It wasn’t always like this. You would fairly fly through the house, chattering and light, filling each room with energy and youth. I remember days and nights, parties and holidays, family times, friends and would-be-suitors. You could always bring a smile to your Papa’s face and he was never able to be stern with you, even when he tried.
When your parents, the Herr Doktor and Frau Steinberg entertained, you and your little sister were supposed to be seen and not heard. You were polite and helpful but quiet and deferential to the adults. This was hard for you as your personality was bigger and more bubbly than your petite frame could contain. Inevitably, you would end up telling some interesting story or other, charming the guests. Mutti would give you that look that said “That’s enough, young lady!” and you would lower your eyes and smile a swift, apologetic smile and back your way out of the room.
I remember you taking your first steps and I can almost feel them still. And the countless times over the years when you ran through the living room, feet barely touching the ground, treading where I could feel you and my thick pile would stifle the sound of your footsteps so you wouldn’t get in trouble. “No running in the house!” I guess I thought it would always be like that.
It’s so different now. There are no more parties. No more visitors or nervous young men. Now the house is very quiet. The piano in the other room is silent. It’s been quite some time since you sat at the bench, practicing and filling the house with sounds like sunlight. Meals are no longer social occasions. There are no social occasions. The Herr Doktor comforts his wife who weeps because all she is able to bring to the table is thin, runny potato soup. It has been a long time since there was any meat or any fresh fruit.
Tonight it is very dark and still in the house but there is shouting outside. There is laughter and some words spoken that I don’t understand. It must be Russian since all the strangers now are Russian. You and your sister are upstairs when there are loud echoing noises that seem to be coming nearer. Your Papa whispers to your Mutti, “Those are gunshots. They are coming closer. We must make the girls safe.” Mutti calls you downstairs and brings you both into the living room. All of you sit down on me, crouching low, whispering.
The fireplace hasn’t seen wood or flame in many, many months. It is cold and dark and Papa tells Mutti to hurry. Your little sister can fit in a corner inside the fireplace and they both tell her she must not come out, no matter what she hears. They make her repeat their instructions and you are crying but your sister is not visible. This is a good hiding spot for her.
Then they tell you to lie down and they begin to roll us together, and I wrap you up completely, like a pig in the blanket. You are shuddering and crying when Papa says, “You must be quiet and still! Make no sound and you will be safe.” They carry us to the back of the room and stack boxes and things around us, so it looks like maybe they are preparing to move. Or to sell some things.
The front door of the house bursts open and men in uniforms come stomping in, big and boisterous, with a lantern that lights up the room. They are laughing and gulping liquid from flasks that they carry. One of the men grabs the Herr Doktor and spins him around while another grabs Frau Steinberg and shoves her down, onto a chair. Papa tells them to take whatever they want but to please leave him and his wife in peace. The man holding Papa speaks to the others in Russian. But to Papa he says in German, “This is our house now, old man. You and your wife are just in the way. Who else lives here with you?”
Papa says “No one. It is just my wife and myself,” and I feel your body stiffen with fear.
“Just the two of you in this big house?” and he nods to one of the men who goes for the stairs while the others walk around picking up this thing and that, throwing framed pictures and porcelain figurines to the bare wooden floor where they shatter.
The soldier returns from upstairs and says something to the leader, who slaps the Herr Doktor. “You should not lie to me, old man. It will go easier for you if you tell me the truth. The bedrooms upstairs are all lived in. Who else is here?”
Papa says “I swear, it’s just my wife and me. We keep those bedrooms for her sisters when they come to visit.”
A couple of the soldiers are still exploring this room and one stands right next to us. You hold your breath. I keep you warm. I want to keep you safe. He picks up the boxes, one by one and dumps them out. Nothing interests him and he turns back to us. He nudges the side of us and exclaims. Then he kicks, hard, and you cry out.
Suddenly so many things are happening at once. Mutti is weeping, Papa is saying “Please. Please. Please!” and everyone is watching as the kicking soldier unrolls me and you spill out onto the bare floor. He tosses me to the side while one of the other soldiers pulls you up to a standing position. You are not crying any longer. You stand very still.
The leader smashes his gun against the back of Papa’s head and the blood begins to gush while Papa continues pleading “Please! No!” Mutti is silent and she must have fainted.
And then it begins.
They push you down, onto me and one of them holds your arms above your head while two more hold your legs open and they take turns with you. Over and over. They stop to drink some more and they laugh at Papa’s terrible cries. But you are silent. I feel the blood flowing out of you, soaking me and it goes on forever. Until you are no longer breathing. I am full of the blood that flowed through your veins. It is still warm. They wrap me around you again and toss us out into the street. The spoils of war.