Lit, a Flame Extinguished
I remember the night that Anna
first came to me. It was
late in the evening when she arrived at my parish and the building was
almost empty. When she
entered, Anna carried rosary beads in her hand believing they brought good
luck. Trusting that her
prayers would be answered, she came inside the church and lighted the
votive candles. Then she
knelt at the front of the church to offer her prayers to the Virgin.
Later she came to my confessional.
The few parishioners who remained were old women dressed in the
familiar black full-length dresses with black mantillas draped over their heads.
With rosaries in hand the old women prayed the ancient prayers
over and over. In the world
of the barrio prayers were
important. It has always
been left to the old to pray for God's intervention for the young.
The pews held grandmothers each with a story about children lost
to the gangs, drinking, and drugs. These
tragedies had left the women offering prayers old and deformed.
As Anna looked about
she could see the faces of the old women.
They were deeply wrinkled and worn from the many sorrows and
cares of this world. These
women had died a thousand deaths for their children and grandchildren.
Life had been unkind to these caring elders.
One could see that the weight of the world had left them bent but
not broken. Their backs were
hunched from the strain of their load. But
nothing would keep the old women from their nightly prayer vigil. Still,
many prayers seemed to go unanswered.
These women were the salt of the earth.
With one foot in this world and the other in the great beyond
they awaited patiently for the time when the Virgin would lead them by
the hand into the spirit realm. Though
they secretly longed for the peace it would bring, the old women knew
that time was precious for their loved ones.
So they became permanent fixtures in my parish praying
incessantly for their children and grandchildren.
No need was too small: a job, an expected birth, the illness of a
relative. All these needs
would be prayed for during the night and again at the early morning
mass. In these times the
women had much to pray for.
Castillo-Von Furstenburge joined these old women
on that first night. Weeping
for the father she had loved so much and the mother she had never known.
As Anna prayed she
exhausted herself shedding tears for dear Uncle and her beloved Helga. She then lit
candles for them all. Glancing
down at her watch, Anna
realized that she had been kneeling at the altar for more than twenty
minutes. Making the sign of
the cross she stood and walked toward the pews.
When Anna reached the
first row she sat down next to an old woman.
Noticing a Spanish language newspaper she noted the date and
commented to herself on how quickly the last three years had passed.
The years had gone by like a speeding train into a darkened
tunnel, but at least now Anna
could see light at the end of it. When
Anna returned to the pew, she continued her prayer.
Her thoughts traveled back to that evil morning, the morning her
beloved estancia, Casa
Castillo, was burned to the ground.
The memory of that night’s love making with her husband of only
a few short hours still smoldered deep in her soul.
But her love for him was now just a faded memory after three long
years. When she later gave
her confession, I was amazed at her ability to remember her wedding day
in such detail. It was as if
she had been married only the day before.
She sat in the pew for sometime, watching as several old women
preceded her into the confessional.
When the last parishioner left, she stood ready to enter.
That was the first time I met Anna.
As I began to leave the confessional, she walked toward me.
I stopped and waited. “Are
you here for confession?” I asked in English.
She didn’t answer. It
was clear to me that she didn't understand.
I quickly realized that she wasn’t an Anglo.
I then asked her again, this time in Spanish.
Nodding her head, yes, she entered the confessional.
The confessionals in Our Lady of Guadalupe
Church are cramped, dark, wood paneled boxes rather than rooms.
With small screened windows between the confessional and the
adjoining cubical, the spaces are black and silent.
It must have seemed to Anna an eternity before the window facing her and separating our two
cubicles was opened to receive her sins.
She began, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
It has been a long, long time since my last confession.” The
rest of the religious phrases trailed off toward God.
How different that summer day in June of 1950 had begun.
Anna had been married
that morning in the estancia
chapel. The building could
only accommodate one hundred guests.
Because the little private family chapel would be filled to
capacity Anna’s father had
erected a pavilion just outside to house the other guests who attended.
Many had come from the surrounding estates.
With the Don’s permission the Brenners
had invited over fifty Germans from all parts of Argentina. These guests
stayed largely to themselves. Respectful
and kind, still the Germans remained aloof even at such joyous event.
Anna wore a beautiful
full length, white, beaded wedding gown with a white mantilla
on her head. Decorated
with her mother’s diamond necklace and matching earrings the
magnificence of her appearance was only heightened by her innocence and
humility. Having led a
sheltered life at the estancia
the world had not yet corrupted the young bride’s soul.
With a childlike view of life, Anna
had not understood fully what her marriage to Hans
would mean. She knew only
that she loved him.
The wedding party was made up of seven bridesmaids and two
beautiful little flower girls. Two
handsome young boys acting as ring bearers carried one wedding ring
each, on a white satin pillow. The
little girls wore pink dresses and carried mixed bouquets of flower that
matched those of the bridesmaids. The
bridesmaids were childhood friends of Anna’s
from nearby estancias.
Each was honored to be in her wedding.
The young women chattered amongst themselves as they waited for
the procession to begin.
agreed to allow Anna’s male
relatives to join in as part of his wedding party but he insisted that Clause be among them. Rolf
served as his best man. The
ushers wore black tuxedos and white shirts.
Hans and Rolf wore their
military dress uniforms as was required by the Bund. The Bund
also requested that a flag with the Swastika
be draped in the church but Don
Taking a hard stance on the flag, he would have none of it.
But he did agree to the wearing of the uniforms.
After all, his future son-in-law had earned that privilege in
The two young lovers were a stunning sight as they stood at the
altar. Anna was the bride that all women dream of being.
She was strikingly beautiful in her elegant French gown.
Hans was handsome in his formal German officer’s uniform with wide
red piping along the leg of the pants and the polished buttons of his
perfectly tailored tunic. They
looked like a prince and his princess at a coronation.
The Don’s eyes welled
with tears as he gave away his only child.
He and Hans looked at
each other for a brief moment, as if to say it is done.
The wedding went smoothly as did the festivities that followed.
Preparations for the wedding and reception at the estancia
had been underway for months. Though
the party held that evening was attended by more than three hundred
guests, in better times, the estate would have had many more visitors.
But the Don’s
politics kept many an old friend away for fear of being labeled as a
dissident. Leaving nothing
to chance the great hall had been decorated by Frau
Brenner. The Don
had graciously given her a blank check with which to fund the
extravaganza. Knowing that Helga
would make the occasion an affair to remember he had spared no expense.
The varieties of flowers were extraordinary in their Italian
crystal vases. Floral table
settings were placed in ornate bowls of solid gold.
The china purchased in England had been shipped over for just the
occasion. New drapes and
window coverings had been ordered from the best fabric houses in France.
The entire interior of the massive estancia
had been repainted and the grounds had been replanted with new
flowers and shrubs. One of Argentina’s most celebrated chefs was hired for the wedding and he
and his staff had done a magnificent job.
The wedding day had met its promise.
The young newlyweds were in their glory.
The Brenners brimmed
with pride at the sight of their son and new daughter.
Hans had finally found
his future and Anna was deeply
in love. As the Don
looked about the estancia he
said his silent prayers of thanks that all had gone well.
The hour had grown late and many of the guests had already left
knowing that they had many miles to travel before morning.
One by one, the autos pulled away from the estancia.
As they left the guests pressed envelopes full of cash into Hans’
hand. These small gifts
would leave him and his new wife quite well off.
Their successful start in life was assured.
It was late when the young couple finally retired to their marriage
bed. As Anna and Hans enjoyed the
pleasures of their wedding night all but the gauchos had retired after drinking well into the early morning
hours. Knowing how gauchos could behave once drunk, the Don ordered their weapons placed in a storage area before the
festivities began. When the
drinking was over, the estancia settled
down. The noise of the party
was replaced by the soothing sounds of the night.
Her confession was long. I
could tell that she needed to bare her soul.
remembrances of the day now shifted to the horror of those terrible
early morning hours. She
began to relive the terror that befell them in those predawn hours.
As the lovers slept they were awakened from pleasant dreams by
the sounds of tanks in the far-off distance.
soldier’s mind forced him awake. Getting
out of bed he opened the French doors leading to the balcony.
He stood straining to make out the approaching sounds.
Concerned, Hans quickly put on his uniform trousers and tall black boots.
Walking over to the dresser where he’d placed his pistol, he
removed it from the holster and checked the clip for ammunition.
It was fully loaded. He
then quietly walked down to Rolf’s
room. As he neared the room,
Hans found the door ajar. Calling
to Rolf, there was no answer.
Hans then cautiously made his way downstairs into the foyer where he
found Rolf entering through
the large front doors. Rolf’s only word was, “tanks”. Both
men instinctively knew something was wrong.
There had been rumors at the German Club that the Don’s
last editorials had angered the Argentine military General Staff.
The military wanted to put an end to his commentary on their
affairs. Several prominent
members of the Argentine German Bund
had called the Don a marked
Both men agreed that it was best to take no chances.
Having dispatched Rolf to inform Clause of
the tanks, Hans proceeded to
the Don’s room to give him
the news. Don
Castillo immediately understood the implications of this news.
Within minutes, Clause and the Don were
both dressed and meeting with Rolf
and Hans in the foyer. In a short time, Jose
entered the foyer having heard the voices. Hans
explained the situation militarily.
There was no reason to believe that these were simply military
maneuvers. Troop movements
for this purpose were always conducted during the day.
The fact that there was no military base nearby meant that the
troops had been on the march for sometime.
Nothing about these troop movements made sense.
Rolf agreed with his
recommended to the Don that
all of the gauchos be awakened
immediately and armed. Agreeing,
he ordered Jose to wake the
men. After arming them, Jose brought the gauchos
to the courtyard outside. Don
Castillo and Uncle agreed that Hans
would take charge. As many
more gauchos entered the room Hans
bounded to the top of the staircase.
Anna could hear her
husband shouting orders as she left her bedroom to investigate the noise
coming from the foyer.
The entire house was now awake.
Soon Helga was standing
next to her. Both women were
As Hans stood shouting
orders from the landing above the great wooden staircase, even with the
terror of those moments, Anna
could still recall his beautiful muscled chest gleaming with sweat as
the adrenaline coursed through his veins.
There he stood without a shirt wearing only his military pants
tucked into his tall black boots. She
remembered the sight of him holding the German Luger
pistol in his right hand. As
she looked at him, it somehow seemed that all was not lost.
Hans was in his
element. A battle hardened
officer he was familiar with war and knew his craft well.
There below at the bottom of the staircase was Rolf.
Each order given by the young Colonel was relayed to the gauchos
through his trusted sergeant. In
the very midst of the chaos these two showed no fear.
Both knew their duty and responded confidently as they had done
so many times before. Ordering
the sergeant to hold the walls at all costs, he then instructed Rolf
to divide the men into four groups.
Rolf quickly instructed
the four lead gauchos to
divide their men into four groups of sixty each.
Each leader was ordered to secure and hold one of the estancia
Accustomed to following orders without question the gauchos
left to take up their positions. There
was no idle chatter. Each
moved rapidly to check his arms and ammunition and then hold their
assigned walls. Within
minutes, the estancia was a well-protected and armed camp.
Rifles at the ready they were all prepared to defend their patrones
with their lives. These gauchos were hard strong men who were not given to fear.
Most of the Don’s gauchos had been
raised on the estancia and had
learned to love it as his own. The
gauchos were prepared to die
for their Don.
The estancia took on an
odd calm as the men silently awaited further orders.
All checked and rechecked their rifles.
As they did, the tanks could be heard in the far-off distance
closing in on the estancia.
With the gauchos
positioned Rolf was commanded
by Hans to take the main gate
and hold it until further instructions.
Rolf’s position was
pivotal to the defense of the estancia
and he understood exactly what the order meant.
Both men knew the gate was where the attackers would strike
first. They would have to
take the main gate to access the estancia.
Clicking his heels and saluting his Colonel, Rolf
began walking away to carry out his orders.
Stopping suddenly, he turned to say one last goodbye to his
colonel. Both men looked at
each other and smiled. Having
known battle before each man was prepared for what lay ahead.
Each had fought against an enemy of superior strength before.
They were ready to meet death if it were to come that day.
The soldier in each took over as they both returned to the life
and death matters at hand.
But this time it was different. Both
were uneasy. Each felt the
psychic disconnection that was taking place.
An unearthly divide had begun.
The sense of it was so great that Hans
reacted as he never would have in the past.
As an officer, he would have never broken the strictness of
command. Personal comments
were forbidden in a battle situation.
As Rolf turned to leave
and take his post, Hans
shouted to him. “Take no
prisoners.” Both men
laughed uncomfortably knowing somehow that this was to be their last
accepted that this was to be his last command.
As she watched, Anna
realized that these comrades in arms were saying goodbye.
If there was fear, neither would admit it.
They were too well-trained and disciplined to accept fear or the
possibility of losing. They
All were now in position. Hans
held twenty men inside the estancia
as reserves. These he would
use at the very last moment should a retreat be needed through the south
wall gate where the Don took
up position. Uncle was
dispatched to the west. Miguelito,
Clause’s houseboy, had been
assigned the east wall. All
were waiting for further orders when old crusty gaucho,
Martin, who had been
dispatched to spy on the Argentine soldiers, ran into the foyer
calling out to Hans, “There
are five-hundred at least.” He
then shouted with a slight panic in his voice, “and four tanks.” Hans
shouted back his thanks for the report and then sent the old man to help
Miguelito at the east wall.
The old gaucho nodded
As the old gaucho left
the room Anna remembered her
fear. She rushed into Hans’
arms. Holding her tenderly,
he kissed her deeply. At
that moment, a loud ground-shaking explosion broke their embrace.
Hans shouted out
loudly, “Men it’s begun. Be
brave and make every shot count.” Before
his sentence could be completed a large hole appeared in the wall close
to the front gate of the estancia
where the Don and Rolf had been
standing conferring on strategy. Within
seconds, Argentine troops began to pour through.
the crazed gauchos fought on Rolf
lay stunned under the rubble of the front gate.
Regaining his strength and mind, he
pushed aside the large wooden beam that had once been part of the estancia
main gate. There beside him
lay the Don.
He was dead. A dazed Rolf
could hear killing all around him but the darkness prevented him from
making out too much. Within
seconds, the light from the burning estancia
buildings allowed him to see all that he needed to know.
The soldiers had broken through the perimeter.
Picking up a rifle that lay nearby Rolf
shot two soldiers dead as they ran by him.
To his left several gauchos
had climbed atop two of the three tanks in the courtyard.
Setting them on fire with petrol taken from the workmen’s shed
they killed the tank drivers and gunners as they tried to leave the
Running across the courtyard Rolf
joined two gauchos on top of
the third tank as they poured petrol down a small opening near the
hatch. One lit a rag while a
second forced it down the opening with a rifle barrel.
Within seconds the flames engulfed the interior.
Rolf and the others
jumped to safety as bullets flew by.
The crippled tank exploded with a loud bang.
watched as soldiers engaged groups of gauchos
as he made his way to the south wall.
Though these men had no formal combat training they held strong
against the soldiers. They
bested a superior force of well-trained soldiers outfitted with
automatic weapons. He
respected these gauchos who fought so fiercely and with complete abandon.
Showing no fear they seemed to be in their element.
This was the last thing he saw as a tank shell hit his position
at the wall.
Inside the burning estancia
Hans ordered Jose to take Anna to the
south gate and outside to safety. As
Jose and Anna began to leave, Uncle entered carrying a wounded Miguelito.
Hans hurried to them at
the estancia’s entrance.
Uncle stood there his eyes filled with tears knowing that the
bright young lad was passing on. Clause
had known the boy since birth. Hans
placed his hand on Clause’s
shoulder as he closed Miguelito's
vacant eyes. In a soft voice
he told Uncle that it was too late, Miguelito
was dead. Clause
nodded his agreement and walked across the foyer
to placed Miguelito gently
onto a sofa. As he did a
group of soldiers broke through into the foyer.
Rushing to meet them, Hans fired his revolver and killed four of them before they knew he
was upon them. The surviving
soldier got off a shot before being felled by a gaucho
rifle shot. The shot found
its mark in Hans’ upper
chest. Uncle now once again
in control of his senses fired at a soldier coming through what was left
of the doorway and killed him instantly.
As Jose forced Anna
down the hallway toward the back door, she saw Uncle engaged in a
struggle with several soldiers. Beating
them with the butt of his rifle he attacked with the power of a raging
bull. Then as Uncle
strangled a limp soldier a rifle bullet tore through his skull.
Anna could see that the head wound was fatal.
Her precious Uncle was lost to her.
Then what every woman dreads most happened, through the thick
black smoke that filled the foyer Anna could make out Hans
firing a machine gun taken from a dead Army officer.
Hans killed several
oncoming soldiers with a spray of deadly bullets while retreating into
the hallway in front of her. But
even as the dead and wounded soldiers dropped to the floor many more
made their way into the narrow hallway.
Several gauchos rushed the oncoming rush of charging soldiers.
Clubbing and shooting as they lunged forward, many on both sides
fell. But still more
soldiers appeared in the hallway. Too
many gauchos had fallen.
There were too few left to defend.
As a rush of cold air cleared the smoke from the foyer
Anna saw him. There
stood Hans bleeding from
several bullet wounds and slumped against the wall.
As the life drained from his body the frightened soldiers halted
their attack for a few seconds. Their
fear of this dangerous blonde man kept them from taking him prisoner.
Following orders the soldiers rushed him there in the hallway
with bayonets. Anna
watched as the soldiers one after another, plunged their bayonets into
her husband’s beautiful body. His
back against the wall Hans
glanced back at Anna.
Smiling weakly, he slid to the ground giving her one last loving
look. As the life in his
eyes gave way to the vacant stare of death, Hans’
limp spiritless body fell forward onto the floor. Anna’s
husband, the love of her life was dead.
There were only three gauchos
left out of the twenty reserves.
With a shout they rushed the soldiers killing five where they
stood. Fighting the
remaining soldiers back into the burning, smoke filled foyer
they killed several more. While
the fierce fighting continued, Jose
seized the opportunity for escape. Grabbing
Anna’s arm he pulled her
down the empty hall and out the back door.
Everywhere in the darkness outlines of fighting soldiers and gauchos
could be seen. Locked in
battle for the estancia, pockets of men were killing and being killed in the
darkness. Jose held Anna tightly by
the hand and hurriedly guided her across the courtyard to the south
gate. Once through it they
Making their way up to hills above the estancia, the new day was beginning to break.
The darkness changed to gray with the morning light.
As the minutes passed the landscape around them began taking
shape. Only then could they
look back at what had been a killing frenzy.
In the early morning light Anna
could see the estancia still in flames. There
was now only sporadic gunfire coming from the last tank.
Three tanks in the compound were on fire.
Anna could see no survivors. All
inside appeared to be dead; not one soldier could be seen moving.
As Jose and Anna turned to
walk away they heard the last burning tank explode.
The destruction lasted for a few seconds and then all was quiet.
In that moment of deafening silence she felt her life was over.
All that she had known and loved was gone.
Hans, Father, Uncle, Helga,
Rolf and even brave little Miguelito
were gone. The estancia,
Casa Castillo, her home for a
lifetime was now a burning hulk. Frightened
and alone, Anna wondered where
she would go. What was to
become of her now that they were all gone?
Reaching for Jose, she
held him tightly. “Angelita, my little angel,” he whispered, “we two are the only
ones left.” With those
words, he led her up into the hills away from everything and everyone
she had known.
Dazed and exhausted from many hours of walking, Anna
asked Jose to take her to town. She
begged him to take her to a church; she wanted to pray for her family.
Jose was forced to say no, telling Anna she could not go to town or anywhere else where the government
had eyes or ears. Jose cautioned her; the Church in Argentina was no more than an arm of the government and could not be
trusted. After walking some
distance, Jose tried again to
reason with her. “Angelita, we must leave Argentina
at once. The soldiers will
be looking for us by now. Doña Anna there is no place in Latin America where either of us
will be safe. The Government
will not leave any witnesses to their crime.
We must make our way as quickly as possible to the United
States.” Jose was firm in
his delivery. There was no
later told me that she could hear only my calming voice.
Then, lost in her tortured past, my voice soon faded into
suddenly realized where she was. The
hellish memories of the past disappeared and she returned to the
present. Her words gave way
to a story that even she couldn't believe.
It was as if she were talking about someone else's life.
In her tortured mind Anna
felt responsible for the terrible things which had befallen her family.
Truly believing it was a curse that she’d brought down upon
them all, Anna was burdened by
guilt. Father, Uncle, Helga, her beloved Hans,
little Miguelito, and brave Rolf
were all dead. Believing
that somehow she had failed God, Anna
was convinced this was His penance for her.
Anna accepted that these horrors were payment for her sin of love of
self. She told me about the
terrible ordeal. She spoke
of wandering in the wilderness and of the many months of hunger and pain
that had left her living like a wild animal.
Finally she spoke of the rape she had suffered at the hands of
the men at a small farm.
Recounting how she had been taken there after they had killed Jose,
Anna felt there was no one left to protect her.
Only humiliation and abuse were to keep her company.
In Anna’s twisted mind these banditos
were sent by God to punish her for her sins.
And punish her they did, raping her continually for two days.
Anna told me that our
Lord had not totally forgotten her.
God had intervened, sending an old woman from the village who
took pity on her. While the
men slept in a drunken stupor, the old woman helped her escape.
Taken to an abandoned estancia nearby Anna was
able to recover from the beatings and internal damage.
After giving Anna food and water the old woman left quickly never to return.
After a few days, Anna
recovered enough to begin her trek north.
She could think of only two things, freedom from her past in Argentina
and the safety of America.
told how she traveled for several weeks by night.
Only at night did she feel safe.
During the days she sought shelter in abandoned buildings or
caves. Living like a hunted
animal, Anna learned quickly
to steal what food and clothes she needed.
The rural people were trusting, leaving clothes hanging on lines
overnight. Stolen chickens
made up the staple of her diet. Occasionally
there were hot freshly baked loaves of bread left out by the peasants to
cool in the very early morning hours.
Even after arriving in America Anna
still dreamt of the soft warm bread.
recalled how she suddenly began gaining weight, her belly swelling.
Even though she had eaten little or nothing Anna
began to be sick in the mornings. By
then it had been three months since her escape from the estancia.
Thinking it was due to the constant hunger she dismissed it.
Soon Anna felt
something happening to her. At
first there were rumblings in her stomach.
Then early one cold morning Anna
felt something moving within. At
that moment Anna knew that she
was with child.
One day, while resting by the roadside, a tall stranger rode by on
horseback. By the way he
carried himself he appeared to be an Estanciero.
Stopping and dismounting his horse the man walked toward her.
When he asked if she was ill, Anna
was somewhat frightened and told the man she was just tired.
After introducing himself as Don
Raul, he offered her food.
After exchanging a few pleasantries Anna
accepted his kindness. He
then inquired if Anna was from his district. Fear
immediately gripped her. She
told the man that she was only passing through on her way to meet her
father. Don Raul then insisted
that she accompany him to his parent’s estancia.
Too tired and ill she couldn’t resist and agreed.
After their meal, Don Raul
pulled Anna onto his horse,
seating her directly behind him. He
assured her that it was only a short distance to his parents’ estancia. While riding
to his estate the Don told Anna
that his was one of the many families of the Estanciero
class in the area. His
family had long ago chosen to leave the outside world with all of its
problems and politics to others. The
family’s world became their cattle and horses.
The pleasant conversation made the time pass by quickly.
As they rode through the gates of his estancia, a gaucho ran
toward them and took the reins from Raul.
After they dismounted the gaucho
led the horse to the stables. Don Raul then asked Anna
to sit by the fountain and wait until he could make the necessary
preparations. She watched as
he entered the estancia and Don
Raul’s parents greeted him at the door.
They appeared to be a close and loving family.
Anna remembered Raul’s parents peering out the windows.
Raul’s mother, was a perceptive woman.
As Anna sat by the
fountain, Doña Isabella
studied her. Her shoes were
worn and her clothes tattered, but Isabella
could see that Anna was not
accustomed to this shabby state. Clearly
Anna was under nourished and appeared ill.
Commenting to Raul and Papa that Anna
was no peasant, Doña Isabella
pointed out Anna’s fine
features and bearing. When
Papa asked what they should do with her, Mama told Raul
to give the poor girl something to eat.
When the front door of the estancia
opened, Anna could hear Doña
Isabella shouting to prepare a
room for her and insisting that Raul invite their new guest into the house.
Anna knew that only
pity for her condition could have led Doña Isabella to do this kindness.
Both Papa and Raul had
expected just such kindness from Mama.
That late afternoon was spent lunching on the veranda for several hours. Anna’s
table manners, choice of words, and bearing said it all.
It was obvious that she was from a good family; no one could
disguise this. Mama was a
good judge of character. Very
attentive to Anna during their long meal together, Mama listened for hidden
meanings in everything the young woman said.
Noting the sadness in the young girl’s eyes, to Isabella, Anna appeared
detached and lost. Anna was contemplative. Mama
sensed no fear or bitterness only utter loneliness.
To Isabella the young
woman seemed terribly troubled. She
was sure that something wicked had befallen Anna.
As the meal came to an end, Mama announced that Anna
would stay the night at the estancia.
Mama was insistent. “No,
no, there will be no further discussion on the matter little one.” She
said, with kindness in her voice. “You
will stay here with us for the night.
And tomorrow, well tomorrow, we shall see what the day will
bring.” With that, Mama
led her away into the house where a room had already been prepared by
the servants. Opening the
armoire Mama revealed a collection of dresses.
Isabella instructed Anna to take what she needed. Before
leaving the room, Mama told Anna
that a bath had been drawn for her.
stayed with the family for several days and was treated as a daughter.
But as with all good things, her stay with them came to end.
It was late in the evening when Doña
Isabella came to Anna explaining that an army officer had been in the nearby town
asking questions about a young blonde woman.
Two of her servants had been shown a photograph.
The servants told Doña Isabella that the photo resembled Anna and Isabella was
concerned. Anna was
truthful, telling Isabella that she was the woman in the photograph.
“It is better for your family that I tell you nothing about my
past, for it would put your lives at risk.” She
cautioned Isabella. Anna
then insisted that she must leave that very instant or risk being
captured. The two women
agreed that Anna should leave
immediately. No further
questions were asked. Mama
left the room, allowing Anna
to gather together a few things and prepare to leave.
When Isabella returned
to the bedroom, she held a small pouch containing several gold pieces.
Telling Anna that gold
was far better than paper money, the two embraced.
In tears, Anna left.
As she walked out into the courtyard, Anna
could hear Isabella's words. “Go
with God, my daughter.”
Once again Anna was
alone. Carefully concealing
her movements Anna traveled
along the back roads for the next several winter months.
Resting during the day she traveled only by night.
The difficult journey stiffened her resolve.
Living off of the land, Anna was now in the sixth month of her journey and swollen with
child. Having long ago left
her beloved Argentina, it was
becoming increasingly more difficult for her to walk long distances.
A decision had to be made.
Moving north through Bolivia,
Anna was careful not to spend
any of the precious gold coins given to her by Doña
This gold was her future and she knew to use it wisely.
It was Christmas time when Anna
arrived in Cochabamba, near the center of Bolivia.
Anna decided to stay
until she could give birth to the child.
Anna was directed by a
passer-by to a jewelry shop owned by an old Jew, Señor
Abraham Kraemer. Entering the
shop, Anna had only one
thought in mind to bargain with the Old Jew for the most she could get
for her gold coins. The two
had bargained for some time when Abraham saw that Anna
was tired and couldn’t continue the session.
Even though she’d shared nothing about herself with him, the
Old Jew quickly understood her predicament.
A kind man, Abraham offered Anna
some water. He liked this
straightforward young woman. She
was strong and tough and not yet hardened by life beyond repair.
After a brief rest, Anna
returned to the table as tough as before.
They soon struck a bargain. Two
gold coins for two months shelter. Abraham
didn't know why he agreed to such a poor bargain on his part.
Perhaps, it was the fact that she was with child.
Abraham knew only that he would do for this young one what many
had done for he and his wife.
Many had shown the Kraemers
kindness even though they were Jews living in a world where Jews had no
value. There were a precious
few had who reached out to save them.
Sensing that Anna would
have been one of these, his heart was opened to her.
This was how Anna came
to have her child in the home of this old Jewish couple.
In a world of hate and bitterness, they came together.
Lost souls in search of rest Anna,
Christina, and the Kraemers
found each other.
later learned that the old Jew had also been forced to live carefully
and in fear for most of his life. Fleeing
Germany, in the late nineteen thirties, the Kraemers
had run to the safety of Bolivia.
Having run from a life of terror and fear, Abraham could see the
same signs of fear in others. The
old Jewess, Ester, enjoyed Anna’s company.
The last two months leading to the birth of the child were
enjoyable for them both. By
the time the baby was due, they had become very close.
Neither had pressed deeply into the others past; they had only
concerned themselves with the present.
For the past several years the old woman had missed the company
of well-educated people. The
two women spent hours discussing literature, art, politics, and the
cinema. Both had a love for
the opera and the symphony. Once
the old woman found that Anna
spoke French they enjoyed their lengthy conversations in the language.
The last few days of Anna’s
pregnancy were difficult ones. The
child’s life had been endangered by Anna’s
difficult trek through the mountains and countryside of Argentina. Her daughter,
Christina, was born with great
difficulty on a cold February day in 1951.
Anna’s labor lasted
eighteen hours. The child
was very small and weak. The
child looked a great deal like her father.
She had the strong fine features of a Von
could only hope Christina had Hans’
financial predicament the Kraemers
were concerned. Without
telling Anna the old couple
bargained with a doctor friend on her behalf.
The cost of the delivery was minimal thanks to Abraham's
friendship. The doctor
cautioned Abraham that the baby desperately needed to gain strength
before being taken on a journey of any kind.
Wanting to help, the old couple invited Anna
and the baby to remain with them as long as they wanted.
Offering Anna free room
and board as a gift to the child, the Kraemers
opened their hearts and pocketbook to their new daughter and
granddaughter. From then on,
the four became a family. Grandpapa
Abraham would return in the evenings from the shop bearing little gifts
for his newly adopted granddaughter.
Grandma Ester cared for her baby girl through the day insisting
that Anna regain her strength.
For a time, things were wonderful.
It seemed that life was again rich and full of promise.
The days passed peacefully for more than a year, until a
government official visited Abraham’s shop.
It suddenly seemed that Abraham's papers were not in order; there
was a problem with his visa. “Of
course,” the official said, “something can be done to fix this.” When
the old man asked the nature of the problem, he was told only, “As a
guest, one must consider with whom one associates.” The
official’s words were obvious and deliberate.
To Abraham this could only mean one thing; Anna's presence in his home had caused some difficulty for the
Bolivian government. “Señor
Kraemer,” the visiting official began, “we in the government
wish to be of assistance to our friends.
However, there are some things that our friends must do for
us.” Abraham now
understood the situation well. The
government wanted something from him and if he cooperated the government
would make his visa problem go away.
After delivering the thinly veiled threat the official walked
behind a counter. Reaching
into a jewelry case the official chose a diamond bracelet and placed it
in his pocket in full view of his host.
The message was clear; the government could take from Abraham
what it pleased. If Abraham
resisted, even for a second, he would be severely dealt with.
Spending a few more minutes eyeing another jewelry case the
official turned his back on Kraemer,
toying with his new bracelet. “Señor Kraemer it has been
brought to our attention that you are harboring a fugitive from our good
By doing so you place yourself and your lovely wife at risk.” The
official’s words had found their intended mark.
Abraham was shaken by the threat.
He knew nothing of Anna's
past, except that she was now in mortal danger and that his precious Christina
could be harmed. “What is
it you want?” Abraham
asked respectfully of the official.
“Only that you turn the young woman over to a certain man this
evening. This woman must be
given up to the Argentine authorities for questioning.
It is in regards to the death of her husband, a young immigrant,
who was a German officer in the last war.” As
the official once again reached into a jewelry case and extracted a gold
ring, he cautioned Kraemer.
“There can be no questions regarding this matter.” The
words were menacing and were accompanied by a cold stare from the
the Old Man offered, “surely there’s another way?
Perhaps another more rewarding way for all parties involved?” Understanding
Abraham’s offer, the official looked greedily at him.
After quickly considering the possibility of Abraham’s questions,
the greedy official offered a compromise. “Señor
Kraemer, perhaps our
government might be persuaded to review the situation for, let us say,
twenty-four hours. In that
time, if the woman was no longer found on Bolivian soil, then the
incident could be considered closed.” The
Old Man knew what would come next, the Bite, the bribe.
Kraemer seized the initiative. “Señor
perhaps I could help to defray some of the costs that have been borne by
our government in this unfortunate matter.” The
old man offered respectfully. Kraemer then reached down behind one of his paneled jewelry cases
and into his safe. Without a
word the old man placed a small pouch in the official’s hand; in it
were ten beautiful diamonds. Smiling
greedily, the sweating official opened the pouch.
“Your gift to your government will be long remembered.” The
official commented arrogantly as he moved toward the doors of the shop.
“Remember,” he said in a threatening voice, “you have only
twenty-four hours to move this package out of the country.” With
those words he left the shop.
Once the official was gone, Abraham closed the small shop and raced
home. As Abraham entered the
house he shouted, “Anna, you
must gather your things together quickly.” There
was panic in his delivery of the news.
“There’s no time to lose.
They know you’re here.” He
said in a trembling voice. “Who
knows, Abraham?” His wife
prodded nervously. “Never
mind that now Mama, we must get Anna
and the baby to safety.” Abraham
allowed no more discussion. All
three knew that time was of the essence.
The Old Man understood clearly the message he’d received.
Anna and Christina would have to be off of Bolivian soil within twenty-four
hours or they would live no longer.
He’d learned from his days with the Nazis that one could not
rely on hope or kindness when it came to such matters.
Anna and the baby had little time.
Bundling up Christina
and placing a few of Anna's
things into a leather satchel, Abraham moved them quickly out the door
and into the rain soaked streets. Walking
fast down the street to an alleyway, Anna
heard an automobile motor start. The
old man sensing her fear turned to Anna
and told her not to worry, that it was a friend.
As they walked into the alley the old man reached toward Anna.
Embracing her, Abraham smiled kindly.
He bent down and kissed Christina
tenderly on the cheek. Mama
held Anna and the baby closely
as the cold drizzle fell on the sad little family.
“You will go with Fernando.
He will take you safely across the border into Peru.”
Abraham assured Anna with a forced smile. “Once
there, you’ll make your way to this house.” He
instructed while pressing an addressed envelope into Anna’s
hand. “The people there
are personal friends of mine. They
will help you.” His words
were promising and gave Anna
hope. She stared into
Abraham's tearful eyes. “Papa,
why have you been so kind? You’ve
showed so much love and compassion to strangers.” Anna’s question was from her heart.
“Anna, people love
people, and who knows why? God
allowed me to see beyond any superficial differences.
When we first met, to you, I was only a Jewish jeweler.
And to me, you were just a Catholic girl in trouble.
But God brought us together.
You and Christina filled a void in our lives.
In the end, we’re just people but more than that, we are a
family.” Abraham smiled broadly at her.
In tears, Anna reached
out to embrace them both. As
Anna turned to enter the
automobile, mama and Abraham held each other tightly.
Before she could enter, the old man grabbed her hand.
Opening it up, he placed a small wet leather pouch in it and
wrapped her fingers around it. “Daughter
this will take you and Christina
a long way.” Pushing her
into the back seat of the auto, Abraham closed the door after her.
Then he shouted, “Fernando take good care of my daughter and grandchild.” Without
answering or bothering to look at Abraham, the young man simply nodded
his head, yes. As the auto
sped off into the black rainy night Anna looked back at the old couple.
She could see them waving goodbye as the auto turned the corner
speeding off into the darkness. Frightened
as she sat in the speeding automobile Anna
knew only too well that there were many that wished her story to never
be told. These people would
go to any lengths to silence her. Everywhere
Anna had gone they had found
knew that she must be more careful.
In the future every move she made would be calculated.
As she thought about the past several months with Papa and Mama Kraemer
tears came to her eyes. Once
again hope for the future had been ripped from her grasp.
The auto sped into the night as Anna
wondered what Hans would have
thought had he known that an old Jewish couple had saved his only
daughter’s life. Abraham
was right. People didn't
hate other people; they hated what they didn’t understand.
She had begun her relationship with the Kraemer's
thinking of them as Jews and nothing else.
Now she thought of them as grandparents to her daughter.
Relaxed by the sound of the motor and vibrations of the roadway Anna
fell asleep holding her daughter close.
Her exhausted mind retreated into the darkness of a deep sleep.
When Anna awoke she was
afraid and rather hungry. Feeling
alone and vulnerable, she instinctively held Christina
closely. Her hands shook and
tears welled up in her eyes as Anna
fought to regain control of her emotions.
Now was not the time to give in to her fears.
The driver, Fernando,
hadn’t spoken a word for the past several hours.
Intent on getting the three to their intended destination, he
thought of nothing else. As
for Fernando, he was
interested only in fulfilling his obligation to Señor Kraemer.
The truth be known, he was angry that this woman in the back seat
had placed his friend in mortal danger.
Abraham had always helped his family.
Whenever there was a need the old man could always be counted
upon for help. The young man
would ensure that the woman and her child were safe across the border in
Peru, but beyond that they
were on their own. Anna tried to strike up a conversation with him, but to no avail.
Knowing better than to waste her energy she fell back to sleep.
When Anna awoke the next
morning they had crossed the border into Peru.
They drove into the city of Cuzco,
in the southern part of the country.
Soon, the driver pulled the auto into a driveway of an estate.
After parking, a tired and grumpy Fernando
said nothing. Straightening
his tie and coat he got out of the auto and walked toward a large house
at the far end of the driveway. He
was gone for several minutes before returning to the auto.
“Preparations have been made for you and your daughter.
You are to proceed to the house.” Those
were the only words spoken by Fernando
as Anna and Christina got out
of the auto and watched him toss her bag on the ground.
As quickly as he’d delivered the message he was gone.
and her child stood in the driveway abandoned next to their discarded
bags watching as Fernando
drove away. A minute passed
before an older man appeared at their side offering to carry Anna's
few belongings. The tall
thin stranger walked Anna and
her daughter to the large villa.
There was no one to greet them at the door, only the silence of
an empty house. The man
guided them to a large elegant suite at the top of the staircase.
Once in the suite he assured Anna
that they would be comfortable there.
As he left, the man informed her that lunch would be served at
noon in the sunroom downstairs. Closing
the door softly behind him, the kind man left Anna
to her thoughts. Placing Christina
safely on the huge bed Anna
made her way into the cavernous bathroom.
Surveying the toiletries, she sampled bottles of perfume.
She then looked through drawers finding combs and brushes.
Anna was pleased with what she saw.
She then turned the ornate marble tub handles and ran a warm bath
for her and Christina.
After locating a bottle of perfumed bath soaps she poured the
contents into the steaming bath water.
Returning to the bedroom, Anna
looked through the drawers and closets and found sleeping gowns.
Anna took one and
placed it on the bed next to Christina
as she admired her little girl while she undressed.
Next she woke up Christina and the two made their way into the bathroom.
close, Anna carefully stepped
into the deep wide tub. She
slid into the warm, comforting water.
Holding her daughter against her breast Anna
relaxed in the soothing water. She
needed to feel pampered. Anna
had forgotten what it meant to be a woman.
Fate had afforded her little opportunity for life’s
and Anna bathed together for some time before getting on with the rest
of their day.
After toweling off and dressing, Anna clothed Christina.
They languished on the large bed for some time.
Lying quietly, Anna
played with her little girl. She
ran her fingers through Christina's
golden ringlets of hair. The
little girl smiled happily. Anna’s
child had Han’s strong jaw
and deep-set blue eyes. She
also had his keen mind and intelligence.
As Anna continued playing with her daughter there was a knock at the
door. The voice announced
that luncheon was to be served in half an hour.
Thanking the man through the door, Anna
placed pillows around her daughter and made her way into the bathroom.
She searched for makeup in the dressing table drawer; everything
she needed was there. She
made up her face quickly and was pleased with what she saw in the
mirror. With her makeup
complete, Anna chose an
afternoon gown from the closet and then changed her daughter.
Bathed and rested the pair walked downstairs and into the
As the two entered, Anna
found an elegantly dressed woman with light brown hair already seated at
the lawn table. Looking up
from her newspaper the beautiful woman smiled politely at them.
“Come in and join me.” She
invited. “Please sit down,
won't you.” She offered in
a formal tone. Anna
immediately sensed that this woman was cold and callused.
There was certain arrogance in her bearing.
Once seated, Anna
introduced herself and Christina.
The woman’s response to them was detached.
Lunch was soon served. After
the three had eaten in silence for several minutes, Anna
asked the woman's name. “My
dear, I think it best that we don't attempt social niceties.
You will be here only until I’m able to arrange passage to Colombia.
As indelicate as it may seem, do you have the diamonds for me?”
The woman asked greedily.
Startled by the request Anna
was put off. Then
remembering the pouch that Papa had given her, Anna replied coldly,
“Yes.” The woman stared
for a moment before replying indifferently.
“Well then, we shall begin making travel arrangements.
It will of course take several days for documents, plane tickets
and the like.” In a
business-like fashion the woman explained what Anna
said nothing more, preferring to remain silent and finish her meal.
The woman returned to reading her newspaper.
Once finished with her meal, Anna
purposely interrupted the woman’s reading.
“I will give you the diamonds once I have the documents and
plane tickets in hand.” She
announced soberly to the startled woman.
Fernando had failed to explain the arrangements to Anna.
Remaining silent for a time, the obviously slighted woman was
upset. “Well then our
discussion is at an end.” The
angry woman responded curtly. “Young
lady should you or your daughter need anything during your stay, please
feel free to ask the servants.” These
were the last words the woman spoke as she got up from the table and
left the sunroom.
Over the next two weeks, Anna
and her baby saw little of the woman.
Eating their meals alone, they dealt only with the servants.
Anna spent her days
studying books on geography that she found in the woman's study.
She used this time to carefully plan the remainder of her trip
northward to the United States. It
was at the end of the two weeks that the woman invited them to dine with
her. As Anna
and Christina entered the dining room the woman welcomed them with her
usual distant demeanor. Asking
them to join her, she held an envelope in her hand as they were seated.
Opening the envelope the woman began looking through the papers.
“My dear,” she began, “it appears that your travel papers
have arrived and are in order.” Anna
offered no comment, only smiling. The
woman seemed distracted until Anna
decided to close the negotiations. “Madam,
I have the diamonds for you.” Anna
offered in a calculated fashion. The
woman's manner changed immediately from aloofness to that of a mercenary
interest. “Well then, may
I have them?” The woman
replied harshly in a demanding tone.
Clearly their stay at the villa
was at an end. Anna
placed four perfectly cut diamonds on the bread plate in front of the
woman. The woman’s eyes
had watched hungrily as each sparkling diamond found its way onto the
plate. When the last diamond
lay on the plate, she stared coldly into Anna’s
eyes. With the price paid
the woman wasted little time in dispatching her guest.
Her last words were to order her chauffeur
to take Anna and Christina immediately to the Lima
Airport. Standing up from
the dining room table the woman turned her back on her guests and lit a
cigarette. She said nothing
more as the two left the room.
tickets listed their destination as Bogota,
Wasting little time packing their bags the two quickly entered an
awaiting car. The driver
said nothing to them as he looked straight ahead.
As the auto drove away from the large house the past two weeks
became hardly a distant memory. Anna
realized more than ever that the world with all of its glitter was a
cold and heartless place. Four
diamonds had bought Anna and
her daughter a short stay in a very cold house, owned by an even
frostier woman. At least
tomorrow’s plane ride would be a welcomed distraction from her fear of
the future. The roads were
in need of repair and the rainy weather conditions poor.
They stopped along the way only to care for Christina's
needs. The drive had been a
long one as the two arrived at the airfield hungry and tired.
The driver left them at the airdrome entrance, not bothering to
carry their bags into the terminal.
Anna was excited to be
leaving. They then made
their way into the waiting area. While
they sat waiting Anna noticed
that the building was new. The
terminal was a modern building with small shops and a restaurant bar.
A futuristic metallic ticket counter was its most dramatic
feature. Looking out the
wall of windows, Anna noticed
two large towers for air traffic control and a few planes on the tarmac
After a short time, Anna
and Christina made their way
to the metallic airline ticket counter.
Taking their luggage the clerk gave Anna
a claim ticket. The boarding
line was small and Anna had
little trouble securing their seating assignment for the flight.
With forty-five minutes left before departure the stewardess
announced the take-off time to the group of passengers over the speaker
system. Anna looked around and noticed that the passengers were fashionably
dressed, with two obvious exceptions, Anna
and her daughter. Before
leaving the estate Anna had
helped herself to a few of the dresses and suits in the closet.
This, she felt was only fair given the cost of the flight and
stay. Four diamonds would
have purchased months of hotel rooms and several flights.
She thought that this made her theft seem less of a sin.
Even so, Anna hadn’t
worn any of the clothes. Preferring
to wear her old clothes, the two appeared to be poor relatives of
someone waiting at the other end of the world.
Time passed quickly and soon the boarding for the flight's
departure was announced. Those
preparing to board were requested to walk through the ticket gate and
onto the tarmac for boarding. Anna and Christina were
first to make their way through the line and board the airplane.
Relieved that she would be yet one more country closer to
America, Anna silently thanked
God for the airplane. It was
a beautiful cloudless day in May 1952, when Anna
and her daughter flew away from the Lima
airdrome. But she could
think only of the difficulties that still lay ahead.
The flight went smoothly. Within
hours their plane was making a lazy descent to the Bogota
Airport. It landed smoothly
coming to an uneventful stop. As
they deplaned, the passengers were directed to the customs officers.
The long line and exaggerated procedures were needlessly tedious.
Customs reviewed passports and hurried the arrivals through.
When Anna and Christina finally arrived at the head of the line the customs
official asked for their passports.
“How long will you be staying in our country?” The
official asked almost mechanically.
“Two weeks.” Anna responded, pretending to be in control of her fears.
“Do you have anything to declare?” The
large man demanded. “No.”
Anna replied uncomfortably.
“Well then, enjoy your stay Madam.” He
said with a wide, toothy grin.
Next, Anna and Christina
made their way to the currency exchange office and converted Peruvian
currency for that of Colombia.
In a momentary panic Anna reached into her small bag and reassured herself that both
pouches were intact. Sitting
on a bench she opened each pouch to look at the gold coins and diamonds
to be sure they were still in her possession.
Anna carefully removed the diamonds from their leather pouch and
watched as they sparkled against the lights that washed over them. She
was relieved knowing that the gold coins and eight diamonds would keep
her and Christina safe from
the world for a time. Having
exchanged currencies they secured a taxi and left the Bogota airdrome. Once
again faced with a need to re-establish a home for Christina and herself, Anna
ceased marveling at the glitter of the big city.
Her only thought was of survival.
Asking the driver to take her to the heart of the business
district, they were dropped close to a jewelry shop.
Entering to negotiate the conversion of her little fortune into
currency, Anna remembered the
information Papa Kraemer had
given her about the value of diamonds and other precious stones.
She would not be cheated. Anna
quickly completed her hard-nosed negotiations with the owner of the
shop. Receiving an excellent
price for the high-grade quality diamonds she now had the money needed
to find lodging and to provide for her and Christina.
With passports in hand and enough money to last her for several
months, Anna could now play
the part of a tourist. A
happy Anna hailed a taxi and
instructed the driver to take her to a hotel close to the business
district. Dropping them at a
hotel close by, the driver raced off to his next fare.
The Hotel Greco was pleasant and located near stores and
restaurants. Having secured
a room the two settled down for a quiet day’s rest.
They slept the day away and ordered room service the following
morning. The next few days
and nights were spent studying English and the financial markets.
Anna’s plan was to
learn both languages necessary for her future.
Vowing to never again allow herself or her daughter to be victims
of this heartless world, she knew that money would be their only
protection in life.
Over the next six months, Anna
studied hard. At every
opportunity Anna attempted to
speak English. Each time she
met an American, she tried to communicate in the language of his
country. For her, English
was difficult with its tenses so different from her native Spanish.
But she worked hard to learn.
There were so many differences.
The language confused her. Finding
finance equally confusing, there seemed to be no logic to the
fluctuations in the markets. It
appeared that the selling of stocks was based upon emotion rather than
utility. But finally after
months of study Anna began to
One day while lunching with Christina
in the hotel restaurant things suddenly changed.
While reading the financial section of the newspaper, Anna
was approached by a well dressed young man.
In a business suit and smiling broadly, he introduced himself as Señor Alberto Vega.
Offering a kind word about Christina’s
beauty, he left with a wink. In
the following weeks, Alberto
made a point to say hello when he found them lunching.
One day he happened by while Anna
was reading a book on finance. He
asked Anna what her interest
was in such dry material. She
explained her interest in the value of stocks.
He then offered to tutor her on the stock market and commodities.
Alberto explained that
he was a commodity broker in his father's firm.
Anna accepted his kind
gesture and over the next few months Señor
Vega taught her much about the
markets. But there were two
things about him that made Anna
feel uncomfortable. First, Señor
Vega always appeared to be in the vicinity, no matter where she and Christina
happened to be. Wherever
they went Alberto was soon to follow. Second,
whenever they were together he found reasons to inquire about her family
It was in December, that Anna
began feeling nervous and unable to shake the feeling that she was being
followed. Over the next
several months, Anna returned
to her room to find her belongings moved slightly and the dresser
drawers left ajar. The
closet doors were left open and her clothes appeared out of order.
At first, Anna thought
these oddities were only a result of her paranoia.
Later she found out differently.
One cold night in January, Rosa,
an employee of the hotel, knocked on her door.
As Anna opened the door
the young woman instructed her to be careful and said that she would
return later that night when her work was done.
In the early morning hours, Anna
heard a knock. Opening the
door she saw a frightened Rosa
standing before her. “Please
let me in, Señora,” Rosa pleaded
in a quiet, frightened voice. “What
is wrong Rosa?” Anna
asked, concerned. The young
girl began explaining. Over
several weeks Rosa noticed a
man letting himself into Anna's
room while she was out. At
first, Rosa thought the man
might be a gentleman friend. But
once she saw him entering the room using a small instrument instead of a
key. When the man realized Rosa
had seen him, he ran after her. Catching
her in the stairwell, he threatened her, demanding she forget what
she’d seen. Explaining to Anna that the man was a government official, Rosa said she feared for the Señora.
As Rosa began to leave Anna
thanked her for the information. Rosa refused the money that Anna
offered. After Rosa left Anna rushed to
the sofa and turned over one of the pillows.
Unzipping the pillow cover she searched the stuffing for her
precious diamonds. To her
relief they were there. Next,
she removed a second pillow cover and searched for their passports.
Reaching deep into the stuffing Anna
found nothing. Frantic, she
began ripping off the fabric. The
passports had been taken. Fear
soon got to her and tears streamed down her face.
After several minutes, Anna
began to think clearly again. She
realized that they had little time to escape.
Anna reasoned that the
authorities would be her next callers and they would want to see her
passport. If she couldn’t
produce the documents they would have little choice in the matter.
The officials would be forced to detain her until extradition
could be arranged. Anna packed quickly, gathering up only those things needed for a
short trip. With Christina in her arms she moved hastily out the door.
Choosing not to use the lift, Anna
ran to the stairwell and down to the lobby area.
There she saw Señor Vega
with two policemen talking to the hotel manager.
Anna turned quickly and ran down the corridor to the back exit.
As she left the building she could see a group of policemen
waiting at the front of the hotel. No
one noticed her walking in the dark alleyway as she and Christina
made their way into the night. Walking
quickly for several blocks Anna
finally hailed a cab. She
paid the driver to take them to Medellin
and there, she and Christina
took a train northward through Panama.
The train continued on its way through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras,
and finally, Guatemala.
Each time Anna reached
a border crossing there had been the Coima, the bribe. Without
passports she and Christina
were the perfect victims. There
was always a government official who specialized in the Coima.
They were very kind and understanding, always ready to lend a
helping hand once the helping hand was full of money.
They were all the same, turning a blind eye after the bite.
By the time they reached Mexico,
Anna’s precious stones were no more.
Each crossing had cost her dearly.
Anna now had only
enough money to reach the American border with Mexico.
Tired and hungry, she and Christina
finally reached the town of Tijuana.
Only by the grace of God had they made it to the border without
major difficulty. When Anna
saw the American flag blowing in the breeze across the fence from Mexico, she nearly wept. The
United States, the sound of those words brought tears to her eyes.
Over the past hellish years she had thought of nothing else.
They were now so close and yet so far.
went over again and again in her mind just how she would get them across
the border. Knowing her
English was poor, no, worse than poor, terrible, she ran the many
possible scenarios through her mind.
Exhausted, tired, and hungry she began feeling faint as she stood
in front of a large market on the Avenida
herself hard, Anna began
putting together her final plan. The
market was a large, open affair offering many colorful items to the Americano
There were brightly colored clothes, shoes and leather goods.
By the reactions of the Americanos
these were goods they needed. A
dark complexioned, portly man approached her and asked if she was
feeling ill. Anna
was now aware of how bad her predicament was.
They were running out of time.
Christina was sick and Anna
was exhausted. If they were
to survive she would have to act quickly.
Anna had very few American dollars left.
She quickly studied how the Americanos
were dressed. The women
sported cheap cotton slacks and lightweight blouses.
Others wore the colorful native Mexican peasant dresses they had
purchased from the marketplace. Anna made her decision. She
would buy a peasant dress and look like any other Americano turista passing
back across to the other side of the border.
Having purchased clothes for herself and her daughter, they were
now the picture of turistas. As
Anna and Christina moved toward the turnstiles separating Mexican foot
traffic from the United States, she watched carefully as the border
guard asked questions of the returning tourists. “Country
of origin?” The guard
questioned almost mechanically. The
returning Americanos rarely answered the question acting as if the guard
didn’t exist. They walked
through and continued their conversations without so much as
acknowledging the presence of the questioner.
Watching for several more minutes she made mental notes.
It wasn’t so much what they said, but how they said it.
Several turistas stood
and waited for something as they talked and laughed loudly.
Soon a large bus arrived. Always
alert, Anna pulled Christina
along and joined them. The
driver was an older man. He
asked no questions only directing traffic to the rear of the bus.
Soon the bus was full. Once
all were seated the bus pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway.
As they traveled along she was reminded of the large buildings
her own capital city. Soon Anna
was asleep, the kind of heavy sleep a child experiences when returning
home from a long journey. Traveling
for what appeared to be several hours before stopping, Anna
was awakened by the sounds of people hurrying to disembark the bus.
Talking and laughing the turistas pushed and shoved as the bus emptied.
Quickly Anna took Christina's
hand and they too departed the bus.
She read the bus terminal sign.
It read “Los Angeles”.
Anna was almost at the
end of her ability to cope. Tired
and afraid, she was confused as to what to do next.
Then she heard it, that sweet sound, Español.
Two women in front of her were sweeping the floors and laughing.
Approaching them a frightened Anna
asked in Spanish where she might find a church.
Both women seemed surprised to find this Americana
speaking a strange accented Spanish.
They told her of a church in nearby Lincoln Heights.
They were very kind to her and provided directions.
The younger of the two women, Rachel, noticed the little girl
looking intently at the snack bar across the room.
The little girl appeared hungry and tired.
The women sensed something was wrong.
disoriented and frightened. “Are
you alright?” They asked
in a concerned tone. “No.”
responded. Crying, she
collapsed on a bench. Feeling
lost and afraid, Anna was at the end of her rope.
The concerned women sat down beside her.
The older of the two women, Lourdes,
placed her arm around Anna's
shoulder and held her tenderly as a mother would hold a daughter.
The other woman lifted Christina onto her lap and began talking softly to her.
They could see that the blonde woman in front of them was
exhausted and frightened.
explained that she had spent her last dollars on clothes for her and her
daughter. Anna then confided in them that she was in the United States
illegally. Both women
understood her problem. Each
had relatives that were illegal’s.
The older woman was moved by Anna’s
plight and offered her and her daughter a place to stay.
The woman could see that Anna
was visibly relieved by the offer. By
then, it was late and almost quitting time.
The younger woman took Christina
to the snack bar and bought her something to eat.
When they returned to the bench the younger woman gave Anna
a cup of coffee and a doughnut. She
ate and drank quickly before leaving. The
three took a local bus to the old woman’s neighborhood in Lincoln
Heights. By the time they
arrived at the woman's home Anna
was much more composed. She
now was feeling safer. Thinking
only of a soft bed and sleep, the pressure was finally off.
The house was a little clapboard bungalow that was many years past
its prime. There was a small
kitchen with very few amenities and a tiny bathroom that led to an even
smaller bedroom. “You will
sleep in my bedroom, Mija.”
Lourdes announced to Anna.
The woman's smile and gentle eyes reassured Anna that all would be fine. This
woman was as good as she was kind. They
spoke little; all were tired and in need of rest.
Walking into the bedroom, Lourdes
gave them both nightclothes. After
Anna and Christina had
changed the woman came in to wish them good night.
As the woman tucked them in for the night she prayed the rosary
over them. Falling asleep,
the last words Anna heard were
the woman’s prayers being offered up to God on their behalf.
In the late morning of the next day, Anna was still sleeping deeply.
She and Christina were
making up for several years of sleepless nights.
Lourdes entered the
little bedroom to bring coffee for Anna.
“Wake up Mija.” She
said in Spanish. When Anna
didn't respond the older woman simply kissed her on the forehead and
left her to her dreams. It
was a sunny afternoon when Anna
heard the singing of Spanish songs coming from the kitchen.
At first, Anna thought
she was back at her home, at the estancia.
At the estancia the
maids always sang in the mornings as she awoke from the night’s
dreams. Suddenly Anna was awake, pulling her daughter close to her.
The old woman could hear the rustling coming from the bedroom.
“Anna,” she called out, “Are you hungry?” The
older woman’s voice was calming to Anna.
“Yes, Lourdes,” Anna replied
sleepily. After a few
moments, Anna and Christina joined Lourdes
in the small kitchen. Both
ate as if there was no tomorrow. The
old woman watched in silence as the two ate everything in sight.
“Are you two full?” She asked with a twinkle in her eye.
With that question they all laughed.
During the meal Anna had
many questions about this strange new country.
She had not known that so many Latinos
lived in Los Angeles.
Lourdes explained how
many, like herself, had come to the United States for its promise of a
new future. Here jobs were
plentiful, unlike her native Mexico.
In America one could hope for a better life, one that allowed for
some comfort. In Mexico,
only the rich could reach for the future.
Anna listened intently as Lourdes
talk for hours about her past in the old country.
The rich had abused and enslaved in Lourdes’
world. Nowhere was there a
kind word for the brutal rich. Anna learned quickly to hide her privileged past, knowing that Lourdes
would never understand her previous station in life.
For Lourdes, this would
have meant an end to their friendship.
The topic of discussion finally moved to Anna's
predicament. Lourdes asked Anna how she
and her friends could help. They
discussed the possibility of a job, then a place for Anna and Christina to
stay. The old woman insisted
that they stay with her for as long as it took to be settled in their
new home, “America”. She
said the word with a reverence. It
was clear this was a wonderful and sacred place to Lourdes.
wrote a letter of introduction for Anna
to bring to the rectory. To Anna's
surprise, it was written in English.
“What does the letter say?” She
asked genuinely concerned. “It
says only that you’re a poor girl in need of help from the Church.
It also says that your daughter is in need of clothes and toys.
And finally, it says that you’re not a lazy person and you want
to work. Mija,
the Priest will understand.” Lourdes
reply was meant to take away Anna’s
fears. “Mira Mija, there is a dark side to this place, one that you should
know about. There are groups
of families who control the bad things that life has to offer.
You know, the women of the night and the gambling.
And worst of all, the Devil's own drugs.
Many of the young ones are trapped in this underworld.
They are prisoners of the dark side of life.
Once they become part of it, they can’t return to God.
So many have died so young, there is great fear in our streets.
It's as though the Devil himself has taken up residence here.” Lourdes
offered these words in a hushed tone.
She then tried to explain to Anna
about myself, my parish, and the barrio.
“The Priest has done much to keep the young ones from this evil
way of life. Even the evil barrio
gangsters fear him. There’s
one, Señor Aragón,
who many believe to be one of the heads of the La
Familia, the Family. He’s
a friend of the Priest even though he is involved in many dark things.
It is to this Priest we shall send you.
This angel from a land across the sea will help you as he has so
many others. Mija, it’s very important that you don’t lie, for he will know.
He understands our people. When
speaking to him do so with great respect for he has many powerful
friends. Many people in the barrio
get help from him when needed. So
you will go to him tonight and plead your case.
But first you must go to the church to light candles and offer
prayers to the Virgin. Then
you must go to the confessional. You
will take my rosary beads for good luck.
They’ve been used to pray for the needs of many people.
Good things have come from these prayers.
Perhaps the Virgin will grant your prayers this night.” Lourdes offered reassuringly.
Finally, Anna’s story
was at an end. She had used
the confessional and her time with me to rid herself of demons.
With her confession finished, I assigned Anna
the penance of ten Hail Mary’s and ten Our Fathers.
As I closed the small door to the opening between us I knew that
this woman’s confession had impacted me greatly.
I had pity for her as I closed the door to the confessional
behind me and walked away. Anna
felt terribly exhausted having finally told someone about her horrible
ordeal of the past three years. And
yet in the end, she was still alone.
She remained in the dark confessional for a while thinking about
what this new world outside had in store for her and Christina.
As Anna prepared to
leave the small room she felt a sense of relief.
Somehow God had allowed her to unburden herself.
Returning to the pews Anna
completed her prayers. Soon,
she rose from the pew to leave and saw me at the back of the church.
She moved quickly attempting to leave the church, feeling
uncomfortable at seeing the man to whom she had just recounted her
life’s story. As she
neared the end of the isle, I motioned for her to follow me.
Just then Anna
remembered Lourdes' letter. When we
met on the sidewalk outside of the church she handed it to me.
Pulling my glasses from my coat pocket, I put them on and read
the letter. As I stared at
this tired, tortured soul there was little I could say.
“Do you have a place to live?” I
asked her in Spanish. “Yes.”
She answered me in heavily
accented English. I remember
smiling at her attempt to communicate in a foreign language.
“Have you a job?” The
question was asked knowing that she was in need.
responded ever so bravely. “Come
back tomorrow. I will see
you at 10:00 a.m. sharp. Don't
be late.” I said in
Spanish as I turned and walked away.
Anna looked relieved that I had taken an interest in her plight.
I could see that she felt comforted as she left to return to Lourdes
returned the following morning two hours early.
Waiting in front of the church, she walked back and forth between
the church and the rectory. My
housekeeper, Flora, had
noticed the woman pacing back and forth when she arrived at work that
morning. As Flora
began her house cleaning duties, she peered out the window and studied
the woman intently wondering what this beautiful Anglo woman was doing
in the barrio.
When I came downstairs for my morning coffee I found Flora
peering out the window. I
asked what she was staring at. Flora
said only that a crazy gringa
was walking around outside. Later,
when I went to the front door of the rectory to retrieve my morning
newspaper I saw Anna.
She was very punctual and that was a good sign.
As I walked down the front steps of the rectory I called to her,
“Señora would you like to
join me for breakfast?” As
Anna turned toward me she
smiled. “I would be
honored, Padre." She
shouted back in Spanish.
We sat together that morning in the rectory garden and enjoyed
breakfast. It was as if we
had known one another forever. There
was no pretense. Enjoying
ourselves as we talked about her work experience and her lack of a legal
status, I found Anna to have
all the social graces of the rich, but without the arrogance of her
social class. She shared her
knowledge of the arts, music, and opera.
Anna could play the piano and sing.
But beyond these she knew little that was of utilitarian value.
Her knowledge of French could be of value to her later on.
But her lack of English language skills was a handicap.
Anna assured me that
she wasn't afraid of hard work and I believed her.
I was most concerned about her illegal status knowing that if she
were to be found out she would be deported.
The American government wouldn’t accept her story of Argentine
grievances. She would be
viewed as just another illegal alien from Latin America.
America had a narrow view of foreigners.
No more wetbacks were wanted.
To most Americans anyone who spoke Spanish was a Mexican.
What Anna needed was a
job that demanded little interaction with the outside world.
I thought hard about what she might do.
She needed a position that would keep her from questioning eyes
and ears. Understanding Anna’s
predicament, I also knew she needed a safe place to stay.
It was then that I thought of Michael Aragón.
His existence was a lonely one.
He needed some semblance of normalcy in his life.
had just adopted a second son, Benjamin.
He could barely raise Kenneth, let alone a second son.
With a large house and no one to keep it for him, Michael needed
help. The two boys also
needed the influence of a woman in their lives.
Believing that Anna would
do nicely, I excused myself from the breakfast table and went to my
library. I wrote a letter to
Michael explaining Anna's
situation. Upon returning to
the garden I gave the letter to Anna,
telling her I knew of a family in need of a governess.
As I gave her directions to Michael's home I described his
situation. With breakfast at
an end, I sent her on her way. Anna
followed my directions and walked the five blocks to the Aragón's
home. Once there she became
uncomfortable and left to return to Lourdes’
home. When Anna arrived back at the house she told Lourdes what happened. Lourdes
convinced her to return to Michael’s home and follow my instructions.
It was early afternoon when Anna
and Christina returned to Aragón's house. The
house was a large two story affair, old and in need of paint.
Anna noted that the
windows needed washing. The
yard was largely unkempt with grass and shrubbery poorly maintained.
Gathering up all her courage she and Christina
walked up the stone stairs to the front door.
After turning the mechanical doorbell Anna
stood there for several minutes waiting for someone to answer.
Then she noticed someone inside peering out the side of a
curtained window. But still
no one answered the door. As
she and Christina turned to
walk away, the door suddenly opened.
There stood Michael Aragón.
A tall man, he was over six foot.
His large muscular frame was strong and fit, his hair light brown
and wavy. With his light
green eyes and fair complexion Anna
found him quite handsome. Behind
him stood two little boys, one with very light blonde hair and the other
with reddish blonde hair and freckles.
Both were very quiet and well behaved.
“What is it?” Michael barked in English, assuming she was an
Anglo. Anna sheepishly reached into her purse and took out an envelope.
Without saying a word, she handed it to him.
He asked her to wait as he closed the door and went back inside.
opened the envelope and read the contents.
“Damn Priest.” Anna
heard him say in a loud angry voice.
Anna waited patiently
until he returned to the door. From
behind her, little blonde Christina
looked up at Michael and smiled. Returning
the smile Michael was moved by the child’s innocence.
She reminded him of Kenny. “Won't
you come in?” He asked
her, this time in Spanish. As
the two walked inside Michael offered them coffee and juice.
Anna said yes to coffee and Michael left for a few minutes.
While he was out of the room the two boys came out from behind
the couch and walked up to Anna. Asking
her in Spanish who she was, they then asked to play with the Christina.
The three children left to play in the backyard.
returned with the drinks he asked where the little
girl was. Anna
explained that the boys had taken her out in the yard to play.
The two sat uncomfortably on the couch.
A clumsy conversationalist Aragón cared
little for chitchat. He
hadn't had a woman visitor in his home for quite sometime.
“You are here for a job?” He
asked, trying to break the ice. “Yes.”
Anna responded flatly, wanting
to be respectful. Unprepared
to discuss employment, Aragón
began with the usual questions one would ask of a prospective nanny.
Speaking in general terms for several minutes the two discussed
what the job would entail. Anna then asked him how much the job would pay.
Michael explained that he would pay twenty dollars a week.
Upon hearing the offer, Anna
immediately asked for twenty-five. Aragón
said nothing for a minute or two. “If
I give you the job you must never speak to anyone about what you see or
hear in my home, not even the Priest.
Is that understood?” Aragón’s question was more a command that a question.
Having listened intently, Anna
nodded her agreement. “Where
will Christina and I sleep?” She
asked respectfully. Aragón
motioned to the floor above, as he told her that the two would share the
same room. He then added
that the room had its own bathroom.
Anna smiled meekly as she thanked him.
Both seemed happy with the arrangement.
Looking Michael in the eyes, she held her hand out to him.
They shook on the agreement.
Aragón liked her
straight forward manner. He
liked people who were direct and to the point.
Long ago, he had learned that people who looked him straight in
the eyes were worthy of his trust. Anna then asked him when she and Christina could move in. Aragón explained that he would need her to start
immediately. With those
words the discussion was at an end.
Aragón asked her to remain seated while he went out to
fetch the children. The four
returned to the living room and Anna
and Christina left.
Shortly after Anna and Christina
explained to the boys that the woman and the young girl would be
returning to live with them. The
boys were excited about the idea. Aragón
asked them if they liked the woman, both shook their heads, yes.
Later, I received a telephone call from Michael.
We talked about his visit with Anna.
He agreed that it was time for the boys to have the influence of
a woman. Michael felt
uncomfortable with the idea of a man raising children alone.
It was he that mentioned that Anna
could take the boys to church, as his mother had taken him.
“At least now,” he said, “the boys will have good meals.”
mentioned the loneliness he’d seen in the woman's eyes.
He felt there was a story behind those eyes, one which he would
someday understand. “The
way she spoke and carried herself, showed great dignity,” he commented
approvingly. Michael could
see through people. It was
his business to size people up. He
could tell a phony a mile away. He
felt she was a lady in trouble, running from something or somebody, but
from whom or what, he didn't know.
I know that I always had a special place in Michael’s heart.
Even though for years we had an ongoing battle of wills.
He knew very well that I didn’t approve of his Family business.
And yet, strangely, we had always remained friends.
His psychological wounds and loss of manhood had left him an
empty shell of his former self. Though
I judged his gangster business harshly, he knew that I loved him.
Anna’s coming into his life would be a blessing.
When she returned to Lourdes’
home, Anna explained to her
that she had found employment through me.
Both woman thanked God for answering their prayers.
Anna didn't bother to
tell Lourdes her new
employer’s name. The two
gathered up Anna's things and brought them to the front door.
Both cried as Anna and Christina left
the little house. Anna promised Lourdes that
some day she would repay her kindness.
10/29/2015 02:57 PM