Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: DELICIOUS (02/04/16)
TITLE: Chocolate Hope
By Zacharia Fox
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It had taken the Germans only eighteen days to sweep through Belgian. When they took Antwerp, the crackdown was immediate. Jews, many of whom had escaped from Germany, were shipped away in cattle cars.
I’d taken to the sewers long before rations grew scarce and the populous dwindled. Now, Antwerp was no place for the living, haunted only demons called Nazis.
Each night I left subterranean Antwerp through the same grate, to scavenge for food. Stealth was my only ally as I foraged for scraps.
I found crackers, but no clean water. The moon was low. Time to head back.
“HaShem, lead me to water. Perhaps tomorrow,” I whispered, and dithered toward the sewer.
The night sky was a gallery of stars, vast as my people once were. "Number the stars," I whispered. "Are we still so many?" As I stared and wondered, I walked right into the street, and then I noticed two Nazis lifting the sewer grate I was headed for.
I thought they'd see me for sure, but a dog chased a cat down the sidewalk, distracting the Germans as I receded to the shadows.
I exhaled, my heart beating in my ears as the soldiers dropped into the sewer.
I'd almost persuaded myself I was safe when I heard gravel crunch behind me and my head was yanked backwards. A hand muzzled my mouth as I was dragged into an alley. I smelled oil on the leather glove that robbed me of breath, and tried to wrestle free, but my bones were tired as my soul.
I’m ready to die.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” The accent was unmistakable.
The hand loosened and I turned to find a German officer studying me, swastika on his arm and all. The Nazi took off his gloves and set them on a dumpster.
“You hide in the sewers?”
I offered no reply. What game was this monster playing at?
“We’re planning to retreat from Antwerp. The Allies are close. We're sweeping the sewers before we leave.”
The German leaned against an abandoned bakery, slid to the sidewalk, and offered me a cigarette from a tin.
My hand trembled, only in part from fatigue, as I took one.
“What’s your name?” the German asked.
“Aaron... Aaron Leiser.” It was strange to hear my name said aloud.
“Well, Aaron Leiser, I’m Dietrich Schulz. Nice to meet you.” Dietrich smiled as we shook hands, and for a moment I saw him not as a Nazi, but as a person.
“Why are you doing this?”
"Did you see that dog chase the cat? Why? Only because, the cat was not a dog. To hate, simply because of differences is animal. I was born a German, not a murderer."
He pulled a paper bag from his coat. It crinkled stark against the silence of night, until he revealed chocolates. We didn't talk for a long while. We just ate chocolates, faces wearing a most foreign expression. Smiles. I can't remember why, but I like to think that we were smiling because we'd remembered what is was to be human.
It was a strange moment, to taste something so sweet in a world so bitter; I, a Jew, sitting opposite a German, sharing chocolates.
It was there, across from my swastika sporting friend, I began to do something war doesn't permit. Hope.
He gave me his canteen and directions out of the city, before holding out his hand. "Perhaps we'll meet again, Aaron Leiser."
I took his hand, eyes wet with gratitude.
Some years later I hobbled up a mild hill in Germany and set a canteen and some chocolates on a head-stone. "Soon, Dietrich..."
"Grandpa! Are you coming?" I glanced down the hill at my granddaughter, holding the hand of wife.
"...But not yet." I bit into a chocolate, and smiled. "Not yet."
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