Prologue

They had been practicing for months, endlessly it seemed. The three sisters would start in the kitchen, the sitting room, their bedrooms, the backyard. And then it would be a race to get the canned foods, then up, up, up they went, climbing the steep back staircase to the hall in the attic. At the end of the hall, among the common clutter of the storage space, stood a wardrobe. A secret door lay hidden in the wardrobe, behind a row of old clothes, either too big or too small for any of the sisters. The door led to a cramped hiding place that had once been a rather large window seat; maybe two meters tall, one long, and another wide. The window, however, had long since been removed and a wall built in it's stead. The compartment was filled with a few highly prized items, an old crumbling photo album, a small box of Mother's jewelry, Papa's gold pocket watch, and a small porcelain China doll. The girls would run, their arms full, praying that they did not trip and fall, alerting anyone downstairs to their existence. The three would push and shove, sometimes playfully, forgetting their practiced urgency, through the hanging clothes, close the wardrobe door, shut the secret door, and wait.

It was an unpleasantly warm, sticky da in August, 1940. The sixteenth. Sarai was in the yard, sunbathing and reading, Mira in Father's study, perhaps watching him work with numbers, and Annorah in the sitting room, knitting a scarf for Mother's Christmas gift. Helen, Mother, was away, visiting her sister a few kilometers away. It was lucky that she was gone.

Sarai heard it first, the steady drone of a car coming up the street. Who would it be? All relatives had either left Berlin or fled the country. Visits were scarce and feared. It couldn't have been Mother, for she rode a bicycle for the exercise. Sixteen-year-old Sarai dropped her book in her haste to get to the house. "Papa!"

Her father emerged quickly from his study, Mira at his heels. His face was calm, but under the mask she knew there was panic. Annorah arrived seconds later, knitting needles, yarn, and half a beautiful scarf in hand. "Sarai? What is it?"

"There is a car. Coming up the street."

Father's eyes widened and he pulled Mira out from behind him. He hugged her and then the other two. "I love you, all of you. Now, go. Quickly! Go!"

Sarai took Mira into her arms and the three raced to their hiding spot, forgetting in their fear, the canned goods on the counter in the kitchen. It was hot, hotter than usual, and sweat dripped from their skin as they stifled their heartbeats and panicked breaths. Sarai closed her eyes and clutched Annorah's hand in her right and Mira's in her left. That was the last time any of the three sisters ever saw their father again.