Emma and Simone faced their first frigid winter alone. The slow-burning coal kept the stove going overnight. In the morning, ice covered the windows and locked them shut. Emma had to use a red-hot iron to get them open. War rationing reduced their diet to a bare minimum; everything had to be bought with government-issued ration tickets. Emma used her practical experience and became an expert at saving. Simone was growing taller, so her mother turned Adolphe’s old trousers into new outfits for her. She unravelled old sweaters, reusing the wool to knit gloves, caps, and stockings.
Simone had to go a long way to high school every day. She left and returned in the dark of night. Distress over her father’s arrest had given her a high fever, an understandable reaction, said the doctor. Emma was acutely aware of the stress her daughter carried. She had to go out one day and left Simone with a schoolmate’s visiting her. Emma’s return was delayed, and on stepping out of the streetcar across from the police station, she saw Simone under the streetlamp, wearing her nightgown under her coat, and shoes without socks. She was leaning against the lamppost sobbing, fearing the worst. Emma took her by the hand and wept silently in the darkness as they walked. As soon as they reached home, she dried her eyes and apologized for giving Simone such a scare.
It was far from the last anxiety her daughter would have. Simone returned from school one day looking pale. She had refused to give the “Heil Hitler” greeting and had been denounced to the school superintendent. Later that week, she was judged disqualified from entering Gymnasium (pre-college classes) and was expelled in front of the whole school. She came home and told her mother she felt proud to stand up for her faith just like her father.
The following Monday, Emma accompanied Simone to the Volksschule (a lower-grade school). The principal turned out to be a fanatical Nazi. At first he refused to admit Simone to the school. Emma calmly asked him to put his refusal into writing, since attendance at school was mandatory. She knew how to project calm and determination in such situations. She often talked to Simone about the three young Hebrews, who had shown the same spirit when facing the furious king and the fiery furnace. Their companion Daniel had likewise remained respectful but resolute when faced with the lion’s den. By means of celebrated Bible characters, Emma hoped to teach Simone how to face the furious Nazi beast without provoking unnecessary conflict.
Coded Letters and Cookies with Secrets
With mail contact cut off, Adolphe could not learn how his daughter had stood up for Christian principles. But Marcel, Aunt Eugenie, and the Koehls all joined Emma in commending Simone for her honorable stand of conscience. None of them would heil Hitler; only Christ Jesus, the Savior was worthy of such recognition. They encouraged Simone to stand firm without wavering.
As soon as correspondence permission came through, Emma wrote Adolphe using coded language: “The friends of the garden” referred to the Koehls. “Mother’s letter” meant the Watchtower. “Swimming” stood for baptism. “Haman” (a biblical enemy of the Jews) well fit the Gestapo. The evangelizing work was described as “sturdy shoes.” The “sanatorium” meant arrest. And Simone’s “good grades” symbolized her firm stand. Letter-writing was restricted to a few lines and a strict timetable.
The commandant at Dachau granted permission for families of prisoners to send them food parcels. The scarcity of food made it a challenge to assemble the contents. Emma bought some fish oil on the black market, and the Koehls and Eugenie added to the parcels as they could. By this means, Emma also smuggled “vitamins” to Adolphe. She wrote condensed excerpts of the Watchtower on thin paper, rolled it neatly, and stuck it between two cookies with honey. She bought the cheapest, worst-tasting cookies for that purpose, hoping that not many would be stolen. It worked. Adolphe wrote back his thanks for the “vitamins.”
Keeping up their spiritual strength as much as their physical health occupied top priority. Emma never wrote Adolphe about her struggles, nor would she complain about the difficulties she and Simone faced in his absence. Indeed, she would have liked to share details about the frequent visits of the Gestapo. One day they came just when she had borrowed the mimeographed copy of the banned book Children, written as a dialog between two young Christians, John and Eunice. The manuscript was too large to fit in the secret box under the table. She had put it in the closet. The two Gestapo once again burst in, and one walked straight to the closet and grabbed the book. Emma stood tensely while he began leafing through it. He laughed and tossed the book back in the closet. “It’s a love story,” he smirked. His partner was dubious. “Are you sure?” he said, reaching for the book. After having a look, he too tossed it back, muttering, “She doesn’t need love stories; she needs a man!”
Gestapo Take Aim at Simone and Marcel
Because of the camp mail censor, Emma had to refrain from telling Adolphe how his daughter had passed another test of her Christian faith. She held back details of Simone’s courage as two “psychiatrists” cross-examined her, trying to extract names and details regarding the underground work. Emma had to sit silently several feet behind Simone while the two men fired questions at the 12-year-old from both sides.
Emma did not dare write about their trip to the courthouse in Mulhouse and how the judge had questioned Simone on her refusal to give the Hitler greeting. On seeing the girl’s determination, the judge accused Emma of mentally corrupting her daughter. He issued a decision declaring the child in danger and in urgent need of rescue from destructive teaching. He ordered the city juvenile authorities to place her in a re-education home.
Not long thereafter, two classmates brought Simone home from school. The principal had beaten her because she refused to gather materials for the war. She shed no tears and showed no signs of being terrorized. Her determination remained strong, but later that day, Emma had to bring her to the doctor. She had severe cramps, followed by heavy menstrual bleeding. The doctor prescribed several days of bed rest. A policeman appeared at the door the next day with an order to send Simone back to school and a heavy fine for the day she missed. When Emma went back to the doctor, he begged her never to come again. The Gestapo had warned him not to treat the Arnolds; otherwise he would end up in camp himself.
Simone knew very well about the fate the judge had chosen for her. Emma never spoke about it. She firmly believed the Scripture, “sufficient for each day is its own anxieties.” She gave Simone the project of finding the documents they could use to go to her father’s home village in Italy. She found the spot in the atlas and read up on Italian life. Emma took a piece of fabric printed with one of Adolphe’s designs and made a nice dress for her. Aunt Eugenie crocheted her a matching pair of gloves. Emma decided to have a picture taken, and all three went to the studio.
During those darkest days, Marcel had been a tremendous support to all and especially a big brother to Simone. His time for fiery trial arrived with a draft notice in the mail. He came to the Arnold home to say farewell. Emma spoke inspiring words of encouragement, her voice full of emotion. Marcel was determined to love his neighbor as himself and to never take up arms against another. A wrenching, heartfelt prayer and a farewell at the balcony broke the dam holding back their tears.
A summons came in the mail to bring Simone to the railroad station. If the mother did not comply, warned the summons, the police would come themselves to take the girl. Emma kept the terrible news to herself until the very last moment. The afternoon before the fateful day, she put the summons on a little table in the living room and left the door to Simone’s room open, so Simone would see her clothes laid out on her bed when she came in. Then Emma went out to the balcony where she could wait and observe Simone’s reaction. They would talk about it together once the initial shock wore off.
From the way Simone dragged her feet as she walked down the street, Emma knew that she had had another draining experience at school. Later she learned that the school superintendent had called a large political rally around the Nazi flag. He made Simone stand alone in front of all the students and loudly denounced her refusal to salute.
Simone came into the apartment exhausted. Emma watched as she first spotted the clothes laid on her bed, and then as her glance fell on the summons. After a pause, she reached for the paper. There were no words, no tears, no sobbing. She stood there paralyzed, as if glued to the floor. Emma took her daughter in her arms. She spoke softly, reminding Simone that she was over 12, the age that young girls leave home for higher learning. If this was Jehovah’s will, it would turn out to be a blessing for her and would provide excellent schooling for the future. He would keep her under his wings, just as He had helped her till now. Time was short. They had to go shopping. Simone needed a manicure kit.
An Unwavering Mother
On July 6, 1943, two stern-looking women from the City Welfare Office stood waiting at the entrance of the railroad station. If they expected to see a nervous woman clutching a crying child emerge from the streetcar, they must have been surprised. Emma did not believe in letting her emotions overwhelm her mental clarity. Simone numbly followed her mother. Emma asked the women where they were taking Simone. She intended to go with them. Strictly forbidden, they replied. Emma countered that she wanted written proof of such a regulation. She could see from the summons the name of their destination, so she bought herself a ticket, despite their continued protest that they had verbal orders. Would they keep Simone isolated in a special car? If not, she had every right to board the train, which she did. The train left Mulhouse, heading toward Germany. In Freiburg they had to change trains.
They left Freiburg on an old German train with platforms at either end of each car. Emma asked to take Simone out on the platform to get some air. Standing in a misty rain, Simone started to shiver. Emma took her under her raincoat and held her close. Gradually, she warmed her by telling her Bible stories, talking about her father’s faithfulness, and giving her final advice. Be polite, never be stubborn, be diligent, set an example. You have the privilege of bearing God’s name, Jehovah. Everyone is suffering because of the war, Emma emphasized. But most suffer for nothing. A Christian has the privilege of suffering to prove his or her loyalty to Jehovah, a sacrifice of great value in God’s eyes. Emma assured Simone that she had God’s approval, that her mother had great confidence in her, and that her father found much comfort in her strong faith.
By the time the train pulled in to Constance that afternoon, Simone and her mother were conversing animatedly, as usual. But stepping out of the train, she fell silent again. They approached the building and read the sign: Wessenberg’sche Erziehungsanstalt für Mädchen (Wessenberg Educational Institution for Girls). At the gate, the two women stopped Emma and ordered her not to enter the property. Grabbing Simone, they continued on through the beautiful garden to the door.
Emma let them have their way momentarily. Then she followed them. The women again insisted that she stay out, to which she replied, “The sign doesn’t say parents are forbidden.” She walked up to the front door, where they stood with Simone. An elderly woman named Lederle answered the bell. At seeing Emma, she invited her in, saying that she always respected mothers who came along to deliver their children. Fraülein Lederle could not admit Simone because she had not yet received her paperwork. She would have to go to the courthouse. In the meantime, she directed Emma to take her daughter to Meersburg, on the other side of the lake, where the hotels were cheaper. The two women vehemently protested Fraülein Lederle’s decision, but she responded that she had full confidence in the girl’s mother.
Emma and Simone rode the ferry across Lake Constance (also called Bodensee) to Meersburg. The hotel room was plain but clean. But for the cautious Emma, it was not safe enough for her and Simone to have a private talk. They went for a walk to a secluded place in the vineyard of a castle, where she could freely pray. Together they sang a hymn, a religious cantata about the resurrection hope. She reassured Simone that the “home” had a nice garden and the elderly matron seemed honest. She was confident Simone would receive good schooling.
She had done all she could to fortify her daughter. One last night together, Emma tucked her in, and Simone fell into a deep sleep. From now on, she would only be able to beseech Jehovah’s protection to remain over her young girl.
On the return ferry ride to Constance, Simone again lapsed into a daze. Without a word or a tear in her eye, she stepped in the front door of the Wessenberg home. Emma was called in, but by then her daughter had disappeared without even a chance to kiss her mum goodbye. Two matrons had a long talk with Emma, trying to persuade her that she had made a poor decision to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Back in Mulhouse, the Koehls and Eugenie worried that Emma had not returned the same day, as expected. But the delay to Emma had been a real gift from heaven. At least now she could picture where her daughter would stay, which brought her some comfort. Stepping into the empty apartment, though, she felt all her strength leave her. Adolphe in Dachau, Simone in Constance, Marcel Sutter under arrest, and even Zita the dog was gone—she had been poisoned.
Emma decided to go to Bergenbach. She had heard that her mother had been sick. It had been many years since they had seen each other. Emma took courage and stepped into the delicate situation. Her coming took her mother by total surprise. Marie had to agree that she badly needed her daughter and that she would give the best help possible. It was late July. Inside and outside there was farm work to be done.
Before having left her apartment, Emma had arranged for Eugenie to keep up with the food parcels and the “vitamins” for Adolphe. She would copy the forbidden texts, and she or Adolphe Koehl would continue the risky job of smuggling them into the camp.