Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Liberation
(Excerpt from Rachel Sarai's Vineyard)

Deborah Rey

The author wishes to dedicate this story to Wallace Ray Hardy, WWII soldier on the European front
and father of Editor Kathy Rhodes "and all the other soldiers, who allowed us to live."

“A golden light is coming ... from the east”
It rolls gently forwards on a morning mist
towards childish eyes of wonder kissed.
Its light gently touching a soft pink cheek.


The first thing young Rachel noticed, when she woke up on the seventh of May 1945, was the sunbeam that streaked into her room through the little heart-shaped opening in the shutters and told her the weather was beautiful. Oh, yes, the weather was beautiful! She smelled it and she heard it. She smelled the sun and heard the sunshine‘s silence.

When the weather was beautiful, the world smelled different and silence was in everything. In the gorged silence of a sunny springtime morning, the singing of birds in the trees, the sounds of people talking, the clippety-clop of a horse-drawn farm-cart, a barking dog, a closing door ... all sounds became clean and crisp and clear and both closer and more distant.

In young Rachel’s world the sun first coddled, cleaned and filtered the hums, thuds, swishes and jingles and then swathed them in illuminating silence, and within the silence of the sun she heard a little song in her head and found the living easier than on other days.

On such sunny days she wiped her feet, before she stepped out into the clean, fresh, dew-washed world and on such crisp, sunny days young Rachel Sarai could see further than far.
The seventh of May 1945 was one of those days and the little girl jumped out of bed. She knew that the sweet smell of sunshine and the silent music of its light would be there to greet her, as soon as she opened the window and threw back the shutters.

“Good morning, Sun! Good morning, Birds! Good morning, World,” she exulted and turned around to look at the two sleeping shapes in the big bed on the floor. “Good morning, sleepy Mum! Good morning, sleepy Papa!”

She crawled onto the bed, gave them both a quick hug and got dressed in a hurry.

“I must go outside,” she sang, hopping around on one foot and trying to put a sock on the other, “I simply must go outside!”

Her father smiled at the melodrama in her voice.

“Go right ahead, my little Sarah B.,” he said. “Go quick, my little elfin, run like a gazelle to meet your beloved sun ... but don’t leave the garden, Pip! Stay around the house, you hear.”

Young Rachel gave him a thumbs-up and a wink, darted out of the room and down the stairs, where the two dogs were already waiting for her. They jumped up and down like two yo-yos, barking excitedly and followed her out of the house.

She skipped towards the wooden entrance gate and climbed on top. The sun warmed one side of her face and body and she purred like a kitten ... the way she purred, when Marie brushed her hair, or when Marie softly ran her fingers over her back. Marie....

Tears prevented her from seeing further than far. Thinking of Marie always brought on tears and it angered her, because deep in her heart she knew.... She damn well knew! No news from Uncle Ingemar, since they left for Sweden and at home no one even mentioned Marie, not even Auntie Caro! So how could she be so stupid to still hope for Marie to come back?
Marie wasn’t coming back! She knew damn well that Marie wasn’t coming back. Marie had been taken to one of those camps in Poland and ... and yet....

The dogs yawned noisily and flopped down in front of the gate. The little girl looked at them and grinned.

“I love you, you stupid mutts,” she said. “You’re abseblumelutely loverly bastards and that's what you are.”

The dogs lazily wagged their tails and dozed off. Young Rachel swung over one leg and straddled the fence.

“Look to the left,” Papa often told her. “Look to the left, Rachel Sarai, because when they come, they’ll come over that hill on the left.”

Young Rachel basked in the warm sunshine and looked to the left and then, suddenly, she felt it!

She felt the air vibrate and instinctively looked up to the sky.

No, no, it didn’t come from up there ... no airplanes in sight. It came from the left, from up the road.

The sound that vibrated soundlessly in her ears came from behind the hill on the left.

And then she smelled it: the crisp spring air vaguely smelled of whirling dust.

And she heard it: she heard a rumbling rumble and she knew they were coming. She didn’t see them yet, but she smelled the whirling dust, she didn’t see them yet, but she heard the monotone rumbling-rumble that got stronger and stronger.

She pulled herself up and grabbed a branch; she balanced on her toes and looked to the left.... When they come, they’ll come over the hill on the left.... She looked at the wide road going uphill; she cocked her head to the left and heard the rumbling-rumble that was becoming even louder now. They’ll come over the hill on the left....

On the clear and sunny seventh of May 1945, young Rachel Sarai could see further than far and she saw a cloud of dust come rolling over the hill on the left. It rolled towards her and she smelled the dust and the rumbling rumble became louder still and countless military trucks sped by. They went so fast, that she hardly saw any of the soldiers on the trucks, but the Union Jack on the doors told her they must be English. And then she saw them. She saw a tank with its turret wide open and she saw a very tall soldier standing very tall in the opening and she saw more very tall, all of them tall soldiers next to the tank and behind it.
“Sound off ... sound off ... sound off, one two, one two ... three four,” sang the tall soldiers.
She saw jeeps and more soldiers and tanks and trucks.

“It’s a long way to Tipperary....”

Young Rachel smelled the exhaust fumes, the oil, the uniforms and the sweat, and the soldiers smiled broadly and waved at her.

Shyly, she walked towards the road. She noticed the colour of their uniforms, the red leaf on their sleeves, she noticed how they marched with an oh-so-easy swing to the rhythm of their song and she saw their faces, their ever so friendly faces that beamed smiles at her.
Neighbours came out of their houses, some of them still in their nightclothes and they stood next to the road and waved at the soldiers. Many of them were crying and one woman threw her arms around a soldier and kissed him on both cheeks.

They were tall soldiers, very tall soldiers and one and all very handsome men. Elite troops were sent in first, she was told many years later.

“They’re Canadians! See the Maple Leaf?” shouted a neighbour and young Rachel stood and watched and smelled the uniforms and the dusty leather boots, and felt the warmth of their kind and smiling eyes.

A soldier jumped out of his jeep and came up to her. She turned to run away, but when she saw his face, she stood and waited.

“Hi, Gorgeous,” said the soldier and ruffled up her hair. He dug something out of his breast pocket and handed it to her. “Here, baby, have some,” he said. “For you!”

Young Rachel looked down at the flat package he put in her hand. It was wrapped in silver paper. She turned it round and round, didn’t know what it was, didn’t know what to do with it. She looked at the Canadian and he gently took it from her and unwrapped it.

“Look, babe, look,” he said, “it’s chocolate. For you.”

He put the chocolate bar back into her hand and pushed it towards her mouth and when the little girl smelled the chocolate, she began to cry. The soldier sat back on his haunches and awkwardly rubbed her back.

“It’s okay, kid, it’s okay. Don’t worry, little girl. It’s chocolate, baby, you can take it. You like chocolate, don’t you?”

Young Rachel didn‘t stop crying, because she didn’t know what chocolate was and she didn’t know what she was supposed to do with it. She also cried, because the man was a Canadian soldier and she’d been waiting for them for such a long, long time, and most of all she cried, because she realized that the war was over.... For them, the war had come to an end.

The rumbling of the tanks stopped. They came to a halt in front of the house and only the sound of happy voices and laughter was now heard.

Mum was also outside. She was talking to one of the officers in the jeep. Young Rachel looked around for her father, but he wasn’t there. She licked some melted chocolate off her hand and ran back to the house.

“Papa, Papa,” she yelled, “they’re here, Papa, the Canadians are here!”

She ran up the stairs and into the room. It was dark, except for the sunbeam that still came in through the heart-shaped opening in the shutters. Her father was standing in front of the window and didn’t move at the sound of her voice. Young Rachel ran over and excitedly grabbed his arm.

“They’re Canadians, Papa, Canadians! I saw it on their sleeve, Papa ... Canada, that’s what it says, Papa and there’s also a Maple Leaf and.... ”

She looked up at her father and stepped back in fear, when she saw his ashen face, saw his fists pressed against his mouth and the terror his eyes.

“Oh, shitshitshit!” she murmured. She slowly pulled down her father’s arms and turned him towards her. He didn’t resist, but there was no reaction either, only mute terror in his eyes. She tried to shake him, but his body remained rigid.

“It’s over, Papa, the Canadians are here. Come outside, Papa, come, Papa, come outside, Papa, it’s over, Papa, the war is over, Papa, they’re here!”

Her father remained frozen with fear and young Rachel held his arms, quietly talked to him, repeated the same thing over and over again and then, she talked some more, took his hand and gently guided him down the stairs and towards the open front door. When he panicked and pulled back, she firmly held his hand and steered him outside into the sunlight, to the entrance gate and the road.

“Look, Papa, look,” she shouted over the noise of laughter and everybody talking at the same time. “Look, Papa! The Canadians are here.”

Her father still did not move and she didn’t know if he’d heard her.

“The Canadians are here, Papa,” she kept telling him and finally, he looked at the Canadian soldiers and the terror left his face. His body went slack, he looked down at his daughter and fell to his knees and pulled her into his arms. He rested his stubbly cheek against her little face and wept....

#


On the fifth of May 1945 the Germans officially surrendered and as of the seventh of May, the Allied Forces, mainly British and Canadian troops, moved in and liberated the western part of the country. For them the war ended.

German soldiers were taken prisoner and marched off to the temporary POW-camp the Canadians set up. As they passed by, people yelled insults and spat at them. A Canadian officer, who accompanied two captured German officers, noticed the look in young Rachel’s eyes and stopped in front of her.

“Go ahead, kid! Kick him, kick him hard, it’ll do you good,” he said, but the little girl turned away and ran home. She told her father what happened and he shook his head.

“Oh, God, the madness of it all,” he exclaimed, “the bloody, bloody madness of it all! You did the right thing, Pip and goddamn it, I’m happy and proud that you did! It’s true, those bastards were the enemy, it’s true, they made us suffer and it’s true, they deserve to be kicked and kicked hard, especially by little girls like you, who maybe suffered even more than we did ... but in spite of all that, they’re human beings, my daughter. Godforsaken goddamn Krauts, but still human beings.”

That same afternoon, Rachel saw another group of Germans being marched to the POW-camp and recognized the officer, who had wanted to check her twisted ankle, when she was doing her rounds with messages and Blue Journal in her shoes. He didn’t have his dog next to him and she ran over.

“Where ... wo ist dog Kazan?” she asked him and he looked down at her, his eyes dull and sad.

“I shoot. He dead,” he told her and all she did was nod in agreement.

“Is good,” she said and then turned to the Canadian soldier, who was in charge of the Germans. “You be nice to this officer, please,” she told him. “You no shoot him. He is nice Kraut, this one.”

The Canadian smiled down at her and patted her head. He told her not to worry, they wouldn’t shoot her nice Kraut. Young Rachel walked away feeling sad about the dog Kazan. He’d been such a kind dog, just as his master had been very kind to her. Yet, maybe it was better that Kazan was dead. What would they have done with him in the POW-camp?

Collaborators also were arrested. Some were jailed, some punished on the spot and executed without a trial. To mark the young women who’d slept with German soldiers, their heads were shaven and 'decorated' with a swastika, painted with red, or black oil paint. Those punishments were carried out in public and all over the village....

#

A large crowd had gathered in front of the neighbour’s house and people hollered insults, when the two young women were dragged out of the house and onto the sidewalk.
Young Rachel knew the girls well. They were extremely pretty and had always been very friendly to her, but she kept away from them and politely refused, when they offered her a German candy, or a ride on the back of their German bicycle.

The girls’ father had been a fanatic Nazi and one of the first to be executed, in his own front garden. His two daughters were mere girls and their biggest crime had been that they’d fallen in love and slept with a German soldier. They’d slept with the enemy, they had to be punished and the crowd called them foul names, kicked them, hit them, spat at them.

Two wooden kitchen chairs were put on the sidewalk. The girls were flung onto them and their arms tied behind their backs. They didn’t try to get away, they didn’t protest, they sat on the wooden chairs and their dull eyes stared into the black emptiness of despair.

A neighbour and his wife were in charge. He was a dentist, she a teacher, their faces grim, their eyes filled with hatred and revenge.

They cut off the girls’ hair and cursed them with every blond, or auburn lock that fell to the pavement. They roughly sheared their heads and didn’t mind the bloody cuts the sheep shears made. The crowd applauded every drop of blood.

The young women didn’t react. They sat motionless, as their hair fell on the sidewalk and they didn’t react to the pain of the cuts. They just sat.

When all the hair had been removed and the girls’ heads were as bald and as shiny as a Gouda cheese, the woman executioner took a tin of red paint and painted swastikas on them.

In spite of their clothes, the young women looked naked, they looked shamefully naked in front of the cursing and spitting, savage crowd.

Young Rachel quickly walked over and put her brightly coloured headscarf on the knees of the girl, who’d been blond. The young woman’s dull eyes turned to her and filled with tears. The neighbour grabbed the scarf and threw it back at Rachel.

“Get your ass out of here, Rachel Sarai Felder,” he barked. “What do you want to give that German whore your scarf for, eh?”

Rachel Sarai didn’t cry until she got home, where Mum told her she must have been mad to offer that girl her pretty scarf. Papa took her in his arms, but didn’t have words to comfort her, no words to explain such mad and inhuman revenge.

The country was liberated and for them the war was over.... Food packages were flown in from Sweden. They fell like manna from the skies and landed on the moors behind their house. The International Red Cross handed out blankets and clothes, and doctors and nurses once again had enough medication to treat the sick and ailing. It was no longer dangerous to be taken to hospital, because the pre-war medical staff was back at work and if necessary, Canadian medics helped out.

The liberating troops took over German Headquarters and the Canadian cooks gave young Rachel more food than she’d ever seen in her whole life.... Gigantic slices of white bread and tins of peanut butter and marmalade and butter and white cooking fat and chewing gum and lots of chocolate.

For them the war had ended....

The Canadians often gave young Rachel a full pack, sometimes even an unopened carton of cigarettes, but Papa continued to smoke half a cigarette at the time, and the little girl still picked up the large butts the soldiers carelessly flicked away.

For them the war had ended....

On the radio there was music by Glen Miller and the Andrew Sisters and young women danced with Canadian soldiers and fell in love and loved. These girls would never be punished for loving a foreign soldier.

The war had ended, the country was free and things slowly came back to normal....

Young Rachel’s brother came back home. He was tall, well fed and mature and had grown up so much, that he had outgrown his little sister. He liked playing war games and made toy guns and rifles from pieces of wood. He found it silly that young Rachel was afraid of his home made weapons. He blamed it on the fact that she was but a girl.

Many concentration camps had been liberated and Suzanne’s father came for his daughter. He looked like a skeleton and told young Rachel she didn’t have to be scared of him. She told him not to worry his soul and took his hand, but he roughly shook her off and turned away. Mum told him his little Suzanne was alive and safe, and living in Sweden. She gave him the address and he left without a word. They never heard from him, or Suzanne again.

Before long, Papa was back at work at the newspaper and Mum could go shopping every day. She prepared real meals again and slowly they all regained the weight they’d lost during the infamous Hunger Winter. Young Rachel and her brother went back to school and took up playing in the forest and on the moors again.

Right after the Liberation, young Rachel found it strange and at times even frightening to see people walk around freely and talk without fear, but after a while that, too, became normal. In the beginning, it was difficult not to be afraid of the omnipresent soldiers, but their easy smiles and friendly manners made all fear quickly disappear.

For many, the war quietly slithered into a subconscious recollection-proof strongbox and wasn’t mentioned too often. After all, the war was over.

Every year, on the fourth of May, the victims and horrors of the war were commemorated. All traffic stopped throughout the country and during two minutes of complete silence people thought back. Every year, on the fifth of May, the Liberation was officially celebrated and a major part of the population rejoiced and danced in the streets. Every year, during those two very special days in May, the people who had chosen the wrong side during the war locked their doors and hid behind their lace curtains....

***

Deborah Rey (1938 - ?) was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and from the time she was a little girl, has worked in radio, television, publicity and the theatre, as a broadcaster, entertainer, scriptwriter, translator, editor, and actress, in the Netherlands, Canada and the USA.

Today, retired, she finally has the time to be a full-time writer for herself, and an editor for other authors.

Her work during the Second World War, as a 'baby-courier' in the Dutch Underground, earned her the honourable distinction of having been one of Holland's two Child Resistance Fighters.
Deborah Rey is married and has one daughter, and one grandson. She lives at the French Atlantic coast, with her husband, the Dingo-Dog and six cats.

 

© Deborah Rey

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012