( This story is based on a true story past down to me from my mom of what my Oma had to do during WW2. I originally wrote it 20 years ago but enjoyed rereading it to myself so I felt like sharing)
Leaning against the gate she wipes her sweaty face with the back of her hand. Tired from walking those last two miles, Agnes pulls herself up onto the wooden gate and rests her exhausted body. She removes her shoes and lets them fall to the ground. Rubbing her feet back to life, she pauses before putting her shoes back on.
Agnes looks past the gate to see what lies beyond. Brown muddy fields, with a few patches of grass sticking out and a muddy path running through it. Cows, some lingering close together and a few wandering around by themselves. Brown, speckled chickens walk among the cows, pecking at the ground beneath. A small farm house is visible a mile or so down the path.
While Agnes sits on the gate a skinny black and white dairy cow comes up to her and starts to nibble on her dress. The day before she had made the dress out of old potato sacks. The only material available during these terrible times, besides the highly desirable parachute material. Agnes gently pulls the dress away from the cow. The cow looks up at Agnes with her soft velvety eyes and utters,”mooooo.” Angry that her food has been taken away from her, the cow walks away.
After jumping off the gate Agnes groans with pain while rubbing her back. She leans against the gate once more then puts her shoes back on. She turns to face the gate. Her stomach begins to gurgle with hunger. Agnes ponders whether she should go through the gate to this farm, or walk to the next one, at least three miles away.
After a few minutes, Agnes opens the gate to the muddy path. Stepping carefully, she closes the gate behind her. Agnes tries to find dry spots to walk on but the path is one big puddle. She takes one resolute step and carries on, concentrating on what she has set out to do in the first place. Ignoring the muddy water filling in her shoes.
Agnes has been walking from farm to farm asking for food for her family and friends. For the last couple of months she has been doing this daily. Sometimes she would have to lie or grovel. She would never steal, though. Generally the farmers have been kind and given her food. Others yell and tell her to get off their property. She is never sure what the farmer is going to do until she asks them for some food.
Agnes looks up from the muddy path and sees an older man sitting on the front steps. His skin was wrinkled, and under his yellow, stained farmers cap wisps of grey hair escaped. He watched her walk up the path, and stands when she comes closer to the house. She can see the faded green overalls hanging loosely over his tall, wiry frame. The overalls were three sizes too big for him but that did not seem to bother him.
Wiping the sweat off her face once more, she waits to see who would speak first. They stare at each other for a few seconds. Agnes then knows that she is the one who should begin talking. “ Hello. How is your farm?” He looks at her as if she were crazy.
He dryly answers, “ We have had better days.” Agnes nervously bites her inner lip before speaking again.
She looks him straight in the eyes, and then voices her problem. “I need food. I am a mother of four. A few months ago my husband was taken away from me by the Nazis. I was left to look after our children alone. The youngest two are twins, barely two years old. Please, do you have any food you might be able to spare?” He walks inside without saying a word, and brings out his wife. The wife is shorter, chubbier and looks quite the opposite of her husband. Her round rosy cheeks are covered with flour as she rubbed her chubby hands together, trying to clean them.
Agnes becomes aware of the wonderful smells of cooking in the air. The air smells like cinnamon apple pie. Her mouth starts to water with hunger. The farmer’s wife rushes down the steps, two at a time and gives Agnes a quick hug. Agnes stiffens up as she was not expecting any hugs. After awhile the wife lets Agnes go and speaks.” Oh. You poor dear. Of course Martin and I will give you some food. Come, come… Let’s go inside. Martin please go to the hen house and get some eggs.” Taking Agnes by the hand the woman gently pulls her inside.
They stand in the small heated kitchen, rich with smells of past meals and recent ones. The woman goes straight to some cupboards and reaches in pulling out odd sorts of food and placing them in a basket. She tells Agnes her name, matter of factly. “My name is Elle.”
Turning ˜from the cupboard she looks Agnes straight in the eyes, and says, “I know you lied to my husband.” Agnes flabbergasted that her lie has been detected, tries to stutter a reply, but Elle interrupts her. “I saw you a month ago walking down the road with your two small boys and husband. There was also a small Jewish family not far behind you, following you. I assumed they were with you. And an other family as well seemed to be following you. They were not Jewish, though…”
Agnes is stunned. She tried to reply but once more is interrupted. “ My husband doesn’t know. He works for those awful Germans. Feeding them with our milk, eggs… What a waste.. I don’t agree with him- or anyone for that matter who treats humans so awful. I don’t want my husband to know this. Any way… It would be an honour if you could call me your friend. Someone so brave to hide a Jewish family, and to go out as well and beg for food everyday. Having to walk miles on end just to get enough food for everyone…” Tears well up in Elle’s eyes. Agnes walks over to Elle and gives her a hug.
“My name is Agnes.” Agnes tells her. After a few minutes Martin comes in and places the eggs into the already full basket. Agnes thanks them and says, goodbye.
Walking down the muddy path away from the farm Agnes stops and turns to look back at the house. Sighing with gratitude she turns away and continues walking. While opening the gate Agnes can see men heading in her direction. Gasping she brings her free hand up to her mouth. Five German soldiers with guns by their sides are marching, in two lines with one officer leading. In between them are two Dutch men.
Every once in awhile the Dutch men are pushed harshly from behind. They are wearing ragged brown suits and can barely walk. The German soldiers look strong and healthy in their grey uniforms. The officer looked clean and just as healthy as the other five men. Unlike the others on his collar were placed two gold stars indicating something important. As well wrapped around his arm is a band with the Nazi sign. Agnes knows the two Dutch men. They live in a cabin five minutes away from where she lives. They are brothers, Joost is 25 and Marc is 20. Just a few days ago they had come over to the cabin for a visit.
They had been brutally beaten. Dried blood was cracking all around their faces allowing fresh, new, blood to drip down onto the ground. From being punched both had their eyes swollen closed allowing them to see very little. Agnes wondered why they had been beaten up. They must have resisted the Germans coming to take them to work in German factories making ammunition and guns.
While marching, the soldiers laugh and talk with each other. Agnes starts to worry. Her girlfriends have told her stories, of how they had been raped by German soldiers. She takes a deep breath and stands up straighter. She is not afraid of those awful men. Besides she is strong. Agnes knows that no matter what happens to her they will never be able to touch her soul.
A strand of brown hair falls in front of her blue eyes. Brushing it back with her rough, dry hand she looks off to the side towards the cows. She cannot look at the two brothers. The officer stops in front of her. It seems he is going to find time to speak to her. “How considerate,” she thinks sarcastically.
“Where are you going, Frau ?” The officer stands waiting for her answer, fingering his gun. The soldiers stand still while he speaks.
Biting her tongue before answering she says, “Home.” Annoyed that he did not frighten her the officer pushes her aside to get to the gate. He then walks up the muddy path towards the farm house.
Agnes starts to walk away and quickly glances at the two brothers.They are being pushed around like punching bags by three soldiers while the other soldiers follow the officer up to the farm. Joost, the oldest, catches Agnes’ eye and winks at her, giving her hope.
She turns away from them and begins to walk faster forgetting how sore her feet are. She stops rushing when she sees the forest ahead. Agnes hears a long whistle-like sound coming from above. Running she looks back. A grassy field explodes, leaving an empty hole. Frightened she continues walking. Another German bomb meant for England blows up hundreds of miles away from its target. “Those poor fools, don’t they realize the stolen men are making bad bombs on purpose?” Agnes mumbles to herself.
The forest seems dark and evil from where she is standing. Agnes knows this not to be true. The forest is a safe haven for dozens of families as well as individuals living in the ten cabins build for a holiday camp in this forest.
Last summer Agnes and her husband Johan had rented one of the cabins for a week, for a holiday. When they had to evacuate their home town because of the war raging on the streets, they had decided to move back to the cabin. While Agnes had been packing as much as she could. Her neighbour Emma had walked into the parlour asking Agnes if she and her family could live with them in the cabin. Agnes had agreed. Emma had then asked if her Jewish friend, Haunka and her family could live with them as well. Agnes had heard of Jews being rounded up and taken to camps. She had said, of course.
Emma, Agnes found out was not good at house cleaning. Haunka and herself had to do most of the cleaning in the small, crowded three bedroom cabin in the woods. There was a fresh stream running close by to the cabin so they had water. Agnes was the only one who could go out to beg for food. The men couldn’t go out for fear of being caught by the Germans. The Jewish family had to stay in hiding and Emma had grown very weak.
Agnes is slowly walking towards the cabin. It is not far from the road. By passing old oak trees she could see the side of the cabin. The cabin is not really big. There are enough rooms for all the families. It is a one floor building. There is a small kitchen and living room in the front of the cabin. Each bedroom has a large window facing outwards. The one in the back was the best one for everyone to slip out when the Germans came. The cabin only has one door.
“Frau, you lie. Tell me the truth. Where is your husband?” Agnes hears this angry voice coming from the front of the cabin. Nervously she peeks behind a tall oak tree to watch the front of the cabin. There are two soldiers with an officer standing in front of the doorway. Emma stands in front of the door frame. Tears are running down her face like a river. She cannot answer. Wiping her tears away she looks around frantically for help.
Agnes can not see her husband so she hopes that he has gotten away in time and is hiding in the forest. Emma looks like a rabbit cornered by dogs. Biting her inner lip, Agnes casually walks towards the cabin. The officer turns around glaring to see who is coming while the Germans soldiers continue to glare at Emma.
“Who are you?” the officer asks her.
Before answering Agnes pushes past them and stands next to Emma. Emma is having problems breathing. Agnes answers the officer while placing her free hand on to Emma’s shoulder. “My name is Agnes Bronkhorst.”
“Where is your husband.”
“I don’t know.”
“ Well, you took him from our house a few months ago. I haven’t seen him since.” The men look at each other doubting her answer.
“ Let us come in and see for ourselves.”
Agnes and Emma move away from the door. Agnes quickly places the basket in the kitchen behind the door. The men crowd inside the tight hallway, each glancing around. One man glances into the kitchen but he does not enter, not caring to take the time. The children are in the living room. Hans, the oldest appears to be drawing on a small piece of scrap paper. Martin is playing with dolls with Emma’s daughters. The children are oblivious of the adults standing in the hallway. At least this is what the Germans think. Agnes was chewing on her tongue hoping the children remembered what they had talked about, how they should ignore the Germans. The men can see into all the rooms. There is no place for anyone to hide. So the officers push themselves pass the two women back outside. Emma goes into the living room and hugs her two daughters.
The men leave angrily. Agnes watches them leave until she cannot see them anymore. She then closes the door. Turning to face the living room she walks in and sits down on the couch. She pulls Martin towards her hugging him, and speaks to Emma. “ When did they get away?”
Emma looks up from her children and answers. “Ten minutes before the Germans came.”
“How did they know they were coming?”
“We heard them over at Joost’s and his brother’s cabin. There was a lot of noise coming from over there.” Agnes rests her head on her young son’s head and closes her eyes.
A few hours later, the light is disappearing from the forest. Agnes stands at the front door helping her 4 year old son, Hans put his jacket on.
“ Hans do you remember where we are going?” He looks up at her innocently before answering.
“ Yes. We go oer da hill and find them in their hiding spot. This game is easy.”
Laughing Agnes asks another question. “What are you going to do?”
“ I hod your hand like we went for a little hi-ek. We don’t wait toe. We den just head home.” He walks out the door heading in the wrong direction. Hans starts walking over towards the stream.
“Hans where are going?” calls his Mama.
“I going peepee first Mama.”
“Okay, do hurry up. Come right back.”
“I will, Mama.” Agnes watches Hans jump over the stream and walks past some young Oak saplings. After a few minutes he comes back and they set out together.
Holding hands they begin to walk towards the little hill. Johan, Agnes husband, Emma’s husband and Haunka and her family are hiding there. Weeks ago the men made a ditch behind a small hill. Every time they hear the Germans coming they run and hide inside the ditch. They cover themselves with branches and stay like this for hours.
While standing on the top of the hill Agnes whistles two long notes. She looks around for a minute and then they walk back home without waiting for the others. The people hiding will wait for another fifteen minutes before they return to the cabin.
Gripping Hans hand tighter they walk a little faster. Hans looks up towards his Mama and asks. “How much longer do we have to do this Mama?” Agnes stops walking and bends down to hug him.
“Hopefully not much longer.”