She was interrupted by the sound of a door crashing shut, followed by an explosion of German and excited voices. Startled, Emily and Charlotte looked towards the kitchen where they could now clearly hear sobbing. Emily jumped up and went to see what was going on. Frau Neuhausen sat at the kitchen table sobbing and shaking her head, while Frau Pabst and Fraulein Schilling tried to comfort her.
“Frau Neuhausen!” Emily exclaimed. “What is it? What has happened?”
“Die sowjetischen Schweine! Sie haben meinen Ehering gestohlen!“ (“The Soviet pigs. They have stolen my wedding ring.”) As Frau Neuhausen spoke, she held out her hand, the knuckle above the third finger was red and swelling. Frau Neuhausen drew her hand back to her breast and dissolved into a flood of tears.
Emily guided her cook to the breakfast table, sat her down and poured her some tea. There, with Charlotte’s help, she extracted the story of what had happened. She explained that the Soviets had boarded her bus and demanded some papers that she didn’t have. They then removed her from the bus and interrogated her for five hours. She sensed that they wanted a bribe of some sort, but all she had in her purse were worthless occupation marks. She had long since lost her watch to other Soviets and the only jewellery she owned was her wedding band.
Between snuffles into her handkerchief, Frau Neuhausen gasped out. “Rudi and I were married in 1915 he fell on 2 November 1917. Since the day I married, not once have I removed my Rudi’s ring. Not once! And now! Gone! Stolen by Soviet pigs! And what does that make me?” She held her swollen finger in her other hand and sobbed miserably.
Emily understood only too well. She’d grown up surrounded by war widows. That wedding ring represented married status, respectability, and identity. Without it, Frau Neuhausen felt naked, humiliated, and vulnerable. Emily got up to put her arms around the older woman, and Frau Neuhausen broke down into tears again. She sobbed harder than ever as if releasing the misery of years.
Eventually, she pulled herself together, wiped the tears from her face, and gave Emily a forced smile. “Thank you, Madame,” she whispered, adding a “Thank you, Frau Graefin,” to Charlotte as well. “But…”
“Yes?” Emily prompted.
Frau Neuhausen drew a deep breath, shook her head, and then blew her nose in her handkerchief. “Please understand, Frau Oberstleutnant, I can’t face them again! I’m very sorry, but I must give notice.” She started sobbing again.
This time it was Charlotte who went to her. She sat beside Frau Neuhausen and put her arm over the older woman’s shoulders. Charlotte held her close and let her sob. All the while, Frau Neuhausen gasped out, “Ich kann nicht mehr. Ich kann nicht. Ich will nie wieder die Grenze ueberschreiten.“
Emily waited helplessly, as the full import of Frau Neuhausen’s words started to sink in. Frau Neuhausen was quitting, and she had her first diplomatic dinner in three days. Or should she offer to let Frau Neuhausen live in one of the vacant servants’ rooms? There were four of them upstairs. Why on earth should Frau Neuhausen be forced to commute just because Emily selfishly liked having the house to herself?
Before she could make the offer, Frau Neuhausen got hold of herself. She squeezed Charlotte’s hand, pushed her tear-soaked handkerchief into the pocket of her apron and got to her feet. “You know…” She started, broke off, and then resumed again, “You know, some of us have been trampled on our whole lives. First, we lost the Great War, then came the Inflation, and then the Depression, and then the bombers, and now the Ivans. No matter how hard we work or how honest we are, everything just gets taken away from us. Only Hitler ever gave us anything. He gave us our pride. That’s why we loved him. He made us great. Now we are nothing again.” Before Emily could recover from her shock, Frau Neuhausen had turned and disappeared into the kitchen.
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