It was still dark outside when they came for them. The whole close heard them running up the stairs. Bertha had already prepared a small bag, with food, a facecloth, toothpaste and rags for sanitary towels, which she went to pick up before opening the door. Karl was still in his pyjamas. Max slept through the policemen with an SS escort coming and banging on the door to arrest them.
‘Wipe your feet,’ Bertha demanded before they stepped into the hallway.
The two policemen complied and the blonde SS officer looked over their shoulder and half smiled. He made a point of stepping over the mat, bringing the outside smell of rain and damp into the warm house.
‘Frau,’ said the SS officer. ‘We are here to take you into custody for political offences against the Reich.’
‘I am guilty of no such offences and no nothing of that’ said Bertha. ‘But you with your bits of paper and pompous attitude, you do what you like. But Jehovah is my judge.’
She stormed away and into the living room where Max still slept the sleep of the young. Bertha shook his shoulder and his eyes opened wide, looking over her shoulder at a room full of strangers, searching through what little they had.
‘We need to go away now.’ She kissed him on the forehead and pulled her son up into her arms, hugging him so tightly he felt he could not breathe. There were tears held in check in the back of her throat. ‘It’s just as I told you and you need to be good and you need to be strong and Jehovah will take care of you.’
‘I don’t want Jehovah,’ screamed Max, ‘I want you mum.’ He scrambled out of bed, trying to grab a hold of her legs, but she was already been led away be the taller of the two policeman.
His dad, Karl, was being interrogated in the corner of the room, near the unlit fireplace by the SS man, who was holding up a bundle of Watchtowers that he’d found.
‘What is this foreign propaganda?’ The SS officer held up the bundle of paper as if the print would jump off the page and incapacitate him.
Karl looked over at his son, watching them. ‘It’s true this is a magazine printed abroad by our brethren, but as you can see it’s written in German. We hide nothing, because we have nothing to hide. You can read it yourself. We have no interest in politics or government. All we ask is to be allowed to get on with our life and worship Jehovah, the one true God.’
He began coughing, covering his mouth and SS officer took a step backwards. Max wriggled away from the policeman who had a hand on his shoulder and rushed across by the SS guard and flung himself at his dad, who lifted him into his arms, the boy snuggling into his neck and sobbing.
‘We need to go away, little mouse.’ There was a catch in Karl’s voice. He had not yet shaved, so his chin was scratchy on his son’s cheek as he nuzzled him. ‘We will come back for you, but you need to be a good boy and listen to your elders and do as you’re told. Remember Jehovah is watching you and sees all and hears all.’
He hugged his son before letting him drop to the floor. He looked out the window, blackened buildings and blinds hiding any pinpricks of light meant he couldn’t see across the street, but he could hear the engine of the truck outside idling.
‘Do we need to cuff him?’ the policeman with a faint moustache asked, in deference to the SS officer.
The SS officer looked at him and the ducked his head down and looked at Karl’s face, who was standing and waited, patiently. ‘What do you usually do?’ he asked. And his indecision made him at once less terrifying and more like a popular school boy that had dressed up in a fancy uniform and was playing charades.
The taller policeman smiled and searched through his pockets before pulling out a packet of cigarettes and handing them around. His snuggle-toothed colleague grabbed one eagerly, but the SS officer declined with a nod of his blonde head. ‘It’s usually a matter of discretion,’ he said, lighting up. ‘We don’t have any bother with the Jehovah’s. They're not like the spineless Jews or Communists, who are sometimes armed and can fight like cornered rats. This crowd are usually polite. I’ve even been offered home baking.’ He took a deep drag of his cigarette and brushed his fingers against the lapels of his coat where he’d spotted dandruff. ‘So really…’ he squinted at Karl though the blue swirl of fag smoke, ‘you ain’t gone to make a run for it, are you?’
‘No sir,’ said Karl, shaking his head. ‘And even if I wanted to I couldn’t.’ He’d slipped his feet into his shoes and dragged the edge of a heel across the edge of mat and floorboard. ‘I picked up this injury in the first world war, shrapnel.’
‘You fought in the first world war?’ The SS officer spoke tersely, but with tight-lipped approval and his attitude changed. ‘No cuffs.’
He ruffled Max’s curly hair. ‘But what I don’t understand, sir, if you have studied history as I have, is how once more we are involved in a fight to the death with the English over the living space we need to provide for our nation and yet…’ He finished with a shrug.
‘Ah,’ said Karl. ‘I was younger then. Younger than you are now. And I had a good war, in that I came back alive. And yet, there was something missing from my life. Our world was falling apart.’
He nodded at the two policeman squinting at him through fag smoke. ‘Perhaps you don’t remember, when money was worthless and people fought on the streets for bread and many starved. And there was no work…and there was no hope.’
‘Yes,’ said the taller policeman. ‘I remember it well. The pitched battles on the streets between Communists and National Socialists. It was anarchy. Nobody was taking charge and there was a different set of instructions coming down every day all contradicting each other. We had to restore order.’
‘Hitler had to restore order.’ The SS officer had grown bored with the conversation and signalled, with a nod, that they should be taken away. ‘He was our saviour that restored belief in our nation.’
The snuggle-toothed policeman flitted around the side of the couch and tapped Karl on the elbow, to get him moving. His colleague took the arm of the boy, guiding him gently towards the door. The SS man bringing up the rear-guard.
‘I flirted with that too,’ said Karl, limping. ‘I believed that every man should have work and bread and that all men were equal.’
‘You were a Communist?’ smirked his escort with the faint moustache.
‘I’m still a Communist. I still believe in the common good and equality, but we are filled with the sins of Adam, only by turning to the Bible can we find a path to true salvation.’
The SS man rubbed the back of his head and yawned. ‘We have order now.’
‘Yes, you brag about it, but can’t hold light in your hand and there’s no Jehovah with your order. The antichrist can only keep his power by continually eating his young. And when you run out of easy victims that when you’ll be looking over your shoulder, afeared.’
‘At first I thought you a stupid old man, but now I see clearly how dangerous you are, a spell in a concentration camp will be the only hope of re-education and cure.’
‘There is no cure, because I am not the sick one. The devil knows the bargains we make, but only Jehovah knows the price we pay.’
‘Put the handcuffs tight on him,’ said the SS officer.
The policemen chortled and the senior officer jumped to comply, while Max watched him.
He pulled at the cuffs an old trick to catch the old man off balance and get him moving right along on the stairs.
The younger policeman kept a grip of Max’s arm and tried to sooth him by saying, ‘Son, we’ll take you to a good, God-fearing, Lutheran family that knows what’s what.’
‘Not one of these blowhards.’ The tall cop jerked the cuffs, ‘that shit themselves when you put a rope around their neck, even in jest.’
‘Shut up,’ said the SS officer. ‘You’re frightening the boy.’
‘Listen to me Max,’ Karl tried wriggling away from his captor, but was pulled short. ‘Jehovah gave us trees and men such as these have made the fruit of that into gallows. Read your bible and you will know Satan’s gold glitters brightest, but burns when you lift it. Fear drives these…’
He was tugged out of the close before he could finish speaking.