They are going to kill him! The panicked realization flashed through Brygida’s mind as German soldiers snatched her husband away from her, pulling him to the center of the street while neighbors stood gawking, some even smiling. She reached out for him, grabbing at his arm, the sleeve of his jacket, anything that might help her hold him close.
“Noah!” she cried. He said nothing, but turned and winked at her. She felt the tight grip of cold fingers on her bicep and turned to see a pimple-faced young Nazi sneering at her as he pulled her away from her husband and toward the trucks rumbling in the street. As she was shoved along with the others, Brygida’s eyes turned back toward her husband.
Noah was forced down on his knees in the snow beside Dobry Antek who knelt huddled with his sobbing wife, Magda. For the last few weeks, the young school teacher and his wife had hidden Noah, Brygida, and a dozen other Jews in the cellar beneath their kitchen. Many of Brygida’s friends and family had been willingly relocated to Warsaw, ignorantly trusting the German assurances that it was for their own protection. Brygida and Noah knew better. They realized that the Nazis wanted all of them dead and were relocating them to simply make it easier to exterminate them all later. When escape was found to be impossible, they searched for a place to hide. Dobry and Magda were kind enough to assist them.
Life in the Antek’s cellar had been miserable. It was cramped and dark and stunk of mildew and all of the disgusting odors a human could produce. There were too many mouths to feed for Brygida to ever eat her fill and she often wondered how Dobry and Magda managed to provide enough food to keep them all alive and still have enough to feed themselves. Brygida had felt confident that her life in the cellar would seem a simple inconvenience next to the fate she would encounter at the hands of the Germans.
As the Nazis pushed Brygida toward the trucks, she watched as another Jewish man and then a woman were randomly chosen as they were led from Dobry’s house. Unlike Noah who went with a calming smile upon his face, the man and woman were ripped tearfully away from their loved ones. Brygida saw young arms reaching for their mother as she was dragged screaming from her children. The man and the woman were pushed down to their knees in the snow beside Noah. Brygida watched the mother as she screamed for her children to be strong and the old man as he wept and prayed silently. Then her eyes leapt back to Noah. She kept them there as she was pushed along toward the trucks with the others.
As she watched her husband, she could not believe how much his appearance had changed in the last few weeks. He had lost so much weight, his once smooth face was now wrinkled, his chin covered in a scraggly, gray-speckled beard. His grime covered clothes had not been changed in weeks and were tattered and worn. Noah was not yet thirty, yet he appeared to be a tired old man as he knelt in the snow, calmly awaiting his fate.
As Brygida watched the scene unfold she could not help but wonder why this was happening. Why did the Germans hate her and her family so much? All Brygida ever wanted to do was marry Noah and have babies. Lots and lots of babies. She had wanted to be a mother her entire life. She had a burning love in her heart that she desperately wanted to share. She and Noah had tried many times to have a child, but had had no luck so far. Brygida had thanked God for that more than once since the German invasion.
Noah smiled at her, but try as she might she could not smile in return. The tears were flowing down her cheeks now as she realized Noah was about to die. It was clear that the Nazis intended to make examples of them. How was Noah so strong, even now? He mouthed the words I love you, and she returned them. The smile disappeared from his lips as his eyes suddenly flashed away from hers and a look of disgust appeared on his face. Brygida followed his gaze to a group of Nazi soldiers standing several yards away. The soldiers stood imposingly in their steel helmets, long gray overcoats, and black, spit-polished boots as they laughed at the Poles. However, Brygida realized that it was not the Nazi soldiers that caused the look of disgust on Noah’s face. Standing with the Nazis, Brygida saw a man she recognized from temple. A Jewish collaborator selling out his own people—he must have been the rat who told the Nazis where to find them. She understood Noah’s disgust and wanted more than anything to kill the man. She blamed the rat more than the Nazi soldiers—more than Adolf Hitler himself—for what was happening to them.
Suddenly Brygida leapt, her heart catching in her throat as the loud BANG of a gunshot pierced the cold night air. Her eyes darted back to Noah, and she was relieved to see him still alive. Then she noticed Dobry weeping hysterically as he stared down at his wife, her body lying face down in her own blood in the snow, the back of her head missing. A young Nazi officer stood behind her, a disgustingly terrifying smile upon his lips. The young officer took a deliberate side-step to stand behind Dobry and placed his pistol to the back of the school teacher’s head. Dobry showed no fear, only tears for the death of his wife. The soldier pulled the trigger once again and Dobry’s body fell dead beside that of his wife.
The Nazi officer then moved behind Noah. Noah’s eyes remained on Brygida, his comforting smile still spread across his lips. There was no fear in his eyes. Brygida’s eyes held enough fear for the both of them. She screamed in horror and as she stared at her husband—a flood of memories pouring over her mind’s eye—something suddenly snapped inside of her.
Brygida had loved Noah ever since she was a little girl. He was so handsome and smart and funny. He was a few years older than she and had always been so mature and together. He was a comfort in her life. Noah was the shining star and solid rock that Brygida, an easily frazzled, often timid and scatterbrained young woman needed. She did not know how she could survive without Noah and could not let this happen to him. The Nazis had already stolen her dreams, now they were going to steal her husband from her as well.
A German soldier held Brygida tightly by her arm, and she shot the heel of her free hand upward and into his nose, splattering blood all over his gray overcoat. He released her arm with a yelp as he bent over in pain. She rushed forward, toward her husband and the German officer behind him. She could hear nothing but the beating of her own heart. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.
She had almost reached them when the officer pulled the trigger of the pistol and Brygida watched Noah’s head explode right in front of her. At that moment she felt no shock, no sadness, nothing one might expect. All she felt was a cold, burning desire for revenge. Her singular purpose in life became to kill that Nazi. She knew she was going to die anyway and she determined that she would take the murderous bastard with her.
The officer caught a glimpse of Brygida bolting toward him out of the corner of his eye and turned toward her, raising his pistol to eye level before squeezing the trigger. Brygida was too quick for him, and though he was able to fire his weapon, she had already spun and ducked under it before the bullet even left the chamber. She grabbed the wrist of his pistol hand, pushing the barrel away from her. For some reason the image of a wolf tearing into a deer’s jugular flashed through her mind and she immediately knew she should go for the throat.
Brygida’s right hand flew forward and smashed into the Nazi’s throat before moving to the pistol. As the officer gasped desperately for air, she stripped the pistol from his hand and turned to fire. In the quickest of glimpses she saw three soldiers raising their rifles to shoot her. BANG! BANG! BANG! Three bullets leapt from the barrel of her pistol and all three soldiers fell dead in the street. Brygida turned and stepped behind the officer as he continued to struggle for air, pressing the barrel of the pistol against his temple. As she did so, she faced a dozen men all aiming their rifles and machine guns at her.
Suddenly, as she faced certain death at the hands of this makeshift Nazi firing squad, Brygida’s impulse for revenge was replaced by another—the instinct for survival. Despite the fact that Noah was dead, she realized that she still wanted to live. She still wanted a family, to raise children, to see them grow old and get married. Her eyes leapt from man to man. Brygida knew her only hope to survive was to use the young officer’s life as leverage.
“I will kill him. I swear it!” Brygida shouted as she began to back away, dragging the officer with her. The soldiers moved forward as well, each ready to kill the young Jewish woman in front of them.
“Stop!” a voice shouted. Brygida searched for its source and saw a handsome, dark haired man step through the crowd of soldiers to stand between her and them. He was clearly someone of high importance and wore the silver SS death’s head upon his hat. The black collar of his jacket peeked out of his gray overcoat, revealing the lightning bolt styled SS letters.
“Lower your weapons,” he snapped at the men, but they did not immediately obey. “Lower your weapons!” he roared and all of the men quickly obeyed.
“Let me go,” Brygida said calmly as she stared at him. “Let me go or I’ll kill him.”
The man in the SS uniform nodded. “I believe you, my dear,” he smiled. “My name is Colonel Hans Arnulf,” he informed her casually and calmly. “May I have the pleasure of yours?”
She stared at him for a second before answering. “Brygida,” she said flatly.
The Colonel turned and motioned toward Noah’s dead body. “I take it that gentleman was your husband,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied through dry lips.
“And you intend to avenge his death by killing this young Lieutenant?” Arnulf asked. Brygida glanced down at the officer against whose head she held the pistol, but did not answer. Her eyes simply returned to Arnulf. “If you kill him, these men will most certainly shoot you dead right here in the streets,” the Colonel warned. He let the warning sink in before continuing, “But I don’t want that.”
Brygida tilted her head and narrowed her eyes as she stared at him. “What do you want Colonel?” she asked firmly, not one ounce of fear evident in her voice.
“In my entire life, I have never seen a woman do anything remotely as impressive as what you just did,” Arnulf said with an amused chuckle. “You disabled one soldier, killed three more and took a German officer hostage, all in less than half a minute. To think that a Polish Jewess has such determination and strength…” he let his words trail off. “I am impressed. I admire that kind of strength. It is rare to find someone from the inferior races that possess the same type of strength as an Aryan. Much less a woman.”
“What are you getting at?” Brygida asked, tired of his posturing.
“To kill such a specimen as you would be a terrible travesty. I would prefer it if you came with me.”
“No!” she shouted. “I will kill him!”
“I understand,” the Colonel said with a smile that showed he did. With blinding speed he drew his own pistol from the holster on his hip and fired. Brygida gasped, certain that the Colonel had just shot her. She glanced down quickly and saw blood was splattered all over her hands and dress. The blood was not hers, however. Instead of shooting Brygida, the Colonel had shot her hostage—right between the eyes. The young Nazi fell over dead and Brygida was left to stand there without any leverage at all, staring at Arnulf wide-eyed.
“The man who killed your husband is dead. He has been avenged,” Arnulf said as he returned his pistol to its holster. “I could have killed you instead, but as I said, that would be a travesty. Now you have no reason not to trust me and you also have no chips with which to bargain. Drop the pistol and come with me.” He held out his hand and smiled pleasantly. “I promise I will not harm you.”
“What about the others?” she asked as she waved her hand out at her fellow captives.
“As far as I understand, they are to be relocated to Warsaw,” he said as he glanced disinterestedly at the other Jews. “But that is not really my department.”
“What is your department?” she asked.
“Come with me and I will show you,” he said.
Brygida took a deep breath and slowly released it. As she did so, her eyes caught those of the collaborator who had sold them out. She suddenly jerked the pistol up, shot the rat in the chest, and watched contentedly as his body fell dead in the blood covered snow. The soldiers raised their weapons once again, ready to fire. Arnulf held up his arms to stop them from doing so.
Brygida tossed her pistol onto the ground. “Alright,” she said as she glanced around at all of the soldiers, before her eyes eventually fell on the colonel. “I suppose I do not have much of a choice.”
Arnulf smiled at her, “No, my dear, you do not.”
Brygida stepped over to Noah’s body, knelt down in the snow beside him, and placed her fingers to her lips and then to Noah’s cheek. She wiped away her tears and then stood, following Colonel Arnulf to a waiting car. She slipped into the back seat beside him and the car drove away through the snowy night.
The man and woman who knelt in the snow beside Noah’s body watched their hopes for salvation disappear as the car drove out of sight. Tears flowed down their cheeks as they watched another young Nazi officer draw his pistol and step behind them. Two more shots rang out, punctuating the stillness of the night.