By Jacqueline Grossman
CHAPTER VI – Adieu, Paris
“Achtung!” a male voice shouted.
I froze. Framed in the doorway and brandishing a rifle in front of him was the German soldier we had been told about the day before. We were still in Paris, on the same track, in the same rail stockyard. Suddenly remembering Maman's instructions about not making eye contact, I quickly put my head down and shrank into my corner. Eveline's hand found its way into mine and I put my arm around my little sister. Maman slid down behind the bale of straw and inched closer to me. She pulled Paulette towards her and squeezed her to her bosom. The sudden pressure made the baby cry. But in an instant, Maman had pulled out one of her breasts and pushed it into the toddler's mouth. The crying ceased as suddenly as it started. I looked at Paulette. Maman was holding the child's head firmly against her breast and I found myself wondering how the baby could breathe.
A hush settled over what had by now become an overcrowded cattle car. People were bunched together so that there was barely enough space for one's feet. That was probably a good thing for us. With thirty to forty people in the car, we four were not likely to be noticed too readily.
I was terrified. Yet, curiosity got the better of me. Keeping my head down, I rolled my eyes up as far as they would go. Now, I could just barely see what was going on. It was still very early in the morning and most people in the car were either still lying down or sitting.
The German officer stood, legs apart, his shiny black boots and gun belt reflected the morning light. Coldly, deliberately, he scanned the passengers. Is he looking for something or someone, I wondered? In front of him, his rifle was poised for instant action. Now, it slowly swept across the crowd shouting its terrifying soundless warning. For a brief moment, as it scanned toward my corner, it stopped and seemed to point at me. Startled, my eyes popped fully open and I looked up at the soldier. I immediately shut my eyes tight and shrank further down behind my bale of straw.
The silence in the car was deafening. No one spoke. No one moved.
Suddenly, he spat out some words in German. It sounded to my young ears as though he had something caught in his throat that he was trying to expel at the same time he was asking a question. Maman caught her breath. (She was fluent in German.)
I could tell she was terribly frightened. I began to whimper and tremble. Tears filled my eyes. If she who was a tower of strength and always knew what to do was frightened, what hope was there? This is it, I thought. Any minute now, the German soldier will point his gun at us and … that will be the end. We'll never see Papa again!