All of the teachers
stood beside their classes, the principal of the boys’ school was
to the left of Mr. Ehrlich, who called Miss Lorenz over and whispered
something to her. As a boy in a brown shirt religiously brought in the
flag, Miss Lorenz came over and told me to go to the first row. I suddenly
realized that I would become Mr. Ehrlich’s target once again. She
pushed me forward.
“Simone, Mr. Ehrlich wants you in front of the first row, all by yourself, in the middle facing the pole, your eyes fixed on him.”
She was near to tears, as she gently took me by the arm and brought me more than a yard ahead of the little seven-year-old girls. All alone with a thousand eyes scrutinizing me, terror gripped me. All possible dangers flooded my feverish brain. “They will insult me, force me, beat me unconscious!” Those terrifying thoughts made me quake. Mr. Ehrlich gazed at me, visibly delighted to see me unnerved. I felt his sense of victory as he looked with satisfaction at the little trembling girl. When the flag was hoisted and all children and teachers stood straight and tall, their arms raised high, I felt completely helpless. I gripped my skirt as tight as I could.
I was afraid that I would automatically get carried away by the sheer force of sudden upward movement. It had happened to me that way less than three years before. I hadn’t said “Heil Hitler,” but caught by surprise amid the others’ reactions, I had lifted my arm halfway. Then I had gone to the teacher and told him “I didn’t mean to do it. I’m sorry.” The teacher had no reaction, but I felt sick and ashamed.
Now for safety I held on to my skirt, making my trembling even more visible. My knees knocked, my teeth chattered, while the flag was slowly hoisted up the pole. Mr. Ehrlich was triumphant, his head high, his chest out, his stiffened arm rising as one with the flag. He stood upright like a conqueror. That victorious, scornful look strengthened my determination, but I couldn’t stop shaking.
I cried to Jehovah for help: “I do not want to tremble in front of your enemies! Please, O Jehovah! I can’t stop shaking!”
As I cried for help, the banner had reached its summit and waved proudly in the air. Strong voices sang the national hymn in unison. Mr. Ehrlich’s eyes were fixed on me. Suddenly I got stiff, ice-cold. Inside I continued to shake, but outside I stood like marble. I looked straight into his eyes, ready to face whatever might come. An unknown strength came over me.
My unexpected calm changed Mr. Ehrlich’s triumph into anger. In a stuffy voice, he started talking about Germany’s grandeur, liberty, and prosperity. I was indifferent to all of those promises. I had learned very early in life that adults can lie without blushing. A Nazi paradise with people like Ehrlich certainly didn’t appeal to me at all.
He really didn’t aim to convince me or to help me to reach out for that “paradise”; it was just to pave the way for his big finish. Mr. Gasser, along with the city supervisor and the judge, had used the same line. I knew it by heart. Mr. Ehrlich’s voice got stronger, and again his neck became bluish red. He roared his threats, “Away with rebels! Who would be a traitor?” Pounding his fist, he screamed, “Get away, cast him off! Let it be known no one can swim against the German current. The one who doesn’t want to bend has to be broken! Let such a person be given hard labor; let him learn that ‘work brings freedom’!” “Work brings freedom” was the slogan at the entrance of some Nazi camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. Mr. Ehrlich paused dramatically.
Would this be the moment when everybody would fall on me? Would he beat me again? No matter —I was ready. Ehrlich gave me a vicious look and continued his ranting: “In our school we have such a rebel; she voluntarily makes herself an outcast. She bears sole responsibility for her situation. Soon both schools will have an example of how the Germans treat vermin. Let us all unitedly stand up against enemies of the state. Defend the Volksgemeinschaft! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil!”
Waves of arms went up and down three times, but I wasn’t holding my skirt anymore. The flag came down to the sound of “Deutschland Ÿber alles.” I stood nailed to the ground expecting the worst. The children departed, the teachers too. All walked away and left me alone. Blanche, Madeleine and Andrée fled as fast as they could.
I dragged myself home at a snail’s pace. I had not been beaten physically, but I felt just as crushed as if I had been. My brain was empty and I couldn’t think. Already eight times I had taken a stand for my religious beliefs; eight times I had refused to Heil Hitler. But never before had I been so worn out. I walked like a drunk. I was too numb to comprehend what had happened during that long hour in front of the pole. I was exhausted.
Ehrlich’s malevolent presence followed me. I couldn’t run. My body felt like lead as I climbed the stairs. Mum was nowhere in sight. In the darkness of the hallway, I saw my bedroom door open. There were clothes laid out on my bed. In front of the hallway mirror on the table sat an envelope. I stared at the paper. Did I read it right? “Simone Arnold must report to the railroad station Thursday morning at 8 o’clock. If there is any delay, she may be subject to police arrest!”
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