The boys are taken to a mansion in the German countryside where they are bathed, fed, and given warm clothes. When the grandmother inquires as to their whereabouts, Kalonymous says their parents are traveling, and they are on their way to their aunt’s house in Rügen, halfway across the country. The boys are taught to pray by kneeling at the side of their beds. When Breindl later tries to teach them Krias Shema al haMitah, she is horrified to see that they kneel.
* * *
Marlies Hohmann spent a number of days, too many for her liking, trying to locate the boys’ parents. She had little to go on except for their names and the fact that they came from Munich, but there were many Sperlings in Munich.
She realized, of course, that they were Jews, but she said nothing to Berta. Marlies was not surprised when her granddaughter had brought the urchins home, but she was not mature enough to realize that her flights of fancy became Marlies’s burdens. With her husband dead of pneumonia, and her only daughter Agathe working in England, the task of raising this 16-year-old fell to her.
But for this collection of strays, Marlies didn’t know what to do. Since the riot in the city center a month ago, Jews were clearly not welcome. Reinhart had dealt casually with Jews in his business, but she couldn’t recall a Jew actually stepping over the threshold of their home. The idea of Jews filled her with distaste, but what were the crimes of these children that they too should be persecuted?
She resolved to keep them for a short while, if only to assuage her granddaughter’s fits of boredom and loneliness. She’d have to get them clothes and shoes, which would certainly arouse suspicion, but there were ways of getting around that. When it became even the least bit troublesome she would send them on their way, regardless of Berta’s tantrums.
Lilli had been working for the Hohmann’s for as long as she could remember. Her parents and siblings were poverty-stricken, and she, the oldest, had been sent to the city to find work and support the rest of the family. She answered every job notice she saw but with no success, until she’d seen the Hohmann’s notice in one of the city newspapers that Lilli found discarded one day. It was a live-in position with room and board, and Lilli was determined to not only get the job but to hang onto it. She’d been lucky; it was a good fit, and here she was, after many years. Her parents were no longer among the living, but her siblings happily accepted her monthly stipend, with never a word of thanks in return.
The house had quieted down since the master had died, but Mrs. Hohmann kept her busy enough and Bertie was certainly a handful. Now she had three new charges on her hands and she wondered what to do with them. They were so small and thin she was afraid they’d break if she put them to real work, and that’s when she got the idea to teach them how to sew. Mrs. Hohmann was always wanting things mended and fixed, and Lilli’s eyes weren’t what they once were.
She waited a day or two for them to get their bearings. They spent most of that time curled up in their bed, beneath the blankets, talking and playing finger and string games, or lolling around on the grass. She called them down each time to eat — she was certainly not their maid — filling them up slowly with porridge, tea, milk and bread.
The younger one was starting to get restless — his natural exuberance demanded free rein. He wanted to run around, but the older one kept such a tight hold on the boy that Lilli felt sorry for him. He’d be no good at sewing; he had not enough patience and he had clumsy hands. She’d have to find something else for him to do, but as yet she did not know what it was.
One day, she sat them down at the table and placed a pile of mending there. She went step by step: first the needle, then the thread, the pins, the scissor, and practice stitches on some old towels no longer in use. Hershel enjoyed the work and did it well, while Kalonymous kept getting up and walking around. Lilli could see he was desperate to cooperate but he simply couldn’t sit still. Dovid’l was more interested in picking up any scraps that had been dropped.
“You’re a restless one. What do you like to do?” she asked Kalonymous.
“I helped my mother,” he said.
“Oh? What did your mother do? Did she cook and bake?”
“I know how to bake,” said Kalonymous. “My mother was good at fixing and cooking.”
“Ach, I’m sorry. You are orphans? I didn’t know.”
“We are not orphans!” cried Kalonymous. “Our mother is alive!”
Lilli quickly changed the subject. She’d let Bertie or Mrs. Hohmann contend with emotional outbursts.
“Do you know how to make Butterkuchen then?” she asked.
“A vada,” said Kalonymous, clucking his tongue, unaware of his mistake.
Lilli’s eyebrows rose. She’d heard Yiddish spoken many times on her frequent errands to the market and the shops; she could even say a few words herself. She didn’t care if the boys were Jewish, but others might.
“Sicher, you mean,” she corrected him.
Kalonymous’s eyes bulged as he realized what he’d done.
“Bring up the butter from the cellar,” Lilli ordered. “And be quick about it. You’ll bake it in the Wunder Topf, and it must be ready for supper.”
To be continued . . .