1942, Amsterdam

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’ve walked this earth for 63 years, my father and brothers fought in the First World War, back then I lived in Birmingham and then I met my husband who also served in the war, then we moved here to the Netherlands which I found absolutely beautiful. I have seen the world in so many different lights. I have seen hate, envy, betrayal, love, friendship and countless other things. I was a nurse once and I treated all kinds of people. There was a time when I had just gotten married and I was working at the clinic up town, a man rushed in with his little girl and I could see the fear and worry he had on his face. He was a Jew. I put on a face mask, and I wore my gloves to inspect her. She had caught the flu; her face was dead cold, and she could barely keep her eyes open. I was sure she wasn’t going to make it and I feared the heart ache it could cause her father. We isolated her and treated her for a couple of months, and she got better. I still think of it now as a miracle. So, you see, I have been caring for people for a long long time although those were days when all we had to worry about was the sickness that could kill us, not hunger, starvation and most especially this not war.

There is this thing war does to people. It tricks the mind and makes you forget that there is still good amidst everything but I have chosen to be sane in an insane world where people’s minds are corrupted by selfish desires, wickedness and the useless propagandas of the Nazis. My husband passed away a couple of months before the war started and I am glad he didn’t get to see this world fold up like this. I have a daughter, she’s married now and lives with her husband in France who is also serving in the war.

A few months ago, one of my old patients at the clinic came knocking at my door. When I opened up, he was panicking. He had his wife and two daughters beside him with their suitcases. Apparently, the Germans were deporting Jews to killing centers in Poland. It was horrific. I couldn’t turn them down. This man once helped my husband when we had some issues with the government and taxes. He was well to do; it was just unfortunate that he couldn’t leave Amsterdam in time before the Germans arrived. I had to do something to repay him somehow, so I hid them in my attic. There is an extra small hidden space up there in the attic so I knew if the Germans ever came knocking to search around, they’d just have to hide in that small space but there was no ventilation and I fear it could not contain 4 people, but they have been able to manage.

Recently the Germans have been around more and when they do they stay longer. There's a new district officer, he says I remind him of his mother back home and he loves to have my tea. I thought he was one of the good ones but the other day I looked out my room window and saw him brutally murder a Jewish man. It was a very horrible sight. Sometimes I think the whole world has gone mad and we were all crazy.

The drill for the family in my attic is to hide in that small space once they hear a knock on the door. A few days ago, the district officer came and requested I serve him some tea. He made me sit and listen to him tell stories of how they executed the last batch of Jews they deported to Auschwitz's camp. I made him believe I hated the Jews as much as he did just so that he wouldn’t suspect me but instead treat me as an ally. I fought to hold back the tears from my eyes when he talked about this little girl with a “really fine” skin that he slept with. In my head I would hear the screams of this little child as he forced his way into her, I couldn’t bear it and I just wanted to pour hot tea on his head and shout at him to get out of my house but all I did was to put a smile on my face. I was as much a prisoner as the Jews. He had stayed for about 30 minutes, which was longer than he had ever stayed. I feared for the family, especially their little daughter. She was sick and I had been treating her but there wasn’t enough medication, and we were also short of food.

It was almost an hour now and it was getting late, I had to say something to this man sitting in front of me. I had to bring up an excuse to make him leave but I was being careful not to say the wrong things. I didn’t want to provoke him. I made a slight sigh and said to him with a smile.

“I would really love to hear the rest of your story, it fascinates me and thank you for always keeping me company, since my husband died and my daughter left, I spend most of my days alone.”

He gave me a pity look… I continued the already rehearsed speech I had in my head.

“But I have to go to bed now, I’m getting older everyday and it gets uncomfortable to sit for a long time”

He looks at his watch and stood up like he just realized how long he had been sitting

“Well then, maybe some other time we could take a walk. You can take a walk, right?” He asked me.

Still with that smile I said “Yes I can”

I watched him and his men get into their car and drive off before rushing into the attic. I was scared to death. When I opened the small space, I couldn’t hold back the tears in my eyes anymore, they were almost out of breath. If I had been a minute late they would have suffocated.

I choose to see the good in this world. I believe there is still light out there in the midst of all this darkness and I am writing this for those that come after me…