Darkness settled around Anna Mendel, like the ink, which spilled over the edges of papa’s bottle and soaked the blotter on his desk. There was only a meager sprinkling of starshine overhead.
Hands grabbed her arms and shook her to make sure she was awake. The woman close to her whispered, “Hurry, Child; hurry.” Across from her, a man motioned for her to stand up. She did as she was told and was ushered off the small boat into the waiting arms of another man, who lifted her to the shore.
The stranger gave her a warm coat. As soon as she had buttoned it, he thrust a rucksack into her hands. A soldier’s canteen came over her head, and she automatically slipped one arm through the strap. Then the man took her hand and hurried her away from the sound of water, lapping against the shoreline. He patted her coat pocket. “Don’t lose your instructions.” Then he cautioned, “No tears. We’ve a long climb ahead of us.”
For weeks, Anna relived the treacherous trip into Switzerland. Thoughts of those who loved her had kept her going through the grueling hours when she’d felt like giving up. After she arrived at the Fussles’ farm, where she was to stay, details about her family floated through her dreams. The haunting look of fear on papa’s face and the tears streaming down mama’s cheeks on that fateful boat ride, were the last of the memories to become fluid and too dark to recall clearly. Soon, she banished all of them to the inky void of a past that was too hard to remember. Gone was the hope of ever seeing her parents and her twin brothers again.
Anna turned eighteen in June of 1945, one month after the end of the war. A loud rap at the back door interrupted the celebration, and she found herself face to face with a young man. He held out a small burlap package tied with twine.
“I found this beside a trail my father used to hike. When I showed it to him, he told me to bring it to Anna Mendel immediately. He said it was a miracle it survived this long, and that she should open it right away.”
Anna hesitated, “How does he know it belongs to her? Who are you?”
The young man twirled a tweed cap in his hands and studied her before answering, “My name is Levi Krueger. My father brought her here from Stuttgart.”
Memories, long suppressed, flashed through Anna’s mind in rapid succession. From the past, she heard Levi’s father reminding her not to lose her instructions. She looked at the package and staggered backward, nearly knocking over a kitchen chair. Levi caught her and helped her sit down.
The commotion brought all the family into the kitchen. Anna’s eyes brimmed with tears. “How could I have forgotten this?”
Mrs. Fussle gave her a reassuring hug, “You were very, very sick when you first came to us. For a long time afterward, you had nightmares about your family. Then one day, you refused to talk about them anymore. You’ve been six years with us, Anna; it’s understandable for you to have forgotten a thing or two.”
Anna trembled as she untied the burlap. Wrapped within layers of parchment, were several documents, a letter with money, and a family picture. She recognized the ink and her father’s handwriting. Tears that had threatened a moment ago now spilled down her cheeks. She held out the letter, “I don’t think I can…”
Levi pulled a chair over. He faced Anna and read, “My precious daughter, you are too young to understand why we must all go our separate ways. Be brave. Hopefully the war will not last long. When it is safe to travel, use these documents and money and meet us in Jerusalem. We will each find our own way there. Mr. Krueger will help you. Don’t forget us. All our love, Papa, Mama, Joseph and David.”
His hand lingered on Anna’s after he returned the letter. “My father has reason to believe they all made it there safely. He’s not well enough to travel, but he would be able to make the arrangements. I could help reunite you with your family; I’ve been planning a trip to Jerusalem for sometime.”
Anna smiled her gratitude, but it was when she looked into eyes the color of papa’s ink that she gave her heart permission to hope.
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