South by train

Elle, her mother, two younger sisters, paternal grandmother, and grandmother’s sister fled south from Estonia in a train cattle car.  The car was divided, with cattle on one end and refugees on the other.  The refugees had only straw to keep themselves warm.

Elle saw two fighter planes dog-fighting in the sky.  A piece of shrapnel tore into the cattle car and buried itself in Elle’s great aunt’s scarf. tearing a hole.

They passed through Latvia and Lithuania and into Danzig, East Prussia (now Gdansk, Poland).  From there they traveled west and south, by whatever means they could.

At various military or concentration camps they were billeted in barracks that were loaded with vermin.  Sometimes they had to soak all their bedding and personal effects in kerosene, to get rid of lice.  They were routinely dusted with DDT as protection against vermin.

At the Hamburg railway station, needing to board a train, Mother left Elle and her two sisters and told Elle, “Stay here, don’t leave this spot, I need to get grandma and her sister on the train!”

Mother left them with grandma, great aunt and their luggage.

After what seemed to Elle a very long time,  she told her sisters to come, and she, by some instinct, moved through the maze of tunnels toward where she thought her mother went.

Suddenly Mother appeared, and shouted, “Come on!  The train is leaving!”

They rushed to the train.  The train doors shut behind them as they got on.

Elle’s instinct had served her well — or was it some kind of guidance?

The next day that train station was bombed out of existence.

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