The List

A Novel

Martin Fletcher

Thomas Dunne Books

Anna had been in London a week and hadn’t left the house. She said she was cold but they knew that wasn’t it. There were no secrets when three people slept in one bed. Anna’s groans, her gasps, the moans and sighs, like a whimpering kitten, the sudden turning: they could feel her lying awake, sense her anguish, and when Edith asked if she was asleep, Anna would turn around and not answer. Georg would try the sofa but it was too short. Edith would try next but the sofa was too narrow for her belly which she supported with a pillow. Whenever Anna offered to sleep on the sofa, they wouldn’t let her. So they slept together in the crowded bed and the springs creaked and the mattress rose and fell as Anna tossed and turned. When she did sleep, she mumbled and called out. They tried, but could never understand a word. In the morning she was soaked in sweat.

            If Anna was haunted by what she knew, Edith was tormented by what she didn’t know; her sleep was almost as restless. She fidgeted and squirmed and holding Georg’s hand would squeeze so hard it hurt. She dreamed of her father most nights, and if she didn’t have dreams about him, she dreamed of the baby. Mostly she sensed the pain of birth: pushing and squeezing of her organs, the effort. She couldn’t remember the details, just the finality of it, the end of waiting, the end of a journey, the new beginning, but somehow the baby dreams merged with her father dreams, one roiling mixed image of pain, helplessness, waiting and, above all, hoping, that Papi would come, that the baby would come, and that all would be good again, all together.

            Georg slept well. For him, it was easier. He knew. He had been the first of everyone to find out. Gassed in Maydanek. The whole family. He didn’t want to know what ‘gassed’ really meant, what terrible things happened on the way to being ‘gassed.’ What a word. But at least it was over. He didn’t have the anguish of not knowing, the torment of waiting, for a phone, a letter, a rumor, searching the lists. Some refugees had joined aid groups so they could look for survivors themselves. A soldier had found his own mother in Bergen-Belsen. One refugee with enough money for a rail ticket had returned to his family home in Vienna and been chased away by Austrians living in it. He asked if any other relatives had shown up. They shouted and threatened to kill him if he came back.

            Hundreds of thousands of refugees were looking for millions of relatives all over Europe. They were learning too slowly who was alive and who was dead. But Georg knew his family’s fate, and while what he knew could not have been worse, now at least he could think of his future, not only his past. Others were frozen, in limbo, paralysed by not knowing. For them the present was just a way-station between the past and the future. Georg’s whole focus now was the future, starting again, with the baby.

            He was scared for Edith though. Ever since Anna had told her that Papi may still be alive, she had been crazed, had called everywhere: the Red Cross, the Austrian Center, the Association of Jewish Refugees, Bloomsbury House, Woburn House, the Quakers, the British army information center and the American army public information office, and all gave the same answer: fill out the tracing forms, and wait. There is nothing else to do. When the Americans and the British liberated concentration camps they had listed the names of all the survivors and were slowly matching their names with other family members across Europe and in America. But the Russians kept no records, just opened the gates, and the survivors trickled out and drifted off as best they could. Anna was the first to return, a living phantom.

         But where was Papi? Anna said he had been sick; that was nine months ago; by now he must be better. He was a soldier, a doctor, if anybody could survive, he could. But then why hadn’t he been in touch, why hadn’t he found them? One call to the Red Cross and they would have traced her. Why hadn’t he done that? Where was Papi? Many Jews had been hauled off to Russian jails, maybe he was a prisoner? Was he sick somewhere, had he lost his memory, did he need help? She had written to a Christian friend in Vienna asking him to visit the house, to see if anybody was there or if the neighbors knew anything.

            Edith lay on her back next to Anna, staring at the ceiling. They were both silent, and sleepless, their minds racing. Edith squeezed Georg’s hand so hard he winced.

     *      

Anna had been in London a week and hadn’t left the house. She said she was cold but they knew that wasn’t it. There were no secrets when three people slept in one bed. Anna’s groans, her gasps, the moans and sighs, like a whimpering kitten, the sudden turning: they could feel her lying awake, sense her anguish, and when Edith asked if she was asleep, Anna would turn around and not answer. Georg would try the sofa but it was too short. Edith would try next but the sofa was too narrow for her belly which she supported with a pillow. Whenever Anna offered to sleep on the sofa, they wouldn’t let her. So they slept together in the crowded bed and the springs creaked and the mattress rose and fell as Anna tossed and turned. When she did sleep, she mumbled and called out. They tried, but could never understand a word. In the morning she was soaked in sweat.

            If Anna was haunted by what she knew, Edith was tormented by what she didn’t know; her sleep was almost as restless. She fidgeted and squirmed and holding Georg’s hand would squeeze so hard it hurt. She dreamed of her father most nights, and if she didn’t have dreams about him, she dreamed of the baby. Mostly she sensed the pain of birth: pushing and squeezing of her organs, the effort. She couldn’t remember the details, just the finality of it, the end of waiting, the end of a journey, the new beginning, but somehow the baby dreams merged with her father dreams, one roiling mixed image of pain, helplessness, waiting and, above all, hoping, that Papi would come, that the baby would come, and that all would be good again, all together.

            Georg slept well. For him, it was easier. He knew. He had been the first of everyone to find out. Gassed in Maydanek. The whole family. He didn’t want to know what ‘gassed’ really meant, what terrible things happened on the way to being ‘gassed.’ What a word. But at least it was over. He didn’t have the anguish of not knowing, the torment of waiting, for a phone, a letter, a rumor, searching the lists. Some refugees had joined aid groups so they could look for survivors themselves. A soldier had found his own mother in Bergen-Belsen. One refugee with enough money for a rail ticket had returned to his family home in Vienna and been chased away by Austrians living in it. He asked if any other relatives had shown up. They shouted and threatened to kill him if he came back.

            Hundreds of thousands of refugees were looking for millions of relatives all over Europe. They were learning too slowly who was alive and who was dead. But Georg knew his family’s fate, and while what he knew could not have been worse, now at least he could think of his future, not only his past. Others were frozen, in limbo, paralysed by not knowing. For them the present was just a way-station between the past and the future. Georg’s whole focus now was the future, starting again, with the baby.

            He was scared for Edith though. Ever since Anna had told her that Papi may still be alive, she had been crazed, had called everywhere: the Red Cross, the Austrian Center, the Association of Jewish Refugees, Bloomsbury House, Woburn House, the Quakers, the British army information center and the American army public information office, and all gave the same answer: fill out the tracing forms, and wait. There is nothing else to do. When the Americans and the British liberated concentration camps they had listed the names of all the survivors and were slowly matching their names with other family members across Europe and in America. But the Russians kept no records, just opened the gates, and the survivors trickled out and drifted off as best they could. Anna was the first to return, a living phantom.

         But where was Papi? Anna said he had been sick; that was nine months ago; by now he must be better. He was a soldier, a doctor, if anybody could survive, he could. But then why hadn’t he been in touch, why hadn’t he found them? One call to the Red Cross and they would have traced her. Why hadn’t he done that? Where was Papi? Many Jews had been hauled off to Russian jails, maybe he was a prisoner? Was he sick somewhere, lost his memory, did he need help? She had written to a Christian friend in Vienna asking him to visit the house, to see if anybody was there or if neighbors knew anything.

            Edith lay on her back next to Anna, staring at the ceiling. They were both silent, and sleepless, their minds racing. Edith squeezed Georg’s hand so hard he winced.

     *