The New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Exiles conjures her best novel yet, a pre-World War II-era story with the emotional resonance of Orphan Train and All the Light We Cannot See, centering on the Kindertransports that carried thousands of children out of Nazi-occupied Europe—and one brave woman who helped them escape to safety.
In 1936, the Nazi are little more than loud, brutish bores to fifteen-year old Stephan Neuman, the son of a wealthy and influential Jewish family and budding playwright whose playground extends from Vienna's streets to its intricate underground tunnels. Stephan's best friend and companion is the brilliant Žofie-Helene, a Christian girl whose mother edits a progressive, anti-Nazi newspaper. But the two adolescents' carefree innocence is shattered when the Nazis' take control.
There is hope in the darkness, though. Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance, risks her life smuggling Jewish...
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and in memory of
who carried the stories of the
Kindertransport to my son,
who carried them home to me,
and the children she saved
I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. . . . And now that very boy is turning to me. “Tell me,” he says, “what have you done with my years, what have you done with your life?” . . . One person of integrity, of courage, can make a difference, a difference of life and death.
—Elie Wiesel, from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, delivered in Oslo on December 10, 1986
Part I: The Time Before
At the Border
Boy Meets Girl
Rubies or Paste
Candles at Sunrise
Searching for Stefan Zweig
The Man in the Shadow
A Little Breakfast Chocolate
Chalk on Her Shoes
The Liar’s Paradox
The Most Massive Typewriter Ever
Klara Van Lange
Through a Window Glass, Darkly
Bare Feet in Snow
Exhibition of Shame
Along the Quay
Diamonds, Not Paste
The Mathematics of Song
Kipferl and Viennese Hot Chocolate
A Fumbled Code
Typing Between the Lines
Empty Dance Cards
Part II: The Time Between
After the Refusal to Dance
The Card Index
The Problems You Fail to Anticipate
The Shame Salute
Truus at the Bloomsbury Hotel
The Gates of Hell
The Jewish Question in Austria
At the Ferris Wheel
Friendships Come and Go
The Simplest Thing in the World
The Cost of Chocolate
The White Sheets of Death
At the Border
The Servants’ Floor
One is Always Greater Than Zero
A Night Out
The “Ave Maria”
Nothing More Than a Name
Begging for Papa
Searching for Papa
The Boy With Chocolates in His Pocket
A Woman of Vision
The Westminster Debate
Exit, No Visa
Viscount Samuel’s Appeal
Wishes Big and Small
Searching for Stephan Neuman
All the Ink
The Leopoldstadt Ghetto
Not Within Our Purview
A Very Good Boy
The Hotel Bristol
No Way Out
At the Canal
Hiding in Shadow
The Interrogation Begins
The Interrogation Continues
And Now, Your Skirt
Arranging the Last Laugh
The Shape of a Foot
A Woman From Amsterdam
Any Child Who is in Danger
Our Different Gods
Though Banish’d, Outcast, Reviled
A Seventeen-Year-Old Jewish Boy
The Other Mother
The Eichmann Paradox
In Another Direction
At the Hotel Metropole
The Lights of Harwich
An Exit Visa of Another Kind
Part III: The Time After
Rabbit Number 522
On the Beach
Just a Baby on a Train
The Kokoschka Paradox
At the Prague Train Station, September 1, 1939
Newnham College, Cambridge
London Liverpool Street Station: September 3, 1939
Paris: May 10, 1940
Ijmuiden, the Netherlands: May 14, 1940
Part IV: And Then . . .
About the Author
Also by Meg Waite Clayton
About the Publisher
The Time Before
At the Border
Stout flakes softened the view out the train window: a snow-covered castle on a snow-covered hill ghosting up through the snowy air, the conductor calling, “Bad Bentheim; this is Bad Bentheim, Germany. Passengers continuing to the Netherlands must provide documents.” Geertruida Wijsmuller—a Dutchwoman with a strong chin and nose and brow, a wide mouth, cashmere-gray eyes—kissed the baby on her lap. She kissed him a second time, her lips lingering on his smooth forehead. She handed him to his sister then, and pulled the skullcap off their toddler brother. “Es ist in Ordnung. Es wird nicht lange dauern. Dein Gott wird dir dieses eine Mal vergeben,” Truus responded to the children’s objections, in their own language. It’s all right. It will be only for a few moments. Your God will forgive us this once.
As the train heaved to a stop, the little boy leapt to the window, shouting, “Mama!”
Truus gentled his hair as she followed his gaze out the snow-dirty glass to see Germans in orderly lines on the platform despite the storm, a porter with a loaded luggage cart, a stooped man in a sandwich board, advertising a tailor. Yes, there was the woman the child saw—a slim woman in a dark coat and scarf standing at a sausage vendor, her back to the train as the boy again called to her, “Maaa-maaa!”
The woman turned, idly taking a greasy bite of sausage as she gazed up at the split-flap board. The boy crumpled. Not his mother, of course.
Truus pulled the child to her, whispering, “There there, there there,” unable to make promises that could not be kept.
The carriage doors opened with a startling clatter and hiss. A Nazi border guard on the platform reached up to help a debarking passenger, a pregnant German who accepted his help with a gloved hand. Truus unfastened the pearl buttons on her own yellow leather day gloves and loosened the scalloped cuffs with their delicate black accents. She pulled the gloves off, the leather catching on a ruby solitaire nestled with two other rings as, with hands just beginning to freckle and crepe, she wiped away the boy’s tears.
She tidied the children’s hair and clothes, addressing each again by name but working quickly, keeping an eye on the dwindling line of passengers.
“All right now,” she said, wiping the drool from the baby’s mouth as the last passengers disembarked. “Go wash your hands, just as we practiced.”
Already the Nazi border guard was mounting the stairs.
“Go on, go quickly now, but take your time washing up,” Truus said calmly. To the girl she said, “Keep your brothers in the lavatory, sweetheart.”
“Until you put back on your gloves, Tante Truus,” the girl said.
It was necessary that Truus not seem to be hiding the children, yet nor did she want them too close for this negotiation. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, she thought, unconsciously putting the ruby to her lips, like a kiss.
She opened her pocketbook, a more delicate thing than she would have carried had she known she’d be returning to Amsterdam with three children in tow. She fumbled inside it, removing her rings as the children, now behind her, traipsed away down the aisle.
Ahead, the border guard appeared. He was a young man, but not so young that he might not be married, might not have children of his own.
“Visas? You have visas to leave Germany?” he demanded of Truus, the sole adult remaining in the carriage.
Truus continued rooting in her bag as if to extract the required papers. “Children can be such a handful, can’t they?” she replied warmly as she fingered her single Dutch passport, still in the handbag. “You have children, Officer?”
The guard offered an unsanctioned hint of a smile. “My wife, she’s expecting our first child, perhaps on Christmas Day.”
“How fortunate for you!” Truus said, smiling at her own good fortune as the guard glanced toward the sounds of water running in a sink, the children chattering as sweetly as bramble finches. She let the thought sit with him: he would soon have a baby not unlike little Alexi, who would grow into a child like Israel or dear, dear Sara.
Truus fingered the ruby—sparkling and warm—on the lone ring she now wore. “You have something special for your wife, to mark the occasion, I’m sure.”
“Something special?” the Nazi repeated, returning his attention to her.
“Something beautiful to wear every day, to remember a most special moment.” She removed the ring, saying, “My father gave this to my mother the day I was born.”
Her pale, steady fingers offered the ruby ring, along with her single passport.
He eyed the ring skeptically, then took the passport alone, examined it, and glanced again to the back of the carriage. “These are your children?”
Dutch children could be included on their parents’ passports, but hers listed none.
She turned the ruby to catch the light, saying, “They’re more precious than anything, children.”
Boy Meets Girl
Stephan burst out the doors and down the snow-covered steps, his satchel thwacking at his school blazer as he sprinted for the Burgtheater. At the stationery store, he pulled up short: The typewriter was still there, in the window display. He pushed his glasses up on his nose, put his fingers to the window glass, and pretended to type.
He ran on, weaving his way through the Christkindlmarkt crowds, the smells of sweet mulled glühwein and gingerbread, saying “Sorry. Sorry! Sorry,” and keeping his cap low to avoid recognition. They were fine people, his family: their wealth came from their own chocolate business established with their own capital, and they kept their accounts always on the credit side at the Rothschild bank. If it got back to his father that he’d knocked down another old lady on the street, that typewriter would remain nearer the light-strung pine tree here in the Rathausplatz than the one in the winter gallery at home.
He waved to the old man tending the newsstand. “Good afternoon, Herr Kline!”
“Where is your overcoat, Master Stephan?” the old man called after him.
Stephan glanced down—he’d left his coat at school again—but he slowed only when he reached the Ringstrasse, where a Nazi pop-up protest blocked the way. He ducked into a poster-plastered kiosk and clanged down the metal stairs into the darkness of the Vienna underworld, to emerge on the Burgtheater side of the street. He bolted through the theater doors and took the stairs by twos down to the basement barbershop.
“Master Neuman, what a great surprise!” Herr Perger said, raising white eyebrows over spectacles as round and black as Stephan’s, if less snow-splattered. The barber was bent low, sweeping the last of the day’s hair clippings into a dustpan. “But didn’t I—”
“Just a quick clip. It’s been a few weeks.”
Herr Perger straightened his back and discarded the hair into a trash bin, then set the broom and dustpan next to a cello leaning against the wall. “Ah well, memory doesn’t fit as readily into an old mind as into a young one, I suppose,” he offered warmly, nodding to the barber chair. “Or perhaps it doesn’t fit as well into that of a young man with money to spare?”
Stephan dropped his satchel, a few pages of his new play spilling out onto the floor, but what did it matter, Herr Perger knew he wrote plays. He shucked his blazer, settled in the chair, and removed his glasses. The world went fuzzy, the cello and the broom now a couple waltzing in the corner, his face in the mirror above his tie anyone’s face. He shivered as Herr Perger draped the cape around him; Stephan despised haircuts.
“I heard they might be starting rehearsals for a new play,” he said. “Is it a Stefan Zweig?”
“Ah, yes, you are such a fan of Herr Zweig. How could I have forgotten?” Otto Perger said, mocking Stephan somehow, but kindly, and anyway Herr Perger knew every secret there was to know about the playwrights and the stars and the theater. Stephan’s friends had no idea where Stephan got his inside scoops; they thought he knew someone important.
“Herr Zweig’s mother still lives here in Vienna,” Stephan said.
“Yet rarely does he advertise his visits from London. Well, at the risk of causing disappointment, Stephan, this new play is a Csokor, 3. November 1918, about the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There has been quite a lot of whispering and intrigue as to whether it will even be performed. I’m afraid Herr Csokor must live with his suitcase packed. But I’m told it is going forward, albeit with the publicity to include a disclaimer that the playwright means no offense to any nation of the former German empire. A little of this, a little of that, whatever it takes to survive.”
Stephan’s father would have objected that this was Austria, not Germany; the Nazi coup here had been put down years ago. But Stephan didn’t care about politics. Stephan only wanted to know who would play the lead.
“Perhaps you would like to guess?” Herr Perger suggested as he turned Stephan toward him in the chair. “You are quite clever at that, as I recall.”
Stephan kept his eyes closed, involuntarily shivering again even though, mercifully, no bits of hair landed on his face. “Werner Krauss?” he guessed.
“Well, there you are!” Herr Perger said with surprising enthusiasm.
Herr Perger turned the chair back to the mirror, leaving Stephan startled to see—blurrily, without his glasses—that the barber was not applauding his guess but rather addressing a girl emerging like a surrealist sunflower sprouting from a heating grate in the wall below Stephan’s reflection. She stood right in front of him, all smudged glasses and blond braids and budding breasts.
“Ach, Žofie-Helene, your mama will be scrubbing that dress all night,” Herr Perger said.
“That wasn’t really a fair question, Grandpapa Otto—there are two male leads,” the girl said brightly, her voice catching somewhere inside Stephan, like the first high B-flat of Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” her voice and the lyrical sound of her name, Žofie-Helene, and the nearness of her breasts.
“It’s a lemniscate of Bernoulli,” she said, fingering a gold pendant necklace. “Analytically the zero set of the polynomial X squared plus Y squared minus the product of X squared minus Y squared times two A squared.”
“I . . . ,” Stephan stammered through the blush of shame at being caught staring at her breasts, even if she didn’t realize he had been.
“My papa gave it to me,” she said. “He liked mathematics too.”
Herr Perger unfastened the cape, handed Stephan his glasses, and waved away the cupronickel Stephan offered, saying there was no charge this time. Stephan stuffed the script pages back into his satchel, not wanting this girl to see his play, or that he had a play, that he imagined he might write anything worth reading. He paused, puzzled: The floor was completely clean?
“Stephan, this is my granddaughter,” Otto Perger said, the scissors still in hand and the broom and dustpan beside the cello untouched. “Žofie, Stephan here may be at least as interested in the theater as you are, if somewhat more inclined toward tidy hair.”
“Very nice to meet you, Stephan,” the girl said. “But why did you come for a haircut you didn’t need?”
“Žofie-Helene,” Herr Perger scolded.
“I was sleuthing through the grate. You didn’t need a haircut, so Grandpapa Otto only pretended to cut it. But wait, don’t tell me! Let me deduce.” She looked about the room, at the cello and the coatrack and her grandfather and, again, Stephan himself. Her gaze settled on his satchel. “You’re an actor! And Grandpapa knows everything about this theater.”
Otto Perger said, “I believe you will find, Engelchen, that Stephan is a writer. And you must know that the greatest writers do the strangest things simply for the experience.”
Žofie-Helene peered at Stephan with new interest. “Are you really?”
“I . . . I’m getting a typewriter for Christmas,” Stephan said. “I hope I am.”
“Do they make special ones?”
“Does it feel queer to be left-handed?”
Stephan considered his hands, confused, as she reopened the grate from which she’d emerged and climbed on hands and knees back into the wall. A moment later, she poked her head out again. “Do come on then, Stephan; rehearsals are nearly over,” she said. “You won’t mind a little dirt on your ink-stained sleeve, will you? For the experience?”
Rubies or Paste
A pearl button popped off Truus’s scalloped glove cuff as, with the baby in one hand, she reached out to catch the boy; he was so fascinated by the massive cast-iron dome ceiling of the Amsterdam station that he nearly tumbled from the train.
“Truus,” her husband called up to her as he took the toddler in hand and set him on the platform. He helped the girl too, and Truus and the baby.
On the platform, Truus accepted her husband’s embrace, a rare public thing.
“Geertruida,” he said, “couldn’t Frau Freier—”
“Please don’t fuss at me now, Joop. What’s done is done, and I’m sure the wife of that nice young guard who saw us across the border has more need of my mother’s ruby than we do. Where is your Christmas spirit?”
“Good God, don’t tell me you risked bribing a Nazi with paste?”
She kissed him on the cheek. “As you can’t tell the difference yourself, darling, I don’t imagine either of you will soon know.”
Joop laughed despite himself, and he took the baby, holding him awkwardly but cooing—a man who loved children but had none, despite their years of trying. Truus stuck her hands, no longer warmed by the baby, into her pockets, fingering the matchbox she’d all but forgotten. Such an odd sort, the doctor in the train carriage who’d given it to her. “You were sent by God, no doubt,” he’d said with a fond glance at the children. He always carried a lucky stone, he’d said, and he wanted her to have it. “To keep you and the children safe,” he insisted, opening the little box to show her a flat gravelly old stone that really could have no purpose if it weren’t lucky. “At Jewish funerals, one doesn’t give flowers but rather stones,” he said, which made the thing somehow impossible to turn down. He would collect it from her when he needed his luck back, he assured her. Then he’d debarked at Bad Bentheim, before the train crossed from Germany into the Netherlands, and now Truus was in Amsterdam with the children, thinking there might be some truth to his claim about the ugly little stone’s luck-bringing charms.
“Now, little man,” Joop said to the baby, “you must grow up to do some extraordinary thing, to make my foolish bride’s risk of her life worthwhile.” If he was troubled by this unplanned rescue, he wasn’t going to object any more than he did when her trips to bring children out of Germany were planned. He kissed the baby’s cheek. “I have a taxi waiting,” he said.
“A taxi? Were you given a raise at the bank while I was away?” A gentle joke; Joop was a banker’s banker, frugal to the core, albeit one who still called his wife of two decades his bride.
“It would be a sturdy walk to their uncle’s place from the tram stop even without this snow,” he said, “and Dr. Groenveld doesn’t want his friend’s niece and nephews to arrive with frostbite.”
Dr. Groenveld’s friend. That did explain it, Truus thought as they walked out into the snow-lace of tree branches, the dirt-stomp of paths, the hard white frost of canal. It was the way so much of the help of the Committee for Special Jewish Interests was doled out: nieces and nephews of Dutch citizens; friends of friends; the children of friends of business partners. So often, accidental relationships determined fate.
* * *
THE VIENNA INDEPENDENT
* * *
HITLER’S BIRTH HOME NOW A MUSEUM
* * *
Relations between Austria and Germany remain strained despite the summer accord
BY KÄTHE PERGER
BRAUNAU-AM-INN, AUSTRIA, December 20, 1936 — The owner of Adolf Hitler’s birth home here has opened two of its rooms as a museum. The Austrian authorities in Linz have permitted the public display on the condition that only German visitors, and not Austrians, be allowed. In the event Austrians are found to be given entry to the museum or it becomes a demonstration site for Nazis, the museum will be closed.
The museum is made possible as a result of the Austro-German Agreement of July 11 to return our nations to “relations of a normal and friendly character.” Under the agreement, Germany recognized Austria’s full sovereignty and agreed to regard our political order as an internal concern upon which it will exercise no influence—a concession by Hitler, who objects to the imprisonment by our government of members of the Austrian Nazi Party.
Candles at Sunrise
Žofie-Helene approached the snow-dusted hedges and the high iron gate of the Ringstrasse palais with trepidation. She put a hand to the pink plaid scarf Grandmère had given her for Christmas, as soft as her mother’s touch. This house was bigger than her entire apartment building, and far more ornate. Four tall columned stories—the bottom floor with arched doors and windows, the upper ones with high, rectangular French windows opening onto stone-railed balconies—were topped with a more modestly sized fifth floor decorated with statuary that seemed to be holding up the slate roof, or guarding the servants who must live up there. This couldn’t be anyone’s real house, much less Stephan’s. But before she could turn back, a doorman in greatcoat and top hat emerged from a guardhouse to open the gate for her, and the carved front doors were flying open, Stephan running down steps as clear of snow as if it were summertime.
“Look! I’ve written a new play!” he said, thrusting a manuscript out to her. “I typed it on the typewriter I got for Christmas!”
The doorman smiled warmly. “Master Stephan, you might like to invite your guest inside?”
THE MANSION’S INTERIOR was even more daunting, with chandeliers and intricately geometric marble floors, an imperial staircase, and everywhere the most extraordinary art: birch trunks in fall with the perspective all wrong; a seaside village climbing a hill, improbably flat and cheerful; a bizarre portrait of a lady who looked very like Stephan, with his same sultry eyes and his long straight nose, his red lips and almost imperceptible chin cleft. The painted woman’s hair was pulled up from her face, and her cheeks were scratched bright red in a way that was both disturbing and elegant, more beauty and blush than wound, although Žofie couldn’t help but think of the latter. Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1 spilled from a large salon where guests chatted beside a piano, its graceful gold-leaf top propped open to reveal a dramatic white bird with a trumpet in his claws painted even there, on its underside.
“No one else has read it yet,” Stephan said in a low voice. “Not a word.”
Žofie eyed the manuscript he again thrust to her. Did he really mean for her to read it now?
The doorman—Rolf, Stephan called him—prompted, “I trust your friend had a happy Christmas, Master Stephan?”
Stephan, ignoring the nudge, said to Žofie, “I’ve been waiting forever for you to get home.”
“Yes, Stephan, my grandmère is well, and I had a lovely Christmas in Czechoslovakia, thank you for asking,” Žofie-Helene said, words rewarded by an approving smile from Rolf as he took her coat and her new scarf.
She read quickly, just the opening page.
“It begins wonderfully, Stephan,” she said.
“Do you think so?”
“I’ll read the whole thing tonight, I promise, but if you really insist that I meet your family, I can’t carry a manuscript about with me.”
Stephan looked into the music salon, then took the manuscript and bounded up the stairs. His hand skirted a statue at each turn as he continued up past the second floor, where doors to a library stood open to more books than Žofie had ever imagined anyone might own.
A fashionably flat-chested woman in the salon was saying, “. . . Hitler burning books—all the interesting ones, I might add.” The woman looked very like Stephan, and like the scratched-cheek portrait too, although her dark hair was parted in the middle and hung in loose curls. “The vile little man calls Picasso and Van Gogh incompetents and cheats.” She fingered a pearl necklace that looped once around her neck, like Žofie’s mother’s did, but then looped a second time all the way down to her waist, spheres so perfect that surely if the strand ever broke, they would roll true. “‘It is not the mission of art to wallow in filth for filth’s sake,’ he says—as if he has any idea what the mission of art is. Yet I’m the hysterical one?”
“Not ‘hysterical,’” a man answered. “That’s your word, Lisl.”
Lisl. That would be Stephan’s aunt, then. Stephan adored his aunt Lisl, and her husband, his uncle Michael, too.
“Freud’s, actually, sweetheart,” Lisl replied lightly.
“It’s only the modernists who set Hitler off,” Stephan’s uncle Michael said. “Kokoschka—”
“Who of course got the place at the Academy of Fine Arts that Hitler imagines ought to have been his,” Lisl interrupted. Hitler’s drawings had been judged so poor that he wasn’t even allowed to sit for the formal exam, she told them. He was left to sleep in a men’s shelter, eat in a soup kitchen, sell his paintings to stores needing something to fill empty picture frames.
As the little circle laughed at her recounting, a door slid open at the far end of the entry hall. An elevator! A boy not much more than a toddler hopped down from a chair inside—a beautiful wheelchair (not his, obviously) with elaborately scrolled arms and a cane seat and back, the annuli of its wonderfully concentric brass handles and wheels perfectly proportioned. The boy wandered into the entry hall, dragging a stuffed rabbit on the floor behind him.
“Well, hello. You must be Walter,” Žofie said. “And who is your rabbit friend?”
“This is Peter,” Stephan’s brother said.
Peter Rabbit. Žofie wished she hadn’t already spent her Christmas money; she might have bought a Peter in a little blue coat like this for her sister, Jojo.
“That’s my papa by my piano,” the little boy said.
“Your piano?” Žofie asked. “Do you play?”
“Not terribly well,” the boy said.
“But on that piano?”
The boy looked to the piano. “Yes, of course.”
Stephan loped back downstairs, empty-handed, just as Žofie noticed the birthday cake in the salon, ablaze with tapers lit at sunrise and left burning all day, an inch an hour, in the Austrian custom. Beside it sat the most glorious tray of chocolates she had ever seen, some milk chocolate and others dark, and all different shapes, but each one decorated with Stephan’s name.
“Stephan, it’s your birthday?” Sixteen candles for his birthday and one for luck. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Stephan ruffled Walter’s hair as the cello piece wound to a stop.
Walter exclaimed, “Me! I want to do it!” and shot off toward their father, who pulled a stool up to the Victrola.
“. . . and now Zweig has fled to England and Strauss composes for the führer,” their aunt Lisl was saying—words that drew Stephan’s attention. Žofie-Helene did not believe in heroes, but she allowed Stephan to pull her into the salon, to better hear about his.
“You must be Žofie-Helene!” Stephan’s aunt Lisl said. “Stephan, you neglected to tell me how beautiful your little friend is.” She pulled a few pins from Žofie’s bun, and Žofie’s hair cascaded down. “Yes, that’s better. If I had hair like yours, I wouldn’t cut it either, never mind what’s fashionable. I’m sorry Stephan’s mother isn’t up to greeting you, but I’ve promised to tell her all about you, so you must tell me everything.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Frau Wirth,” Žofie said. “But do continue your conversation about Herr Zweig, or Stephan will never forgive me.”
Lisl Wirth laughed, a warm, tinkling ellipse, with her chin tilted slightly toward the impossibly high ceiling. “This is Käthe Perger’s daughter, everyone. The editor of the Vienna Independent?” She turned to Žofie, saying, “Žofie-Helene, this is Berta Zuckerkandl, a journalist like your mother.” Then, to the others, “Her mother who, I must say, has more courage than Zweig or Strauss.”
“Really, Lisl,” her husband objected, “you speak as if Hitler were on our border. You speak as if Zweig lives in exile, when he’s in town this very minute.”
“Stefan Zweig is here?” Stephan asked.
“He was at the Café Central not thirty minutes ago, holding forth,” his uncle Michael said.
LISL WATCHED HER nephew and his little friend shoot off toward the front doors as Michael asked why Zweig had abandoned Austria, anyway.
“He isn’t even a Jew,” Michael said. “Not a practicing one.”
“Says my gentile husband,” Lisl chided gently.
“Married to the most beautiful Jew in all of Vienna,” he said.
Lisl watched as Rolf stopped Stephan to hand him the girl’s tired coat. Žofie-Helene looked so surprised when Stephan held it for her that Lisl nearly laughed aloud. Stephan surreptitiously breathed in the scent of the girl’s hair when her back was turned, leaving Lisl to wonder if Michael had ever snuck a whiff of her hair like that when they were courting. She’d been only a year older than Stephan was now.
“Isn’t young love glorious?” she said to her husband.
“She’s in love with your nephew?” Michael answered. “I don’t know that I’d encourage him to take up with the daughter of a rabble-rousing journalist.”
“Which of her parents do you suspect of inciting mobs, darling?” Lisl asked. “Her father, who we’re told committed suicide in a Berlin hotel in June of ’34, just coincidentally the same night that so many of Hitler’s opposition died? Or her mother, who, as a pregnant widow, took over her husband’s work?”
She watched as Stephan and Žofie disappeared through the doorway, poor Rolf hurrying after them, waving the girl’s forgotten scarf—an improbably beautiful pink plaid.
“Well, I couldn’t say whether that girl is in love with Stephan,” Lisl said, “but he’s certainly smitten with her.”
Searching for Stefan Zweig
Ah, mein Engelchen with her admirers: the playwright and the fool!” Otto Perger said to his customer. He hadn’t seen his granddaughter since before Christmas, but they could hear her coming down the stairs at the far end of the hallway now, chattering with young Stephan Neuman and another boy.
“I do hope she prefers the fool,” the man replied, tipping Otto generously, as always. “We writers are no good at all in love.”
“I’m afraid she is a little sweet on the writer,” Otto said, “although I’m not sure she realizes it herself.” He paused, wanting to delay his client long enough to introduce him to Stephan, but the man had a driver waiting and the children’s progress had stalled, as children’s progress does. “Well, I’m glad you enjoyed your visit with your mother,” he said.
The man hurried off, passing the children in the hallway. He was halfway up the stairs when he looked back and asked, “Which of you is the writer?”
Stephan, laughing at something Žofie was saying, didn’t seem even to hear, but the other boy pointed to Stephan.
“Good luck, son. We need talented writers now more than ever.”
He was gone, then, and the children were spilling into the barbershop, Žofie announcing that it was Stephan’s birthday.
“All good for birth day to you, Master Neuman!” Otto said as he hugged his granddaughter, this child so like her father that Otto could hear his son in the rush of her voice; he could see Christof in her obliviousness to her smudged lenses. Even the smell of her was the same—almonds and milk and sunshine.
“That was Herr Zweig,” their friend said.
“Where, Dieter?” Stephan asked.
Otto said, “Master Stephan, what have you been up to while our Žofie was away?”
Dieter said, “He was sitting right by us at the Café Central before Stephan got there too—Zweig was. With Paula Wesseley and Liane Haid, who looks very old.”
Otto hesitated, oddly reluctant to admit that this big lug of a boy was right. “I’m afraid Herr Zweig was running for an aeroplane, Stephan.”
“That was him?” Stephan’s dark eyes were so full of disappointment that, with his hair on end at the crown despite all Otto’s best efforts, he looked like a toddler. Otto would have liked to assure him he’d have another chance to meet his hero, but it seemed unlikely. All they’d talked about—or all Zweig had talked about, while Otto listened—was whether even London would prove far enough away from Hitler. Herr Zweig knew how Otto’s Christof had died; he knew Otto understood what a flimsy thing a border was.
“I do hope you’ll heed Herr Zweig’s words for you, Stephan,” Otto said. “He said we need talented writers like you now more than ever.” Which was something, anyway: the great writer encouraging Stephan, even if the boy hadn’t heard.
The Man in the Shadow
Adolf Eichmann showed his fat new boss, Obersturmführer Wisliceny, around the Sicherheitsdienst Jewish Department, ending at his own desk, beside which sat Tier, the most beautiful slope-backed German shepherd in all of Berlin.
“Good God, he’s so still he might be stuffed,” Wisliceny said.
“Tier is properly trained,” Eichmann responded. “We would be rid of the Jews and on to more important matters if the rest of Germany were half as disciplined.”
“Trained by whom?” Wisliceny asked, taking Eichmann’s own chair, asserting his superior rank.
Eichmann took the visitor’s chair and snapped his fingers once, quietly, calling Tier to his side. He had assured Wisliceny that “the ropes” of SD Department II/112 were quite tidy, but they were in fact as thin and frayed as any rope Tier might have chewed. They operated out of three small rooms at the Hohenzollern Palace while the Gestapo, with its own Jewish office and far more resources, took pleasure in undermining them. Eichmann had learned the hard way, though, that complaints reflected most negatively on the complainer.
Wisliceny said, “Your paper on ‘The Jewish Problem,’ Eichmann—it’s interesting, this idea that Jews can be provoked to leave Germany only if we dismantle their economic footing here in the Reich. But why force them to emigrate to Africa or South America rather than to other European nations? Why do we care where they go, so long as we’re rid of them?”
Eichmann answered politely, “We’d not like to have their expertise in the hands of more developed countries that could benefit to our detriment, I shouldn’t think.”
Wisliceny narrowed his little Prussian eyes. “You imagine we Germans can’t do better than foreigners aided by Jews we wish to be rid of?”
“No. No,” Eichmann protested, setting a hand on Tier’s head. “That isn’t what I meant at all.”
“And Palestine, which you include as a ‘backward’ country, is a British territory.”
Eichmann, seeing this would only go more poorly, asked Wisliceny for his opinion on the matter, subjecting himself to an overlong bit of wind and bluster backed by an utter absence of knowledge. He listened as he forever did, storing away bits for future use and keeping to himself his own advantages. This was his job, to listen and nod while others talked, and he was very good at it. He routinely shucked his uniform for street clothes in order to infiltrate and more closely observe Berlin’s Zionist groups. He’d developed a cadre of informers. He gathered information from the Jewish press. Reported on Agudath Israel. Quietly kept denunciation files. Directed arrests. Helped with Gestapo interrogations. He’d even tried to learn Hebrew to better do his job, although that had gone to rot and now everyone in all of Berlin had heard of his folly—proposing to pay a rabbi three reichsmarks per hour to teach him when he might simply have arrested the Jew and kept him imprisoned for free tutoring.
Vera was sure that blunder was the reason this know-nothing Prussian had been given the place as head of the Jewish Department that ought to have been Eichmann’s, leaving him only the sop of promotion to technical sergeant and the same old tasks now to be done with a leaner staff, thanks to the party purge. But Eichmann knew that wasn’t the reason he’d been denied the promotion. Who would have imagined that becoming a specialist in Zionist matters would make him too valuable as an expert to be “distracted” by administrative responsibilities? Better to be a pug dog of a Prussian with a theology degree, a hideous laugh, and expertise at precisely nothing if you wanted to climb the Nazi ranks.
ONLY AFTER WISLICENY left for the day and Eichmann had tidied his desk did he allow Tier to move. “You are such a good boy,” he said, stroking the dog’s pointed ears, lingering on the velvety pink insides. “Shall we have some fun now? We’re deserving of a bit of fun after that charade, aren’t we?”
Tier shook his ears, then cocked his pointy snout, as expectant as Vera just before sex. Vera. Today was their second wedding anniversary. She would be waiting at their little apartment on Onkel-Herse-Strasse with their son, whose birth Eichmann had had to report to the SS Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt just as he’d had to report his marriage, after first proving Vera was of impeccable Aryan stock. He ought to go straight home to Vera’s big eyes and lovely brows and round, sturdy face, her voluptuous body that was so much more inviting than the sharp-edged women now in fashion.
But he walked the long way, with Tier at perfect heel. He crossed the river and wandered the Jewish ghetto, slowly up one street and down another, just to delight at how, despite Tier’s perfect behavior, children scattered at the sight of them.
A Little Breakfast Chocolate
Truus lowered the newspaper and looked across the narrow breakfast table. “Alice Salomon has been exiled from Germany,” she said, the words escaping with the shock of the news. “How can the Nazis do this? An internationally acclaimed pioneer in public health who is no threat to anyone? She’s old and she’s ill, and she isn’t even political.”
Joop set his hagelslag on his plate, a sprinkle of chocolate falling from the bread to the plate while another sat unnoticed at the edge of his mouth. “She’s Jewish?”
Truus looked out the third-floor window, over the flowerpots on the sill to the Nassaukade and the canal, the bridge, the Raampoort. Dr. Salomon was Christian. Devotedly so, probably from a family like Truus’s, affluent Christians who appreciated God’s gifts to them, who’d shared those gifts by taking in Belgian children during the Great War. But telling Joop the Germans had exiled a Christian would only alarm him, and Truus didn’t want to give him any reason to inquire about her plans for the day. She had hoped to go into Germany to meet with Recha Freier about what more might be done to help Berlin’s Jewish children, now barred from public schools, but her message had elicited no response. She’d already arranged to borrow Mrs. Kramarsky’s sedan, though. She could at least make another run over the border to the Weber farm.
“Some Jewish ancestry, apparently,” she said, which had the advantage of being true, but still her gaze slid to the flowered wallpaper and the curtains that needed cleaning in this room they’d breakfasted in ever since they married. She doubted that Alice Salomon’s ancestry explained her being stripped of her homeland.
“Geertruida,” Joop began, and Truus braced herself. Her name had always seemed so solid and unremarkable before she’d met Joop—Geertruida or Truus, either one—but in his voice it sounded rather lovely, really. Still, he rarely called her by her full name.
That which makes a marriage work is to be guarded carefully, her mother had told her the morning of her wedding, and who was Truus to defy her mother’s advice by letting on that this little tic of Joop’s—using her full name when he meant to persuade her to step off a chosen course—put her on alert?
She took her napkin and reached across to wipe the chocolate sprinkle from Joop’s mouth. There now: restored to the properly unsprinkled chief cashier and principal at De Javasche Bank he’d been when they’d first become engaged.
“I’ll make you a broodje kroket for breakfast tomorrow,” she said before Joop could launch into questioning how she meant to spend her day. The deep-fried meat ragout croquette on a soft bun was his favorite; just the mention of it could lift his mood, and distract him.
Chalk on Her Shoes
Stephan watched at the door as Žofie wiped away half of a mathematics proof that covered an entire chalkboard.
Her professor, alarmed, said, “Kurt—”
The younger man with them just slid his hands casually into the pockets of his white linen suit pants and nodded at Žofie. Stephan felt a little like the doctor in Amok, the Zweig character who becomes so obsessed with a woman who won’t have sex with him that he stalks her. But Stephan wasn’t stalking Žofie. She had suggested he pick her up at the university, never mind that it was summer and no one was in class.
Žofie dropped the eraser and, oblivious to the chalk on her shoe, began refilling the board with symbols. Stephan pulled a journal from his satchel and noted: Drops eraser on her shoe and doesn’t even notice.
Only after Žofie-Helene had finished her equation did she catch a glimpse of him. She smiled—like the woman in Amok smiling across the ballroom in her yellow gown.
“Does that make sense?” Žofie said to the older man. Then to the younger one, “I’ll explain it tomorrow if it doesn’t, Professor Gödel.”
Žofie handed the chalk to Gödel and joined Stephan, oblivious now to the two men, the older one saying, “Extraordinary. And she’s how old?” and the other, Gödel, answering, “Just fifteen.”
The Liar’s Paradox
Stephan ducked from the rain into the Neuman’s Chocolates building at No. 2 Schulhof, with Žofie in tow. He led her down a steep wooden stairway into the basement cavern, their wet shoes leaving prints unseen in the cool-stone darkness as the chatter of the chocolatiers upstairs faded.
“Mmmmmm . . . chocolate,” she said, not the least bit afraid.
How had he ever imagined anyone as smart as Žofie might fear anything, that he might have that excuse to take her hand the way Dieter did every time they rehearsed his new play? The chalk had washed from Žofie’s shoe in the run over through the rain, but still Stephan couldn’t shake all those symbols she’d written on the chalkboard, mathematics for which he didn’t have even the alphabet.
He pulled a chain to a ceiling light. Crate-stacked pallets leapt into shadow cubes and angles on the cavern’s uneven stone walls. Just being here made words tumble in his mind, although he rarely wrote here anymore now that he had a typewriter at home. He opened a crate with the crowbar from the hook on the bottom stair post and untied one of the jute sacks inside: cocoa beans smelling so familiar that he was often left wanting anything but chocolate, the way a boy whose father wrote books might grow weary of reading, impossible as that seemed to him.
Žofie-Helene said, “You are going to offer me a bite.”
“Of the beans? You can’t eat them, Žofie. Well, maybe if you were starving.”
She looked so disappointed that he bit back the words with which he’d meant to impress her, about how tempering chocolate is like coordinating a ballet, melting and cooling and stirring so that all the crystals align to leave the tongue in ecstasy. Ecstasy. He didn’t suppose he could use the word with Žofie anyway, unless he put it into a play.
He ran upstairs to grab a handful of truffles, and returned to find Žofie gone.
Her voice echoed up from underneath the stairs, “You should keep the beans down here. Temperature is more constant in deeper caves, not because of the geothermal gradient at these depths but because of the insulating effect of the rock.”
He glanced at his nice clothes—meant to impress her—but grabbed the flashlight from the peg and ducked underneath the stairs and down the rungs to the lower cavern. Still no Žofie. He crawled into the low, gritty tunnel on the cavern’s far side, the flashlight beam illuminating the bottoms of Žofie’s shoes, her bent-kneed legs, her derriere under her skirt. She stood at the tunnel’s end, her dress hiking with the motion so that for the briefest moment before she pulled the fabric down, he could see the pale skin of the backs of her knees and thighs.
She leaned down into the tunnel again, her face now in the circle of light. “It’s a new term, geothermal gradient,” she said. “It’s okay if you don’t know it. Most people don’t.”
“The upper chamber is drier, which is better for the cocoa,” he said as he reached her. “Also easier to get things in and out of.”
The passageway here was naturally formed, unlike the cement one under the Ringstrasse by the Burgtheater. It appeared to end at a pile of stones several yards away, but didn’t. It was the way of this underworld, the labyrinth of ancient passageways and chambers underrunning Vienna: there was usually a way forward if you searched long enough. The low humidity in this part of the underground was the reason his great-grandfather had bought the Neuman’s Chocolates building. He’d come to Vienna with nothing when he was sixteen, Stephan’s age now, to live in the attic of a walk-up in the slums of Leopoldstadt. He started the chocolate business at twenty-three and bought this building to expand it while he still lived in that attic, before he built the Ringstrasse palais where Stephan’s family now lived.
Stephan said, “I could have waited while you explained that equation to those professors.”
“The proof? Professor Gödel doesn’t need it explained. He established the incompleteness theorems that transformed the fields of logic and mathematics when he was barely older than we are, Stephan—without even using numbers or symbolic formalisms. You would love his proofs. He used Russell’s paradox and the liar’s paradox to show that in any formal system adequate for number theory, there is a formula that is unprovable, and its negation is too.”
Stephan extracted his journal from his satchel and wrote: The Liar’s Paradox.
“This very sentence is false,” she said. “The sentence has to be true or false, right? But if it’s true, then, as it says itself, it’s false. But if it’s false, then it’s true. So it has to be both true and false. Russell’s paradox is even more interesting: is the set of all sets that aren’t members of themselves a member of itself or not? See?”
Stephan turned off the flashlight to mask how very little he did see. Maybe Papa had a mathematics volume that would explain whatever Žofie was saying; maybe that would help.
“I can’t even see where you are now!” Žofie said.
He knew where she was, though. He knew from her voice that her face was perhaps an arm’s length from him, that if he just leaned forward he might put his lips to hers.
“Stephan, are you still there?” she asked with just a hint of the fear he too sometimes felt in this dark underworld, where one might become lost and never be heard from again.
She said, “I can still smell the chocolate, even here.”
He fingered the truffles in his pocket and took one out. “Open your mouth and put your tongue out, and you can taste it,” he suggested.
He heard the licking of her lips, smelled the freshness of her breath. He put one hand to her arm, to have his bearings, or maybe to kiss her.
She giggled, a little dove sound that wasn’t like her at all.
“Keep your mouth open,” he said gently, and he fumbled his hand slowly forward until he could feel the warmth of her breath on his fingers, and he set the truffle on her tongue.
“Just let it sit in your mouth,” he whispered. “Just leave it there, make it last, taste every moment of it.”
He wanted to take her hand, but how could you take the hand of someone who had so quickly become your best friend without risking the friendship? He stuck his hands in his pockets, where they brushed against the other truffles. He fingered them, then took one out and put it to his own tongue, not wanting the chocolate itself but wanting the shared experience—the darkness around them and the trickle of water up ahead, rain falling through a grate and flowing lower, headed to the canal and the river and the sea as the slow melt of chocolate warmed their tongues.
“It’s both true and not true that I can taste it,” she said. “The chocolate paradox!”
He leaned forward, thinking he might risk it, he might kiss her, and if she balked he could pretend he’d just bumped into her in the dark. But a critter of some sort (almost certainly a rat) scampered by, and he clicked on the flashlight, a reflex.
“Don’t tell anyone I brought you here,” he said. “If I’m found out again, I’ll be confined to my room for the rest of my life, on account of the thugs and the collapsing. Isn’t it great, though? Some of these tunnels are just storm drains, which you have to avoid in heavy rain, and some are sewers, which I always avoid. But there are whole rooms down here. Crypts full of old bones. Columns that could be, I don’t know, from the Romans, even. It’s an underground network that’s been used by everyone from spies and murderers to neighbors and nuns. It’s my secret place. I don’t even bring friends here.”
“We aren’t friends?” Žofie-Helene said.
“We aren’t . . . what?”
“You don’t show it to your friends, but you’re showing me, so logically I’m not your friend.”
Stephan laughed warmly. “I never met anyone who could be so technically brilliant and so abysmally wrong. Anyway, I didn’t show you, you found it yourself.”
“So we are friends, then, because you didn’t show me?”
“Of course we’re friends, you idiot.”
The friendship paradox. She was both his friend and not.
“Do these tunnels go to the Burgtheater?” she asked. “We could surprise Grandpapa. Or, I know! Can we get to Mama’s office? It’s near St. Rupert’s, and our apartment too. Do the tunnels go that far?”
Stephan tended to travel the same paths down here so he wouldn’t get lost, but he did know the way to St. Rupert’s and her apartment. He’d found a few different ways in the weeks since school was out, actually, not that he was like the doctor in Amok, not that he was stalking her. He could take her the long way, past the crypts under St. Stephen’s Cathedral and through the three levels, impossibly deep, that were once a convent. He could take her under the Judenplatz, the remains of an underground Talmud school from centuries ago. He might even take her through the old stables. Would she be horrified by the old horse skulls? But, knowing Žofie, she’d be fascinated. Well, he might save the stables for himself, anyway, for now at least.
“All right,” he said. “This way, then.”
“The game is afoot!” she said.
“I meant to tell you I finished The Sign of the Four,” he said. “I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
“But I haven’t finished Kaleidoscope.”
“You don’t have to give it back. You can keep it. Forever, I mean.” Registering reluctance in her hesitation, he said, “I have another copy,” although he didn’t; he just rather liked the idea of knowing one half of his two-volume set would be in Žofie’s hands, or even just on her shelf as she read in bed at night. “I had a copy already when Aunt Lisl gave me one for my birthday,” he lied. “I’d like you to have it.”
“I don’t have an extra Sign of the Four.”
He laughed. “I’ll give it back, I promise.”
He skirted the rubble pile, beyond which was a man-made metal stairway circling up into the passageway’s ceiling, at the top of which was an octagonal manhole cover of eight metal triangles whose tips met in the center, which you could push up from down here or pull open from the street. He led her on past the stairway for a few minutes, then clambered down some metal rungs to a wide, arched passage made of smoothly stacked blocks. A river ran alongside a railed walk here, illuminated by a caged work light fastened to the ceiling, which threw their oversize shadows onto the wall.
“This part is from when they rerouted the river into the underground, to expand the city,” he said as he clicked off the flashlight. “It helped prevent the cholera too.”
The passageway ended abruptly, the water flowing on through a smaller archway like the one by the Burgtheater, where you would have to swim through mucky water to carry on. Here, though, there were stairs to a metal walkway over the water, with a coil of rope and a life preserver hanging from the rail just in case. They crossed, descended, and backtracked on the other side to duck into another narrower, drier tunnel. Stephan clicked on the flashlight again, illuminating a rubble pile.
“That’s just another place where some of the tunnel caved in, maybe during the war, like by the little tunnel to our cocoa cellar,” he said, and he guided her through a narrow gap between the collapsed stone and the tunnel wall. Just past it, he shone the light on a locked gate. Beyond it, in a jumble: coffins, and human bones that seemed to be organized by body part, and one carefully stacked pile that was nothing but skulls.
The Most Massive Typewriter Ever
Stephan had been leading Žofie-Helene through the underground for perhaps a quarter of an hour when they reached a circular stairway to another octagonal manhole cover near her mother’s office. There was a closer exit, right on the street outside her apartment, but it was only metal rungs up to an open-grid drain grate too heavy for him to lift. He climbed onto the street and gave her a hand up, letting go only reluctantly. He kicked the triangles closed and followed her around the corner into her mother’s newspaper office, where a man operated the most massive typewriter ever.
“It’s a Linotype,” Žofie explained. “It’s automatic, sort of like a Rube Goldberg contraption. It sets the type for a newspaper run.”
“Is it hard to learn?” Stephan asked the typesetter, imagining setting a play on it. To make copies now, he used carbon paper and banged hard on the keys, but as you couldn’t make more than a few copies that way, he had to write for small casts or type a script out multiple times. “I already know how to type.”
“It’s impressive that you know so much, Stephan,” Žofie-Helene said.
“That I know so much?”
“About the underground. Making chocolate. The theater and typing. You just say it too. When I talk, people look at me like I’m some weird creature. But you’re sort of like Professor Gödel. He sometimes says I’m wrong about things too.”
“Did I say you were wrong about something?”
“About eating cocoa beans. And the cavern,” she said. “Sometimes I say things wrong just to see who will notice. Mostly nobody does.”
IN THE EDITOR IN CHIEF’S office, a girl even younger than Walter colored at a table while a woman who had to be Žofie’s mother spoke on the telephone.
“Jojojojojojo, have you colored me something splendid?” Žofie asked, lifting her sister and twirling her around in a burst of giggles that left Stephan wanting to be twirling too, although he didn’t much like to dance.
Her mother indicated with a finger that her call was almost finished, while saying into the receiver, “Yes, obviously Hitler won’t be thrilled, but then I’m not thrilled about his efforts to force Schuschnigg to lift the ban on the Austrian Nazi Party. And as my opinion doesn’t stop him from his efforts, I’m quite sure I oughtn’t let his stop us from running the piece.” She finished the call and set the receiver in its cradle, already saying, “Oh, Žofie, your dress! Not again.”
“Mama, this is my friend, Stephan Neuman,” Žofie said. “We found our way here all the way from his father’s chocolate factory through—”
Stephan shot her a look.
“His father makes the best chocolates,” Žofie said.
“Ah, you’re that Neuman?” Käthe Perger said. “I do hope you’ve brought us some of those chocolates!”
Stephan wiped his hands on his shirttail, then pulled the last two truffles from his pocket and held them out. Oh crud, there was pocket lint stuck to them.
“Heavens, I was only joking!” Käthe Perger said, taking one before he could pull them back, and popping it in her mouth.
Stephan picked the lint off the other and offered it to Žofie’s sister.
“Žofie-Helene,” Käthe Perger said, “I believe you’ve outdone yourself in cleverness, choosing a friend who not only travels with chocolates in his pockets, but apparently enjoys doing laundry as much as you do.”
Stephan looked down at his filthy clothes. His father was going to kill him.
AFTER STEPHAN LEFT, Žofie said to her mother, “He’s only one friend, but one is always greater than zero, even if zero is more mathematically interesting.”
Her little sister handed Žofie a book, and Žofie sat and pulled her into her lap. She turned to the first page and read, “‘To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.’”
Mama said, “I’m not sure Johanna is quite ready for ‘A Scandal in Bohemia.’”
Žofie loved the story, especially the bit where the king says it’s a pity that Irene Adler is not on his level and Holmes agrees that she’s on a very different level than the king, except the king means Miss Adler is beneath him, and Sherlock Holmes means she’s far superior. Žofie liked the ending too, where Irene bests them all, and Sherlock Holmes won’t take the emerald snake ring the king offers him, but does want the photo of Miss Adler, for the reminder of how he was beaten by a woman’s wit.
“He’s left-handed,” Žofie said. “Stephan is. Do you suppose that feels queer? I asked him once, but he didn’t say.”
Mama laughed, a bubble of sound like the beautiful zero at the center of a line that went to infinity in both directions, positive and negative. “I don’t know, Žofie-Helene,” she said. “Does it feel queer to you to be so good at maths?”
Žofie-Helene considered this. “Not exactly.”
Mama said, “It might seem different to others, but it’s just who you are, who you always have been. I expect it’s the same for your friend.”
Žofie kissed the top of Jojo’s head. “Shall we sing, Jojo?” she asked. And she began to sing, with Jojo joining her, and Mama too, “The moon has risen; the golden stars shine in the sky bright and clear.”
* * *
THE VIENNA INDEPENDENT
* * *
NAZI LAWS AGAINST JEWS “NOT FROM HATRED”
* * *
Commissioner for Justice: Laws arise from love for German people
BY KÄTHE PERGER
WÜRZBURG, GERMANY, June 26, 1937 — German Commissioner for Justice Hans Frank, speaking at a gathering of National Socialists here today, insisted that the Nuremberg laws were created “for the protection of our race, not because we hate the Jews but because we love the German people.”
“The world criticizes our attitude toward the Jews and declares it too harsh,” Frank said. “But the world has never worried how many honest Germans have been chased from home and hearth by Jews in the past.”
The laws, instituted on September 15, 1935, revoke German citizenship for Jews and prohibit them from marrying persons of “German or related blood.” A “Jew” is defined as anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents. Thousands of German converts to other religions, including Roman Catholic priests and nuns, are considered Jews.
With the passage of the Nuremberg laws, German Jews were denied treatment at municipal hospitals, Jewish officers were expelled from the army, and university students were prohibited from sitting for doctoral exams. The restrictions were loosened in preparation for the Olympic Games last year, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the winter and in the summer in Berlin. But the Reich has since stepped up its “Aryanization” efforts, dismissing Jewish workers and transferring Jewish-owned businesses into non-Jewish hands at bargain prices or with no compensation at all . . .
The yellow pot was there, upright on the Webers’ frost-covered porch. Still, Truus approached the gate slowly in Mrs. Kramarsky’s Mercedes, making sure as she always did that the pot hadn’t been tipped over in warning only to be righted by a helpful Nazi. They were old, the Webers had told her when she’d first met them; their own futures were short, but with their help the children’s futures might be long. Truus opened the gate, drove through, and closed it behind her, glad for her winter coat and long skirt. She shifted into low gear and drove across the field, to the path into the woods.
It was well past noon before she saw the first telling flicker of movement, a rustle that might have been a deer but became, when she stopped the car, a fleeing child zigzagging through the trees. Truus couldn’t fathom it even still, how children survived in these woods and on the moors for days and nights with nothing more in their pockets than spent railway tickets, a few reichsmarks if they were lucky, and bits of bread packed by mothers so desperate that they would put their children on trains to the edge of Germany without a breath of real hope—children who survived often only to be arrested by the Germans or sent back by Dutch border patrol.
“It’s okay. I’m here to help,” Truus called gently, watching to see where the child hid. She moved slowly, offering, “I’m Tante Truus and I’m here to help you get to the Netherlands, like your mother told you to do.”
Truus wasn’t exactly sure why the children ever trusted her, or even if they did. She sometimes thought they allowed her to approach only out of sheer exhaustion.
“I’m Tante Truus,” she repeated. “What’s your name?”
The girl, perhaps fifteen, studied her.
“Would you like me to help you get over the border?” Truus offered gently.
A slightly younger boy poked a head out from the brush, then another. The three didn’t look like siblings, but one couldn’t always tell.
The girl turned from the others back to Truus. “Can you take us all?”
“Yes, of course.”
When the other two returned the girl’s gaze without objection, the girl whistled loudly. Another child peeked out from hiding. And another. Good heavens, there were eleven children, one of them no more than a baby, for heaven’s sake. Well, it would be a full car. Truus had no idea how the ladies would find beds tonight for eleven children, but she would leave that for God to provide.
TRUUS BUMPED THROUGH the forest, headed back toward the Weber farm with the children all sitting on each other or on the floorboards. They were so silent, so unnaturally quiet for children of any age, much less the young teens most of these children were. Silent and unsmiling, like the children Truus’s family had taken in during the war.
Truus had been just eighteen, the war arriving on their doorstep in Duivendrecht just as she ought to have been greeting suitors there. The Netherlands had remained neutral, but still a state of siege had been declared and the army mobilized, the boys all sent to protect areas essential to the national defense, which did not include Truus’s front porch. Truus was left at home to read to the little refugees, who’d arrived so weak and hungry that she had wanted to hand them her own plate, and yet wanted as well to eat every bite herself lest she ever be so thin. They had infuriated Truus and saddened her in equal measure, those children whose reticence left Mummy so sad. Those children who thrust Truus herself into mothering too, if she were to be honest, and left her wondering how she might pull her own mother out from under the stifling blanket of the children’s silent sorrow. Then the morning of the first snow that winter, heavy and early, Truus had woken to the snow-laden trees, the snow-softened rails on the snow-softened bridges, the pristine white paths such a contrast to the still, dark waters of the canal. She quietly woke the children and showed them the view, and dressed them, thankful on that morning for the hush of their voices even when they did speak. They slipped outside, and in the light of the winter moon reflecting on the snow, they built a snowman. That was all. Just a snowman, three dirty-white snow boulders stacked one atop the other, with stones for eyes and twigs for arms and no mouth at all, as if the children meant to make the creature in their own silent image. Mummy, with her morning tea in hand, had looked out the window just as they finished. It was what she did each morning—her way to see what the Lord had in store for her, she liked to say. That morning, though, she was surprised and delighted to see the children outside, even if they weren’t smiling, even if they weren’t making any noise. Truus pointed up to her, urging the children to wave. Just as she was doing so, one of the boys threw a snowball at the window, splattering the glass and somehow cracking the silence. The children laughed and laughed as Mummy’s startled face gave way to laughter too. It was, to this day, the most beautiful sound Truus had ever heard, even as it had left her so ashamed. How could she ever have wanted anything but the laughter of these children? How could she ever have wanted anything for herself?
Truus pulled Mrs. Kramarsky’s sedan to a sudden stop. On the ground below the Webers’ porch, the yellow pot lay tipped on its side, spilling dirt onto the path. She backed the car slowly and began to search for an exit over the border through the woods, saying again the prayer she always did, thanking God for the Webers and all they’d done for the children of Germany, and asking Him to keep the courageous old couple safe.
Klara Van Lange
At the Groenveld house on Jan Luijkenstraat, Truus—exhausted from the hours spent searching the woods for an exit, only to cross the Weber farm in the middle of the night with the car lights off and the gas tank near empty—turned the eleven children over to the volunteers. Klara van Lange, sitting at the telephone table in one of those ghastly new calf-baring skirts, covered the receiver with her hand and whispered to Truus, “The Jewish hospital on the Nieuwe Keizersgracht.” She said into the receiver, “Yes, we know eleven children is a lot, but it’s just for a night or two until we can find families to— Have they bathed?” She glanced nervously at Truus. “Lice? No, of course they don’t have lice!”
Truus quickly checked the children’s hair and set the oldest boy aside. “You have a lice comb, Mrs. Groenveld?” she whispered. “But of course you do. Your husband is a doctor.”
“Yes, we can send someone to help care for the baby,” Klara said into the receiver. She mouthed to Truus, “I can go.”
Well, as much as Truus might like to go with the children herself, she oughtn’t leave Joop alone for the night; she should be grateful for the offer.
“All right, who would like a nice warm bath?” Truus asked the children. Then to the ladies, “Mrs. Groenveld, can you and Miss Hackman take the younger girls?” To the oldest girl, she said, “If we draw you a bath, can you manage yourself?”
The girl answered, “I can help with Benjamin’s lice, Tante Truus.”
Truus, with a gentle hand to the girl’s cheek, said, “If I could choose a daughter, dear, she would be a girl just as sweet as you are. Now, you are going to have a nice warm bath all to yourself, and I’m going to find you some bath salts too.” To Klara, who had just hung up the telephone, she said, “Mrs. Van Lange, can you put together some cheese sandwiches?”
“Yes, I did persuade the Jewish hospital to take them even though the children have no papers; you’re welcome, Mrs. Wijsmuller,” Klara responded wryly, reminding Truus of herself as a young woman, although far more beautiful. Klara van Lange did not need to bare her calves in this inexplicable new fashion in order to have men’s attentions. Heavens, if she didn’t seat herself carefully, her knees would show.
“Of course you persuaded them, Klara,” Truus said. “How could even the prime minister say no to you?” Thinking perhaps they ought to try Klara’s fashionable skirts and her powers of persuasion on Prime Minister Colijn before, as the rumor mill expected, the Dutch government made it impossible for foreigners to establish themselves here, not literally closing the border but alerting Germans fleeing the Reich without independent means that the Netherlands might be a land of passage, but not a final destination.
Through a Window Glass, Darkly
Eichmann set aside the report he was drafting, for which Hagen, his newest boss, would take the credit if there was any to take—yet another pretender skating on the solid pond of Eichmann’s expertise. He opened the train window and breathed deeply of the autumn air as they rocked through the pass from Italy into Austria, his stomach emptied so completely while crossing the Mediterranean from the Middle East to Brindisi on the Palestina that the sick-bay doctor had tried to put him off at Rhodes. The whole trip was an absolute bust: an entire month of travel only to have the British allow them a mere twenty-four hours in Haifa, and the Cairo authorities deny them visas for Palestine. Twelve long days in Egypt, that was all they’d gotten for their trouble.
Hagen said, “The Jews swindle each other, that’s the root of Palestine’s financial chaos.”
“It might be more effective if we lay out specifics, sir,” Eichmann responded. “Forty Jewish bankers in Jerusalem.”
“Forty swindling Jew bankers,” Hagen agreed. “Sure, another fifty thousand Jews would emigrate annually with the haul Polkes thinks we ought to allow them.”
The Jew Polkes, the only real connection they’d made on the trip, had suggested that if Germany really wanted to get rid of its Jews, it ought to allow them to take a thousand British pounds with them to emigrate to Palestine. That’s how he’d phrased it, “a thousand British pounds,” as if Germany’s own reichsmarks were unspeakable.
Eichmann scribbled into the report: It is not our aim to have Jewish capital transferred from the Reich, but rather to induce Jews without means to emigrate.
His pencil snapped, unable to stand the pressure of his quick thoughts. He pulled out his pocketknife, thinking of his cold, frugal stepmother, whose family in Vienna had married wealthy Jews of the sort that would be unwilling to leave anyplace without their ill-gotten riches.
“I grew up here, in Linz,” Eichmann said to Hagen as the train topped a long climb and the view opened from the woods to all of Austria. This cold on his face now was the cold of running with his friend Mischa Sebba through woods much like these, this emptiness that of his own hands as his parents linked fingers with his younger siblings crossing the platform at the Linz station, when the family had reunited here after that year apart. He had been eight, then, and ten when his mother’s gentle voice gave way to his stepmother reading from the Bible in the crowded apartment at No. 3 Bischof Strasse. It had been four years since he’d been home, four years since he’d visited his mother’s grave.
“I spent whole days riding across countryside like this,” he told Hagen. He’d ridden mostly with Mischa, who’d taught him how to spot deer tracks, how to make all sorts of bird sounds, how to put on a condom long before Eichmann thought the idea of putting his penis inside a girl anything but preposterous. He could still call up the scorn in Mischa’s voice at the name of Eichmann’s Wandervögel scout pack: Griffon? It’s a bird species that died out before our grandfathers were born, a vulture that lived off the flesh of the dead. Mischa had been jealous, of course—unable to join the older boys for whole weekends hiking in their uniforms and carrying flags, because he was Jewish.
Eichmann began to put a new point to the pencil. “I’m a keen horseman,” he said. “I learned to shoot in woods like those with my best friend, Friedrich von Schmidt. His mother was a countess, his father a war hero.”
Friedrich had invited him to join the German-Austrian Young Veterans’ Association, and they’d attended its paramilitary training together. But Mischa had remained the better friend even after Eichmann joined the Party—April 1, 1932; member 899,895. He’d remained close if increasingly argumentative with Mischa until Austria closed its Nazi Brown Houses, and the Vacuum Oil Company fired him for no reason but his politics. He’d had to pack his uniform and his boots, then, and cross the border from Austria into Germany, to safety in Passau.
Hagen said, “We’re not funding Palestine with German capital, not even German Jew capital.”
Eichmann turned from the view back to his report and wrote: As the aforementioned emigration of 50,000 Jews annually would in the main strengthen Judaism in Palestine, this plan cannot be a subject for discussion.
Žofie-Helene, with Stephan and his aunt Lisl, stood at the first painting in the Secession Building exhibit room, Self-Portrait of a Degenerate Artist. It left her uneasy, the painting and its title.
“What do you think of it, Žofie-Helene?” Lisl Wirth asked.
Žofie said, “I don’t know anything about painting.”
“You don’t have to know about art to have a feeling about it,” Lisl assured her. “Just tell us what you see.”
“Well, his face is weird—so many colors, although they’re beautiful and they all do sort of blend together to seem like skin,” Žofie said uncertainly. “His nose is big and his chin is awfully long, like he’s painting his reflection from a distorted mirror.”
Lisl said, “So many painters have become almost analytic in their abstraction. Picasso. Mondrian. Kokoschka is more emotional, more intuitive.”
“Why does he call himself degenerate?”
“It’s ironic, Žofe,” Stephan said. “It’s what Hitler calls artists like him.”
Žofe, not Žofie. She rather liked when Stephan called her that, like her sister calling her ŽoŽo.
They moved on to a portrait of a woman whose face and black hair formed nearly a perfect triangle. The woman’s eyes were different sizes, her face was blotched with red and black, and the way she held her hands was frightening.
“She’s rather ugly, and yet somehow beautiful as well,” Žofie said.
“She is, isn’t she?” Lisl said.
“This one is like the portrait in your entry, Stephan,” Žofie-Helene said. “The woman with the scratched cheeks.”
“Yes, that’s a Kokoschka too,” Lisl said.
“But that one is of you,” Žofie-Helene said. “And it’s more beautiful.”
Lisl laughed her warm, tinkling ellipse of a laugh, and she set a hand on Žofie’s shoulder. Papa used to put his hand on her shoulder like that sometimes. Žofie stood there, longing for that touch to last forever, and wishing she had a portrait of Papa by this Oskar Kokoschka. She had photographs, but photos were somehow less true than these paintings, even though they were more real.
Bare Feet in Snow
Truus and Klara van Lange sat across a cluttered desk in Mr. Tenkink’s office in The Hague, with Mr. Van Vliet from the Ministry of Justice as well. Tenkink had on his desk an authorization to allow the children from the Webers’ woods to stay in the Netherlands—one Truus had drawn up, which wanted only Mr. Tenkink’s signature. She’d found that the more easily you could arrange for a thing to be swallowed, the more likely it was to get down the throat.
“Jewish children?” Tenkink was saying.
“We have homes in which to place them,” Truus responded, ignoring the look from Klara van Lange. Klara had a higher regard for the absolute truth than Truus did, but then she was awfully young, and not long married.
“It’s a tough situation, I see that, Mrs. Wijsmuller,” Tenkink said. “But half the Dutch now sympathize with the Nazis, and most of the rest of us simply don’t want us to be a dumping ground for Jews.”
Mr. Van Vliet started, “The government wants to appease Hitler—”
“Yes,” Tenkink interrupted, “and stealing a country’s children is not exactly the neighborly thing to do.”
Truus touched Van Vliet’s shoulder; Tenkink was a man who responded more positively to women. So many men were that way, even good ones. She wished now that she had brought the children along—so much harder to deny dark curls and hopeful eyes than to deny the idea of a child, or eleven. But it seemed cruel to drag the poor exhausted dears out of bed and off for the long train ride from Amsterdam to The Hague just to trot them out for a man who ought to be able to make the right decision, who always had been able to be persuaded to do so.
Truus said to Tenkink, “Queen Wilhelmina is sympathetic to the plight of the Germans who wish to free themselves from Hitler’s fury.”
Tenkink said, “Even the royal family . . . You must understand the magnitude of this Jewish problem. If Hitler makes good on his threat to annex Austria—”
“Chancellor Schuschnigg has Austria’s Nazi leaders behind bars, Mr. Tenkink,” Truus said, “and there isn’t a city in the world more dependent on its Jews for prosperity than Vienna. Most of its doctors, lawyers, and financiers and half its journalists are Jewish by birth if not by practice. Can you honestly imagine a coup succeeding against Austria’s money and its press?”
“Mrs. Wijsmuller, I’m not saying no,” Tenkink replied. “I’m simply suggesting that it would be easier if the children were Christian.”
Klara said, “I’m sure Mrs. Wijsmuller will remember that the next time she spirits children out of a country that has already made their parents disappear.”
Truus suppressed a smile as she reached for a framed photo propped amid the piles on Mr. Tenkink’s desk: a younger Tenkink with a soft wife, two sons, and a chubby-cheeked baby girl. Klara’s surprisingly quick tongue was part of the reason Truus had requested her company for this visit.
“What a lovely family,” Truus said.
She sat back in her chair, trying not to show her hand as she indulged Mr. Tenkink in the proud fatherly soliloquy she had, after all, invited. Patience was one of the few virtues she could claim.
She handed the photo back to Tenkink, who smiled affectionately.
“One of the German children is a baby, even younger than your daughter is in your photo, Mr. Tenkink,” Truus said, using “German” rather than “Jewish,” shifting the focus away from the characteristic that most troubled the man and moving to make the point while he still held the photo of his own child. “Surely even the coldest of hearts might warm to a baby?”
Tenkink looked from the photo to the authorization on his desk, then to Truus. “A boy or a girl?”
“Which would you prefer, Mr. Tenkink? One can never tell with babies when they’re all wrapped up for the press to admire.”
Tenkink, shaking his head, signed the authorization, saying, “Mrs. Wijsmuller, when the Nazis invade the Netherlands, I hope you’ll vouch for me. It appears you can talk anyone into anything.”
“The good Lord forbid it,” Truus said. “But in that event, He will surely vouch for you. Thank you. There are so many children who need our help.”
“Well, then,” Mr. Tenkink said, “if that’s it—”
“I understand that it’s impossible,” Truus interrupted, “but I have news from the German Alps of thirty orphans forced from their beds into the road in their pajamas by a gang of SS.”
“Thirty children standing in their pajamas in bare feet, and in a thick layer of snow, while the SS set fire to their orphanage.”
Tenkink sighed. “What happened to ‘only eleven’?” With a glance at his family photo, he said, “And these thirty are all Jewish too, I suppose? Do you mean to save every Jew in the Reich?”
“They’re being housed in Germany by non-Jews,” Truus said. “I don’t have to tell you what the Nazis do even to Christians who defy their prohibitions against helping Jews.”
“With all due respect, Mrs. Wijsmuller, the Nazi prohibition against helping Jews does not have an exception for Dutchwomen crossing the border to—”
Truus glanced meaningfully at his family photo.
“Even if I could help,” Tenkink said, “word is, we’ll pass this law closing our border within weeks, or perhaps even days. Without the information in hand already, I don’t see how—”
Truus handed him a brown file tied with green straps, all the information he would want already collected and packaged, an easier swallow.
Tenkink, shaking his head, said, “All right. All right. I’ll see if I can arrange to accept them on a temporary basis. Only until homes outside the Netherlands can be found for them. Is that clear? They have families elsewhere, in England or in the United States?”
“Yes, of course, Mr. Tenkink,” Truus answered. “That’s why they find themselves standing in bare feet in the snow outside a burning Jewish orphanage.”
Exhibition of Shame
Lisl Wirth stood beside her husband at the Entartete Kunst exhibit at the German Institute of Archeology in Munich, cubist and futurist and expressionist works purged from Germany’s museums for failing to meet the führer’s artistic “standards” displayed and priced here in a way meant to provoke visitors to mock. Anyone with any art sense could see that the other exhibit here in Munich, the Great German Art Exhibition at Hitler’s squat new Haus der Deutschen Kunst, was all incompetent landscapes and boring nudes by comparison. Really, how could anyone make nudes so dull as that “great” German art? And this was the “degenerate art”? This Paul Klee was gorgeous in its simplicity—the jaggy lines of the angler’s face, the graceful reclining S-curve of his arms, the charming extension of a fishing pole over a blue as varied and evocative as the sea. It made her think of Stephan, although she couldn’t say why. She didn’t suppose her nephew had ever fished.
“Do you like it?” she asked Michael, surprising herself with the question. Until the past few weeks, she would have been sure he would love it, if only because she did. “The Klee, The Angler,” she said, having to identify which one, exactly, because the paintings were all jumbled together, a disrespect made blatant by the words ringing them on the walls: Madness becomes method.
In the face of Michael’s silence, Lisl focused on the words.
Laughter burst out behind her, the small-minded conforming to expectation.
She lowered her voice and said to Michael, “I thought Goebbels was a fan of the modernists.”
Michael glanced about uneasily. “That was before Hitler gave his little speech on degenerate art undermining the German culture, Lis. Before he promoted Wolfgang Willrich and Walter Hansen.”
Two denouncers—failed artists, but accomplished denouncers—in charge of which art was to be applauded and which vilified.
Michael said, “This exhibit was Goebbels’s idea, and a politically smart one.”
Lisl turned from the Klee and from Michael. When had he become someone who valued political cunning over artistic expression?
Even Gustav and Therese Bloch-Bauer were blasé about the Nazi assault on culture, though, everyone too wrapped up in their own families and their own lives to see the politically darkened clouds piling up on the border between Germany and Austria. Everyone thought Hitler was a passing German fad, that it couldn’t happen to Austria, that Austria had weathered the assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss and the attempted Nazi coup three years ago, and they would weather this, and anyway people had businesses to run and children to raise, parties to attend and portraits to sit for, art to buy.
Lisl pretended interest in another painting, another sculpture, until she was in an entirely different room from her husband, admiring a Van Gogh self-portrait, Chagalls and Picassos and Gauguins, an entire wall devoted, unflatteringly, to the Dadaists. It was only when she reached the room she would come to think of as “the Jewish room” that she felt her own precarious position. “Revelation of the Jewish racial soul” was written on one wall. Lisl thought the paintings extraordinary; she hoped whatever it was they revealed reflected something about her own soul.
But she was a Jewish woman wandering alone among an unfriendly gathering in Germany.
It was ridiculous, this sudden fear. Munich was barely across the border. In little more than an hour she could be back in Austria.
Still, she went in search of Michael again.
She caught sight of him standing before an Otto Dix of a pregnant woman, her belly and breasts so distorted that it left Lisl almost relieved that she could not bear a child. Michael’s face as he considered it, though, was full of longing. He’d always said he didn’t need an heir, that Walter could take over her family’s chocolate business and Stephan his family’s bank—a bank that had only survived thanks to her family money anyway, not that Lisl would ever say so. Michael was a proud man from a proud family that had fallen on hard times, as had so many after the financial markets crashed, and Lisl would never do anything to jeopardize her husband’s pride, any more than he would hers. Stephan was a son to Michael, her husband always said, and Walter too. But even before this moment, this revelation in his expression, Lisl had sensed something gone amiss, Michael less and less enamored of the university education and intellectual charms he’d always said were the reason he’d fallen in love with her.
She asked a question of a stranger so that Michael might hear her voice and have time to compose himself. When he had, she rejoined him, taking his arm and saying, “We might buy that Klee,” just to have something to say. But they wouldn’t buy it, not here or anywhere else, and not just because it was so outrageously overpriced.
Along the Quay
The overcast sky threatened more snow, a welcome freshening for the filthy crust of the walkways and the canals dulled with scraped ice. Truus, walking with Joop, passed three boats iced into a Herengracht already frozen so solidly that Amsterdam buzzed with speculation that the Elfstedentocht might be skated for the first time since 1933. Near the bridge across to their apartment, a small group of adults visited in the center of the canal, children skating around them, or simply sliding in their little boots. This was Truus’s favorite part of the day—she and Joop walking home together the way they had when Joop first courted her, when she was a newly minted graduate of the School of Commerce and had just begun a job at the bank where he worked.
“I’m not saying no, Truus,” Joop was saying now. “I’m not forbidding it. You know I would never forbid you something that was important to you.”
Truus settled her gloved hands more deeply into her coat pockets. Joop didn’t mean to be picking a fight or demeaning her; it was just the casual way even good men like him inadvertently spoke, men who’d come of age at a time when women hadn’t yet even gained the right to vote—when, indeed, only men of wealth had that right.
They watched as a toddler boy, new to skating, nearly took down his sister.
Truus said, “Nor would I forbid you something that was important to you, Joop.”
He laughed warmly, put his own gloved hands on her elbows, and slid them down to ease her hands out of her pockets and take them in his.
“All right, I deserve that,” he said. “It ought to have been in our wedding vows: love, honor, and don’t even think about trying to forbid you anything, whether it’s important or not.”
“You don’t think saving thirty orphans left by the Nazis to stand in the snow in their pajamas is important?”
“I didn’t mean that, either,” he said gently. “You know I didn’t mean that. But do think about it. The situation in Germany seems to me to be escalating, and I worry about you.”
Truus stood beside him, watching the skaters, the sister now helping her brother up from the ice.
“Well, if you mean to go,” Joop said, “I wish you would get it over with before things get any worse.”
“I’m just waiting for Mr. Tenkink to arrange the entrance visas, Joop. Now, you said you had something you wanted to tell me?”
“Yes, I received the oddest call at my office this afternoon. Mr. Vander Waal—you know him—one of his clients is quite certain that you have something of value that belongs to him. Something you brought for him from Germany?”
“Something I brought? Why would I have brought anything across the border for an absolute stranger?” She frowned, something nudging at her as she looked out at the skaters, the little boy’s and girl’s father joining them, taking the boy’s hand. “I limit my precious cargo to children; I promise you that.”
“That’s what I said,” Joop said. “I assured him you wouldn’t have had anything to do with it.”
Out on the ice, the sister took her brother’s other hand. He said something that made the little family laugh, and the three skated off toward the bridge and under it, the father calling back to the other adults that he would see them soon. Truus looked away then, through the bare trees to the barren sky. How many times had she watched as a group of parents visited together, coming to know each other as their children swirled around them? Never with Joop, though. It was the one bit of herself she’d tucked away even from her husband. After her third miscarriage, she and Joop had pivoted silently, Truus turning to the efforts of the Association for Women’s Interests and Equal Citizenship and to social work, to helping children like those her parents had taken in.
A train whistle sounded. Truus just kept looking across the frozen canal, her hands in the anchor of Joop’s, wondering if he ever came alone to watch these families. She knew he longed for a child as surely as she did, or more. But she had so carefully tucked away her pain, and he had as well, so as not to bring it fresh to the other in an unguarded moment. And now, after years of avoiding the subject of their childlessness, it was habit, impossible to break. Truus, much as she might long to do so, could not simply reach up and touch Joop’s face and say, “Do you ever come here and watch the children, Joop? Do you watch the parents? Do you ever think we might try one more time, before it’s too late?” So she stood silently beside him, watching as the skaters cut the ice and the parents chatted and the canal boats, frozen in place, suggested a future that was still a long winter away.
Diamonds, Not Paste
Truus, after Joop left for the office the next morning, dug into her dresser and pulled out the matchbox the man on the train had given her—had it really been a year ago? She opened it over the table and took out the ugly disk of gravel wedged into the box. She rubbed at it with her thumb until bits of gravel broke free.
She took the bits into the kitchen, set them carefully in a bowl, and filled it with water. She rubbed at the submerged pieces with her bare fingers, the water growing cloudy. She pulled them up from the water and set them on her wet palm.
It was true after all: we are never more easily deceived than when we are ourselves in the act of deception.
She telephoned Mr. Vander Waal’s office. “Mr. Vander Waal,” she said, “it appears some apologies are in order. My husband was mistaken, it turns out. I do have something of your Dr. Brisker’s.”
There were perhaps a dozen diamonds in the “lucky stone”—value enough to begin a new life. This Dr. Brisker had consciously put the risk of carrying his secret treasure across the border on her, couching it in meaning enough to keep her from pitching it into a waste bin. He’d jeopardized the lives of three children just to get some of his wealth out of Germany. And she had been an absolute fool.
The SD-hosted daylong Judentagung in Berlin was Eichmann’s triumph. Dannecker and Hagen spoke first, Dannecker on the need for constant surveillance of the Jews, and Hagen of the complications of an independent Palestine that might seek rights for them. As Eichmann took the podium, he felt as free as he had as a young man racing through Austria on his motorbike, he and his friends defending visiting Nazi speakers against crowds throwing beer bottles and rotten food—and themselves leaving the forums smashed to the last beer glass and mirror. The Palestine trip, though a bust, had helped establish his expertise on the Jewish problem. Now he was one of the speakers, and the Judentagung crowd was roaring support for him.
“The true spirit of Germany resides in the Volk, in the peasants and the landscape, the blood and soil of our unsullied homeland,” he told them. “We now face the threat of a Jewish conspiracy I alone know how to countermand.”
The crowd exploded in agreement as he warned of the weapons and air power the Palestinian Haganah had amassed, of foreign Jews masquerading as staff for international organizations smuggling out information to be used against the Reich, of a vast anti-German conspiracy led by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, for which a Unilever margarine factory here acted as a front.
“The way to solve the Jewish problem is not through laws restricting the activity of Jews in Germany, or even street-level brutality,” he shouted over the thundering crowd. “What is needed is to identify Reich Jews to a person. Put names on lists. Identify opportunities to allow their emigration from Germany to lesser countries. And—most importantly—strip them of assets so that, given a choice to stay in utter poverty or to leave, the Jews will choose to go.”
It was still the dark of a winter morning beyond the sash window as Truus sat down to breakfast with Joop. She took up the front section of the newspaper with her first bite of uitsmijter, the egg and ham and cheese toast still hot.
“Good Lord, they’ve done it, Joop,” she said.
Joop smiled mischievously across the narrow table. “They’ve raised the hemlines even higher? I know you favor the longer skirts, but you do have the most adorable knees in all of Amsterdam.”
She tossed a bit of bread at him. He caught it and popped it into his generous mouth, then returned his attention to his own plate, savoring his breakfast in a way that Truus admired but never could muster even when the news was good.
She said, “Our government have passed this new law banning immigration from the Reich.”
Joop set his uitsmijter down, giving her his full attention. “You knew they were going to, Truus. It’s been what, a year since the government ‘protected’ just about any profession a foreigner might have been able to support himself in.”
“I thought we were better than this. To close our border absolutely?”
Joop took the front page and read the piece, leaving Truus to her self-chastising thoughts. She ought to have tried harder to hurry Mr. Tenkink on behalf of the thirty orphans. Thirty. Too many for her to pass as her own on a passport that listed no children, but she ought to have tried.
“We can still give refuge to those in danger,” Joop said, handing the paper back to her.
“To those who can prove they’re in physical danger. What Jew in Germany isn’t in danger? But what proof of physical danger does anyone have until the Nazis seize them and haul them away, and it’s too late?”
Truus readdressed the newspaper, her mind already on the train schedule to get to The Hague. This was not something she could change, what their government would do, but perhaps Tenkink could be persuaded to bend the rules.
“Geertruida . . . ,” Joop said.
Geertruida. Yes, she did lower her newspaper again then. She looked to Joop’s hair, graying at the temples, his sturdy chin, his left ear slightly larger than his right, or perhaps it simply stuck out farther; even after all these years, Truus couldn’t decide which it was.
“Geertruida,” Joop repeated, marshaling his conviction, “have you ever thought about taking in a few of these children, like your family did in the Great War?”
“To live with us?” she asked cautiously.
“But they’re orphans, Joop. They don’t have parents to be returned to.”
Joop nodded again, holding her gaze. She saw in the slight squint of his pale eyes, that brief attempt to hide his feelings, that he too did stop along the canal to watch the children play, to watch the parents.
She reached across the table and took his hand, trying to hold on to an overwhelming sense of hope. Joop was so uncomfortable when she became emotional.
She said, “We have the extra bedroom.”
He pressed his lips together, accentuating his sturdy chin. “I’ve been thinking we ought to move to a bigger place in any event.”
Truus looked down to the newspaper, the headline about the new immigration law.
“A bigger apartment?” she said.
“We could afford a house.”
In the squeeze of his hand, she knew this was what she wanted, and what he wanted too. A different kind of family. A family one chose rather than one God gave you. Children you chose to love.
Truus said, “It would be difficult for you to manage when I’m away.”
Joop sat back a little, his grip on her hand loosening, his fingers tracing the rings she wore: the gold band that marked their marriage; the ruby that was real, not one of the paste copies she’d had made for bribes not long after she’d begun bringing children across the border; the intertwined bands he’d given her the first time she’d been pregnant, to mark the beginning of the family they thought they would have.
“No,” Joop said. “No, it would be impossible to manage children if you weren’t here, Truus, but with this new law there will be no more bringing anyone out of Germany anyway.”
Truus looked to the Nassaukade and the canal, the bridge, the Raampoort, all still dark. Across the canal, in another lighted third-floor window, a father bent low to a child still sitting in bed. Amsterdam was just waking. It was empty now, but would soon fill with children carrying schoolbooks, with men like Joop going off to work, with women like herself setting out for the market, or pushing baby strollers, walking in pairs or little groups as they visited together, even on a cold morning like this.
The Mathematics of Song
What are we doing here?” Žofie-Helene whispered to Stephan. They’d just emerged from an incense-tinged hallway into a line of well-dressed adults descending from a stairway, waiting to enter the Hofburgkapelle. Žofie had done exactly as Stephan directed even though he refused to explain why: she wore good clothes and met him at the Hercules statue in the Heldenplatz.
Stephan said, “We’re lining up for communion with the people coming down from the upper boxes.”
“But I’m not Catholic.”
“Neither am I.”
Žofie followed him into the chapel, which was surprisingly narrow and plain, as royal palace chapels went—a room that went up and up in a Gothic way, circled by balconies from which an orchestra played and a choir sang, but all of it a single white. Even the window glass behind the altar was colored only at the top, terribly unbalanced.
She accepted a dreadful bit of bread and a sip of sour wine, whispering as she followed Stephan back from the altar, “That was quite unpalatable.”
Stephan smiled. “They serve Sacher torte at your church, I suppose?”
The people they’d joined in line headed back up the stairs, but Stephan took up an awkward place standing at the edge of the chapel, and Žofie waited beside him. When communion ended, he led her to two open seats at the back. As they sat waiting for the mass to end, he noted in his journal: Communion = quite unpalatable.
For no reason Žofie could fathom, they continued sitting even after the mass was over. Most everyone remained although the priest had left. She returned her attention to the ceiling, the unfrescoed rib vault in which the weight of the barrels was carried on the piers at the intersections and the thrust transmitted to the outer walls. If she had been with anyone other than Stephan, she would never have tolerated sitting in a chapel doing absolutely nothing, but Stephan always did have a point.
“Know why this ceiling doesn’t collapse?” she whispered.
Stephan put a hand to her mouth, then removed her glasses, cleaned them on her scarf, and replaced them on her face. He smiled and touched her infinity-symbol necklace.
“It wasn’t actually a gift from Papa,” she whispered. “It was a tie tack he won in school. Grandpapa had it ma