"Johan, wait!" his mother screamed. "Johan, come back!"
Johan ignored her and ran out into the street. He was in a public area now. If they tried to silence him, everyone would know. And everyone would be suspicious. If there was anything his parents couldn't afford, it was suspicion.
Johan turned onto the next street. His parents wouldn't run after
him. No, that would look too strange. They would have to come for him in
the car, after asking the neighbors where he was. He knew they'd make up
some excuse. "Oh, we're taking Johan out to dinner, to a movie." It didn't
matter which. That sort of thing wasn't suspicious. Besides, his parents
were good liars. They'd
lied to him often enough.
"Johan, we need to tell you something," Johan could hear his father say.
"Johan, it's very important," his mother's voice added.
Johan shook his head, trying to get those voices out of his head. He turned a corner too quickly and almost ran into an old man.
"What's the hurry, son?" the man asked.
"Nothing, nothing," Johan hastily replied. He glanced at the man and saw a newspaper tucked under his arm. He could see the date on it: May 31, 1942, as well as the place: Hamburg, Germany. On the corner was a tiny picture of the German flag, complete with the swastika, the symbol of the Nazis in charge of his country. Johan knew that symbol well. He had one just like it on the sleeve of his uniform.
"I don't want to see my son in that uniform!" Johan could remember his father shouting. It had been four years ago, but he could still remember what his father had said—and what he had been upset about.
Johan walked on past the man, reliving in his head the day he had begged to join the Hitler Youth.
"But all my friends have joined!" he protested. "I have to join now! I'm almost ten years old!"
"I wouldn't let you join the Hitler Youth even if you were twenty!" his father shouted back. "You will not join. And that is final!"
"If I was twenty I would be able to move out!" Johan retorted, stomping to his bedroom.
Johan scowled, thinking of that unpleasant night. Of course, his parents had soon been left without a choice. As it turned out, all ten-year-olds were required to join the Hitler Youth. It was the law.
And a good one at that, Johan reflected. All children should have the right to join if they want. And now they do. In fact, they didn't have the right not to. But who wouldn't want to join the Hitler Youth?
Johan remembered his first year as a Hitler youth. He had gone on hikes, learned marching songs—they even let him fire a gun once! A real gun!
Johan gripped the pistol in his hand. It was heavier than he expected. And the metal was cold, too.
"Now fire at the target," the instructor said. Johan aimed and pulled the trigger, making a hole at the edge of the target board.
He jerked back. The noise had been so loud! Johan remembered a mystery movie he'd gone to once. A character had been killed. Murdered. And the weapon had been a pistol, just like the one he was holding.
This can kill people, Johan realized. He was holding something that could really hurt someone! And that disturbed him.
"I'm not a good marksman, sir," Johan said, handing the weapon back to the instructor. "Give someone else a try."
Johan shuddered. It was cold. He should have brought a jacket. He wished he could go back home…
But he couldn't. His parents would be there. And so would the fugitive…
"Now you must learn about Germany's enemies," the Hitler Youth leader told the assembled boys. "Each of you will be confronted with at least one of them someday. If it isn't here, in Germany, it will be when you all become soldiers..."
"First, I will talk about the Jews..."
"Are you all right?" a woman asked, breaking into Johan's thoughts. "You've been standing there for a while. Are you lost?"
"No, no," Johan replied. "I'm fine."
He walked on, still hearing the man's voice in his mind.
"First, I will talk about the Jews. They are Germany's worst enemy. You must all watch out for them..."
And then he heard his mother's voice.
"We have to tell you something, Johan. You must not tell anyone else. It is very important. You see, we have a...a guest in our house..."
—"A Jew is an enemy of Germany!"—
—"That guest needs our help, Johan. That guest is..."—
"He is a Jewish boy about your age," his mother's voice continued. "And it is very important that you don't tell anyone..."
Then Johan heard the Hitler Youth leader again.
"You must report any strange behavior to us. From anyone. Neighbors, cousins, teachers. You must help protect your country and report any suspicious behavior to us. Do your duty..."
"Hi, Johan!" It was Emilie. Emilie, his schoolmate. With Helga Schulz,
the best-looking girl in
Johan's entire grade. The girl that almost every boy in Johan's grade (including himself, to some extent) had a crush on.
"Hello, Johan," Helga greeted. She gave her infamous smile, the expression that had condemned many a boy to a year of mad crushes and unrequited love.
"Hi," Johan said quickly, feeling his throat grow drier than it already was. Oh why did she finally have to notice him now?! After years of her never knowing he existed, she finally had to notice him on that day, of all possible days!
"Do you want to see a movie, with us, Johan?" Emilie asked. "We have extra money, if you don't have any with you."
"I'm sorry, I can't," Johan said. "I have a problem," he blurted out.
"What sort?" asked Emilie, concerned.
"It's just my parents," Johan said, before he could think. "I've been having trouble getting along with them lately."
"Oh," Emilie replied, in a small voice. Then Johan remembered that her father had been killed in action on the Russian Front.
"Well, by all means, work it out," Emilie said. Her eyes were focused far away, as if she were remembering something—the time when she had a father, perhaps. Then, she added, in a small voice, "You never know what may happen..." Then she broke off, embarrassed at her comment.
"I will work it out," Johan assured her, forcing a smile.
"Goodbye!" both girls said, as Johan walked off. He waved and echoed the word.
Johan walked on, going toward the building that the Hitler youths met at every Wednesday and Sunday. His leader had an office there.
"You never know what may happen..."
Johan had to turn them in. It was for their own good. They didn't realize what they were doing, how bad it was. He needed to tell them...
Johan treaded down the street. After a while, he didn't pay much attention to where he was going. Then he ended up in a quiet neighborhood with broken shop windows and yellow stars painted on doors. The Jewish corner of town.
Johan looked around, searching for the quickest way out. He didn't want to be seen there. If another Hitler youth saw him, it wouldn't look good on his record.
The neighborhood was unnaturally quiet. There were none of the sounds of a normal neighborhood. No children playing, no friends laughing, no people talking.
There were people, though. They walked around quickly, solemnly.
Except for one couple.
A young couple was walking together, laughing, their arms linked. They looked like an average couple. They looked happy, kind. Like normal people.
They walked by without seeing Johan.
And then he heard the scream.
"Boo!" the boy shouted, jumping from behind a tree.
Johan screamed. The boy laughed.
"It's only me, Johan. Heinrich," the boy said. "Who'd you think I was? A big bad bogeyman out to get you?"
That was what the scream sounded like. Like someone had just encountered a bogeyman, a phantom. Something terrible. And dangerous.
Some of the people quickened their walk, pretending they hadn't noticed. But the couple turned back, to see what was going on. And so did Johan.
A woman was standing near a broken shop window, surrounded by three police stormtroopers. They had swastika emblems on armbands around their shirtsleeves. Their uniforms looked much like Johan's.
"Please don't take my husband!" the woman begged. "He hasn't broken any laws! Please don't take him away!"
"We want your husband," a stormtrooper said, paying no attention to the woman's pleas. "And we want him now."
A man stepped out from inside the store. "I must go now, Sarah," he said, turning toward the woman. "Take care of Daniel," he added, as the stormtroopers dragged him away, handling him as they would a criminal.
"It's all right, Sarah," The man of the couple consoled the woman when the stormtroopers had gone. "He'll come back. He hasn't done anything wrong."
The woman broke down sobbing. And then the three saw Johan.
"What are you looking at?" the man demanded. "Go home. The show is over."
Johan obeyed the man and walked away. The woman's sobs grew louder.
Johan's stomach felt strange, as if something inside had clenched up and wouldn't let go. Johan began to run.
He wondered what the Jewish man had done. He wondered if his parents would be taken away like that, if he turned them in. He imagined his grandmother sobbing, like the Jewish wife had done. The clenching in his stomach grew tighter.
What should I do?! Johan's mind screamed. What should I do?!
And then the voices came again:
"A Jew is an enemy of Germany!"
"We have to tell you something, Johan. You must not tell anyone else."
"You never know what may happen..."
"Do your duty!"
Johan's mind was all mixed up. He had a duty to his country, to his people. But he also had a duty to his parents... Which duty was greater? Which one deserved his loyalty?
And then a new voice came, one from deep inside him.
My parents aren't bad people. They love me, they want what is best for me. If they are hiding a Jew, they must have a good reason. I don't know everything, there are things I don't understand...But my parents will explain...And now I must go home.
And Johan did just that.
Johan quietly walked up the steps to his house. He hesitated for a moment. Go inside, something within him urged. Then he opened the front door and stepped into the house.
"Johan!" His mother exclaimed, running over and embracing him. She began sobbing. "We were so worried!"
"Mother, stop crying," Johan said, feeling guilty. "I'm sorry I ran away, Mother. I should have stayed...and listened..."
"But your secret is safe, do not worry," Johan quickly added.
"I did not worry about that, Johan," his mother replied. "I knew you would do the right thing."
"Where is Father?" Johan asked.
"He is out looking for you..." his mother began. Then she got a businesslike look on her face.
"Johan, there is someone I want you to meet," she said, pointing up the staircase.
Johan nodded. He knew exactly whom his mother wanted him to meet.
"A Jew is an enemy—" The voice came back.
Johan pushed it aside. It was time he listened to his own voice.
Maybe the Hitler Youth leaders are wrong about the Jews, he told himself. They must be. My parents wouldn't give shelter to a bad person. The leaders must be wrong.
Johan remembered the Jewish wife, the couple, the husband. They did not seem bad. They did not seem like enemies of Germany—or anyone, for that matter. They just seemed like normal people.
Johan wasn't entirely sure who to believe—his parents or the leaders. But now he could find out for himself. He would meet that Jewish boy, and get to know him. And then he could form his own opinion.
Johan took a deep breath, and followed his mother up the stairs.