“Thin Ice” by Frieda Korobkin

Thin Ice book cover featuring a woman ice skater in the arms of a male skater in the middle of an ice rink at night, a Nazi flag hanging from the grandstands behind.

This post is made up of three excerpts from “Thin Ice”, a brand new novel, and a unique proposition for both my blog and me. But after reading Frieda Korobkin’s powerful and moving story, I found that it fits in perfectly within the context of my other posts. But more important, I couldn’t help but identify with many parts of it. That’s why I asked Ms Korobkin if she would allow me to showcase some select pieces here in my blog. She graciously said, “yes”! However, there is a caveat: these excerpts are from a copyrighted work and are being reproduced with the author’s limited permission. They are NOT to be copied from my blog!

To set the stage, Herr Mayer is both a German Jew, and an industrialist in Frankfurt, Germany. Up to now he was the owner of an armaments factory, built by his father, with a history going back to the 17th century. But Herr Mayer, having recently lost his wife, has now lost his business to the Nazis. Herr Gutman is his next-door neighbor and reluctant confidant. Gutman is a newcomer from Poland, but has his own successful retail business. He’s also the father of young twins, plus two older sons and a daughter.

This is Frankfurt, Germany on November 15, 1935, during the announcement of the odious Nuremberg Laws. Herr Mayer and his loyal driver, Hans Bauer, are in his Daimler listening to the broadcast on the car radio. 

Another voice replaces Hitler’s, a voice Herr Mayer also recognizes all too well, that of Reichsmarshall Goering. The new laws are announced. At first the news doesn’t seem too toxic: the Nazis have passed the Reich Flag Law, making the swastika symbol the official flag of the country. Herr Mayer begins to breathe more easily, and Hans flexes and loosens his shoulders. After all, hasn’t the swastika been blanketing the country for years now? Surely by this time the whole populace is inured to its ubiquitous presence? Surely, all the Nazis are doing by this new law is making it official, nicht wahr?

But then Goering enumerates the new ‘blood’ laws. Herr Mayer’s nausea returns and intensifies; he feels physically ill. He knows that if he listens to one more word he will vomit. He commands Hans peremptorily, with unusual severity and without his usual polite ‘bitte’. “Turn off the radio. Sofort.”

It has started to drizzle; a fine curtain of moisture descends on the Daimler’s windshield forming a design of fine Belgian lace. The streets are almost deserted of pedestrians, and they encounter few automobiles. It is as if the whole German Volk, indeed the whole of Germany, Jew and gentile alike, are behind closed doors, listening to their wireless sets. The red and black swastika flags seem to have multiplied and reproduced themselves, hanging and fluttering in every conceivable size from every window and door, so numerous that they appear dense and thick as quilts. As Herr Mayer gazes out the car window, it appears to him as if the whole of Frankfurt is wrapped in one gigantic swastika. He watches the rain gently dimpling the puddles forming in the roadside gutters, and wonders how Frau Mayor’s grave is holding up; a visit from him is overdue.

They drive the remaining distance to the apartment in grim silence, broken only by the repetitive click-clicking of the efficient Bosch wiper blades. Herr Mayer is momentarily hypnotized and lulled by their movement, like a metronome in their tedious predictability.

“Incidentally, Herr Gutman, they are taking possession of my car and driver also. Anforderung they call it. Requisitioning. So, as of next week, we will have to send our children to school by hired vehicles, as you used to do.” The two men walk on for several paces in silence. Samuel is too shocked to comment. Herr Mayer finally speaks again. “My guess is that the whole world must know by now that Germany is rearming, and that Herr Hitler no longer cares what the world thinks, which is why he doesn’t need to be secretive anymore, why he has terminated my services, why he can order whatever he needs from whichever source he wishes. After all, have you heard any protestations from any foreign government after the announcement of the 15th? I certainly haven’t”. Samuel has to admit that he hasn’t heard of any objection to the Nuremberg Laws from any foreign source. “But of course,” Samuel says, “it is more than likely that objections have been raised through diplomatic channels, which have not been released to the German public; as we all know, our press is heavily censored, nicht wahr?”

“That is a possibility, of course. Jedoch, Herr Gutman, we cannot assume anything, can we? Nor can we rely on anything or anyone. After all, when was the last time you heard of any country running to the aid of the Jews? As for me personally, I cannot assume that after seizing my business they will merely forget about me. If you remember, I told you weeks ago, didn’t I, when I first confided in you the whole Sache, that after my role is over, I will be expendable. Why would they want me around? I know too much. Not to mention,” he adds bitterly, “that I have suddenly become a security risk. A ‘heavy’ one.”

“In that case, Herr Mayer,” says Samuel, “let me urge you once again to get out of Germany while you still can.”

“That’s not possible anymore, even should I wish to,” says Herr Mayer shaking his head, “And I do not wish to.” Samuel has never before heard such utter desolation in the man’s voice. “I am glad, though, that the rabbi said what he did, that he finally seems to be facing reality; I begin to have hopes for him. I would never have suspected him capable of doing what he did today. He showed enormous courage.” Herr Mayer turns his head away from Samuel, and lowers his voice so that Samuel has to strain to hear him. He says, “I am forced to bring up another subject entirely, Herr Gutman, one that is causing me more Arger than I felt even after the death of Frau Mayer.” Herr Mayer pauses, clears his throat, and now his voice has become almost a whisper, “It concerns my daughter.”

Henrietta?” says Samuel, immediately alarmed. “Is she ill, I know we haven’t seen her for some days, what…?”

“No Herr Gutman. Henrietta is not ill. If only she were. Illness is something I know how to deal with, nicht wahr? No, she is not ill. It pains me to tell you that Henrietta has forsaken all the religious principles by which she was raised, everything that she has been taught, everything that Frau Mayer and I tried to instill in her. She has forgotten all decency and morality…” Herr Mayer bites his lip, unable for a moment to continue. Then, and it is as if he has difficulty enunciating the words, he says, “Herr Gutman, Henrietta…is with child. Sie schwangert.”

Samuel stops in his tracks, too shaken to speak. Herr Mayer has moved ahead, and Samuel hastens to catch up to him. When he finds his voice, he says, “Surely you must be mistaken, Herr Mayer, Henrietta would never…”

Yesterday he ordered a taxi and rode to the Friedhof for his monthly visit. He was disturbed to find evidence of vandalism; gravestones toppled over, swastikas defacing the slabs. He is glad that he insisted on a simple stone for Frau Mayer, set flush into the ground, making it a less tempting target. He has paid the cemetery in advance for ‘eternal’ care of the grave. Whatever that means.

As he always does at the end of each visit, he recites the mourner’s Kaddish over her grave.

They come for him under cover of darkness, after Inge has left and he is alone in the apartment. There are two of them, in Gestapo uniforms. Or perhaps they are SS. It is impossible to tell the difference, not that it matters. He is not at all surprised to see them; has, in fact, been wondering for many months what was taking them so long. Their black uniforms are dusted with snow; it must really be coming down now. They are polite, suggesting he pack some warm clothing, enough to fit into a small valise. One of them sits patiently in the Wohnzimmer, admiring the furnishings, while the other accompanies Herr Mayer into the bedroom to oversee the packing. Perhaps they are concerned that if left alone he will harm himself, or harm them, that perhaps he possesses an old Luger in his bedside Schrank. So foolish of them. If he had wanted to harm himself he has had ample time and opportunity. He lifts the photograph of his father from the Schrank, where it has resided ever since he was ordered to remove it from his office. He stares for a moment at the ever silent image, then carefully tucks it into the folds of his clothing. He hesitates over his tefillin, then slips them, too, into the valise.

Herr Mayer leaves his apartment for the last time. He raises his hand to the small, unobtrusive mezuzah affixed to the doorpost of the front door, lets his fingers linger for a moment, then brings them to his lips. The Mozart is still playing, and trails after him down the corridor, but the recording is running down, dissonant and piercing to his ears, like the screeching of a cat. They escort him down the three flights, then into the waiting black Mercedes with the ubiquitous swastika flags on the hood. The snow has begun to settle on the car. The pavement, too, is speckled white. He turns to take one last look at the apartment building. The snow is blurring his vision, but through the darkness and whirling flakes he notices chinks of light escaping from some of the windows. He lifts his head to look up at the familiar top floor where the Mayer and Gutman apartments sit side by side, but there is nothing to see. Both apartments are shrouded in blackness.

He is placed in the back seat between the two Gestapo agents; a third uniform is at the wheel.

The car begins to move.

_____________________

“Thin Ice” is available at Amazon.com.