“But why do we have to leave?”
The air was brisk and crackled with the shuffling of hundreds of feet.
Suitcase handles jostled as they were carried back and forth, from house to the station platform.
The bustle was enormously loud.
“Momma, why do we have to leave?” the little girl reiterated.
The mother sighed, put her blouse on the bed beside the open suitcase and knelt down next to her daughter.
“My dear, we are going away. We don’t know why, but we are told that we are needed somewhere else.” She brushed back the dark brown bangs that dangled in front of Ruth’s eyes. The little girl smiled.
Rachel returned to her standing position and continued packing.
Ruth skipped to the front door of their apartment, clutching her doll as she watched the great procession go forth.
Why do so many people need to leave?
“All aboard! Come on, now, we need to get going! Train leaves in 15 minutes!” shouted a man in official garb.
Worried expressions could not be lifted from the faces that tried to smile. The smoke from the engine of the train billowed into the bleak December sky, hanging there for almost too long.
Reuben tugged at his father’s coat, eyes fixed on the eerie smoke that clung to the clouds.
“Father, why are we leaving?”
Caleb handed his suitcase to the attendant and turned to his son.
“We are called to leave, my son. And in this time for us, we do not have an option. We must leave.”
“But where are we going?”
Caleb shrugged. “They are not saying. I heard from someone else that we’re being ‘resettled.’ Some of may work on farms. Some of us in factories. All I know is that we’re leaving this place.”
Reuben detected uncertainty in his father’s quavering voice.
Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.
Caleb, instinctively sensing the internal dialogue, ruffled the boy’s hair. “We will be fine. I have a feeling.”
Reuben was not so sure.
“All aboard! Time to leave!”
The train churned forward, heaving and chugging forward, sputtering out smoke as if coughing.
No one spoke much on the train. Families talked in hushed tones, eyes darting about. Some slept. Others stared out the window.
“Do you think we’re being taken to the same place they took Oma?”
Rachel’s soul stung.
“No, we are not going to where they took Oma, Ruth.”
Ruth grew quiet. “But what if we are?”
Moments passed. Neither said anything in response.
“We’re not going there, dear. Now, get some rest.”
The train stopped in a small town later that day.
The passengers filtered out and walked around the station for a couple of hours.
The sky was even bleaker here.
It was if one cloud stretched over the entire sky. Reuben looked hard to find any detail of any clouds at all.
He used to love to watch the clouds.
His wandering eye caught something down the platform from him.
“That looks like the conductor,” he thought aloud.
He told his father he was going to go walk down the platform to stretch his legs. “Don’t stay down there too long, son. We’ll be leaving soon.”
Reuben weaved his way through the crowd of people, mostly from his neighborhood. Why did so many people have to leave at once? he thought. After what seemed like hours, he finally drew close to the conductor. He was standing alone, facing away from the people.
Reuben carefully approached the man and tapped his arm.
The man spun around, surprising Reuben.
“Oh – you startled me, lad.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Are you the conductor?”
“May I ask a question?”
“Where are we going?”
The man’s eyes stared deeply into Reuben’s dark brown eyes.
Then they fell to the ground. Turning away from the boy, he said, “Somewhere to the east of here.”
“Oh,” replied Reuben. “Do you know why were forced to leave?”
“Oh, then, you know what we’ll be doing once we get there!” exclaimed Reuben.
The man stiffened. “Yes, you’ll be farmers. Farming the land for the good of all the people.”
Reuben smiled. “Thank you, sir.”
The man continued to face away from Reuben, away from the people.
“Go on back to your father, lad. Best not to be alone.”
The days passed and the train neared its destination.
Daylight was always bleak, it seemed.
Rachel couldn’t remember the last time she saw blue sky.
She wondered if the sky had forgotten how to be blue.
Or perhaps the sun had forgotten how to shine.
“Just like everyone else,” she muttered.
The train’s whistle blew.
People in the cars straightened up, straining to see what destination they approached.
Caleb looked out the window and saw their destination.
His face drained of color.
“We’re not going to be farmers…”
German troops could be seen waiting at the station.
Dread began sweeping over the train.
Rachel heard the commotion and looked to see what was happening.
Dear God, no! she silently cried.
“Momma, what’s wrong?” Ruth whimpered.
Rachel grabbed her child and held her close, humming a lullaby while rocking back and forth.
“Engineer, stop this train!” barked the S.S. Officer.
The man remained silent.
“If you do not stop now, I will be forced to execute you for treason!”
The engineer only stared ahead.
“Sir! Stop this train now! These animals need to be purged!”
Without warning, the engineer reached down, grabbed his pistol and shot the man between the eyes.
He rose from his seat, pushed the body to the side, and locked the cabin door.
He returned to his seat and increased the speed of the train.
Shouting could be heard warbling past the train as German troops shouted profanities at the Jews onboard.
A series of peculiar knocks came from the door.
The engineer opened it. In stepped another man, dressed like the conductor.
“Ewan, did you take care of the other SS men?”
“I did, Jacob.”
“Good. I heard from my contacts. We’ll be in St. Petersburg in a few days.”
Ewan glanced out the window.
“Do you think we’ll make it?”
Jacob shrugged. “Even if we don’t, it’s better than letting all these people die at the hands of those demons.”
Rachel was in shock.
Ruth clung to her mother.
“We must be going to Russia, then,” stammered Caleb.
“Momma, where are we going?” Ruth inquired.
“I don’t know. But I know that God must have sent an angel to be our conductor.”
“Yes, really.” Rachel kissed her daughter’s head.
The train barreled into the night sky, chugging through the snowy wilderness.
The next morning, a blue sky was ready to greet the passengers.
The sun had not forgotten.