"Chapter Five: Isle of Man" from THE THIRD MAN by RANDOLPH SPLITTER
- Category: Excerpts from Our Books
- Published: Monday, 06 December 2021 05:33
- Written by Super User
- Hits: 458
Chapter 5: Isle of Man
[Note: The chapter moves back and forth between the story of little Julie Bernstein, brought by the kindertransport from Vienna to live with the Finleys in England, and the story of Ignaz Natanson, who left Austria for Shanghai but wound up in England. Several small changes have been made in this chapter over the past few months. This is the September version.]
Late 1939. The first months of the war were surprisingly uneventful. No bombs were dropped, and the country wasn’t invaded. Later they called it the “phony war.” But British ships became targets. As Ignaz read in the paper, a British passenger ship was sunk by a German U-boat at the very beginning of the war. A battleship went down with the loss of many hundreds of lives.
The Royal Navy organized convoys to protect merchant shipping, but food shipments from abroad were severely curtailed. Rationing began in January 1940, starting with bacon, butter, and sugar. Restaurants were exempt from rationing, but the limited availability of many food items did have an effect on the short order cook from Vienna. One day, as they were cleaning the stove and counters after lunch and preparing for afternoon tea, Thomas asked him if he’d be willing to meet him on the docks on their next day off.
“The docks? I vass planning do something mit Cristina.”
“It’ll be worth your while,” the older man insisted, his breath smelling of onions and decaying teeth. “You can go out with your lady friend that night.”
Ignaz took a step back. “All right. Docks.”
It was an unusually cold winter, and the day dawned frigid and bright, with pristine white snow flurries floating down from the sky. Ignaz took the Underground and made his way to the Thames-side quays, where barrel-chested stevedores hauled huge sacks and boxes from the barge-like lighters to nearby warehouses. The stevedores seemed to be sweating, but Ignaz, with a thin jacket, flimsy shoes, and no gloves, was already shivering.
Bantam-sized Thomas, his breath condensing in the cold air, was talking to a taller, thicker man who was smoking a cigarette while the dock workers lugged merchandise nearby. They kept on talking as Ignaz approached.
“That’s right,” the taller man was saying. “Flour, sugar, bacon. I can get as much as I want.”
“Direct from the farmer?”
“Exactly. Canada. Fields of grain and all that shite.”
Seagulls squealed overhead. The rank smell of algae, dead fish, and the runoff from sewers permeated the air.
“And what about the coppers?”
“That’s your game. I supply the foodstuffs, you bring ’em to market.”
Thomas paused and nodded toward his co-worker. “George, this is my mate Iggy.”
The other man coughed hard, gave him a skeptical look, and shook his outstretched hand.
“You peel potatoes like this guy here?”
Ignaz didn’t quite understand the question, but said, “I cook, ja.”
George gave him another look. “German?”
“Whose side are they on?”
Ignaz shrugged. George snorted.
Thomas turned to Ignaz. “When there i’n’t enough food, price goes up. People ’re willing to pay. George here is our supplier.”
“Why me? I don’t have lorry. I don’t speak good English.”
“It’s a chance to get in on the ground floor, mate. If you’re not innerested, just say say so. There’s plenty o’ other guys I could ask. So what’s the word? In or out?”
Ignaz rubbed his bare hands together and breathed on them to warm them up. “In.”
George took one last puff on his cigarette and threw the butt into the murky, black-green water.
Ration book in hand, Mrs. Finley took Julie, Helen, and the dog along with her to the butcher shop. Meat was not rationed, but it was in short supply. She bought a tough though affordable cut of beef and a couple of kidneys, which she was planning to turn into steak and kidney pie.
Kidney pie?, thought Julie. Really? She would rather have a bite of her mother’s Wiener schnitzel than a whole kidney pie.
Meanwhile, four-year-old Helen was prancing around the store with Lizzie, who was salivating at the raw meat on the counter and leaning on the glass case with her front paws to get a better look.
“Down!” said Mrs. F., and the dog reluctantly backed away.
It was Market Day, and the narrow, hilly high street of their small town was lined with outdoor stalls selling everything from carrots and turnips, the dirt still clinging to the vegetables, to eggs, honey, bolts of cloth, and toys for the children. While Mrs. Finley purchased some potatoes and a small carton of eggs, Helen begged her mother to buy her some colored chalk she could use to draw hopscotch squares on the pavement.
“Not today, love.”
Mrs. F. shook her head. “Your father would be mad if I wasted the grocery money on chalk.”
Helen frowned, and Lizzie wagged her tail.
The next stop was a dairy that sold butter and eggs as well as milk. Butter was one of the first items to be rationed, and home cooks were being advised to substitute margarine, lard, and beef tallow in their cakes and pies. Mrs. Finley was not ready to take that step.
“I’ll just be a minute,” she said to the children as she entered the store.
The wind was picking up and the wet snow was coming down harder, but the sun was bright. A stout woman with florid cheeks and a few strands of gray hair peeking out from under a pale scarf stopped to say hello to Helen and pet the dog.
“Where’s your mother?” she said.
“Inside,” said the little girl.
“I didn’t know you had a dog.”
Helen nodded vigorously. “Her name is Lizzie.”
“She seems friendly.” The retriever’s long tail was wagging happily.
“And who is this?”
“My sister. Julie.”
The woman stared at Julie. “Your sister? I didn’t know you had a sister.”
Helen nodded, while Julie looked away.
“What happened to your brother?” said the woman as the snowflakes melted on her dark blue coat.
“Nothing. He’s helping my dad.”
Mrs. Finley emerged from the dairy with a package of butter and a small carton of eggs.
“Grace!” she exclaimed. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”
The woman’s expression turned serious. “No. Arthur’s been ill, and Edward joined the Navy.”
“Have you heard anything from him?”
Grace shook her head. “Even if we did, you know, he couldn’t tell us where he was and what he was doing.”
“It must be hard, not knowing like that.”
The woman nodded.
“And Arthur? How is he?”
Grace wiped away a tear. “He’s got no feeling in his feet, he says. Can hardly walk.”
Mrs. F. shook her head in sympathy. “What happened? Do they know what caused it?”
“No. It’s a mystery, and it’s only gettin' worse.”
Lizzie barked mildly, as if to say she was tired of standing there and wanted to keep moving. Helen shook her finger at the dog and said “No!” An older man strode up the street and pushed open the door of the shop.
“What about you?” said Grace. “Seems like you been busy. A new dog and a new child.”
Mrs. F. laughed.
Mrs. Finley shook her head, then nodded. “Yeah. Something like that.”
The two women whispered, but Julie listened to every word.
“It’s such a shame,” Grace continued, “about the animals. Poor creatures!”
“Yes,” said Mrs. F. “Give my best to Arthur. I’ll pray for Edward.”
“Thank you,” said the other. “That’d be lovely.”
Weekday mornings were rushed in the Finley household. Mr. F. was gruff and bleary-eyed until he had his morning tea. Mrs. F. had to shake Simon awake. Helen, who was too young to go to school, flitted about the house like a butterfly and had a hard time finding her way to the breakfast table. Lizzie herself ran around underfoot and begged for food. After washing her face in the scullery, brushing her hair, and putting on one of the two school dresses she had been given, Julie helped Mrs. Finley prepare the oatmeal or fix the tea or set the table or feed the dog.
When breakfast was done and Mr. Finley had taken off for work, Julie and Simon collected their schoolbooks and set off on the long walk to school. It was early March, not yet officially spring, but the sun was peeking through the clouds and the the day would probably be warm by afternoon.
The school was situated on the outskirts of the town, where terraced housing gave way to modest farmhouses, green fields, and sparse woodland. Simon picked up a stone and threw it in the vague direction of some Jersey cows munching on grass behind a fence.
“This is not nice,” said Julie.
“I didn’t hit them,” said Simon.
“But you might have done.”
The boy pretended to ignore her. He picked up another stone and tossed it up the road.
“Dad might get me a rifle for my birthday,” he announced.
“A rifle? Why you want a rifle?”
“To hunt, silly girl.”
“Squirrels, rabbits, ducks, that sort of thing.”
Julie imagined him shooting the bunny rabbits that popped up from time to time in the green fields by the side of the road. She couldn’t help but think of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, a word-and-picture story she had recently encountered. The two of them kept on walking, Julie at a steady pace, Simon spurting ahead and then circling back.
“What you do with them after you hunt them?”
“Eat them, silly.”
Julie didn’t say anything. They could hear the school bells ringing in the distance.
“I’d let you shoot it,” said Simon, “but you’re too little.”
But now Julie wasn’t thinking about the rifle or even about the poor bunnies. Today was her birthday, and she wondered how many more of them she wouldn’t get to celebrate.
The two girls lay on the bed with the dog between them as Julie read from Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. “Once upon a time,” she narrated, “there was a little girl called Lucie, who lived at a farm called Little-town. She was a good little girl—only she was always losing her pocket-handkerchiefs!” Julie had lifted herself by her elbows, and the little book was resting on the pillow in front of her. She had a hard time saying handkerchiefs. It came out sounding like hand-ker-chiefs. “One day little Lucie came into the farm-yard crying—oh, she did cry so! ‘I've lost my pocket-handkin!” Hand-kin? “Three handkins and a pinny!’ ”
She asked Helen what a pinny was.
“Pinny? A pinny is, uh, something you pin onto, um, a dress.”
“Like an apron maybe?”
Julie continued to read the story of the little girl who, wandering in search of her missing linens, stumbles upon the hillside home of an aproned hedgehog, with a cap partly covering her prickly hair, who takes in the washing of the local animals. Things like a scarlet waistcoat (not a coat, really) belonging to Cock Robin, a pair of mittens belonging to Tabby Kitten (“I only have to iron them; she washes them herself”), and woolly coats belonging to the lambs of a nearby farm.
Helen laughed at the clothes the animals wore and wondered aloud if Lizzie’s thick coat needed washing.
“Shall we send it to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle?” asked Julie.
Looking very serious, the four-year-old nodded. Her eyes opened wide when Lucie found her pinafore in the hedgehog’s washing.
Julie continued, “Mrs. Tiggy-winkle ironed it, and goffered it, and shook out the frills.”
“What’s ‘goffered’?” said Helen.
Gopher? Ziesel? Turned it into a dress for a gopher? Julie said she didn’t know. “We ask mummy later, okay?”
Helen nodded again. Lizzie yawned, stretched, and settled back down on the bed.
When Julie finished reading, she said she had a friend named Lucy too.
“Is she your best friend?” said Helen.
Julie thought for a moment and said, “No, Ruthie iss my best friend, but Lucy iss a very good friend.”
“Do you miss Ruthie?”
Julie nodded, and her eyes started to tear up.
Helen reached across the dog and tried to put her little arm around the older girl. “But I’m your friend. And your sister.”
Julie smiled through her tears. “Yes, you’re my sister-friend. I have only one of those.”
The lorry, a hulking battle-green vehicle whose bed was covered by a gray tarp, was rumbling down a residential street in a semi-posh neighborhood. The back was filled with sacks of white flour and sugar, which were becoming more and more scarce. Thomas was driving, Ignaz sitting next to him in the passenger seat.
They pulled to the curb near a white stone-and-stucco Georgian house with elegant black trim. Despite petrol rationing, it was their fourth stop already that day, a gloomy, overcast one in which clouds had been threatening since morning. Maybe Thomas had secured some black-market petrol.
“This it?” said Ignaz.
Thomas nodded and pushed open the driver-side door. “Two bags o’ flour and three of sugar.” He strode around to the back, peeled back the tarp, and grabbed one bag of flour and another of sugar. “You get the rest.”
They had managed to get the morning off by telling Samuel that Ignaz needed to help Thomas move some furniture.
“Furniture? Where you movin’ it?”
“Oh, just movin’ it around. To make it look nicer.”
Samuel laughed. “I think you’re goin’ to the racetrack, but I don’t care. Good luck on them ponies.”
Now the two of them carried the sacks to the servants’ entrance at the daylight basement level of the grand house, where a mop-haired woman in a large white apron blocked their path.
“What you fellas want?”
“Delivery,” said Thomas.
“We’re not expectin’ delivery,” said the woman.
“Mrs. Graham expectin’ it.”
“Mm, wait here.”
Ignaz and Thomas stood waiting in front of the basement entrance with the sacks on their shoulders. A few drops of rain began to fall.
“All right,” said the woman when she returned. “Just put them bags in the pantry.”
Thomas nodded, and they followed her into a large storeroom off a spacious kitchen. Ignaz grunted as he deposited his sacks in a corner. When Thomas told the woman the price, she raised her eyebrows but retrieved the money from an envelope in one of the kitchen drawers.
The Cockney tipped his flat tweed cap to the mop-haired woman, but she just shook her head.
“You friend George make a lot money,” Ignaz said after they were back in the lorry and heading to their next stop.
“We gets our cut, right? ’at’s all ’at matters.”
After more than a year in Great Britain, Julie’s English was much better and she felt more comfortable in class. Miss Bartholomew, their young, pretty teacher, often asked her to help distribute the books for reading time and paper and pencils for arithmetic practice. One day the teacher asked her to help pass out big sheets of thick, rough paper and colored drawing pencils.
Julie found herself sitting next to Pip, the London boy, along with four other children at a large work table. They were supposed to create a picture of the house where they lived, and soon square windows, pointy gables, and tall chimneys, real or imagined, sprouted all around them. A round yellow sun and stalks of green grass usually completed the picture. Instead of gables and chimneys, Julie started drawing the pink-orange and pale yellow towers, arches, and criss-cross panels of Heilingenstädter Hof, making it look more like a castle than an apartment building.
Pip, who was drawing a severe, red-brick rectangle with black windows, more prison-like than anything else, looked over at her creation and said, “What’s ’at?”
“Our building, in Vienna. What about yours?”
“Where me and me mum live. Near the docks.”
When she finished the towers, she added a peek at the green-grass courtyard beyond the arches, with some variously colored flowers. Pip drew a chimney blasting black smoke.
“Your house has a chimney?”
He seemed surprised by the question. “I, uh, don’t know. But ’at’s the way I ’member it.”
“Well, it looks nice,” she assured him.
She kept drinking half lagers and he kept double-pace with pints of ale, the end result being that both of them had had a lot to drink by the time they staggered, hours later, out of the pub. There was a heavy cloud cover—no moon, no stars—and of course the blackout was in effect. It was still raining. She offered to share her umbrella with him, but he declined the offer. Rain didn’t bother him; bombs might. He looked up at the dark night sky. The Luftwaffe had not yet attacked London, but everyone knew the day was coming.
“Do you want to go to my place?” Cristina said, in English. “Or yours.”
He put his arm around her waist and walked by her side, but her umbrella wasn’t large enough to prevent him from getting soaked.
“Bucharest? Or Vienna.”
She chuckled. “Well, Bucharest is more spacious, but Vienna is more gemütlich.”
“Your flat iss more spacious and more gemütlich too.”
“Or comod, as we say in Romanian.”
They walked the seven or eight blocks to her place, passing a young couple huddled together under a giant umbrella, three young men strolling down the street in football gear despite the rain, and a black cat taking shelter under a large shrub. Or maybe not a black cat, since everything looked black in the blackout under the black, starless sky.
Her flat was a fourth-floor walkup in a five-story brick building that probably dated from the turn of the century. They half-walked, half-crawled up the stairs, giggling. At least it wasn’t raining inside.
A tiny woman with a shriveled face passed them on the stairs.
“Hello, Mrs. Duncan,” said Cristina.
She gave them a dirty look. When she had passed, Cristina laughed and clung to him more tightly.
When they reached her floor, she got out her key and fiddled with it for half a minute before managing to insert it in the lock.
“Hurry up,” he said, laughing.
As soon as the door was open, the two of them fell in a heap on the other side of the threshold. She kicked the door closed, tossed the umbrella to one side, and started taking off her macintosh. He began to kiss her.
“Wait!” she said, one arm free and the other still tangled in the raincoat. “I need to turn on the light.”
“Warum?” he murmured, between kisses.
“Because it’s dark in here,” she explained but soon gave up.
She kicked off one of her shoes. He caressed her breast through her blouse, then kissed her ear. She laughed again. He put his hand under her skirt and found her knickers. Her raincoat was half on, half off, her skirt was hiked up, and the two of them were lying on the hard floor.
“Wait,” she said again.
She managed to stand up, smooth out her skirt, and take off her macintosh, while he lifted himself off the floor. She shook out her hair, then stepped into the lavatory.
“I’ll just be a minute.”
He stumbled into the bedroom, thought about turning on the light, decided not to. By the time she joined him, he had stripped down to his underwear.
“Do you want something to drink?” she asked him.
“Nein. Ich will dich.” Only you.
She took off her blouse and skirt and laid them on a chair. Then she removed her camisole and began to undo her stockings. Although he could hear the rustling of the silky fabric, it was hard to see more than a vague outline of her body in the darkness. She was like a ghost, but a corporeal and sexy ghost. Unlike the ghost of his mother, who flitted around in his brain like an unhappy angel. Ach, why was he thinking of that now?
In a minute she climbed into the bed beside him, lifted his cotton undershirt, and ran her hand over his chest. He began to stroke—what did they call it here?—her bum. She reached out and helped him to pull off the rest of his clothes. He did the same for her.
“That’s better,” she said.
When Julie came home from school, Mrs. Finley said there was a letter for her.
A letter? From Lucy?
It turned out to be a thin blue aerogramme, twice forwarded, from Tante Rivka. She set her books down on the table and nervously ripped it open.
“Liebste Julie,” it began. Lizzie bounded into the parlor and put her paws on Julie’s jumper. Mrs. F. told her to get down. “As you can see from the postmark, I was able to reach Haifa, in Palestine, and I hope this letter is able to reach you. After you left for England, your parents and I tried to escape from Vienna, but things did not go as planned. Mutti and I were making our way to Palestine, your Papa planning to follow. Somehow that’s not what happened. We were traveling from Budapest to Bucharest when soldiers boarded the train. Mutti and I were interrogated separately. I don’t know what happened to her or to your father, who had gone to check on your grandparents in Poland. For some reason they let me go on my way. I’m sorry I don’t have better news. Kiss your doll Heidi for me. Liebe und Küsse, Tante Rivka.”
Tears started to form in Julie’s eyes. She hadn’t paid attention to her doll for several weeks, but she found her in a bin, hugged her to her chest, and gave her a big kiss. Then she sank into a nearby chair. Lizzie licked her face. Mrs. Finley asked her if everything was all right.
She nodded and said, “I forgot about Heidi, that’s all. I’m sure she missed me.”
Simon burst through the door, and his mother reminded him to wipe his muddy feet.
“Yeah, awright,” he said. “Can I have a biscuit? And a glass of milk? I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast.”
“You can have some milk, but no biscuit. Wait till dinner.”
“But that’s hours from now. I’m starving.”
Mrs. Finley turned to Julie, who was drying her eyes. “Do you fancy a glass of milk too, love?”
“No, thank you. Not right now.”
Samuel kept barking orders up to the last minute, but one day, without warning, he didn’t show up. He had been drafted. Call-ups had begun, by age group, after the outbreak of war, and Samuel’s cohort had been reached. His place was taken by a Woolworth’s manager from another store with little or no restaurant experience, and Ignaz soon missed the Jamaican’s musical speech and his desire, however misdirected, to prepare decent food.
The new head cook, Geoffrey Prendergast, a wheezing, weak-chested man who looked like a daffodil on a slender stalk and who was presumed to have escaped the military on medical grounds, ran around like an unfortunate chicken with its head cut off, yelling loud but incoherent instructions to the other chickens in the kitchen. Make more from less, exhorted Prendergast, though he never explained how. Do it faster but better, he told the waitresses. He scrapped Samuel’s spicy Caribbean recipes, had the cooks use less meat in the pot pies, and made sure they were parsimonious with the ham and chicken in the sandwiches.
Violet complained under her breath, but Thomas did not seem fazed, possibly because he was selling black market food to other restaurants, perhaps even other Woolworth’s, to make up for the common shortages of meat, eggs, and butter. For him, business was good. War was good. Woolworth’s was good. It all depended on one's point of view.
Except for Violet, who said her prayers were with him, they didn’t think much about what Samuel was doing now.
All meat had been rationed since March. Rumor had it that pork sausage was really horsemeat and steak and kidney pie was—well, best not to ask. In fact, some suspicious-looking meat had prompted Ignaz to raise that very question with Mr. Prendergast.
“Just chop it up and throw it in the pan,” the asthmatic dandelion had told him. “End of conversation.”
But it wasn’t the end of the conversation, since his Cockney coworker took him aside and told him about a new opportunity to make some extra cash. They would transport cheaper cuts of meat from willing farmers to cooperating butchers, who would sell them at higher prices to trusting customers.
Was horse meat Kosher? Well, Herr Gittelman never stocked it. Sick pigs? Wild rabbits, possibly poached from unsuspecting landowners? Maybe the makers of the Kosher dietary rules were on to something: pay attention to what you eat.
“They’re not sick no more,” Thomas insisted. “They’re dead.”
“You will eat this?”
“Listen, Iggy. There’s a war goin’ on. There’s gonna be winners, and there’s gonna be losers. We might as well sneak into the win column.”
He couldn’t argue with that, so they drove a lorry to some farms in the country, loaded the freshly slaughtered carcasses into the back, and made the rounds of the butchers in the city. They made money on the deal, the butchers sold more meat, and the customers ate their fill. It was like the war effort itself: everybody played a part, and everybody benefited. Or did they? Maybe it was more like the insurance swindle he had helped the Kosher shochet to carry out. Knives and blood were involved, no farm animals were harmed, but a price had to be paid.
When Ignaz emerged from one of the shops, he found Thomas engaged in an earnest conversation with three young men.
“Deliverin’ meat,” his partner was saying.
“But there’s more in the back of your lorry, i’n’t there?” said a pimply-faced youth between puffs on his cigarette.
“Just makin’ the rounds, mates. Just makin’ the rounds.”
“How about if we take one of ’em joints off yer hands?”
Thomas seemed to finger something in his pocket.
“And who is this?” said the youth.
“Vat you want?” said Ignaz.
Another one of the youths laughed at his accent. “What we got here? A Kraut?”
“Bugger off,” said Thomas.
When the third youth took a step closer, the older man pulled a handgun out of his trousers and waved it threateningly in the air.
“I said, ‘Bugger off!’ ”
The pimply kid threw his cigarette into the gutter, and the three of them sauntered away.
Ignaz hadn’t thought one needed an armed guard to deliver horse meat. Back in the lorry, he asked his partner where he had procured the gun.
“It’s a beauty, doncha think? Service revolver. Got it on the black market.”
Apparently one could buy or sell pretty much anything on the black market, if one knew where to go.
Ignaz scanned the headlines at the newsstand on his way to work: BRITISH EVACUATE DUNKIRK; TENS OF THOUSANDS SAFELY HOME; Many more coming by day and night; ships of all sizes dare the german guns.
With the collapse of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force, who had been outflanked by the Germans and cut off from their French allies, retreated to the French port of Dunkerque, near the Belgian border. Thousands were killed, thousands more were captured, and tons of equipment were left behind, but with the help of civilian vessels drafted into service hundred of thousands of British, French, Belgian, and Polish troops were evacuated to England.
“Right,” said Thomas. “I saw ’em on the train this mornin’. Bloody exhausted, lookin’ like ghosts. You could see it in their faces.”
“You saw them?” said Prendergast. “This morning?”
The other man nodded. “On my way ’ere. They’re floodin’ the bleedin’ city.”
The war was coming closer. It reminded Ignaz of the German troops marching into Vienna two years earlier, except that no shots were fired then and there was no evacuation, at least no official evacuation under the protection of fighter planes.
“I bet they’ll send ’em back first chance they get,” added Thomas. “Poor blokes.”
“Back?” said Ignaz.
“Into the trenches.”
“Trenches?” said their boss. “There’ll be no trenches this time around.”
A couple of Sundays later, Mrs. Finley decided to take the children to the local parish church. She wrapped herself in a silk scarf, dressed Helen in a doll-like frock festooned with frills, and made sure that Simon found a clean shirt and shined his shoes.
“But I’m Jewish,” Julie explained. “We don’t go to church.” What would Mutti and Papa think?
“That’s all right,” Mrs. F. said. “It’s all the same, really, and Rev. Potter is very nice.”
So Julie donned a navy-blue skirt and long white socks that reached almost to her knees, clothes which her foster parents had purchased for her at a local shop. Mr. Finley, who was tired out from his work week and didn’t like to go to church, would normally smoke his pipe and putter around the house, trailed by Lizzie, until the rest of the family returned from their expedition. But since he had volunteered for the Local Defence Volunteers, he would spend this morning marching on the village green.
The church was a solid-looking brick building with a sloping roof and a modest steeple. It had several stained glass windows and a large cross behind the main altar. Much of the service consisted of the saying of prayers and the singing of hymns, which, unlike the Shabbos songs and prayers Julie remembered from when she was little, were in English. But she didn’t understand these either. Near the end of the service came something called communion, when the parishioners ate a cracker and took a sip of wine.
“Not for you,” Mrs. Finley told her.
Rev. Potter, the young vicar, gave a sermon about the heroic English lads rescued from a place called Dunkirk and the heroic yachtsmen and fishermen who helped to rescue them. He repeated the words of Mr. Churchill about continuing to defend their embattled island, “if necessary for years, if necessary alone.”
Julie knew who Mr. Churchill was, a short, fat gentleman whose picture was always in the paper, often with a fat cigar in his mouth, and who was always making speeches.
“But not alone,” said Rev. Potter. “For when God is with us, we are not alone, and surely God is with us. As the 23rd Psalm proclaims, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’”
But Mr. Churchill had also spoken about the need to round up enemy aliens, suspicious characters, and Fifth Columnists who might become a nuisance or a danger in case Britain was invaded—even though some of them were in fact not enemies but rather passionate opponents of the Nazis. Churchill had said that he was sorry for them, Rev. Potter related, but claimed that we couldn’t, in the present circumstances, “draw all the distinctions which we should like to do.”
Julie tapped Mrs. Finley on the elbow. “What are aliens?” she asked.
Mrs. F. put her finger to her lips. “Shhh.”
“Mr. Churchill may be right,” the vicar continued. “though it would be a shame if our friendly Italian ice-cream vendor neighbor whose family has lived in this country for generations were thrown into prison with hardened Nazis.”
There were murmurs of approval or disapproval or uncertainty from the parishioners, who lined the pews in their Sunday best.
Julie turned to Mrs. Finley. “Is the ice-cream man Italian?”
One last hymn concluded the service. Led by Rev. Potter, the worshippers lifted their voices, the women singing more loudly than the men, the children fidgeting beside their parents. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.” As I am?, thought Julie. What did that mean? One please? Blood? “Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt.” She knew what conflict meant, even doubt, but the bloodshed made her think that the hymn was a scary song about war. Was it?
On their way out the door, Mrs. Finley and the other churchgoers shook hands with the young vicar, who smiled and nodded and accepted their compliments on his sermon. He had a a smooth pink face and seemed to smile often. It was a beautiful, sunny June day, and the church’s garden was abloom with pink and red roses, purple somethings, and yellow something-elses. Birds were singing. Julie wondered if the birds were singing in Vienna too.
“I’m hungry,” Simon complained on the long walk back to their house.
“Well, maybe you can help prepare the Sunday dinner.”
Simon picked up a stone and, as was his habit, threw it at some cows who were grazing placidly by the side of the road.
“What are you doin’ that for?” his mother said.
Instead of answering, he kicked up his heels and ran ahead on the gravel road.
“Don’t get yer clothes all dirty!” Mrs. Finley yelled after him.
Now Helen started up, asking her mother to carry her.
“Carry you!? You’re too big for that.”
Helen sat down by the side of the road and took off one of her shoes.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m tired,” she said.
“Tired? Didn’t you sleep well?”
The four-year-old shook her head.
“Poor baby,” said her mother, but she kept on walking with Julie by her side.
Helen took off her other shoe and started to rub her foot. Julie looked from her to Mrs. Finley and back again. She began to worry. Was Mrs. F. going to leave her daughter in the dust? Maybe Mr. Finley would have to pick her up in his lorry. But there wasn’t enough petrol.
“Mummy!” Helen wailed. “Wait for me!”
She stuck her shoes back on and ran after her mother as fast as her little feet could carry her.
“Silly goose,” said Mrs. Finley.
By the time they arrived home, Simon’s shirt was hanging out of his trousers and Helen’s socks were dirty. Mrs. Finley opened the alley-side door, and Lizzie ran to greet them, barking happily and nosing about from one to the other. A pungent smell like burnt tobacco hung in the air, though Mr. Finley was nowhere to be seen.
“Good dog,” said Mrs. F. “Did you stay out of trouble while we were gone?”
Lizzie yipped and ran rings around the children.
“Change your clothes and wash up for dinner,” Mrs. Finley told the three of them.
“Can I go over to Eddie’s and play?” said Simon while giving the dog a hug.
“I thought you were hungry.”
“Just until dinner’s ready.”
“You can help.”
Mr. Finley said he had just gotten back from marching. Mrs. F. muttered something under her breath.
“I jus’ wondered what good a bunch of old men with picks and shovels are going to be if the Germans come.”
Her husband bristled. “Old? Who you callin’ old? Besides, some of the fellas ’s got guns they saved from the Great War, and the governm’nt is promisin’ to send us more.”
“God help us,” said Mrs. Finley. Mr. Finley sputtered but didn’t actually say anything.
Julie and Simon helped Mrs. F. scrub the potatoes and shell the peas while Helen played with a couple of wooden spoons. Mr. F. sat down in this easy chair to smoke his pipe. He picked up a magazine with a picture of Churchill on the cover.
“Says here they’re roundin’ up ‘suspicious characters,’ ” he announced. “It’s about time.”
“Oh, yes. Rev. Potter spoke about it.”
“In case we get invaded.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“Well, things is lookin’ bad. It’s grand that the boys were evacuated, but the French are no help. Hitler will be in Paris before you know it.”
He started to say something else, but his wife told him it was time to eat. The five of them made their way to the dining room table, with Lizzie lying quietly by the fireplace.
The peas were soft, and the roast was dry and tough, but no one seemed to mind.
“He sez he’s sorry,” Mr. F. resumed.
“What do you mean?”
“Churchill. Sez he’s sorry some of the characters that’s picked up might be decent blokes.”
Simon asked if he could have another piece of meat, and his mother said it was like feeding a horse.
“Give the boy what he wants,” said Mr. F. “He’s a growing lad.”
Helen asked if she could play with her doll.
“But you haven’t eaten a thing,” said Mrs. Finley.
“I’m not hungry.”
Her mother sighed. “They’re like Jack Sprat and his sister. One eats no fat, the other eats no lean.”
“One eats everything, the other nothing.”
“Would you like some more peas?” Mrs. Finley asked Julie.
“No, thank you, ma’am. But they’re very good.”
“Least one o’ them has manners.”
Simon dug into a shriveled piece of meat and a misshapen potato. Helen slipped away to play with her doll.
“But you know he ain’t really sorry.”
Mrs. Finley looked up.
Thomas and Ignaz were making the rounds of Soho, a thriving neighborhood of restaurants, drinking establishments, and film company offices, as well as an open-air clothes market. The narrow streets were home to immigrants, petty criminals, and streetwalkers, but visitors came from all over the city to shop at the market, eat at the restaurants, and patronize the prostitutes. The two cooks had already sampled the food and drink, beginning with a spaghetti dinner and a glass of Chianti, followed by several rounds of ale at a variety of pubs.
It was a balmy, even sweltering night in the crowded, concrete heart of the city, and the two of them were sweating profusely. As they staggered through the streets, Thomas suggested visiting the Mill.
“Mill? Was ist das?”
“Windmill. It’s a club, mate. Vaudeville, music, comedy, what ‘ave you.”
Ignaz trailed along after his drinking partner until they arrived at the theater, where a long line of mostly well-dressed patrons had already formed.
“Don’t mind the cost,” said Thomas, who led him to a side entrance. He banged on the door, and a burly man answered, Thomas dropped a name, and the man let them in. They proceeded down a dark hallway until they found themselves in an ornate, plushly carpeted theater dimly lit by weak red lights and filled with fancy tables and chairs, some of them already occupied.
As the theater began to fill up, cocktail waitresses emerged from the shadows to take their orders. Thomas asked for a pint of bitters, and Ignaz ordered a whiskey and soda. The price of the two drinks turned out to be more than the cost of a Sunday dinner at Woolworth’s, and his guide seemed to expect him to pay for it. Don’t mind the cost?
After an amateurish song-and dance act and a comedian who told jokes which Ignaz didn’t understand, the curtains closed, the stage lights dimmed, the lights flicked on again, and the curtains parted to reveal a number of young women posing, motionless, with giant feathers in strategic places, as if in a painting or maybe a giant advertising poster. The girls in the back didn’t seem to have any clothes on or any feathers to hide their nakedness.
Ignaz turned to Thomas. “Zex club?”
“Mind you, it ain’t no Follies Ber-zheres. The girls are naked, but they ain’t allowed to move.”
“This is England, mate. Thems the rules.”
The rest of the show continued in the same vein, music and comedy alternating with women posing in outlandish costumes or none at all. Thomas picked up the next round of drinks, and by the time they left the premises they were a little bit poorer and a lot drunker.
They wandered around the surprisingly crowded, harshly lit streets for another twenty or thirty minutes, looking for a place to get another drink, when they stumbled upon an Italian café halfway down a small side street, little more than an alley. Kitted out with a frilly, red-and-white striped awning, advertising espresso, grappa, and homemade Italian cookies, it looked like the actual Italian café which Ignaz had stumbled upon in Genoa. There were even a few tiny and impractical tables on the narrow sidewalk.
But dozens of people were milling about outside the café, and a black-haired waiter in a long white apron was sweeping up a considerable amount of broken glass. One of the café’s large front windows had been smashed.
“What ‘appened?” Thomas asked someone in the crowd.
“I-talians,” said the man, a stocky, chalk-faced gentleman with large ears and a big head.
“Haven’t you heard? Mussolini declared war. Guess he didn’t want Hitler to have all the fun. Greasy bastard!”
The broken glass sounded like pebbles being jostled in a rushing stream, but it reminded Ignaz of the day, not long ago, when the Nazis burnt synagogues and smashed the windows of Herr Gittelman’s butcher shop. The day he had been arrested and sent to Dachau. He thought, too, of Ettore, the cook on the Garibaldi. Were they enemies now?
The next day was turning out to be mild and sunny. To clear his head, Ignaz decided to go swimming on Hampstead Heath.
The water was still a little cold, but after several minutes he managed to forget the temperature and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the pond and its surroundings. By the time he finished his swim, toweled himself off, and changed into dry clothes, his headache was gone and he felt surprisingly refreshed. Before leaving the heath, he picked some colorful flowers and tied them together with a length of skinny vine.
“Here,” he said to Cristina as he handed them across the counter of the florist shop, where she was changing the water in a vase. His hair was still damp.
“Bluebells, wood anemones, primrose—they’re lovely.”
“But Iggy,” she continued, laughing, “I work in a flower shop.”
His smile faded.
“Have you heard the expression ‘carrying coals to Newcastle’?”
“Coals? Castle?” He shook his head.
“There’s lots of coal mines in Newcastle. Giving flowers to someone who works in a flower shop—well, you get the idea.”
He ran a hand through his damp hair. “You are making fun of me?”
Cristina put a hand on Ignaz’s arm. “No, of course not. It’s just, uh, funny, that’s all.”
The flowers had seemed so pretty; the beauty of the heath and the pond had raised his spirits; he was so thankful to have met someone like Cristina. Now she was laughing at him.
He turned and walked out of the shop.
He didn’t look back.
The girls were skipping rope on the playground, the boys kicking around a football in the fine mist. Two girls held the rope while another one skipped. Julie and a few others stood on the side, clapping their hands and calling out the rhyme:
Charlie Chaplin went to France
To teach the ladies how to dance.
First the heel, then the toe,
Then the splits, and around you go!
Salute to the Captain,
Bow to the Queen,
And turn your back on the Nazi submarine!
Sally, the fresh-faced, popular girl who was jumping over the rope, mimed the actions described in the rhyme, twirling around, saluting to one side, and bowing to the other before yielding the stage to someone else. Twenty or thirty yards away, the boys were racing furiously back and forth over the patchy, stony ground. Panting, trying to catch their breaths, they bumped into each other and called each other names like ferret face!, greedy guts!, and stupid twit!
Meanwhile, the girls called out:
Jenny and Johnny
Sitting in a tree,
First comes love,
Then comes marriage
Then comes Jenny
With a baby carriage.
The football got loose and rolled over to the rope-skippers, causing Sally to get tangled up in the rope.
“Look what you did!” she shrieked.
“Stupid boys!” said Julie.
“What d’you know about it?” said Pip while scooping up the round, thickly padded, black-and-white ball. His hair fell in his eyes like a clump of overgrown grass, and his face was red from the exertion.
“You’re just a bloody German.”
Suddenly, the rest of the boys and girls started chanting, “Bloody German! Bloody German!” and pointing their fingers at her. She began to cry, then ran inside the schoolhouse as fast as she could.
The parlor of the boardinghouse where Ignaz lived contained two sagging chairs, a very dim lamp, dust motes that floated in the air like relics from prehistoric times, heavy curtains that seemed never to have been washed, and a carpet whose original colors were no longer decipherable. But Mildred hoovered the room every day, and it felt like home. It was all the more disturbing, then, to find two uniformed policemen waiting for him in the parlor when he came home from work.
It was a warm day and the bobbies were sweating.
“Ja, aber—” For some reason he had reverted to German.
“There’s a warrant out for your arrest.”
“Arrest? What you mean?” His first thought was that they had found out about his unlawful entry into the country and were going to send him back to Austria.
“His Majesty’s Government has ordered the arrest and internment of all enemy aliens residing in Britain. You’re a citizen of Germany.”
A young Irishman who lived on the same floor as Ignaz hurried past them.
“Deutschland? Nein, ich bin aus Osterreich. Austria.” Then he remembered that Austria was now part of Germany.
“Well,” said the older of the two bobbies, “you’ve got ten minutes to collect your things. Better hop to it.”
Ignaz had a sudden recollection, once again, of the day he had tried to chase the young thugs who had smashed Herr Gittelman’s window. A couple of SS agents had thrown him into the back of a truck and hustled him off to a hastily organized detention center. They hadn’t given him ten minutes.
Now he stuffed some clothes into a spindly suitcase, stuck the clipping of the newspaper photo into his wallet, left a note for Mildred, and closed the door behind him. He didn’t have time to reach Cristina, and, anyway, after their tiff, what could he say?
“Where are you taking me?”
“We ask the questions,” said the younger bobby.
It turned out to be the local jail, where he spent the night in a large cell together with a dozen other men of various backgrounds—Italians, Germans, Czechs, Poles. But they weren’t all aliens, and some complained that they had been born and raised in London. One plump, bald-headed Italian with a thin black mustache said that his grandfather had left Naples sixty years before.
“My father fought for this country i’ the Great War. I married an English girl. My children are English. Why’re they locking me up?”
The cell was hot and stuffy. The benches were hard. It was a long, sleepless night.
The next day Ignaz was herded into a lorry along with five or six others—one Italian, one something else, the rest German or Austrian. One of the Austrians, a thickset, red-faced man who had left behind an apartment just off the Ring, struck up a conversation with him in German. He seemed to be nostalgic for the old days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz Joseph, Habsburg palaces, fancy pastries on every plate—it was all downhill from there.
“Where are we going?” someone asked the guards, two young soldiers with weapons at the ready.
“Never mind,” said the older of the two, who was younger than Ignaz himself. He tossed a cigarette out the window.
The lorry was hot and stuffy like the jail cell. The benches were hard. The ride was bumpy. Occasionally they stopped to relieve themselves behind some bushes by the side of the road. Rations were pasty sandwiches and lukewarm sugary tea.
That night they slept in another jail cell, and the following day they were herded onto a steamship. Where were they going? Were they crossing the Channel? No one would say. France was falling to the Germans, and even the British Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey were in danger. Had His Majesty’s Government come to some agreement with the Nazis to dump him and his fellow undesirables back in Occupied Europe?
The crossing, which took only a few hours, seemed peaceful enough. The blue-green water was calm; there were seagulls in the sky and a few sailboats in the channel. The other passengers, including families with young children, seemed to be going on holiday, though the prisoners were squirreled away in their own section of the boat and weren’t allowed to speak to the rest.
As they approached the shore, one of the prisoners pointed out a window and said something about an island. Well, better Jersey than Germany, even if the island’s future was uncertain. There was another short lorry ride, past cows, farmers, and several bicyclists. They came to a small village, surrounded by barbed wire. It was not as high as the electrified wire fence surrounding the camp at Dachau, but the sight of it made his heart pound. The lorry entered the village, turned down a street of modest wooden houses, then another. And stopped.
“All right, everybody out,” barked one of the soldiers.
Ignaz's legs were stiff after the journey, and his head was spinning from hunger or apprehension. When one of them asked a guard where they were, the nostalgic Austrian translated it as Insel von Mann. But in the next few days it became clear that they had arrived on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea between Britain and Ireland, and the Welsh or Irish name of the island had nothing to do with the German “Mann” or the English “man.”
It was the last day of school, and Miss Bartholomew, whose clear blue eyes matched the brilliant blue sky outside, was reading to them from a book called The Railway Children. The book concerned a family that has to move to the country and fend for themselves when the father, who works in a government office, has to leave unexpectedly. They used to live in a nice house with a cook and several maids, but now they’re poor (there are mice in the walls of their house) and life isn’t so easy. Julie loved the book. She loved the pluck of the three children, which reminded her of the youngsters’ resourcefulness in Emil and the Detectives. She had never lived in a nice house with servants, but she knew what it was like to leave a parent and her old life behind.
“Philip,” said Miss Bartholomew with her usual friendly smile, “would you please read the next paragraph?”
“Yes, Miss Bartholomew,” said her classmate. They all climbed on to the top of the fence, and then suddenly there was a rambling sound—Pip paused to take a breath, and Miss Bartholomew suggested “rumbling”—that made them look along the line to the right, where the dark mouth of a tunnel opened itself in the face of a rocky cliff;—another breath—next moment a train had rushed out of the tunnel with a sh-sh-shriek and a snort—
“What’s a snort?” he asked the teacher, but before she could answer one of the other boys demonstrated the sound.
“That’s enough,” said Miss Bartholomew, firmly though quietly.
… out of the tunnel with a shriek and a snort and had sled noisily past them. (“Try slid,” said their teacher.) They felt the rush of its passing, and the pebbles on the line jumped and rattled under it as it went by.
“Excellent,” said Miss Bartholomew.
Later, on the playground, Julie was playing skip rope with the other girls when, with a thunderous snort, some unruly beast—like a great dragon tearing by, as the book said—hurtled toward her and, before she knew what was happening, planted a surprisingly soft kiss on her cheek. Pip.
“What—what are you doing?” she yelped, but he ran off as quickly as he had arrived.
Although she felt herself blushing all the way down to her chest, she tried to pretend that nothing had happened. She kept calling out the skipping rhymes, and when it was her turn to jump the other girls chanted, “Julie and Pip sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Julie with a baby carriage.”
Her feet got tangled up in the rope, and she ran to another part of the playground, where she hid behind a tree. But she could hear the other girls calling, “Julie and Pip sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” While waiting for her cheeks to cool and her heart to stop pounding, she wondered what Bobbie, the girl in The Railway Children who had asked her father whether she could be a stoker on a train, would do.
The prisoners—or internees, as the camp officials called them—were assigned to flats in the boarding houses surrounding the village’s main square. Evidently the existing tenants had been forced to leave. Ignaz’s flat was nicer than his bare room in London, but the number of internees—all men—far outstripped the number of apartments, so they were required to share not just flats but beds.
His own roommates included two Germans, one of them Jewish, and a Hungarian Jew who had moved to Vienna just before the Anschluß. The German Jew was a history professor who had been dismissed from his post at the university, and the Hungarian was an actor who had moonlighted as a taxi driver and who claimed to know Peter Lorre personally. The other man, a tall, scarecrow-like figure with wild, salt-and-pepper hair, was some kind of artist and poet. The history professor liked to make historical allusions, the Hungarian liked to crack jokes in a mix of Hungarian and German, and the artist snored loudly. There were two double beds among them, and Ignaz wound up sleeping with the Hungarian.
“Hitler is like Napoleon,” the professor said one morning over a cup of weak coffee. “Short, ambitious, and crazy. He’ll probably invade Russia, like Napoleon before him, and the result will be the same.”
“As long as he keeps his hands off Hungary,” said György, the Hungarian.
“Germany and Hungary are allies.”
“Hitler’s a vegetarian,” replied György. “He doesn’t like goulash.”
“He doesn’t like schnitzel either,” said Ignaz.
“Crazy, yes,” said the German artist, whose paintings had apparently been included in a Nazi exhibition of immoral, antisocial art, “but crazy like a fox. There’s no telling what he’ll do or where he’ll stop.”
“I don’t think he’ll invade the Isle of Man,” observed the professor.
“No, but the British might,” said the Hungarian. No one was sure if he was joking.
Julie didn’t see Pip over the summer, but she received another letter from her friend Lucy and one from her aunt Rivka in Palestine. “My family is very kind to me,” Lucy wrote, “but they keep forgetting I’m Catholic. I go to the little storefront synagogue with Mrs. Rabinowitz and sit in the women’s section with her. The services are very long, in Hebrew with a little bit of Yiddish thrown in. So of course I don’t understand a word. I would like to go to church on Sundays but I’m afraid to say anything.”
Well, Julie thought to herself, with Lizzie stretched out next to her, things weren’t perfect, but at least they had families to take care of them.
“Did you hear?” Lucy went on. “The refugee schools and camps were shut down. Something about ‘security.’ The 16-year-olds were taken away. We’re lucky that didn’t happen to us, though I guess we’re too young to be arrested.”
Taken away? It reminded her of the boys in their camp getting into trouble for wandering into a red light district. What had they done now?
Tante Rivka had become a nurse in a local hospital. Patching people up, getting them back on their feet. “It feels good to take care of people,” she wrote.
“I take care of you, don’t I, Lizzie?”
The dog opened her eyes and yawned.
“Julie?” Mrs. Finley called from the kitchen. “Can you watch Helen while I go down to the market?”
And Helen. Not that she minded.
The summer passed slowly for Ignaz, but it could have been worse. The camp commander allowed them to swim sometimes in the nearby bay. One Italian internee, or rather an Englishman with an Italian background, had evidently swum for Britain in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Did it embarrass anyone that he was now confined to an internment camp?
Apparently, fifty or a hundred years ago, the Isle of Man had been a holiday resort for well-to-do English visitors, and now he could spend a summer there for free. Of course he wasn’t free, but in contrast to Dachau, where he spent twelve or fourteen hours a day digging in a gravel pit, here the internees were not required to do hard labor. All those doctors, lawyers, scientists, and professors with time on their hands! They organized educational lectures, a camp newspaper, concerts and other performances, even a Viennese-style café. György performed in a German-language adaptation of a Shakespeare play.
Ignaz wasn’t interested in the lectures or the newspaper, but with his experience as a short order cook he found himself making palatschinken and apple strudel in the café—with a lot less butter and fewer eggs than they would have used in Vienna. The coffee they brewed was tasteless, but one couldn’t have a Viennese café, even an imitation café, that served only tea. A café was not a tea shop. It wasn’t only the homesick internees who patronized the place; the British guards came too. It was the center of the camp’s social life, if you could call it that.
On one occasion the internees were allowed to receive a visit from their wives, at least if their wives resided in other camps on the island. György and the professor put on clean shirts, vintage jackets, and oddly colorful ties. When their wives arrived, they took a long walk around the perimeter of the camp and didn’t return for hours. There was no provision for girlfriends, however, and in any case Ignaz had not heard from Cristina. Either she never received his letters or she wasn’t answering them.
While the married internees were pretending to have a romantic outing, he just sat in his room and stared out the window.
Simon, Helen, and Julie sat on the grass on the edge of the village green as Mr. Finley and his mates, now called the Home Guard, marched up and down under the blistering noonday sun. Simon had not received a rifle for his birthday, but the volunteers had finally received theirs from the government, which they might have to use if the Germans invaded. Their leader, an older landowner and ex-army officer named Chatham, barked commands which the amateur soldiers tried their best to follow. Left, right. Left, right. Column right, march.
“I’m going to join up as soon as I’m old enough,” said Simon, now twelve, between sips of lukewarm lemonade.
“Are you going to march with daddy?” asked Helen.
“No, silly twit. I’m going to join the real army and travel abroad to fight.”
“France, Belgium, Germany. Wherever the war is by then.”
“Where is it now?”
“On the high seas. But that’s the navy, not the army.”
Helen was cradling a doll in her arms. Julie was watching Mr. Finley out of the corner of one eye, but mostly she was reading a book called Winnie-the-Pooh. … although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were. Yes, she could agree with that.
“I’m going to join up too,” said Helen.
“You can’t. You’re a girl. You don’t see Mummy marching up and down with a rifle, do you?”
Helen shook her head.
Julie looked up. “Are they fighting in Austria now?”
“Austria?” said Simon. “I don’t think so.”
“Uh, I don’t think so. Mr. Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to the Germans.”
“Poland? What about Poland?” Oma and Opa were in Poland. “Are they still fighting in Poland?”
“The Germans and Russians carved up Poland between them. The fighting didn’t last long.”
“So the war is over?” said Helen brightly.
Left, right. Left, right. Capt. Chatham continued to issue commands.
“No, silly. It’s just beginning. I hope I get to fight before it’s over.”
The sun was still high in the sky. Julie wished she had a lemonade too. But since she didn’t, she stuck her head back in her book. At least Pooh and his friends didn’t fight.
There were a number of artists in the internment camp, and they craved art supplies. Most of the buildings’ windows had been painted a dark blue in the absence of blackout curtains, and the camp’s artists began to engrave flowers, landscapes, and naked women on the blue surfaces. The flowers and naked bodies proliferated wildly. Lacking paint, the artists mixed brick dust with the oil from sardine cans. Instead of canvases or sketch paper, they used thick brown parcel wrappers, peeling dry wallpaper, and the thin but serviceable government-issue toilet paper.
Horst, Ignaz’s artist roommate, made strange bloblike sculptures out of leftover breakfast porridge, which quickly developed green and blue mold. Although he favored the decadent abstract art abhorred by the Nazis, Horst also painted numerous, more or less realistic portraits of his fellow internees and even some of the guards.
In György's native land he was evidently known as the Hungarian Hamlet, but in Horst’s portrait he looked like a born-to-be-comic actor with big ears and a barely suppressed grin. The professor looked suitably professorial with his graying whiskers, yellowing teeth, and perfectly knotted tie, though Ignaz thought he could detect a demonic gleam in the painted proxy of the professor’s hazel eyes. One young guard, named Herbert, appeared as a happy-sad English clown who had somehow exchanged his circus costume for a soldier’s uniform. In his own portrait Ignaz saw himself depicted as a brooding, middle-European butcher with big hands, a big head, and a big, bearlike frame. And big teeth? The better to eat little girls with, like the wolf in the fairy tale? Ignaz shuddered.
The artists, writers, historians, actors, and scientists made the most of their forced vacation, while Ignaz made pastries and brooded. One thing was for sure: he would never eat porridge again.
When school resumed in the fall, Pip seemed to have forgotten about their run-ins of the previous year. He avoided kicking the football into the girls’ skip-rope circle, peered over Julie’s shoulder during maths practice, and offered her treats at lunch time.
Their new teacher, Mrs. Yates, said that their thoughts should be with the boys and girls left in London.
“Is it dangerous there?” said one of the other boys.
“Yes,” said the teacher, a small, gray-haired, kindly-looking woman who wore her glasses on the top of her head but was always pulling them down or pushing them back up. “Bombs are falling. We’re happy to have Philip, but some parents just can’t bear to be away from their children.”
Did that mean Pip’s mother didn’t love him that much? Or that she loved him so much she was willing to be away from him as long as he was safe? Was that why her own mother and father had sent her away? She wondered if the London children would be safe. Did they have shelters in their back gardens where they could hide when the bombs fell? Did they even have a back garden? She and Pip were lucky that they didn’t have to worry about bombs.
One windy day on the playground he pulled a long red twist of licorice from his pocket and asked if she would like some.
“No, thank you,” she said.
Pip shrugged, took a bite out of the twisty red snake, and began to chew.
As if he had just been getting started, he took out the rest of the contents of his pocket, including a shilling and two pence, a black button, a torn shoelace, and a scrap of paper on which somebody had written something incomprehensible.
“It’s a real treasure trove,” said Julie, using some fancy English words she had noticed in one of the books she had been reading.
Pip studied the piece of paper and stuffed it in the other pocket.
“I’m sorry I called you German,” he said with licorice in his mouth. “Mr. Brougham says you’re Jewish.”
Julie was so flustered that she started speaking in a mix of German and English. “Ja, ich bin jüdisch, aber I come from Wien.”
“What?” said Pip, blinking rapidly.
“Oh, sorry. I mean, what you said is right.”
“He says you killed Jesus, but that’s okay because it wasn’t your fault.”
Barbara, a long-limbed girl who excelled at sports, ran by with her braids flapping wildly in the wind and tapped her on the shoulder. “Come on, Julie. We’re skipping rope. You can talk to your boyfriend later.”
“What? No. Not—”
But she had already flown past.
After a summer of dogfights between German and British fighter planes, during which enemy bombers dropped their explosives on RAF airfields, the Luftwaffe switched tactics and turned its attention to London. According to the newspaper and radio reports that filtered into their camp, the Germans targeted arsenals, power stations, gasworks, and oil storage tanks, but they also hit the docks and the crowded streets of the East End, where Mildred’s boardinghouse and Thomas’s tenement were located.
A middle-aged writer and a young engineer were sitting in the camp café discussing shelters.
“There aren’t enough of them,” said the writer. “That’s the problem.”
“What are you talking about? Millions of Anderson shelters”—galvanized-steel structures buried a few feet deep in people’s backyards—“have been distributed, many of them free of charge.”
It was just like Vienna, Ignaz thought as he placed some imitation Sacher torten on a tray. Armchair analysts arguing with one other in a café.
“They’re strong,” the writer admitted, “but they leak. I wouldn’t want to be in one when it rains.”
“Better to be cold and wet than to be blown to bits.”
“The Tube is a far better solution. I say, open up more Tube stations.”
“It’s already happening, they say.”
“Only because the people demanded it. They staked out places on the platforms, and the commuters couldn’t get where they wanted to go. The government had no choice but to acquiesce.”
“Well, at least the officials are listening.”
“Only if we keep on shouting.”
Ignaz had finally received a letter from Cristina. She told him that she had rescued some personal effects from his room before Mildred let it to someone else. She had joined the Women’s Voluntary Services, evacuating people from their homes and even helping to put out fires. Meanwhile, he was swimming in the bay, making Viennese pastries with oily British margarine, and staring at barbed wire.
They called them trekkers, the city dwellers who streamed out into the countryside when the bombs started falling on cities all over Britain. If no shelter was available, they spent the night under bridges or on the heath.
“Are they Gypsies?” Helen wondered as the family sat around the dining room table.
“No,” said her mother. “They’re just people like us who want to be safe.”
“Don’t they have homes of their own?” asked Simon.
“Some of them, no,” said Mr. Finley. “They’ve lost their homes. The rest are afraid of what the next bombing raid will bring.”
“Why can’t they stay here with us?” said Helen while picking at her food.
Her parents glanced at each other.
“You’re already sharing a room with Miss Julie here,” said Mrs. Finley with a horsy laugh. “We’re packed tight like sardines in a tin.”
Julie felt herself grow hot under the collar. Should she offer to vacate her place and live on the heath with the trekkers?
“Maybe we can bring them some hot tea and biscuits,” said Helen.
“That’s a brilliant idea, sweetie”—she leaned down to kiss her daughter—“but there wouldn’t be enough to go ’round. There’s dozens of people out there, maybe hundreds. I couldn’t make enough tea for all o’ them if I tried.”
The table lapsed into silence as they dug into their chicken pot pies, which consisted mostly of carrots and turnips. Simon slurped noisily at the soft, sticky contents.
“Can I have some more milk?” he said after he came up for air.
“Me too,” said Helen.
“Just a drop,” said their mother. “The milkman doesn’t come for another couple o’ days.”
She poured a little of the watery milk into their glasses and asked Julie if she wanted any more.
“No, thank you, ma’am.”
A soggy carrot from Simon’s pie fell on the floor, and Lizzie promptly lapped it up.
“You’re not making much of a dent in your food,” Mrs. Finley said to Julie.
“I’ve eaten most of it.” The truth was she didn’t care much for turnips and the pie crust tasted like toasted cardboard mixed with glue.
“All right, dear, but you know that there are boys and girls all over Europe—even London—who would give their eye teeth to have a delicious pot pie for tea.”
She recalled the family of The Railway Children, suddenly poorer and fatherless. She wondered what the children sleeping under the railroad bridge were having for their tea that night.
By mid-November the weather on the windswept island had turned miserably cold and rainy. Despite the bad weather, the camp officials had allowed them to take a walk along the beach, and Ignaz found himself slogging through the wet sand next to György with their macintoshes buttoned up and their faces to the wind. He had received one postcard from Cristina in the past couple of months, but the card revealed little.
György mumbled something which he couldn’t catch.
“I said, have you heard about Coventry?”
Ignaz shook his head and with that movement got a bucketful of rain in his face.
“Bombed last night. Cathedral badly damaged. Many hundreds killed.”
“Gött in Himmel.”
“Incendiary bombs. Fires all over the city center. It’s amazing more people weren’t killed.”
Ignaz shook his head grimly. “I wonder if they hit our camp next.”
“Bloody Germans,” said György. “I hope Churchill rains bombs on Berlin.”
In the next few days Horst, their artist roommate, started a new painting on some discarded brown packing paper. At first it seemed like just a series of ugly streaks, but gradually it resolved itself into a thousand shards and splinters, at sharp angles, in muted, twilight colors, with flashes of yellow, green, and red to illuminate whatever crackup was taking place. The rain was still coming down outside, but they opened the windows because the paint fumes were making it hard to breathe.
Horst worked on the painting night and day.
“You coming to the café?” the professor asked him.
Horst muttered something unintelligible.
A week later the painting was finished, though it was hard for a casual observer to tell.
“Was ist das?” said Ignaz.
“Coventry,” Horst replied.
“Would you like to take a trip into the city?” Mrs. Finley asked her children a few weeks before Christmas. “We could see a movie and do some last-minute shopping.”
Helen, who was trying to groom the dog with a hair brush meant for humans, squealed with delight and said, “Oh yes, let’s! Can Lizzie come too?”
Julie, sitting in a chair by the window, was trying to concentrate on the letter she was writing to Lucy. She was telling her about the trekkers on the heath and about Pip, the boy from London. Did they too have evacuees in her school and families from the city who lived under bridges?
“No, I’m afraid not,” Mrs. Finley said. “They don’t allow dogs in the cinema.”
Helen frowned and pretended to pout. “I won’t go if you can’t go,” she told the dog.
“That’s too bad,” said her mother. “Your brother will come, won’t you, Simon?”
Julie pondered what to write next. Should she ask Lucy, whose father had passed away, if she had heard from her mother?
Simon, who was struggling to do his maths homework on the kitchen table, said, “Do I have to?”
“Yes, you bloody well have to,” said his father, who had just come into the house after repairing a leak in a neighbor’s faucet.
“But I don’t like shopping.”
“That’s all right then. No movies. No shopping. No presents.”
“Father Christmas will bring them,” said Helen.
Mrs. Finley shook her head. “Father Christmas might skip over our house.”
Helen stamped her feet and said, “That’s not fair.”
Her mother shrugged. “I guess not, but that’s how it is.”
The child simmered but resumed brushing the dog. Simon went back to his homework. Mr. Finley sat down at the table with a glass of cider.
“What about you?” he asked Julie. “You like Christmas shopping, don’t you?”
“Well, my parents took me Christmas shopping,” she said tentatively, “but they didn’t like to call it that. I mean—”
Mrs. F. was nonplussed. “Nonsense,” she said. “What else would one call it?”
Mr. F. turned back to his son. “You like the Andy Hardy movies, don’t you, Simon?”
Simon chewed on his pencil. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Walt Disney? Charlie Chan? What about them?”
Simon looked up. “I guess.”
“And American Westerns. Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes? You like them, don’t you?”
“I like Westerns. They’re my favorite.”
“There you go, then. We’ll see if we can find a Western, and if we can’t we’ll try Charlie Chan. Number one son always obey very clever father!”
“Yes!” said Helen, clapping her hands.
“It’s settled then,” said their mother. “A Christmas outing in the city.”
The guard delivered the note to Ignaz one morning at roll call. It said he was supposed to meet with the camp commander the first thing the next day. What was that about? Should he ask György or Horst or the professor? The whole rest of the day, from his morning stint at the café and his afternoon killing time in the internees’ makeshift reading room while Horst put the final touches on his Coventry painting to his evening playing chess (badly) with the equally bad Hungarian, his heart pounded and his stomach did somersaults.
What the hell was going on? Were they going to exile him to Canada or Australia, like the ill-fated passengers on the Arandora Star, which the Germans had sunk off the coast of Ireland? He remembered when the Nazis had arrested him after the smashing of Herr Gittelman’s windows. They asked a lot of questions, but in the end his answers didn’t seem to matter.
But this was England, and no windows were being smashed.
Around the fifteenth move, György made a mistake which cost him a knight, but seven or eight moves later he himself gave up a rook for a bishop. The end result was a messy draw.
That night, with the professor snoring and Horst talking to himself in his sleep, he lay there staring up at the ceiling. No, it was not good that the commander wanted to see him. He missed Cristina, and he knew that if they sent him to Australia he would never see her again.
Sometime before dawn he must have fallen asleep, because he was startled awake in the quiet darkness of early morning by a terrifying dream. He was standing in a butcher shop, armed with a massive cleaver, preparing to chop off someone’s thumb. Memories of the farms and butcher shops he had visited with Thomas mingled with earlier memories of Gittelman’s Kosher meat market and the shochet whose strange request he had, foolishly, complied with. But in the dream it was not the shochet whose thumb he had cut off. It was his own. Yes, he would tell the commander: he was guilty as charged.
The room was still dark. Horst and the professor were breathing evenly, but György was tossing and turning in the bed he shared with Ignaz, pulling the sheets away. There was still time to catch a few more winks, as they said here, before the appointed time.
Mrs. Finley decided that they couldn’t leave shopping to the last minute, so she dragged the children into town for a visit to the local store. Simon went off to look for mittens and trousers, while Mrs. Finley shepherded the girls toward the children’s clothing section.
“My,” she exclaimed, “the racks are almost bare.”
“What happened to all the clothes?” said Julie.
“I don’t know. I guess the manufacturers are making uniforms, and there isn’t much fabric left for civilian things.”
Meanwhile, Helen was eyeing a frilly pink dress.
“Is that for school or a tea party?” said her mother.
Mrs. Finley examined the price tag. “And a very fancy tea party at that.”
Helen scrunched up her face.
“Well,” her mother continued, winking at Julie, “maybe your cousin Amy would like it. She’s near your size.”
In the shoe section, Julie looked at a pair of sturdy oxfords.
“Do you fancy those?” said Mrs. Finley.
“Oh, no,” she said. “Just taking a look.”
A woman whose cat’s-eye glasses made her look like a moonlighting schoolteacher approached them. “Can I help you?” she said.
“Yes, thank you,” said Mrs. F. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “We’re just after some Christmas presents for the children. Not too dear, mind you.”
“There are some special items at the back of the store,” said the clerk. “You might try those.”
There were a number of toys for sale in the back, including a model Spitfire that caught Simon’s eye and a toy stove.
“Can I have that?” asked Helen, pointing to the stove.
“Do you want to learn to cook like mum?”
She shook her head up and down.
After an hour or two of shopping, the family repaired to the tea room. But food turned out to be as limited as clothing. Mrs. Finley had a bowl of soup and the children spaghetti. Julie toyed with her noodles. The thought of Christmas without her parents, even if they didn’t celebrate Christmas, was weighing her down.
Petrol was rationed, so on the Sunday before Christmas Mr. Finley herded the others into a bus whose winding route eventually took it into the city, a manufacturing and trading center since the beginning of the previous century. Despite wartime restrictions, food and clothing rationing, and the absence of the young men serving in the armed forces, the city had a subdued air of holiday festivity. Banners hung from lampposts, parishioners streamed out of churches following Sunday services, customers strolled in and out of shops, and the streets were a bit more crowded with visitors from the surrounding countryside. There were even a few soldiers in uniform. But Liverpool had been bombed the previous two nights, and everyone knew that their own city could be next.
As they hopped out of the bus, Helen clasped her mother’s hand, Julie chatted with Mr. F., and Simon ran ahead. The day was cold but dry, with the sun barely peeking out from behind listless gray clouds.
“Simon, wait up!” his father yelled.
“I’m pretending I’m Billy the Kid,” he shouted back, shooting an imaginary pistol.
“Well, you know how that ended.”
As it happened, they couldn’t find either a Western or a Charlie Chan movie, but they chanced upon a theater showing a British thriller, Night Train to Munich. As they were standing outside, undecided, Julie heard Mrs. Finley whisper some words that included scary and children to her husband, but he shook his head, said something else, and bought five tickets.
In truth it was the middle of the day and the movie theater was half-empty, but the audience—with the possible exception of Helen, who sucked on penny candy and bounced in her seat like a wind-up toy—followed the action raptly. With the Germans occupying Czechoslovakia, a Czech scientist’s daughter is sent to a prison camp. The prisoner who helps her escape turns out to be a Nazi agent. The daughter and father are kidnapped from England and shipped to Germany via U-boat.
Julie stole a sideways glance at Simon, whose eyes were open wide.
“Are you all right?” Mrs. Finley whispered to her.
She nodded, though her heart was beating faster and she could barely breathe.
Thankfully, at the end, the father and daughter escape to Switzerland with the help of a handsome English spy. The handsome spy and the lovely Czech girl embrace.
After the credits rolled, they trooped outside, blinked mechanically in the fast-fading light, and tried to digest what they had seen.
“That was brilliant,” said Simon, skipping down the street.
“You liked it?” said his dad.
“I want to be a spy like Dickie Randall when I grow up.”
Mr. Finley chuckled.
“How about you, dear?” Mrs. Finley asked Julie.
“I’m glad everything worked out in the end,” she said, but she was thinking it would be nice if a dashing spy rescued her parents and brought them to England.
“Yes, me too. Every spy thriller needs a love story.”
The sun had set and the temperature was starting to plummet when Mr. Finley suggested dropping into a pub.
“Shouldn’t we be getting home?” said Mrs. Finley, wrapping her shawl more tightly around her. “All the windows are blacked out, and I’m getting nervous.”
“I’m thirsty,” said her husband.
“Oh, that’s it.”
“It’s almost Christmas. Let’s enjoy ourselves while we can.”
Mrs. Finley glanced pointedly at the children but followed her husband as he searched the area for a suitable watering hole. Julie and the others tagged along. Finally they stopped at an old-fashioned structure with narrow windows, fish scale trim, and overhanging gables.
The tap room, with peanut shells and sawdust on its bare wooden floors, was crowded, noisy, and smoke-filled. Mr. Finley guided them into the quieter and more refined saloon, where better-dressed couples were enjoying a drink or an evening meal. After some discussion, Mr. F. went back out to order and returned with some starchy meat pies, a wedge of Cheshire cheese, a jar of mustard, and a pint of bitter for himself.
Simon devoured a meat pie in three ravenous bites, while Helen, mouselike, nibbled on some cheese. Julie tasted the pie—mushy and meat-flavored.
One hour and two pints later, the family marched back out through the noisy, smoky bar and emerged into the chilly night.
“Now where was the bus station?” mused Mr. Finley.
“I think it’s over there,” said his wife.
They headed off in that direction, but a minute later they heard a slow rumble that sounded like the growling of a distant dog. Then a thousand dogs. Bombers! They could hear the bombs falling like heavy hail, and very soon sirens were wailing and fires were burning in the blocks all around them. People started running this way and that, but uniformed members of the women’s volunteer services appeared out of thin air and began to direct the nervous pedestrians to nearby shelters.
The bombs continued to fall, fire bombs (someone said) lighting the way for the more powerful explosives that followed. Julie couldn’t stop coughing. With all the smoke and dust in the air, she found it hard to breathe. It was like the pub, only worse.
“I’m scared,” Helen squealed, gripping her mother’s hand.
“It’s all right, love. We’re together.”
Simon skipped ahead as if it were a great adventure.
“Bloody Hitler,” Mr. Finley muttered.
It wasn’t the first raid on the city, but Mrs. Finley said, “Why? Why us? We’s just minding our own business.”
“They’re bloody savages, that’s why.”
One of the “Waves” led them to some steps going underground. It was once a canal, she explained, under the streets. The underground shelter was quickly filling up with people. A bomb struck nearby, sending shock waves through the structure.
“I hope no one is hurt,” said Julie, thinking of her parents far way. Were bombs dropping there too?
Helen sat in her mother’s lap. Simon sat next to his dad. Julie leaned gently against Mrs. Finley on the other side.
“Come to think of it,” Mr. Finley reflected, in a quiet voice, “there’s factories nearby. Aircraft, airplane engines, electrical equipment. No wonder they’re bombing us.”
“But not here,” said Mrs. F., indicating the city center. “It’s just railway stations and churches and commercial buildings and the big cathedral. What do they want to bomb those for?”
“To scare the shite out of us,” an old man commented.
“I’m not scared,” said Simon.
Another bomb rocked the shelter. Mrs. Finley hugged her daughter tightly and clasped Julie’s hand.
“Have a seat,” said the commander, a fit, middle-aged soldier, pointing to an empty wooden chair.
Ignaz sat down.
Perusing a manila folder lying open on his desk, the commander continued, “I know it wasn’t your choice to be here, Mr. Natanson, but how would you describe your experience of our camp so far?”
“Alles gut,” said Ignaz, nodding. “I work in café.”
“Oh, yes. How wonderful to have a Viennese café in the middle of the Irish Sea.”
The commander flipped a few pages of the file.
“You arrived in our country in January of last year?”
“And you were employed as a retail clerk?”
“A sales clerk. In a store.”
Ignaz shook his head. “No clerk. Cook. I make food in Voolvort.”
“Ah, yes, Woolworth’s.” The commander made a note on the document in front of him. “And how have you enjoyed your stay in Great Britain?”
The word stay sent a shiver up Ignaz’s spine. It suggested a brief stopover in a hotel which one could not afford. The bill would come due soon.
“I enjoy very much,” he said.
The commander closed the folder. “Let me be frank, Mr. Natanson. His Majesty’s government does not look favorably on enemy aliens, especially ones who have entered the country illegally.”
“Ich bin kein Feind. Not enemy. The Nazis make me leave.”
“Yes, yes, I understand, Mr. Natanson, and all of us here in His Majesty’s service are keenly aware that many enemy aliens are in fact refugees from Mr. Hitler and loyal supporters of the war effort. The sticking point, in your case, Mr. Natanson, is that you have no business being here. You don’t have a visa.”
Ignaz felt cornered. He didn’t know what to say. “I haff visa,” he stammered.
“For Shanghai,” the commander continued calmly. “London is a long way from Shanghai.”
Ignaz said nothing. He wondered if they were going to ship him back to Vienna or put him in a real prison, one without a Viennese café.
“Given the circumstances, Mr. Natanson, your situation is, let us say, precarious, but I do have a proposition for you that you may find appealing.”
Ignaz could hardly follow what the commander was saying. Proposition? What did that mean?
“You’ve heard of the Pioneer Corps, I assume?”
Ignaz shook his head. “Pioneer? Ich verstehe nicht.”
“Well, it’s a branch of the Army. A combatant unit, I might add, but one which specializes in infrastructure—laying the groundwork for actual combat operations.”
“Building roads, bridges, landing strips. Handling supplies. Bearing stretchers. That sort of thing.”
“Well, Mr. Natanson, would you like to serve in the Pioneer Corps?”
“Yes, exactly. I’m giving you the opportunity to help the war effort far more than you’re doing here, by serving in His Majesty’s forces.”
“At the same time we’d forget all about your illegal status. Your Shanghai visa. The slate would be wiped clean.”
It was still hard for Ignaz to comprehend what the commander was offering him. “Leave camp? Finish?”
“That’s it exactly. Leave the camp, join the army, wipe the slate clean. What do you say?”
Ignaz stood up, pushed the wooden chair behind him, and thrust his hand across the desk. “Ja, ja. Alles gut. I join.”
“Brilliant,” said the commander, rising from his own chair and shaking Ignaz’s hand. “Oh, one more thing. Your name.”
Ignaz released the other man’s hand. “My name?”
The commander nodded. “Natanson. Ignaz. Too Jewish, I’m afraid. It would cause quite a lot of trouble if the Nazis got hold of you.”
Ignaz sat back down.
The commander considered some alternatives. “Natanson, Nottingham, Nicholson. What do you think of Nicholson?”
“Nigel Nicholson. That’s it! Nigel Nicholson! Very English, don’t you think?”
“Ja, sehr englisch.”