A Fairy Tale
A Fairy Tale
Written by: Dr. Hugo Schleicher (my great-grandfather)
Once upon a time – the fairy tales have mostly this beginning. But have you ever heard a fairy tale, which tells the real truth? If not, let me tell you one.
It was the 6th of November 1931, when a little girl, we call her Ellen, was born somewhere in Germany. Her parents, a lawyer and his wife had been praying to God for a long time, that he might give them a child again, after having lost their only son. On this day their wish was granted, and a little girl lay in the cradle.
Ellen enjoyed a happy early childhood. She was the center of the family, a sunbeam, loved by all. The children of the neighborhood liked to play with her at all times, even when darkest clouds were hanging in the sky, and her parents pretended not to see them. You must know, she was a little Jewess and the Nazi-party prohibited the Aryan people, especially her civil servants, from having any connection with the Jewish people. Often it was very hard to deny Ellen her wish without telling her the real reason, but the parents of Ellen wanted to keep as long as possible from disturbing the serenity of this untouched soul. How often she could not understand why children refused her invitation to come with her to her home: But at length comprehending the circumstances of her life, she suffered much, and it was not easy to give her compensation. While the relations to other children were still endurable in the Catholic kindergarten, it was very painful to observe the constant increase of Nazism in the elementary part of the school. The teacher there, a sensitive woman, did her best to modify the extreme of hate though it was very difficult for her to avoid the attention of the Nazi government. More and more Ellen was isolated, especially during play-time, and often she came home weeping and unhappy, her little heart full of love, misunderstood by the other children.
It was good luck that her parents made friends with Jewish people in the town, especially with two families the sons of whom were very fond of Ellen. Therefore, she had hours of happiness when she was able to forget all the sadness of school and the difficulties of her daily life. And the parents too were happy with their children.
It was on Ellen’s seventh birthday that one of these two families with their son Claus left Germany. As was very often the way, Ellen was ill on this day. She had measles, but more than the illness, the departure of Claus was the cause of great unhappiness and sadness to Ellen. None had the presentiment that this was to be the beginning of the darkest time for this family and for all Jewish people in Germany. Meanwhile the parents were glad to learn that their friends had reached safety just in time.
On the eve of the 10th November, Ellen was in a high fever, and her mother was on her feet all night long. It was two o’clock in the morning when the doorbell began to ring. The question was asked “who is there?” only to be answered by one word “Police”. The father was about to open the door when the mother looking out the window declared “They are no policemen who are there”. She would not allow her husband to open the door. Therefore the four men outside tried to come in by force, treating the heavy oak-door with axes, ruthlessly breaking the glass. Only cries for help to the neighbors prevented the worst. As windows opened and neighbors asked what was happening, the four men hurried away, to disappear unknown. Three hours later the Gestapo captured the husband and imprisoned him “for his own protection” they said, after having sent the attackers themselves.
After standing the whole day in a prison cell, he was taken with all Jewish men of the town until 80 years of age to a concentration camp. But this is no place to describe the impressions of this terrible time, for this story is written only in the interests of little Ellen. Let is suffice to say, that the most depressing fact for the father was that he did not know the fate of his wife and child, who had been so critically ill when left home. He was happy as never before when, after two weeks, he received the first short note from his wife telling him that Ellen was much better, and that they were in the care of friends. This note was to play a most important fact in the hard struggle for existence which followed, and helped him to endure all manner of pain. Nor must be forgotten that a common fate and consciousness of innocence supported all of us that concentration camp, except the ailing people, the bodily conditions of who were unable to resist such trouble, and who died.
After three weeks, as a result of the efforts of his wife, he returned home in desolate condition, only to be told that after the attack on his house, his wife and child had left home fearing for their lives. By the friendly help of a Jewish woman, a friend of the family with whom they lived for two weeks, Ellen got well quickly, and it was an event never to be forgotten when daddy returned and the small arms of Ellen embraced him. She would not let him go and both of them wept in painful happiness. It is worthy to be written down, that afterwards Ellen said “I am so glad that you have come, I never will let you go, but when you come in, you looked as a robber”. No words can describe so exactly the state as this impression of a childish soul.
Until that time the father had tried to hold his position in spite of increasing difficulties, but now he was ashamed to live with a crew of robbers and bandits, of who the generous part of the Aryan people themselves were ashamed. No wonder that for his wife the ringing of the door bell was a shock at any time, a nervous reaction which was to be cured only by leaving the country. For these reasons they strengthened their endeavors to find a means of escape. During days and nights they were thinking and working to find a way out. But at first it seemed to be without success.
But the fairy tale is just beginning.
Two years previous, the family was traveling from Brussels to Cologne when they met three British people in the railway carriage. Ellen made friends with them and the hours spent talking flew by imperceptibly. Taking leave of each other at Cologne the Englishmen promised to visit the family and after a few days they did. It was a very happy meeting, snapshots of which provide imperishable memories. The friendship which sprang up in those days was to prove true.
In their distress, remembering these kind visitors, they wrote to one of them. It is one of the happiest remembrances as he replied that he was willing to do all possible to bring about the safe reception of this family into the British Isles. Many weeks passed away fraught with hope and pain before they heard that plans had been made for them and hospitality found in Scotland. There they could go, not separated from their little girl Ellen, a thought which had been ever as worrying as it was intolerable.
After months of trying work, and when they had overcome countless difficulties imposed upon them by the (German) government, they started on their new life. They need not feel ashamed at any time, that they found hard this departure from their much loved land, so full of happy memories, the adieux made from real friends, the relinquishing of sacred graves, for these hard tasks were facilitated only by inhuman treatment from their government, which not satisfied with robbing them of their fortune went far to find new methods by which to torment the Jewish people.
Hard as this departure was, friends in Switzerland, in France and in Great Britain did all in their power to make them forget the sad circumstances of this journey, and everywhere they found a most friendly welcome. Only political crisis looming like a thunder cloud in a sunny sky shadowed them during these happy days, and so they hurried on to reach their destination.
Their hearts beat with joy when they left the train, for there on the platform to give them welcome was their hostess, the Lady, and with her a friend. The end of their journey had come, but to their surprise and delight they were told that the Lady was to drive them 35 miles into the heart of the country, and the following morning when looked from their window, they found themselves vis-à-vis a high mountain, just kissed by the first sunbeams, surrounded by heather, locus, and woods, in the quiet of the Scottish Highlands. Their greatest delight was that from the first everyone did their best to initiate them into the customs and language of a foreign country. Every day new impressions of beauty were gleaned from the countryside and though accustomed to going mid mountains and woods they were never in their lives so near to nature as now. Green finches, robins, wild pigeons wakened them in the morning, while quick rabbits ran through the heather, pheasants and black cocks called for their mates, and wild ducks and seagulls flew across the sky, Shetland ponies, herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and horses grazing in the meadows completed a picture of deepest peace, harshly disturbed when war broke out.
Surely you are interested to hear something concerning the company the family enjoyed during this country life. Characterized at first as a while, they are persons with a high faith in God, willing to help each other, and seeking the agreement of mankind and over the world, as a task worthy to live for, depending upon complete understanding between person and persons. Without doubt the world would be saved from wars and any trouble, if she could be riled with this spirit. Unselfishness and love are the pillars of their thought life which is the way to form a new world.
The Lady, an artist with the most varied interests, likes to have visitors; therefore the family met a lot of people shortly after their arrival. Hospitality in highest degree is the characteristic impulse of this country life, the personal of which often changed, but which always remained one happy family. In every way possible the Lady provided the best comfort. As long as circumstances allowed, in this time of war, she strove to introduce the foreigners to other people and to show them during long drives the beauty of the country. Deeply grateful, they received all these benefits knowing that they came out of the deepest kindness of heart and from the will to help. From the first moment Ellen took the greatest liking to her, and to the great joy of her parents this love was returned. This glad response of the child to the life and customs of a foreign country will count for much in the future.
There is a kind housekeeper who is ever willing to do her best both in the kitchen and the rest of the house, ready always to gladden everyone’s heart and especially attached to Ellen.
A few weeks after the arrival of the family, a friend of the Lady came to stay with her. She had left her home in America before the outbreak of war, and was beset with dangers on the high seas, so that her safe arrival was reason for great thankfulness to the whole family. The deepest conformity quickly took place between her and the family, particularly as one was to represent the Lady forced often to be absent, and to do so with a high sense of responsibility. If the Lady be considered the father of the family full of paternal love and care, the friend was like a mother. Far from her own family and missing them more than was ever shown, she gave her love without restriction and they in their turn did their best to replace her missing loved ones. Joys and sorrows were shared and they were happy together and in full accord.
It is not possible to write down all the impressions received or to describe all the people who crossed the path of the family, the neighboring farmers, and the local shopkeeper with whom they made friends. Special attention can only be given to a few persons. They belong to the intimate circle and worked hard to ensure the happiness of the family, especially in trying to improve their English, the first necessity of foreigners entering a foreign land. They declare that they have been successful in their attempts.
The weekends which the two lady teachers spent with them were festival times leaving the happiest memories. Climbs, walks through the heather and round the lochs, moonlight-excursions alternated with hours of talk in the family circle, and left unforgettable impressions. Let me mention with peculiar thanks to God, the fact, that a car accident which occurred while they were returning home from such a happy weekend had no serious results for them and has not in any way spoiled the impressions just mentioned.
A few days after the families arrival, Ellen entered the village school about 3 ½ miles away, cycling there everyday. She was filled with unusual assiduity and made progress quickly, kindly helped by the teacher, watching her with special attention. The parents, since it is a task of greatest importance to them to see Ellen educated, rejoiced mostly at her success, and the whole family with them. It is a miracle how easily children pick up a foreign language. One day, Ellen said to her father: “Daddy, you wouldn’t understand me in school, I speak real Scottish”. Midst such happiness and harmony the family spent autumn in the Scottish Highlands, until the time of Ellen’s birthday grew near. The parents were wondering what they could do to fill their darling’s heart with joy, for at all costs they did not wish the sad circumstances of her life to spoil this happy day. So are in the middle of the fairy tale, which tells how these sorrows were taken away, and how this day was an event in the lives of all who took part.
Cats and dogs it rained on the days before, but this morning the weather cleared, the birds gave the introduction intoning Happy Birthday, happy birthday. The parent’s gifts, modest in accordance with their situation, were placed on her bed when they came as her first congratulators; Ellen’s place at breakfast was trimmed with a garland and beside it laid a letter from the mother of the family already described to you. She had thought of a gift which Ellen needed badly, a raincoat for cycling, as pretty as it was useful.
There were parcels from the two lady teachers, Alice in Wonderland that marvelous book, and hand knitted gloves, sweets and pretty letters. Ellen enjoyed it, especially a whole lot of letters from the pupils of one of these teachers. 39 of them had written to Ellen. Excellent letters offering their friendship and such a lot of love that the little heart of Ellen could scarcely absorb it. A wonderful idea!
Two other friends sent a book “Winnie the Pooh”, a special joy to children. A handkerchief came from one small girl whom Ellen only knew by letter and whom she had never seen. Congratulations from Claus in America arrived just in time, also a cousin’s letter. At dinnertime the Lady and her housekeeper arrived by car determined to be present at this birthday, the Lady laden with a stamp book and a large collection of stamps, providing useful employment for a long time, stimulating to the mind, and satisfying a most secret desire in Ellen. A book-frame from the housekeeper and a pullover from her mother completed happiness hardly to be tolerated. There was no end to surprises for Ellen and her parents.
It need not be said that the family and the visitors spent an unclouded day, crowned by a tea party where there was a birthday cake with 8 candles made by Ellen’s own mother. Two small boys, neighbors, and two school-girlfriends of Ellen joined in this, and the felicity was only disturbed when the Lady and the housekeeper had to leave for town.
For a long time the wonder of this birthday was in Ellen’s mind and on Ellen’s lips and also the parents, whose one wish it was to bring happiness and love to Ellen.
After a few weeks, Ellen wakened one morning in the town-house of the Lady. The sojourn in the country was at an end. Was it a dream?
And now you may decide for yourself, if this story isn’t a fairy tale. But I repeat, it is the real truth.