Moshe Katz was trudging home late from his clock repair shop. It was so hard to believe this could happen in Dortmund. Just weeks ago, all the Jews who the Germans believed came from Poland were expelled in a single night. His good friend and neighbor Gersz Blass, his wife Else and their three little ones were just…gone. There was talk that the synagogue might be dismantled soon.
Katz thought of himself as a German first and a Jew second, and yet it was as if the pogroms and inquisitions of the past had returned. His Papa tried to warm him before he died. Zeyde used to speak of the horrors of being a Jew in Russia. How…
A hand grabbed him from behind by the collar and pulled him into an alley, almost making him drop his lunch box. The meager receipts from today’s lackluster business were in there, pathetic, but it was all he had to feed his family.
“Please, please, don’t rob me. I’m poor. My family…”
“Oh shut up, Moshe. It’s me, Hans.”
Moshe Katz and Hans Schuler had been friends since before they were old enough to attend school. It was a difficult relationship to maintain as they got older, but they always managed to find a way to slip out of everyone else’s sight and play together, from games of catch at seven, to their first cigarettes at twelve, to looking at their first French “girlie” magazine at fifteen.
It had been even more difficult to remain friends once Hans put on that uniform.
“Blessed be Hashem, Hans. You almost gave me a heart attack. I thought…”
“I know what you thought. Now shut up and listen.”
Hans had become so serious these past few years. At first he tried to reassure Moshe that everything would be fine for the Jews, that he’d find a way to keep trouble away from Moshe’s family. That talk had since died and against all hope, the Jewish watch maker wished Hans finally brought some good news again.
“You and your family have got to get out.”
What? Out of Dortmund?”
“Germany. You’ve got to get out of the country. Twenty-four hours. You’ve got that long.”
“Are you insane? Uproot my family? What about the business, our home?”
They spoke in desperate whispered tones. Even at such an hour, Hans dare not risk being seen or heard talking alone with a Jew or bad things would happen to him as well.
“You won’t have a business, a home, or a family if you don’t leave Germany. You saw what happened to the Polish Jews. It will happen to you next. Look, what they threatened last July is going to happen, as soon as next month.”
“It’s not an idle threat. Your synagogue, your scrolls, your books, everything, it will all be gone.”
The stories of the horrors of the past appeared unbidden in Moshe’s memories, tales of mass burnings of synagogues, Torah scrolls, volumes of Talmud, all up in flames. The torture, the expulsions, traveling to strange lands, no money, no food, people starving, welcome nowhere. This was not the Germany he had grown up in.
He looked up at Hans, tears in his eyes. “How do you know this?”
“I know. That’s enough. I just know. This is the only warning I can give you. If you are not out of Germany in the next day, a week at the most, I cannot be held accountable for what happens to you. I’m sorry, Moshe. You are my friend, but I have a wife and children of my own to protect.”
“I know, old friend. Look, thank you. I know you’ve risked so much.”
‘I’m sorry, Moshe. I wish I could do more. I’m going now. We won’t see each other again. Just get out of…Oh, hell. Here.”
Hans reached into his inner pocket and pulled out a large envelope, thrusting it into Moshe’s lunch box.
“It’s a little extra money, all I can spare. Also some papers that should get you and your family across the border to Belgium. From there, you should be able to make your way to England, maybe America after that. I hope you make it. I hope you are safe. Maybe after this madness is over…maybe then.”
The Nazi soldier looked around quickly. “I’ve got to go now Moshe.” He paused. Gave his childhood companion a hug. “I hope your God takes care of you, Moshe. I hope He does a better job than He has so far. Good-bye.”
Like a shadow, Hans vanished into the night.
“It’s a Monday, November 10, 1947 in Los Angeles. Not too hot, not too cold. Just like that bowl of porridge little Goldie sucked down. Past eight at night. Betty took off hours ago. Business has been slow but it’ll pick up. It always does.
“I was looking at the paper. Not the Times, I read that this morning over a bagel and coffee (my landlady Mrs. Ringer takes good care of me, figuring a bachelor would burn water instead of boiling it). No, this paper was old, faded, yellowed with age. It was just a clipping. Papa had saved it all these years. He’s gone, died years back along with Mama. It found it along with a bunch of other papers but I didn’t need it. He told me the stories, over and over he told me. I thought I’d puke because he told me so often.
“But that was before I grew up and understood what he meant. I may never have gone into a synagogue after we got to the States, but the whole world won’t let me forget I’m still a Jew.
“I look at the paper again trying to be careful. I’ve tried not to give a damn, but it always keeps coming back.
“Manchester Guardian, 12 November 1938
GERMANY’S DAY OF WRECKING AND LOOTING
Gangs Unhampered by the Police
SYNAGOGUES BURNED DOWN IN MANY CITIES
“I picked up my half empty glass of bourbon and downed the remains in a single gulp.
“Two months ago, I found the son of a bitch who turned in my Zeyde, dear old Rabbi Aaron Daniel Beider, my Mom’s Papa. Dad got us out with maybe weeks to spare before we’d have been arrested by the Nazis but Zeyde refused to go. He had a responsibility, he wrote to Mama. He couldn’t abandon the synagogue, the people.
“Lithuanian security officer Algimantas Dailide arrested Zeyde and eleven other Jews and handed them over to the Nazis who shot them. We didn’t find out until a long time later what happened but we did find a name.
“I spent years hunting that son-of-a-bitch down and then got lucky, real lucky. A guy I know who does a little smuggling from Mexico to the U.S. happened to hear of a U-boat sinking. Five men were rescued. One of them wasn’t German. His identity papers said he was Algimantas Dailide. Description matched. Dailide took off before police could question him further. My acquaintance owed me a favor. We’re square now.
“I traced Dailide to a little dive on the west coast called San José el Huayate. He was planning to escape that night, but I ended up getting him out of bed before the sun came all the way up. I put three in him without a word, then left his corpse to rot and walked away.
“Figured I owed it to Zeyde. I still remember him a little. Figured I owed him kiddush too, but I had to get Mrs. Ringer to help with that one. She walked me through it. Wanted me to go to shul, but I wouldn’t. Where was God when six-million Jews were being murdered by butchers?
“Kristalnacht. That was nine years ago tonight. I leaned forward, picked up the bottle and poured another glass, then choked down a belt.
“Hope you’re resting better wherever you are Zayde. I know I am. Good night, old man.”
“I finished the glass, capped the bottle and put it back in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. Too drunk to make it home, but this wouldn’t be the first night I slept on the sofa in my office.
“Carefully folded the old newspaper clipping, put it in its envelope and put it back in that little safe I keep for no particular reason. Somethings hurt to remember but they’d hurt worse to forget. There’ll always be a tomorrow as long as we don’t lose sight of yesterday.”
Earlier, I wrote a flash fiction tale called Death Visits Mexico introducing Private Detective Noah Katz, a Jew living and working in 1947 Los Angeles. I decided to add more context to his life by writing this tale, the aftermath of what most people might call cold-blooded murder, but for many others might be seen as revenge and even justice.