ALBERT LOOKED TIRED AFTER the long train trip from his country but in his naïve way he felt good and secure. He looked forward to this new adventure in Dresden with great anticipation not knowing what really awaited him in this medieval pleasant city. His father showed up and divided the loads again between everyone.
"I found the right stop."
When they were ready to go, he cautioned.
"No one talks unless it's absolutely necessary. Some people here detest foreigners and we don't need any more trouble than we already have."
Then he turned to Albert and his brother and said,
"Do the two of you understand what I have said?"
"Yes," They both answered.
The small group made its way towards the other side of the street. They crossed a wide avenue next to the station, with Albert and his brother hanging on to their grandmother's skirt. The parents loaded down with large heavy suitcases led the parade. His two sisters carried some smaller ones and the grandmother had a couple of bundles in her hands. Once they arrived at the stop, they put all their belongings on the sidewalk and waited for the tram. The tram had only a few passengers inside. The family waited until all the other people at the stop climbed aboard. Then Tete spoke to the conductor in German who in turn went to the driver and when he came back the rear door of the tram opened up. The father commented quietly.
"Now all of you get in and sit down. Don't talk either between yourselves or try to say anything to anyone else."
The boys did as ordered while the parents loaded the baggage into the car. Once Tete was, on the tram, he pulled out some money and after settling, the account got his tickets. The conductor pulled a cord that rang a bell somewhere in the front part of the car and the tram moved forward. The father went and sat down next to mama then Albert heard him whisper.
"Not all Germans here resent foreigners but many of them have men at the front and they dislike all non Germans, especially the ones coming from the east."
She asked in a muffled voice.
"Is this why you told us not to speak?"
"Yes, I found out that because I was brought up in Germany when I was young they can't tell that I'm not German. It's a lot easier to get along with them if they don't know that you're a foreigner."
As the tram made its way to the destination making several stops along the way, everyone in the family kept quiet marvelling at the beauty of the city. By the time they arrived at their stop there were only a couple of people left. It had traveled for a long time. The scenery changed from large impressive buildings to more industrial and shoddier looking structures. As the tram slowed down the conductor came over and said something to the boy's father.
Tete replied, "Danke."
Then the father stood up.
"This is our stop and the end of the line for the tram."
He moved the baggage closer to the rear door and motioned to the rest of the family to stand up. He jumped out as soon as the tram stopped and took some suitcases out the door then he gestured to Bobule. She immediately got Albert and his brother to the steps of the rear exit. As she guided them downward, the father grabbed the boy's brother first and then him lifting them unto the ground. Then Bobule got off. His two sisters were close behind and finally mama. Once everybody was off, Tete climbed back in and handed the rest of the bundles and boxes down to mama. She in turn passed them on to the girls while Bobule held Banda and Albert by their hands. Meanwhile, the conductor had made his way to the front to tell the driver to hold the doors open until they were all out. Then he came back to see whether the family had finished. The father struggled with the last package. The conductor told him to step down. When Tete was out the man handed him the bundle saying something in German and as the doors closed Tete shouted back.
"Danke," he waved his other hand.
The group stood there for a while until his parents caught their breath. His father spun around on his heels to get his bearings then redistributed the packages between all of the family. He looked down one of the streets and pointed towards a square building.
"Let's get going. We want to make it to that building before curfew."
The mother turned to the two lads.
"Boys, one of you grab Bobule's skirt and the other take hold of mine, and let's get going. Do not let go of us. Our hands are full so we won't be able to help you."
Albert's brother elected to go with the mother. Willingly, he turned around and grabbed his grandmother's skirt. He held fast as the group began to make its way towards the gray structure. As they walked towards the building, the structure seemed to be further than he had thought but finally the little group arrived at their destination. It was a stone edifice with small windows and a large wooden door, which led to a courtyard. There were two soldiers standing guard on each side. There was enough light left in the sky, so that the lad could see large white areas of the walls where some of the plaster had fallen off its facade. The father took the lead and as they approached the place, a third soldier came out of a small door by the entrance looking suspiciously at the little group. The father went up and handed him some documents. The soldier scrutinized them, glanced a couple more times at the family and blurted out,
"Kommen Sie mit mir,"
They went through the courtyard into another part of the building and entered a large room. Inside were two rows of steel beds one on top of the other like in an army barrack. The soldier said something to Tete. Handed him back the papers and left. The place was completely empty. It looked very ominous and scary to the lad. He looked around and saw some light filtering through the filthy panes in the windows that resembled slits in the thick walls. The glow of the light grew darker and since the electric lights were not yet turned on inside it was difficult to see. The father went over to one of the windows and closed a curtain made from a blanket.
"We must learn to first cover the windows before we put on the lights. Blackout is a way of life and penalties can be severe for leaving the windows uncovered while the lights are on."
Looking outside the lad said,
"I can see lights shining over the roof."
"They're there so the guards can see if anyone tries to get out or in secretly."
The family turned to him in silence.
"These are the quarters for the single men that have 'volunteered' to work in Germany. They come and go on a daily pass and must be in the quarters before sundown. No one is allowed to leave until the next day when they must go to work."
The mother turned to him.
"Is this where we're going to live?"
"No. The owners of the factory where I work promised us a place of our own that is away from the camp."
The room was cold and damp with thick stalls. The paint bubbling and peeling in a bottom corner revealed the heavy stones beneath it. The dark green colour of the room made it look drab and unfriendly. A large pot bellied wood stove stood by one wall, which looked as if it had not been used for a long time. The dusty top had a small dustpan and a worn out brush lying on top of it. The boy could see that the pipe going to the chimney had turned brownish from rust. When he glanced, back at the window he could see that the thick stall made a sill wide enough to sit on. The floor was like the rest of the room with dirty worn out boards uneven and rough. The father looked around the room.
"Let's have some bread and cheese before we get to bed. I must get up early tomorrow to go to work."
The mother took one of the bundles and went to some beds further away. She finished making their bunk beds and then called the boys. Meanwhile the grandmother prepared a place for the two girls and herself.