrying goods like sugar and fat. Together with Lukas holding his beloved book in his hands they left the cottage about fifteen minutes later. Choosing an animal trail through the wood at the valley side they arrived about half an hour later at a dense untended spruce plantation hiding a derelict hunting hut not used for years.
The Old Man whistled. Branches of the spruce were thrust aside and Jonnie, the limping Hitler youth, stepped out, "I thought you would never come back, Sir. I need you! Freddie needs you. His forehead is hot like fire. He fell unconscious and now is unaddressable. I do not know what to do." Then he noticed Josua and Lukas and furthermore the heavy load they were carrying. He went pale. By instinct he knew what had happened. "Are we missing? Did the Russians search for us? Freddie and me? Had you to flee the chapel?" Lukas stepped up to Jonnie, "They threatened us, the soldiers. They pulled their guns on us! They blew up the chapel with hand grenades. We had to run!" Pointing with his forefinger at Jonnie, "It's your fault! You, you, you..." Josua stepped in, "Don't Lukas! It's not his fault. It's the war's fault, the bad peoples' fault, the dictators' fault!" then he turned to Jonnie, "Let's hurry up, show us the way to Freddie, he needs us."
Meanwhile the Old Man had searched his pockets for a remedy. "I have to go back to the cottage. I have left the only remedy I got on the shelf in the backroom, some aspirins. However let's bring the supplies to the hut first."
"Let's hurry!" it was Josua, "You can't go alone! I will come along with you, then we can get more food to this place and may be some linen to replace the bled through bandages around Freddie's head."
Fighting their way through the thicket of densely growing spruce trees they came to the one room hut. Freddie seems to have recovered slightly from his unconsciousness. He greeted the newcomers by a scarcely perceptible winking of his eyes. When the Old Man checked the shrapnel wound on his arm the young man fainted again. "First of all we need some disinfectant to clean the wound and then some aspirin to reduce his fever." Turning to Jonnie, "You do not have iodine by chance, boy?" "No, they took away our first aid kits. Nothing is left!"
Josua remembered his aunt's home remedy, "Spirit will do as disinfectant also. My aunt used it to clean my bruises with schnapps. But...!" he shrugged his shoulders, I don't have schnapps either."
It was on Lukas to know the solution. "Do you remember the drinking of the Red Army soldiers back at fireplace two days ago. Next morning I found some bottles with that stuff they call vodka besides the gnawed off bones of the pig. Initially I wanted to pour away the schnapps and save the bottles but then I tucked them away by the outhouse." Lukas took Josua by the hand and pulling him out of the hut, "Let's hurry. They still must be there! Let's go and find the bottles!" he urged Lukas.
The Old Man followed asking Jonnie to stay with his friend and try to start a fire in the potbelly stove in the corner of the hut. Near the edge of the wood opposite the chapel he caught up to Lukas and Josua and prompted the two to take cover and make sure that nobody was around. After a seemingly endless wait, he allowed Lukas to look for the bottle while he and Josua went to the cottage to get more supplies. "We do not only need food and the aspirins but also some cloth out of my locker for Jonnie and Freddie. They can't move around in the uniform of a member of the Hitler Youth, if so they will be suspected to be either escaped prisoners of war or partisans fighting in the back of the Red Army." "But they are just boys!" "Do you know what their fate would be, boys or not boys? The gallows! If soldiers will take them captive their death would come the next moment. However if they are caught by members of the polish resistance they may get tortured before they get hung."
In the cottage Josua and the Old Man collected more food and other items that they wanted to carry to the hunting hut at the next trip. They filled their packs to capacity and decided to hide the less needed parts at the edge of the woodlot.
In the meantime Lukas had recovered a bottle with vodka and waited in front of the cottage door. Suddenly he burst into the kitchen; pointing to heaven he shouted a warning, "The sewage machines are coming! The dive bombers, the dive bomber are coming. I can hear their high pitched noise."
"It's close to noon. They are on their usual patrol flight. Don't be afraid!" the Old Man tried to calm the boy, but Lukas repeated, "Hurry up, hurry up. Let's hide in the wood." "We better leave Sir, we got all we wanted. Let's go." Josua said in a strained voice and left with Lukas in tow, while the Old Man stayed in the cottage.
The day it was different from the days before. The first two biplanes greeted the chapel waving their wings in the usual way about 300 feet above ground, the third however lagged behind. Suddenly this biplane changed its approach. With screaming motor it soared up into the sky. At the topmost point of the ballistic path the dive bomber suddenly seemed to stand still for a moment and then descended like a falcon towards the chapel. Halfway down it decoupled its deadly freight.
Josua saw the bombs dropping like in a slow motion movie searching their target. The first bomb hit the nave of the chapel, the second its altar room and the last the build on cottage. In the first moment the small bombs seemed just to have pierced holes into the roofs, then a wink of an eye later, explosions lifted the roofs of the chapel and of the cottage into the air. The next moment only ruins were left. Both, the chapel and the cottage of the Old Man, it's guardian, were in shatters.
When the dust cloud had settled Josua found himself on top of Lukas covering the younger boys small body with his own. Silence seemed to hover over the place around the destroyed buildings. Josua looked around, then rose and attempted stand straight with wobbling legs. Then his gaze fell to Lukas. The boy had also risen. With his extended right arm he pointed to the ruins the cottage that had been their asylum for the last days and screamed in despair. At first Josua only perceived Lukas' face distorted with fear, but then he realized that the silence covering the scene of disaster was not real and the buzzing in his ears was nothing more than a blast trauma. Bit by bit the trauma faded away and he could hear the crackling noise of the burning beams of the rof and pews in the nave.
Compelled by the same anxiety Josua and Lukas rushed to the ruins of the cottage. Like mad they began to pull on broken roof beams, cleared away pieces of the walls, removed bricks and tiles from the heap of rubble. They tried to listen for cries for help from the Old Man, for the heavy breathing of wounded man, for his whimpers of pain. But there was no noise just deadly silence! The uprooted boys perceived no sign of life from the Old Man! The only noise if life was the croaking of the agitated crows in the trees nearby. As the black birds took wings disturbed by someone deadly silence dominated the site. In that moment Josua and Lukas realized that their friend, the Old Man, the guardian of the Chapel of the Presentation of Jesus in the High Temple, was gone for ever.
Josua looked at the pilot watch Tischa had given to him. It still was working unaffected by the misery around. The clock showed five minutes past noon. Josua took Lukas by the hand and together they walked slowly to the edge of the wood. There they met Jonnie perching on his heels with eyes closed shutting out the world around.
"The Old Man has gone! Gone for ever!" Josua told Jonnie without emotion in the voice and Jonnie answered fact-bound, "Freddie as well."
"Take the Old Man's coat!" Josua told Jonnie, pointing at the coat laying on the heap of goods at the forest edge. "The Old Man doesn't need a coat anymore. We are going to the West! We will find our way!"
It's war, it's war! God's angel keep it far
And put an end to it!
It's war, alas - and I desire
Not to bear the guilt for it!
What would I do, if in my sleep
Grieving and bloody, pale and wan,
The ghosts of the slaughtered came to me
And wept before me-what would I do?
What if bold men who sought only honor
Maimed and half-dead lay weltering
Before me in the dust and cursed me
In their dying distress?
What if by thousands fathers, mothers,
So happy till the war
Now all wretched, all poor people
Raised lamentation over me?
If hunger, pestilence, and their sorrows
Drove friend and foe into the grave
There gathering, and, to my dishonor
Crowed from atop a corpse at me?
Would crown, land, gold, or glory aid me?
None of them could give me joy!
It's war, alas - and I desire
Not to bear the guilt for it!
Matthias Claudius 1778
(1740 - 1815)
Is this story just fiction? Is this story reality? Not even the narrator knows!
But what happened in this story was reality for many of the uprooted boys and girls living through the final stage of world war II.
It still is the reality for the uprooted boys and girls living at just this moment through the wars in the Ukraine, in Syria, and Iraq, in Nigeria, in Somalia, in Afghanistan.
Remember a fate like this was reality for uprooted boys and girls since humankind exists. It had been their fate about 400 years ago in the Thirty Year's War; about 1200 years ago, when Charles the Great fought his wars; about 2000 years ago, when the cessars of the Roman empire subdued all people of known world; about 2300 years ago, when Alexander the Great conquered the eastern world from Greece to India; it even was their fate in the Stone Age.
But don't be afraid. Boys and Girls are resilient! Boys and Girls will stand fast.
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