“As you see, the girls are sorting through the clothing and separating items according to their class: male, female, boy, girl, baby and so on.” Franz smiled. “It is not difficult work and the rewards are many. I’m sure Rivka has told you.”
Hannah smiled. “Will I get to choose a dress today?”
Franz laughed. “Of course. I will soon tell you how you can earn even more.”
Hannah felt relieved. “May I start now,” she asked.
“Not quite yet,” the supervisor said. “We still have a few things to discuss.”
The way he said that made Hannah nervous again.
He signaled her to follow. She followed him to a hallway lit by three overhead bulbs.
He suddenly pulled her by the elbow into a dark stairwell.
She had heard rumors of what Germans do to young girls.
“Don’t be afraid,” he hissed. “I am not interested in you like that. I won’t hurt you…but others will…if you don’t do exactly as I say.”
“I will,” she blurted, feeling his fingers digging into her flesh.
He released his grip. “I want you to understand. I will do what I can to help you and your family…if you do as I tell you.”
“My family?” Hannah asked.
Franz frowned. “Of course your family! As long as you are a good and loyal worker, your family is protected. Didn’t Rivka explain this to you?”
“No sir,” Hannah mumbled.
“It’s very simple. We need you girls to do this work for us. As long as you do your job without question, your family will be allowed to remain. I have much influence.”
Hannah didn’t understand. How could working in a dress factory be so important that it could help her family remain safe in their home?
“You must never question any order you receive. If someone tells you to do something you do not understand, you come to me…but only me. If I say you must do it, then you must do it without question. Is that understood? Is that understood?”
Hannah did not understand, but she sensed this was not a good time to show her curious nature.
“Good! I assure you that you will not be mistreated as long as you do as I order. No one else will have control over you. Only me. But you must be careful.”
“I will,” Hannah muttered.
“Good,” Franz nodded. Suddenly he leaned toward her.
Hannah could feel the heat of his breath on her neck. She remembered the warnings of her mother about being alone with strange men and she felt her body tense.
“There is one more thing,” Franz said. “And this is strictly between us….”
Hannah tried to back away, but was blocked by the stairwell wall.
“If ever you find anything in the clothing…anything at all, you must conceal it from the others. Do you understand? You will hide it until it is safe to bring to me. Do you understand?”
Hannah wanted desperately to get away from the wall that was holding her against him. “Yes. If I find anything, I bring it to you.”
“You must hide it,” he hissed. “That is important. Nobody must see. I will reward you. Each thing you find and bring me, I will let you select an article of clothing for yourself.” He smiled and backed away. “I am very generous.”
“But what will I find,” the girl asked, her voice shaking.
Suddenly he was on top of her again, his eyes glowing in the dim light, his voice raspy. “It does not matter. I told you. No questions. Just whatever you find, bring it to me. As long as you do this, your family is safe.”
He released her from the stairwell. “I will now find you a seat by Rivka. She will help you learn.”
Hannah was so relieved to be out of that dark stairwell that she decided to keep all her remaining questions to herself. In time, I will know everything, she thought as she climbed the stool next to Rivka.
She leaned toward Rivka.
A voice barked. “There is no talking here! Work! That is why you are here!”
“They’re always watching,” Rivka whispered.
A large pile of clothes was dumped on the table. A quick glance revealed it contained a mix of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. Hannah hesitated.
“It is all clean,” Rivka whispered. “It is all right.”
Hannah sighed. It didn’t seem like much of a job to her, certainly not so important that it required guards and all this secrecy, but she was going to get new dresses…and Herr Franz had said her family would be protected…as long as she did her job.