Today's Reading


To Rachel's left, Sofie looked as if she were about to take off out of the picture, race to the library to read or work on her poetry. It was a good photograph of her. Her long wavy hair was a fraction darker than Rachel's and her wide smile full of life, so different from how she felt now, so many changes in just a few short months.

Her mind went back to the book she had found late one night, hidden in her father's library. It was titled 'The Brown Book of Hitler's Terror,' written by those worried about the Nazis' tyranny. As she read page after page, the full realization of what could happen to her family descended on her.

"But how can they get away with this?" she'd demanded of her father, running into his study, pushing the book across his desk.

His eyes were steady as he said, "It will surprise you what people can do, especially if we go to war. Everyone will be looking the other way. No one will see what is happening under their very noses because they will not want to."

The train slowed as it entered the station of a large town. A number of people got off, and a group of nuns squashed into Sofie's carriage, an old one smiling kindly before sitting beside her. As the train began to move forward again, a younger nun led a prayer, the sound of the indecipherable Latin words mingled with the turn of the wheels and the clickety-click of the knitting needles. Sofie closed her eyes, and as she often did when she needed comfort, she let a book play inside her head. Looking ahead to her new home, she'd read 'A Room with a View'-would the Wainwright's house be adorned with wisteria and croquet lawns? She tried to remember every description from the novel, letting the heartwarming tale comfort her, removing her from the strange, prickling fear that gripped her inside.

Suddenly, she was brought back with a jolt.

The train had stopped at a small station, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

The nun's chanting had petered out, and some of the younger ones looked out of the window to see what had caused the stoppage.

"The Nazis are always disrupting the trains," the old nun beside her whispered to the others. "You never know why."

But the reason soon became apparent.

The speaker system crackled into life, and then came a sharp voice, either the police or the Gestapo. "All Jews must identify themselves."

With a sharp intake of breath, Sofie felt her heart pound.

Were they going to stop her from reaching the border? It couldn't be far away now. This couldn't be where her journey ended. She swallowed hard. In a flash, she remembered her sister's terrified face on the platform as the train pulled away, and she suddenly understood how dangerous this trip could be—and just how crucial it was for her to flee the country.

Sofie looked through the window down the platform. Noises and shouts indicated that a group of policemen were boarding the train.

She knew they would be checking people's papers, which were clearly marked to show whether you were a Jew. You had to have identification papers in order to travel, so she couldn't pretend she'd forgotten them. And then there was the star on her coat, too. Her heart began racing, her face coloring. She couldn't help glancing around the carriage frantically, looking for a way out, but on one side the corridor was filled with police, and on the other the platform was guarded.

There was no escape.

Shouted commands came from other carriages farther up the corridor, policemen ordering people out onto the platform. Through the window, she watched as a trail of quietly resigned passengers were led away.

The woman opposite snapped down her knitting and pulled out her identity papers ready for the police. Evidently she had nothing to hide, and she quickly resumed her knitting. The stop was simply an inconvenience to her day, whereas for Sofie it could be the end of everything.

Fear clenched her heart. The shouted orders of the policemen were coming closer. They would be in her carriage within minutes, if not sooner.

Her papers were in her coat pocket, up on the luggage rack, and with her heart pounding, she realized she had no choice. As she stood, she pulled Rachel's shawl around her before reaching her hand up to feel inside the folds of fabric for the papers.

But then she felt a hand on her shoulder, and quietly, the old nun drew her back down into her seat, adjusting her mauve shawl to cover her head, tucking a bible into her hands. "You are with us, child."

Unsure, Sofie bent her head forward, petrified. This could be a very dangerous decision; if she was caught trying to lie, she had no doubt that whatever the police were going to do with the other Jewish passengers, they'd plan something much worse for her.

But before she could think it through, a large policeman was already at the door, demanding, "I need to see everyone's papers."

...

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