the wind knows my name
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On December 10, very early, Rachel and the colonel took Samuel to the train station. Rachel shuffled along like a sleepwalker, sedated by an excessive dose of Steiner’s drugs. The day before, she had suffered a panic attack so severe that Volker had called Steiner. The pharmacist, alarmed, ordered Rachel in the most urgent terms to collect herself, to keep from passing her fears to her son. The little boy was making a commendable effort to remain calm and she had to help him; she had no right to break down this way in front of him, the pharmacist insisted. Then he injected her with a powerful tranquilizer that put her to sleep for nine hours. In the meantime the colonel packed a little suitcase for Samuel with clothes he’d purchased, one size too big so that he could wear them for as long as possible. He put a ten-reichsmark bill in the pocket of the new little coat and he pinned one of his war medals to the lapel.
“It’s a medal of bravery, Samuel. I received it many years ago in the war.”
“I’m only loaning it to you, to remind you to be brave. Whenever you are frightened, close your eyes and rub the medal and you’ll feel a huge strength grow in your chest. I want you to keep it until we see each other again, then you’ll have to give it back to me. Take good care of it,” the colonel told him, his voice breaking.
That day a large group crowded the station. There were children of all ages, even some who could barely walk being led by the hand. Many of the youngest cried and clutched their mothers, but in general the mood was calm and the organization impeccable. Dozens of volunteers—almost all women—registered the children, as guards in Nazi uniforms monitored the periphery, without intervening.
Rachel and Volker led Samuel to a table where a young Englishwoman checked that the boy was on the list and hung an identification badge around his neck. Then she patted his cheek and told him sweetly that he couldn’t take the violin, because each passenger was allotted only one piece of luggage; there was no space for any more.
“Samuel never goes anywhere without his violin, miss,” Volker explained.
“I understand. Almost all the children want to bring something extra, but we aren’t allowed to make any exceptions.”
“They let that one through,” Volker said, pointing to a small child clutching a teddy bear.
The young woman tried to reason with the colonel, explaining that she was only following orders. There was a long line of children waiting and a circle had formed around them. Some people were annoyed at the holdup and others commented that it wouldn’t hurt anyone to let the little boy take his violin, while the Englishwoman insisted that she had to follow the rules.
Suddenly, Samuel, who hadn’t said a word since they’d left home, set his dented violin case on the ground, removed the instrument, placed it on his shoulder, and began to play. In under a minute a hush had fallen around the young musical prodigy as the air filled with sounds of a Schubert serenade. Time stood still and for a few brief, magnificent moments the sad crowd, weighed down by uncertainty, felt comforted. Samuel was small for his age and the coat, which was too big, lent him an endearing, fragile quality. Seeing him play with his eyes closed, swaying slightly to the rhythm of the music, was a magical spectacle.
When the song finished, Samuel received the applause with his habitual calm and carefully returned the violin to its case. In that instant the crowd parted to make way for a large woman dressed in black, her name circulating in a murmur all around her: It was the Dutch woman who had organized the Kindertransport. Impressed by the music, the woman bent over Samuel, shook his hand, and wished him a good journey.
“I’ll show you to your seat,” she said. “You can bring your violin.”
Kneeling on the pavement, Rachel hugged her son tightly, incapable of holding back her tears and muttering instructions and promises she wouldn’t be able to keep: “I’ll see you soon, my love. Don’t forget to drink your milk and brush your teeth before bed. Don’t eat too many sweets, and be respectful to the people who take you in, remember to say thank you. I’ll see you soon, as soon as your dad gets home we’ll come to get you. We’re going to bring Aunt Leah and maybe your grandfather too. England is a very pretty country, you’re going to have a lot of fun. I love you so, so much . . .”
The most vivid image of his past, which would remain intact in Samuel Adler’s memory until old age, was that last desperate embrace and his mother, bathed in tears, held up by old Colonel Volker’s firm arm, waving her handkerchief at the station as the train moved away. That was the day his childhood ended.