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Authors: Irene N.Watts

Good-bye Marianne

BOOK: Good-bye Marianne
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For Renate,
and in loving memory of Ruth Marianne
and our parents

For their friendship and ongoing support, I wish to thank Julia Everett, Jennifer Jensen, Gay Ludlow, and the late Russel Kelly. I also wish to thank The Child Survivor Group of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and Elizabeth Ball, Artistic Director of Carousel Theatre, Vancouver, British Columbia.

One, two, let me through
Three, four, police at the door
Five, six, fix the witch
Seven, eight, it’s getting late
Nine, ten, begin again.

arianne had made a pact with herself that if she could go on repeating the skipping rhyme without stopping, even to cross the street, and all the way till she reached the school gate, she’d pass the math test. Math had always been Marianne’s worst subject. She’d been dreading this day all week, but she was as prepared as she could be. Today she’d arrive at school on time, in fact, with time to spare. The rhyme was just an extra precaution.

The school clock said 8:20
‘Good,’ she had ten minutes.

Why was the school yard deserted? Where was everyone? The front doors were shut. Marianne tried the handle – locked. She
knocked, waited, and knocked again. Someone must be playing a joke on her. At last the doors opened and Miss Friedrich, the school secretary, stood in the doorway looking at her.

“Yes?” she said at last.

For some reason Marianne felt guilty, though she’d been so careful lately, being extra polite and not drawing attention to herself.

“Good morning, Miss Friedrich. I’m sorry to disturb you. I couldn’t get in,” she said.

“What are you doing here? I suppose you’ve come for your records?”

Marianne thought she was having a bad dream. “Don’t you remember me? I’m Marianne, Marianne Kohn, in the fifth grade. Please let me in; I’ll be late for math,” she said.

“Wait here,” said Miss Friedrich, and shut the door in Marianne’s face. Marianne heard her heels clicking away. It seemed a long time before the clicking heels returned. The door opened and Miss Friedrich stood there holding some papers. Marianne could make out a list of names on the top sheet.

“You are to go home at once, Marianne. Here are your records.”

“Why? What have I done? This math test – it’s really important. I’m already late. There’s choir practice today, and I haven’t handed in my library book.”

“You may give your library book to me.” Miss Friedrich took the book and handed Marianne a brown envelope. She avoided
looking at the girl. “Now go home. Just go home – I have work to do.”

Miss Friedrich went back inside and the door shut. Marianne looked at her name on the envelope. People only got their records when they changed schools. There was something going on that she didn’t understand.

A cold splash hit her cheek. She wiped it away, and saw that her palm was streaked with ink. The sound of giggling made her look up to the open first-floor window. Faces grinned at her. A second pellet, blotting paper soaked in ink, hit the sleeve of her school coat. The giggling turned to laughter.

Marianne relaxed – it was a joke after all. But what kind of joke? This wasn’t April Fools’ Day; it was the third Tuesday in November, and she was freezing out here. The school clock struck the half hour: 8:30
She heard the sound of a teacher’s voice thundering, “That’s enough, settle down.” The window above her slammed shut. The school yard was perfectly quiet.

Marianne reached up to knock at the door again. It was then that she saw the notice. She read the typed words nailed up for everyone to see, and felt colder and more alone than she had ever felt in her whole life.

She ran out of the yard, afraid to look back; crossed the street without looking; and went into the park. The words of the notice resounded in her head, and she knew that she would hear them for the rest of her life.

arianne needed time to think. The words she had read on the door were as clear as though they had appeared on a billboard in front of her:


Expelled because she was Jewish!

The sun came out, warming the gray winter morning, but not Marianne’s icy fingers which were cramped from holding the envelope so tightly. She sat down on a bench near the deserted band shell, loosened the flap of the hateful envelope, and pulled out her records:

Marianne Sarah Kohn
May 3, 1927
Apartment 2,
Richard Wagnerstrasse, 3
Berlin, Charlottenburg
David Israel Kohn
Esther Sarah Kohn
(nee Goldman)
Marianne has been a
diligent pupil.
A. Stein, class teacher

’Diligent?’ Much good that did her. What was she supposed to do now, be diligent by herself all day?

There was hardly anyone about, just a few nursemaids with babies and toddlers. Even if there had been crowds, today she was going to do as she pleased. She’d sit down like a normal person; that would show them. She might even ignore the
sign and walk on it! Better not, that might get her arrested – Mutti would have a fit!

Suddenly Marianne remembered that she was not supposed to sit on a public bench, or even be in the park. She jumped up guiltily and saw that she’d been leaning against the now-familiar words:

Marianne sat down again very deliberately, her back against the hateful words. She unbuckled her navy schoolbag and rearranged the contents to her liking. She pulled out her lunch, and put the wooden-handled skipping rope beside her on the bench.

Marianne unwrapped the neat, greaseproof paper parcel that contained the cream cheese sandwich her mother had made for her that morning. Only a few hours ago Mutti’s hands had held the bread. It was a comfort. She put the envelope back in her bag, next to her apple. She’d save the apple till later.

This was a horrible day. Marianne knew her mother would say something comforting like, “Things will get better – it’ll probably just be for awhile – what fun it will be to study at home.”

’Well, it won’t.’ This was one of the worst days she could ever remember, much worse than any math test, even worse than Mr. Vogel’s sarcasm. She could just hear him in her history class:

“Now, Miss Kohn, as we are privileged to have a member of your race in our class, I am sure you could enlighten us by describing Bismarck’s Child Labor Laws. No? I assure you the laws prohibiting child labor under the age of twelve were not designed for the sole purpose of permitting
your kind
to sit at your desk daydreaming! You will write an essay on child labor in Europe before 1853. Hand it in to me on Friday.”

At least she’d be spared any more of Mr. Vogel’s sneering remarks, and the sniggers at his mockery of Jews.

There were some nice people in the school though. It was really decent of Miss Stein to write that comment on her records. She didn’t have to do that. She’d miss Beate and her jokes – like that time she’d put a fake ink blot on Miss Brown’s chair before English class! Gertrude was really nice too. Last year she’d been invited over to her house for a birthday party. There’d been a magician who had made her laugh, even though he’d pulled a paper flag with a swastika out of her sleeve, and everyone had stared at her! Then this year, Gertrude had apologized for not inviting her again, because her parents had said it wouldn’t be possible to ask everyone in the class. Marianne knew it was because some of the parents would complain if she came, but at least Gertrude had been brave enough to say something. Most kids didn’t.

Marianne wished her father would come home. He’d been away since that awful night a week ago when Jewish synagogues, homes and stores had been looted and set on fire. He’d gone to check on the bookstore, phoned and said everything seemed fine, but next morning Mutti told her that Vati had been called out of town on business. So why hadn’t he sent her a postcard for her collection as he usually did?

Could her parents be getting a divorce? She didn’t think so, although they seemed to be arguing a lot lately, after she’d gone to bed. There was a girl in her class whose parents got divorced. She lived with her mother and hardly ever saw her father. Marianne couldn’t imagine being without one of her parents for so long.

She noticed a tall thin girl, with yellow braids wound around her head, staring at her. The girl sat down on the bench beside her and asked, “Why are you looking so worried?”

“I’m not. I was just thinking about my father.”

“I’d rather not think about mine,” said the girl. “He yells at me all the time. He’s a platoon sergeant in the army and thinks I’m one of his recruits! Hey, why aren’t you in school? Don’t tell me, I can guess…you forgot to do your homework, so you’re not feeling well.”

She seemed good at answering her own questions, so Marianne mumbled something about a math test. She didn’t want to lie, or explain to this strange girl that she no longer had any need to make excuses to miss school, that the
had made the decision for her.

“I knew it. I’m taking the day off too. They won’t notice. The whole school is practising for tomorrow’s concert in honor of some important Nazi officials from Munich. My music teacher always says, ‘Now Inge,’ – I’m Inge Bauer, by the way – ’just mouth the words, dear, like this.’”

Inge contorted her lips in an exaggerated imitation of her teacher. “I’ve got a voice like an old crow, the worst in the sixth grade. I’m never allowed to sing. What’s your name?”

“Marianne.” Marianne picked up her skipping rope quickly, avoiding any more questions. The rope flew under her polished shoes and sailed smoothly over her short, straight brown hair.

One, two, let me through
Three, four, police at the door
Five, six, fix the witch
Seven, eight, it’s getting late
Nine, ten, begin again.

Inge joined in effortlessly. They skipped together until they were out of breath, chanting the familiar rhyme, faster and faster in unison. They collapsed on the bench, at last, laughing. Inge said, “Phew, I’m starved. I left my lunch in the cloakroom when I sneaked out. Have you got anything?”

Marianne rewound the rope. “I’ve got an apple in my bag. Help yourself.”

Inge opened the schoolbag eagerly, drew out the apple, and took a huge bite. The brown envelope slid from the bag to the ground.

“Oh, sorry,” said Inge and bent to pick it up. She read the name out loud, “Marianne Kohn.” Inge jumped to her feet and stood in silence for about three seconds, then spat out the apple so that Marianne had to jump aside to avoid the spittle. “Kohn, that’s a Jewish name – you’re a Jew. Can’t you read?” She pointed to the sign. “The yellow benches are for your kind.”

She wiped her mouth on her sleeve, and her hands on her skirt. Then she grabbed Marianne’s bag, and threw it onto the path as hard as she could. She wiped her hands again. Marianne picked up her things and moved toward the bench. Inge screamed.

“Keep away from me, you hook-nosed witch. I hate you.”

Then she pulled the rope out of Marianne’s hand and threw it at her. The wooden handles just missed her face, but Marianne felt them strike her chin.

Marianne longed to slap Inge, to wipe that ugly look from her face the way Inge had wiped her hands. Instead, she picked up the rope and put it into her bag. She fastened the straps with trembling fingers. Marianne smoothed the scratched leather, then looked up at Inge. The blonde girl was still standing there like one of the park statues, her face carved in hatred.

Marianne knew that nothing she could say or do would make any difference. She wanted to say, “I had fun – you made me laugh. We were almost friends for a little while, and now you hate me. How did that happen? Because of my name? Because I’m a Jew? My father fought on the Russian front in the 1914 war. He fought for Germany. He’s got a medal to prove it. I’m as German as you are.”

Instead she walked away. She could feel her shame like the aching bruise under her chin. Her shame felt worse than the words Inge had hurled at her.

A park keeper looked at her sternly as she walked toward the gates. “Shouldn’t you be in school, young lady? Everything alright?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Marianne walked on, her head lowered. She just needed to get home.

BOOK: Good-bye Marianne
6.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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