Josua and Lukas - Boys Uprooted by War
by Ruwen Rouhs
The Red Army Moves In
Lukas was freezing. Turning around on the straw sack he fished for the blanket he and Josua had to share. The older boy had it pulled away and now was wrapped up to the nose in the coarse woolen fabric. "Give it back to me, give it back!" he demanded, but Josua was dead to the world. Soon however the door of the room in the back opened and the Old Man entered the kitchen stiff-legged. This solved Lukas's problem. He scrambled out of the bed, "Good morning, Sir! How late is it?" calling on the Old Man happily. "Josua has snatched the blanket and is sleeping like a log. He didn't move the whole night, he didn't dream, his nightmare is gone! Sir, that's sure because we can stay with you!" The Old Man looked relieved and when Lukas repeated, "It's because of you!" a smile lighted up his face. "No, no. Lukas, that's sure because of you, you are his little guardian angel!"
The February wind blew snowflakes through the crack of the door when the Lukas attempted to open it. "Get dressed first, Lukas. You shouldn't walk over to the outhouse barefoot and in your underwear only. Winter is back." Examining the surrounding through the window the Old Man explained, "The path over there is covered with snow knee-deep. We have to clear snow first."
Once dressed and outside Lukas did a 180 turn in amazement, "Josua, Josua, quick, get up and come outside. The vicinity looks like a picture in the book I got at Christmas, the snow covered chapel, its pointed bell tower, our cottage, even the outhouse. Look it's like Christmas time again." Eying the Old Man like a hungry puppy, "Do we get some cookies today, too? On Christmas I always get cookies!" "Cookies? No, but I got still some shriveled apples in the cellar." "These will do, Sir! Thanks."
Back in the cottage the Old Man put aside an old tattered rug concealing the trapdoor to store room underneath the chapel and opened the hatch. Handing Lukas a kerosene light, "Climb down the ladder, get you some apples from the box and fetch potatoes, carrots and onions for our meal from the stockpile." When the boy hesitated, he laughed, "Hey, Lukas, afraid? There are no ghosts down there. You ought not to be afraid!"
Whilst Lukas got heebie-jeebies looking for the food in the cold cave, Josua came back from his tour around the small sanctuary. "It's peaceful around here, big boy, isn't it?" the Old Man greeted him kindly. "Lukas told me you did sleep without waking up only one time this night. Has ….?" realizing his mistake, he didn't ask for the night ravens bothering Josua the day before. He continued instead, "Will you help me prepare the meal? You can peel the potatoes, the carrots and the onions Lukas is fetching in the cellar, while I cut some bacon rinds to add more zest to our meal."
Josua was still rubbing his hands to get warm when Lukas sneaked through the trapdoor and startled his friend touching his neck with his icy fingers. "A ghost, a ghost, the ghost of the chapel!" Lukas attempted to scare him.
While Josua started to peal the potatoes the Old Man came back from his room with an old, thumbed up, dog-eared book out of his small library. "Is this the picture-book you were talking of, Lukas? Look this wood carving, children playing in a village. Do you remember it?" Lukas nodded and his faced lighted up with happiness, "It's just the one I got at Christmas. Can I read a poem to you?" and he began to read, no, the small boy recited the poem by heart:
Winter is a cold man,
extremely hard and long to last
his flesh is of pure iron
he knows not sweet not sour.
When stone and bone break from the cold
and ponds and lake are cracking
he loves that sound, he hates it not
and kills himself laughing.
Now here he is, now there he goes
to run his country well
and when he passes, we stand still
and stare at him and freeze.
(1740 - 1815)
When the recital ended, the Old Man Josua clapped the performer and Josua beamed at Lukas like a proud father called for the first time "Dadddy" by his junior! " Lukas, Lukas I would never have...........!"
Josua's voice suddenly failed, his face went pale and he doubled up like in pain. "Sewing machines, sewing machines!" he shouted in terror. Slumping to the floor and crouching down below the small kitchen table his warning cries alarmed both, the Old Man and Lukas. Now they perceived the strange sound as well, a blubbering sound, drawing closer and closer. Soon the sound increased to a deafening noise just meters above their heads when the first of the small canvas covered biplanes did a dive-down at the chapel and the built-on cottage. The ear-shattering burbling did repeat two more times and then faded off while the three biplanes were racing towards their next target, the village some miles down the valley.
Running out of the cottage the Old Man just managed to identify three small Russian P-O planes, before the blob, blob, blob of exploding bombs resounded in the narrow valley. "P-O's are excellent toys for scouting and harassing opposite forces by day and night." he announced back in the cottage to Lukas sitting baffled at the table, "I guess these are just the advance party of T-34 tanks and the ground forces chasing the retreating German Army."
Searching for Josua he caught sight of the completely slumped boy. "Oh Josua, Josua my boy, it's nothing, nothing special to people caught between battle lines, in the hard-fought zone between two armies, in the middle of nowhere!" When Josua didn't respond he knelled down beside the boy, holding him firm he pleaded, "Come on my boy, help me, help me and Lukas. We need to make provision for unwanted guests, open door the chapel, hide our most precious belonging, that's food and clothes and then kill the fire in the stove, because smoke coming from smoke stalk will deceive us!" "But I am hungry, if you kill the fire, we have to eat the potatoes uncooked!" Lukas complained in lack of understanding the threat ahead. "You are right as always Lukas, let's hurry up. Josua please, help me fix the dinner!"
About two hours later in the early afternoon the roar of diesel-powered T-34 tanks broke the peace of the valley. Josua was scared to the bone nonetheless he darted to the edge of the chapel to spy on the oncoming monsters. The armored colossi approached slowly, leaving deep grooves in the virgin snow cover of the rural road. Drawing nearer to the chapel they began to aim with the high velocity guns in the towers for the chapel and the build-on-cottage. Having passed the chapel they turned the guns back towards the village ahead. Sighting with relief Josua raced back to the Old Man and Lukas waiting in the kitchen, "They are gone, the tanks have passed without attacking. The danger has passed." "Really Josua, my boy? Remember first the spotter planes, then the heavy tanks and then the ground forces, the panje-wagons with the infantry soldiers. Planes, tanks, foot soldiers! You never know who poses a greater threat!"
Soon the logs in the stove were consumed by the fire and the room went cold. The water of the fogged window panes froze to fern frost and the exhaled air condensed to fog. Wrapped up in blankets the three waited for the things to come. After a while Lukas fell asleep and Josua put his small friend to bed, while he and the Old Man stayed at the table the eyes set on the door and cocking their the ears like watchdogs. Nothing happened for the next hour. Despite or because of the tension Josua fell asleep. His head dropped to the table and the Old Man dozed off too.
Daylight faded and with the fading light the winter's cold spread in the room. There wasn't a knock on the door. It just opened, first a crack, then halfway, then it was busted open and six short men in dirt-brow padded coats, ear caps and high boots barged into the kitchen, brandishing their sub machine guns with drum magazines, called Pe-Pe-Sha. The leader of the reconnaissance party, a corporal of about 20 years of age, rammed the barrel of gun into the neck of the Old Man bringing him back into reality all of a sudden. One of the soldiers flipped the chair with Josua backwards. As Josua's head hit the ground he woke up with a shriek of pain. The other four intruders split up. While two searched the kitchen, the other ransacked the room in the back, the Old Man's bedroom.
The noises and especially the shrieking of Josua aroused Lukas. His wailing alarmed one of the soldiers. Overturning the shelf separating the boy's bedstead from the kitchen, he found Lukas clutching the picture book in his arms with eyes wide open. "Mal'chik, mal'chik!" "Young boy!" the soldier called to the corporal. "A boy with a book!" The following volley of words ended in the question directed to the Old Man, "Shena?"........ "Math?" The Old Man didn't understand what the soldiers were asking for, but he got the meaning of the last words, repeated several times and illustrated by gestures.
" No, no wife, no mother, no daughter, no women! No women!" he repeated several times, "Only men! Me father!" pointing at his heart, "And my two boys!" "At ie z!" pointing at Lukas and Josua. "Sin!" "Sin!!"
Meantime the two soldiers had turned the bedroom of the Old Man upside down, without finding anything of value. Disappointed they scattered the books on the floor, overturned the locker and finally slashed open the straw sack as well as the pillows, spreading straw and feathers all over the room. Charging into the kitchen they told the corporal of their unsuccessful search. After a brief but vociferous discussion the corporal forced the Old Man, Josua and even little Lukas to line up face towards the wall. Pacing up in the back of the scared captives, he launched a volley of question and threats ending always in "Diengie"! "Money!" "Padarak!" "Present!" "Chasy!" "Watch, wrist-watch!" However the corporal achieved no success! Getting mad tried to enforced his demands by bashing Josua over the head with the butt of his gun.
Josua went to the ground crying in pain. The assault of his friend shocked Lukas but didn't frighten him. The small boy dropped the picture book he still was hugging and attacked the corporal. Lukas's sharp kick on the shin made him hop around on one foot and finally tumble over. The unexpected result of the small boy's brave action provoked loud laughter by the other soldiers and the oldest of group, a guy with a graying stubby beard, put an arm around Lukas to protect him and at the same time tried to calm down the corporal, "Rasslabit'sya!" "Rasslabit'sya!" "Calm down!" The corporal however got even madder and attempted to tear away the boy from the older soldier. The setting in quarrel didn't escalate into a fight as the neighing of horses announced the arrival of the panje-carts of the platoon.
All men of reconnaissance party immediately started for the door. Once outside the still mad corporal turned, pointed to Lukas's protector, "You stay! Don't let these rotten people escape! If so, I slit your throat!" The man just shrugged and grinned first at Lukas then to Josua. Pointing to his heart, "Andrej! Ya! My name is Andrej. I am the interpreter!" The Old Man bend down his head slightly and pointing first to Lukas and then to Josua, "Lukas! Josua!" and then again, "S'Lukas! S'Josua!" "Bratiya!" " Brothers!"
Through the fogged-up window panes the boys watched the panje-carts arrive. The foot soldiers, their sub machine guns ready, immediately fanned out investigating the place and the surroundings. Finding the place desolated three of them pushed open the side entrance to the chapel while the corporal reported to the lieutenant, a tall man with smooth chin. Shooting a glance to the cottage with the captives he first inspected the chapel. Finding it suited for the night quarter for his soldiers he allocated the different duties to his men.
Meanwhile the Old Man with the help of the soldier with the graying beard had restarted the fire in the stove. The smoke attracted the attention of the lieutenant. Walking over he pushed open the cottage door and scanned with the beam of his flash light the dim room. Spot-lightning Lukas, he checked him over. In rusty German he asked, "Are you the small devil wounding my corporal? The devilkin?" When Lukas looked for shelter clinging to Josua the lieutenant bend down and fetched him. Tickling him he uttered, "You are just the same age as my son Igor! You look even like him, with that blond hair. What's your name?" As Lukas wriggled like in the lieutenant's arms like an eel in the mud unable to answer Josua did it instead. "That's my friend Lukas! Please do not hurt him. Please! All he attempted to do was to help me, because your corporal downed me with the gun butt!" "Lukas? Like the saint?putting Lukas down showing a grim face. "So my corporal did hit you! Why? Did you try to attack him or my other soldiers? "No!" Then hesitating to tell the true reason, "No! I didn't attack anyone! No! He..., he just asked for ...." hesitating once more, therefore Josua answered, "He asked for presents, Sir! For Dary! But we don't own anything of value anymore!" Now the Old Man interfered to prevent a build up of trouble, "I...!" "Not you, Old Man! It's his turn!" pointing at Josua, "But...!" the Old Man tried to continue. Impatiently the lieutenant repeated "It's the turn of the boy! Tell!" "He looked for goods, he and the others! Watches, money, gold! But look and see yourself! There is nothing of value around!"
The lieutenant's voice relaxed. Slightly smiling he inquired, "You are brave! What's your name?" Josua beamed, being taken serious, "Josua! I am the big brother of Lukas."
" Josua? That's not an Ayro-Germanic name? Or is it?" He put his forefinger to his nose. "The best friend of my boyhood looked exactly like you. He was Jewish. His parents named him Dzhoshua, that's Josua. They named him after the successor of Mose, Moisey, the prophet! But do you know the Latin version of Josua?" Not really awaiting an answer, "It's Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior of all Christians." When Josua stared at him quizzical, the lieutenant added. "In other words if your parents called you Josua, they called you Jesus as well. If the Nazis persecuted you, Josua, the boy named after a prophet, then they persecuted Jesus the savior as well. The Nazis did not only persecute the Jews, they persecute Christians as well, they persecute, slaughter, annihilate Jews, annihilate Christians, annihilated just all human beings not their conviction. The goal of these oppressors was and still is to destroy each and everyone believing in liberty, equality, fraternity." Because Josua eyed him skeptical, he stated, "Ask the Old Man, he knows. I guess he has enjoyed liberty, equality, fraternity in his youth, a time long gone. He knows persecution, slaughter and annihilation of even of a single human being is a crime!"
While the Old Man nodded his assent, Josua asked back completely distraught. "And why Soldier, do you wage war? Why have your dive bombers attacked the trek of people attempting to escape, to flee the country because of the war? Why have the bombshells pulverized the horses, the rack wagons, the people seeking shelter in the rack wagons? Why did the attacking planes annihilate people no matter of their innocence or guilt? Did the explosives annihilate Lukas's mother, or Lukas's sisters or his aunt? Did they or did they not? Did they kill to my aunt in name, my uncle in name as well? What happened to them. We didn't find a shred of their bodies after the attack of the dive bombers. Tell me Soldier! What is the reason behind the war anyway?"
The lieutenant needed long time to think over these accusations. When he finally spoke up he was aware the answer would just be a preliminary attempt. "The reason is to defeat the oppressors of freedom! At least that's my personal reason. I am neither fighting your parents or your relatives nor do I fight for land, for wealth, not even for honor. Josua, my maxim is Death to the Oppressors !" When Josua did not answer, the commander made him an offer, "Join me, Josua! Join me Jesus! Boy, join my fight against the oppressors, the oppressors of freedom of human rights!"
During the discussion little Lukas was leaning bored against his big friend Josua, now however he sudden came to life! He began to protest, stamping his foot to enforce his protest "No, no Sir, no soldier! Josua can not become a soldier!" fixing his gaze at the big man, "No! Josua has to stay with me. He has to help me find my mother, my sisters, all the ones I love. He confirmed this by oath." He drew a deep breath, "I promised to him to help find his old uncle and his old aunty and if they are still alive his parents he left in the ghetto. We two have to stay together! We two do not have time for fighting!" Then the small boy turned around and looked Josua straight into the eyes. "Josua, my big brother, you promised this by the life of your mother! You can't leave me, you can't go to kill people. No Josua, you promised to save people!"
The lieutenant realized the sincerity of the boys intentions. He realized, the future their life would depend on their commitment to this objective and the mastering of this task as good as possible. At the same moment however he foresaw the difficulties of their project and recognized it was his task was to help Josua and Lukas. For a moment his heart saddened realizing that his dream to take Josua along on his campaign would never happen. But then he balanced his desires for a companion against the needs of Lukas for Josua and decided to do his best to help the two boys to attain their high objective.
" My men are preparing a fire to roast the fat pig they collected this afternoon." The lieutenant informed the Old Man. The Old Man got suspicious, knowing about the shortage of dry wood around the chapel. The particular conversation had completely distracted the attention of the people inside the cottage from the events outside. Therefore all were staggered by the flames blazing up outside. Lukas was the first to press his nose against the window pane. After just a brief look through the door the lieutenant gave an all-clear signal. Looking closer the Old Man was alarmed. Pushing open the door he rushed to the side entrance of the chapel and attempted to prevent the soldiers carrying more pews out of the chapel. "It's a shame!" he hurled screams of horror at the soldiers, "It' a condemnable act to use century old pews to roast a pig! Do you have no respect at all of irreplaceable objects?" As one of the soldiers did thrust the Old Man aside, he turned to the lieutenant, "Do you and your men not mind sacred objects? Are you of the same kind as Hitler's SS-men? These robbed the chapel of its most precious object, the altarpiece of the painter Stefan Lochner. The Presentation of Jesus in the High Temple of Jerusalem was the goal of pilgrims for more than four centuries! And NOW! Your men even burn the pews on which the pilgrims opened their hearts to Jesus!" With tears in his eyes he turned and walked away into the dusk. Lukas ran after him, took his hand trying to hold him back, but in vain.
Curiosity tipped the balance. Josua, like all boys of his age, wanted to know how to handle a gun and to play with it. This was his first chance, because his uncle in name had strictly forbidden him to touch guns. "Never use a gun, Josua!! The one who uses a gun will die from a gun. Remember this, my son! There are always ways to solve problems without a gun!" his uncle had told him with stern voice. "But uncle, I just want to shoot at sparrows not at men!" "Never hurt a living creature, Josua!! Not even aim at one! Remember, never!"
But now Josua had the chance. "I am just aiming, not shooting! I love all living creatures" he told himself and took the sub-machine gun, the lieutenant had left unattended at the door frame. A short glance at the officer, still mulling over the words of the Old Man and Josua picked up the gun. He inspected it carefully, first it's wooden butt, then it's barrel and it's big drum magazine. He was surprised by the guns good handling and the way he seemed familiar with it from the first moment on. The sub-machine gun was a PPSh-41, usually called Papasha by the soldiers. Papasha is meaning daddy.
Getting braver he finally began to point the gun at potential targets. He aimed through the L-type rear sight with its right eye, closing the left. He first aimed at crows perching on a tree in the distance, simulated a gunshot: Bang! The target was hit. Next he aimed at the heart-shaped peep hole of the outhouse: Bang! The guy just taking a shit fell from the throne frozen with fear. Finally he aimed at the small horses resting by the panje-wagons. No! This time he couldn't even do his "Bang!" No, not at horses, his heart told him. Don't aim at these creatures with the big almost human eyes.
Just when he lowered the gun disappointed by his own behavior, the lieutenant turned around and was suddenly confronted with the muzzle of his own gun pointing at his heart. His face went pale, likewise did Josua's. Stammering an apology the boy wanted to let the gun fall to the ground. The strong lieutenant was trembling in every limb, "You scared me to death, Josua! Are we enemies or are we friends? Are you just crazy? Give it to me, Josua. Do you know what you did?" After Josua had handed the gun to him, the lieutenant checked the lock and set the gun aside feeling assured. Then he hugged and squeezed the boy and started laughing, "You silly kid!" pointing at the gun, "Aiming at me, would have been your death sentence, if one of my soldiers had witnessed you doing this! He would have shot you first and checked later if the safety catch of the gun was released." Ushering the trembling Josua back into the cottage, "What did you want with the gun? It's a high velocity gun, capable of firing 1000 rounds per minute! You could have killed half of my people." Josua stammered, "I never ever have been allowed to handle a gun, not even an air-gun. I just couldn't resist touching it, checking how it feels to hold it, checking how it is to aim at targets." Josua explained, "But I never wanted to shoot at someone, especially not at you! I just was aiming at birds and inanimate objects." The lieutenant shrugged and then smiled "I was a boy also and know of the charm of forbidden things. If we would stay together longer, I could teach you to handle a gun!" he continued. But......!"
The fatty smell of fried meat fanning out all around the chapel lured Lukas back. "Are you smelling the roast Sir, do you? It smells delicious! I am hungry! Please Sir lets return to the chapel." With the old man in tow Lukas came out of the twilight and his first question to the lieutenant was, "Sir, Sir can I have something of the roast and my friend also?" pointing at the Old Man, "The food smells delicious and I had nothing but potato-soup the last days!"
" Don't ask Lukas!" the Old Man interrupted the boy, "It's the soldiers' food, they may not like to share it with strangers." The gray bearded soldier standing nearby, dismissing behavior of the Old Man and aware of asking expression of Lukas's face, took the boy by the hand, "Daway, daway! Let's go! Soldiers are under the obligation to feed even their captured enemies!" then smiling, "Especially as my enemy is as cute as my own son back home!" With that he guided the Lukas to the fire pit, despite the disapproval glances of the Old Man. The lieutenant adjoined ordering Josua, "Josua, let's go!" and to the Old Man he remarked, "There is enough meat for all of us and my soldiers are obliged to share!"
The "dinner" was quite an experience for the boys. Josua as well as Lukas had so far never participated at a feast like this, not only the amount of meat and the way it was prepared, but the whole arrangement made them wonder.
The soldiers had arranged pews at three sides of the fire pit, while three wagons pointed with their rear panels to the pig roasting on a spit. Some soldiers slouched leisurely on the pews raising bottles to each others. Others sitting on the wagons dangling their legs did likewise. Meanwhile two of the soldier were cutting hunks of done meat from the carcase and served these their companions. Chunks of dark bread were passed around and wolfed down with pleasure. The arrival of their lieutenant and the interpreter towing along the boys and the Old Man caused a buzz. After a short skirmish between the lieutenant and his men the boys were allowed to take place in the row of the soldiers.
Lukas was immediately hogged by two blond-haired soldiers with baby faces. As it turned out later that evening the two were twins and just sixteen. Used to younger siblings they treated Lukas like a small bother missed for a long time. At the end of the meal Lukas could hardly walk back to the cottage, because he was stuffed with meat and bread to the brim.
Josua on the other hand was assigned a seat between a stringy soldier, looking not more than 17 with a downy beard and a short, fat one looking slightly older because of a dark mustache. While the stringy soldier politely invited Josua to have a seat, the other one pouted. "That's Fedja, my batman and this his bitch buddy, Tischa, called Tish." Since Josua was looking slightly confused, the lieutenant cheered him up. "Batman? You don't know the duties of a batman? He has to handle the personal problems of an officer, like caring for his accommodation, food and all other personal problems eventually arising. But Fedja is more than this. He is speaking four languages and therefore he can help me to stay in contact with our allies and enemies." Chucking the fat boy under the chin, "Tischa is so to say Fedja's batman, supporting him especially in combat missions. He has saved Fedja's life more than once. He is a hero!" Chuckling slightly, "Yes, Tish and Fedja are best friends. They are thick as thieves and Tischa is guarding Fedja like a chuckling hen! So take care!" Josua sat down between the two friends, not knowing what to expect.
While the two young soldiers fed him chunks of hot meat, Josua had the opportunity to study the friends more closely. Shivering with cold Josua envied the soldiers because of their heavy clothing. Both were dressed in mustard colored, dirt-brown, wadded uniform jackets, the same trousers and sturdy combat boots and had holed up in wide wadded coats. Wrapped up like this, both looked like crouching giants particular because of their big fur caps. Studying the shy, shivering boy for a moment, Tischa opened his coat and placed it over Josua's shoulders, provoking Fedja to do the same. "Nemetskiy?" "Nemetskiy?" Tischa inquired and when Josua didn't conceive the meaning of the word, Fedja explained "My buddy wants to know if you are the German boy from the cottage?" First Josua nodded his ascent. Then however recalling the talk with the commander, he shook his head negatively. Tischa grinned and told Fedja to ask Josua a question, "So you are not German? Are you of Jewish origin? Is the lieutenant right?" as Josua nodded, Tischa grinned pointed at Josua's crotch and asked his friend to translate his request, "Then prove it! Tish wants to see if you are circumcised! Show it!" As Josua looked bewildered and jumped up to run away, Fedja started laughing and pulled him back, "Tish is a complete and utter pig, but a nice one. Therefore don't care! He just wanted to make fun of you! The commander told us you are Jewish and we trust him!"
The party was in full swing. After a short time the dinner had turned into a party at least in Josua's eyes. After having satisfied their first hunger, some soldiers passed bottles around, others asked for music, began to clap their hands and chant a sad song rather discordantly. This changed however, after one of the soldiers emerged out of his panje-wagon with an instrument Josua hadn't seen before. It looked like an accordion, but was much smaller, had an octagonal bellow and many small buttons on both ends. It was a concertina! The singing sound of the instrument and the hoarse voices of the soldiers blended into a sentimental performance making Josua cry like some of the very young soldiers as well. "Do you like Andrjuscha's music?" Fedja asked, "Before the war he was a soloist in a philharmonic orchestra, a famous one! Belief it!" The singing went on and the soldiers only interrupted their singing to wet their throat with vodka. When one of the bottles finally reached the three, Tischa urged Josua to take a pull. The burning of the booze running down his throat made him immediately cough. Luckily Fedja caught the bottle before fell to ground and shattered. "It's vodka! Haven't you tried it before?" Fedja teased, "Beginner!" Tischa chuckled while Fedja tried to wise Josua up "Russian boys likes vodka like their mother's milk and Russian men like it even better. vodka softens your heart and makes your body grow warm! But be careful, it makes men lose their brains as well!"
Satisfied to the brim Josua relaxed and began to admire the service bars adorning the uniform jackets of the two. Studying Tischa's decorations more closely, he suddenly got confused, because besides the Russian stars, he detected an iron cross of the German army attached to the bar. Pointing at it, "Isn't this a German decoration, Fedja?" he asked, "Did Tischa fight in the German Army against you?" After translating the question he earned a hearty laugh by both, "No; my Tish has captured it by killing a German SS-man! That was the night he rescued my life. He is a hero! The commander told you already! He is my special hero!" Fedja proudly announced, "And Tish got more keep-sakes!" Gesturing with his hands he addressed his friend and Tischa began to produce his tokens, an officer's dirk, a small field glass and a golden wrist watch. The objects left Josua speechless for a moment, then however, swallowing down his fear, he began to preach his credo, "You shall not kill, you shall not steal! Why did Tischa kill the man, why did Tischa steal his possessions?" Now Fedja got angry. "I told you, Tischa saved my life." Then he began Josua to tell the events of that special night.
" One dark night we were on a reconnaissance patrol close to the enemy lines when the detonation of a pineapple killed two of our comrades and rushed me as well as Tischa off our feet. We blackened out. The German SS-officer throwing the hand grenade wanted to check for the result his attack and carelessly left the cover. He was just about to honeycomb my body with his sub-machine gun when Tischa recovered from his shock and attacked him. He knocked the man over and killed him in a long fight. All during Tischa's life and death fight I stayed unconscious. Therefor Tischa had to pull me back to our trenches despite the danger getting shot by the enemies. This way he saved my life." Taking a deep breath he went on, "Next morning we searched the battle field for the remains of our comrades and found the SS-man's body. Tischa had every right to take his possessions." As Josua didn't retort, Fedja continued, "Tischa killed him, to save my life, the life of a friend! He didn't kill out of lust to kill."
The Pilot's Watch
Tischa guessed that Fedja was telling this story to Josua as he had done a hundred times before in Russian language. He just shrugged his shoulders, then pulled up the left sleeve of his wadded jacket some more. Beside the golden watch three more wrist watches decorated his arm. Then he pulled up the sleeve of his right arm and produced still more watches. He pointed at rather big one, a pilots watch and Fedja explained that Tischa had got this one as a reward from an aircraft captain he had rescued from his burning plane. Tischa was all smiles but. Then he did something neither expected by Josua nor by Fedja. He took first Josua's left then his right hand and pushed back the sleeves. Looking rather startled he asked, "Net chasy? No watch?" When Josua shook his head, he removed the pilot's watch and put it around Josua's arm, "Vash!" "Vash!" "Yours!" When Josua protested, he just said, "Drug!" "Drug!" "Friend!" Fedja translated, "Tischa wants you to be his friend, his first German friend!"
Josua was stunned. Never before, he had met such an outgoing character. He was stunned and ashamed at the same time. For one because he had been afraid of this sturdy guy looking somewhat displeased when the lieutenant had placed the "enemy boy" between him and his friend Fedja and even more because of the unexpected gift. He frantically thought about a way to express his thanks to Tischa. He searched all his pockets for a gift in return. Finally he remembered a coin-sized medallion he had picked up at a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.
There on the muddy path leading to the Sanctuary he had found the medallion halfway hidden by a stone. At the first glance the mud-covered pendant looked just like a coin. After he had cleaned it, it turned out to be a silver medallion showing the picture of the Black Madonna. He had kept it for a sign of good luck. During the assault of the dive bombers on the trek he had clasped it hard and later on he was convinced the Madonna had saved his life. Now he took the medallion out of his pocket and offered it to Tischa, "The Black Madonna may help you to survive! You need it more than I do!" Getting a good look at it and recognizing it as a Christian souvenir, Tischa smiled and then asked Fedja to translate his answer. "I am a heathen. Neither do I believe in god nor do I venerate saints. Are you really convinced a medallion will save the life of a heathen?" "I do not know, but there are things we will never know! Please take it, Tischa!"
Fedja was wondering about Tischa's generosity towards Josua and at the same time he was jealous of his friend, because his outgoing nature. He also liked this small German-raised Jewish boy stranded in the nowhere behind the enemy lines. He even became to like him more every minute. Considering carefully what would the fitting gift for a boy in need of everything an idea hit him.
What would a boy in thin clothes need most on a cold winters day besides food and a warm place to hide? He suddenly knew it. He needed warm, wadded clothes like Tischa and he were wearing! His face lighted up! As the batman of the lieutenant Fedja knew where to get those and he knew there was a wadded jacket in the supplies of about Josua's size. Maybe it was a little to large, but better too big than too small. But there was still a problem to be solved. Should he just steal the jacket or ask his lieutenant for permission first? His gift for Josua had to wait.
He was lucky. The problem sorted itself out. The commander showed up and reminded Fedja of his duties. "Time for business, Batman! Time for serious work Fedja. The headquarters need our report!" Before he turned to leave with Fedja he asked, "Josua, did you like the evening?" When the boy smiled, "Did my two best-ever soldiers care well for you?" While leaving, he called back, "Tischa, remember Josua is just 14! No vodka!" "No vodka for a Mal'chicki, baby!" Tischa made fun of the commander poking Josua in the ribs "Hi Mal'chicki, adults always know it better!"
On the way to the cottage Fedja asked the commander, "Sir, don't you think Josua needs a warm coat! He was cold as a marble when he arrived. Tischa and I had to huddle him to keep him warm!" After a moment he put forward his suggestion, "Do you remember, there is a small wadded coat in our stock, can I give it to Josua?"
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