Chapter One – Escaping the Enemy
Ingrid took her time and moved slowly. The partisans were making their way through the trees as stealthily as they could. The large group had divided into a few smaller ones to minimise noise as they moved through the woods, and to increase the chances of escape for the rest if one group should be discovered.
Ingrid was following Eagle. She was helping the French man to lead the second group of young Jews to the abandoned trucks on the opposite ridge. If they could reach the trucks, they would have an easier journey to safer territory. Jacob had gone ahead with his group earlier. With luck, he would have found the trucks by now.
She hurried her young people across the open area to cross the railway line. The wreckage of train carriages still littered the large, open space.
“Crouch low and run!” she whispered as she pushed each one of her group forward. “Stay silent.”
She shuddered as she remembered how she had helped to rescue more than four hundred Jews from that derailed train a few days ago. Some of those liberated people had decided to stay with her group. They wanted to fight back and Jacob welcomed them. The train had been bound for Buchenwald labour camp where certain death awaited the passengers. If they weren’t killed immediately in the gas chambers, they would succumb to overwork and starvation in a matter of months.
The strewn carriages were dark, hulking shapes and seemed deserted, but she knew she couldn’t take any chances. German guards could be waiting in the shadows.
The sound of her rapidly beating heart seemed too loud in her ears as she crouched in the shadows of the forest. She was petrified. As the last of her charges safely reached the trees on the other side of the clearing, she checked her surroundings. The silence of the forest was all-encompassing. It seemed there was nobody around for miles, but she knew that wasn’t true. German patrols would be looking for them. The enemy could be anywhere. They could be hiding behind the bulky debris of the train carriages, waiting for the right moment to emerge and shoot them all.
She shook herself. She couldn’t stay there all night. She had a job to do. She had to make a run for it. Crouching low, she began to move. With every step she took, her feet disturbed the undergrowth, making crackling noises as leaves rustled and twigs snapped.
Staying low, she ran as fast as she could and breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the young people who waited for her at the other side of the clearing.
“So far, so good.” Ingrid looked at their expectant faces and felt another wave of fear wash over her. She was responsible for getting these people to safety. She didn’t feel equal to the daunting task, but Jacob had already gone on ahead with his group. Eagle was waiting for her deeper in the trees. “Come. Be as quiet as you can be.” She beckoned the group to follow her and began to walk slowly through the close-set trees.
She joined Eagle at the bottom of the ridge.
“You took your time, Ingrid,” Eagle’s voice was low and teasing. “Did you enjoy the gentle stroll?”
Ingrid’s face was frozen with fear and she couldn’t raise a smile at his attempt at humour.
One of Jacob’s boys pushed the group of young Jews forward. “Keep going,” he urged. “Hurry up that hill. Move!”
“Don’t be so ‘arsh with them, Gunter,” Eagle advised. “Remember what they’ve been through.”
“They will have to get used to my harshness,” Gunter hissed quietly. “These people have a lot to learn about the life of a partisan.”
“Well, they don’t need a lesson right now,” Eagle chastised the boy. “Go easy on them.”
“Yes, Boss.” Gunter gave a sloppy salute to the French man.
“I’m not your boss, Gunter. You can look to Jacob for that role from now on. I’ll be leaving soon, remember?”
“That’s a shame, Boss. We’ll miss you,” one of the other boys said.
“We’ll miss you too, Matt,” Eagle slapped the boy’s shoulder gently. “But you were always Jacob’s boys, weren’t you?”
“Not always, but perhaps we are now.” Matt turned to three young women waiting in line to go up the hill. “Stay low and move quickly,” he advised them.
Ingrid watched the three women crouch and begin to climb the hill. Within seconds, they were hidden behind low growing bushes and she let out the breath she’d been holding.
“You seem overly nervous this evening, what’s wrong, Ingrid?” Eagle asked.
“I’m not sure.” She shrugged, but something made her turn to check on the whereabouts of Hannah’s group.
Ingrid watched closely as Hannah’s people made their way stealthily through the trees near the derailed train. She could see Hannah was leading the last two across the clearing but movement from the shadows of the crashed carriages caught her attention. She clutched Eagle’s sleeve and pointed.
“Is that a German guard?”
“Seems you were right to be jumpy, my friend.”
The German soldier was holding Hannah at gunpoint.
Ingrid held her breath and felt Eagle move closer to her side to get a better view. Together, they watched Hannah point to the hill behind them and shrug.
“We must do something, Eagle!” she pleaded with Hannah’s fiancé, although the French man was already bringing his rifle from his shoulder. Three of Jacob’s boys moved closer.
“We are with you,” Seth whispered. “He looks to have no companions. We can easily take him.”
They watched as the soldier looked in the direction Hannah had pointed and Eagle took a step.
“Come,” he whispered.
Ingrid followed close behind him, her pistol held ready and the leaves rustling softly below her feet.
As they drew closer, a twig snapped under her foot and she froze.
“What was that?” The German soldier peered in their direction.
Ingrid froze, but couldn’t be sure whether the guard had seen her.
“We must take care,” Eagle warned, moving quickly to the edge of the tree line.
Ingrid and the boys stayed close, moving as quietly as they could.
“What is going on here?” The guard whirled and pointed his rifle at Hannah’s chest again. “Who are you?”
Eagle stepped from the cover of the trees, aiming his rifle at the soldier. “She could be your worst nightmare.”
“Put down your gun.” Ingrid went to join Eagle with the three boys at her back. They moved to stand next to the French man.
“Are you alone ‘ere?” Eagle asked the young German guard.
The soldier slowly lowered his rifle to the ground and nodded. “I’m here to deter looters.” His youthful faced glowed white in the moonlight as he raised his hands above his head. “Please don’t shoot me.”
Eagle smiled at his fiancée. “Are you all right?”
Hannah nodded and smiled with relief.
“Ingrid, will you take ‘is weapon?” Eagle asked and turned to the frightened soldier. “Give ‘er your spare ammunition.”
“I’ll be reprimanded for this!” He took out a box from his tunic pocket.
“Better that, than taking a bullet in your chest.” Ingrid reached to take the box from him. “Take a seat, boy.” She ushered the young man to the side of the overturned coal wagon. Now she was in control of the guard, her nerves began to settle. “Should we tie him up or shoot him?” she asked Eagle.
“Please don’t kill me!” the young soldier pleaded.
“Do we ‘ave rope?” Eagle asked.
Ingrid felt relief flood through her. Eagle didn’t want to kill the boy. She thought she could handle the situation now. “Are you wearing a tie under that jacket?” she asked the petrified young man.
“Take it off,” she ordered.
She used the tie to bind the soldier’s hands together and then fastened the ends around an iron rail on the wagon. She tugged on the makeshift shackle to ensure it would hold. “There! That should keep you quiet and still for long enough.”
They left the tethered young man and hurried back to the trees with Hannah and two of the rescued Jews following closely. Ingrid was glad she hadn’t been ordered to shoot the guard. There had already been too much killing.
“Why do you always find trouble, little sparrow?” Eagle grinned at Hannah as they reached the rest of her group of refugees cowering in the woods.
“I’m happy you came when you did.” Hannah sounded just as relieved as Ingrid felt. “I thought I might have had to shoot him.”
“Fortunately, Ingrid was watching your progress,” Eagle gave Ingrid a grin of approval. “She alerted us to the danger.”
Ingrid felt she should explain further. “I had a feeling things weren’t as they seemed. I wanted to make sure you made it through here.”
“Then I owe you my thanks, Ingrid.” Hannah smiled gratefully.
“Save your gratitude.” Ingrid grinned at her friend. “Let’s get these people to the trucks.”
As they climbed the hill through rough vegetation, Ingrid knew she would miss Hannah. Her friend would be leaving with Eagle in the second truck. They hoped to make it to England after they’d dropped off their passengers along the way. Hannah was pregnant with Eagle’s child. The time had come for her to find a safe refuge. She envied her friend’s happiness. Ingrid felt she would never be happy again after what had happened earlier that day.
The farewells were brief. Hannah and Eagle helped their band of rescued Jews board the truck and watched Jacob’s people cram into the back of the German Army wagon. It was a tight squeeze, but they all squeezed inside.
Jacob quickly checked the fuel in each of the tanks, looked at the oil levels and made sure there was water in the radiators. “They seem fine. See you on the other side of Hell, Eagle!” The two men clasped hands and hugged briefly.
Ingrid embraced Hannah and felt a rush of emotion. “I will miss you, my friend. I hope you make it to England.”
“Give Rosa my love.”
Ingrid pulled away first before her tears began to fall. “Safe journey. I wish I could be there to see your wedding celebrations, but I have to continue my mission.”
“What mission is that?” Hannah asked.
“To make up for my previous indifference. I plan to save as many Jews as I can. Have a glass of English beer for me and toast my good health.”
“I will, Ingrid. Thank you for everything. Good luck with your mission. I hope you find happiness again. Take care.”
Ingrid climbed into the stolen army truck, holding back her tears. She would miss the companionship of her friend and the future was far from certain for either of them.
Eagle drove his truck, following behind Jacob’s army wagon until they reached a crossroad. When Jacob peeled off to the south, Eagle turned north.
As the distance began to grow between the two trucks, Ingrid felt another surge of emotion and struggled to hold back her tears.