Part One: The War
I. It was a cold morning in late October. The ruins of Warsaw glistened pale grey under the relentless rain. Won't it ever stop? Hauptmann Hosenfeld wondered, turning upwards the collar of his coat and pulling it tighter. Winter was approaching fast and it didn't seem it would be a mild one. His gaze wandered over the once grand city, and a frown settled upon his brow. As far as he could see there were only crumbled buildings and empty streets. And silence, deathly silence everywhere. The only sound to be heard was the car engine and the steady rhythm of the raindrops. There was no sign of life anywhere. It was like a grim painting made by Death itself. What have we made of this beautiful city, he thought. No amount of rain can ever wash clean the atrocities we have visited upon Warsaw and its people…
Then, as the driver turned at a corner, Hosenfeld's eye caught a flicker of light somewhere among the ruins of a building. "Karl, stop here", he ordered the driver. The car stopped with a screech of the brakes. "Wait here", he said and quickly made for the direction of the light, his eyes searching for another sign. The heavy rain pattered against the hard fabric of his hat and produced a noise that Hosenfeld found mildly irritating, but he was grateful to at least have his head protected from the rain. Some people in this city are not so lucky, he thought.
His footsteps soon brought him to the entrance of what must once have been an impressive mansion. Hosenfeld took out his torch and looked around. There were ruins right and left, debris of broken wood and stone, and charred furniture all around. Miraculously, a large part of the main staircase still stood. He tentatively stepped on it. "Is anyone here?" he called to the darkness. Silence. He decided to climb the stairs further. The old wood creaked in protest under his weight. Then, as he was about to reach the top, he heard the sound of a door closing. "Who is there?" he called again. "Don't be afraid." He slowly approached the door at the end of the corridor. Wary, he drew his pistol and carefully turned the doorknob. The door was not locked. The room he entered was cold and dark and had a musty smell. A faint light came in through the window, but the heavy curtains blocked most of it. Hosenfeld used the torch to look around. And there, crouched in one corner behind a ruined desk and a partially broken closet, a person was hiding. The Captain could only see a pair of eyes glistening in the dark. They seemed quite youthful to him. Is it a child? He wondered. He stopped in his steps, not realizing he had been holding his breath up to that point. Assessing the situation as not dangerous, he put the pistol back in its holder. "Don't be afraid", he said again, in as mild a tone as he could. "Come out."
A few moments of utter silence passed. The pair of eyes kept looking at him in fear, but Hosenfeld made no move towards the person. He remained still, wishing not to appear too intimidating. He knew that in his Wehrmacht uniform he already looked threatening enough. He removed his hat and tucked it underneath his arm in an attempt to lessen that effect. "Come", he called again.
Slowly the figure moved from its hiding place and stood. It was not a child. It was a woman. Hosenfeld took a moment to take in her appearance. She was of average height, obviously dirty and malnourished. She was dressed in rags that hung awkwardly on her thin frame. Her eyes were large and hazel in color, and the curls of her hair that escaped the scarf she had wrapped around her head seemed to be brown, perhaps with a reddish tint. She was frozen in place and looked infinitely scared, her eyes fixed on him and her hands clasping her shawl to her chest as if she clung onto it for dear life.
Hosenfeld decided not to move any closer so as not to scare her further. "Do you live here?" he asked. No answer came. "Do you understand me?"
The woman nodded. Hosenfeld allowed the smallest of smiles to play on his face. "Are you hiding in this room?"
"Yes…" Her voice was but a raspy whisper.
A slight tremble came upon her fingers. He is a German officer, she thought. What does he want? Will he rape me? Why all these questions? Won't he just kill me? She thought in despair and terror, being quite familiar with the rumors about the behavior of the Nazi soldiers. For the time she decided to be as meek and cooperative as she could, in hopes that he might spare her life.
Hosenfeld brought a hand to his hip and looked around the room with his torch. It looked like an old-fashioned study, or a library. While his attention was diverted from her, the woman cautiously studied him. He was all a German officer was supposed to be: tall, blond, blue-eyed. He looked very poised and authoritative in his Wehrmacht uniform. Shiny black boots, not a wrinkle on his tunic, a red ribbon through the second buttonhole, a couple of other decorations on his chest. A fine specimen of your Aryan race, aren't you? She thought bitterly. Inside her heart fear and hatred for the Nazi officer fought each other for dominance.
She stole a glance at his profile, as he was looking around the room. Fine features, neatly combed hair, clean-shaven. But his expression betrayed no emotion. Her eyes fell to the insignia on his collar and shoulders. He seemed to be an officer of some rank, but she could not tell for sure. At least he doesn't have the dreadful SS insignia on his collar… If he were of the SS, there would be no hope for me…
"What is your name?"
His question interrupted her musings. She hesitated for a second, but now his eyes were trained on hers. He looked strict, but, curiously enough, not unkind.
A shiver ran down her spine. Suddenly she felt weak and dizzy, and it was not only because of starvation. She glanced around in fright, but clearly there was no escape route. Telling him her name would reveal her secret. But would it not be worse lying to him? Drawing a shaky breath, she said, "Hanna."
He raised an eyebrow. "Hanna?" She kept looking at him like a frightened mouse, unable to speak. His countenance became more serious and he took a step towards her. "A Jew."
Hanna dared not breathe. Tears brimmed up in her eyes. She stood powerless to react, and she felt all hope deserting her. She could only manage a weak nod. She was on the verge of fainting, but she mustered what little resolve was left in her to keep standing. She would not give the German officer the pleasure to see her crumble.
Seeing her struggle to remain standing and sensing her fear, Hosenfeld sighed and drew back, removing his gaze from her. "You are not the first Jew in hiding I've come across", he stated.
Hanna eyed him curiously. Did he mean that as a warning? She wondered, but strangely enough, there was something about his manner that made her feel less threatened now.
"You need not fear me. I won't hurt you", he added belatedly, as if he had sensed her worry. He even gave her a small smile.
Hanna's lips parted in surprise. She was not certain she had heard correctly. But the smile on his face was earnest, and it made him look almost human, not a horrible Nazi beast. Don't be fooled, she scolded herself. His kindness might just be a pretense, a ruse to draw information from me. I must remain on guard!
But there were no such thoughts on Hauptmann Hosenfeld's mind. Instead he gave her a better look, assessing her state. She looked so pitiful in those rags, and there were dark circles under her eyes. Her cheekbones were too prominent to be considered healthy, her lips white and drawn and chapped. His expression turned to one of sorrow as he asked her, "Have you anything to eat?" Hanna nodded a bit uncertainly. "Show me", he urged her.
After holding his gaze for a moment, she turned and opened the drawer of the desk, and stood aside. Hosenfeld came closer, standing next to her. Hanna shivered in fear at his proximity. He glanced at her, and then at the open drawer. Therein was a piece of moldy bread and an equally moldy potato.
A lump formed in his throat for this woman's plight. Now that she was standing close to him he could tell that she was quite young, maybe no more that twenty-five. Her fingers, still clutching her shawl nervously, were bony-thin and almost ashen-gray. She was in terrible condition, and he was certain that without help she would not survive the winter. And help her he would.
Decisively he walked towards the door. "Stay here and hide. Keep the curtains closed. Do not attempt to light the lamp for any reason", he warned, pointing towards an old oil lamp on the desk. "It was the light that drew me here. Next time you may not be so lucky."
Hanna watched him as he spoke. She had been lucky indeed. Trying to light the lamp, what was she thinking? This time it happened to be this kind officer, but next time?
Hosenfeld opened the door and paused for a brief moment. He looked at Hanna, and found her looking intently back at him. Then, with no further hesitation, he turned and left.
II. "Jewish girl?" Hosenfeld called from outside the door. "Hanna?"
Soon enough he heard steps approaching and the door opened just a bit. Hanna's hazel eyes peeked cautiously from behind it, but when she realized it was the officer from the previous day she opened the door and let him in.
His coat was fully buttoned and he had his hat on. "I don't have much time", he said, as he produced a parcel from a leather satchel he was carrying. "Here", he said and offered the parcel to her.
Hanna looked at him wide-eyed. Not only was he back, not only had he no intention of hurting her, but he was offering her something too. He gave her a small reassuring smile, and his eyes shone. She gasped and extended her shaky hands, taking the parcel, briefly touching the German's fingers. "I don't know… how to thank you…" she uttered.
"Thank God, not me. Now, I must be going. I'm already late", he said hurriedly, straightening his coat.
Hanna watched his figure retreat from the door. Suddenly she dashed after him. "Will you… Will you come again?" she dared ask, as he was already halfway down the stairs.
Hosenfeld paused and glanced up at her. The despair mixed with newfound hope in her gaze struck a sensitive cord inside him. He held her eyes for a moment but spoke not. The war was not going all too well for the Germans, and he did not know what tomorrow would bring. He tried to keep his expression neutral, and gave her no reply. Hanna saw him descend the final stairs and disappear.
She retreated into the room and placed the parcel on the desk. It was wrapped in newspaper. She impatiently tore it open. There was a loaf of fresh bread and a generous piece of cheese. Tears now came and flowed freely from her eyes. Fresh bread and cheese! How long had it been since she last had a proper meal? She brought the bread and cheese to her nose. They smelled delicious. These will last me for quite a few days, perhaps a week or more. I should ration them. Who knows if the German will ever be back? She thought, and took to measuring equal numbers of slices of bread and cheese to set aside. She had found a letter opener on the desk, so her task was a little easier than having to cut the pieces by hand.
Her mind worked feverishly all the while. I cannot believe my good fortune. A good German? I thought they were all callous beasts… But he didn't care I'm a Jew. He treated me like a human being. He was kind to me. He came and brought me food, and so much of it! Surely this endeavor is a risk to him. What if he is seen helping a Jew? I mustn't expect him to return. I must be glad of my good fortune amidst all this madness and chaos and ask for no more. Oh God, thank you for this kindness, thank you for this mercy!
III. A few days passed. Hanna kept hiding in the top room of the ruined mansion, but she had not been visited by the German officer again. Her provisions were down to scraps again, and hunger brought new waves of desperation and sorrow along with it. Weak and forlorn, she dragged herself to the window. What does it matter now if I'm caught? She wondered bleakly. I should like to look at the sky once more in this life… With a sigh her trembling fingers pushed aside the heavy curtain. A sheet of dust fell on her, causing her to cough. A cold grey light shone through the window. Is it November already? Oh God, it is so cold… She lamented, drawing her torn shawl around her shoulders, in vain trying to warm herself a little. Loneliness, cold, starvation, exhaustion; they had taken their toll on Hanna. She barely had tears to shed anymore. She just closed her eyes and leaned against the window frame. She sank down to her knees and hung her head, resigning herself to her fate.
"Did I not tell you to keep away from the window?"
A familiar voice shook her from her stupor. Slowly she lifted her head, and there he stood at the door, the kind German officer. She tried to speak, but only a cough came out.
"Hanna? Hosenfeld asked with a hint of worry in his tone. She just kept staring at him. He took a few steps towards her. She looked like a pale ghost. "I'm sorry I couldn't visit earlier. There is too much going on now, and…" he trailed off, realizing the dire situation of the Wehrmacht was of no concern to Hanna.
"I didn't think you would come back", she managed weakly. Then she turned her eyes to the window and tried to draw the curtain shut. "I just wanted to look at the sky one last time…"
"No, not the last. You will live to see the sky many times." He reached and finished the task for her. Once again their hands brushed against each other. Hers was deathly cold. His brow furrowed. "Here, I brought you something", he said. "Drink it while it's still warm."
He handed her a bottle of milk. Hanna's eyes widened in surprise. Warm milk! This was a treasure. The warmth from the bottle radiated to her fingers, breathing life into them. "I have no words… thank you, thank you so much…" she whispered, her heart overwhelmed with emotions.
Hosenfeld stood aside to allow her a measure of privacy. She drank from the bottle greedily, not caring if he was watching her. A sad smile crept upon his lips. Poor woman, this is the least I can do… What terrors and hardship has she been through? Then he walked to the desk and placed a parcel on it. "Here is some more bread and a couple of cans I managed to procure", he said. "Try to make them last."
Somewhat rejuvenated by the milk, Hanna stood to her feet and took a couple of steps towards him. "You said the other time I'm not the first Jew you've come across…"
Hosenfeld nodded. "There are a few of you hiding in the ruins."
"And you help them? You help us? Like you have helped me?" she asked.
"I do what I can within my power", he replied, trying to keep the tone of his voice even.
Hanna stood in contemplation for a while. Conflicting emotions raged within her once more. This officer was the very representation of the people that had destroyed her country, and yet he seemed so different, showing kindness to her when he could simply shoot her, as was within his right.
"You are not like the others…"
He looked straight into her eyes, and she held his gaze. A myriad of emotions danced in those blue depths, and a dozen of thoughts crossed his mind. Not like the others. Not like the rest of the Germans? Not like the soldiers? Not like the Nazis? Not a monster? Not a heartless murderer of children? Not a rapist? Not what? What has the dream of a great Germany been reduced to? We round up and execute innocent people. Civilians. We send to their deaths hundreds, thousands of Jews. Not like the others. Am I really not like the others? Have I not fought in this war? Have I not fought in the name of the Führer? Am I not a Captain of the Wehrmacht? Am I not responsible for any of this? No one is free of guilt. This shameful stain will be on us forever, and we deserve no mercy…
Averting his gaze and clenching his jaw, he tried to shake off those thoughts that were plaguing him all too much recently. "I only see the person in front of me", he plainly said.
"You are not like the others", she repeated more firmly. "You did not abuse me, you did not humiliate me. Not only did you spare my life but you have been helping me survive. Were it not for you, I would surely be dead now."
He turned to her with a kind smile. The fire in her eyes gave him heart. "You are a human being, Hanna. I only did what my conscience dictated."
"Your conscience, but not your Führer. Not your policies. Not your orders", she went on quite boldly.
His face became grim at her words. "Hanna, that is enough."
His tone was sharp, and she flinched. Immediately she drew back and her gaze dropped to the floor. She had overstepped, and only too late did she realize it.
Hosenfeld did not enjoy frightening her, but it could not be helped. He was a powerful German officer and she was a helpless Jewish girl in hiding, and at his mercy. He regretted his curt tone, but years of military service, of giving and following orders, did have an impact on him.
He walked towards the door, but lingered there. He would hate to leave her on such a bitter note. But why should he care too much about how she felt? It should be more than enough that he ensured her survival. He told himself there was only pity and compassion in his heart for her.
Hanna lifted her eyes to him, as if she had guessed his thoughts, but she did not move from where she stood. He met her gaze for a long moment, and then forced himself to tear his eyes from her, and closed the door behind him.
Hanna released a breath she was holding. Her heart was beating fast, and she was not sure exactly why.
IV. In the days that followed Hanna noticed that something had changed outside. She would hear shoot-outs that seemed to get more frequent and closer to her hiding place. And the German officer had not come at all. She began wondering what was going on, what all this shooting meant, and if he had somehow gotten into trouble.
Then one afternoon, just as the sun was about to set, she heard the engine of a car, and then the brakes. With renewed hope she rushed to the window and stole a glance outside. Out from the car stepped the German officer. Even from afar he looked worried. His eyes cautiously surveyed his surroundings, and he walked into the building in a hurried pace. Soon she heard him climbing the wooden staircase. Hanna opened the door.
"Hanna", Hosenfeld breathed.
From up close he looked a tad disheveled. There was some dust on his overcoat and boots, and his hair was not neatly combed as per usual. Clearly something was going on, and it probably was not good for the Germans.
He noticed her studying his appearance. "I wanted to come earlier, but it wasn't possible", he said, as he moved to the desk and placed a large parcel there. "Here is some more food, and a blanket. They say winter will be cold this year."
"What is… What is all this shooting?" she asked.
He looked at her. "There's skirmishes taking place. The Russians have reached the eastern outskirts of Warsaw."
The Russians, she thought. Does this mean the war is ending? Is liberation close? She wanted so desperately to cling to hope, and yet she dared not to. After all this years under the Nazi yoke all thoughts of freedom seemed like a fantasy.
As if he had read her thoughts, he said, "It might not be long now before the war is over."
A light glimmered in Hanna's eyes. "The war will be over?"
He nodded. "Do your best to survive."
She tugged at her shawl. "All this shooting scares me…" she whispered.
"You only have to stay hidden here, Hanna", he told her softly. Then he pointed to the parcel on the desk. "I found some apples for you. Do you like apples?"
"Apples… Oh… Yes, I like apples. Thank you…" she uttered, amazed once again at the officer's thoughtfulness.
He nodded, and kept looking into her eyes. Hanna managed a small smile, and immediately lowered her gaze. Hosenfeld took a step towards her, closing the distance between them. Carefully he placed a hand on her shoulder, and then underneath her chin, urging her to look at him. "Are you still afraid of me, Hanna?" he asked in a low, soft tone.
Tears welled up in her eyes. His proximity made her whole body tremble. "A… a little…" she said, her voice barely audible.
Her response caused a pang of pain in his heart. He removed his hand, allowing some distance between them. "I won't hurt you. I would never hurt you", he told her, as he retreated towards the door. "I hope one day you believe me."
V. November was well in its course. The first snow had fallen the previous night, dressing the ruins of Warsaw in a deathly white shroud. Hosenfeld walked alone in the street. He imagined that in times past the first snow would be a cause of joy for everyone. There would be children playing, throwing snowballs at each other, and young couples strolling in the white wonderland, relishing their love. But now there was nothing. No joy, no laughter, no life. Only war, starvation, death and ruin.
Soon his steps brought him to the familiar ruins of Hanna's hiding place. He chose to come on foot today, fearing that the noise of the car might attract too much attention, and those streets were not entirely safe for the Germans anymore. The shoot-outs had reached even closer, and had become heavier. And his duties had multiplied, too. What little time he could find, Hosenfeld dedicated to helping the Jews and the Polish he had discovered hiding in the ruined city.
Reaching the door, he called her name. No response. "Hanna?" he called again a bit louder, and pushed the door open.
Hanna was lying down in her corner between the desk and the closet, huddled in her rags and the blanket he had brought her. She had been sleeping, and his coming woke her. Slowly she lifted her head, and her startled gaze met his.
"Are you alright?" he asked her.
She stood up and pushed her scarf from her head. Her tangled hair spilled forth. "Yes… Yes… I was sleeping. I didn't expect you to visit again."
"You never expect me to visit again. And yet here I am", he muttered as if he was speaking mostly to himself. Hanna studied his face but said nothing. "It snowed last night. Are you cold?" he asked her. She nodded. Hosenfeld opened his leather satchel and took out a familiar-looking parcel. "Here, some bread and jam for you."
With trembling hands she opened the parcel, and dipped a finger in the sweet delicacy. Hosenfeld watched her licking her fingers like an excited child, and a small smile danced on his face. It warmed his heart to see her expression of pure bliss.
Then a heavy blasting sound was heard in the distance. Hanna froze with the parcel in her hands. Hosenfeld ran to the window. Smoke could be seen rising far ahead. "Artillery", he said. Soon another blast was heard that shook the ground. "Hanna, on the floor, quickly!" he yelled, and rushed to her side, pushing her face down on the cold wooden floor, and causing the parcel to tumble from her hands. The precious jam spilled on the floor.
Tears came to her eyes. "What is going on?" she asked, frightened.
"Artillery", re repeated. "The Red Army has gotten closer. This part of the city on the eastern side of the river is not safe anymore. I cannot-"
His words were cut short by yet another blast that was even closer than the previous two. The foundations of the building shook, and dust and debris fell from the ceiling. Instinctively Hosenfeld moved to cover Hanna with his body and protect her. He felt her quivering, and heard her sobbing.
"Hanna, are you alright? Are you injured?" he worried, gently pushing her hair aside, trying to get a look at her.
She looked at him with teary eyes. "I'm scared…" she whispered. He was too close to her now, half covering her body with his. She could feel his warmth, she could smell him. Another shiver ran down her spine. His presence made her feel protected, but she felt small and unimportant, covered in dirt and rags as she was, a pitiful existence. She was ashamed of her state, of what had become of her. She was once a proud young woman, she was-
Another blast interrupted her train of thoughts. More debris fell from the crumbling walls. "Come, under the desk. At least our heads will be covered", Hosenfeld said, and they both crawled there, and huddled close. She trembled like a little bird at his side. His heart overflowed with emotion. All he wanted was to protect her from all harm, and yet what could he do now?
"This place is not safe anymore. I cannot let you stay here", he said.
"But… But I have nowhere else to go…"
"No family? Friends anywhere?"
She shook her head, and fresh tears appeared in her eyes. "My family was taken on a train… I escaped by chance. And friends… I don't know anymore. Does anyone still live in Warsaw? It looks like a graveyard to me…"
Hosenfeld sighed. Another blast was heard then, but it seemed somewhat farther away. "This district is not safe anymore. With the Red Army closing in, my people will soon raze it to the ground. There will be nothing left for the Russians to find or conquer. I cannot let you stay here", he said. "We will wait for nightfall, when the hostilities will probably end. Then we will leave."
Leave? Leave and go where? She wanted to ask, but dared not to. For the time she remained quiet, huddled close to him, stealing from his warmth and finding comfort in human contact. He had his arm around her shoulders and his hand rested on the back of her head protectively. She kept her eyes low, and dared not look into his.
The blasts gradually became less frequent and more distant. As the danger moved away, reason began to settle in Hosenfeld's mind. Suddenly he felt a little embarrassed, a little uncomfortable, lying too close to Hanna. He removed his arm that was cradling her close. "The danger seems to have passed… for now", he said in a somewhat hoarse voice.
Hanna glanced at him, already missing his warmth. "We can come out now?" she asked timidly. He nodded, and slowly they stood to their feet. Hosenfeld took to dusting and straightening his coat and uniform, but Hanna could surely detect some nervousness in his manner. Maybe he too was affected by our closeness, as I was? She wondered, but quickly chased the thought away, branding it as nonsense. He's probably worried by the artillery attacks, that's all, she told herself.
Hosenfeld found a stool and sat down on it. Hanna sat on the floor by the closet. They were facing each other. "At least you weren't harmed", he started.
"You either", she responded spontaneously, blurting out the words before thinking. A blush crept up on her cheeks, and she tried to hide it underneath her scarf.
He noticed her reaction but chose not to comment on it. "We are both safe", he plainly stated. His eyes then fell to the spilled jam. "Too bad this has gone to waste. It wasn't easy to come by", he sighed.
"No, no… I can still salvage some", she said, and took to collecting the jam on a piece of newspaper.
He watched her, his heart breaking at her state of despair. No human being should ever have to suffer such humiliation, to lick the scraps of food off the floor like a dog, he thought. Then an idea formed in his mind, and once it had made its appearance, he could not make it go away. It was crazy, he knew it well, and it would place himself in immense risk. And yet he could see no other way. Clearing his throat, Hosenfeld said, "I will take you with me."
Hanna froze. Slowly she lifted her eyes to him, and there was a look of surprise and disbelief in them.
"I cannot leave you here. I will take you with me", he said again.
"But… where?" she uttered.
Her lips parted. "Your home, sir?"
He shook his head. "Our predicament is dire. There is no time to look for another place for you to hide, but neither can I leave you here. I told you, in the coming days this district will be razed to the ground. If I leave you here you will die", he explained.
"But… but… won't this be dangerous for you?"
Hosenfeld stood and walked to the window. He lit a cigarette. "Yes", he replied, not looking at her. "But I cannot leave you here. I will shelter you in my apartment, until I find somewhere safe for you to hide."
Hanna watched him speechless. And what could she say? This officer not only helped her survive, but he was willing to risk his own safety and position to rescue her.
The Captain smoked his cigarette hurriedly. He seemed on edge. He drew the curtain slightly and peeked outside. The daylight was waning fast. "We have about an hour until it's dark. Then we go", he said. Then he turned to her. "Eat something, Hanna. We will have to walk. You will need your strength."
She nodded, and did as she was told. The bread with the jam tasted heavenly. All the while Hosenfeld kept smoking by the window.
"Tell me, Hanna, what will you do when the war is over?" he asked, breaking the silence that had begun to stretch on.
"I… I suppose I will return to my lessons", she said.
"Lessons? Are you a teacher?" he asked with interest.
"Yes… Before the war I used to teach in elementary school", she replied. "Don't you think they will still need teachers after the war, sir?"
He smiled fondly at her naivety and innocence. "I'm sure they will, Hanna."
She smiled back. "And you, what will you do?"
His smile faded. What was there to tell her? Who knew where he might end up, and that is if he even got out of Warsaw alive, once it came under control of the Soviets. He could tell her nothing, and kept these dark thoughts to himself. "I will make sure to visit you once you are a school teacher again", he said, trying to hide the tension from his voice.
Hanna smiled again, and then went back to her meal. Hosenfeld watched the sky darken, and a comfortable silence settled between them. Time went by, and now night had fallen. Hosenfeld glanced at his watch. "We must go", he said. "Is there anything you would like to take with you?"
Hanna stood up and looked around. "No", she said.
He nodded, and made for the door. "Come", he said.
She gave one last look to the place that had been her miserable home for the past few months, and then stepped out of it forever.
VI. "We are here. Be silent, and make no noise at all", Hosenfeld instructed Hanna, as he turned the key in the lock.
His apartment was in the heart of the German district of Warsaw. What safer place to hide than under the very noses of the Germans? Their walk there had been long and tiresome for Hanna. She was exhausted, and her legs were weak from disuse. Hosenfeld had supported her most of the way, and nearly had to carry her during the last few hundred meters. Fortunately they were not met with misfortune on their way. Once they came across a patrol and were nearly seen, but the Captain's reaction was quick and they hid inside a ruined bookstore before the soldiers saw them.
"It's just up these stairs", he said, and she nodded, but as she made to climb them, she collapsed. "Hanna!" he hissed, and she looked at him with blurry vision. He bent and gathered her body in his arms. She was light as a feather.
Soon enough they were inside the apartment. Hosenfeld gently laid Hanna on the sofa. "Sleep here tonight. I will bring you a blanket", he spoke softly.
He made to stand, but she touched his hand. "Thank you… for everything you have done for me… Thank you", she breathed.
Their eyes locked, his brilliant blue and her warm hazel ones. He squeezed her hand lightly, and their fingers shared a brief caress. Feeling the tension rising inside him once again, he broke the contact and stood. Through sleepy eyelids Hanna watched him go and return with a woolen blanket, which he carefully draped on her. Her body relaxed in the warmth, and a smile formed on her face. Unwilling to let go of watching him just yet, her eyes followed him as he removed his coat and boots, and then his tunic. He then disappeared behind a door, and soon afterwards she heard running water. That was the last sound she heard before falling asleep.
Hosenfeld leaned against the bathroom door and let out a heavy sigh. What am I getting into? He asked himself. What am I thinking, bringing her here in my apartment? If I'm caught we will both be executed. He turned on the faucet and removed his clothes, thinking that the warm water of the bath will help him relax. And why her? She's not the only Jew I'm helping. Why her? Questions kept plaguing his mind as he washed the dirt of the day off his skin. I must think reasonably, he told himself as he splashed some water on his face. Her situation was dire, not comparable to anyone else's. Even the pianist is hiding in a safer place. I couldn't leave her there to die. And this is only a temporary solution. Soon I will find somewhere safe for her to hide.
Resolved to do as he thought, he finished his bath and put on his nightclothes. He started to walk towards his bedroom, but in the last moment he hesitated, and turned towards the living room. Hanna was sleeping in the sofa, just as he had left her. There was a look of serenity on her face that spoke right into his heart. Resisting the emotions inside him, he turned and left.
VII. "Hanna… Hanna", Hosenfeld's voice softly called to her. She slowly opened her eyes, and there he was, bent above her.
She rubbed her eyes and sat up. "Is it morning already?"
"It's early. I must go soon. Did you sleep well?" he asked her with genuine concern.
She smiled. "I haven't slept so well in years. Thank you…"
He smiled back at her. Hanna took a moment to gaze at him. He looked as pristine as always, his uniform clean, his boots shiny, his hair neatly combed. He is beautiful, she admitted to herself.
"You can sleep as much as you wish", he said as he retrieved his hat, and strapped his pistol about his waist. "There is fresh bread and butter in the kitchen. Fruit too. Help yourself. Eat as much as you want. You need to put on some strength", he told her kindly. "I only have to remind you to be absolutely quiet. The neighbors must not hear a thing. No running water, no heavy footsteps, no radio, nothing. Do you understand?" He sounded imperative, his brow now furrowed.
Hanna nodded hurriedly. "Yes, yes… I know this must be of great risk to you. I would never do anything to place you in danger, after all you have done for me."
Hosenfeld's expression relaxed once he realized she understood the situation completely. "I must go now. I will be back later in the day."
After he was gone Hanna found she could not go back to sleep. She stood up and walked around, careful not to make a sound. The apartment was neither small nor big. There was another sofa in the living room, and the kitchen was cozy, with a wooden table and four chairs. The other two doors that were closed she assumed were the bathroom and the officer's bedroom. She decided to sit in the kitchen and have breakfast. There was brown bread and butter, as he had told her, and also fruit, apples and oranges. She hungrily stuffed her mouth. Will this hunger ever go away? She inwardly asked herself. She looked at her hands as she ate. Oh my… my fingers look like skeleton bones, she realized. How much weight have I lost during the war?
Once she was done eating she walked to the living room. There was a mirror there, and she looked at her reflection. She gasped in terror at what she saw. Face drawn, hollow eyes, pale skin. I look like a death mask. Where are my rosy cheeks? She removed her shawl and let her hair down. Where are my once glistening curls? Now weak and dull and brittle… Desperation at her abject state overwhelmed her, and tears streamed down her cheeks. She had to stifle her sobs, remembering she was not to make any sound at all. Oh God, how will I ever recover from this? Is this what has become of me? Is this what the officer sees every time he looks at me? This miserable existence, this devaluation of life, this disgusting, filthy being that is me now…
Trembling, she went back to the sofa and sank in it, unable to stem the steady flow of tears. But soon exhaustion prevailed and she fell into a deep sleep.
Hanna awoke to the sound of keys turning and the door opening. She saw the officer walking in and tried to pull herself together. He greeted her with a smile and a nod. "Hanna, how are you?"
"I'm well, sir", she whispered half-heartedly.
He noticed her tone. "Did something happen?" She shook her head. He came closer and studied her face, even though she avoided looking at him. "You've been crying…" he noted. Still she did not look at him. "I have something for you that I think you will like", he said then. Curiosity won over her, and she looked at him. His eyes were kind and inviting. "There, on the table", he said, gesturing towards it.
Hanna saw a large box. Reluctantly she touched it, and had to first look at him for permission before opening it. He leaned against the door frame and watched her patiently. She removed the lid, and in the box she saw clothes. Women's clothes, dresses and blouses and skirts, as well as a pair of brown shoes and socks, all fresh and clean and nicely folded. She gasped. "Are these…?"
"Yes, they are for you. Courtesy of a friend's wife", he explained.
Hanna still could not believe her eyes. She carefully ran her fingers over a yellow dress with a flower pattern she found lovely, barely touching it, fearing she might ruin it. "But… But I'm so filthy… These clothes will be ruined…" she uttered.
"Well then, how about a bath first?"
He led her to the bathroom and showed her how the faucet worked. He also gave her clean towels. Once again, Hanna stood at a loss for words for his generosity.
"Take your time. I will prepare dinner", he told her and closed the door, allowing her privacy.
Hanna removed her rags. Her thin and frail frame resembled little the woman she once was. Quickly she stepped into the hot water and sat down in the tub. There was soap and a washcloth there, and she took to meticulously scrubbing away the filth of months that had gathered on her skin and hair, doubting that a single bath would be enough to clean herself thoroughly. Still, she tried her best, determined to look a little like her old self again.
About an hour later she was done. She dried her skin and hair on the towel, and combed away the knots. She put on the yellow dress. It was large for her, but she did not mind. She was determined to put on weight and be healthier now that her prospects had seemed to change.
When she stepped out of the bathroom she was greeted by a mouthwatering smell. She walked towards the kitchen, and there stood the officer above the stove, preparing some soup. He had changed out of his uniform and was dressed in plain civilian clothes, a light grey shirt and dark trousers. Hanna thought that he looked like a normal man now, and not a fearsome officer of the Wehrmacht.
As soon as Hosenfeld heard her steps he looked up from the pot. "Hanna, did you…" His words were left hanging in midair, as he took in her form. His eyes traveled up and down her body, and he looked dumbfounded.
She became nervous, and fidgeted with the hem of her sleeve. "Is something wrong?" she uttered worriedly.
"No… not wrong. You just look… different", he replied, and returned to stirring the soup. "You may sit at the table. Food is almost ready."
Hanna sat down and watched him as he poured an especially generous portion for her and placed the bowl in front of her. To think that a German officer would ever serve me food! She thought and shivered. Suddenly, the emotions were too many for her to handle. She was found, she was fed, she was rescued, she was sheltered, she was offered a bath and clothes, and warm food… It was too much for her to handle. Tears spilled from her eyes, and with a sob she threw herself at the officer's feet. "Oh… How will I ever thank you? How will I ever repay you this kindness?" she cried and kept repeating in-between her sobs.
Hosenfeld was taken aback by this unexpected outburst of emotion. For a while he stood frozen in place, not knowing what to do. But Hanna hugged his feet, and sobs rocked her small frame, and he could not bear to look at her like that anymore. Carefully he knelt and took her by the shoulders. "Hanna… Hanna, listen to me. You must not thank me. My people visited all this destruction and woes upon your country. We are responsible for your misery, for the loss of your family, we have committed such crimes and atrocities… The stain will be on us forever. So don't thank me. I'm only giving you what you deserve as a human being."
She looked at him through bleary eyes. His expression was one of pain and remorse. Clearly his conscience was at constant war with the duty he had to the oath he had sworn. Hanna shook her head. Why can't he see how good he is? "You are different. I knew you were different. You are not like the others. You are a good man." And then she took his hands in his and wet them with her tears and kissed them, before he had any chance to react.
Shocked and deeply touched by her gesture, he felt his own fingers trembling, and his own eyes were glazed up with unshed tears. "Come now, Hanna, that is enough…" he spoke, his voice a mere whisper, trying in vain to conceal how much he was affected.
"You are different. You are a good man", she said again, and released his hands. Clumsily then she wiped her tears and seemed to be calmer. "Please forgive my outburst. It was just all too much for me."
"I understand. Come now, don't let the soup grow cold", he said and helped her to her feet.
He handed her a slice of bread and a piece of cheese, and then sat down to eat opposite her. Hanna consumed her meal greedily, but the same could not be said for Hosenfeld. He was still unable to shake off the effect her outburst had on him. He did not feel worthy of gratitude or praise. How sickening was it to have a helpless victim of war at the feet of the enemy and showering him with gratitude simply because he chose to show her some mercy? He felt appalled. His stomach churned, and he had to stand from the table.
"Hanna, don't do anything like that ever again. No crying, no pleading, nothing! Be quiet! Do you hear me? Be quiet!" he demanded, and he sounded irritated and angry. She met his gaze and it was thunderous. Terrified, she abandoned her food and fled from the room.
It had come out all wrong. It was not her sobs that upset him, but his own role in this. How shameful of him to take out his anger on poor Hanna, that had done nothing but shown him gratitude. Hosenfeld was disgusted with himself. He felt he would never be able to face her again.
VIII. The next few days they passed mostly in silence. He would leave for work early in the morning and return in the afternoon with provisions. He spoke to her only when it was necessary, and she dared not utter anything more than a yes. They actively avoided each other as much as they could. With each passing day Hosenfeld looked more troubled and more distant, as if the burdens he carried were too heavy for his shoulders. Hanna was worried, but she tried not to stand in his way.
One evening they were sitting in silence, Hanna immersed in a book and Hosenfeld reviewing a dossier with work files. He seemed quite preoccupied, and his brow was furrowed. On the contrary, Hanna was feeling restless, and the book was not enough to keep her attention. She stole glances at him. He did not seem to notice her. There was palpable tension between them, even though they both pretended it was not there. But Hanna could not take it anymore. She needed something to relax. She thought a bath might do the trick.
Carefully she closed the book and placed it on the table. Hosenfeld remained motionless, but for his pen scraping on the paper every now and then. "Sir…" she began. "Could I perhaps have a bath?" she asked timidly.
"Of course", he replied casually, not bothering to lift his eyes to her.
Hanna stood and walked to the bathroom. Hosenfeld's eyes darted up and followed her until her figure disappeared. He let out a sigh of discomfort. How much longer would they keep this senseless game up?
Then the telephone rang. He answered it, and soon afterwards hung up. With a grunt he made for his bedroom and quickly put on his uniform. As he headed for the door, he paused by the bathroom. He could hear water running. "Hanna?" he called, but no response came. He knocked on the door twice and called her name again, but was once again met with no reply. Slightly worried, he turned the knob and opened the door just a tad. "Hanna?" he called again.
"Yes?" he heard her voice.
"I received a telephone call", he began, trying to resist the urge to peek through the door.
"Did something happen?"
"I am needed at the headquarters. There have been some… complications. I must go soon. Are you done with your bath? No sounds are to be heard as soon as I leave the house", he reminded her.
"Ah, yes, yes, one moment", she hurriedly replied.
Hosenfeld heard the sound of splashing water. Unable to resist any longer, he pushed the door ever so slightly. There she stood with her back to him, half-covered in a towel, wringing the excess water from her hair. The curve of her back looked enticing, and she had certainly put on some weight since he had brought her here. She looked like a proper woman now, and quite a beautiful one too.
Holding his breath, he watched her remove the towel from around her torso to dry her legs, and the curve of a breast was revealed to him for a brief moment. Immediately he averted his gaze, now feeling the front of his trousers straining uncomfortably tight. A wave of shame mixed with lust washed over him, and he inwardly admonished himself. I must stop thinking of her that way, he told himself. He tried to pull himself together and grabbed his coat and hat.
"Will you be alright, Hanna? There is some bread left if you feel hungry. Don't wait for me. I don't know when I'll be back", he said, suppressing his previous thoughts.
"Yes, thank you…" she replied. Be careful, she wanted to add, but dared not voice her thoughts. She felt worried now every time he left the house, especially when it was at irregular hours. She knew the Red Army was gaining ground, and the fighting in the eastern part of Warsaw had become more brutal. Despite that, the officer still went around helping people who were hiding. What if he was caught by his fellow countrymen, or by the Russians? There seemed to be no hope for him either way.
When later she retreated to the sofa that had become her bed for these past weeks, sleep would not come to her. She could not silence the worrisome thoughts in her head, and she knew she would not be able to rest until she saw him safe and sound.
But the hours passed, and still there was no sign of him. The clock ticked midnight, then one o'clock, then two…
Suddenly she heard a key turning in the lock. She jumped awake and held her breath. The officer entered the apartment, and he walked carefully so as not to make a sound and wake her up. Hidden under the blanket Hanna watched him remove his hat and coat, and then his boots. He unstrapped his pistol and unbuttoned his tunic. He looked tired. He placed his hand on the wall and leaned against it. He let out a deep sigh.
She sat up and pushed the covers. "Sir?" she softly called at him.
He turned to her, somewhat surprised. "Hanna… I'm sorry to have woken you up", he said.
She stood and walked up to him. "You didn't wake me."
"I told you not to wait for me…" There was tenderness in his voice and eyes.
"I couldn't. It was not possible", she insisted, holding his gaze.
"Why?" his voice was a little hoarse, and his eyes would not leave hers.
She felt her heart beating faster. "I was worried… I needed to see you were alright."
"I'm alright. You need not worry about me, Hanna. You have enough sorrows of your own already", he responded, and made to walk past her.
Something came to her then and overrode her reason, as she clasped his arm, not allowing him to leave.
Hosenfeld felt electrified by her unexpected touch. It took all his willpower to keep himself under control. "Hanna…" he breathed her name. "What is this?"
"Don't go… Don't go just yet", she said in a small voice, her eyes searching his. He turned to face her fully, and carefully removed her hand from his arm.
She looked infinitely hurt by his action, but spoke not of it. Instead she said, "I was hoping we could clear the air between us…"
He sighed. "Not now, Hanna. I'm tired. We will speak in the morning."
With that he gently pushed her aside and left her standing in the hallway, as he went into his bedroom and locked the door.
IX. Hanna barely slept that night. She rose early and prepared coffee and breakfast. She wanted him to find everything ready when he woke. And that moment came soon.
Hosenfeld walked into the kitchen and saw that Hanna was already there and the table was set. "You woke up early, I see. Thank you for this", he said politely, as he brought a cup of coffee to his lips.
"Have you had any rest at all, sir?"
"A little. I'm allowed a couple of hours leave today, after last night's urgent meeting", he replied.
"You should have slept some more then."
He shook his head. "I think it's a good chance to visit the people in hiding. That pianist seemed to me very weak the last time I saw him. I will bring him some food, and then I'll be off to work", he explained.
"Have you found a safe place for me to stay?" Hanna asked quite out of the blue.
He looked into her eyes. "I tried to, but it's not an easy task. There don't seem to be any safe places in Warsaw now", he said, and paused for a while, looking thoughtful. Then he lifted his eyes to her, and his gaze was intense. "Is living with me unbearable, Hanna?"
His question caught her off-guard. She opened her mouth and stammered, "No, not at all… I just thought I'd be a burden to you the longer I remained here, and the last thing I want is to compromise your position. I know you take a great risk keeping me here. I never meant to sound ungrateful, I only spoke of what I thought right."
Her words caused his brow to furrow, and his mouth turned into a thin line. Here again she is meek and grateful. She should be disgusted! She is forced to live with one of her oppressors, for God's sake! Why must you be so peculiar, girl? Why can't you just hate me? It would all be much simpler then. Oh, why must you affect me so?
Hosenfeld took a breath and looked away, trying to calm his raging thoughts. He put on a mask of indifference as he spoke. "Don't worry, Hanna", he said in a detached manner. "The war might well be over by Christmas. Isn't that next week? I don't suppose you'll be needing a new apartment for such a short time."
She looked very sorrowful after hearing his words, and once again he found himself regretting his behavior. There was something about her that set him off lately, and it was something that was increasingly getting out of his control. But perhaps anger was just a misplaced emotion. Perhaps anger was not what she truly ignited in him, but it was how he chose to interpret it.
"I didn't mean to upset you", she said in a low voice and gathered her hands in her lap.
"You didn't upset me", he said. "What is it you wished to talk to me about last night?" he inquired.
She sat in silence for a while, unsure of how to begin. He watched her patiently, not wishing to scare her any further. "If I have somehow displeased you, sir, I am sorry", she began.
"Displeased me? You have not displeased me in any way Hanna. Did I not tell you not to talk like that?" he said, slightly leaning towards her across the table.
"You seemed so angry at me. I only wanted to thank you for all you have done for me…"
Hosenfeld felt the familiar conflicting emotions strangling his heart again. "It is not you I was angry at, Hanna. It was myself", he admitted. "I don't deserve your gratitude. I don't deserve your good will. You only are in this miserable situation because of me, because of my people, because of the war us Germans brought upon you. We are the reason you lost your family to Auschwitz… You owe me no allegiance, nothing", he spoke to her from his heart. "And I'm sorry I took out my anger on you. It was a mistake. Please forgive me, Hanna."
At that he gently took her hand, fearing she might pull away. But she did not. Instead she brought her other hand and covered his. "No, not you, sir. The others for sure, but not you. You are the exception to their rule. You are a kind soul in a world of monsters." She gave him a warm smile that caused tears to well up in his eyes. He strove hard to suppress them. He did not want her to see how vulnerable he was around her. "And of course I forgive you. You may say what you will for yourself, but I know the truth: you are my savior. Anyone else in your place would have just shot dead a Jewish girl hiding in the ruins. But you did the exact opposite. And this is the only truth I know and care about. I don't care that you are German, I don't care that you came here on the side of the enemy. I only see who you are to me. It is as you once said to me: I only see the person in front of me. That is all."
Her words touched him deeply, and somehow quieted the turmoil in his heart. Almost reverently he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. "You are a rare woman, Hanna. I pray that you never change", he said.
She softly gasped. She felt her skin where his lips touched going ablaze. A blush came upon her cheeks and she could do nothing to hide it. And the way he was looking at her now made things only worse. It made her antsy, it made something deep in her core awaken and stir, and she had no idea how to handle it.
Then Hosenfeld let go of her hand and stood. The rising sentiments between them were almost suffocating now, they were too complicated, and he needed to escape the tension. He glanced at his watch. "I should be going or else I will be late", he said.
"Be careful", she said, not hesitating to voice her thought this time.
He nodded with a small smile, his heart already feeling lighter. And it was all thanks to her. He was not sure who was the savior of whom, after all.
X. The following days passed quickly, and they both felt more at ease with each other. Their conversations had become more normal, and they did not seem to avoid each other anymore.
But Hosenfeld's workload and responsibilities were definitely increasing, and there seemed to be unrest and disquiet in the German quarter of Warsaw. Hanna could see how worried he looked, but she did not want to prod the subject.
One afternoon he did not return around the time he usually did. He must be caught up at work, Hanna thought. But as the clock ticked forward, she grew restless. She paced around the house, trying to distract herself. There were a few books in the living room, but she did not feel like reading. She walked to the bathroom and washed her face to freshen up. As she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she was pleased to see that some color had returned to her cheeks and a good deal of meat was now on her bones. She was feeling better and stronger with each passing day, a direct result of better nourishment and adequate sleep. And it was all thanks to the German officer. He has never told me his name… she suddenly realized. But I suppose it is for the safety of us both. She took a hairpin and gathered her hair in a bun. My hair looks healthier, too, she noted. And the apartment is warm… The stove burns well. I'm lucky to be here, contrary to my people, my family… My poor family. They are lost to me forever. Bitter tears ran from her eyes at the remembrance of her gentle father, her sweet mother and her two younger sisters. What threat was a tailor and his humble family to the glory of the Third Reich? Oh but they were Jews…
She stood there crying silently in front of the mirror, until the sorrow of her heart was spent, and she had no more tears. The pain of loss would never go away, she knew that well. But she had to live with it now. She washed her face one more time and tried to pull herself together. If it was only herself she had now, she had to take care of herself, and not waste this precious chance to life she had been given.
As she stepped out of the bathroom, inadvertently her thoughts turned to the officer. He looks troubled lately. And it is understandable… Germany is losing the war. Perhaps he is worried about what will happen next. I wonder, does he have any family of his own? Does he have anyone waiting for him after all this is over?
Her eyes fell to the door of his bedroom. It was ajar. Strange. Usually it is locked. How remiss of the diligent officer, she thought with a side smirk. Her hand went to the doorknob, and for a short while she fought against herself. But in the end curiosity got the better of her, and she stepped into the room.
She looked around. There was nothing remarkable about it. A bed was in the middle, a closet to the side, a desk against the wall, and a window that looked to the east. On the chair a couple of shirts were carelessly tossed, and a spare uniform hung from a nail on the wall. That was all. Hanna tentatively walked around his private space. Even the air had a faint but distinct scent that was exclusively him. She took one of the shirts in her hands, and, without consciously registering the action, brought it to her face. She closed her eyes and sighed as she inhaled his scent. Then, as if struck by lightning, she came to her senses and dropped the shirt on the chair. What am I doing? Have I gone mad? Her heart was racing, fighting a war against her reason. Nonsense, this is nonsense, she tried to tell herself. I am just lonely, that's all.
Hastily she turned to leave, but her sleeve brushed against something light that was on the desk and it fell on the ground. It was an envelope. Curiously she gathered it. It was a telegram addressed to a Hauptmann Wilhelm Hosenfeld, dating from around a year ago. Hanna's heart started beating like a drum. She took out the card and read it. The content of it was dreadful. It was informing the recipient of the death of his wife and three children during an air raid of Berlin. The telegram had all the proper stamps and marks of the Reich. This was an official telegram.
With shaky fingers she left the telegram on the desk. Then she noticed a framed photograph, turned down on its face. She lifted it and looked at it. In the photo was the officer looking handsome, a beautiful young woman and three smiling children, two girls and a boy. Tears welled up in Hanna's eyes.
"My family. They are gone now. Dead", Hosenfeld's somber voice was heard from the doorway. Hanna turned with a startle and gasped to see him standing there. When did he even enter the house? "But I suppose you are informed of that already", he went on, his tone turning harsher, as he saw the open envelope and the telegram on the desk. He marched in, brushing her aside, and quickly gathered and dropped the telegram and the photograph in a drawer. Without another word he left the bedroom, threw his hat and coat on the sofa, and went into the bathroom.
Hanna was not given a chance to react. Trying to overcome her shock, she walked to the living room. She mechanically gathered the officer's coat and hat, and hung them at the rack by the entrance. Then she noticed a bundle on the table. She went and opened it. Inside the wrapping cloth was a large bottle of milk, a jar of jam and a round cake. She sank down on the sofa, on the verge of crying again. Once again he was being thoughtful and caring, and she only repaid him by invading his private space and going through his belongings. She felt deeply ashamed of herself. Even though she was hungry she dared not touch the food. She decided to wait for him, to talk to him, to try and make things better. So she sat in silence, and for a while she could hear the water in the bathroom running. Then it stopped. And then she heard crying. Hanna doubted her ears. It couldn't be crying that she heard. But then she heard it again. Rising to her feet, she tiptoed to the bathroom door. It was not fully closed. Then she heard a sob, and another. They were suppressed and stifled, but she was certain the officer was crying. It broke her heart to listen to that strong and yet kind man crying.
Taking a deep breath, she steeled her resolve. "Are you alright, sir?" she asked gently.
He did not respond for a moment, but the crying ceased. "Please go, Hanna", he spoke in a broken voice.
"Sir, please… I know how you feel."
"Hanna, go. I need to be alone", he insisted.
But in his tone she read the exact opposite. "I don't think you truly want to be alone, sir", she dared say. No response came. "Sir?"
"Curse you woman! Can you not just leave me alone?" he yelled, but a sob broke his voice in the end.
Hanna hesitated for a while. She knew very well that his fury was in truth a cry for help. So she decided to ignore his angry words and pushed the door open a bit. "Wilhelm?" she called his name softly as her figure appeared from behind the door.
Hosenfeld turned his eyes to her. They were red, and he looked exhausted and desperate. Hanna remained where she stood, not wishing to make him feel uncomfortable. He was fully immersed in the bathwater, with only his head and shoulders visible. Still, she did not wish to overstep. What she had done so far was already daring enough.
"We have both lost the people we love. I understand how you feel", she said.
"I told you to leave me alone", he said, averting his gaze from her.
"I understand that you may feel lonely and lost sometimes", Hanna went on undeterred.
"You understand nothing. What do you want from me?" Hosenfeld turned to her angrily. "Do you enjoy disrespecting my privacy?"
She flinched slightly, but did not retreat. "No… I want nothing, sir. I only wish to tell you that I can be there for you, as you have been there for me, if you let me", she said softly.
Her tenderness made his anger dissipate. He ran a hand through his wet hair, and then he rubbed his eyes. "It's not your fault, Hanna. I'm not myself lately. Everything seems so bleak, so hopeless… I only see death and ruin everywhere", he said in a low voice, his eyes downcast. "I'm not myself", he repeated.
She came and knelt next to the tub. Her face was now at level with his. "I understand", she said.
He glanced at her. "Why would a Jew have compassion for a German?"
A sad smile curved her lips. "Because that German is the only reason this Jew is alive now."
He met her gaze, and his eyes now revealed vulnerability and sorrow. "You are right. I do often feel lost and lonely. My wife and children are dead… The youngest was only two years old, a baby… I will never see them again."
"And I will never see my sisters again, nor my parents. But we have no choice but to go on", she told him.
"How does one truly go on after such a tragedy?"
"By appreciating the gift of life. You showed me how to do this. You showed me how to value life, when you cared for me and fed me, when I was despondent and resigned to my fate, not caring if I lived to see the following day. Can you not do that for yourself now?"
She tenderly brought her hand to his cheek and gave him a small reassuring caress. He closed his eyes, leaning into her touch. Hanna felt her heart beating faster. The vulnerability he demonstrated now was unprecedented, and it excited and scared her at the same time. She did not know exactly what to make of it. All she knew was that she could not tear her eyes from his face, his lips… Nervousness took over her and she dropped her hand from his cheek. At once he opened his eyes, looking now bereft. She stood and paced away, avoiding to glance at his nude form. She had invaded his privacy earlier, and she did not want to continue making the same mistake now. The tension that had arisen once again between them was already too much for comfort. Quietly she closed the door behind her, grabbed a book and went to sit on the sofa, and decided to try and calm her nerves and patiently wait for him.
After a while Hosenfeld emerged from the bathroom, now dressed and pulled-together. He seemed like his regular self now. Knowing it would not be wise to avoid the matter and pretend nothing was going on, he lit a cigarette and walked into the living room. Immediately Hanna lifted her eyes to him, setting aside the book she was reading.
"We should discuss what happened earlier", he began rather formally. "May I sit here with you?" he asked.
"Of course", she said and made room for him on the sofa.
He sat down and was quiet for a while, just smoking. Then he spoke. "I do not appreciate you going into my room in my absence. Were you searching for something in particular?"
His tone was mildly interrogative, and struck some fear in Hanna's heart. Discomfort became evident in her face and tone as she replied, "No, sir, not at all. But the long hours would not pass, and I was bored and restless. Then I happened to notice your door was ajar, and curiosity won me over. It was foolish of me, unforgivable, I know. And I am so, so sorry", she said.
"It was my mistake to leave the door unlocked, which will not happen again. But were you looking for something specific, perhaps?" he went on.
She shivered. "What do you mean?"
"Documents, perhaps… My work files?"
A huge wave of disappointment washed over her. After all they had shared is that what he thought of her? She shook her head, her vision now blurry with fresh tears. "Of what use would any such documents be to me? Do you think I wish to harm you in any way? I would never, never…" she protested, a sob choking her words.
Hosenfeld rubbed his temples and sighed. "I'm sorry Hanna, I know… I'm not accusing you of anything. It's just… I am not thinking clearly these days." He made a short pause. "But you were not supposed to see that telegram. You were not supposed to learn my name. It was for the safety of us both."
And yet, when he heard his name on her lips, his heart had skipped a beat, and he felt he would be forever content to hear his name proffered by her only.
"I know it was a mistake. I am deeply sorry, sir."
"Wilm. It's how they call me."
He took a deep breath, once again relishing the sound of his name on her lips. "Have I been too harsh with you, Hanna?" he asked her with genuine concern, and looked deeply into her eyes.
"No… No you haven't. You have been kind and generous", she replied, meanwhile noticing how he had leaned towards her on the sofa.
"Sometimes my military training prevails, and when I realize it it's too late. I never meant to hurt you in any way", Hosenfeld spoke on.
"Why are you telling me this now?"
He nodded towards the cake on the table. "Because it's Christmas today, Hanna, and I wanted it to be a beautiful day for you. I know you don't care for Christmas, but it's all I know, and we might not even have many days to pass like this from now on", he said in a low and sorrowful voice, his eyes never leaving hers. "I don't know what will happen in the days to come, but I want you to know that not once did I regret bringing you here in my home."
His tone was earnest, and she smiled brightly. "You have made this day beautiful. You always care for me, you are thoughtful… What more could I ever ask for? Wilm… Thank you", she whispered. And then, deciding not to hold back, she closed the small distance between them and hugged him.
Hosenfeld was slightly taken aback, but he soon relaxed in her embrace and put his arms around her, drawing her closer still. He could smell her, all fresh and clean now, and her scent was driving him mad with desire. And he could not push from his mind how she had touched his face earlier in the bathroom. He wanted to have more of it, more of her. She had ridden down his defenses, she had brought down his walls, and he did not really mind it. Her presence made him remember that he was a man alive. Still he was reluctant, for quite often he thought of his late wife, and then his heart was in deep sorrow. But then Hanna would come to him, and it would be as if a light had shone into a tomb. Day after day she was changing, and he marveled. She had transformed into a new person. She had overcome her fear. She had rediscovered who she was before war and tragedy struck. And it made him happy to know he had played a part in that. And her appearance had changed drastically. She did not resemble at all the pale ghost he had come across in the ruined mansion a rainy October day. In his arms now was a woman in flesh and blood, warm and tender and loving. But he did not wish to scare her or make her think he wanted to take advantage of her, so he slowly broke the embrace before his aroused state became too obvious.
Hanna looked at him almost breathless. She saw his eyes had darkened, and his gaze was tense. Is he truly feeling what I am feeling? She wondered with excitement. But he is an experienced man and I know little about these things… I should not presume too much. And yet what I felt when he held me against his body…
"Merry Christmas, Hanna", he whispered to her.
"Merry Christmas, Wilm", she wished him back and smiled.
Hosenfeld looked at her smiling face, trying to etch in his memory every detail of it. Then carefully he leaned forward and dropped a light kiss on her forehead. She shivered, and he felt it. He had to fight against all his urges not to kiss her again, and on the lips this time.
Trying to conceal her nervousness, Hanna pointed at the bundle on the table. "Well, should we not try that wonderful cake you brought?" she said eagerly. "I'm sure it will go perfectly with the jam!"
They dined and kept a light and mirthful conversation, and when the time to say goodnight came, they parted with another embrace, which they both found incredibly difficult to break. But in the end Hosenfeld retreated in his bedroom and Hanna went and lay in the sofa to sleep.
But the hours passed and sleep would not come to the Captain. He tossed and turned in his bed, but he could only think of Hanna and his feelings for her. It was no use denying he did have feelings for her. The shy Jewish girl had managed to get under his skin and earn a prominent place in his heart. But did she feel the same? He did not allow himself to hope for much. She just feels warmth and gratitude towards me. She's young and sees me as her protector, that's all, he kept telling himself. And yet she was breathless in his arms earlier, and how she looked at him at times…
With a grunt he sat up. His thoughts would not subside, and neither would his arousal. He thought of touching himself for a moment, but quickly dismissed the thought as childish and disgraceful. He decided to splash some cold water on his face. Surely that would make things cool down.
Trying to make no noise, he made for the bathroom. "Wilm?" Hanna's voice interrupted the silence. He inwardly cursed. "Is everything alright?" she asked.
"Yes. Just go back to sleep", he replied.
"I cannot sleep."
Hosenfeld glanced at her. "Neither can I", he admitted.
"Do you want to come and sit with me for a while?" she asked. Her tone was inviting but bore no wickedness. Her innocence only increased his fondness for her.
He lingered there, vacillating between the two possible courses of action. "I don't think that would be wise", he finally said, following his reason and not his heart.
"Why not?" she asked, sounding hurt.
He sighed in discomfort. What could he possibly answer her now that would not sound pretentious? "Just go back to sleep, Hanna", he simply said, and quickly went into the bathroom.
Hanna frowned and buried herself under the blanket. When she heard him leaving the bathroom she did not turn to look at him. She felt foolish and rejected. It was all in my mind, she thought. A stupid girlish fantasy and nothing more. A single tear ran down her cheek, but she stubbornly wiped it away, and refused to cry more.
XI. The next day was greeted by heavy snowfall. As much as Hosenfeld would have wished to stay at home and spend the day with Hanna, he knew very well that the war would not wait. He got up and dressed quickly. His driver was to pick him up today, and he was to oversee the construction of barricades at one bridge. It would be the last defense against the rapidly advancing Red Army. The German forces in Warsaw were almost surrounded on all sides, and they had lost most of their tanks, artillery, and heavy machine-guns. Soon enough they would be out of ammunition, too. The Russians had brought tanks and reinforcements, and the German defense would not last for long now. Hosenfeld believed it was now only a matter of days before the city fell to the hands of the Soviets. The whole city had become a battlefield, with skirmishes and shoot-outs everywhere. There was not a safe place in Warsaw any more, and even the provisions had started running low.
Trying to shake the grim thoughts from his mind, the Captain walked into the kitchen. To his disappointment, Hanna was not there to wait for him with freshly made coffee and breakfast. It's too early anyway, he thought, and went into the living room. Sure enough, Hanna was huddled under the blanket, sleeping still. He wanted to be close to her, to spend even a few minutes with her. But he could not linger, not today. Quickly he turned, grabbed his hat and coat, and left.
It was late morning when Hanna woke up. She went about her usual, noiseless routine still feeling quite bitter towards Hosenfeld. Had she been so mislead to believe there was something beyond friendship and companionship going on between them? His behavior last night had certainly made her feel like a fool, and she resented him for that. I should better speak with him when he returns, she decided. It's better to know for sure, even if it might be a truth I will not like, rather than harbor feelings, keep thinking silly thoughts and live on fantasies and futile hopes.
But the hours passed and still he did not return. Afternoon came, and then evening, and then night. Hanna grew anxious. By midnight she was almost frantic. Having forgotten her bitter sentiment, her heart now only thumped in worry. She silently prayed that nothing had happened to him.
The whole night passed and still there was no sign of him. She barely slept a wink. Miserably she paced around the house, fear gnawing at her soul. She tried to eat something, but after a few bites of plain bread she felt almost nauseous. Where is he? What has happened to him? These two questions tortured her mind. And the worst thing was that she had no way of finding out what was going on. Neither could she leave the house. She could not even turn on the radio, for fear of the neighbors hearing it. She was condemned to wait there, trapped in the comfort of the officer's apartment, trapped in his absence.
Another whole day passed in the same manner. By the third day Hanna was a wretch. She was on the verge of losing her mind, when at last she heard the key turning in the lock and the door opening. She rushed there but stopped dead in her steps when she saw the officer.
Hosenfeld stood in the doorway and dropped a heavy sack. His breathing was labored and uneven. Hanna stared at him in horror. He was in a terrible state. There was blood on his face, his uniform was dirty, his hair was messy and caked with mud and blood, and there was soot on his skin.
"Wilm… What happened?" she whispered, her voice lined with fear and worry.
"The Red Army… There was an ambush…" he spoke with some difficulty.
She ran to his side and supported his weight. "Come, sit down and rest." She led him to the living room and he slumped down on the sofa. "I will get you some water", she offered.
Soon she returned and held the glass to his lips. He drank a little but broke into a coughing fit. "The artillery… The grenades… There was… too much smoke", he rasped.
"Wilm… I was so worried… But at least you are alive. Don't tire yourself now", she told him gently, and with a wet cloth she wiped his face.
Hosenfeld closed his eyes and allowed her to do what she would. "It is almost over now, Hanna… The Russians… are everywhere. Soon… you'll be free…" Another coughing fit racked his body.
"Hush now, hush… Don't talk. You must not exert yourself", she said.
"I wanted to come to you earlier… But the doctor insisted I should remain at the hospital… But I couldn't stay there, I couldn't…" he spoke on, ignoring her advice. "I needed to see you, Hanna, I…" A wheeze forced him to stop talking. He coughed and strove for air.
Tears welled up in Hanna's eyes. The sight of him broke her heart. She wanted so desperately to help him, but she did not know how. "Are you badly wounded?" she asked him, her eyes full of concern.
"No… A few cuts and bruises… Nothing too serious… Breathing is worse… There was too much smoke, too much smoke…" he said, his voice faint in the end, and he leaned back on the sofa, falling into a fitful sleep.
Hanna remained by his side while he slept. She watched over him, and every time a coughing fit awoke him, she was there to help him and offer him water.
The following day he passed in recuperation, mostly lying in bed. Slowly his condition seemed to improve, and the coughs became less violent and less frequent. He even managed to take a bath and wash the filth of the battle away. Hanna took care of him all the while, attending to his needs. By the morning of the second day Hosenfeld was looking much better. He woke up and sat up, feeling his breathing coming easier now.
"Wilm? How are you feeling?"
Hosenfeld rose to his feet. "I'm better. Thank you, Hanna."
She gave him a small smile. "Would you like something to eat?" she asked him and he nodded.
A while later they were sitting in the kitchen and eating hot soup. "This is wonderful Hanna", he said, hungrily emptying his bowl. She smiled and served him some more. They finished their meal in silence.
Then, having regained his strength and composure, Hosenfeld looked at her. "Things are bad, very bad", he began. "We received an order to gather all the remaining forces of the Wehrmacht and make a last stand against the Russians. You must know that this is hopeless, Hanna." His voice was filled with sorrow as he spoke.
She looked at him in dread. "What do you mean?"
He stood up and extended his hand towards her, inviting her to stand with him. "I must go. This is goodbye, Hanna. We will probably never see each other again." Although he strove to maintain a steady voice, in his deep blue eyes was all the sadness of the world.
"I'm expecting a telephone call any time now."
"And then… What will happen then? Why did you say we will never see each other again?" She frantically searched his eyes for an answer, but he remained silent, his expression pained. "What will happen to you, Wilm? Will you die?"
He sighed heavily. "This is war, Hanna."
"It's not fair…"
"War is not fair. Life is not fair! Is what happened to your family fair? Is anything Hitler has done fair? But I must do my duty. I hate the Nazi regime, I grew disillusioned with it a long time ago, but I cannot betray my country. I cannot be a deserter. I must go, I must fight, Hanna, whatever that means for my fate", he said, his voice low but firm.
"No…" she shook her head, refusing to acknowledge what he was telling her.
He took her by the shoulders. "After I'm gone you must listen to the radio. When you hear the news that Warsaw has fallen to the hands of the Russians you must leave this house, do you understand? They will tear apart the German quarter, they will leave no stone unturned here. You must not be found here. They will think you are a Nazi collaborator and they will execute you. You must leave, Hanna. Don't hesitate a second, do you hear me?"
"Stop, Wilm, just stop…" she begged him.
He ignored her pleas. His tone was imperative. "No one must ever associate you with the Reich. You must lie low for a while, and when things settle go and find the Soviet authorities and tell them you are a Jew, tell them you survived in hiding. And I will give you something… Come with me", he said and took her by the hand and led her to his bedroom. He opened the drawer of the desk and took out a notebook. He passed it to her. "This is my diary, Hanna. I want you to have it. In here I name the other people I have helped. You can try and find them, you can help each other."
"Stop!" Hanna screamed.
"I refuse to accept this! I refuse to believe it will end like this!" she cried, her whole body trembling.
His countenance softened and he lightly touched her arm. He wanted to comfort her, but he knew it was impossible. "It was always going to end like this", he said in a deep, emotional tone.
She gasped and stood still. "You knew… You knew there was no hope", she uttered, realization slowly dawning on her. Hosenfeld lowered his eyes and nodded. "How long have you known? How long have you known there was no hope?" she went on, hot tears now streaming down her face.
He dared look in her eyes, and his heart broke. "I've always known. It was a mistake letting you get close to me, Hanna, it was… I shouldn't…" a lump in his throat choked him.
"Stop! Shut up!" she yelled, balling her fists and beating them against his chest.
He grabbed her wrists and pulled her into his arms, burying his face in her hair. "Hanna, Hanna, I'm so sorry…" he breathed. She gave into her despair, sobs now racking her body. He cradled her in his arms and kept whispering, "I'm sorry", to her.
"How could you ever do this to me, Wilm?" She lifted her teary eyes to him. "How could you ever allow me to fall for you when you knew there was no hope?"
"You said you'd never hurt me. Well, you did! You did hurt me Wilm! Do you hear me?" she cried, hopelessness now mixed with anger.
He struggled to keep his own tears from falling. "Hanna, please stop this…"
"You are a liar! You lied to me! You said you'd never hurt me, you said…" her voice broke, a new wave of sobs and tears overwhelming her.
Her misery made his heart bleed. But he could not let her suffer. Of what use would it be to tell her how he truly felt? He did not wish for her to remain stuck in the past. He did not want her to mourn a lost love. He wanted her to survive, to live, to be happy. Taking a deep breath and steeling his resolve he said, "It's not me you truly love, Hanna. It's an idea you love. War has a way of distorting words and meanings. Love… You see me as your savior, your protector, and you think this is love. But you must not be deluded by such notions. Soon I'll be gone and you'll forget me. The war will be over. You must live your life, Hanna. You are young. You will love and be loved… Don't cling on to false hopes." He knew his words would hurt her, but perhaps he was hurting even more so.
"How can you say these things to me? How can you possibly know how I feel, or what I want? But perhaps you have no heart yourself. You have no feelings. You are cruel, so cruel!" she cried, feeling her heart crushed.
Hastily he wiped away a tear. He hated himself for the pain he caused her, but her words also wounded him. He kept looking at her, having no more words to offer her.
"Go! Just go. I never want to see you again, do you hear me? Never!" she hissed in rage.
His lips parted, and he made no effort to stop his tears from falling now. His heart was aching, and her words felt like daggers. "You will not", he whispered in resignation.
The telephone rang then. Hosenfeld stood numb for a while, just looking at Hanna, and in his eyes was every unspoken truth that he owed her. But he said nothing. Finally he walked out of the bedroom.
With her heart and thoughts in turmoil Hanna went and sat in the kitchen while Hosenfeld spoke on the telephone. Soon afterwards she heard him hurriedly gathering a few things. But she refused to move. She refused to look at him. He had devalued her feelings, writing them off as fleeting fantasies, as delusions. Who was he to presume he knew better than her how she truly felt? She was feeling so dejected, so disappointed, so… She could barely name her own feelings. She only knew they were strangling her. How had it come to that? Hiding her face in her hands, she broke down in tears.
Hosenfeld walked into the kitchen. He wished to look at her one last time before he went. He stood at a distance, striving to keep his composure. "Hanna…" he began softly. She lifted her stormy eyes to him. He was dressed in his uniform, his pistol strapped about the waist and his hat tucked under the left arm. He looked just like the first time she ever saw him. The memory hurt her deeply. "Please remember what I told you", were the last words he spoke to her. He held her gaze for a few more seconds, and then he was gone.
XII. The silence in the apartment after Hosenfeld's departure was deafening. Hanna felt unable to register the passing of the hours. At one moment she glanced out of the window and it was dark. Has it gotten dark already? She absently wondered. Her back hurt and her eyes were dry and itching. How long have I been sitting in this chair? With some effort she stood up. Her whole body ached. She felt exhausted. Dragging her feet to the bathroom, she filled the tub with hot water and went in it.
Their parting scene kept playing again and again in her mind. At first her anger was the most prominent feeling, but soon it dissipated, and in its place arose worry. Oh God, what will happen to him? Will he come back? She wondered. Let him come out of it alive, please God, don't let him die, she prayed.
The water had gone tepid when she decided to get out of the bath. She dried herself and put on a clean dress. She combed her hair and did them up nicely. He must return, she kept telling herself. There is still some hope that he will return.
She then went into the kitchen and made herself some tea. She even took a slice of bread to eat with some butter. But time kept passing in complete silence, and gradually she started to realize that all her attempts at keeping the pretense of normality were futile. Reality was slowly kicking in. Hosenfeld was gone. He was gone for good, and he was not coming back.
Aimlessly she paced around the apartment like a ghost that could find no rest from its cursed existence. She gazed at the spot on the sofa where he usually sat. His pen was abandoned on the table. Her steps brought her to his bedroom. Most of his things were still there, untouched. He took nothing with him… Oh God, he truly doesn't expect to survive, she realized. She took a shaky breath and picked up one discarded shirt of his. Tenderly she brought it to her face, inhaling his scent deeply. She felt no shame in her action this time. Bitter tears ran from her eyes. They were tears of regret. Hugging the shirt tightly, she collapsed on the mattress. How harshly I spoke to him! How much I hurt him! I told him I never wanted to see him again. Oh God, I was the cruel one, me, not him. How terrible for him to hear these last words from me! My anger was the last thing he knew from me, when I should have shown him love. In the end I repaid his kindness with ingratitude. How horrible of me, how unforgivable, she lamented.
She cried for the longest part of the night, until at last exhaustion prevailed and she fell into a fitful slumber. There upon his bed she lay, drawing the covers that still held his scent to her and clinging onto them as if she was clinging onto the man himself. She would awaken and cry, and then she would fall asleep again.
Late the following day she awoke, wretched and miserable, refusing to leave his bed. It's all I have left of him, this place, this bed, these sheets that still smell of him… Wilm… Where are you, Wilm? I love you, I love you, I love you… she kept thinking torturous thoughts. Please be alive, please be well, and may you never love me back… If only you live… please…
Her eyes then fell to the diary. It had been abandoned on the edge of the bed. Hanna sat up and took it in her trembling hands. She flipped through the pages. His handwriting, so messy, she thought to herself and smiled a sad smile. She ran her fingers over the pages, caressing the words he had written. This is precious, she thought. I must not let it get damaged. She rose from the bed and found Hosenfeld's satchel, and in it she carefully placed his diary. She then opened the drawer of the desk and took out the telegram and his family photograph. To look at his face at a moment in his life where he was so happy caused a sharp pain in her heart. Long-gone days, days that will never come back… She kissed his face in the photograph and then put it in the satchel together with the telegram. His shirt was next. Reverently she folded it, breathing in his scent once more before placing it in the satchel as well. For the next hour she wandered around the house and gathered small items that reminded her of him, and carefully tucked them in the satchel.
Late in the evening she made herself something to eat. And then, exhausted as she was from her emotional toil, she crawled in his bed and slept. In her dream she was visited by a memory, when one day in November she and the officer had hidden under the desk in the ruined mansion, when the artillery attack was too close. The feeling of him cradling her body close was so vivid that Hanna almost believed she was living those moments again. And then came the twist in the scene, as he bent his head and kissed her, and she kissed him back. It felt real, so real... Her whole body had awoken to his proximity, and she could smell him so close to her, so alive and eager… He wound his arm around her hips and pulled her to him, and she could feel him growing hard against her. Her hand moved to his chest, then to the front of his trousers…
Hanna suddenly awoke in a state of arousal and confusion. It took her a moment to gather her bearings. But as she realized that is had all been just a dream, disappointment and sorrow washed over her. Her heart ached. She now longed for him more than ever before. Her whole body ached for him. Woefully she cried, stifling her sobs in the pillow, until, exhausted again, she fell asleep.
A few days she passed in similar fashion, until slowly she began coming to terms with her new reality. As her reasonable mind started working again, she remembered his instructions. He had told her to turn on the radio, and as soon as she heard news of the Russians taking control of Warsaw, she was to immediately leave the apartment. Almost mechanically she went and did just that. The single radio station broadcasted Nazi propaganda. She turned it on a low volume and then walked to the kitchen. I should see how much food is left, she thought. There was some wheat, some rice, around a dozen potatoes and onions, a few apples and eggs, a loaf of bread, a piece of cheese and a slab of butter. Not too bad. I should gather most of it into a sack and be ready, she decided.
This task preoccupied her mind and for a while she was free of her worry for Hosenfeld's fate. But in the evening when she sat idle in the living room, these thoughts returned. Her mind went to his diary, and she decided to read it. It is the most intimate thing I have of him, she thought. And I must know if it contains valuable information that might avail me in the days to come. She curled under a blanket and began reading.
The entries were mostly short, she noticed, and overall the style of his writing was dry and military-like, bereft of any unnecessary words and descriptions that one usually finds in works of literature. The diary was an accurate account of the most important events that had taken place in Warsaw since his arrival in the Polish capital in 1940. His entries rather resemble military reports, she thought with a sad smile. Increasingly often Hosenfeld wrote about his views considering the Nazi regime, revealing his growing discontentment with it, which, by 1943, had turned into frank appalment. There were also detailed accounts of his meetings with refugees, anti-Nazi political dissenters, Jews and even some prisoners of war he had helped. Hanna was not surprised to see her name written in his diary, and not few times at that. She thought his words were more tender when he wrote of her, but perhaps it was simply how she wished to interpret them. Hosenfeld also wrote quite extensively of the Jewish pianist he had met and helped, Władysław Szpilman. He seemed to be quite impressed by him and his talent, and he even described their first meeting, when Hosenfeld had Szpilman play a piece on a piano there was on the ground floor in the ruins where the Jew had been hiding.
Hanna lifted her eyes from the diary and stared blankly at the wall. In those handwritten pages hid a whole new side of Hosenfeld, of which she had seen so little. She had only experienced what pertained to her, but she had no idea he had worked so laboriously to help the oppressed Poles. In hindsight, it was not surprising that he so often came home late, and that he was tired and troubled by burdensome thoughts. Only now did she grasp the enormity of his endeavor, and the huge risk he was taking every single day, trying to effectively balance his workload and duties as a Wehrmacht officer, and his background work with the people he helped. But this realization made her feel even more ashamed of her behavior. She saw now how short-sighted she had been, immersed only in her own side of the story and her silly notions of love, when all these big things were going on in his life.
I wish he had spoken to me of everything… I wish he had opened his heart to me. Did he think I wouldn't care? Or perhaps he didn't want to burden me with more sorrows… Hanna thought. Oh, my dear Wilm, if only you knew how deeply I regret now my hurtful and selfish words! How could I have been so callous? So petty? You marched towards your death with the echo of my bitter and hurtful farewell in your ears, she thought and shivered, disgusted with herself.
Haunted by her remorse, she closed her eyes and allowed burning tears to run from them, until she was at last asleep.
A fanfare playing on the radio woke her up next morning. Startled she sat up. An announcement followed in a language she was not familiar with. Was it perhaps English? Her heart began beating like a drum. After that the announcement was repeated in Polish: the Red Army had beaten the last Nazi defenses. Warsaw was now under Soviet control. All German forces that had not left the city had been captured and would be sent to POW camps. This was victory, this was the end of the war, this was freedom, this was a call to celebration.
Hanna jumped from the sofa. In a panicked state she paced around. I must leave! She thought. Quickly she took out an old suitcase and in it threw her few belongings. In a small bag she packed whatever was left of the provisions. She made for the door, when suddenly she remembered the satchel containing Hosenfeld's things. Rushing back to the living room she grabbed the diary, and then into the bedroom, where she had left the satchel. She paused there, giving the officer's private space one last look. His words played in her mind: Soon I'll be gone and you'll forget me. You must live your life, Hanna.
She shook her head. No, Wilm, I won't forget you. I will never forget you. I promise I will do all I can to find you. Just… be alive. Please, be alive.
Letting out a shaky breath she picked up her baggage. Without looking back again she exited the apartment and closed the door behind her forever.
It was the 17th of January 1945.