Fifteen years later…
“I’m so scared, mama,” Ruth whispered.
“Hush, Ruthy,” Rosalind breathed. She pulled her little sister closer and hoped that none of the other children would make a sound.
“Rosalind?” Jacob’s voice seemed to have barely been exhaled from him and Rosalind had to strain to catch the words. “Why were we born Jewish?”
The question made Rosalind gasp before she remembered to remain quiet. As long as she could recall, Jacob had never been scared of anything in his life. It was he that had always been her source of confidence and strength, although she were two years the elder. She remembered the time several years ago, out in the meadow, when they had stumbled across a snake nest. She had been rooted to the spot with fright, but Jacob had been quiet and calm. Softly, he had told her how to back away as unobtrusively as possible, and Rosalind remained convinced that he had saved her life that day. But now, when she needed him most, Jacob was scared. She turned and looked at him. He gazed back, the question burning in his eyes. She looked away. “Only God knows,” she whispered.
Psssttt! Their father signaled at them to stop talking. From the street above, they could hear the sound of running feet. Rosalind bit her lip and thanked God that most of the younger children had not woken up when the family had made their hasty descent into the dugout hidey-hole under the house. She huddled with Ruth and Jacob. On the other side of the small stove stored there, Mama, Papa, and Sofia held the littlest ones: despite the tension and fuss, Elina, Daniel and Lionel remained peacefully asleep, blissfully oblivious to the doom that devoured everything above them. On the floor were stretched Anna, Joseph and Felix, also asleep. Across the cramped and dirty chamber sat Grandma and Grandpa, clinging to family heirlooms and relics. It seemed as though the walls themselves would suffocate if someone didn’t start breathing soon, but they didn’t dare let their breath out. The tension was tangible, strangling them as they waited. The silence was audible, screaming at them to make a noise and be sent to their deaths. Ruth began to cry. She was just ten years old and had not been able to sleep like the others. Her sobs were becoming obtrusive. Quietly, Jacob reached into his pocket and brought out a handkerchief with he passed across Ruth’s nose and mouth. “I’m sorry, Ruthie,” he whispered. In a couple of seconds she lay limp and quiet in Rosalind’s arms. Jacob glanced at her horrified face. “It’s only chloroform,” he assured her softly. “It should keep her quiet until the present danger is passed.” They lay Ruth out on the floor and covered her with a blanket before huddling back in their corner. Jacob reached for Rosalind’s hand, and they sat in the darkness, comforted by the knowledge that they had each other, if nothing else.
Suddenly, they all jumped. There were footsteps on the roof of the dugout. The soldiers were in the dining room. They waited and listened. Rough voices seemed to pierce the boards and expose them to the hungry eyes of the men upstairs. They all froze when one particularly heavy step fell on the door of the dugout. Papa was a clever carpenter and had fixed the boards so that even though Rosalind knew the door was there, she could hardly see it if she looked. But it creaked. There had been nothing Papa could do about that creak, and now, they all sat in the dark, hoping no one else had heard it.
“Quiet!” roared a voice from the dining room. The foot fell again, and again came a distinct creak. Tears rolled down Rosalind’s face as she realized their time was up. Footsteps from all directions came and started stamping on the spot the first voice had pointed out. The tip of a knife poked down the gap of the door. Then, slowly, the door was lifted open and a malicious face peered down at the family cowering inside.“Ha!” He crowed, mockingly triumphant. “Got ya, didn’t I?” He continued to laugh at us as we sat. The little ones woke up – only Ruth remained unconscious. “A whole nest of you too!” He grinned a terrible, horrible grin. “If you’d be so kind as to step out here so I can examine you.”