You may think this story is going to be about a famous person who saved countless lives. You may think this story is going to be a story of a soldier perhaps. But it is none of those. This is a story of two young men living in completely different worlds. One is a Jew and the other is the son of a Nazi Officer. It is how they become friends although so much is against their friendship. So now I began the story of Isaac Barmier and Rolf Van Hoffman.
The year was 1941 and World War II was raging overseas. Hitler had established the "Final Solution" which was to kill all Jews. He had death camps built in Germany and other European countries for the Jews. It was these death camps that all Jews feared for if you were sent to the camps you would no doubt die or be killed.
Fourteen-year-old Isaac Barmier sat in the living room of his family's house in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, Holland. He glanced out the window and watched as a group of Nazi soldiers marched down the streets. He sighed and closed his eyes. He and his parents had lived in Amsterdam all of their lives. It had once been a beautiful and peaceful place but when the Nazis took over everything changed. Being Jewish things were much worse for Isaac and his parents. The Nazis hated the Jews and they would not stop until they killed every Jew. Isaac's father had told him to try and love the Nazis. "How can I do that!?" Isaac thought to himself. How can you love someone who would rather shoot you than look at you!? He didn't understand his father's reasoning but maybe someday he would.
Standing and walking to the door, Isaac pulled on his coat. "I need some fresh air," he said to himself. As he pulled on his coat he saw the yellow star that was sewed onto his coat. That was one of the rules the Nazis had made. All Jews had to be "branded" with a yellow star on their clothes. It was humiliating to walk down the street with a yellow star on because people stared at you. As Isaac was fixing to go out the door his mother called out to him. "Isaac, where are you going?" she asked. "I'm going to the synagogue to visit with Rabbi Joseph," he replied. Before his mother could say anything more, Isaac was out the door and on his way to the synagogue. The air was cold and a cool wind was blowing. Isaac made his way to the synagogue and when he finally reached it he was surprised to see Rabbi Joseph being taken away by Nazis. Isaac ran and joined the crowd of onlookers. He turned and asked an elderly Jew next to him, "What's happening? Why are the Nazis taking Rabbi Joseph?" "They are arresting him because he was hiding guns. I don't know what they'll do to him," the man replied. Isaac turned and watched as Rabbi Joseph was pushed into a car and driven away. Tears stung Isaac's eyes as he watched the car drive away. Rabbi Joseph had been his friend. Is only friend and now he was gone probably to be killed. Anger filled Isaac and he turned and ran inside the synagogue. He ran through the aisle and fell to his knees. He reached down and touched the Star of David necklace that hung around his neck on a gold chain. Rabbi Joseph had given it to him when he had taken his Bar Mitzvah. He remembered Rabbi Joseph's words when he had given him the necklace. He had said, "Joseph, wear this necklace with pride. Be proud to be a Jew. We are G-d's chosen people and he will not forsake us. So whenever you feel defeated just reach down and touch this necklace and remember my words."
Now as Isaac sat in the floor of the synagogue he prayed. He prayed and asked G-d to watch over Rabbi Joseph.
Two weeks passed and there was no news of Rabbi Joseph. He never returned. Things were only getting worse for the Jews. It was on a cold December night in 1941 that the Barmier's lives changed. They were all sitting at the table enjoying a supper of soup when a loud knock sounded on the door. Isaac's father stood and went to the door. When he returned there was fear in his eyes. "What is it father?" Isaac asked. His father sat down and said, "We. . .must pack. All Jews are being taken to the ghetto tomorrow." Isaac gasped and his mother covered her mouth with her hand. "But the ghetto is just as bad as the death camps!" Isaac exclaimed. Samuel, his father, reached over and took his hand, "Isaac, don't get yourself in such a state. Everything will be fine. Now, why don't you go and pack your things. Then get to bed. We'll have a long day tomorrow." Isaac did as his father said. In his room Isaac sat on his bed beside an almost full suitcase. How could all this be happening? he thought. It seemed as if only yesterday he was going to school and hanging out with his friends and living a normal life. Everything had been perfect until the Nazis came. Now it felt as if his whole world was falling apart and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Would he and his family be killed along with the rest of the Jews? What lay ahead?
To be continued. . .