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Jerusalem Interlude


Page 35 of 53


Like those who opposed the Führer’s evil, the Spirit of the true and loving God had been driven underground. No longer did His love pervade the churches or His beauty fill the woods and rivers of Berlin. The god Wotan lived here now. The Chancellery building on Wilhelmstrasse rose as a new temple to an evil god.

***

The sound of traffic in Allenby Square echoed inside the large post office. With the clamor of busy Jerusalem in her ears, Leah copied the new post office box number onto the return address of her first letter to Elisa.

As she held the envelope, she imagined her friend holding it in faraway England. Flimsy paper and ink was a tenuous link at best, but Leah found some pleasure in the thought that Elisa’s fingers would touch the envelope and cherish the words written inside.

London. A world away. What news would Elisa hear about the Arab demonstrations? She would be concerned until the letter arrived. She would look out on her London street and wait for the mailman just as Leah had seen her do when she had hoped for a letter from Thomas von Kleistmann. How far they had come since those days!

A blue-uniformed mail clerk hurried by. “Bitte,” Leah asked, then remembering these were Englishmen, she started again. “Excuse me, please. How long will it take for my letter to reach London?”

The face puckered in thought. The aging civil servant scratched his head. “Several weeks, at least, miss. Depending on what boat it gets on. Military mail goes some faster than the private stuff.”

“Ah.” A twinge of disappointment rose up in Leah. Several weeks. By then her news would be old and stale. What news would there be between then and now? Would the distinguished gentlemen of the Woodhead Commission have submitted their recommendations by then? Would the matter of Jewish immigration to Palestine have been settled forever by then?

Leah laid her cheek against Elisa’s name for a moment. Then, as an Arab man deposited a stack of envelopes into the mail slot, Leah also slipped her hopes and fears down the brass chute.

It would be weeks, or perhaps months, before Elisa’s reply came back to Jerusalem. Leah pocketed the shiny new mailbox key. The key would be her link to London, and yet it would be a long time before she could hope to find anything in their box.

There were other matters to tend to before she met Victoria for tea at the King David Hotel. Across from the broad steps of the post office in Allenby Square stood the imposing edifice of Barclay’s Bank. Only one hundred fifty-three dollars remained of the cash Murphy had slipped into Shimon’s pocket. It seemed like a small sum to deposit in such a large bank, but the thought of a bank account somehow settled Leah. A post office box. A bank account. They were no longer strangers in Jerusalem, but residents with proof that this place was indeed home! Leah filled out the appropriate forms and passed their American dollars under the iron grid of the teller’s window.

At home in Vienna she had known the bank tellers by name. They had known her and smiled in greeting when she walked into the bank on the Ringstrasse. It would be the same here, she decided. “Guten Tag . . . hello,” she said to the dark-skinned Arab bank teller.

He did not smile or even acknowledge her greeting. “You would like to keep some out?” he asked in a brusque businesslike manner.

This was a small defeat. Perhaps the divisions of the Old City reached into the bank as well she reasoned. She signed the form and withheld four pounds from the amount. This would buy tea for Victoria and groceries for a few days, perhaps.

The bank was not far from the commercial district of New City Jerusalem and the King David Hotel. An Egged bus sputtered by, but Leah determined she would walk everywhere in Jerusalem. There was no reason to waste money on bus fare when she had two good legs that had carried her over the Alps from Austria!

Walking briskly along the sidewalk, she peered into the shopwindows and mentally made notes about the location of this business or that. In this section of Jerusalem, Leah could almost imagine that she was in Europe again. Window displays showed off the same Paris fashions Leah had seen in the more modest shops in France. A sign in a tailor shop advertised the latest in men’s suits, cut after the style of the finest tailors in London and Rome.

Shop signs in English, German, and French gave Leah a sense that she was not so very far from her European roots, after all.

She stopped at the frantic intersection and glanced back toward Jaffa Gate and the Old City walls. Behind those stones it seemed that time had not moved. The passions and conflicts of Mount Zion were ageless and unchanging. She hummed a few notes of the melody from Bloch’s Solomon’s Symphony. Melancholy and poignant, it seemed to fit the timeless tragedy of Jerusalem.

Around her, the horns of automobiles blared. The whistles of traffic policemen directed the discordant symphony. But behind the wall, only the music of Solomon seemed appropriate.

The road sloped away to the weathered headstones of a cemetery. The tower of the YMCA building rose to the south, and Leah could easily make out the fortress-like stones of the King David Hotel across from it. A bus chugged up the slope toward her, then halted at a bus stop where six people stood.

Leah did not see the two cars until a battered sedan roared around the front of the bus, blocking its way. The bus driver laid on his horn as the doors of the car flew open and two frightened-looking Arab youths leaped out and ran directly toward her before jumping into a second car. A moment later it tore past Leah and sped away.

Instinctively Leah froze as the bus driver crammed his vehicle into reverse and stepped on the gas. The mouths of the waiting passengers opened to scream, and at that moment Leah threw herself to the sidewalk. There was time for nothing else. She did not hear the blast as the white heat passed above her. Suddenly the screams dissolved into silence and bright light. Around her, chunks of debris clattered to earth and she tucked her head even tighter beneath her arms.

The air was filled with the stench of burning rubber and seared flesh. She felt no pain. No fear. A strange, detached calm surrounded her, although she knew that death was everywhere. For an instant she wondered if perhaps she, too, had died, and then she raised her head to the devastation that surrounded her. Where six people had stood, there was a black hole in the sidewalk. Nothing was left of the Arab car. The front of the bus was shattered, the driver vanished. Chunks of metal smoked in the torn asphalt.

Leah tried to cry out, but her own voice was lost in the silence of the destruction. Suddenly people were running everywhere. Two British soldiers spotted Leah where she lay. She raised her hand and called out to them. She could not hear her own voice or their response. Their mouths opened in a soundless shout as they ran to her side.

Only then did the pain scream in her ears, as if the hot metal shards had pierced her head. She wept! She called the name of Shimon! What was wrong with her voice that she made no sound? And then she knew . . . she could not hear.

***

At the sound of the blast, Captain Samuel Orde ran with a hundred others out the entrance of the King David Hotel. A cloud of blue smoke billowed up from what remained of the bombed car. The scent of cordite was heavy in the air. Such a scent meant only one thing to a soldier: Death had come again to Julian’s Way.

Stunned, the onlookers gasped and then cried out the names of coworkers who had just left the building for the bus. In a matter of seconds, the horror before them sank in, and Orde found himself jogging purposefully across the driveway of the hotel, cutting through blackened hedges and dodging smoking hunks of steel that littered the street and sidewalk like a battlefield.

Cars were already backed up on Julian’s Way. Some were disabled by flattened tires and shattered windshields. A green taxi sat sideways in the road. A steering wheel and part of a dashboard lay on the hood. Miraculously, the stunned driver seemed to be moving—and there were other signs of life amid the debris and crumpled bodies, as well.

Orde stepped over the body of a woman. Too late for her. He covered his mouth and nose against the sickening smell that mingled in

the smoke. A group of soldiers reached the bus, demolished from the front axle forward. Moans came from inside the wreckage. Survivors!

He looked to the right toward another body—a woman on the sidewalk. “Dear merciful God!” he cried, not knowing where to begin. And then the woman moved; she raised her head slightly, then let it fall back against her arm. In that instant Orde recognized her. The musician! Leah Feldstein! She was so close to the center of the blast; so near to the black crater! How had she survived?

She sat up as Orde ran toward her. Her face was contorted with pain. She covered her ears with her hands as she called out, “Shimon! Help me, Shimon!” And then, “Why? Oh Jesu! Jesu! Warum?”

Another officer joined Orde’s dash to her. “It is Leah Feldstein!” he exclaimed. As they stepped over the fragments of what had been a living human a few moments before, the officer cursed the Arabs and shook his fist heavenward as if his curse of the Arabs became a curse against God as well.

Leah stretched her hand out toward Orde. “Bitte!” Her words were all in German. “Bitte! Hilf mir! Mein Gott!” Her hands returned to clutch the sides of her head in agony.

“Mrs. Feldstein,” Orde said as he knelt beside her and embraced her. “It is over. You are safe.” His eyes focused on a victim just beyond her. “By the mercy of God, you are safe.”

She sobbed uncontrollably. The wail of sirens pierced the sounds of muffled sobs. The curses. The prayers. The awakening shrieks of agony that came with consciousness. Leah Feldstein heard none of this. She leaned against Orde’s chest and wept quietly until an ambulance came to take her away.

***

News of the bomb blast on Julian’s Way swept through the city within minutes. Shop grates clattered down and shutters slammed shut before the first ambulances reached the scene. Eyes turned toward the distant echo of sirens and bullhorns. Fear touched Arab, Jew, and Christian alike. From house to house, a census was taken: Who is not here? Who might have been on Julian’s Way near the King David Hotel?

In the Jewish Quarter, the name Leah Feldstein was passed from person to person. “She had gone to tea at the King David Hotel, so her husband says. Poor thing. He is sick with fear. Look at him . . . ”

Shimon sat beneath the cupola of the Great Hurva Synagogue. His borrowed prayer shawl had slipped off one shoulder and his yarmulke was askew on his head. The men of the congregation sat with him in silent vigil. Eli had forbidden him to leave the Jewish Quarter. Things would be dangerous for a while. Who could say what would happen now?

Shimon turned his eyes upward to the mural of Moses casting down the tablets of stone upon the sinning Hebrews. If it had not been for Moses’ prayer to God, all the Hebrews would have perished in that terrible moment of wrath. Shimon ran a hand over his eyes. Remember your covenant, O Lord, he prayed silently. And remember Leah for my sake.

Hours passed. As others drifted off for dinner, Shimon and Eli sat in silent vigil. Eli’s agony was as intense as Shimon’s. He could think of nothing but Victoria. And how could he know if she was safe or dead?

Near dusk, urgent whispers sounded behind them in the foyer. English voices!

“Shimon Feldstein . . . told he was here . . . ”

Cold fear swept throughout Shimon’s body. His breath came too quickly as he stood and tried to reply. “I . . . am . . . Shimon . . .”

The face of an English officer turned toward him. The eyes were kind and weary and full of sadness. “Mr. Feldstein,” the officer began, “I am Samuel Orde, captain of the Highland Light Infantry here in the Old City. I—”

“Is she dead?” Shimon blurted out. He did not care who this fellow was. He wanted to know. That was all.

“No. She is . . . she sustained only slight injury. She is . . .”

Shimon’s shoulders sagged with relief and he slumped back down onto the seat. “Thank you, eternal and merciful—” He jerked his head up. “Where is she?”

“Hadassah Hospital. She is asking for you. I have a car—”

Shimon was out of his seat and by the side of Captain Orde before the officer finished the offer of a ride. He took a step and then turned back toward Eli. The young man had not moved. His shoulders were still hunched forward in grief and worry. Victoria! Eli could not even say her name out loud.

***

Theo had not forgotten the sense of heaviness that clung to the city of Berlin, but he had not felt it until he stepped, once again, onto the soil of Tempelhof Airfield.

The night he had attempted escape from this place, even the storm had not seemed as dark as the evil presence he had fled from. Still the Darkness remained—almost a tangible, physical oppression that caused Theo to falter in his steps and pray silently that the Spirit of the living God would surround him. He looked up at the flat gray skies above the city with the feeling that even now an ancient and unseen war was taking place. The battlefields were the hearts of all who remained in this desolate land.

Long ago Hitler had struck at the Christian pastors. Most of the shepherds of Germany were dead or imprisoned, and so the flock was scattered, devoured by fear and beaten by the staff that was crowned with the crooked Nazi cross.

Strangely Theo felt no bitterness as he made his way toward the doors where Gestapo agents stood in trench coats to scrutinize each passenger. Perhaps these creatures of darkness had once been men, but they were men no longer. Like Faust, they had sold their souls for a price. Now they walked the thin wire of brutality and hatred above the hell that waited eagerly for their fall.

The end would come for them. Theo had seen that truth during his days of suffering in Dachau. But the end was not yet. The battle for these tortured souls had been won by Nazi darkness, and now hell yawned open and cried out to be fed with innocent sacrifices.

For this reason, Theo had returned to Berlin. Agreeing to this mission represented his individual attempt to storm the gates of hell. If even one innocent life could be saved by this journey, then heaven would rejoice. The Darkness would flee before the light of even one remaining candle of the Covenant!

The mist clung to Theo’s face like tears—the tears of a holy and loving God for those in Germany who had sold themselves to an ancient idolatry. Hitler was right in what he claimed. The ancient Nordic gods lived on. They demanded Aryan worship. They craved human sacrifice.

Theo looked toward the edge of the airfield. Rows of bright new bombers and fighter planes were on display there. Like hounds of sport in a kennel, they waited for the command to kill. Theo knew the command would come. There would be no peace. The German god of creation was also the god of destruction. What Hitler could not have he would destroy.

Theo whispered the name of Jesus, loving Savior and Messiah. The true Jesus bore no resemblance to the brutal masters who had driven the Sprit of God from the German churches. “I believe in the Lord, the true God of Israel,” Theo said softly, as if the words protected him from the heaviness around him. “And I know the end of the Book! The Lord will reign in Jerusalem and every knee shall bow. It is written!” His words were not audible to any of those around him, and yet Theo felt that the words of his heart were heard. The candle was small, but the light was alive! The Darkness fled back from him.

He presented the British diplomatic passport to the tall, thin Gestapo agent at the gate. The officer scanned the document and then peered down at his list. “Yes. Herr Stern.” He raised an eyebrow and appraised Theo coldly. “We heard you were coming to Berlin. British Ambassador Henderson is waiting for you in the next room. You may pass through inspection. Your luggage will be sent separately to the British Embassy.”

“Danke.” Theo tipped his hat. His leg ached from the weather, and he limped more slowly than usual toward the door.

Behind him he heard the Gestapo agent remark loudly to a clerk sitting to his left, “You know which Jews are kikes? Every Jew, once he has left the room.” The joke was punctuated with a roar of laughter that followed Theo out of the customs area to where Neville Henderson waite

d impatiently for him.

31

Even in Sorrow, We Will Believe

Etta did not see them come. Aaron had gone to the shul and she was upstairs bathing Yacov when she heard them knocking on the door. Moments later Frau Rosen appeared in the doorway, out of breath, eyes wide.

“It is two men from the Warsaw police, Rebbitsin Lubetkin! They say they must see you. Not Rebbe Lubetkin, but you! A personal matter, they say!”

Etta felt ill, but she managed a feeble smile all the same. “Probably nothing. I mislaid my handbag the other day and reported it.”

A bad lie. Frau Rosen’s eyes narrowed. No one had asked her about a handbag. Why had she not heard of it if this happened? “I let them into the study,” she said. Caution had replaced alarm. Curiosity pulled her mind toward a thousand different possibilities, and she knew a missing handbag was not one of them.

Etta maintained her composure. “Thank you. Finish washing the baby and dress him. I will be back in a moment.” She turned the little one over to the housekeeper and swept past her as if this were nothing unusual at all.

Now that Eduard was gone from Warsaw, Etta was alone in her conspiracy to keep Aaron from hearing about her ordeal. She would not tell him until the Mandate passports arrived from Palestine. But what if these men wanted something more from her than Eduard had given them?

Her heart pounded hard as she slid back the doors to the study. The two men were pretending to look at the books on the shelves. They could not have understood any of what they saw. The thick, red-faced officer was flipping through a book of Hebrew poetry from back to front as if it were written in Polish.

Etta eyed them for a moment. Fools and buffoons. Brutal and unscrupulous. And now they held something of their own making over her head. Fear left her suddenly at the sight of such ignorant lumps thumbing through books they did not understand. Indignation took the place of fear. It gave her courage to confront them.