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"You can never return" - a fiction short story

Updated on November 4, 2014

A Writing Challenge

I have read Jennifer Arnett's (Availiavision) hub about her challenge to make a short film and it turned out to be quite a success. It premiered at a film festival at USC Berkley in northern California outside of San Francisco and now she is looking to enter the film in other film festivals.

Knowing we are not all film makers, she has instead posted a writing challenge to us with the above photo of the railway station and the line, You can never return. I read Jodah's excellent short story entry for this challenge and it inspired me to enter this challenge. So here is my short story.

These challenges have been good for me, because it has gotten me back to writing some short stories.


"You Can Never Return"

Rachel stood in the Frankfurt railway station and looked again at her ticket: destination Bern, Switzerland - Departure 16:04, Track 4. She held on tightly to her suitcase. Everything she owned was in that bag, along with important documents proving what the German Nazi Party was inflicting on the Jewish race in Germany.

The Jewish rabbi in her Frankfurt neighborhood had gathered the information and given it to her in the hopes of her smuggling it out and so educating the world to what was happening to the Jews in Germany. The rabbi thought Rachel had the best chance of getting out of Frankfurt and so devised a ruse that he thought would get her to Bern. It was the year 1939, and Germany was changing so quickly into an inferno of lost hope for all the Jewish of Germany.

Rachel looked over her shoulder at the German soldiers and dogs that were milling around on duty looking for any Jewish persons trying to leave Frankfurt. She had already narrowly escaped the German Gestapo who had come to her apartment looking to drag her and many others to their offices where she would have to register as a Jew and receive her yellow Juden stars to sew onto all of her clothing.

She had started out with her suitcase an hour ago and when she heard German soldiers on the next street, Rachel had descended down into the city sewer and pushed the heavy steel cover over her head. She held her breath against the stench as she clung to the ladder that descended into the jowls of the Frankfurt labyrinth of the underworld.

She had heard the Gestapo pounding their "goosestep" above her head and she prayed the landlord at her apartment would truly not mention her to the Gestapo. She had given old Herr Baumgard thirty deutsch marks (DM) - a fortune not to rat her out.

The pain in Rachel's chest was excruciating from holding her breath as she clung to the ladder. Her hand ached as she held her suitcase. She couldn't let it drop - not with the important documents inside.

The German soldiers yelled back and forth as they rounded up all the Jewish from Rachel's apartment house. Rachel heard them marched away, whistles blaring and the Gestapo's unholy yells.

Soon, all became eerily quiet above Rachel's head and so she pushed back the sewer cover an inch and did a 360 degree turn to look for any Getstapo. She saw none so she pushed open the sewer cover and threw her suitcase on the street. She hauled herself out of the sewer. Quicker than a chipmunk, she grabbed her bag and ran down the street opposite of the way the Gestapo were moving.

At least Herr Baumgard hadn't ratted her out. Rachel moved as quickly as she could through the streets of Frankfurt out of the Jewish quarter on her way to the Bannhof, the railway station. Rachel hoped there weren't any Gestapo check points along the way.

She felt inside her clothes for her hidden passport - a black market passport that said she was originally from Salzburg, Austria. That, alone, had cost her a fortune - one hundred DM. Her bright blue eyes, Rachel hoped would convince those conductors on the train and German officials she was not Jewish. The blue eyes were a gift from her mother whose father had not been Jewish. That along with her new name, Liesl Dold, would also hide her Jewish name Rachel.

Between the passport, her train ticket and the bribe to Herr Baumgard she only had 25 DM left. She hoped she wouldn't have to bribe her way to Bern as twenty-five marks wasn't very much.

She had worked diligently as a washerwoman for months to earn the money needed for this trip. The local rabbi had not been able to add any money to this trip but he did help to get the ticket to Bern. So her last twenty-fire marks would be all she had to get her to Bern.

Suddenly, Rachel heard a "Heil Hitler" and she froze. She looked around her and saw no German soldiers on the street. Just the typical Germans going about their business. She quickly moved into a doorway to escape detection, peeking out to see if any German soldiers appeared on the street.

None. Rachel cautiously stepped out of the doorway and quickly walked to the corner. She peeked around the corner and then snapped back her head. On the next street were two German officers.

Panic gripped Rachel's chest, her stomach was in a knot and she thought she would vomit. She struggled to keep herself from doing that as she silently, but quickly moved back into a doorway. She nearly jumped out of her clothes when a young boy descended from the apartment and walked by her into the street.

Rachel said nothing, but put a finger to her lips indicating silence. His huge brown eyes took Rachel in, but he said nothing as he walked across the street and disappeared into the butcher shop.

Rachel again approached the corner - she had to go down this street to get to the railway station. She breathed a sigh of relief as she now saw no German officers. Rachel hiked up her heavy suitcase and walked quickly down the street. The railway station was to the left and Rachel quickly caught up with the crowd and mingled right in. She checked her watch, 15:45 p.m.


At the Railway Station

Rachel looked at the departure board in the station. Oh, yes, her train was on time and presently boarding. She ducked quickly into the restroom to retrieve her passport from under her clothes and stuffed it into her purse. She knew she would need it on the train especially when the train crossed any borders.

She left the restroom and quickly found her way to Track 4 and looked for the third class section of the train. A porter tried to help her with her suitcase, but she indicated no, she would carry it on the train. She couldn't let the suitcase into anyone else's hand. Precious items from her family were inside as well as the documents.

German soldiers stood erect and on guard at the track. German shepherd dogs moved with the soldiers sniffing out passengers and luggage. Rachel just missed the dogs as she reached the third class section of the train and boarded. She walked into a crowded, chaotic train car. Everyone pushed and shoved looking for their seats. Children and babies were wailing.

Rachel felt an ache pound inside her head from the stress of it all. The noise did not help a bit. She finally found an open seat - it was first come first serve - and she settled in next to the window. The car was full of hot and stale air and she tried to open the window next to her. She struggled to lift the window and suddenly a strong pair of arms appeared and helped her get the window up. Rachel nearly fainted on the spot. It was a German soldier. She felt lightheaded and immediately sat down.

"Let me be of some help, Fraulein," he said smiling and speaking in his perfect German.

"Thank you," Rachel stammered. The soldier sat down next to her. Her stomach was flip-flopping all over the place. He also helped out by putting her suitcase on the rack above them with Rachel never taking her eyes off the bag.

"Thank you, again," said Rachel.

"You are welcome, Fraulein. Is anyone sitting here next to you?"

"I'm not sure," said Rachel to the sitting German.

"Are you traveling alone, Fraulein?"

"Yes," said Rachel, "I'm so tired and I will need to nap, I'm afraid," said Rachel feigning a yawn.

"Of course, Fraulein," said the German soldier.

Rachel closed her eyes and turned her head toward the window. Try as she might, she couldn't rest, let alone fall asleep. The German soldier next to her began to read the newspaper. The train began to slowly pull out of the train station. Rachel felt so uneasy in her seat. She heard every wheel on the track, all the sounds in the train, and the German soldier turning the newspaper pages. Every sound was alarmingly loud to her, and the pounding in her head was making her nauseous .

The train was riding along at a fair clip when Rachel heard the conductor asking for tickets. She opened her eyes and reached for her purse next to her. She fumbled getting her ticket out and her passport fell on the floor. Panic gripped her.

"Allow me to help," said the German soldier, smiling as he picked up Rachel's passport. He opened the passport and looked at the photograph and name. "Fraulein Dold, Liesl Dold, from Salzburg, Austria, the home of my grandparents," he said.

Rachel put out her hand for the passport and the German soldier took his time giving it back. Rachel nearly grabbed it out of his hand and stuffed it back into her purse. The conductor was standing over them.

"Tickets please," he said. As Rachel passed her ticket to the conductor, the German soldier intervened and read the ticket.

"Bern, Switzerland," he said with a smile. "Now what is taking Liesel Dold all the way from Salzburg to Bern, Switzerland?" he asked.

"I have family in Bern," lied Rachel, "and a job." She had meticulously learned the German dialect spoken in Salzburg and hoped the soldier would not detect she was German.

"A job? Doing what"

"As a nanny for a family in Bern," said Rachel continuing the lie. "Excuse me but I must get some water for my headache powder," said Rachel as she stood up.

"Fraulein, please, allow me," he said, "sit down and rest. I will bring you some water."

Before Rachel could protest, he was up and gone. Rachel fell back into her seat, a rack of nerves. She look around the train for another empty seat but there were none. The German soldier returned with the water. Rachel poured some headache powder in the water and drained the glass. She set the glass on the window ledge.

The German soldier began talking and was into a full-fledged monologue with her, but Rachel could not concentrate. She just let him babble on.

"Please, I must rest," pleaded Rachel, "my head is racked with pain," she said.

"Yes, Fraulein Dold, do rest - I will be quiet."

Rachel closed her eyes. How was she going to get out of this mess? How would she get away from this German soldier without causing suspicion and being detected for whom she really was?

Suddenly, the train came to a screeching halt. Some one had pulled emergency cord. All the passengers in the car fell forward from their seats with the jolt of the train. Rachel straightened herself up and looked out the window. The train was surrounded by German officers, soldiers and dogs.

The German soldier jumped to his feet. "Heil Hitler," he said as he raised his arm to officers as they entered the train.

The officers announced, "We are looking for a young woman, Rachel Goldstein, brown hair, blue eyes, twenty-one years of age. She is traveling alone."

Rachel sank further into her seat and continued staring forward. Her heart sank as she realized this would be the end of her.

"She is a Jew who has refused to register herself to the Frankfurt authorities and she is not authorized to be traveling. She has no authorization to leave Frankfurt. We have reason to believe she is a spy. We must check all passports as she was seen getting on this train."

My God, thought Rachel, her heart sinking, Herr Baumgard must have turned her in after all.

The German soldier looked hard at Rachel as she kept staring ahead. When the officers reached their seats, they stared at Rachel. "Passport," one of the officer's barked.

Rachel reached into her purse, trying to calm her shaking hands. She handed the officer her passport keeping her eyes downcast so the officers could not see them directly. The German soldier seated next to Rachel said, "Commandant, I have seen Fraulein Dold's passport and everything is in order."

The officer looked at the passport and looked hard at Rachel several times. Rachel held her breath.

"Where did you board the train?" the officer asked. Before Rachel could answer, the German soldier said, "we both boarded the train in Salzburg. I can vouch for Fraulein Dold," he said. "She is a good friend and our families have known each other for years."

The officers looked at them both for a moment, and then at both their passports. "As you say, everything appears to be in order," said the officer. "Thank you," he said as he moved on.

Rachel looked at the German soldier, her eyes wide open, she was nearly speechless. The soldier smiled at her gently and he put a finger to his lips indicating silence. Rachel sat in complete silenced and continued looking forward.

A few minutes later, there was a blood-curdling scream. Rachel looked out the window to see the two German officers dragging a young girl with brown hair off the train. She screamed, "No, no, I am not Rachel Goldstein, I am not Rachel Goldstein. My name is Hanna Bucht. I am not Jewish, I'm German. You have the wrong person. . . . ."

Rachel began to rise out of her seat, but the German soldier roughly held her arm and forced her back into her seat.

"Be quiet, be very quiet," he whispered into her ear. The girl continued screaming as the officers pushed her onto a truck. "Your mission to Bern is too important. You must not give away who you are," he said.

Rachel, by now, was in tears. "Who are you?" she asked.

"I am a British soldier posing as a German," he whispered. I am working with the British and Swiss authorities, some very good friends of yours. I am here to see you safely to Bern - you are not alone," he said.

"But, what will happen to her?" gasped Rachel.

"I don't know, but my assignment is to see you safely to Bern. I would imagine they will send someone to help her, as they sent me to help you."

"I certainly hope someone will help her," said Rachel. "I will personally see to that myself."

"You are safely on your way to Bern ,now, and you can never return to Frankfurt," he said.

Rachel shuddered at the finality of it all. "I suppose I should be grateful. Thank you," said Rachel, "for my life. What is your name?" Rachel asked.

"James Ingraham," he said with a smile.



Rachel Goldstein Ingraham laid a single red rose on the grave of her husband, James. She smiled as a tear slid down her cheek. So many years he had looked after her and saved her life from the German Gestapo.

The documents Rachel carried had helped the rest of the free world to see and understand what the German Nazi's were really all about. She had been successful in getting the message out of Germany.

Rachel did actually find a job as a nanny for a Bern family and James remained in Bern and found work there too. A year later they had been married and went on to have three children together who now were living throughout Switzerland.

Rachel's first task when she arrived in Bern had been to find help for Hanna Bucht. Another British soldier disguised as a German was sent to get her out of the concentration camp at Dachau, Germany. It wasn't easy, but Hanna finally was whisked off the Bern also.

Rachel and Hanna became the best of friends and continued so for over fifty years. Neither one of them had ever returned to Frankfurt. There were too many unpleasant memories. Rachel, Hanna and their husbands had all lived peacefully and quietly in Bern these fifty plus years, thanks to James.

And so, Rachel returned to the cemetery each Sunday to lay a red rose on his grave.


© 2014 Suzette Walker


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