The late afternoon shadows were slowly creeping down toward the
Gretchen’s tall, blond brother rushed into the tiny kitchen, his handsome face clouded with worry. “Are you sure, Gretchen?”
“Ja, I saw them,” she gasped, struggling to catch her breath. “They’re coming up the trail. Dozens of them!”
Hans took one glance at her ashen face and ran to the front room. Cautiously he opened one shutter. Gretchen was right. A whole platoon of armed men dressed in the hated green uniforms was goose stepping up the narrow lane. The first column was already close enough for the boy to see the dreaded black swastika on the sleeve of each man’s uniform.
“Oh, Hans, what will we do?” Gretchen wailed, gripping his arm so tightly that her fingernails dug painfully into his bare flesh. “What will we do?”
Hans carefully pried her fingers loose and then quickly closed the shutter. “Stay quiet,” he ordered, “and stay calm. Maybe they won’t come here.” He secured the shutter as he spoke, then stepped across the room and bolted the heavy front door. His sister was right on his heels as he hurried into the kitchen to lock the back door and returned to the front room.
Anxiously, the two young people peered through the crack at the bottom of the shutters. Just as they had feared, the German troops were fanning out through the little village, conducting a house-to-house search. Hans could see two grenadiers standing on the tiny porch of the little cottage across the street, while others strode purposefully toward the upper streets of the sleepy little village. While they watched, the door across the street opened, and white-haired Mrs. Van Doer stepped out and greeted the soldiers pleasantly. Gretchen stifled a scream as one of the men suddenly raised his rifle in front of him and then thrust the weapon viciously at the old woman, shoving her backwards through the door.
“I wish Papa was here,” the girl whispered softly, “and Mama . . .” Her voice trailed off.
Her brother nodded, wrapping one long arm around her thin shoulders, and drawing her close to him. “Don’t be afraid, Gretchen,” he whispered gently. “God is still watching over us.”
She suddenly twisted free of his embrace and spun around to face
him. “How can you say that?” she demanded. “Where was God during the
Blitzkrieg, when the Luftwaffe bombed the French, and the panzer units attacked
the villages? And where was God when the Nazi devils killed our Jewish
neighbors? Where was He when they stole our automobiles and our cattle? Where
was God? Could He not protect
She paused for breath. Hans reached tenderly toward her, but she drew back. “Gretchen, please,” he said, but she cut him off.
“Papa can’t be with us, because he was forced into the army of the-the glorious Third Reich!” She spat out the words distastefully. Her voice rose to a shrill scream. “And now Mama—” She began to sob. “Mama’s dead, Hans! Dead! Killed by the Nazis!”
Gretchen covered her face with her hands, then peered at him from between her fingers. “It’s only been two months since that horrible day when the Stutka planes strafed our village! Have you forgotten already?” Sobbing, she allowed herself to fall against his shoulder. Tenderly, he again placed an arm around her.
The silence of the moment was shattered by the thud of a Nazi rifle butt against the front door. The room seemed to explode with the violence of the sound. The sturdy oak door, solid as it was, shook with the force of the blows.
“Open up!” a gruff German voice demanded, and the door shook under another barrage of blows from the man’s weapon. “Open the door!”
“Hans, what shall we do?” Gretchen whispered.
Her brother held a finger to his lips. “Stay quiet,” he whispered. “Maybe they’ll go away.”
But the heavy blows were repeated. “Open up!” the voice demanded again—impatient, threatening. “We know you’re in there! Open up! Do we have to break down the door?”
Glancing apologetically at his sister, Hans shrugged and rose to his feet to open the door. “We’re coming!” he called. “Just a moment.”
As the boy lifted the bolt, the door was flung open with such force that he was slammed against the wall. Two burly soldiers leaped into the room to confront the terrified young people. One man pinned Hans against the wall with the stock of his rifle, while the other trained his weapon on the cowering Gretchen.
“Who’s here with you?” the soldier asked the trembling girl.
Hans started to answer. “Just us,” he said, but the Nazi standing before him rammed the rifle hard against his chest, cutting off the words.
“He wasn’t talking to you, knabe!” the soldier snarled. “Answer only when you’re spoken to!”
The first Nazi turned back to face Gretchen. “Who’s in the house with you?” he asked again.
The girl was trembling so violently that she could hardly answer. She sucked in her breath in a sobbing little gasp, then stammered, “J-Just H-Hans and m-me. T-That’s all.”
“Where are your mother and father?”
“M-Mama’s not h-here with us r-right n-now, and P-Papa’s in the army of the T-Third R-Reich.”
Hans took a deep breath as the soldier relaxed the painful pressure against his chest. “We’re looking for a young boy,” the man said harshly. “Have you seen any strangers in the village?”
Hans shook his head. “Nein.”
“Do you know what happens to traitors who shelter such criminals?”
The boy nodded. “Ja. But there is no one else here.”
“We’ll see for ourselves.”