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This is a true story, based on thirteen years of research. It is the story of friendship between a Jewish boy Freddy and his Christian friend Helmut who are separated by the political turmoil of the aftermath of the first World War in Germany, that obliged him and his family to seek refuge in France. It is the story of friendship between Freddy and George, his classmate whom he meets in school in Paris. It is the Story of Sigmund, whose patriotic blindness impacted the life of his whole family. I always felt the urge to write this story, to tell it freely, without any literary or formal restrictions, thus allowing the soul of the characters with all their qualities and misgivings to shine through it. Now, after all these years, it has finally seen the light of day. Alice Weil
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How this novel came to be
Part I – Frankfurt
Part - II Paris
Part III - Life without Sigmund
About the Author
After being told I was expecting my first grandchild, my thoughts went back in time to when my parents were expecting me, their first child. The joy was huge, for it had taken many years for my mother to get pregnant and now that I was on my way, I was their dream come true. My parents gave me a legacy of values, which I have passed on to my children. I, however, wanted to leave this grandchild, and all the others who might come, a special one: A story of their ancestors, written as a novel with all the historical facts, but not too many, for it was not meant to be a history book. Just enough to arouse their interest and inspire them to do their own research.
Whenever I sat down to write, I would imagine hearing my granddaughter’s voice in the background saying, "Please tell me more… and then what happened?" It has taken me 13 years to write it, but now, having finished, I must say that history seems to repeat itself. The times we are living in are not much different from the ones described in the novel.
The message to them, to future generations, and to all those who read this is: let us never forget, let us always remember that love, gratitude, compassion, generosity, and friendship transcend distances and all circumstances.
To my children and grandchildren, who have stood by me all these years, encouraging me to finish telling the story that has now finally seen the light of day.
8 August 1918 was a very bleak day for Germany. Having lost the Battle of Amiens, the Military and the Emperor realized they had no other option but to surrender to the enemy. It was not until September 14, when Austria and Hungary began peace talks with the Allies, that General Ludendorff, the head of the German military, was able to persuade Wilhelm the II to ask for an Armistice. The American President Wilson offered his services as a mediator in January 1918 but had been ignored. The request was not made until October 4 when the German government sent a note to the American President since the German military needed this lapse of time to come to terms with its defeat.
The reply the German Government received from the American Secretary of State, Mr. Lansing, was unacceptable to the military. The Americans demanded military capitulation of the country and the abdication of the Emperor. The German military felt completely humiliated. At the time, both the military and the civil governing parties were governing the country. The Chancellor understood that this situation could not continue and, seeking the best for the country, gave the Emperor an ultimatum: It was either he, the Chancellor, or Ludendorff. Wilhelm the II chose to dismiss General Ludendorff. On that same day, the Constitution of 1871 was changed and Germany became a parliamentary monarchy and the following day, the Emperor left for Belgium, never to return. The military did not accept Ludendorff’s dismissal and did everything to hinder the peace negotiations, trying to bring down the new governing order, convinced that the military were historically entitled to govern the country.
Sigmund had been an officer in the Prussian army and was on his way to Frankfurt after an honorable discharge. He had mixed feelings about his homecoming. It was the first time he would be back since the death of his beloved Alice and indeed he envisioned her beautiful face as his thoughts went back to those cherished and painful memories.
They met on a tennis court in Gstaad, Switzerland on a beautiful, warm summer day. Looking out the window of his hotel room, he was mesmerized by the sight of this beautiful girl. She was laughing and her long blond hair sparkled in the sunlight. He watched her for a long time, wondering who she might be. He had business to attend too, so he didn’t return until late, but she was on his mind the whole time. He had a tennis lesson on the weekend and hoped he would run into her then. He was in luck. She was talking to the tennis pro. He felt his heart skip a beat. She was even more beautiful than he remembered, listening attentively to what the pro was saying.
As he approached, she turned to look at him and gave him a lovely smile. She smiled often and her smile was in her eyes as well. He would never forget that smile. The pro introduced them and upon hearing her name, Alice, he thought how well it suited her. This was to be the beginning of their courtship. They played tennis daily and enjoyed their time together. It was love at first sight. They were married in Frankfurt; it was a huge affair as she came from a very prestigious Jewish family. Sigmund, being an officer in the Prussian army, was assigned to different posts in different cities, so their courtship had not been easy but they were both looking forward to settling down and being together.
A year after their marriage, Alice bore him a beautiful daughter whom they named Nellie. She was the image of her mother. Sigmund longed to be home with his little family and looked very much forward to his time off. On those days, they would sit by the fire and dream about their life when they could all be together.
A shiver ran down his spine as he came back to reality, looking at the scenery around him. He closed his eyes. He would never forget the day he received the news that his beloved was very ill. She was dying. He thought he would make it home before, but it was too late. He got there only in time to make the funeral arrangements and to cry his loss.
Alice’s mother took Nellie under her wing since Sigmund had to go back to his duties. It had been so painful, so sad, what a loss, what a waste. They were so young and the world was at their feet, but all their dreams were taken from them. Yet, he hadn’t lost it all. He had a daughter and she reminded him so much of her. His mood changed and he felt elated, having something very special to look forward to. No longer feeling sorry for himself, he decided he would do his best to make a home for them both.
The train pulled into the main station and he caught a glimpse of his brother Paul waiting for him, Nellie by his side. She was turning into a lovely young lady and had just celebrated her 14th birthday. Where did the time go? It seemed to him like yesterday that he was holding her in his arms. She looked more like her mother than he remembered. They embraced in silence and walked towards the waiting car. Paul looked a lot older; the years left their mark on him. They drove home, each busy with their own thoughts. Nellie was wondering what her life would now be like, living with her father again. She would miss her grandmother but knew she was welcome any time. Sigmund looked out the window, taking in all the changes and rejoicing now that he would be able to settle down, have a home, and tend to the business his father had founded, the import of rubber articles, while devoting some time to his books.
Paul felt very relieved his brother was back. They had a special bond and he had missed him very much. He was very tired, having run the business on his own all these years, making all the decisions, and carrying the weight of it on his shoulders. Not that he minded the responsibility, for they had both been taught not to shy away from hard work, but it hadn’t been easy and it wasn’t going to get any easier. But now that Sigmund was back, he had someone with whom he could share the burden.
After a short ride, they pulled into the driveway. Paul lived in a beautiful large house in a very distinguished Jewish neighborhood and even though he had never married, he enjoyed people and loved to entertain. Sigmund and Nellie would be staying with him until they found a place of their own. Anna the housekeeper had been with him for a great many years and was part of the family. She was in her early fifties, well rounded, not very tall, and had something very motherly about her She wore a light blue uniform with a small white coif on her head. Her hair was blond and curly and her sky blue eyes seemed to reflect her state of mind.
Anna was absolutely thrilled at having Sigmund and Nellie to care for and it was visible in every little detail. She made a great effort in preparing Sigmund’s room for him. The silver frame with Alice’s picture was freshly polished and she’d saved all the latest newspapers for him, knowing how much he loved to catch up on the news, and placed them on the little coffee table by the window, next to the fish bowl. He also adored his two gold fish and would watch them for hours while deep in thought. Anna had been caring for them since his wife’s passing.
She also went out of her way to make Nellie’s room feel like her own tiny kingdom. She had gone over to Mrs. Winters, Nellie’s Grandmother’s, to pick up her favorite dolls and stuffed animals. Nellie let out a little cry of joy upon seeing Max propped up on her bed. It had been her mother’s teddy bear and she never let him out of her sight.
Sigmund complimented Anna on how beautiful all the flower arrangements looked and went to his room to freshen up. He stood there, gazing at the picture of Alice for what seemed an eternity, and marveled once again at how much their daughter looked like her. He felt lonely and sad. He missed her and could not help thinking how different his homecoming could have been. His eyes filled with tears, but he did not allow himself a moment of weakness, it was not in his nature, and, brushing them off with the palm of his hand, he began to rummage through his suitcase. It did not take him long to find what he was looking for. He brought Paul a present, a box of Cuban cigars. One of his friends had received them from his father who had been a diplomat in Cuba and had given them to him as a token of friendship. He, in turn, saved them to give to his brother on a special occasion, and tonight was very special. He was home. His military life was now a thing of the past.
Anna prepared a wonderful meal and Sigmund enjoyed it very much. It had been so long since he’d eaten home cooked food. The conversation was very lively, with Nellie giving a detailed account of all she had been up to since her father had last seen her. Sometimes he and her uncle would interrupt the flow to tease her a little, but she took it all in her stride, never getting upset and indeed laughing with them. The time went by too fast and, looking at her watch, she asked to be excused for she had to go to school the next morning. The two men wished her sweet dreams and adjourned to the library. Paul went to find his cigars but Sigmund stopped him with a wave of his hand and gave him his gift. Paul let out a whistle of surprise, where had his brother found them? He was deeply touched.
Over cognac, Paul brought his brother up to date with the business. Now that the war was over, there were all these soldiers that had to be employed. The government had ordered the employers to give the jobs back to those who had been on their payrolls until 1 August 1914. In order to accomplish this, a lot of people who were not dependent on a job were dismissed. The women took the brunt of it, which very much contradicted the idea of men and woman being equal, so in compensation, on 12 of November 1918, women were given the right to vote. These measures also affected the business and it was with a lot of regret that he was forced to lay off most of the women who had been with them ever since their father started the business. Paul compensated them amply for their service but he could feel things changing… not for the better.
Indeed, he felt that the country was drifting, politically. After the Kaiser abdicated, numerous political parties were formed. A national Assembly was called, which elected Friedrich Ebert as the first President of the Republic. The revolution in Russia had everyone worried as well, but it wasn’t until the spring of 1919 in Munich, after the communist uprising, whose leaders had been from Jewish families and the other two had been East Russian Jews, that the hatred of Marxism and Bolshevism turned more fanatic. It also furthered existing anti-Semitism, which would constitute fertile soil for the propagation of the political ideas of the most talented anti-Semite agitator, Adolf Hitler. He would begin his political career in this city in the summer of 1919 as the man of confidence for the commandos of the Realm of Defense.
Sigmund agreed with his brother, life was not getting any easier and only God knew what the peace conditions set by the Allies and the associated governments would be like. They both hoped that President Wilson would keep his word and work out a fair peace deal. Should it be otherwise, they were sure all hell would break loose. But it was getting late and instead of speculating on what could happen, they decided to call it a night.
Sigmund had had a long, emotional day. He lay awake for ages, his thoughts wondering back to his childhood. Paul was the eldest. They were six years apart and as time went by, the age difference diminished and they became very close. Their parents came from very close-knit families and they had transmitted the value of family to their children. Paul was tall and lean, his eyes were brown and he wore a mustache. He was very handsome. It was hard to believe that he had not married; the women seemed to flock around him. Sigmund, on the other hand, was short for a man but had beautiful blue eyes and a stern, serious expression about him. He had very masculine features. He was very secure in himself and what Paul learned to love about his brother was his reliability. He felt a wave of gratitude sweep over him as the images of Nellie and Paul flashed in front of him. He felt very fortunate that they were together.
Nellie awakened Sigmund the next morning when she tiptoed in to kiss him goodbye before leaving for school. Seeing he was awake, she leant over him and told him how happy she was that he was home. Her words made his heart swell. Yes, life had been kind to him. He gave her a big hug and assured her he would be home when she came back. His eyes followed her out the door. What a great girl Nellie had become. She was beautiful, spontaneous, so natural and unaffected. She was very special. Plus, she had a gorgeous figure, even though she was at that age when young girls tend to put on weight. There was a joy of life she had and one could truly see it in her eyes. Plus, she adored her father. When he came home on leave, she would polish his military boots and while he was busy behind his desk, she would sit on the chair facing it with her head in a book. He had instilled in her the joy of reading and one day she would inherit his library.
He shot a quick glance at his clock. He hadn’t realized it was so late, where had the time gone? He was out of bed in a flash, having promised Paul he would meet him at the office, but was running late so he showered and dressed in a hurry, grabbed the cup of coffee Anna was holding in her hand, gulped it down, and left. He hated being late and felt it was a lack of consideration and respect towards the other person. He got in the waiting cab and enjoyed the short drive into the city. On his way he saw a lot of people, more than usual, standing at the street corners, talking. They seemed to have nothing better to do. These were probably some of the unemployed Paul had mentioned.
Paul met him at the door. "I am sorry I’m late."
"Don’t worry, Sigmund, somebody came in to talk to me and you would have had to wait so, it was good timing on your part."
Together the brothers walked up the stairs. Sigmund looked around, nothing much had changed, and he stopped and shook hands with a couple of employees who expressed their happiness at seeing him again. They went into his office and it was just as he had left it.
"So," asked Paul, "did you notice the changes on your way here?"
"I certainly did. I don’t remember seeing so many people loitering in the streets."
"Yes, and it gets worse every day." Paul then brought him up to date with the latest figures and they spent the rest of the afternoon discussing how to cope if the economic situation got any worse. Sigmund was not at all optimistic; he had a feeling very bad times lay ahead.
That evening, Nellie and Sigmund had dinner at Mrs. Winter’s. She’d lost her husband a couple of months back and even though she missed him terribly, for they had been married over 50 years, she was coping very well. She was a very lively lady with a great sense of humor. Very elegant and distinguished looking, she dressed extremely well. Her huge villa was within walking distance of Paul’s and since it was such a beautiful evening, they had decided to walk over.
She gave Sigmund a big hug then stood back and looked him over then said, "You have not changed at all."
"No," he said, "except for a couple of more grey hairs, I guess I haven’t."
She then hugged Nellie, whom she adored, and told her how beautiful she looked. Nellie dressed with great care, wearing an outfit her Grandmother had given her. She looked stunning and she knew it.
The drawing room was just as he remembered and a fire was glowing, which added to the coziness of the room. He had always gotten along very well with Alice’s parents, especially with his mother-in-law, and her loss brought them even closer. "I really enjoyed having Nellie," she said. "She helped me get through the rough times and we had a lot of fun together. Some days, after finishing her homework, we would go out for coffee or visit some of my friends. They all love her. She looks so much like my beloved Alice. I think she even has her personality."
"Yes," said Sigmund, “she reminds me a lot of her mother in many ways and she is just as beautiful."
"Sigmund, dear, what are your plans now that your military life is over? Are you still thinking about going to Munich or are you going to settle down here?"
"I’m planning on staying in Frankfurt. Nellie has her school, her friends— and her Grandmother here," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "I also have the business to attend to. Paul really needs a break, it’s been a long time since he has had some time off. I have a lot of reading to catch up on and I would like to devote some time to Nellie as well."
"Well," said Mrs. Winters, "I see you have a lot to look forward to and I am sure everything will work out fine. I’m glad you are not thinking about leaving Frankfurt. That really takes a big load of my mind."
"Don’t worry, Oma," said Nellie, "you’re stuck with me." Her Grandmother squeezed her hand.
Just then Maria, the maid, came in to say that dinner was served. The big dining table was set with the beautiful Limoges dishes that Sigmund loved and remembered so well.
"I know how much you like this dinner set and it is in your honor that we are using it tonight," Mrs. Winters announced.
Sigmund could not help but feel the absence of David, her late husband, and a wave of sadness swept over him. He looked at Oma sitting at the head of the table and their eyes met. Yes, they both felt his absence. Nellie broke the silence by asking her father if they were always going to live with Uncle Paul.
"No, dear, you and I are going to have a home of our own. As a matter of fact, I just spoke to a real estate agent this morning.”
"Well," said Mrs. Winters,” one of my friends with whom I play bridge, I don’t think you know her, is moving to the US. She has a beautiful villa in this same neighborhood and it’s now up for sale. It is very spacious and has a big garden around it."
Nellie looked excitedly at her father, a home of their own, just the two of them, with a big garden around it! "Oh, Daddy," she said, "that is my dream! I can have all my friends over and decorate my room how I want it! I love the mere thought of it. And Oma, if it’s not far, I can come and visit you often and we can do all the things we did when I was living with you."
Mrs. Winters looked expectantly at Sigmund.
"I could be interested," he said. "And it sounds like the home I have in mind."
"Then I shall call Lina tomorrow and give her your office number."
"That will be fine," he said, and they left it at that.
It was getting late and Nellie had to be up early so, promising to see each other soon and thanking Mrs. Winters for a great evening and an excellent dinner, they said their good byes. She watched them walk down the driveway. Sigmund was such a good father, it would do Nellie a world of good to spend time with him, and she felt both happy and relieved knowing that her little sunshine, as she called her, would not be moving away.
On the way home, they talked about the future. Nellie was very excited about her father buying a villa and he shared in her excitement for he had spent so many years living in confined quarters that he really looked forward to having some space and being surrounded by all his memories. Paul was still up when they arrived. Nellie could not wait to tell him the news and he was not surprised. "I’m glad," he said, turning to his brother. "But I will miss you both and so will Anna, even though I know it is for the best."
Sigmund described the villa Mrs. Winters had mentioned.
"I think I’ve been in it, Sigmund," said Paul. "If my memory does not fail me, I went to a cocktail party there. It is indeed very beautiful and I am sure it will be to your liking."
"We shall see," said Sigmund, and they bid each other goodnight.
The political unease in the country was growing. The Versailles negotiations regarding peace conditions between the allies and the associated governments were still going on while the German cabinet tried to assess its culpability for the war. The discussions on whether to make the documents public also continued. Some argued that it would take a lot of courage and that if made public, they would take away what little self-esteem the German people had left, almost like tying a noose around their necks. Others argued that by being honest, they might be able to influence the Entente and get milder peace conditions.
At long last it was decided that the documents would not be made public since it would be an admission to the people that the leadership of the Empire and the military had misled them for four years. The anguish of having to confront the truth had the upper hand and on 7 May 1919, the German peace delegation in Versailles were given the peace conditions set by the allies and the associated governments. The government was caught completely by surprise and the public was flabbergasted as they expected a Wilson Peace based on compensation and understanding, anchored on the right of self-determination of all people, including the Germans.
Read at first sight, it seemed as if the agreement had been drawn up — not in the spirit of the American president — but in the animosity of the victors. Germany lost one-seventh of its territory and one-tenth of its population. The economic loss was huge, for it lost one-third of its coal and three-quarters of its iron ore mines. It also lost its colonies. As they could not agree on the amount to be paid for the damages and losses caused by the war, the decision on this issue was postponed. The amounts to be paid for other damages were set immediately.
Germany was to turn over its remote cable, 90% of its merchant fleet, and 11% of its head of cattle. Within 10 years, it was to give 40 million tons of coal to France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy. The reason for the payment of these reparations was clearly stated in article 231 of the declaration of war culpability which said, Germany and its allies were the culprits of the war and were therefore responsible for all the losses and damages the allies and their associates had suffered. The governing parties were divided on whether to accept or refuse the conditions, the hardliners believed that by rejecting them, they were supporting the delegation who were still negotiating in Versailles and that they might thus obtain leniency.
On 16 June, the allies gave their answer to the counter offer made by the German delegation. The most important issue they had obtained was a referendum that would be held in Silesia to decide whether it would become part of Poland or not. As far as the Rhineland was concerned, the Allies would put an earlier end to the occupation, depending on the collaboration of the Germans. The allies rejected the German statement in respect to the war culpability. The German protest had led to a hardening of the allies’ position and gave them 5 days to accept or reject the proposals. The governing parties were again divided, the Chancellor was against accepting them and he let it be known that if the deal were accepted, he would resign— and he did. Had Germany not accepted the peace proposals, the Entente would have invaded and the unity of Germany would have been broken.
In different parts of the country, the separatist movements supported by the French were gaining strength and there was a possibility that the Poles would attack in the East. The stakes were very high and the country might have found itself in chaos. Due to the political crisis, the Entente gave the Germans two more days to decide. On 22 June, by a vote of 237 for/138 against and 6 blank, the National Assembly accepted the peace proposals. However, due to inner political problems between the German governing parties, the peace agreement was only signed in Versailles on 28 June 1919. Regardless of the peace conditions, Germany remained the most populated country to the east of Russia and the richest economic power in Europe.
The peace agreements were the topic of conversation everywhere, but life continued as usual. It had taken Sigmund some time to adjust, but between the business, Nellie, and his books, he kept pretty busy. However, Paul was worried about him. He would watch him sometimes out of the corner of his eye and see a faint glimpse of sadness. He knew that he would never forget Alice, but he could not continue living in the past and had to move on. He tried to discuss it with him once, but Sigmund closed up like a clam. He could be very private at times and also distant. It was too bad his brother didn’t enjoy people as much as he did. Oh well, thought Paul to himself, I will have to take matters into my own hands, and so he began planning a homecoming party for him. The following day, Sigmund had a meeting with the real estate agent and did not go to the office so Paul took advantage of this and made all the necessary arrangements.
Sigmund spent his day looking at houses. The real estate agent brought a long list with him but there hadn’t been one house he liked. He saw some beautiful villas in the suburbs and it never ceased to amaze him how many affluent people lived in and around the city. True, Frankfurt was the financial centre, but even so.
He came home late and tired. Nellie was eagerly awaiting his return. Had he seen something he liked? "No," he replied. "Most of them were too far out and the ones I did see in the city were either too small or didn’t have a garden around them." Nellie was disappointed, but her father put an arm around her shoulders and said lightly, "It takes time finding a house. It’s not like buying a sweater, it has to have the right feel to it. But don’t worry, sooner or later we will have our little nest."
Paul told them at dinner about the homecoming party he was planning. He turned to Nellie and told her she could invite one of her friends if she wished. It would be a week from Saturday and would be a garden party. The weather should be nice. Sigmund shot his brother a surprised look. "You never hinted about this before."
"Well," said Paul, "since you’re all settled in, I thought it would be nice if you could renew the friendships you had and maybe make some news ones. You’ll also be able to catch up with your friends. I think it will be a lot of fun."
"You’re right," Sigmund agreed. "It will be nice seeing some of my acquaintances again."
Anna came in with an envelope for Sigmund that Mrs. Winters dropped off that morning. In a short note she wrote she had not forgotten about calling her friend and had indeed done so, but Lina was in Munich and would not be back until the following week.
"Well, I guess we will have to be patient," said Sigmund, turning to Nellie and telling her what her grandmother had written.
"That’s not too far off, but I hope it is as nice as it sounds," Nellie replied.
"We shall see," said her father.
The next days went by very fast. After debating for a long time whom to invite, Nellie decided on her friend Rachel. They had gone to kindergarten together and she was a lot of fun to be with, a born actress. Sometimes she would stand in front of the class during recess and mimic their teachers, even imitating their voices. What a great show she could put on. There was also complicity between them. They each had other friends and different interests but enjoyed their time together to the fullest. Rachel was half a year older than Nellie and the oldest of three sisters. She had auburn hair and huge brown eyes. Her complexion was very light and she was tall for her age. Absolutely delighted with the invitation, she assured Nellie they would enjoy every minute of it.
The party finally arrived, a beautiful summer day. Nellie followed Anna around the house, helping her wherever she could. Everything was laid out in the garden.
Rachel was the first to arrive. She wore a burgundy colored dress that suited her very well and he and Nellie, who looked beautiful in a new outfit her uncle Paul had bought her for the occasion, retired to a corner of the hallway from where they could watch the guests arrive. Sigmund dressed with much care. He did not relish the party, he would have preferred to have spent the time reading his latest book, but he was fully aware that he was the main reason for it and so, putting on a good front, went downstairs to receive the guests.
Abraham and Sara were one of the first to arrive. Sigmund knew them well, for their fathers had been in business together. He greeted them warmly, it had been so long since they had last seen each other. Sigmund could not take his eyes off Abraham; he sure has aged, he thought, even though he was not much older than himself. Sigmund hoped he didn’t look that old. When they sat down, Abraham told him that he had not been very well. The whole political situation in the country, along with the unease and tension that could be felt, was causing him a lot of anxiety. Where was this new republic headed? They had really seen better times under the rule of the empire.
Paul interrupted their conversation. A tall lady in her early thirties was standing by his side. Sigmund had not a clue who she might be. Paul introduced her as Helene. Sigmund got up and pulled out a chair for her to sit down and was about to sit down himself when he saw his best friend Jacob make his entrance and so he excused himself and went over to him.
The pleasure of seeing his old friend again was written all over his face. It had been such a long time. They shook hands, smiling "Why," said Sigmund, "it seems like ages since we last saw each other."
"Yes," said Jacob, "as a matter of fact, it has been a while and under not-so pleasant circumstances."
It dawned on Sigmund the last time they met was at Alice’s funeral. "Yes, those were very sad times."
Just then Nellie and Rachel appeared and walked over to where Sigmund was standing. Jacob was amazed at Nellie. He thought how beautiful she was and that she resembled her mother very much. She was a little girl when he last saw her. Nellie announced that dinner would be served shortly and, giving her dad and his friend a nod of her head, she walked over to her Uncle Paul who was sitting at a table with Abraham and Sara.
Although Nellie knew them both very well, she did not recognize the lady sitting next to them. "This is Helene," Paul said, and asked them both if they wanted to join. Sure, was the reply. Nellie and Rachel answered all the questions Abraham and his wife asked while Helene just listened. Their conversation was then interrupted when Anna announced that dinner was served.
The guests made their way into the dining room. It looked lovely. Anna had made a beautiful flower centre piece of small roses and the candles were lit in the candelabras on either side of it. Everyone complimented her on it. The seating was not a problem as Paul had placed name cards. Sigmund found himself sitting at one end of the table with Helene to his right. He made small talk with her and soon found out she was a kindergarten teacher and had moved to Frankfurt from Wiesbaden at the beginning of the school year. She had met Paul at a cocktail party and seemed very shy. Sigmund was a little intrigued by her, thinking she was attractive. He would have liked to get to know her better but he could not ignore the other guests.
The main topic of conversation was the unease in the country. Nobody seemed to know where it was all heading. The economy was in chaos, inflation was very high, and the German Democratic Party was rapidly gaining strength. The Jews were also being blamed for the result of the peace proposals. So, all in all, it was a gloomy picture.
The girls were bored to death but had to wait until dinner was over to be excused. When they were finally able to make their exit, they went to their little corner in the hallway. They discussed each guest in turn but it was Helene who had really attracted their attention. A Kindergarten teacher! "Can you imagine something so boring?" Rachel asked.
"Well," said Nellie, "she must like little kids. And she’s probably single, don’t you think?"
"I’m sure she is," said Rachel, "but I bet she has a boyfriend. Her face is very pretty and she’s got a great figure. And I really like her dress. Your father sure did give her a lot of attention."
"What do you mean?" Nellie asked. "I saw him talking to everyone and having a very good time." Rachel made no comment.
The guests began to leave and the girls watched them from their perch. Helene was one of the last to depart and she and Sigmund stood for a long time talking in the doorway. The girls could not hear what they were saying but shortly thereafter, Sigmund came upstairs and kissed both girls good night. "Yes, it was a nice evening," he said, and hoped the girls had enjoyed it and not found it too boring.
"Not at all," said Rachel, "it was great fun."
They lay in bed going over the day’s events but Nellie could not get Helene out of her mind and with her name on her lips she fell asleep.
After having bade the girls good night, Sigmund went down to the library to join Paul for a nightcap.
"What did you think?" Paul asked his brother.
"It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed seeing everyone again, but I must say, I was really shocked at how badly Abraham looked. Sara doesn’t look too well or happy, either."
"Yes," said Paul. "It’s such a shame and he takes it all so much to heart. He’s so very worried about the political situation and I fear it is making him ill."
"Jacob never changes," said Sigmund, "he has so much wit. I wish I could have spent more time with him, but then I really had to devote some time to everyone."
"I think you did pretty well, to tell you the truth," said Paul. "Everyone commented on how great you look and how well-behaved Nellie and Rachel were and that they acted very grown up. There was something nice said about them by all."
"Yes," said Sigmund, "I felt like a very proud father."
"You should be, she’s a great kid."
"I know," Sigmund replied. They were silent for a minute and then Sigmund asked the question Paul had been waiting for. "So— where did you meet Helene?"
"I told you when I introduced you; we met at a cocktail party."
“Oh, yes," said Sigmund, "you did say something about that."
"What did you think of her?"
"I thought she was nice, but I didn’t talk to her much. I would like to get to know her a little better but she seems very shy."
"I saw you speaking to her for a long time as she was leaving. What was that all about?"
"Oh, just the usual, but I did ask her for her phone number so maybe I will get together with her sometime."
Paul made no comment. They finished their cognac in silence, each one thinking about what the other had said. Soon after, they went upstairs to bed. It had been a long day and it was late.
Helene had walked home. It was 20-minute walk from Paul’s house and although it was chilly, it was a nice, clear night and she enjoyed the silence and looking at the stars. The moon was half full and seemed to play hide and seek with the clouds. She mulled over the day’s events. What a beautiful villa Paul had, so tastefully decorated. Then her thoughts went over to his brother. He sure was handsome and what gorgeous blue eyes. It was a shame he was not as tall as Paul, in fact, he was half a head shorter than she was. Oh well, that’s not important— he really seemed nice and indeed she would like to get to know him better. He'd asked her for her number so maybe he will call. Helene’s thoughts then turned to Nellie. She was at that difficult age, but what good table manners she had and she sure did seem self-assured. Her friend Rachel, though— no, thought Helene, she did not like her much. There was something about her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
Suddenly she was home and she walked up the two flights of stairs to her flat, unlocked the door, and turned on the light. Standing there for a minute in the entrance to the living room, she felt how cozy and homey it was. She had decorated it herself and succeeded in turning a flat that initially had no character whatsoever into her little nest. It had been a long day for her as well; she got ready for bed and soon after fell into a deep sleep.
Nellie and Rachel woke up late. Paul and Sigmund had just finished their breakfast in the garden when the girls joined them. Paul asked if they enjoyed the party and they both replied that they did very much. They were finishing their meal when Anna ushered Rachel’s parents in. They had come to pick her up and were on their way to the zoo. Would Nellie like to come with them? She declined, saying she promised to spend the afternoon with her Grandmother. Rachel did not insist and thanked everyone for a lovely time before following her parents out the door.
After lunch, Nellie and Sigmund walked over to Mrs. Winters’ who had just gotten up from her nap and greeted them with a big smile. When Alice was alive, they always had Sunday lunch with her parents. Sigmund was glad he had broken this tradition, for it took up all his afternoon.
Tea was served in the dining room, as usual. The maid baked a wonderful cheesecake, Nellie’s favorite, and as she ate, she gave her Grandmother a detailed account of the latest events. Mrs. Winters knew most of the people Nellie mentioned and was not surprised to hear about Abraham’s ill health.
"If he is so stressed by the situation, why don’t they leave? Look at Lina’s husband," she said, turning to Sigmund. "He didn’t like what was happening and decided to go to the United States. He has family there and is still young enough to start a new business."
"Yes," said Sigmund, "but Abraham is probably older and has no family in the US."
"Yes, that does make a big difference," Mrs. Winters said. "And speaking of Lina, she will be back on Monday. I spoke to her on the phone and she will be more than happy to show you the villa at whatever time is convenient for you on Tuesday afternoon."
Nellie was delighted, she only had to wait one more day. Sigmund had the idea to go over and look at it from the outside. Mrs. Winters said they might not be able to see much, as it was all closed in, but at least he would see the location and they might be able to see something of the garden. She then gave them the address and it was within walking distance. Would she like to come along? She declined, it was too long a walk for her, but she would look forward to hearing what he had to say about it. They said their good byes shortly afterwards and headed for what they both hoped would be their ideal home. It was a 30 minute walk.
The villa was on a quiet street lined with trees. Mrs. Winters had been right, one could not see the house, but the location was pristine and Sigmund felt in his heart that it was right. He was just as eager as Nellie to see it, but they would both have to be patient. They strolled through the neighborhood. They saw a small little store on the main street where Anna could get groceries, a florist was just across from it, and the baker was on the other corner. The location could not have been better. Night was falling, so they headed home.
"Will you bring me with you when you come on Tuesday?" Nellie asked her father.
"No," said Sigmund, "you will be in school and I do not know at what time I can get away from the office, as I have several meetings. But if I like it, I will come back with you so you can give me your approval. We also have to see if the price is within our budget."
"Yes, father," said Nellie, "I suppose we do. I hope they don't want too much money for it." Then, as an afterthought, Nellie added: "Some of my friends don’t live far from here."
The next couple of days flew by and Sigmund had plenty to do. He spent all of Monday morning preparing for an important meeting with his banker to go over his investments. In the evening, as he rummaged through his pockets, he found the card Helene had given him and looked at it, wondering whose it was, until suddenly he envisioned the shy young lady who had sat by his side during dinner. She’d made an impression on him and so he made a point of trying to remember to call her when he had time. He placed the card carefully in his wallet.
The meeting with his banker went very well. He had enough liquidity so as to be able to pay cash for the villa, if the price was within reason. His parents had always preached that one never made a purchase unless one had the money to pay for it. One never borrowed.
On Tuesday morning, Nellie came into his room just before leaving for school. Sigmund was sitting by the window, reading the newspaper. She gave her father a big hug and whispered in his ear:
"I hope and pray that you will like the villa and that we will be able to afford the price."
"I’m sure your prayers will be heard," Sigmund replied, and, giving her a big hug and a kiss on her forehead, he wished her luck with her German paper. He didn’t really have to worry much about her grades, she was very intelligent and enjoyed learning, and was also very good at drawing and painting as well as having a wonderful ear for music. With singing in the school choir and piano lessons, her days were pretty much taken up. He, too, had to admit he was very excited about the prospects of finally seeing the house, but it was not until noon that he was able to free himself from a meeting to call Lina Ulrich.
She was home and yes, she was expecting him. "Mrs. Winters has spoken so highly of you, I feel as if I already know you," she said to him on the phone and confirmed that 4 pm would be perfect since her husband would be home by then as well. After telling her he looked very much forward to meeting them both, hung up the phone.
He peeked into Paul’s office who was sitting behind his desk, going over some papers. "Do you have a minute to spare?" asked Sigmund.
"Sure," said Paul, "what do you want to discuss?"
"I have just spoken to Lina Ulrich and I am meeting with her and her husband at 4 this afternoon."
"Great," said Paul, "so the suspense will finally be over."
"Yes, but I have no clue about real estate prices and if I really like the place, I will have to make an offer so I was wondering if you could give me an idea."
Paul thought for a minute and said, "The square-meter is pretty expensive in that location, but you also have to take into account that due to the political and economic situation the country is going through, there will not be many people out there looking to buy. I take it will be a cash deal?"
"Yes," said Sigmund. “It's either money in hand or no purchase."
"In that case, I think you could probably take off 30% from the asking price."
"Isn’t that a bit much?" asked Sigmund.
"No, in truth it will leave you some leeway to split the difference."
Sigmund thought for a minute then said with a smile: "You are so smart, little brother."
"Thank you for the compliment but it’s not being smart, it’s just that I have had more experience along these lines than you do. After all, it really is your first real estate purchase."
"It sure is and I have to admit I am very excited about it. I really hope I will not be disappointed."
“Me, too," said Paul. "I wish you all the luck in the world and I look very much forward to hearing how it all goes over dinner tonight."
Sigmund thanked his brother then went into his office to look over some papers but, unable to concentrate on what he was reading, he grabbed his hat and coat and headed for the street to take a walk. He looked at his watch: he had an hour to kill, which gave him sufficient time to get there and scan the neighborhood more closely. He walked past the grocery store and the bakery then up a narrow street that led to a small park. The whole neighborhood was so quiet and peaceful and the more he saw, the more he liked it. Then, looking at his watch once more, he saw that the time had finally come for him to walk towards the house.
The gate stood open so he walked up a short driveway lined with trees towards the three story house then up a couple of steps to the front door. Mrs. Ulrich herself let him in. She was tall and very distinguished looking. "Come in, come in," she said, and led him into the living room. Her husband was sitting in a corner reading the newspaper and stood up immediately. Mrs. Ulrich introduced him, his name was David, then took Sigmund’s hat and coat and told him make himself comfortable.
"What a beautiful afternoon it is," she said.
"Yes," he replied. "I walked over here from the office. There is not a cloud in the sky." He looked around him and liked what he saw.
"Can I get you some coffee and cake or would you rather I show you our home first?" Lina asked and David answered for him.
"If you walked over here, you must be hot and tired so why don’t you have some coffee and you must have a slice, Lina bakes the best chocolate cake."
Sigmund nodded his head and Lina excused herself to do as she had been told. "I hear you are moving to the US."
"Yes," David replied. "I am not that young anymore, but I’m still not so old that I can’t travel, but if we don’t leave now we’ll be unable to do so later. We have family in the States and there are far more opportunities there than here."
"I see," said Sigmund. Just then Lina walked in.
Overhearing what her husband was saying, she said, "I am really looking forward to going to America. Life is so unsettled here, all the strikes that are going on, all the unemployed. Germany has changed so much since the war."
"Yes," agreed Sigmund, "the war certainly did leave a big scar on the country." When he finished his coffee and cake, he turned to David. "You were right, that really is the best cake." Lina blushed with the praise.
"Let me give you the tour," she said.
The house was just what he had envisioned. It had three bedrooms on the third floor, two bathrooms, and a very cozy family room. On the second floor there was the living room, separate dining room, and kitchen. To the back of the house were the maid’s quarters and a service entrance. There was a great library on the first floor and leading off from it was big conservatory. A waterfall ran down to the side of it and ended in a beautiful pond, full of goldfish. Sigmund was very impressed, it was the house of his dreams. He asked Lina if she would mind repeating the tour and she said she would be happy to.
They took their time. The rooms were bright, and one had a view of the garden from every window, and the house was in perfect condition and needed no repairs. They went back to the living room where they found David, still reading his newspaper.
"Well, what do you think?" he asked.
"You have a lovely home," Sigmund replied.
"Yes, it has been our home for a great many years and we have been very happy here."
"How much do you want for it?" David gave him the amount. It was more than Sigmund had anticipated, but it really was a great house and he could tell it was very well built and the materials that had been used were only the best. "I really like it, but I am afraid the price is higher than my budget."
"You can make an offer and maybe we can come to terms," said David. Lina interrupted, saying that there were so many memories here that she really would not like to sell it to a stranger.
Sigmund thought it over. He said that he would very much like his daughter to see it, to which they answered sure, bring her over anytime. They then asked him about Nellie and made small talk. Sigmund barely listened. He wondered whether to make the offer now or wait until Nellie had seen it, sensing they really wanted to sell and leave. He decided it would be wiser to make the offer before Nellie saw it and they were able to see her excitement. Looking directly at David, Sigmund gave him the amount.
"It’s less than I expected," he said, turning to Lina, who agreed that it was a great deal less. "Why don’t you bring Nellie over tomorrow and in the meantime we can all think about it? It will have to be late afternoon." Sigmund said that was fine. They assured him they’d be home. Lina brought him his hat and coat and he thanked them for their hospitality before bidding them good night.
It was still early so he decided to walk home. The house was just right. There was plenty, even too much room for the two of them, and the library! What a great library! I can finally unpack my books. It was all wood paneled and his father’s desk would look very nice in there. Nellie is going to be taken aback by the conservatory, what a great idea… a waterfall… he was sure he would be able to hear the flow of the water from the library. And his goldfish would have a big pond to swim in. Yes, it was perfect. He hoped they would come down with the price but he knew that even if they did not, the house would be his.
He let himself in the front door. Everything was quiet, no one seemed to be home. Just then Anna came into the hallway saying she thought she’d heard a noise. "Why, hello Sigmund, you are home early today?"
"Yes, I got off early for a change. Is Nellie back?" he asked.
"No, she won’t be home until later. She has choir practice today."
"Oh," said Sigmund with disappointment in his voice. "I thought she might be here." She’ll be home in time for dinner, Anna assured him. "That’s good— Well, I have some work to do," he said, starting up the stairs. Anna asked if she could get him anything. "No, I’m fine, thank you. I will wait until dinner."
Sigmund opened the door to his bedroom. Everything was nice and tidy. He was very orderly; it was probably his military training. He hung up his coat and hat, went to the window, and looked out. He then walked over to his table and picked up a pencil and paper and jotted down some figures. If they did not come down with the price he would have to sell some bonds, thankfully the market was not fairing too badly. His thoughts turned to Helene and he decided, since he had some spare time on his hands now, he might as well call her. Looking at his alarm clock he saw that it was a little after six and she would probably be home by now. If she were not, he could always leave a message. Now where did he put her card? He looked everywhere for it until all of a sudden it came to him; he put it in his wallet, so he opened it and sure enough, there it was. He picked up the phone and dialed the number.
It rang and rang and just as he was about to give up, somebody answered.
"Hello, hi," said Sigmund. "I would like to talk to Miss Helene."
"Good evening, this is Sigmund, Paul’s brother?"
"Oh yes," said Helene, "I know who I am speaking to. What a nice surprise," she said.
"Well," said Sigmund, "I was just wondering if you would like to have dinner with me at the Frankfurter Hof this coming Thursday?"
Helene was silent for what seemed a long time, then said, "Sure, I would be very happy to."
"Will it be OK if I meet you in the lobby, say about 7pm?" Sigmund asked.
"That will be fine."
"I look forward to seeing you," he replied.
"So do I," said Helene and they hung up.
Helene set the phone down. He phoned and invited her on a date. She knew he would and was so excited, she immediately went through her clothes, trying to decide what to wear. Not being able to make up her mind, she said to herself, "I'll decide later," and went back to her book.
Sigmund had just hung up when he heard the front door close and thought that it was either Nellie or Paul who was now coming home. He looked at his watch, "It must be Nellie," he thought. Sure enough, she called his name and walked in, being in such a hurry she didn’t even stop at her room.
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