Yannick had been using the boys as couriers in the black market. One day they are intercepted by a girl on a bicycle, who takes them to her grandmother’s home. The housekeeper cleans them up and gives them clean, warm clothes to wear. In the process of cutting their hair, she cuts off their payos.
* * *
They were too young to feel self-conscious as they traipsed across the lawn in their absurd clothing, but stepping into the house was utterly overwhelming.
As they were being hurried into the back kitchen, their eyes were glued to the opulent surroundings: Room after richly furnished room, thick carpeting, sparkling walls. The best part was the thickly heated air that seeped through their skin to their very bones — it had been a long time since they’d felt anything but cold.
They sat a rough bench in the kitchen and given bread and bowls of warm milk. They ate three servings each until they felt sated, trying the patience of the maid as she worked. When they finished, she took their bowls and told them to wait.
Drowsy from the warmth, they leaned back and dozed, their heads lolling against each other. That was how Berta found them when she came to bring them to her grandmother.
“Wake up, you lazy boys,” she prodded them.
They startled awake at her sharp tone and stood up so quickly that Dovid’l’s head banged down on the bench. He woke up crying and Kalonymous hurried to shush him as they followed after Berta into the deep regions of what Kalonymous now referred to in his mind as “the palace.”
Marlies Hohmann, indeed, was perched like a queen on a throne, tucked neatly into a plush wing chair, positioned close to the fireplace. She studied the boys critically, assuring herself they were clean enough to be admitted to the house, but still insisting that they sit on the floor, not the furniture. The rug was so soft that they had no objection.
“Very mysterious,” she said aloud, in clear German. “Three little boys walking alone on a back road, carrying three hundred American dollars in a worn tasche. It looks like I was not the first to find you.”
They said nothing, waiting for her to continue.
“What should I do with you? You are washed and fed. Shall I send you on your way? How heartless would I be to turn you little black marketeers back out into the cold? I could do it, but I am afraid my Berta would have my head. She’s taken a shine to you. She asked me if we could keep you — as if you were puppy dogs!”
“We can work,” said Kalonymous. “We are very strong.”
Marlies laughed drily. They had no idea how small they were.
“Where are your parents?” she asked.
“They are traveling,” said Kalonymous, impulsively masking the truth. “For their work. We were on our way to our aunt’s house in Rügen.”
“Rügen? That’s absurd. It’s halfway across the country. Surely your parents did not leave you to travel there alone.”
“We are used to being on our own,” said Kalonymous heatedly. “My mother trusts us.”
“I have no doubt of that. I’ll tell you what. To make Berta happy, I will put you up for the night. Tomorrow I will attempt to locate your parents.”
She could see fear flare up in their eyes but she said nothing about it. “Bertie!” she called. “Show your little pets to the Bird Room. That is where they will sleep tonight.”
“They can stay, Oma?” she asked.
“For now.” At that, she held her newspaper before her face and concluded the conversation with her granddaughter. It was no use getting her hopes up about something that was very unlikely to continue.
When the boys reached the “Bird Room,” they were speechless. It contained a wide bed with a washing stand next to it, a tiny table and a chair. The room was dimly lit by a lantern, which cast soft shadows on the sparkling clean white walls.
Seeing that they had safely arrived, Berta sat on a chair in the hall to let Kalonymous organize his little brothers.
“Into bed with you,” Kalonymous said, lifting up Hershel and Dovid’l and tossing them onto the soft mattress. They bounced slightly, which caused them to burst into laughter. Kalonymous stood rigid at the side of the bed, while the younger boys snuggled under a fine eiderdown quilt. .
“Oh!” Berta interjected suddenly. “We forgot to say our prayers.” She got down on her knees, bowed her head, and gestured to the children that they should do the same.
* * *
Motti asked Breindl several times to say Krias Shema al Hamita with the boys on a regular basis. Each time he asked she murmured her agreement. She hadn’t the heart to tell him what happened the first time she tried.
“Yingelach,” she had smiled one night while putting them to bed. “Kum, lomir zugen Krias Shema.”
“What is it?” asked Hershel.
“It’s a prayer,” she replied, trying to keep the answer very simple.
“Ahh.” All three of them, including the stern Kalonymous, slid off the bed, knelt and bowed their heads.
Breindl gasped. “What are you doing?”
Dovid’l looked up at her with round, innocent eyes. “We’re praying.”
To be continued . . .