The border guard looks at our fake passports. He says something in German to the other man. We can't understand. I can see the sign Valkommen en Sverige (Welcome to Sweden) ahead. Would we be there soon? Or never? The guard takes our passports, and shows them to the other guard. He walks towards us. Papa holds his breath. The guard opens his mouth and says....
It all started on September 1st, 1939, about a month ago. The Nazis, led by Adolph Hitler, invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand declared war on Germany.
My father, John Lowenstein, is a journalist for a very famous newspaper, The Strasbourg Daily. We live in a small town near Strasbourg called Dausville. Papa writes editorial columns that criticize the Nazis. Also, my family is Jewish. The Nazis made it clear that they want Papa killed or in a concentration camp, (which I know eventually leads to death sometime or another). We knew we had to do something.
Papa's friend, M. Leblanc, is in the Resistance. This is an organization against Hitler. They help Jews flee countries and go somewhere that hasn't been invaded. M. Leblanc gave us all the information we needed, fake passports, and more.
When we were leaving France, we could only take belongings that were necessary; such as clothes, toothbrushes and hairbrushes. If we took everything, people would be suspicious because if anybody interrogated us, we planned to tell them we were going on a vacation to Sweden.
On all the passports of Jews, Hitler made a law during the war that there had to be a big red J on the front. If the Nazis knew we were Jewish when trying to cross the border, they would send us to concentration camps. This is why we had to get fake passports. Also, our names had to be changed. Instead of being called Marie Lowenstein, I am Nicole Noirteur.
It was September 4th, 1939. I remember it like yesterday. We had finished packing the few belongings that could fit into one tiny suitcase.
Before we left, we had to go to M. Leblanc's house. There we would get our new passports and the tickets for the trains to the Netherlands. Also, we would receive the tickets for the boat that the Resistance organized for all the Jews going to Sweden. When we got to the door of his house, M. Leblanc opened the door a crack and took a look around. I thought this was strange, but I learned afterwards that he was making sure that it was us at the door and not Nazi soldiers.
M. Leblanc said, "Okay, these are your passports," he gave us each one. "And these are your tickets. You will take one train to Holland. There, there will be a boat waiting for all the Jews. This boat, called La Belle Vie, will take you to Sweden. In Sweden, everyone must not get off the boat at the same time. It would make the guards suspicious." He pauses. "I hope that you are soon free." I could see that he had tears forming in his eyes that were about to fall. Papa is one of his close friends. We thanked him and got on a streetcar that will take us to the train station. There we would find the train going to the Netherlands.
Papa, now named Jeremy Noirteur, asked the man who works at the train station when our train would arrive. He said that we missed it. We had to buy tickets for the next train that would come in half an hour. The man says that we can't exchange the ticket; therefore, we had to buy new ones. I sat in a chair between Mama and Papa. There was another family waiting also. There was a girl who looked my age, maybe a little younger. Our eyes met. I moved my lips instead of talking because Mama and Papa told me to not talk to any strangers on this trip because they could be Nazis; however, I was pretty sure that this girl couldn't hurt me or my family. "Hello."
The girl replies the same way that I did --moving her lips--. "Hi." The girl was wearing a blue sweater, and she had long brown hair. "What's your name?" she asks.
"Mar..." I almost said my real name. "Uh, Nicole. What's yours?"
"Leah." Then, her father took her hand and led her to the door. Her train was there. She dropped a letter she had in her hand when she stood up. I wanted to call out to her; however, I knew that I would be in trouble. The paper fell beside my foot. I picked it up. I knew I shouldn't read it, but it was so tempting. I had to. It looked like the letter hadn't been opened yet because there was still a piece of tape keeping the letter folded. I took the tape off and unfolded the letter.
I miss you a lot. It's terrible that my mother won't let me talk or play with you. She doesn't know I'm writing this letter. I cried for days when I heard you were leaving. I can't believe this is all because you are Jewish! It's not fair! I hope that you get to Sweden safely. Berlin will never be the same without you. When my mother goes to Switzerland next month, Papa and I might come and visit you in Sweden. That would be great! Write to me and give me your address. Please don't be angry with me for not saying goodbye. My mother would not let me. If you don't write back, I will not come because I won't have your address. Goodbye, but not forever.
I could see the paper was stained yellow a little in places. Probably from Eva's tears. Leah's friendship with Anna would be lost if she did not read this letter. I had to find her.
"Nicole, our train is here," says Papa. I put the letter in my suitcase so Papa doesn't see. Our train is a cattle car. We couldn't go in a passenger train because the guards would stop us and would not let us cross the border. If they stop us, the conductor would say that there are cows in the train, like normal. I sat on my suitcase and fell asleep almost instantly. I woke up about three hours later. There weren't any windows in the train, but I wanted to see Strasbourg when we would pass it. I learned about the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at school and I wanted to see it. I had seen pictures, but seeing the real thing would be much nicer.
Later, the train stopped and Mama said, "Nicole, this is our stop. Hurry." Most of the people in the same car as us got out also. When we were out of the stuffy and crowded train, there were Nazi soldiers waiting outside that asked to see our passports. I show one of them and he asked, "Are you Jewish?"
"No," I answer, almost shaking from fright.
"Why did you come in a cattle car then?" he asked, with a tone of anger in his voice. We didn't know before that there would be Nazis here when our train came.
"Uh, uh. It was less expensive than a passenger train," I answered, just about ready to faint.
"Okay, go on." Relief. I thought I was going straight to a concentration camp. Papa took one of my hands and Mama the other. We walked towards the water. The North Sea. Finally. Now all we needed to do was find La Belle Vie and go to Sweden. We had to run now because we were late from the delay of the first train. We went to the dock where the ship was supposed to be, and the captain was just yelling "All aboard!" We were just in time! I took a deep breath of the sea air and start to go down the stairs leading to the bottom floor. This is where the supplies are supposed to go, but now, all the Jews go down there so that the captain can say that supplies are down there if we are stopped by Nazis. All the sailors and the captain on the ship are in the Resistance.
When we got downstairs, I took a look around. It wasn't as crowded as the train; however, there were a lot of people. In a corner, I saw a family. It was Leah! I knew that my parents wouldn't let me talk to her, so I waited until they both fell asleep. I stood up and walked over to her. Her parents were sleeping also. She sees me and says, "Hello again. Are you going to Sweden too?"
"Hi Leah! Yes, I'm going also. I found the letter that you left at the station in Dausville..." She interrupted me.
"From Anna? Oh my gosh. I looked and looked for that letter. I didn't know where I put it. Do you have it now? Oh thank you so much, Nicole," she said, hugging me.
"Oh, it's okay. You can have it. It's right here." I gave her the letter. I watched her while she was reading it. She started to cry. "I thought she didn't like me or forgot about me. If you didn't find it...." she trails off. "Thank you. I don't know how I will ever repay you."
"Leah, someday, you will do something for me without even knowing it," I respond. "Okay, I must go now. My parents will wake up soon."
The captain came down the stairs to tell us that the boat was close to Malmo, Sweden, and that we should get our suitcases ready to leave. He also explained to us about not getting off at the same time, like M. Leblanc told us before we left. He said that my family can go first. When I stood up, I looked at Leah, and she smiled back at me. I took Mama's hand and we follow Papa out.
When we came to the guards, one of them looks at our fake passports. He says something in German to the other man. We can't understand. I can see the sign Valkommen en Sverige (Welcome to Sweden) ahead. Would we be there soon? Or never? The guard takes our passports, and shows them to the other guard. He walks towards us. Papa holds his breath. The guard opens his mouth and says, "Okay. You may go." I can't believe it. We are finally free. It was September 15th.
later, after we had found an apartment, I was going for a walk in the park.
Sitting on a bench, there were 2 girls talking to each other. One of the
girls was Leah! She said to the other "Oh, Anna. It's not your fault about
your mother." Leah didn't see me and I didn't approach her. I was very
happy for Leah, and I knew, in my heart, that Anna and Leah would not be
reunited if it wasn't for me. And that was how Leah repaid me.