FOURTEEN - Ester
I somehow manage to go through the night without getting up and walking right out in search of papa. To say that I spent the night worrying would be a gross understatement. I am worried about papa, who has vanished without a trace. I am worried about mama, though I must say that she is taking this in her stride a little too well.
I don’t even want to imagine what Klara must be going through. Tomas was quite convinced that the German officer she is with seems like a good guy. But really, he is a German officer! I don’t know how Tomas fell for his ‘good guy’ routine, but I am not naïve like him. I know there must be a very good reason why he seemingly saved Klara.
And then, there is the pièce de résistance - Otto Edelmann’s unfathomable reasons for ratting us out to the Germans. That one is sure to do my head in. I am not an innocent, I understand that traitors can be found in the unlikeliest of places. But to sell out your own Verlobte! That has to be a special breed of nasty.
And so it is that I wake up the next day with more questions than I went to sleep with and no idea of where or how I will find answers to them all. We have breakfast together before Mr and Mrs Fafek head off to work. Liběna works at the U Slovanské Lípy, a well-known inn on Tachovské náměstí in Žižkov and so does not start work until much later in the day.
She and I are clearing up after breakfast when the news starts on the radio. If we had expected a report on the failed attempt on Fuchs’ life to be the first (and only) item on the news, we are not disappointed. But there is something else on the news that sends mama reeling. Her mug of coffee crashing on the floor.
Well-known industrialist Joseph Barsch was found guilty of conspiring against the Reich by attempting to assassinate Obergruppenführer Fuchs and was executed this morning.
The room suddenly closes in on me. The first victim of our attempt to rid our country of the Butcher. And it is someone who had nothing whatsoever to do with it. I go to mama, who is staring at the radio like it is some vile, live thing. I kneel in front of her and take her hands in mine. They are trembling.
I don’t know what to say. There is nothing I can say that will make things any better or any easier. Papa is gone. He paid with his life for something he had been no part of. I know that had he known what we had planned, he would have been proud of Klara and me. But we had not told him. For exactly this reason. To make sure that mama and he remain unculpable by virtue of ignorance.
Look how that worked out! Papa is gone and here I am, sitting tongue-tied in front of mama, unable to help. In my heart, I feel like it was my hands that picked up the gun and shot papa. Although, my brain is telling me that it is not so. But I am not prepared to write away papa’s loss as collateral of this war. We had made the plan such that if we succeeded in poisoning Fuchs, we’d all be far away from him when he actually died. There would be no way to pinpoint how he was poisoned or when. Our plan guaranteed that our families were not harmed in the fall-out of its success.
I am not even aware that tears are tracking down my cheeks until mama gently wipes them away. She looks at me, takes a deep breath, and says, ”Perle, your papa and I....we knew what you kids were planning. He would have wanted you to know that he is very proud of you.”
I look up at her and am stunned at the strength of character my mama possesses. Now it all makes sense to me. Why is did not oppose Otto, why she was ready to leave home and go away, why she was so calm when Tomas told the whole story. I cannot take this. I break down, sobs wracking my body. “I am sorry mama, I am so sorry. I killed papa! I should have known Otto would do something like this.” I know I am rambling and not making any sense, but the guilt that I feel for getting my papa involved in this is crushing me.
Mama slides down from the chair and sits down beside me on the floor. “Don’t Perle. Don’t blame yourself. I do not know why Otto did what he did, but we all need to make sacrifices in these trying times. Your papa was more than happy to support you in your bid to rid this country of the Butcher. There is no counting the number of people he has killed. I just hope that Joseph’s life is not lost in vain.”
Liběna also comes and sits down on the floor beside us. She cannot think of anything to say either, because she simply folds mama’s and my entwined hands into her own and closes her eyes, letting her tears splash onto her cheeks. After what seems like hours, she murmurs, “I am so sorry!”
The radio is still droning on and I wonder what else was said that we missed. Maybe they reported the death of Fuchs and we missed it! Wouldn’t that be something! I tune my ears back to the radio and my ears perk up.
Obergruppenführer Fuchs had to be taken to the Bulkova hospital today due to severe vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. It is believed that he may be suffering from a case of severe food poisoning after last night’s party at Prague Castle.
All three of us are staring at the radio again, like it has grown wings and is flying around the room. Why couldn’t they have reported this news first! We look at each other and a reluctant smile graces mama’s face and she whispers, “Klara did it!” We all have to agree. That seems the most likely explanation for Fuchs’ sudden health issues.
This has, by far, been the most bizarre day of my life. On the one hand, I still feel like bawling for losing papa and on the other hand, I feel like clapping my hands and jumping around like a five year old, shouting out to the whole world that our little Entchen did it. She killed the Butcher of Prague!
I do none of those things, just walk to the window and look out. In the last eighteen or so hours my world has changed completely and yet when I look out, everything seems the same. It feels unfair. So many lives destroyed and the sun still rises the same as before to shine on all the darkness that is enveloping us.
Although not shocked, I am certainly worried, with this development. Worry seems to be the new staple in my emotional diet. It makes me angry. I think worrying means accepting that you are helpless. I am not helpless. I need to get up and take charge, now. I knew we were putting the Fafeks in trouble when I agreed to come here with Otto. But now, that the cat is out of the bag, the danger has increased a thousand times.
We need to leave. Liběna seems to sense what I am thinking, because she walks up to me, lays her hand on my shoulder and squeezes gently. “Ester, we have not been safe since the day the Germans set foot in our country. What will be, will be. We will face it together.”
I am humbled by her simple proclamation. We did not know the Fafeks until Klara and I started working with the Resistance. So, it is not likely that anyone will simply turn up here looking for us. If we stay strictly indoors...what then? They are never going to stop looking for us!
We are still tuned in to the radio.
Minister Frank has declared a reward of ten million crowns for information on the whereabouts of the Barsch family, Helga, Ester and Klara.