The story is about a girl, I think her name is Elsbeth or Lisbeth (it's quite possible that the author was Elisabeth Dreisbach, and the story was somewhat autobiographical. She wrote quite a bit for the publisher who put out the book - and I can't remember the publisher's name either. We just had a lot of their kids' books in the house; they were small and had a yellow back cover.).
Elsbeth is around 11, or maybe 13, and lives on a farm outside of Düsseldorf - no, I think it was Wuppertal. It's wartime. Elsbeth, her father, and her little brother set out on a few days' visit to relatives in the city. Mother is worried - what if there's a bombing raid while they're there? Father reassures her: nobody is going to bomb Wuppertal; the enemy is not interested in that small city. So they go.
No sooner do they arrive at their aunt's flat in town, that Elsbeth's little brother throws a big tantrum: he wants to go home, he hates it here! Father is not impressed, and won't give in. He's come to visit with his family, and visit he will. Elsbeth enjoys her cousin, and her uncle, but she is particularly taken with her aunt, her father's cheerful, charming younger sister.
In the evening, father and aunt sit down at the piano together, and sing a duet, a beautiful, melancholy folk song:
"Sister mine, sister mine, when shall we go home?"
"When the cocks crow early in the morn,
Then shall we two go home,
Brother mine, Brother mine, then we shall go home."
In the night, Elsbeth has a dreadful nightmare of fire and flame and her mother calling to them. She runs to her father, she begs him to please, please take them home that day, not to stay over another night as they had planned. "Oh, not you too! I thought better of you!" Finally, extremely reluctantly, father gives in, angry and disappointed at having his time with his sister cut short by his children's caprice, and takes them back to the farm.
That night, they hear the drone of the bombers flying overhead, and watch from their farm on the hillside as fire rains down on Wuppertal, destroying everything. Their aunt, uncle, cousin - all dead.
"Sister mine, sister mine, you step grows so weak."
"Seek out my chamber door,
My bed beneath the floor,
Brother mine, slumber fine shall I evermore."
Lest We Forget.
|The bombed-out interior of the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart, 1945 (from a photo in the foyer of the church)|