Margarete stumbles out of the bombed-out house, the dust settling around her like snow. Mistaking her for the dead officer’s daughter, a guard rushes over to gently ask her if she is all right and whether there’s anything he can do to help her. She glances down at where the hated yellow star had once been, and with barely a pause, she replies “Yes”.
Berlin, 1941: Margarete Rosenbaum is working as a housemaid for a senior Nazi officer when his house is bombed, leaving her the only survivor. But when she’s mistaken for his daughter in the aftermath of the blast, Margarete knows she can make a bid for freedom…
Issued with temporary papers—and with the freedom of not being seen as Jewish—a few hours are all she needs to escape to relative safety. That is, until her former employer’s son, SS officer Wilhelm Huber, tracks her down.
But strangely he doesn’t reveal her true identity right away. Instead he insists she comes and lives with him in Paris, and seems determined to keep her hidden. His only proviso: she must continue to pretend to be his sister. Because whoever would suspect a Nazi girl of secretly being a Jew?
His plan seems impossible, and Margarete is terrified they might be found out, not to mention worried about what Wilhelm might want in return. But as the Nazis start rounding up Jews in Paris and the Résistance steps up its activities, putting everyone who opposes the regime in peril, she realizes staying hidden in plain sight may be her only chance of survival…
Can Margarete trust a Nazi officer with the only things she has left though… her safety, her life, even her heart?
A totally heartbreaking and unputdownable story about how far someone would go to save one life, that fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See will adore.Readers love Marion Kummerow:
“Awesome!!… WOW… Completely and utterly amazing… I cannot explain how much I enjoyed reading this… I highly highly recommend this story!! It was simply amazing!!” Goodreads reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“So emotional, heartbreaking… I couldn’t even put this book down and I got so engrossed into the book that I didn’t even realize until I came to the end!… Grab your tissues because this book will make you cry… Unputdownable historical fiction!” Goodreads reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Incredible… I couldn’t stop reading… It would be a great movie… [It] made me cry.” Rachel Wesson ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“This heart-pulling, feels-destroying read… really pulled me into the story right from page one… It managed to pull me into this dangerous world and keep me there… Deeply emotional… You can tell a lot of research went into creating this book, making this story all the more realistic, emotional and authentic…
Release date: July 20, 2021
Print pages: 350
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A Light in the Window
“These bloody English bombers!” he shouted and shoved Margarete aside. She stumbled, but he was so intent on saving himself he didn’t falter once in his steps. His wife was ahead of him, rushing down the stairs and screaming for their daughter to hurry.
Once she managed to get up again, she grabbed on to the stair railing and had made it down to the first floor when the world around her exploded. Something hit her head, and she lifted her arms to protect herself from the searing pain, even as she stumbled and fell to the floor.
Some time later, Margarete came to. She opened her heavy lids, trying to remember what had happened. There was dust and rubble everywhere. The sirens were still screaming. She moved her head and a searing pain shot through it. Raising a hand to her temple, she pulled it away, terrified at the bright red stain of blood on her fingertips.
Dust from the debris made it hard to breathe and she coughed, sending throbbing pain through her head and neck each time. Oh yes, something hit me. Slowly she took stock of her position, relieved when she could move her legs and arms. One arm hurt like hell, making her hand almost useless, but otherwise she seemed unharmed.
Looking above, she slowly drew her knees up and pushed herself into a sitting position with her good arm. The dust slowly settled and she got a clearer look at where she was—trapped beneath part of the staircase. Apparently it had broken into two halves and formed something of a small cave, which she now tried to crawl out of.
Margarete spent long moments pushing with her feet to move the collapsed building materials enough to gain her freedom. Every movement sent twinges to her head, but she kept struggling.
Once out of her cave, she gasped at the picture of utter destruction around her. The entire building had collapsed, the roof tiles scattered around like pebbles. It was eerily silent. She crawled over a collapsed wall, swallowing convulsively when she saw the dead bodies of her employers Herr and Frau Huber lying a mere ten feet from the entrance to the basement.
Giving the corpses a wide berth, she crawled toward the opening in the wall to leave this ruin, when she suddenly stared into their daughter’s lifeless eyes. That awful girl had tormented her with anti-Jewish slurs and hostile acts ever since Margarete had started to work for her parents. Now she was dead. Her corpse was blocking the only access to the outside, and Margarete paused for a moment to gather up her courage.
Despite the awful situation, she couldn’t help but think the world would be a much better place without Annegret Huber. Just as she determined to climb over the corpse, the sound of a whining child captured her attention. She turned her head to look for the source of the noise. A young boy, around six years of age, was crying and pushing at the boards which pinned his leg in place. She’d seen the son of the gardener around the house before, numerous times, but she wasn’t inclined to help anyone but herself. Especially not a Nazi boy.
Margarete had crawled halfway over the pile of debris toward Annegret’s body when her conscience stopped her. Damn! She looked back at the whining child. Terror and pain were etched on his face. Sighing, she made her way over to him and began removing the boards that had trapped his leg. None of this was his fault; he was only a child.
As she removed the last board, she heard the sounds of the rescue team coming. “In here. We’re alive,” she called out as loudly as she could manage.
“Can you make it out of the building?” a voice shouted right back.
“I think so,” she answered, cradling her injured arm against her stomach. It was throbbing fiercely after she’d been forced to use both hands to remove the last board. She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed, before she was able to point at the pile of debris with Annegret’s body and asked the young boy, “Can you climb with me over that?”
He nodded, still sobbing, with his face covered in dirt and the tracks of his tears. Margarete flashed him a crooked smile and nodded. “Good. Let’s go then.”
They carefully made their way over the broken timbers that had once supported the roof, the little boy holding on to her skirt while following closely behind her. Annegret’s face stared at her, her body covered by a layer of dust and her legs twisted unnaturally. The thought of climbing over the girl’s dead body made Margarete want to vomit, but it was the only way out. As horrible as it was, she and the young boy would have to make their way up and across the lifeless body, or risk becoming two more casualties of this war.
She pulled and pushed the boy, telling him to keep his eyes on the exit and not think about anything else. Trying to follow her own advice, she crawled over the dead girl, when she saw something peeking out of her jacket pocket. A piece of paper.
“Go ahead. The rescue team is waiting for you. Make sure they look at your leg.”
“What about you?” he asked, darting a glance at Annegret’s face in horror. “Is she…?”
“I’ll check her out, then I’ll be right behind you. Go on now.” She waited until he was moving toward the exit once again, and then she reached for the paper. It was Annegret’s identification card. Curious, she read what it said: Annegret Huber, born June 28, 1921 in Berlin. Two years younger than Margarete. Long light brown hair and hazel eyes, just like herself.
She tucked the identification card into her pocket, before she climbed over the dead body. The boy had stopped to wait for her instead of moving on.
“Where’s the girl?” he asked and glanced at her with frightened eyes.
“I couldn’t help her. She was already dead. Let’s get out of here.”
But he refused to move and stared at her wide-eyed. “Why are you so nice to me? You are a Jew.” He pointed at her and Margarete looked down to see the yellow star sewn onto her jacket. The feel of the identification card still at her fingertips, she realized this was her chance to survive. Tell the rescue team she was her employer’s daughter. But for the ruse to work, she had to get rid of the yellow star.
She pulled the jacket with the abhorred mark from her shoulders and stuttered, “It… it was a stupid game. This Judenstern belongs to the dead girl. She was our maid.”
Shocked by her own boldness, she stood there in awe, until the boy poked her. “You should get your own jacket then, or nobody will believe you.”
Whether he understood she was about to lie her way out of this or not, he’d just given her a great idea. “You’re right. Wait here for a minute. I’ll grab my jacket and purse.”
Back at Annegret’s corpse she pulled the girl’s jacket and purse from where they lay half buried beneath her body, placed her own papers into Annegret’s pocket and finally pinned the yellow star to the sleeve of Annegret’s blouse.
Now she is Margarete Rosenbaum and I’m Annegret Huber. God, please forgive me.
Wilhelm Huber stared at the ringing telephone with disdain. It was two minutes to five and he had no intention in getting tangled up in extra work that would delay his quitting time. Especially not tonight, when he’d finally sourced tickets for the coveted new nightclub performance at the Moulin Rouge. Since attending one of the shows that featured can-can dances and raucous songs had been included on a must-see list for German soldiers on a recreational visit to Paris, it had become almost impossible to make reservations.
Ignoring the phone, he neatly piled the last correspondence from the large stack he’d been working on and then leaned back in his chair with a sigh, wishing the insistent caller would hang up. For a moment Wilhelm considered picking up the receiver, but the chiming of a church bell saved him. Five o’clock. Public office hours were over and the caller would just have to try again in the morning.
He got up to put the correspondence in the card-index cabinet, locked it, put the key into the drawer of his desk, locked that one as well and tucked this key into his trouser pocket. Before he walked through the door, he glanced one last time around the office, making sure everything was immaculate, before he left the drab place with a spring in his step.
“Have a pleasant weekend,” he told the French worker in the anteroom, before he half-heartedly saluted the Hitler portrait on the way out.
When he stepped into the street, buzzing with bicycles and pedestrians, he inhaled the city’s distinct smell. Others might complain, because they preferred a battle post where they could garner medals and promotions, but for him Paris was a dream come true. The moment he’d first stepped off the train about a year ago, he’d fallen in love with the French capital with its rich supplies of wine, good food and beautiful women.
Apart from all the conveniences it offered, the biggest perk of staying in Paris was the fact that he’d finally gotten away from the stern supervision of his ambitious father. Not to mention his mother, whose uppermost goal was to get him married off and who thus presented him with an incessant line of suitable, albeit boring, women. How much more fun it was to be the cock of the walk amidst marvelous French girls, many of whom seemed eager to please their new masters in every way possible.
The debaucherous nightlife suited him much better than the boring day job in the orderly room of the SS headquarters, and if it had been up to him, he’d have gone without all the military stuff and lived like “God in France” as the German proverb said. But, unfortunately, one thing didn’t come without the other.
Walking the short distance to his apartment in the center of Paris, he pondered the one thing that wasn’t perfect in his life: his financial situation. The vibrant city offered someone like him everything he could ever wish for, but such luxury came with expenses his salary as SS-Oberscharführer couldn’t provide for. He’d have to talk to his father again about another additional allowance. Despite his father’s disdain for Wilhelm’s extravagant lifestyle, he’d come around with the money. He always did.
Wilhelm greeted the concierge, Madame Badeaux, who seemed to lurk all day in her caretaker office, only to leap at her tenants with an indecent number of nosy questions. At least she wasn’t hostile or unfriendly like the one in his last building. He indulged her with some small talk, before excusing himself and rushing up the stairs to his one-bedroom apartment on the third floor, taking three steps at once. He could have taken the elevator, but made it a habit not to since he wanted to stay in shape.
The representative architecture of the Art Nouveau—as the French liked to call the Jugendstil—with its stucco ornaments, beautifully carved banister and colorful wall paintings had definitely seen better times.
But with the war going on and their reckless opposition to the German government, French people had neglected their cultural heritage. If only they would see how much better life could be if they worked with their new rulers instead of against them.
He opened the door to his apartment, and walked into the only bedroom, his freshly pressed dress uniform hanging behind the door. At least the laundry woman worked to perfection. He had been lucky to find her, since an impeccable look was of utmost importance. Just as he was buttoning up his tunic, the telephone in his living room rang and he walked over to answer it.
“Wilhelm Huber,” he said with a gaze into the giltwood mirror decorated with hydrangeas and lilies that was hanging above the matching cabinet with the telephone. He stood two inches taller than the rest of the family, and the blond hair, greenish-brown eyes, and a sharp nose wielded a magnetic power over women, who usually threw themselves at his feet. Even the small red birthmark beneath his left eye couldn’t deter from his good looks, but helped give him a mysterious, brooding appearance. This was enhanced even more by the uniform, which gave him an authoritative touch that only added to his appeal to the opposite sex.
It certainly wasn’t the lack of willing potential wives that kept him a bachelor, which was another point where he didn’t see eye to eye with his family. They all seemed to think that at the age of twenty-four it was way past time to get married and beget children for the Führer. The begetting wasn’t the part he opposed, though, he thought with a smile on his face. He planned on ‘working hard’ for his Fatherland tonight after the show in the Moulin Rouge.
“Wilhelm, thank God I finally reached you,” came a mildly distraught female voice he recognized immediately.
He inwardly groaned and looked at his wristwatch. He’d have to cut her right off, or risk being late for the show. His sister-in-law, Erika, had an annoying habit of drawing out even the simplest message into a lengthy story about all and sundry.
“Erika. I was just on my way out to meet with my boss.” He hoped this would be enough of a hint for her to make it short.
Instead of the flippant reply he expected, she said, “I’ve been calling you at the office, but it seemed you had already left.”
So, she had been the incessant caller. His curiosity was piqued. “I was in a work meeting most of the day.”
“There was an accident.”
“What kind of accident?” The fact that she was calling, and not Reiner, automatically led him to assume something must have happened to his over-achieving older brother who was their father’s favorite son, following in his footsteps as he built a stellar career in the SS.
“There was intense bombing last night in Berlin…”
The phone line crackled and Wilhelm barely held onto his patience. “Erika, can you get to the point, please?”
“If you would stop interrupting me,” she said indignantly.
“Sorry.” He gritted his teeth, knowing from experience that interrupting her would only cause her to lose her train of thought and draw out the conversation even longer, until she finally came to the point. “You were telling me about the bombing last night in Berlin.” He rolled his eyes at his own reflection in the mirror, hoping that Erika would tell him whatever the news was before his French mistress, Florence, arrived to go to the show at the Moulin Rouge.
“Yes.” Erika paused and he pictured his brother’s slender brunette wife, wearing her hair braided pretzel-style over her ears, picking an imaginary dust grain from her drab ankle-length skirt. He had no idea what Reiner saw in her, although sometimes appearances deceived, and maybe she was a firecracker in bed. He had to suppress a loud laugh at the thought of dull Erika riding his brother in ecstasy. It made him think of the plans he had for Florence and him later that night.
“Look, there’s no easy way to say this… the bombing… you know how these vile Englishmen are focusing their attacks on residential areas, while our own Luftwaffe only ever attack military targets in London? I mean, what kind of people are the English? First, they won’t even consider joining forces with Hitler, when he so graciously offered it to them, and now—”
Another glance at his wristwatch and his patience snapped. “Erika. Please get to the point. I can’t keep my boss waiting.”
“Since when are you so eager to work overtime?”
Her words offended, especially because they were true. It was only thanks to his father’s position and influence that he’d been accepted into the SS, despite his lack of ambition and zeal. In marked contrast to Reiner, who was the textbook example of an ambitious, snappy and obedient SS man, traits that had just recently gained him the promotion to SS-Obersturmführer, the equivalent of a first lieutenant in the Wehrmacht, while Wilhelm was stuck at the rank of technical sergeant.
“I’m always eager to serve my country. Did you want to tell me anything of importance?”
“Well, you clearly don’t want it any other way. Your parents are dead,” she snapped.
He cocked his head, grimacing at the mirror. What a silly woman, did she really think she could scare him? “Look, Erika, now’s not a good time for morbid jokes.”
“It’s the truth.”
“What is the truth?”
“Your parents are both dead. The Englishmen—”
His hand tightened around the receiver and he leaned against the wall, his legs trembling all of a sudden. “No.”
“It can’t be.”
“I tried to tell you before you interrupted me several times…” Erika droned on and on about the bombing and their house apparently collapsing, people scrambling outside, rescue teams digging up the injured and dead, but he didn’t even listen. He had a clear vision of what must have happened, since he’d witnessed enough bombardments with his own eyes. When his trembling legs wouldn’t support the weight of his body any longer, he slowly sank to the floor, grasping the phone receiver like a lifeline.
It was true, he hadn’t seen eye to eye with his parents on many issues, and had thanked God every single day for his deployment to Paris, far from their supervision, but that didn’t mean he wanted them dead. They were his parents, for crying out loud!
“How dare they?” he screamed into the phone, not sure whom he blamed more for their demise: the English bombers, Hitler who’d started this war, or his parents themselves for being too complacent to leave Berlin for the comparative safety of their country house in Plau am See, about two hours north of the city.
“… I’m sure our Führer will revenge your father’s death and send those nasty Englishmen a message.”
“He will?” Wilhelm’s brain had stopped thinking coherent thoughts, such was the unexpected grief mixed with anger washing over him.
“Poor Reiner is devastated. He’s already begun taking over your father’s responsibilities,” Erika said.
“No doubt he’s got his eye on Father’s position.” It wouldn’t be above Reiner to seize the opportunity with both hands and put himself ahead for the race in the promotion carousel that would inevitably follow.
“How dare you say that? Everything he does is for the good of our family. Your good, too.”
He didn’t want to fight with her, since the horrible news had drained all energy from him. Therefore he kept quiet, trying to process what had happened. Then a worrisome thought entered his mind.
“What about Annegret?” His twenty-year-old sister had lived with their parents, spoiled rotten by his father.
“I’m sure she’s fine.” Erika’s voice sounded much too chirpy.
“What do you mean, you’re sure?”
“They haven’t found her body, and since the bombing happened just before dinner time yesterday, she would have been out and about. You know how she is.” The condemnation was loud and clear. Annegret craved life. She often frequented nightclubs and, despite her mother’s attempts to make a good German mother and wife of her, she engaged in very unladylike behaviors, smoking being the most harmless one. But since Father had never been able to refuse his daughter anything, she did as she pleased.
“By the time you’re here, she’ll have shown up.”
“I’m where?” Wilhelm had difficulty following.
“In Berlin, of course. Reichsführer Himmler has arranged for a state funeral to honor your father’s sacrifice for our Great Fatherland.”
“I can’t just up and leave. I have work to do.”
Erika gave an exasperated sigh. “That’s the very reason I’m calling you. To give you enough time to arrange for your travels. The funeral will be a week from today and it wouldn’t look good if you were absent.”
He had been looking forward to spending the holiday season in Paris, immersed in the buzzing nightlife, eating and drinking too much, with one or more beautiful women hanging from his arm. The parties thrown by SS and Wehrmacht officers were legendary. But with the death of both his parents, who wanted to party anyway? He could as well travel to Berlin and meet old friends.
“I’ll see to everything.” He disconnected the call, staring blankly at the wall. How fast life could change. In the blink of an eye, he’d become an orphan although… a mollifying thought rose in his mind. Inheriting his share of Father’s vast fortunes would rid him of all monetary problems once and for all. At least something good would come out of this tragedy. He lapsed into memories and flinched when the doorbell rang.
Sighing, he stood up and opened the door. At any other time, the sight of Florence’s perky bosom, indecently flaunted by the low neckline of her evening gown, would have stirred his loins, but today he only gave her a tired smile and said, “We can’t go.”
Her beautiful brown eyes filled with disappointment and he shrugged turning around to let her see herself out. But then he thought better of it, retrieved the two Moulin Rouge tickets from his breast pocket and held them out to her. “Go with a friend of yours.”
She quickly took the offered tickets, dutifully pressed her curvaceous body against his as a way to say thanks and then disappeared as quickly as she had arrived. His heart became even more weary. While he’d never pretended to. . .
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