What on earth was the matter with Mutti? She hadn’t had any breakfast. Then she said they’d be going after lunch instead. She didn’t turn up for lunch. Neither did Vati. It had just been her and Wilma. And now Wilma was checking the contents of her suitcase for the hundredth time.
“What’s going on, Wilma?” said Renate. “There’s something wrong. Why was Mutti crying this morning?”
“I expect she’s just worrying about the packing,” said Wilma. “You know what a tizzy she gets into when she has to pack.”
Well, yes, that was true. “I suppose so,” said Renate.
“And I expect she’s a bit bothered about leaving your father on his own,” said Wilma. “It’s not very nice, families being split up at Christmas.”
“Vati’s not coming to Stuttgart?” said Renate, alarmed. She had been looking forward to spending time in Oma’s rambling house on Schellberg Street, and the few days before staying with Hani. But Christmas without Vati?
Before Wilma could answer the door opened. It was Mutti.
“Renate, I need to talk to you,” she said.
There was something about the tone of Mutti’s voice that Renate didn’t like.
“You may have wondered, perhaps,” her mother began. “You may have noticed ….” She folded her hands and closed her eyes and then started again. “Have you ever wondered if we might have Jewish connections?”
Renate couldn’t believe what she was hearing. What did Mutti mean? They couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Jews could they? That would mean … that would mean they would have to give up all sorts of things.
“Yes, my dear, I’m afraid it’s true,” her mother continued. “I am Jewish, and so is Oma – but not your father. You and I and your Oma will have to leave Germany after Christmas and go and live in England. A lot of very kind people have done all sorts of things to make it possible for us to go there. You will have to go first.”
“What? On my own?” cried Renate.
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” her mother replied. “But I shall be following very soon. Your uncles are waiting for you in England and will take care of you. But Vati won’t be able to come too – he won’t be allowed to leave Germany.” Her mother’s voice broke and she added almost in a whisper. “Go and think it over in your room. I… I want to be alone for a bit.”
Renate couldn’t move. She stared at her mother. They were Jewish? She and Mutti were Jewish? She knew that it was very difficult for Jewish people living in Germany and was getting worse all the time. Everything had been just the same as normal for her. Except perhaps Mutti’s strange moods. But they didn’t look at all like the Jews they’d seen down in town. Those men with the big hats and the long sideburns and the women always dressed in black. Mutti just looked like any other German woman.
“Renate, I told you to go,” said Mutti. “I need to be on my own.”
Somehow she managed to will her feet to move. She left the lounge and set off for her room. As she crossed the hallway she caught her reflection in the long mirror. She could see nothing different. She was not a racial disgrace or a contamination. That’s what they said the Jews were, didn’t they? She pushed her shoulders back and held her head up. “I’m just the same as ever. I am not a disgrace. I am going to England and I shall like it,” she whispered.
Her father came out of his study and stood beside her. He put his arm around her shoulders. “It’s for the best,” he said.
“But I can’t speak any English,” said Renate.