The Escape of Marigold Wolfe i
(For the freedom of all the world’s children)
Cologne Germany was post-card beautiful before the war with its Gothic architecture, connecting villages, and passionate people. It reveled in the cultural and religious differences of its inhabitants. When a baby was born, or a couple was married, church bells rang, and families gathered for celebrations.
The Wolfe family owned a Jewish newspaper at the end of a winding cobblestone street, and their cozy two bedroom flat was in back of the store. If you didn’t know how to get there, Zilka Wolfe’s colorful clay pots served as a landmark. Her sun kissed marigolds grew in all directions, and people stopped to admire them.
Zilka Wolfe had large soft hands that prepared the dirty works of the press, and kept an eagle eye on her village and world events. These same hands tended her flowers, and treated them like good friends. She made sure they were fed, looked happy, and took them inside when the weather got too cold.
As a first time visitor to the shop, you could hear little six year old Rebecca Wolfe welcoming everyone on the street as she reminded them to buy the paper. Rebecca Wolfe, was given the name “Wolfie" by the customers, as her shock of red hair, and her high-pitched voice reminded them of a young wolf. There were times when she made up songs and reached octaves that were higher than what a child that age could reach.
She was so helpful in the store, and proud of her mama, and her grandfather, who owned one of the few printing presses in the city. Rebecca’s job was to bring in the ink, and often times put the paper on the Gutenberg press.
The newspaper veered away from the political events of the country and focused on art, music, writing and discussion groups.
The family managed to create an ingathering of interesting people who cleaved to the world of the arts. On any particular night, people of all ages attended to experience the programs. A violinist cradled his finely crafted instrument and played the works of Beethoven. Poetry reading for new poets lent itself to a coffee house atmosphere, and it was followed by a home baked sweet table.
The German cheese cake pastries were divine, and everyone competed to make the best. Many times the winner was the Orange crème made with vanilla pudding, cream, eggs and orange lacquer.
The“grupe”, came from all the neighboring villages and enjoyed being together late into the night. Then the grandparents sat with the children and lulled them with their stories of their own childhoods. Wolfie, climbed into her grandma’s arms to hear the mama-lushin (mother talk). She felt peaceful and protected with her family around her.
There was so much sweetness in the core of this city against a backdrop of a new government- one that was racist, and prejudiced and began to remove innocent people from their homes, schools and work. In neighboring areas, property was turned to rubble and it created insurmountable fear.
The Wolfes were careful not to write about this scourge, as they were afraid that they and their neighbors would be taken from all that they knew. Many of the Jewish children were removed from public school for fear that they would be bused to a camp. When the deafening sound of air raids warned the people to take shelter because of bomb attacks, Wolfie asked her mother if there ever was a place where children could be safe.
The very next morning April 2, 1939, a group of children were playing right in front of the Wolfe newspaper. They were involved in chess games, red light green light, and stick ball. Wolfie sat on the street with Abe, a child that she knew since she was born, and was playing jacks and ball. Zilka stood in front of the shop with her smocked apron. Whenever she was cooking, she went outside to watch the children as they played on every section of the street. From the north, in the direction of the Cologne Cathedral, a young man with military garb was walking very quickly toward Zilka Wolfe. His presence was anachronistic, as he appeared too young to be wearing military fatigues. He didn’t pause to greet the children he had known for years and walked boldly toward Mrs. Wolfe. When he halted right in front of her, his face was lowered so that she could just see his eyes. In a raspy urgent whisper he said, “Mrs. Wolfe, for the safety of this community, please collect your family and your things and leave this city as quickly as you can”. “I know that you will inform everyone through code in your publication to leave now”. He turned and walked away as quickly as he appeared.
As Zilka processed what she just heard, she decided in the moment to make a decision. She called Rebecca inside, and tried not to seem agitated, because she didn’t want the child to worry.
She had thought about how her family could survive under the current conditions, and she formulated a plan. It was clear that her child Rebecca, had to flee the city with a trusted mentor who Zilka could trust with her life. Zilka had grown up with Elley Storubsky. The girls went to college together to study engineering. She was an adventurer, and lived in North Africa for a few years before the war, to help establish a synagogue for the Mellah. This indigenous tribe lived in harmony with the Muslims as both communities helped each other build houses of worship. At that time, It was unheard of for a woman to find themselves deep in the desert. Her photographs of heritage and survival became famous. Elley was Zilka’s most trusted friend, naturalist, gifted music teacher, classically trained singer, and had a deep connection to the world of mysticism. This was the woman Zilka Wolfe would entrust her daughter’s escape to.
Three days after the plan was set Elley Storubosky arrived with a small produce truck. When she swung open the back of the truck, it was filled with fruits and vegetables. It was a ruse, to confuse Nazi soldiers if the truck was stopped. Further into the truck was a black box that would hide her violin, children’s books, educational material, medical supplies, candle sticks and candles for the Sabbath, and a citizen’s radio. In the escape, Zilka lovingly explained to her daughter that she would have to hide during the long stretches of cities known for check points. She cried bitterly as she cut her daughter’s hair to mask her looking like a girl.
Zilka, her father Morris, and her mother Maty, held each other and said prayers for their safe arrival, and prayed for their return someday. The destination for the escape was the Black Forest and with many stops, a trade that involved the truck for train passes and a safe lodging, took six days. As it turns out Rebecca rode in front with Elley. Her German accent, would be uninteresting to the soldiers when they were stopped once. Rebecca had to be aware of her surroundings at all times, and became an excellent sentinel.
Once on the train she began to tremble so badly. It was a release of the hurt and fear. Elley gave her chamomile tea to quell her fright. In quiet whispers, she shared her pictures of her life in North Africa, and began to tell Rebecca many stories of the mystical wonders of the Black Forest.
To a child of six who had spent her years in a village helping her mom with a business, she could not begin to imagine. When they arrived in the forest,they were finally far from all cities and towns, and took paths that were etched by time, deeper into the dark woods. Mushrooms that looked like fairy houses beckoned to Rebecca. Her fascination for this eerie yet beautiful land drew her in and made her forget her longing for her family and the world she knew.
When Elley and Rebecca were thirsty they gently tapped the ground for water that was effervescent. The spring pointed to a new direction. They finally made it to one of many hiding places that they lived in for six full years. Elley explained that she would teach Rebecca her classical studies including math and science. They would learn a new routine and schedule that could be changed at any time. In the fun of learning, Rebecca was able to chart a course about the things she wanted to learn. The natural world became a life force for her.
In the first part of the journey they lived close to a cave and for some unknown reason the sun broke through and sustained warmth for hours in the morning. A golden misty field of the most beautiful marigolds sprawled out in the sunshine. You could almost hear the field of flowers laughing when they heard a child was coming to romp, and play. There was a special hum in the field that felt like a vibration.
One day Rebecca started to imitate the vibration she felt while standing in the meadow. She started singing the most beautiful songs. They came to her in a vision. The music in the field,was so lovely that it started to attract little foxes in the field. The baby foxes had no fear of the child, and they came to watch her and rested close to her feet. They brought a flower, and sometimes feathers from birds. Elley said that she would call her Wolfie because of her love of nature and her connection to the little foxes.
The meadow was a source of nurturing and protection. The marigold fields reminded Wolfie of her mother, and every time she was in the meadow, she could feel her mother’s soft and loving hands hold her little hands. The meadow had its own story to tell as there was an inexplicable earth sounds deep within the ground.
When people that Elley knew brought supplies, the meadow hummed with a happy sound. In the time that Wolfie and Elley were hiding, the meadow also warned them of danger. The echo of distant truck sounds alerted them to hide in a variety of places that were almost invisible.
Wolfie developed a love for singing. She was happy and peaceful in this forest. She learned about all of the animals, plants, and herbs that could be eaten and used medicinally. The marigold fields offered delicious flowers and greens for huge salads. Just like her mom said, “These marigolds are my good friends”.
One night about six years into her hiding, Wolfie heard a strange static sound on Elley’s citizen radio. There was yelling and cheering, and an announcement that the war was over. In the six years Elley tried to make contact with a channel that would connect them to the Wolfes, but she could not.
The time had come to go back to Cologne to look for family. Elley didn’t want Wolfie who was now twelve, to have false hope. She told her to accept, and ask to be guided.
After a long journey they arrived in their beloved Cologne to see the city was in shambles. They went down the familiar street where the Wolfe newspaper was, and noticed that on an entire city block, it was the only house standing. The first thing that Wolfie saw was the marigold plants. They looked a little wilted but still alive. Wolfie stood in front of the house and belted out a song as loud as she could. Mama Zilka, came running out and there was overwhelming joy. She trembled as she held her daughter's face in her hands.
The marigolds told me you would come back my child