Winter, 1942 seemingly colder than usual bore down hard on the warring nations of Europe. But the German people knew that something more than the cold increased their miseries. Rumors filtering back from the eastern front told of unexpected stubborn resistance from the Russian armies--of a Wehrmacht virtually frozen in its tracks along endless miles of desolated country. The people knew firsthand of increased demands for fighting men and the food and clothing to supply them.
Already scant rations were reduced as food became scarce. Mother had anticipated such a shortage, and rows of glass jars filled the cupboards in the basement storeroom. A number of food items came under government restriction: meat, grain, dairy products, potatoes, and other foods. Father had to plan with care because he had relatives in the large cities where life was hard. He must conserve food for them too.
"Eric, you must get up a little earlier in the morning to turn the cream separator," Father told him. "When Ursula finishes the milking, Mother will bring the pails of milk into the basement. I will show you how we can manage to keep enough whole milk for the family and some of the cream for churning." Father added in a lower voice, "When the inspector counted the cows, I think he missed one. Someone had chased it to the far corner of the pasture."
"But, Father--" Fear suddenly rose in Eric.
"My son," Father said in a solemn voice, "the law of God stands above the laws of men. We are working to save lives."
Eric knew that his father disliked to do unlawful things, but what else could he do?
Eric left his warm bed and went down to the basement in time to do his work before people began moving about on the street in front of the Gasthaus door. A bus came along at six-thirty, and passengers who must wait for the bus often stepped inside the Gasthaus to get out of the cold.
"I think this separator must make more noise than any other machine in Unsen," Eric said to Mother one morning when she brought in the milk. "Hitler would surely have the Gestapo after me if he knew about this separator."
"But you are early, Eric." Mother set a pail of milk down by the separator. "No one is going past our house so early in the morning."
"I hope they aren't, but just the same it scares me. I don't feel right going against what Hitler ordered."
"We want to live, Eric." Mother spoke in a low voice. "We want to save the lives of other people who are dear to us. You must help us, Eric."
Mother went to bring the big milk can, for they must set it out by the road for the dairy wagon from Hameln to pick up.
Eric began to turn the noisy cream separator. He knew that Father and Mother were willing to give their lives so that their family might have food. What kind of coward was he anyway?
Father had always taught Eric to obey God, his parents, and the laws of the Fatherland. Now Father and God seemed to be going in the opposite direction from Hitler. He felt confused, but he made a firm decision to go with God and with Father.
He turned the separator with growing fright. Each loud whine seemed to cry out, "Come, come! Look at this boy. He is separating cream to make butter. Look! Look! He is a traitor!"
At last he finished. He knew that Mother waited for him in the kitchen. "Eric, you are a good boy." She took the pan of cream from his unsteady hands. She had already set out the churn, and Eric knew that they had already saved enough cream to make a big lump of butter today. "What would we do without you, Eric?" Mother fed him a good breakfast, and he started for school.
In the streets of Holtensen Eric found a number of people gathered around a posted notice that a soldier had just fastened to a tree. He pressed through the crowd and read the big black words:
He didn't wait to read more. Fear flashed through his body like an electric shock. "Enemy alien!" Who could that mean? Then as he listened to the talk on the street and at school, he realized that the "enemy aliens" were Jews! Later he heard the fierce voice of Adolf Hitler in a radio broadcast:
We intend to wage this war
until the Jews have been wiped off
the face of the earth.
But the German Jews weren't aliens. Many of them came from families who had lived in Germany for hundreds of years. How could Hitler be at war with the Jews? One of Eric's favorite aunts was a Jewess.
Then Eric thought of Professor Erhardt and his Jewish wife. They had stayed at the Gasthaus for a week not long ago, and he'd heard Father say that she and their daughter would come back in a few days and spend a month or two, maybe longer. Now what would Father do?
Eric's hands shook, and throughout that day he felt too restless to study. He hurried home when his lessons were ended, and he didn't feel like playing with Dietrich and Heinz although they both waited for him in Holtensen.
He stood at the kitchen door for a moment listening to Mother whistling at her work. Eric hadn't thought much about it before, but now the sound of Mother's whistling comforted him like a soothing hand. He walked in.
"You are home, Eric!" Mother always said those words with such gladness as though she had waited all day for this special moment. "Father has something special for you to do tonight. Go and change your clothes."
Some of the fear Eric had felt that morning while turning the cream separator, and later in Holtensen when he read Hitler's new law, came back now. He felt sure that whatever Father wanted him to do that night would be another frightening adventure.
After supper Father asked Eric to follow him out to the barn. They went through the basement and along the covered passageway that led to the barn. Gunny sacks covered all the windows so no light would show. Eric looked around and said, "Father, this place looks like a butcher shop."
"That's exactly what it's going to be tonight. We are going to kill our biggest pig. You will be our guard."
Eric felt his legs tremble. "But, Father, the pig will squeal!"
"Yes, it will, Son; but we must take the chance. In wartime we have to do many strange things. We have relatives in Hamburg, in Gütersloh, and Bad Pyrmont who will go hungry unless we can take them some food." He laid his hand on Eric's shoulder. "When any law tells us to do wrong, or forbids us to do right, then we disobey that law. Do you understand?"
Eric understood. Late in the night Father roused him from his troubled sleep. He put on his warmest clothing and went down to the basement and through the covered passageway to the barn. He found that a friendly neighbor had come to do the butchering. Eric knew that the man had long experience in the butchering trade. Ludwig must be asleep in his room. The hired help must never know of these secret goings-on. They could not be trusted.
"Our lives are in your hands," Father told Eric. "Keep careful watch clear to the end of the street in both directions. Hide yourself. Don't let anyone see you."
Eric took up his watch. He knew that no person could be trusted. Everyone was encouraged to report any unlawful acts among their own families and their neighbors' families. His hands felt damp inside his mittens. The cold bit through his thick clothing, but he scarcely noticed it.
He looked at the barn. Not a glimmer of light showed through the draped windows. Wait! Was that a shadow down at the neighbor's farm? It moved-- Only a dog! His heart began to beat again.
A few sounds came from the barn, but nothing that could startle anyone. Then it came--a loud and piercing squeal, shrill, high, and long-drawn-out!
Eric's heart almost leaped from his body. He put both hands to his mouth to hold it in. For a moment he felt as though he had received the fatal stroke instead of the pig.
Then he looked in every direction. No doors opened; no window rattled. All the houses of Unsen lay quiet under the winter moon. Not a shadow moved in all the snowy landscape.
Surely no pig had ever died so noisy a death. Yet the sounds that seemed so loud to Eric failed to arouse anyone in the sleeping village. Even Frau Bergmann and her Nazi son, Albert, must be sleeping unusually well tonight.
Father came out of the barn. "You may go to bed now, Son. You have kept faithful watch. The rest of the work we must do will make no noise."
When Eric came downstairs the following morning, he found Mother in the basement with two huge kettles over the fire. One kettle contained cans of meat, and potatoes boiled in the other.
The Kreye family had their own canning equipment and preserved the meat in tin cans just like those in the stores. Eric thought they were lucky to have such equipment. Now whenever they processed meat they always cooked large kettles of potatoes for the hogs. The smell of the potatoes seemed to cover the tell-tale odor of cooking meat from an occasional burst can.
Eric went back upstairs determined to keep a sharp watch for any persons who might look suspicious. He felt somehow that Hitler must have heard that pig squeal in Berlin, and he might be able to smell the meat cooking too!
That day was a holiday, and before long Father came in and told Eric to get dressed in his warm clothes. "We have some digging to do," he said. "We will do it mostly inside the buildings."
They dug a deep trench in the barn where machines were stored. Hundreds of pounds of potatoes would be hidden there. They were covered with straw to insulate them. Then boards and dirt were placed on top and machinery was returned to its place. No fresh dirt could be left lying about. Eric had to haul it to the creek and sprinkle it along the edge where it would not be noticed.
They dug another deep hole in the wood shed. When it was finished, Father and Eric hid food supplies there and covered the hole with pieces of old wood. Outside the barn they dug another hole for the canned meat. The metal cans were placed in large glass containers so that no dampness could cause them to rust. Finally, boards were laid over the hole and junk was piled on top. No one would imagine that so much valuable food lay concealed under such ordinary things.
Father now laid plans to carry food to loved ones in Gütersloh. He filled two suitcases with both fresh and canned meat, a few pounds of butter, and some oil. Eric tried to lift the suitcases, but in spite of his strong muscles he found them too heavy.
"I will take Irmgard with me," Father
told Mother. "People will think that I have her clothing in the suitcases.
Maybe I will have a better chance of getting through."
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