Tablet Original Fiction: A father and son go to Germany after the Holocaust to adopt a Jewish child
Joseph walked down the hall, terrified that the mother would look dark-skinned and hook-nosed, that the girl therefore would also look like an ugly Jew, and everyone in the communion would know her origins. At the next step he feared that the mother would be pale and blond, another of those Jews who walked invisibly through the world, which would mean they were thousands of them, tens of thousands, a hidden army of unbelievers. Two more steps and they were in the bedroom.
A tiny woman sat on the bed. Her hands were locked between her knees. She may have been twenty or thirty—Joseph couldn’t tell. Her hair was dark brown; her skin fair; a thick scar slashed her left cheek. She stood. Her head was cocked back, surveying them.
“So you are the ones taking her away,” she said.
She waited for them to reply, and when they didn’t she said, “Thieves. All of you.”
Father and son stared at the woman.
Then Joseph’s father said, “We are here for the truth.”
“What are your names!” she demanded. “At least I want to know the names of men who would steal a woman’s child!”
“Don’t tell her!” said Joseph.
“Luke Carlsson,” said his father. “And my son is Joseph Carlsson.”
“And which of you will pretend to be her father?” She pointed at Joseph’s father. “You?” Then at Joseph, “Or maybe you. You boy.”
“My son,” said Joseph’s father.
She stepped forward to within a foot of Joseph. “So now you—Joseph—now you will know my name—”
“I don’t want to know!” shouted Joseph.
“My name is Helene Weiss. My husband’s name was Marcus. My daughter’s name is—
Joseph covered his ears.
“Elizabette! She was born in Lyon. She grew up in Paris. I left her with the priests in Foix when I was sure I was going to die.”
And her story poured out. And Joseph was forced to listen. She and her husband had fled south after the Germans marched into Paris. A farming family gave them refuge then betrayed them for a gift of two horses. She was sent to a labor camp; her husband was taken away; she never saw him again. After the German defeat, she made her way back to Foix, where the priests told her that Elizabette was in a safe monastery not far from Celle. She journeyed to Celle and joined the great horde of the displaced. She met Anna in the camp; Anna went to the monastery and returned with the terrible news: Elizabette had been baptized. The child could not be surrendered to anyone who was not of the Catholic Faith.
“What kind of monster refuses to give a child to her mother?” she said.
Helene held out her arms, curled as if still holding her baby.
“Please,” she said. “If just to see her.”
“Please,” she said again.
They were all quiet for several seconds. Then in a mild voice Joseph’s father asked, “May I sit down?”
His pulled over a chair that had been in the corner and sat down very close to her.
“And you are sure your girl was baptized.”
“What right did they have to baptize her!”
Joseph’s father stood up and pushed back the chair.
“Then the child is one of us now. You may not see her. There is no question of her going back to you.”
The Abbé ran his fingers back and forth across the upholstery. The major had put his elbows on the back of his chair. His head was bent full forward until it was nearly nose-deep into the cushion. Joseph and his father stood upright behind the remaining two chairs. The day had come up cloudy. A dim lamp threw a dirty light into room. The four men stared into the little circular table while they waited for the Abbé to say something.
“I did not know,” he said, rubbing back and forth more vigorously across the nap of the stained velvet. “How could I—. Do you think—. Do you believe my superiors tell me every detail!”
“There was no need for deception,” said Joseph’s father.
“But everything was true. The child had been surrendered to the Church. She had been baptized.”
“Nevertheless … “ said Joseph’s father. He took a breath. “In any case, the result is the same. The girl must come with us.”
“Well,” said the Abbé. “Of course. We must—. All of us—”
“I have a simple solution for the problem of the nurse, said Joseph’s father. “It will allow us leave quickly.”
He hesitated for just a moment. Then he said:
“Boxwood. Your housekeeper comes with us.”
Boxwood’s head came upright for the first time in the conversation. It lolled left then right. A smile paused over his lips. It was the smile of someone with no choice, Joseph saw. Boxwood’s arrangement with Anna could not last. Then Joseph thought that, before all this, he never would have understood the defeated look of a man without choice.
The Abe’s eyes fluttered for a long five seconds.
Joseph knew that at any moment it would all be decided. Anna would come with them and nurse his ill mother until her death, then tend to his father’s wishes, then to the wishes of the communion, until the end of her own days. He also knew that somehow he would get away. That he would abandon his wife. And leave behind the little Jew girl.
“Get me the woman’s papers,” the Abbé said to Boxwood. “I will get the documents prepared.”
Then the Abbé reached down for his cape where it had been curled up on the chair. He had some trouble settling it over his shoulders, and Joseph watched with satisfaction as the little duped man fussed and strained until he believed he had arranged everything perfectly: the ribbon at his neck, tied tight, just so.
A new generation of women is being misled into assuming an ideological tension between feminism and Zionism