Look at me. Look at me!" The delicate curve of the girl's
arm continued through the arc of her two middle fingers
-a perfect ballet position. She pirouetted with a sense of
grace and balance rare in a five-year-old. Blonde braids flew
straight out as she turned. "Vati," she said to her father,
"Look at me."
"Anita, stop showing off and quit making all that racket."
Her father turned to her mother. "Hilde, get that child out of
here." He sputtered in anger, his German words tumbling
over one another, "It's insult enough that you failed to give
me even one son, but must I put up with two tiresome girls
every waking hour?" He raised his hands toward the ceiling.
"Whatever possessed me to marry a Jew?"
"Fritz! Not in front of the children."
Anita stood frozen for a moment before she slipped into a
corner, squeezing herself in between the wall and the chest.
Her slender arm reached out to pull nearby Teddy onto her
lap. She hated it when her mother and father fought. Lately it
happened all the time, but Anita never meant to start yet another
"Hella, take your little sister out to the kitchen." Mutti
used her hands to gently hurry them toward the door.
Anita hung back, wanting to be near her mother, but Hella
gave her a sharp jerk that left no doubt about the outcome. Once
in the kitchen, Anita leaned her face against the doorjamb.
"Anita tries so hard to please you. Can't you see that she
only wants your approval?" Mutti's voice could be heard in
the kitchen almost as clearly as if they stood in the same
room. The Dittman row house, located in the Breslau suburb
of Zimpel, was spacious and luxurious, but it had one
drawback-angry voices penetrated the walls as if they
were made of paper.
"Don't start with me, Hilde." Vati paced the floor. "I
have my own difficulties and I don't need your complaints
heaped on top of them."
"Trouble crowds in on all of us these days, Fritz, but can't
we try to shield the girls as long as possible?"
"Hella does her best to please me-I have no problem
with Hella, but Anita ."
Anita put her hands over her ears. Hella tried to pull her
outside, but Anita scooted under the table, looking for refuge.
Her stomach hurt.
"Why do you show such favoritism? Hella is ten years
old. Of course she is more able to control herself." Mutti's
voice tightened. "Anita may be tiny, but she is a bundle of energy
and creativity. If you could just see her for herself and
forget the boy you wished for ."
"I admit it-I wished for a boy. A lot of good that did. I
shall discuss this no further." Vati slammed a hand down. The
sound made Anita flinch. "Do you know what I really wish?"
Mutti did not answer.
"I wish I had never married you. Whatever was I thinking?
Marrying a Jew-it's sheer madness for an Aryan!" Vati
spoke each word with chilling precision. "Hitler is calling it
'race disgrace' now-the mixing of pure German blood with
that of the Jew."
Mutti's quiet sobs carried to the kitchen.
"Let me tell you, Hilde, my wife," the words my wife
dripped with sarcasm, "that one stupid act has caused me no
end of grief."
Mutti still didn't answer, but her responses never mattered
to Vati. Once he got going, he could argue for hours all
"Not that you care one whit about my trouble. Things are
changing-that's a fact-and here I am, saddled with a Jewish
wife and two half-breed daughters."
Anita heard the door slam.
"Anita, Hella, come in here, please." Mutti's voice sounded
Hella took Anita's hand and pulled her out from under
"Mutti, I'm sorry." Anita put her arms around her mother's
leg. "I never meant to make Vati angry."
"Hush, Anita," Mutti said in that soothing voice. "Hush."
She put an arm around Hella as well. "Your father worries
about things and takes that worry out on us."
"Vati hates me." Anita's stomach still hurt.
"Don't be silly, Anita." Hella's voice rang with impatience.
"Fathers do not hate their own children."
"Hella is right," Mutti said. "Vati's anger comes out in
mean words, but that anger is not really directed at you, Anita."
She smoothed the flyaway strands that escaped Anita's braids.
Anita didn't argue with Mutti, but she felt Vati's rejection
whenever she tried to put her hand in his hand or when she
tried to sit in his lap. He always found an excuse to pull away
or shoo her off. She'd become an expert at watching his face
for reactions. When Hella came near, he rarely pulled away.
"Why does Vati get so angry these days?" Hella sounded
"It's complicated." Mutti stood up and moved across the
room to straighten out the folds of the curtain. "It's politics
and his job mostly."
"Politics?" Hella took Teddy off the floor and sat him on
"You know about all the trouble brewing with Hitler's
ideas, neh?" Mutti asked.
"The newspaper Vati edited has been part of the movement
they call the Social Democrats. Everyone expected things
to get better after the financial chaos of the last few years, but
here it is 1933 and Germany is more uneasy than ever."
Anita poked at Teddy's eye. She didn't understand what
Mutti said. She wished they would talk about things that she
"Hitler hates the Social Democrats, and Vati now must
join the Nazi party or ."
"What's Nazi, Mutti?" Anita disliked the way the word
sounded. When people said it, they pulled their lips back and
it made their faces look angry.
"It's not something you need worry about." Mutti came
and playfully pulled on Anita's braids. "Your tiny head
should be filled with ballet, pretty dresses, your fuzzy family
of teddy bears, and-"
"You don't need to tell her that, Mutti." Hella lifted her
hands in exasperation. "She cares for nothing but drawing
and dancing anyway."
"And that, Mein Liebling, is how life should be for a five-and-a-half-year-old.
Come, girls, and let's sit and talk while I
turn edges on this chiffon ballet skirt for our littlest ballerina."
Anita pulled a long, deep breath in through her nose, picturing
how fluttery the petals of chiffon would look when she
twirled. Just like the storms she loved, her gray mood passed
quickly and she once again resembled her aunts' nickname for
her-Ray of Sunshine.
* * *
Teddy and his bear friends, along with pencils, drawing
paper, and ballet continued to fill Anita's life. When Mutti
knelt down after ballet lessons to remove Anita's ballet shoes,
the little girl always cried. She never wanted to stop dancing.
At night she slept with her well-worn ballet slippers tucked
under her pillow and dreamed of a wooden stage ringed with
lights. Though she was the smallest girl in her class, in her
dream when the danseur lifted her high above his head, she
towered over all the dancers on stage. The shimmering colors,
the smell of chalk on the floor, the dust motes rising up
from the gaslights, and the rhythmic sound of toe shoes making
padded thuds and slaps against the boards made her
dream seem more real than her waking hours.
It was mid-dream one night when she woke to a gentle
"Anita, Mein Liebling, wake up. It's Mutti."
She rolled over, trying to recapture the dream.
"Anita. Listen to Mutti." Her mother pulled her to a sitting
position. "I must leave, but I will come to see you tomorrow."
Leaved? Suddenly the dancers faded and Anita focused on
her mother. "You cannot leave me, Mutti!" She reached arms
around Mutti's neck and continued screaming the same
phrase over and over.
"Anita, Anita. You are very nearly six years old. Please
don't carry on so. You are breaking Mutti's heart."
"I've had enough of this." Vati came into the room. He
sounded angry. "I want you out of my house, Hilde. I want
you gone now."
"But my daughters-surely you do not want them?"
"It's not a matter of what I want. I am an Aryan and my
daughters are half Aryan. Your Jew blood taints their veins
and that's bad enough, but I'll not allow your Jew ideas to
contaminate them any longer." He stood with his arms
crossed across his chest and his feet planted wide apart-an
"You may have the right under Hitler, Fritz, but what
about what's right under heaven?" Mutti's voice resonated
through the house and a sleepy Hella came into Anita's room.
"Don't call on heaven, Hilde." Yati's voice cracked.
"Surely even you are not hypocrite enough. You do not believe
in the God of your people. You do not believe in the
God of the heavens either. Admit it." He stood with his hands
on his hips and his feet apart. "That modern religion of yours
believes in a weak concoction of Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus,
animal gods, even-I don't even know how many gods you
have." Vati straightened his back. "I am proud to be an atheist.
In fact, I'm a devout atheist-I do not believe in God. Period."
When he said "God" he spat it out of the back of his
throat, like it was a bitter mouthful. "Religion is for the weak
and you, Hilde, are the weakest of all. You cannot even manage
to embrace one religion and stick there. You need to create
your own little crutch made up of a hodgepodge of
"Fritz, my philosophy doesn't matter here." She looked at
the two girls. Hella stood frozen. Anita wept. "Hella, take
your little sister to the kitchen . please. I will be there to
speak with you as soon as I am done speaking to your father."
Anita grabbed Teddy and took Hella's hand. Once in the
kitchen, the shivering Anita crawled under the table again, listening.
Hella pulled out a chair and sat down. Anita could see
her sister's foot rubbing up and down the calf of her leg.
That's what Hella always did when she was frightened.
"I want you out of here, Hilde, and that's the end of it."
Father's voice carried all the way into the kitchen. "I hope to
cover my Social Democrat activities by joining the Nazi party
and turning over the newspaper to them." He made that harrumphing
sound he made to cover embarrassment. "After all,
what good are ideals when one's life is at stake?"
Mutti said something, but Anita couldn't make it out.
"I may get away with my past by trying to fade away during
this confusing time, but I'll never get away with my continued
Anita didn't understand much of what Vati said. She only
knew that Vati wanted Mutti to go away.
"Don't leave me, Mutti," she cried to herself.
"Hush, don't upset Vati." Hella said in a whisper. "Poor
Vati; he must do it."
Anita put her fist in her mouth to stop the cries. Hella
loved Vati above all else. Even though Anita understood little,
she knew Vati loved Hella best and Hella returned that love
with unquestioning loyalty.
Vati lived in their home, but he was a stranger to Anita-a
stranger she longed to please, but never could.
"If I gave the girls to you, I would have to give you money
for their care. I would have to get you an apartment." Vati
coughed. "This argument tires me."
Mutti said something else, too low to hear.
"They can learn to take care of themselves. You spoil
them. In fact, they can care for me." His voice got louder.
Hella pulled Anita out from under the table and pushed
her ahead into Anita's bedroom where Vati and Mutti were.
Anita still clutched Teddy.
"Your mother must leave, but you will visit her ."
"No! Mutti, don't leave me."
Hella pulled her little sister's braid. "Stop it, Anita, stop
it!" Hella moved to stand in front of Vati. "I will help you,
Vati. I can cook."
Anita looked at Mutti's face in time to see her wince in
pain as she started to reach her hand toward Hella, but then
quickly dropped it to her side.
"Don't leave me, Mutti," Anita whimpered, quieter now
but no less determined.
"Anita." Her father squatted down in front of her. Anita
had never seen him so close. He smelled of warm wool and
shaving soap. "Stop crying and I'll give you a present." Vati
pulled Teddy out of her arms and threw him on the bed. He
reached down into his satchel and pulled out the large golden
teddy with jointed arms and legs-the very one she'd longed
for each time they passed the toyshop window. "Look . a
nice new teddy."
Anita shook her head and pushed the bear away. She
crawled up on the bed to retrieve Teddy. Without saying a
word, she crawled back down and went over to Mutti and
took her hand.
"Fine, then." Vati took the new bear and flung it across
the room. "You win, Hilde. Take her and leave. Hella will
stay with me."
Anita wanted Hella to take her hand, but Hella stood over
by Vati. Her eyes didn't blink, but Anita saw her lips quiver.
* * *
"Hilde. Open up, Hilde. It's me, Inge." The knocking on
the door woke Anita from a deep sleep. Why is our neighbor,
Inge, knocking at our door? Rolling claps of thunder punctuated
the banging on the door.
What a minute-Inge is no longer our neighbor. We left Vati
last night. We're at Tante's house, not in our own house. She
thought of her sister. I wonder if Hella is sleeping in my bed at
home? The knocking grew more insistent. Why is Vati's
neighbor, Inge, knocking at Tante's house? Anita shook Mutti,
lying next to her on the cot. "Mutti, someone's knocking on
the door for us. It's Inge."
Mutti stood up and wrapped a shawl over her nightdress.
Anita stayed in bed, listening to the claps of thunder. She
loved storms. Her mother often told her about the ferocious
thunderstorm that raged the night she was born.
Drawing back the lock and opening the door, Mutti
greeted her friend.
"Oh, Hilde. You must come." Inge's breath came out in
uneven puffs as she grabbed her friend's arm with both of her
hands. "You must come. Hurry." She took up much of the
doorway with her soggy woolen cape.
Anita slipped out of bed to get a better look.
"What time is it? Come where?" Mutti wrapped the
shawl tighter around her shoulders.
"It's in the early hours of the morning-perhaps two."
"Forgive my manners. Come in. Catch your breath."
The younger woman stepped inside, but did not sit down.
"You must come back to your house. When you left yesterday,
Fritz left soon afterward. We didn't think anything about
it, since he rarely stayed at home when you were there." She
poked a wet strand of hair under her hood. "Tonight, when
the storm broke, we heard banging sounds from inside the
house and thought perhaps Fritz had returned."
Mutti began to wring her hands.
"When my Otto came home an hour ago, he heard the
knocking and banging sounds right through Fritz' door. As
he went to the door to ask if all was well, Hella called out."