The trip to Portland was a resounding success. Hans and I shared all the delights of honeymooners without the honeymoon. We wanted to take a side trip to Mount Hood and stay at the new Timberline Lodge, but the roads were too icy and the lodge had closed for the duration of the war, so we made do with a hike in Washington Park.
The trip did Ephraim a world of good. He drank less after that, as I recall, and he took to writing Bella every few weeks. She was there when he needed her then and later.
We arrived home to find Sidney and Snuffles in one piece, and Rachel in a snit. Apparently Henry had come home one day and announced that he was switching research teams at the Rad Lab.
“He refuses to go with his old group to the Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico,” she explained to Mim and me. “They have housing there, and I’d love to explore the desert instead of being a burden here in your house, Aunt Florrie. Henry won’t give me any good reasons for staying in Berkeley. He hardly tells me anything about his work anymore. I’m married to a clam!”
I didn’t know anything about Los Alamos then, and neither did Mim. We found out later that Oppenheimer and other physics professors from Berkeley developed the atomic bomb there. The Manhattan Project. But in March 1944, all that was still hush-hush. I remember we watched Baby Joshua for Rachel’s birthday in April, so she and Henry could go out dancing. They came back early with Rachel in tears.
“He doesn’t trust me,” she told me later, after Henry said he had to go back to campus. “I’m sick and tired of all his secrets.”
The Manhattan Project wasn’t the only secret for us in 1944. D-Day surprised us. British and American troops landed on the coast of France on June 6. We celebrated the next day with steak and caviar and champagneand don’t ask me how I managed to procure them, despite the rationing.
By the end of August, the Allies had liberated Paris. Mim was ecstatic. Her mother’s letters from Josephine Baker’s place in southern France had dwindled down to nothing by then. Now Lillian could get back to the safety of the Allied zone in Paris.
The Allies kept advancing against the Germans. Around Labor Day, Brussels was liberated from the Nazis. It looked like the Netherlands would be next. Hans was in a great mood.
Then, just before the Jewish holidays in late September, Mim got a postcard from Lillian. Do you think it was easier to get postcards through the censors? Ephraim let me have the postcard later. You can read for yourself what it says on the back.
I’ll explain. Marseilles is nowhere near where Lillian was staying. Gus Solomon was a well-respected lawyer in Portland, someone Lillian would have trusted with her estate matters. Now you get the picture.
Mim read the postcard to me over the telephone. By the time I got to her house, she was sitting on the sofa with Snuffles to comfort her. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks blotchy, but she seemed strangely calm.
“I knew something was wrong when the letters stopped,” she explained. “Why Marseilles? What was my mother doing there in the middle of the war?”
“Maybe Josephine Baker knows,” I said. “Maybe we can contact her somehow.”
Mim reached for a tissue. “Maybe.”
I asked Hans about Marseilles, and he had no idea either. Over the next couple of months, his mood shifted from hopeful to an odd combination of desperate and determined. The Allied attempt to liberate the Netherlands had failed. The Nazis were punishing the Dutch by cutting off food and fuel supplies, and millions of people faced starvation.
“I cannot sit here and let that happen, liefje,” he told me, using his word for sweetheart to soften the blow. “I must find a way to stop the suffering.”
“You’re not an American citizen,” I said. “They won’t let you in the Army.”
He was quiet a moment.
“Not the Office of Strategic Services, Hans. No. Surely you don’t want to be a spy.”
He shrugged. And then he kissed me. “We will see each other again. I leave most of my clothes here.”
Four days later, I stood on the front porch and watched Hans Dekker carry his overnight bag to the car waiting at the curb. Not a taxi, mind you. Just a plain black sedan ready to take my lover into danger.
Alone in my bedroom, I decided to mount a special exhibition at the gallery. The Dutch painter Piet Mondrian had died in New York in ’44, but I chose a lesser-known artist, Chaim Soutine. He was a young, French-Russian Jew who died in Paris in 1943 while fleeing from the Nazis. Here’s a picture of my favorite Soutine work, “The Mad Woman.” Soutine painted it shortly after World War I. Sadly, that’s how I felt by the end of 1944at my wit’s end with anxiety and grief.