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Jesus Wept

She did not want to remember. She had put it out of her mind for so long. But now it was happening again. She was sitting in an underground cellar as the explosions of Allied bombs shook the city around her. She pulled six-year-old Nadia closer to her. The thunderous sounds outside and the tremors jarring the family shelter’s did not seem to concern the little girl. What did perplex the child was that she could not wear her new dress to church on Easter Sunday—the dress with the pretty pink and blue flowers her daddy had bought for her for that special day when they celebrated Jesus’ coming back from the dead. Daddy himself had searched all over Belgrade to find that dress. Their pastor had passed the word for the church members to hold services in their own homes. It would not be safe to come to the little stone church building since the Americans and British and others were blowing up bombs and missiles in the Serbian capital every night. At least, Nadia said, Daddy was getting to read the Bible to some of their neighbors who were scared and who didn’t know Jesus and had come to the cellar with them. “But Grand-mama,” Nadia said, “I thought America was a Christian nation.” For a moment, the ghostly resemblance of Nadia to Grand-mama’s own sister Marta was so vivid the old woman had to rise and walk to the corner of the cellar. When she heard another explosion somewhere in the distance, her mind took her back, against her will, to the darkest day of her life. She shuddered as the images, the sounds--the smells--returned to her. Her father dead, she, Marta, and their mother were living with her own half-German Grand-mama Sonja when the British and American bombers came to Dresden. The population of the beautiful east German city was doubled because of the huge numbers refugeeing before the brutal Russian armies closing in from the Eastern Front. It was February, 1945, and World War II was almost over. She and Marta had been to the circus that day. They still had their own costumes on. Marta was dressed up like a pink bear. A skyful of British planes had begun the mightiest air raid in history on the city only a couple of hours before. Now, Grand-mama’s mother had left her and Marta with thousands of other children at the Central Station. They filled two entire trains. Their parents had brought them to be evacuated west. The children’s fright from the bombing, the heat of which had engulfed the city’s residential sections in a tornadic fire-storm, was gradually giving way to giggling and excitement at the chance to take a special trip. But then something had gone terribly wrong. More British planes had come. Grand-mama could not remember what happened next, only that she had wound up, alone, out on the Tiergarten-strasse, with the Kreuzkirche children’s choir. Later, Marta and the two trainloads would be piled in ten-foot high mounds of dead children at the Central station entrances. And then the American bombers came. Waves of them, hundreds and hundreds. Perfectly timed to catch the defenseless city as it attempted to save itself and its surviving people. But it was the fighter planes that broke Grand-mama’s heart and lined her young face with thin ridges of sorrow that had never left it. It was the fighter planes, the P-51 Mustangs that the American history books so revered, that machine-gunned the Frauendklinik-Johannstadt maternity home, killing 200 people, doctors, expectant mothers—and her mother, who was a volunteer nurse. It was the Mustangs that shot the Kreuzkirche choir director and killed handsome ten-year-old Karl, the choir’s brilliant soloist, before her very eyes. It was the Mustangs whose cannons and machine guns seemed to attack everything in the devastated city that moved--ambulances, fire fighters, trucks bringing food and water to the dead and dying, men carrying the limp forms of their children through rubble. It was the Mustangs who so effectively accomplished the Allied Air Commanders’ directive to dive to roof-top level and strafe “targets of opportunity.” The day the bombers came to Dresden, perhaps thirty-five thousand people were killed, perhaps fifty thousand, perhaps more. Maybe as many as the atomic bombs killed at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Now, Nadia was asking Grand-mama a question. Earlier in the evening, before the bombing had knocked out the television reception, the family had seen the American President Clinton on the news. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. “Grand-mama,” Nadia asked, holding her pink bear, her large almond eyes solemn and earnest. “Is America good?” Grand-mama did not know what to say. Then, despite herself, her head drooped and she began to weep many bitter tears.

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