Joseph Ottinger's blog

The Messiah

Sacharja looked at the forms for prisoner transfer in front of him. They troubled him; he kept getting the feeling that something was wrong, that too many prisoners were going into the camp at Bergen-Belsen, and not enough were coming out. Surely 1944 would be better; the Nazis would find some sort of equilibrium, or perhaps someone in the Army – von Brautitsch, perhaps – would muster enough support to ouster Hitler, if that was in God’s will.

A messenger boy, who looked nearly old enough to be recruited into the volkssturm, appeared in his doorway, breathless and distressed. Maybe the volkssturm recruitment had already happened. “Herr Kronen! I have news – but you won’t like it.”

Sacharja looked at him. “Yes? What is it?”

The boy lowered his voice. “Herr Kronen, your wife has sent me with two pieces of news. The first is wonderful – she is pregnant, with a boy she says!”

Sacharja was astonished. “How can this be? We are too old, I am too old even for the reserve – how can she be pregnant? But this is wonderful news, I must tell everyone-”

The boy interrupted him. “No, Herr Kronen – there’s more. Fraulein Elsi has asked me to tell you – her cousin has been taken for relocation.”

Sacharja scoffed. “We can address that, I think! My office – but why was she taken?”

The boy kept going: “She was found out… to be a Jewess.”

Sacharja stared: “… but if her cousin is Jewish… what does that make Elsi?”

The boy, solemn, spoke more quietly still. “In today’s Deutschland? A Jew. Herr Kronen, you must not tell anyone any of this! It is too dangerous! You must be silent – or you will surely be taken away as well.”

Sacharja found himself unable to speak.

Miryam was panicking. Josef ben Yaakov was with her, but he was a captive as well – he was trying to shelter her, and had been beaten multiple times for her sake already. He was a blessing from the Most Holy One – she had told him her terrible secret and he still stood by her.

She was pregnant. She didn’t know how; she’d had a terrible dream, in which an angel of the Most High had told her that she would bear the Messiah, and the next thing she remembered was days later, when she’d come out of a dream into a nightmare of soldiers and cattle cars.

That was a month and a half ago. To the best she could tell, her dream had come true in the worst possible way – she was, indeed, pregnant. And in a cattle car, with what seemed like hundreds of others.

Now the train was stopping, and she didn’t know where she was, and none of the guards would tell her. She didn’t want to have a child, much less in these conditions – and she feared Josef could not help her, and if he could, he might not be able to help her enough.

Weeks passed; Miryam spent the time in a haze of fear and desperation. The man in charge of the barracks she was placed in told her that she had to move, that he didn’t want her there – she wasn’t worth the trouble it took to feed the mice. Yet Josef had helped her – he’d somehow bargained with the man, and gotten her placed in something that felt almost safe, although cleanliness was impossible. She saw family after family separated, only to disappear forever in the factories or the woods.

She herself had found refuge in the stables. The German Army, despite its reputation as a mechanized infantry, relied on horses more than anything else, so they had them even here; the horses were treated far better than the prisoners were, but Josef had bribed a guard to perhaps keep her safe… unless the subterfuge was discovered.

A child born here, to a Jew, would be discarded without thought. The Messiah, she thought, born to her here, abandoned on a hill in the cold… her people would be lost forever. Where was the Most High? Was He unable to see, or hear, or care?

In September, the child was born. He was nestled with her in the hay, hidden from view, and the only clue she had that he might be special was in his silence – which protected her from the guards. In this, he had indeed delivered her even as she delivered him.

Yet she had to find a way out. She was underfed; how could she feed a child as well when she didn’t have enough?

The Army would have to do. When they shipped out, she would have to send the child with them somehow, and pray that the Most High would protect him.

She wrapped him in what passed for her coat, handed down to her from another prisoner when she first arrived, and stored him in a trough – and the guards never noticed the horses keeping the child warm and safe, even in his silence.

Perhaps he was the Messiah, as she watched the Army take her child away – like the Most High, he’d been quietest when the voices of the world needed to hear, to see, to believe.

She blessed the Name of the Most High, and prayed that somehow, he would wake and respond to her child, even if she were unable to survive.

She died in the Spring of 1943. Her son was found by a peasant Russian, and given the name Jakow. What happened to him?

Author’s comments

Well, it’s Christmas time, and I decided I’d write a Christmas story. If you can’t tell, it’s loosely based on the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke, but based in a more modern era, and it’s a lot more depressing – I didn’t want to make any kind of Messianic message, just wanted to tell a story.

The timelines are a little wonky. The German army did rely on horses, though, which didn’t serve them very well in the Russian winter.

The names are rough equivalents to the Hebrew names: Sacharja Kronen here is a rough analog to Zecharias, the priest (a cohen is a priest, you see…); Elsi is a form of Elisabeth, Miryam is Mary, Josef is, well, Josef.

Angels are messengers; Sacharja’s silence is self-imposed where Luke had the power of God or whatever muting him.

Hope you enjoyed the story.

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