However, the more I looked around me at their way of life; their home; even their clothes, I realized that they were very ordinary in themselves. I am not saying that their way of life was in any way less than comfortable and completely above board – of course it was. I am not saying that that their home was dirty or poor - of course, it was not. Nevertheless, it was not grand. I am not saying that their clothes were shabby or dirty – of course, they were not. On the contrary, they were respectable and clean. No one was wearing anything that could be described as haute couture.
In fact, they would have fitted in; I am sure, with their neighbors from all around. I imagined that the sale of the precious pendant had resulted in their lives being saved. The vast amount of money that it was worth, had been used, decimated, perhaps to pay for papers and travel documents and passports; to bribe corrupt officials; to oil the wheels of slow moving bureaucracy, and that is how it had saved their lived.
In addition, as I looked around me at the close-knit family, I realized that my gift of the pendant that day in the barn had been completely worthwhile.
As I had said when I had given the diamond into the hands of the father: “You won’t starve. You won’t want for anything with this.”
They insisted that I stayed for a meal with them that evening. Moreover, obviously phone calls had been made, as several more family members arrived; demanding to meet me; demanding to hear again; stories of the Exodus. Every one of them had small versions to contribute; stories heard from their grandparents, their parents and even from their great grandparents, the couple from the barn. And I cherish the thought that even that grandmother, that matriarch would have had her version of what happened in the Exodus and told her version to all who would have been prepared to share it with her.
Nevertheless, to the ever-expanding tale their friendly arguments regarding small details of incidents and difference in sequences; I listened and was enchanted and completely captivated.
We talked and we listened until far into the night. Some of the family left. Other went to bed; still others were prepared to continue until the early hours.
Helmut, who seemed to be the great father figure of the family, and uncle to all, turned to all present and declared the evening finished, “To be continued at a later date.”
Sarah insisted that, due to the lateness of the hour and as I was a two hour journey from home, that I must stay for the night.
I slept in a charming and comfortable room, and while I settled down to sleep, I realized that my mind was filled with the little family’s escape. The escape that had commenced when first I had seen them in that barn in Germany; seventy-three years earlier; yet less than twelve months out of my life.
When I returned home on the following afternoon, I left a group of people; new friends all of them; three especially: Sarah, Nathan, and Helmut. A group who believed; some more than others, that is was I who had made it possible for them to live their lives in a free world; had saved the lives of six souls from the Holocaust which had enveloped at least six millions of their kind. I was struck by the enormity of the chance that I had had, and that I had been able to assist them there and then.
Six souls saved; a drop in the ocean; an ocean of six million souls; but a worthwhile drop,
At the dinner table and all the rest of that first evening, I had been bombarded with details and
incidents. These details and incidents I now relate in my own travelling through France had been
much easier than any of the family had anticipated. The crossing of the border between Belgium and Germany had been so frightening for the old woman that there were fears for her health. But the Major’s presence had facilitated an easier crossing because of his rank; his arrogance; certainly his High German Prussian accent was enough for him to coldly and firmly cross over; sweeping everything before him as he did.
Moreover, his insistence that his “staff” and family should be provided with accommodation on the train; albeit third class, had made the steward and officials believe that these travelers were bona fide.
Travelling through Belgium; that country of bureaucracy and inefficient officialdom, became another matter – but a matter more easily circumvented by the Major having an attaché case, stuffed with Prussian neatness and efficiency, with large amounts of differing national currencies. This type of currency will satisfy any type of national preference or avarice, hopefully enough to satisfy even the most adventurous of world travelers.
Passports and papers (or very respectable copies thereof) seemed to be most willing to jump into
his hands; and subsequently into the welcoming confines of that attaché case, where he kept them in safekeeping, only showing them the light of day when crossing checkpoints and showing them to ticket collectors and officials. Those documents and papers appeared and disappeared when necessary; across Belgium and across the Franco-Belgian border, and then, as far as the Gare du Nord in Paris.
In Paris, the little group: Major Helmet, the mother, the father, the grandmother, Helmut, Sarah
and the infant, Nathan, was augmented by the addition of Manfred, the young driver who had
driven the car away from the café bar at the beginning of this stage or the “Exodus.”
Manfred took on the role of personal assistant, valet, and secretary to Major Helmet. In his capacity of valet, Manfred repacked and rearranged the Major’s luggage. Not only did he pack and redistribute the contents of that luggage, but also he made it so that the exterior of that luggage no longer proclaimed that it was the belongings of Major Helmet. Manfred removed the labels, which had proclaimed in Germanic Gothic: Major W. Helmet; Berlin, Deutschland – Wien, Österreich. The labels now stated quite clearly, in Roman Lettering, that they belonged to Mr. W. Ledger-Helmet; Cannes, France –Salop, Great Britain. There were a few P&O stickers also to lend a little British authenticity.
The family could not help but notice that the German Wehrmacht Officer they had left on the train at the Gare du Nord, had been replaced by an obviously Upper Class English Gentleman during the brief time that they had been walking through Chateau Rouge. It had only been Sarah, who had recognized him and it was she, who had rushed to him and showed him her doll.
“Nothing is as it appears,” said the Major, when the father had so carefully, and politely, questioned him concerning the transformation. The three were sitting in the Major’s carriage, the Major having explained details concerning identity papers.
“Enough to say that my mother is English and my father is German,” he explained. “I attended prep school, and University in England, yet went to Germany to further my study of European Languages at Munich University. My University friends joined the Wehrmacht and... And persuaded me to do so also, I love the Army and I love Germany too; as much as I love England.”
“So that is why you speak English and German so beautifully,” said the mother, blushing slightly. “And French… and Italian,” said the Major; a mischievous smiles flickering across his face. “But as much as I love Germany, I am afraid that the Germany I love is becoming a frightening and dangerous place. I am no coward, Madam, but I want you to know that I feel that I want no part of what it is becoming, and feel that I must do my small bit to bring about some changes.”
Both mother and father looked at him with admiration, and something akin to love. “I can’t…I simply cannot do anything in Germany,” he continued, “so I have decided to return to my family and my family home in Shropshire. I have already sent my wife and daughter there, some months ago.” There was a long silence. “I have contacts…”
The Major took a deep breath, sat up straight, and looked at the mother and father. “From now
on, you will please call me Mr. Ledger-Helmet… not Major. In fact, when we are out and about,
I’m afraid it must be ‘Sir’… after all; I am your employer. Ha, ha!”
Suddenly embarrassment, or another emotion overtook him, and he waved his hands at them.
“Now run along! Tell your children… Mr. Ledger-Helmet…” and he turned his face to look out the window of his First Class carriage, and gazed at the French countryside hurtling past; his elbow on the armrest; his forefinger lightly touching his lower lip.
As the train was approaching the terminus at Dieppe, Mr. Ledger-Helmet asked the little family
to meet him in his carriage. They crowded at the doorway and peered in. Their benefactor was sitting in his seat, with his back to the engine, the way he liked to travel.
Manfred was sitting opposite, but stood, indicating that the parents should take his place and the
adjoining seat to sit facing Mr. Ledger-Helmet. They sat, yet the grandmother and the two elder
children stood in the doorway. Sarah was holding little Nathan.
“Come in. Come in,” said Mr. Ledger-Helmet. “Don’t stand on ceremonies; we’ll soon come to a parting of the ways, and I want this last… ”
As Manfred closed the door, the Man who had once been the German Officer patted the chair next to him for Sarah to sit beside him.
“Now,” he said, the carriage was suddenly as silent as the grave, as the sound of the wheels on the rails that were beating out a rhythm of noise. Of course, the wood and metal of the carriage squeaked a chorus in reply and the sound of the steam engine filled the air. Yet in the carriage, a momentous silence descended upon those eight souls.
“Now,” he repeated, “This is the end of the line for us as a group. I am returning to my homeland Manfred is coming with me. We have worked to do, do we not Manfred?”
Manfred smiled and nodded.
“But first, I want to show you something, “and now he was speaking specifically to Sarah. “Can
you remember you gave me the catalogue that you had found at the shop in Chateau Rouge?”
Sarah nodded attentively.
“Manfred; show Sarah”, and the young man reached up to the string parcel hammock above the seats, and brought down a large brown paper parcel. He handed it to Mr. Ledger-Heimat.
“I used your catalogue to get the address, well, Manfred did. He returned to that shop and bought
this,” whereupon he opened the parcel. “It’s for my daughter. Do you think she will like it?”
He took out a beautiful French doll.
“OH! It’s lovely,” said Sarah, and reached out a tentative finger to touch its exquisitely fashioned china face.
“And I think this is yours. Thank you for letting me borrow it,” said the Major, placing the catalogue in her hands.
Unable to conceal her excitement, Sarah reached up as if to touch the man’s face with her small hand.
“Thank you,” she said, “I love this,” and opened the catalogue briefly and looked at the pages. Mr. Ledger-Heimat handed his daughter’s doll back to Manfred who again returned it to the brown paper parcel, and replaced it in the luggage hammock.
While the valet did this, the major explained the last details of their journey. He explained that he
had managed to have papers drawn up for all three children, because they were family of his “staff,” the mother and father. He showed them how to present their papers, not at the French customs, who would not be interested, but on the British side of the Chanel. He drew their attention to the fact that they would have to follow his every move, and if called upon to do so, to treat him as their employer, and nothing else.
Too much danger and fear; far too much uncertainty and terror had been the companions of this little family for far too long, and once started their gratitude opened floodgates of emotion in all of them. The mother took the major’s strong hands in hers and covered them with kisses and with her tears, as her husband surveyed her actions with tears of gratitude in his eyes. He stretched out and grasped the major’s shoulder with his right hand, and whispered a fervent, “Thank you!”
The grandmother suddenly lowered herself to her knees to the carriage floor, and with one exclamations of, “Heavens!” placed her hand on the Major’s knee and resting her forehead on the back of her hand, wept copiously.
“Madam!” he said, “Please!” and helped the old woman to her feet.
“What else could I do? What
else… could I do?” and turning to Manfred, he said just two words, and nodded his head, “Yes now.”
Manfred once again reached up to the luggage hammock, and brought down a brown paper parcel, which had lain beside the first. The Major; Mr. Ledger-Heimat, nodded his head and Manfred handed the parcel to Sarah, “In memory of me… of us,” he said, and he and Manfred watched with happy smiles, as Sarah opened the parcel to reveal a doll, equally as beautiful as the first.
The party arrived at the railway station at Dieppe. Manfred immediately took himself to the depot where he had been informed that the Major’s car would be awaiting him. Surprisingly; considering what might have been the usual Gallic inefficiency, the vehicle had been located in a bay almost where he had been informed it would be waiting for him. He drove it the short distance to the Car Ferry, which was to carry the vehicle from Dieppe to Dover.
When the Car Ferry docked at Dover, most of the preliminaries for entry had been attended to on
the ship itself. British Customs officials had checked the passenger list and had checked that there were no persons secreted in the vehicles that were being carried. Owners and drivers, Manfred included had been required to open boots and declare any goods that might contravene permit controls. A check was made as passengers disembarked and then proceeded to the small, but efficient, Customs Hall. Entry to the United Kingdom having been gained, the passengers then made their way to find porters and to locate their luggage.
The little family stood in the area directly outside the main doors, their one suitcase, and a couple of paper bags in their hands; Sarah, carrying her new and beautiful doll. The two men who had been their saviors, their friends, and their benefactors were standing beside several expensive looking articles of luggage, and talking earnestly, when a voice over the loudspeaker announced: “Attention! Attention! Would Mr. Walter Ledger-Heimat please attend the main meeting area; there is a woman who awaits his presence. Attention, please. Would Mr. Walter Ledger-Heimat
attend the main meeting area; there is a lady who awaits his presence.”
The Major, Ledger-Heimat, turned to Manfred; said something; strode off towards the meeting area, but before he arrived, a young girl, aged about eleven years, came running towards him and threw her arms around his waist, with a cry of, “Daddy!“
He bent down and lifted her up so that she could kiss him. They were joined by an elegant lady who smiled kissed him on both cheeks and then, throwing British reserve to the winds, threw her arms around him and embraced him. The two were obviously his wife and daughter. As they stood chatting and holding hands affectionately, Manfred appeared.
“The car is waiting outside, Sir. Good afternoon Mrs. Ledger-Heimat,” and gave Mr. Ledger-Heimat the parcel which he was carrying.
“Good afternoon, Manfred, welcome home!” she replied.
The father took the parcel from Manfred and handed it to his daughter, kissing her on the
forehead as he did so. Opening it, the child exclaimed in great pleasure, “OH! Thank you,
Daddy. This is what I have always wanted. She is so lovely."
Returning to his luggage with Manfred, Mr. Ledger-Heimat was met by an official of the Car Ferry, a couple of porters and a gentleman in a pinstriped suit and bowler hat. The Gentleman in the pinstriped suit, and Mr. Ledger-Heimat, drew away from the other and, in low voices, conferred for about ten minutes.
Having concluded their conversation, the gentleman in the pinstriped suit said, “By the way, Sir,
which did you say was your daughter?” The Major turned, however, without indicating, replied,
“The girl holding the French doll, she is my daughter, “But there are two girls carrying French dolls… There is the one over there with the smart looking lady,” and indicating the little family of refugees; “and that one with the small group of people, your staff, perhaps.”
“And?” questioned Mr. Ledger-Heimat.
“I thought that you only had one child, Sir?”
He peered from one doll-carrying girl to the other.
“They are all our children,” said the Major... said Mr. Walter Ledger-Heimat, “They are all our children, and I am afraid that there are some people in this world who may have forgotten that fact.”
Please enjoy the next installment as the Epilogue is at hand.