Matthew 1:20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.
(This is a story I wrote for Christmas Eve, 2015. I’ll do a post on the fascinating backstories soon)
Jakob hurried up the stairs to the attic where the Confessing Church met. Pastor Gruber had refused to conduct services in the main sanctuary below where the Nazis had placed their banners.
The low room with its massive wooden beams was crowded. More and more of the faithful had been coming from even the far suburbs of Berlin. Looking around, Jacob spotted Annamarie Schmidt. He’d met the petite dark haired girl a few weeks before when she started coming with families from Ahrensfelde. He bowed slightly and said “Still unable to persuade your parents to come?”
“No, Mr. Hoffman,” she said, looking up at him with a warm smile. “They say our Confessing Church is too conspicuous. ‘This is a time when people need to blend in,’” she said in a deep voice. Jacob liked the animation on her face.
“But not you?”
“I prefer the true Gospel from Pastor Gruber to the Party line in Ahrensfelde. Did you know that they are no longer allowed to teach from the Old Testament?”
Jacob nodded and gave a wry smile. “Too Jewish, they say.” His own parents, rest their souls, had shown him how God had worked in centuries of Jewish history to fulfill the promise of redemption in Jesus.
After the service Jacob again sought out Annamarie. “Miss Schmidt, I wonder if you would allow me to take you to lunch and then return you to Ahrensfelde?”
“I would like that,” she said. Jacob felt himself smile. “But I must go back with the Rikers and Gussman’s or my parents will worry.”
“Perhaps you could ask your parents if I can accompany you next week.”
“I will ask. But I think I know what the answer will be.”
“Are they that jealous for you then?”
“No, but they will ask if you have one of these.” She pointed at the Nazi party pin Jacob wore on his collar.
“This? But it means nothing. We are told that anyone who wants to work as an engineer must be a member of the Party. I disagree with much the Party does, especially to the Church, but I keep my membership for the sake of my work.”
“So you are blending in, just as my parents are,” she mused. “I will give my parents your explanation. Perhaps they will accept it. But I warn you, . . . ” she looked up into his eyes. “you cannot serve both God and an idol.”
“Annamarie, I have resigned from the Party.” Jacob flashed his lapel, the Party pin conspicuously absent.
“Wonderful, Jacob. But not for my sake, I hope,” she said. They were walking through Friedhof Park in Ahrensfelde. Jacob had been taking Annamarie to her home for two months, and visiting Wertheims, the department where she clerked. He was fascinated by this lovely and serious girl.
“Partly,” he admitted. “But mostly because of Pastor Gruber. You’ve heard him talk about Hitler’s cult of personality. I became convinced that saying ‘Jesus is Lord’ Sunday and ‘Hiel Hitler’ Monday was hypocrisy, especially with the atrocities of the Nazis and the Brownshirts.”
“They say that Hitler has reigned in the Brownshirts,” Annamarie said.
“Yes. Now it’s the Gestapo. In the Saar they have passed anti-Jewish laws stricter than anything in Germany. In Berlin they are starting to put up signs restricting the Jews from entering businesses.”
Annamarie looked out over the park. “Why are you so concerned about the Jews?”
Jacob was taken back by the question, but he saw no condemnation or criticism in Annamarie’s sweet face. “I’ve told you before. I grew up in Stralauer. It’s full of Jews. Or was. I had a good Jewish friend, Levi, who emigrated last year with his family. And my parents believed Jews needed to hear the Good News about Jesus, like anyone else. So I stand with the Confessing Church when it helps Jewish Christians.” Jacob considered not asking, but said “And you?”
“My parents never express opinions about the Jews. Or much of anything else. My father pours himself into managing the enamel works. My mother keeps house and watches my brother.” She lowered her voice. “But I cannot stomach the Nazi teaching. Our doctor, I believe, is Jewish. So is the owner of Wertheims. They are ordinary people, not monsters. They don’t deserve to be demonized.”
Jakob looked at her with admiration. “Annamarie, you are a wonderful girl.”
She blushed deeply. “Because I’m so outspoken?”
He took her hands in his and looked into her eyes. “Yes, . . . a nd bright and spiritually alive and . . . lovely.” He looked away. “I’ve never met a girl like you.”
“Oh, Jakob,” she said. The street was empty, the curtains of the house opposite pulled tight. She put her hand behind his neck and pulled him down, standing on tiptoe to kiss him lightly on the lips. “I believe I love you,” She turned and ran to her house, disappearing like a princess in an old German folk tale.
Today is the day, Jakob thought as he neared the church. He had been waiting for a promotion, but the first week in August he learned that his resignation from the Party had spoiled that. He would wait no longer to ask Annamarie to be his wife. Today he was invited again to Sunday supper with her family.
There she was, in the grey woodlands jacket that brought out the color of her eyes. But today she did not raise her head to find him in the crowd. She hesitated at the door and half turned away as he hurried over. Her face was red, as if she had been crying, but she gave him a wan smile and insisted that she was fine. “Are you sure?” he said. “Are you feeling well? Is something wrong?”
As they sat for the service, she took out her little Bible. “I just need some time with God,” she said, and immersed herself in the words. Or seemed to. Jakob was observant enough to notice that she never turned a page.
After the service they went to the little café on Dorfstrasse by the station. They sat under the awning, enjoying a cool breeze. Annamarie said little. “Well,” he said, “I was going to wait a little longer, but perhaps I can cheer you up.”
“How?” she said. She looked up with something like fear on her face.
Jakob hesitated. What was wrong? Should he wait? No. He’d delayed already. What if he was losing her? He took her hands across the table. “I intend today to ask your father’s permission to marry you.”
“What!” she said. Her eyes grew wide.
“Annamarie Schmidt, will you – “
Before he could get the words out she burst into loud, prolonged wailing “No, no, why now, oh why now?” Jakob tried to calm her. The other patrons were staring at them. Finally, he paid the bill and ushered her out onto the street.
“What is it?” he said. “Why are you saying no?”
“I wish I could have told you before. This is so wrong.” Her tiny handkerchief was soaked. He handed her his, and guided her to a bench near the train station. She sat with her head down, wringing the handkerchief between her hands. “My parents should have told me. I hate them for this.”
Finally, she lifted her head. “I have just found out,” she said, her voice cold now, destitute, “why you must never marry me. How ironic that you chose today. My name is not Annamarie Schmidt. It is Miriam Schwartz. I’m Jewish.”
“It was two months ago,” Jacob said. He was sitting in Pastor Gruber’s little parlor.
“How could she have not known she was Jewish?” the pastor asked.
“Her parents moved to Ahrensfelde as anti-Semitism was growing. They took advantage of the move to ake a new identity. She vaguely remembers the name change, but nothing Jewish in her childhood.”
“And you haven’t been seeing each other?” Jakob shook his head. “And this is not how you want things to be?”
Jacob grabbed both sides of his head with his large hands. “I don’t know, Pastor! She said she loves me, but that I would be foolish to risk associating with her.” Jacob examined his agitated thoughts “I told her that I can protect her by marrying her, that the Jewish laws don’t apply to Jews in mixed marriages.”
He lifted his head and looked the pastor in the eye. “But pastor. . . . I’m ashamed to admit it. . . . I’m not sure I could marry her. I don’t believe even one percent of the things the Jews are accused of, but if that one percent is true . . . “
“It isn’t,” Pastor Gruber said. “I have worked with Jews all my life. They are no different than anyone else. To blame Germany’s problems on them is insane.” Jacob could see that Gruber wanted to say more, but held his tongue.
“But even if the rumors are not true,” Jacob said, “they are what my friends believe. Or my employer. They despise anyone who shows sympathy. They believe Jews are a disease, plotting to destroy Hitler and profit from our resurgence.” Jakob looked at his two hands, as if weighing two arguments. “Do I follow my heart my head?”
“You must follow your conscience.”
Jakob was distracted from the turmoil of his thoughts by a commotion on the construction floor. He stepped out onto the balcony and quickly spotted the cause. Some workers had apparently seized the mill supervisor and were dragging him through the shop, yelling ‘No Jews, No Jews.” “You steal jobs from honest German workers,” one of the accosters screamed. He kicked the head of the Jew, a mild man Jakob knew and respected. None of the managers on the balcony or the police at the doors moved to interfere. The mob closed around the poor man, kicking and striking.
That evening, as Jakob neared his flat, he paused as usual to buy the Berlin Gazetteer at the kiosk. “Good evening, Mr. Hoffman. Big news today,” said the seller, handing across the paper. “Hitler’s finally giving the Jews what they deserve.” Jakob scanned the headlines and changed course toward Pastor Gruber’s flat.
“What does it mean, Herr Gruber?” Jakob asked.
“They are using the fanaticism of the Nuremburg rally to announce several new laws, laws against the Jews” Gruber said. He pointed to a spot on the page. “First, they have made a law that only persons of German nationality may be citizens of the state. Jews are no longer citizens. Second, marriages between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood are now forbidden. Violations are subject to prison terms.” Jakob sat with his mouth open, not know whether to be angry, scared or relieved. “In other words, young man, you can’t marry Annamarie, not legally at least, even if you choose to.”
“Jakob,” Annamarie said in a whisper. “I must talk to you. Can you take me home?”
“Yes, of course.” Six more weeks had passed, weeks in which Jakob had fought against himself. One side of him wanted to openly declare his conviction that Jesus, not Hitler should control his acts. The other side told him he would be bringing harm, not good, if he married Annamarie. Her Jewishness would be sure to come out. He consoled himself by reminding himself that Christians were to be subject to the state. He could not legally marry her.
Annamarie’s request distracted Jacob from the year’s first Advent service. When they stepped outside, a cold wind was blowing the last leaves from the trees. Jakob wanted to wrap his arm around Annamarie in her thin coat, but resisted.
“I must tell you what has been happening.” Annamarie spoke only a little louder than she had in church.
“What?” In his rush of emotion Jakob recognized that his love for her had not faded.
“We have been exposed. Someone at Papa’s factory began to tell others that Papa was Jewish.” Her voice caught. “The workers denounced him to the managers, men who had always praised his work. He was fired. ‘for your own safety.” Jacob pictured the incident at his own shop. “Last week I was fired too.”
“But Wertheims is Jewish owned?”
“They are Aryanizing. All the Jewish employees are gone. The store has been placed in the hands of Georg Wertheims’ German wife.”
“Annamarie, I’m so sorry.”
“I’m afraid there is something worse. . . . We are emigrating to Poland.”
“A Jewish enamelware factory hired my father. He will start after the New Year.”
“But Polish Jews are not allowed into Germany.”
“I know, Jakob.”
“Lord Jesus, what am I to do,” Jakob whispered. Pastor Gruber had instituted a time of silent prayer for those targeted by the Nazis. Jakob prayed for Annamarie.
“Amen,” the pastor said. “Our text this morning is Matthew 1:18-25.” Jacob hardly listened. He had dreamt of Annamarie, stepping over a blue line on a map, never to return. She and her parents would not move for a few more days, but the dream was so vivid, the sense of loss so real, he was almost frantic.
Pastor Gruber was explaining the text “And so, in the dream, the Angel said ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.’ Joseph was afraid of the shame and disgrace that would be heaped on him if he married her. He was afraid to be seen as unrighteous in the eyes of his peers. And yet he still cared for Mary. He did not want to bring disgrace on her. This is why he planned to divorce her quietly. But this was not God’s plan.”
The words of Scripture pierced Jacobs thinking like a spike. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” It was as if God was speaking “Do not be afraid Jakob, to take Miriam as your wife.” Could this be real? Show me God?
He realized Pastor Gruber was repeating the phrase to each of his parishioners: “Do not be afraid, Heinrich. Do not be afraid, Lisle. Do not be afraid, . . . Jacob.”
Annamarie stood with her parents while Jakob knocked on Pastor Gruber’s door. They had just come from Ahrensfelde, where Annamarie’s parents were in the last stages of packing a small truck for the move to Poland. Jakob rejoiced that Annamarie was willing to marry him. He had almost despaired of persuading her father. “She will be safe with us in Poland,” he said.
“That may be. But she will be happier here, with me.” Annamarie nodded. “And not much at risk. She will be married to a German.”
“Not a legal marriage.”
“They are not enforcing the laws.” Jacob brandished the marriage license. “They gave me this without question. With the Olympics coming, not even Hitler wants to be seen persecuting the Jews. Herr Schmidt. I will do my best to keep her safe. God will take care of us, no matter what happens.”
“I admire your faith, but we love our daughter. We do not want to be separated.”
“We may be able to visit you and Frau Schmidt. But I love her, too. She loves me. Forever.” Seeing Annamarie’s tears, Mr. Schmidt reluctantly consented.
Now they entered the parlor. Jakob took Annamarie by the hand as they stood before Pastor Gruber. But when they turned toward each other to repeat their vows, Jakob saw tears and fears and joy on Annamarie’s face and, impulsively, totally defying the tradition of the ceremony, he took her in his arms, wrapping her securely, as he hoped he would always do.
Jacob descended the stairs to his tiny room beneath a house on Schwartzenberg Strasse. He turned on the single electric bulb and hurriedly pulled the letter from his coat. It was the first letter from Annamarie in over a year.
Lichtenburg Concentration Camp
March 13, 1938
My Dearest Jakob;
Yes, they have moved me again. Apparently Oriensburg is being shut down, and they have converted Lichtenburg to a women’s concentration camp.
I am overjoyed to hear that you have been released. I think I have suffered more from your imprisonment than from mine.
I pray that God will allow you to see Emilie and Irene. Oh how I pray that you will get to see Irene for the first time.
Jakob paused to wipe the tears from his thin face. He had seen both children just a few weeks after his release. Pastor Gruber had been keeping track of them, had arranged the clandestine meeting. They didn’t know him of course, and had both been afraid of the tall gaunt man who hugged them so close. He held the letter near his face. Annamarie’s script was ragged and the ink light
I don’t know if you received any of my letters while you were Börgemoor. I will assume you didn’t. But surely you remember the place where we first walked together, and the people we spent time with. And you remember the place where we lived before I was taken from you. The people there were able to visit me after Irene was born.
Jacob smiled through his tears, then frowned. Annamarie was being clever, but the Gestapo would easily see through the thin code. He would have to see if Pastor Gruber could get the children moved to safer places.
Oh Jakob how I miss you. The two years we shared are the most precious of my life. How I long to be wrapped again in your strong arms, to feel your heartbeat. How I long to live somewhere safe, together with our children.
Do not blame yourself, Jakob, for what has happened, and I will not blame myself. We have been caught up in a monstrous evil, and the only choice we have had as God’s people is to be faithful to Him.
I love you, dearest one, and I hope to see you soon, on this dark earth or in the brightness of eternity, whatever God wills.
The signature was stained with her tears.
Jakob sat down immediately and began to compose a reply.
You cannot begin to know the relief I feel to hear your voice, even if only in a letter. I pray that you will get this reply soon, but if not that God’s Holy Spirit will whisper to you of my love day and night.
You ask me not to blame myself, yet what else can I do? Your parents are safe in Poland, far from the Nazi reach, while you languish in a camp. I wish it was you rather than I who had been released.
I have seen our girls. They are happy and, I hope, safe. They are lovely. Emilie reminds me so much of you. Irene, I regret to say, seems to have inherited my face. But aside from seeing you again, seeing them, even briefly, was the greatest answer to prayer I could have received. I pray that they will survive this time in safety and that our Lord will reveal his love and salvation to them from an early age.
I hope to see you soon. If given the opportunity I will continue to work without discouragement for your release. But Annamarie, I have done a foolish thing. I am now employed as a laborer at a shipyard near Hamburg. Last week we launched the Horst Wessel. The whole workforce was gathered and Hitler himself addressed us. Naturally there were many ‘Heil Hitlers’ and many salutes. But as I thought of you, held for no reason, as I thought of our children, lost to us, I could not salute. As I thought of my Lord Jesus to whom all my allegiance is due, I could not salute.
I stood with my arms across my chest. I know that I was seen, possibly photographed. Telling you puts me in no more jeopardy. But I may not be free long to pursue your release. I’m sorry.
Anna, I cannot match the poetry with which you declare your love for me, and I cannot be at peace with only what we had. But I do have peace from the Lord that we did right. I would not trade the joy of our love, even if I must suffer fifty years. But I wish I could have spared you.
Yours forever, yours for eternity in the age to come
He put Annamarie name on an envelope and slipped it into a second envelope, which he addressed to Pastor Gruber. He slipped out of the apartment, taking a long, circuitous route to a post over five miles away.
When he returned two men in the black greatcoats of the Gestapo were on the steps.