Caroline Kiefer wished for a window. That would make this whole ordeal ever so slightly better. She wrung her tiny hands and fiddled with the yellow star pinned to her chest.
“Are we going to go soon, mama?” she asked in a small voice.
Her mother frowned in the darkness, fear in her eyes. “Hopefully not, darling.”
“But why no-”
“Quiet,” her father hissed. For a moment there was abject silence. In the damp basement there was only a steady drip in the corner to break the stillness. Caroline sat on a pile of blankets but was still uncomfortable on the cold cement floor. A wooden creak from above sounded as someone’s heavy footfalls traveled across the floor. They soon died down, but still the silence stretched on.
“I think they’re gone,” Caroline’s father said at last.
“Who are they?” Caroline asked curiously.
“I don’t know,” her mother said with a soft smile. “Go to sleep.”
“But I’m not tired.”
“Okay,” Caroline agreed. She lay her head down on the stack of blankets and closed her eyes. For a long while her parents were silent, but at last they spoke, thinking she was asleep. However, no matter how hard Caroline tried, sleep wouldn’t come.
“Do you think we’re going to make it, Eli?” her mother’s soft voice asked with a generous dose of worry.
“Don’t give up hope yet,” he replied. There was a pause. “Hazel. Look at me. We’re going to be fine. Sibylle won’t let anything happen to us.”
Caroline could hear the frown in her mother’s voice. “I feel terrible for putting this upon her. She’s risking everything for us. If they catch her...”
“They won’t. You just have to believe that.”
Another pause. “She’s a beautiful young woman. She should be looking for a husband, moving far away from this terrible place. We shouldn’t make Sibylle stay for us, Eli, it’s selfish.”
“We have no choice,” Eli protested. “Would you put our Caroline in danger? She’s only a child, Hazel. She doesn’t understand what’s happening.”
“I’m glad,” Hazel replied. “I pray she keeps her innocence.”
For a long time, nothing was said.
“God will protect us. All of us. He’s watching over us,” Eli muttered.
“I can only hope that you are right.”
Slowly, Caroline’s eyelids grew heavy and she slipped into darkness.
Caroline awoke to a loud pounding. She bolted upright and was about to say something when a hand was clamped over her mouth.
“Shhhh!” her father whispered in her ear. “Don’t talk.”
He released her, but kept an arm around her shoulder protectively. Caroline stared at her mother with wide eyes. Her mother was scared, she could tell. Voices sounded from up above, first rather quiet and then shouting, demanding. Caroline could hear the stomp of boots on the wooden floor above their heads and her father’s arm tensed around her shoulders.
“Where are they?” a muffled voice demanded.
“There’s no one!” a woman replied. “I’m not hiding anything!”
The first voice gave a terse order. “Search the place.”
More footsteps followed until it sounded like the ceiling was being pounded with bricks. Dust trickled down from the support beams that stretched the length of the ceiling. Caroline’s father held his breath.
Each second felt like a year, each minute an eternity. When a sudden beam of light split the darkness, Caroline had lost all sense of how long they had been waiting for that moment, but she wasn’t surprised that it had come. Even with her child’s mind, she knew they were doomed.
“Down here!” a voice shouted, silhouetted at the top of the trap door.
“Well bring them up!” came the reply. “And as for you...”
There was a feminine squeal. With pounding footsteps, two Gestapo officers descended the ladder into the basement, shining flashlights that blinded Caroline. A hand gripped her arm so tightly that she yelped.
“No!” her father cried, lunging forward, but the other officer pressed a gun to his back and pushed him away. His face fell, stricken with terror and despair.
“You first,” the officer holding Eli said, urging him towards the ladder.
The other man held Caroline in one hand and pulled her mother along by her long ponytail less than gently. To her credit, Hazel didn’t make a sound. When they had been brought upstairs, the light temporarily blinded Caroline, who was so used to darkness. Sibylle stood looking horrified, her brown hair a scraggly mess and her pretty face contorted with fear. An officer stood on either side of her, one standing with the air of someone obviously in charge.
“Well, well, well. No one here? It seems you were mistaken,” he said snidely, shooting a glance at Sibylle. She was silent. “You have a bit of a Jew problem.” The others laughed. “Hm, well we will have to take them, of course.”
“No!” she cried.
“No?” the officer repeated, sounding bored. “You do realize that the punishment is the same for you. That is, unless you’d rather do us a few... favors.” He shot a cocky grin at his fellow officers who laughed and stared crudely at Sibylle.
Sibylle’s face hardened. The fear was gone, replaced by fierce determination and anger. “I’d rather die.”
The officer laughed. “You’d rather die?” he repeated. She met his gaze and stared back. He gave a slight shrug. “Well, if that’s how you’ll have it.”
With brutal casualness, he raised his gun and shot her point blank in the head. A cry escaped Hazel’s lips and Caroline whimpered in fear, tears running down her cheeks.
“What a pity,” the officer said, wiping the splatter of blood off of his gun. “Well, let’s get a move on. There are more houses to search tonight.”
With that, Caroline was roughly pulled out of the room, bound for a concentration camp. No amount of kicking and screaming made any difference. After what Caroline had seen, she knew that nothing would make any difference. Slowly, she stopped struggling, resigned, and settled down to endure.
Even though Caroline would survive her ordeal, she would never forget the sacrifice that Sibylle made on her behalf that night so many years ago. Though people complimented Caroline time after time about her bravery in the concentration camp, she knew that Sibylle deserved just as much commendation. After all, she was the one who had given Caroline a new life, and for that she would be eternally grateful.