As the phone rang, Nadia recognized the familiar number lighting up the screen.
“Wat ik zeggen wilde ... What I wanted to tell you,” her grandmother began. As she often did, Oma launched straight into what she had to share on the costly long-distance call from the Netherlands to Canada. The most frugal person Nadia would ever know, there was no doubt in her mind, Oma spared no expense when it came to being in touch with her granddaughter.
“... it was dark and we were in the forest, again, hiding. We had run when we heard the soldiers were coming. Your mom was only a baby and I had to keep her safe. I had found an area with thick brush to cover us. We were quiet like mice. But your mom, she was scared. Of course, she was just a baby. And when she heard a branch breaking nearby, she cried. Just a little. And he found us. Underneath that brush. He didn't have good intentions. I know he didn't. And I had to protect her. To keep her safe, I had to stay alive. It was him or us.”
Oma's voice trailed off before falling silent. Nadia listened, waiting for her to continue a story she had not heard before. She could hear her grandmother's irregular breathing on the other side of the line—a pattern of two quick shallow inhales of air followed by a pause before the next two.
“Oma?” Nadia finally said. “Oma, are you OK?”
“Ja ... ja,” her grandmother responded softly before hanging up.
It wasn't unusual for Oma to simply end a call when she considered it finished. Nadia dialled Oma's number, though doubted she would get an answer. Her grandmother, at 94, often didn't hear the phone even when she was wearing her hearing aid. And when she finished a call she would often misplace the receiver, accidentally and sometimes on purpose. The busy signal beeped impatiently in Nadia's ear. She would try to call again later in the day.
Oma's comments puzzled Nadia as there were details she had not heard before. Her grandmother had often told her how she fled with her daughter into the forest to seek shelter from the brutalities in the Second World War in Sudetenland, the part of Czechoslovakia annexed in 1938 by Germany, which declared Bohemia and Moravia a protectorate of the Third Reich six months later in March 1939. Sudetenland was a contentious area within Czechoslovakia's borders, inhabited by many ethnic Germans. It was handed to Nazi Germany under the Munich Pact, called the Munich Betrayal by many in Czechoslovakia, because it had no representation at the meeting during which France and the UK sought to appease Adolf Hitler by ceding territory to which they assigned little value.
Aged 24, Oma would give birth to Nadia's mom the following year when the oppressor also demanded her husband don a German uniform and march across Europe in what became the deadliest global military conflict.
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(Copyright © 2011 by Margreet Dietz)