“Papa had been a good man,” Ava Bähr whispered to herself. The photos hit her like a punch to the stomach, stealing her air, making her reel.
Rays of sunlight illuminated the motes of dust floating in her mother’s attic as memories—beautiful memories—played in front of her: days spent rowing on the lake with her brothers; picnics with the neighbors; bringing food to the elderly members of their close-knit community.
He taught us to be good people. To love one another. How did I not know he had such hatred in him. To don that uniform, she thought.
The uniform… How dare she even think he looked handsome in the photo? The model of youth with his smooth skin, chiseled jaw, and light hair, standing proudly among others with their black jodhpurs and red armbands. SS officers. The perfect Aryan specimens.
Ava curled in on herself, the bile rising in her throat. Mamma and Papa had hidden these. Papa had died years before, and Mamma couldn’t hide them any longer, two days in her grave now. She pushed the photos away, straightening her spine.
No. How could the parents who raised her and her brothers keep such a vile secret? How many people had this man who had treated them so well murdered because of their religion, their ethnicity, their sexuality? How could they not know?
“Papa had been a good man…” She focused on the box in front of her, rifling through. A yellowing letter caught her eye, another secret to maim her. Her head ached as she fought the disillusion of the truths she thought she knew.
Dear Herr Bähr,
I am pleased to announce I have found a girl of which you will most likely approve. Her name is Ava Jäger, born on April 23rd, 1935…
Her fingers twitched, the fragile paper crumbling. She squeezed her eyes shut, the word she couldn’t say—could hardly think—lingering on her tongue like poison. Lebensborn.
“Good God, who am I?”
“My sister.” A strong hand rested on her shoulder.
Ava opened her eyes to the youngest of her brothers. Kai mirrored their—no his—father’s image too much for her at that moment. “You knew?” She pulled away from him. “Do you all?”
Kai sat down heavily, his head shaking. “Only me.”
The realization washed over Ava. “That’s why you stopped coming around?” Kai had had a falling out with their parents right after graduating university, but none of the others dared ask Mamma and Papa what had happened. Their mother’s funeral was the first time he returned to the house in twenty years.
“The truth about father nearly killed me. And I wanted so badly to tell you that you were…are…” He trailed off, not wanting to say the word as much as she didn’t.
Ava leaned her head on his shoulder, squeezing his thigh. “Do we tell the others about father? About me?”
He nodded. “We start at the end of the lies.”