|Tyrol is my home. My father was English, my mother was Polish, and I lived with them in a German city, speaking French and singing in Russian; but Tyrol is my home. I grew up there. My family were there. Papa, whilst I still had him, Jo, Madge, Jem, Juliet, and, later, Margot, Daisy, Primula, Jack and the children. Marie and Andreas and their children, and Rosa and Eigen. Bette and her two little ones. I met my friends there – Lorenz, Enid, Amy, Irma. There were so many people there who touched my life. The Mensches. The Maranis. The Brauns. Grete, the old lady who sold apples. Herr August Pfeifen, who worked on the steamers. The doctors and nurses at the San. We were all part of a whole. |
I know every inch of Briesau and the Sonnalpe as well as I know the backs of my own hands. Every time I went away, however much I'd enjoyed being wherever I'd been to, I could feel my heart lifting as I came home, as the train drew towards Spartz and I knew that I was nearly there. There's no place like home, as the saying goes.
I knew that it wasn't perfect. The poverty of some of the people around the lake, the way they struggled even to put food on the table in the bad years, shames humanity: no-one should have to live like that. I knew that life could be cruel: how could I not, when I lost both my parents so young and when I lived so close to the San, knowing that Jem and Jack and the others were fighting every day to save precious lives but that sometimes there was no more they could do? But there was no evil there. It was just life.
Of course, I knew that bad things had happened in the past. Well, I could hardly fail to be aware of the lives that had been lost in the Tyrolean Rebellion during the Napoleonic Wars, and of the execution of Andreas Hofer. I don't think Jo's ever liked talking about that, seeing as she thinks Napoleon's so wonderful; but everyone else in Tyrol talks about it! But that was a long time ago. It's always made to seem so heroic, as well. When I was a little girl, I don't think I ever even thought about it as being something bad. How could there be badness in Tyrol?
Then it changed. I didn't think much about politics in those days. Life was full of family and friends and school. Working hard and playing hard, like Chalet School girls were supposed to do. Looking forward to Juliet and Donal's wedding. Just day to day things. What would the weather be doing that day? What would we be getting to eat for Abendessen? Would I get a good mark for my essay? I knew about the Nazis, but they seemed so far away. I used to read Jem and Madge's newspapers sometimes, and there'd be articles that would worry me, but they weren't happening in my world, in my home.
Suddenly, they were. The main school moved up to the Sonnalpe. Even then, I don't think the danger really hit me. I love Jem to bits, but he did sound a bit pompous, going on about how it was better for the girls and mistresses to be up at the Sonnalpe where the British doctors at the San could protect them. What was he going to do if a regiment of Nazis turned up at the Tiernsee – stab them all with his scalpel? Jo said something about it seeming like being in a penny-dreadful, shilling-shocker novel. It was so peaceful in Briesau, and on the Sonnalpe. How could that ever change?
But it did. Girls began to leave. The school was falling apart before our eyes, and there was nothing we could do about it – nothing except to set up our Peace League. Maybe it sounds silly, a group of schoolgirls pledging eternal friendship, but it meant everything to us. We were a community, and we were being torn apart. We had to do something, even if it was just symbolic. Then that terrible day, when the Eisens spied on us and we got separated. Jo was so frightened. She really thought that something had happened to Hilary and me. She always worries about me, but that was something different. That was when I really started to feel that we might be in danger. And then Jack was arrested. This wasn't an adventure novel: this was real life.
Madge and Jem decided that we had to leave. I knew they were right. I tried to tell myself that all that really mattered was that we were together. I'd still have my family. The school would open again, once we got to Guernsey, and I'd be with my friends again. But I knew it would never be the same. There's nowhere like the place where you grow up. It makes you. It's part of you. You're part of it. It's the place. I remember, when we were in Switzerland, Jo saying that she wanted to get to England, home to England, where things like what happened in Spartz didn't happen. But I'd only ever even been to England once, that year we spent Christmas at Pretty Maids. Little did we think then that Jo would end up marrying Maynie's brother! It was just a holiday. And I'd never been to Guernsey, and I knew almost nothing about it. Tyrol was my home. Tyrol is my home.
The world had turned upside down. But, in some ways, that day we went to Spartz was just an ordinary day. We were going to do some shopping and then go to a nice café for something to eat and drink. What could be more ordinary, more normal, than that? It was a lovely summer's day. People were enjoying themselves. We rather enjoyed ourselves, despite everything that was going on. Daisy bought her presents, and the rest of us bought a few things that we needed. I bought a book that I'd been wanting to read. I bought some hair ribbons, as well. They were such a gorgeous colour. All right, maybe it was self-indulgent, but we're all entitled to a few little treats from time to time, aren't we?
It was a nice day. And the café we went into makes – I'm saying "makes", but who knows if it's even open any more. Who knows what might be happening in Spartz? I hope it's still open, anyway. – the most delicious apple strudel. I had two helpings. With whipped cream. I had whipped cream on my coffee as well. It probably wasn't very healthy, but no-one said anything. Daisy had the same.
And then evil intruded on our lives. I'd just finished my second helping of strudel, and I was telling myself that it would be greedy even to think about having any more, when there was a commotion outside, and I saw a mob attacking Herr and Frau Goldmann. I don't even know what went through my mind: I just had to do something. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of it all, with my arms round Herr Goldmann. Me, little Robin Humphries, in the middle of that angry mob. I don't know how I did it. I don't know how I forced my way through them all. In circumstances like that, you don't think. You just act. And then Jo was there, and Miss Wilson, and Daisy, and Maria, and all the others, and Cornelia was shouting. I could never have imagined myself being in a situation like that. All my life, I'd been protected. If I sneezed twice, everyone would start fussing over me. And suddenly there I was, caught up in the middle of a baying mob with murder on their minds.
Murder. In Spartz – quiet, peaceful, little Spartz. In Tyrol, my home. It was their home as well. They'd all been born there. They'd all spent their entire lives there. Herr Goldmann. Frau Goldmann. Vater Johann. And Hans Bocher and the rest of the mob. And that was the day that evil came to the streets of Spartz. That was the day that evil came to my home.
I wonder, sometimes, if I could or should have done something differently. If maybe I could have changed things. But I know that those people had murder on their minds. I don't know why. I don't know how anyone can hate so much that they want to kill in cold blood. I accept that it is so, but I'll never understand why. I don't want to. I don't want to have the sort of mindset that can understand that.
It was a year ago today.
I think about it, sometimes, however much I try not to. It comes back to me in my dreams. I know that it's the same for Daisy. Jo struggled to cope: sometimes I wonder how we actually got her as far as Switzerland, never mind Guernsey, the state she was in. Maria is a different person now from the happy girl I knew in Tyrol, because of the worry about her father and because of what happened in Spartz. It wasn't just the people who were there. Gottfried was in agony, trying to cope with the knowledge that something like that had happened in his beloved Tyrol. Madge and Jem didn't know what had happened to us, when we didn't arrive in Belsornia. They had weeks and weeks of the most terrible worry. Something like that, it casts ripples which spread far and wide. None of us will ever be the same again.
Daisy and I didn't want to say anything this morning, because we didn't want to upset Jo. Jack's told us that we mustn't worry her, at the moment. There'll be a baby living in this house, in November. Life goes on. It has to. But, today, the anniversary, I'm thinking about the lives that were lost. And Jo had remembered anyway, of course. How could any of us forget? We'll never forget.
I'm going to light some candles. Funny how that's something that's common to so many religions. In Judaism, it's traditional to light a candle on the anniversary of someone's death. It should really be on the anniversary according to the Hebrew calendar, but I don't suppose it'll matter if I do it today. I'll light a candle for Herr Goldmann, a candle for Frau Goldmann, and a candle for Vater Johann. Jo and Daisy will be there with me. We're going to light a candle for Margot, as well. And another one for the people we don't know about. Onkel Florian. Friedel von Gluck. All the people we left behind. And we'll stand there, and be silent for a minute, and remember a day when evil burst into our lives whilst we were drinking coffee and eating apple strudel.
I choose not to hate Hans Bocher and the others, the people who brought hatred and evil to my beloved home. I look back in sorrow, but I try not to look back in anger.
I choose love. One Love.