Once We Were Brothers
following a break. “What did you mean by that?”
    “We were in our teens - sixteen, seventeen – and we were always together, the three of us. We did our homework together, we double dated, and generally, we just spent time together. Otto went through many girlfriends: Elzbieta, Anna, Karolina, Jolanta. I can’t remember them all. But the three constants were Ben, Hannah and Otto.
    “Otto was a ladies’ man, good looking, gallant and charming. But he never cultivated a deep relationship with any of his girlfriends, except for Elzbieta. He preferred conquest to commitment. The perfect Nazi.”
    “But ultimately the triumvirate dissolved, right?” Catherine said.
    “Miss Lockhart, I get the feeling you’re trying to steer me again. Please let me tell my story my way. You’ll come to know why I spend time on the background.”
    “I’ll respect your wishes, Ben, but by the same token, I ask that you appreciate the daily demands that my law firm imposes. I have time constraints. I’m responsible to the firm for my hours. And Ben, since we’re spending so much time together, why don’t you stop calling me Miss Lockhart. I’m Catherine.”
    Ben smiled. “Catherine it is. And I promise to be mindful of your time. One afternoon in early 1938, while the three of us were in the living room, finishing our homework, there was a knock on the door. It was Cousin Ziggy and he was frantic. He gripped my arms. ‘Your Uncle Joseph is in great danger in Vienna. Find your father, Ben. I need to talk to him.’
    “I grabbed my jacket and ran to the plant. It was still winter and the streets were filled with slush and snow. The cuffs of my pants got soaking wet. I found my father on the second floor in his office, in the middle of a new design and he didn’t want to be disturbed. ‘Not now, Ben,’ he said.
    “‘Cousin Ziggy’s at the house,’ I blurted. ‘He says come home immediately.’
    “‘What’s the emergency?’
    “‘I don’t know, it has something to do with Uncle Joseph and I think it’s real urgent.’
    “My father snatched his long woolen coat from the rack and we hurried home. Ziggy met us at the door and pulled my father by his coat sleeves into the living room. The family all gathered to hear the news.
    “‘War is coming, Abraham. It’s coming now . Last year Hitler grabbed portions of the Rhineland. Now he’s been screaming about the mistreatment of German-speaking people in the Sudeten mountains. Everyone expects that he will move against Czechoslovakia soon.’ Ziggy spoke as though he were out of breath.
    “‘Ziggy, we know that – we’ve heard it all on the radio,’ my father answered. He was perturbed. ‘Is that why you pulled me out of the factory?’
    “Ziggy shook his head. ‘You know Hitler’s Austrian and he’s long had his sights on Austria. Well, now we’re hearing the same old refrain. Protect the German people from persecution. Reunite the German people.’
    “‘We know,’ echoed my mother. ‘We listen too, Ziggy, but such reunification is prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles.’
    “‘Treaties? What does Hitler care for treaties? And who’ll stop him? The League of Nations? France? England? No, Leah, mark my words, he will take over Austria – and soon. Chancellor von Schuschnigg is in Berchtesgaden right now trying to make peace with Hitler, but that’s a pipe dream. I told your brother to get out now, while he still can.’
    “‘Joseph won’t leave Vienna; he’s lived there for years,’ Father said.
    “‘Now you know why I’m here. You must prevail on him, Abraham. This minute. He’ll listen to you. You must convince him to come home to Zamość. Now. While the roads are still open.’
    “‘Of course he’s welcome here, Ziggy. But maybe you’re panicking a little too much. Maybe such a move is premature.’
    “‘When the Nazis roll into Austria, and they will Abraham, they’ll brutalize the Jews the same way they do in Germany, or worse.

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