Motti sends a letter to Emanuel for him to send to Copenhagen.
* * *
Gassner and Bruno had been in the middle of one of their frequent disputes. That day it was over the allocation of funds. It was none of Bruno’s business, but that in no way hindered him from stating his opinion. He believed the money they received from the crown and from private donors should be used for more and better accommodations, which were perfectly respectable by any standard. Gassner thought it was far more important to unite refugees with relatives. They needed clothing, shoes, provisions and a little extra money in case of emergency.
Suddenly, a man, large even for a Dane, filled up the entire doorway with his bulk, half pushing and half dangling by his meaty hands the three little boys. The entire room froze.
“Who are you?” Dagfin demanded, rising from his desk. He was forced to look up into the giant’s face, which put him at a disadvantage. “What’s your name, and who are these children.”
“My name is Åage Skovgaard,” he replied.
“No it isn’t,” said Bruno, pushing his way into the conversation. It was he who had waylaid Skovgaard outside the office. “It’s not his real name,” he said to Gassner. “I’m sure of it.”
Gassner thought a moment, weighing Bruno’s claim, and decided the boys’ welfare was more important.
“Bring them in,” he ordered Bruno. “Check if they are wounded, and give them bread and tea. Thank you,” he said in advance, hoping to stave off another argument.
Bruno, his heart wrenched in pity, took the boys into a small exam room without comment.
“Who are these children? Where did you find them?” Gassner understood that they didn’t belong to Skovgaard, and if he wanted to kidnap them he would hardly have brought them to a refugee office.
“I found them walking on the road leading directly from the Germany-Denmark border. They were staggering like they were drunk, and I stopped and jumped down to question them.
“Where are your parents?’ I asked. “They seemed stunned, in a state of shock, and when I tried to pick them up and put them in my truck they started screaming so loud I was afraid someone would think I was hurting them.
“Truthfully, I didn’t want the responsibility and I could have easily left them behind if it wasn’t for the image of my mother, rest her soul, appearing before me, shaking her finger at me like she did when I was a boy. I felt bound to honor her memory. I was planning to leave them at the door of this place and let them find their way in alone if your Nosy Parker hadn’t flagged me down.”
Gassner had reseated himself at his desk and motioned for Skovgaard to do the same. Skovgaard shook his head. “I’m leaving.” Gassner understood that this point was non-negotiable, so he hurriedly prepared a letter of receipt and handed it to Skovgaard to sign. Again he shook his head and this time Skovgaard remained firm. “We may need to contact you,” said Gassner.
“Please don’t.” He turned his back and, with a surprisingly light step, let himself out of the office. Gassner didn’t give him another thought at the time, turning his full attention to the three youths brought into his charge.
He found them seated in the kitchenette, sipping tea and nibbling bread, with Bruno standing nearby. Gassner sat down a short distance away. He had found that it was much more effective to make small talk with the refugees rather than bombard them with questions. One of the goals of this self-appointed task was to process the refugees as individuals rather than numbers.
“My name is Dagfin Gassner. It is a funny name, no?” Three pairs of wide eyes turned to look at him. Undaunted, Gassner continued.
“What is your name?” he addressed Dovid’l. “I’m sure it’s not as funny as mine.”
Dovid’l was just about to answer when he was hushed by Kalonymous. “Our name is Sperling,” he replied. He knew that Fisch had scrawled their first and last names and “Berlin,” their place of origin (“It’s going to come off,” Berl had scolded. “I don’t care,” said Fisch, uncharacteristically stubborn yet oddly prescient. “What if something goes wrong?” Berl had said. “What could go wrong?” Fisch mixed the flour and water together until it was thick, turned the boys around and wrote their names on their backs. Then he forced them to lay still until it dried and hardened.) But he felt suddenly reluctant to show the stranger just yet.
Gassner nodded amiably. “Welcome, Sperlings. Wherever you’ve come from, you’re safe now.”
“We were safe then too,” said Kalonymous. “Until we got to the border.”
“What happened there?” said Gassner. He could tell Bruno was listening with deep concentration.
Kalonymous took a long swallow of tea and motioned to his brothers to do the same, and that was the last they heard from the Sperling brothers up to and including the moment they departed Europe for Palestine. It could have ended in disaster if the ever-vigilant Bruno hadn’t saved the day and, ultimately, the children as well.
To be continued . . .