Kalonymous, Fisch and Berl are ready to go. They decide to travel to Denmark, a neutral country, where there will probably be fewer problems at the border. The younger Sperlings are told to get ready for an enjoyable wagon ride.
* * *
The following morning, Berl packed the wagon while Fisch and Kalonymous ran around adding last-minute items to the growing pile.
“Let’s go,” Berl bellowed, at the end of his patience. “Or I’m leaving without you.” The only reason he dared say it was because Hershel and Dovid’l were already seated in the wagon. He didn’t want to scare them, and was relieved when the two of them started to giggle.
“We’re leaving without you, we’re leaving without you,” they chanted with glee.
“Not really, though,” said Hershel. “Right?”
“Right,” said Berl gently. “We would never leave them behind.”
Fisch and Kalonymous climbed into the wagon, and Berl lost no time clicking the horse onward. The wagon lurched and the wheels squeaked, and at last they were on their way.
The journey was surprisingly uneventful; perhaps they were lulled into a false sense of security. It was a far cry from the desperate escapes the Sperlings had been forced to make before meeting Berl and Fisch.
Once they passed through Hamburg, the last large city until Copenhagen, the little traveling party grew tense. Kalonymous was already a bundle of nerves, and the little ones, with their sharp sensors, grew quiet and subdued.
“We’ll have to leave the wagon behind,” Berl reminded them. “Remember to take the smaller packs we prepared for once we cross over to Denmark.”
“It’s not a crime to cross a border,” Berl had reminded Kalonymous. “We’re not thieves or murderers. We simply don’t have papers. The worst they can do to us is send us back to Germany. We can try another border whenever we want.”
As the border, and night, approached, Berl steered the wagon into a dense wood, where they sat quietly and waited for full dark to fall. Hershel and Dovid’l were nearly asleep, but Kalonymous was on alert.
“This is the tricky part,” said Fisch.
When he deemed it the right moment, Berl stepped quietly down from the wagon, and gave his horse a last pat as he unhitched him. He hung a filled feed bag around the animal’s neck, and placed a pail of water by his side. Hopefully someone would find him and care for him. Berl loaded the packs onto his wide shoulders while Fisch and Kalonymous removed the younger ones gently and carried them on their backs until they were fully awake. They knew, intuitively, that they had to be absolutely quiet, so they walked silently on either side of Kalonymous.
It seemed to only take a moment. Time seems to slow down when one is faced with danger; the blood rushes from the head to protect the heart, and perception comes slowly to a halt. One moment they were creeping along the side of the road, circumventing the checkpoint, and the next moment shots were ringing out. There seemed to be an entire platoon of German soldiers, when there were really only two or three. They’d been assigned the grunt work of guarding the Danish border, where nothing ever happened, and they were anxious for something to do. Everyone knew it was killing season, with what the SS was doing to the Jews, and they wanted to be a part of it.
When they heard the small band approaching, they grinned at each other and took aim. Berl, hit first, picked up the three boys one by one and literally tossed them back into the woods before he fell. Fisch, not as quick as his brother, had hardly registered what was happening before he, too, was shot.
As soon as it grew quiet, and the raucous laughter of the guards faded into the distance, the Sperlings crawled on their bellies back to where Berl and Fisch were sprawled. They were severely wounded but still alive, as Kalonymous discovered when Fisch reached out and grabbed his arm. Kalonymous nearly fainted from shock, but managed to swallow the scream that would surely have summoned the guards.
“Get out of here,” Berl’s voice was barely audible. “Don’t get caught.”
“No, we’re staying,” said Hershel, throwing himself over Berl’s chest. “We can’t leave you like this.”
“You can and you must, otherwise it will have been for nothing. Listen to us!” said Fisch.
“Run!” said Berl. “Before they catch you. We’ll be fine, right Fisch?”
“Of course, of course!” said Fisch, but Kalonymous knew they were lying. They were far from fine, and he wanted desperately to find help, but he also understood that there was nothing he could do.
He looked from Berl to Fisch to his brothers, and then back again, before making his decision. He kissed the two men on both of their cheeks and directed his brothers to do the same, then grabbed his brothers’ hands. They ran through the woods as fast as they could go, when a hole in the border fence appeared miraculously before their eyes. Kalonymous shoved his brothers through first, then followed after them. In the time it took to blink an eye, they were in Denmark.
To be continued . . .