This is a continuation of my series profiling one "Hans." He is an old man now, but once upon a time he was a young miner in Holland. He was tough, and still is, but not how you probably think of "tough." But, I don't want to explain. I want to show.
Is it true? Or just a tall tale. You decide.
We pick up where we left off.
Chapter III: Refuge, and Return
The train ride to Eindhoven passed in a blur. In the course of less than 24 hours, Hans had committed an unthinkable act, spent a sleepless night, and then left home perhaps forever. The trees and houses sped by, but Hans just looked straight ahead.
At the station, he stood near the back of the crowd getting off the train. As he turned toward the station, he heard the dreaded word from behind him: "Papiere."
It was a normal question from a train conductor during normal times. However, these were not normal times. An SS man stood on the other side of the train exit, looking for all the world as if he had been waiting for him. A few feet away stood another man in the typical blue-green uniform, holding a leashed doberman.
Neither was smiling.
Hans briefly considered making a run for it, but instantly he knew he wouldn't get far. The man's eyes bored into him, emotionless but not indifferent.
Reaching his hand into first one pocket, then another, Hans fumbled until he found the packet of papers the doctor had given him. He held it out to the SS man.
"Open it," the man said. It wasn't said harshly, or quickly, or curiously. It was just said.
Hans fumbled with the folded paper, almost dropping it. He hadn't even looked at it since leaving Beesel, his mind had been in that field by the tree, looking at the man bending his head down to look at the food in the basket.....
Finally he got it open and held it out to the uniformed man. The guard glanced at it, then looked deep into Hans' eyes. It was the stare of death. Then he looked back down, then looked away.
Hans hesitated for a second, then forced a wide grin to appear. He withdrew the paper and headed for the stairs.
His girlfriend's building was several blocks around. There were spies all around. He hadn't mentioned to Pieter or the doctor that his girlfriend did indeed live in the suburb of Eindhoven - in the suburb next to the airfield. She lived within two blocks of the barbed wire that surrounded it.
After a brisk walk, he got to the entrance. There was another guard at the door. Unlike the previous guard, he was alone, but he also had a rifle strapped across his paper.
He didn't say anything, he just held out his hand contemptuously. This time, Hans was prepared. He quickly handed over the documents.
The guard spent a few moments reading it. Then he looked up.
"It says here you are sick. You don't look sick, filthy pig."
"I am sick. It's in my blood. You can't see it. The doctor sent me here."
"I should send you away just for looking stupid, Arschloch. You Ungeziefer will make us all sick. Why they let you live is something none of us can understand. Get along now, schmutzigen Tier, before I vomit all over you."
Hans reached out and snatched back the paper from the glowering guard.
The man kicked at him. "Move along!"
Hans quickly went inside. The Germans didn't care what anyone thought of them, as far as they were concerned, anyone not wearing a uniform was subhuman.
Fortunately, his girlfriend's mother was home. After he quickly explained that there had been an "incident" and he had to stay with them for a while, she thankfully nodded her head. People being rousted from their homes wasn't at all unusual under the Germans, they were always taking over peoples' homes to quarter soldiers. When his girlfriend came home from her shop work later, she also was sympathetic. Her father was "missing." Nobody even knew what that meant, but they could take a good guess.
There wasn't much to do in town, and Hans dared not go outside. He didn't even like looking out the window, from which he could see between buildings to the airfield. The roar of planes taking off and landing was his only distraction aside from the daily paper and a few old books, mostly religious works like psalms.
Strangely, the planes took off and landed at night, too, often more so then than during the day. They made his nights even more restless.
Every day was the same, and he quickly settled into a routine; he would awaken and have breakfast, then his girlfriend would leave for the day. Her mother sometimes sat by the window reading or did housework, and sometimes she went out. It was all the same, regardless, because there was nothing for him to do whether she was there or not. Everyone was quite nice, but that didn't make the endless days any easier.
Finally, a couple of months after he had left home, a note arrived for him in the mail. It was from the doctor. Hans quickly opened it. Scanning it quickly, he saw that it only contained one sentence, written by a typewriter:
"Are you ready to come back yet? - Doctor Schmidt."
Hans could hardly contain his excitement. He quickly gathered his things, wished his girlfriend and her mother good luck, and headed back for the station. This time, nobody stopped him, and again the trip seemed to pass by in a haze of nerves and uncertainty.
His return home was joyful, but restrained. He quickly learned that the SS had searched all the nearby homes for the culprit, but had found nothing. Since the man hadn't been a soldier, but only a native German, it hadn't led to mass reprisals. After a period of random searches, gradually the investigation had wound down. Now, it was but a distant memory.
A few days later, Hans returned to his job at the mine as if nothing had happened. Nobody even noticed him, and the SS men at the mine entrance searched him and let him through as if he hadn't missed a day.
On his second day, a note was waiting for him. It said to report to the head office after his shift. Hans spent the entire shift in a sweat, wondering what might happen now.
At the appointed time, he went up to the office, which was just outside the mine shaft. The door was open, so he walked in.
Pieter was sitting behind a desk. It looked as if he had been waiting for him.
"Thank you," Hans replied. He didn't know if he was supposed to know what was going on, but in any event, he didn't. However, Pieter got down to business quickly.
"Hans, we're glad that you made it through. You wouldn't have escaped without our help."
"I know, sir. Thank you."
"Look, Hans, now that we've done something for you, it is time for you to do something for us."
"Me? What can I do?"
"We have a need for your help."
"My help? I can't do anything. I'm just a worker. I'm not a guerrilla."
"Oh, you can help us. In fact, you're the only one who can. Will you do it?"
"Do what? I told you I can't do anything."
"Just tell me you will help us."
Hans hesitated for only a second. "Sure, I will help."
Pieter smiled and sat back. "Uitstekend. Come back after your shift tomorrow. I will tell you then."
Once again, Hans got that feeling that things were about to change for him forever.
And he was proven right.
Part IV is here.