This is the second and final part of the story, which was published in Pilcrow & Dagger this fall.
The soldier in front of Lieke stopped at the front-most compartment door in the next car and knocked. A quiet voice said, “Enter,” and Lieke was led inside. The spacious compartment had only one occupant– the German officer with the scarred face. The young soldier said, “Heil Hitler,” and saluted.
The officer looked up and said, “Yes, what is it?”
“Sir, it is this woman and her baby. There is something suspicious; the baby will not stop crying.”
“So you have brought me a woman and a crying baby. Is it now my job to quiet babies?”
The young soldier flushed. “Sir, we believe that the baby may be a Jew.” He pronounced the word as if it were a contagious disease.
“Ah.” The officer surveyed Lieke and Emma, and his intelligent, steely gaze seemed to take in everything in an instant. “Perhaps you are right. This will need to be addressed. Leave them with me and I will see to it personally.”
“Yes sir.” The small group of soldiers backed out of the compartment and closed the door behind Lieke, who stood motionless, terrified yet defiant. The man appeared to be in his late 40s, and even without the scars he would have looked threatening, with hard, pale gray eyes and an angular, evil looking face.
“I am Captain Adler,” he said in Dutch. “What is your name, young woman?”
Lieke trembled, but found her voice. “My name is Lieke Meijer, Captain.”
“Lieke, please tell me where you are from, and where you are going.” Half mumbling, Lieke repeated the story of visiting family in Rotterdam with her baby for the weekend, and about her husband stuck at the factory. He asked where her uncle and aunt lived, and she told him the address on Hondiusstraat where she was supposed to deliver Emma, not knowing any other streets in Rotterdam.
“I see,” said Captain Adler. “Sit down, Lieke.” He reached out an open hand, offering her a seat across from him. She sat, clutching Emma tightly. Then, in a firm voice, he said, “Your baby is very beautiful, but she seems unhappy. Let me hold her.” Lieke shrank away, and Adler said, “If what you have told me is true, there is no reason for you to worry. Now give her to me.”
Filled with horror, Lieke reluctantly passed Emma across the aisle to the Nazi captain. With a surprising gentleness, he picked Emma up, bounced her softly on his knee, and held her close, rocking her, speaking to her in German under his breath. Emma immediately stopped crying; she stared at Adler with fascination, then giggled.
“What a lovely baby girl you have, Lieke. Yes, what a lovely girl you are, little one, aren’t you?” Emma cooed. Lieke said nothing, terrified and astonished at the same time. Adler looked into Lieke’s eyes and said calmly, “Lieke, is this baby a Jew?”
Lieke felt like screaming, but managed to say, “Of course not, Captain Adler. She’s no more a Jew than I am. She takes more after my husband.” Adler nodded and passed Emma back to Lieke. Emma grabbed at Lieke’s nose and made a happy, gurgling sound.
“I understand,” Adler said. “However, I think we need to verify this further. You realize that if she is found to be a Jew you will have broken the law? The penalty for this crime is death.” Lieke nodded, aghast. She did not trust herself to speak. She noticed that the train had stopped, and glanced out the window to see a platform. The station behind it was a ruin, although much of the rubble had been removed; like so much else, it was hit in the bombing of Rotterdam. “Good, we have arrived,” Adler said. “Please come with me.”
He stood up, limping toward the door, which he held open for her. Reluctantly she followed him through the exit and down a makeshift step onto the platform, where the group of soldiers stood waiting expectantly. Adler looked at them and said, “You have carried out your duty well, men. There may be something to this after all.”
The one who had apprehended Lieke before eagerly said, “Shall we take her to headquarters, sir?”
“No. I will do it myself. I want you to go back to Amsterdam and keep your eyes open for similar schemes– I have a feeling that this is not the only case.” The group looked disappointed, but they set out to re-board the train, leaving Lieke alone with the sinister captain. Throngs of passengers were moving along the platform and Lieke again considered breaking away, trying to lose herself in the crowd; but there was nowhere to run, and she would likely be caught. She would have to wait for a better opportunity.
As if sensing her train of thought, Adler grabbed her arm with a painfully strong grip and said, “Please, if you will come with me, I will take you for some further questioning. It will be easy enough to verify your statements; we should be able to sort the matter out quite quickly.” He walked toward a wide thoroughfare, and she had no choice but to accompany him. After a while he let go of her, but walked a pace or two just behind her, saying nothing. Somehow Emma had fallen asleep in her arms.
Lieke thought of her parents at home, expecting her back in a few hours after a pleasant day with friends. She thought of her father’s paralyzing fear, his stolid unwillingness to take any kind of risk, and this made her angry. She was risking everything, even her life, but she did not regret it at all. The only thing she regretted was that she had failed. But she could not fail! She could not let Janneke and Dr. Eisenstein down. She heard the uneven steps of the limping Adler behind her. When they passed an alley, or perhaps one of the bombed-out buildings that were littered throughout the city, she would run and try to hide; she felt certain she could move faster than him, and if Emma would just stay quiet they could make it. He might shoot her in the back, but if she went meekly with him she would likely die anyway, so it was a risk worth taking.
Lieke suddenly became aware that the footsteps behind her had stopped. She turned around to see Captain Adler looking down a side street to their left. He said, “Is this not the street where you were to meet your so-called aunt and uncle?” Lieke looked up at the street sign and saw that it was indeed Hondiusstraat, where she was supposed deliver Emma to Mirjam van Houten. Her stomach dropped once more– she had foolishly told him the address. Would Mirjam also end up being taken for “questioning?” Had she sentenced another woman to death?
Adler paused for a long time, and finally said, “Well then, you best be on your way. I’m sure they are waiting for you.” He immediately walked past her, continuing up the main street. Lieke did not understand what was happening. She did not move, unsure if this was some kind of cruel trick. He looked back at her and said sadly, “We’re not all bad.” Then he turned away and limped ahead, never looking back.
Lieke carried the sleeping Emma up Hondiusstraat to number 124, where Mirjam van Houten ushered her in, and for several minutes Lieke could say nothing, sobbing tears of horror, bewilderment, relief, and joy.