The White Bedsheet

By Edeltraut Scheffler-Plath

Shortly after WW 2 ended in 1945, when I was living in a refugee camp in West Germany with my 4 year old boy, I became the proud owner of a white bedsheet.

I could not rid myself of an uneasy feeling, since the donor--a young soldier who was a patient in a nearby hospital--kept tormenting me with hungry eyes that left no doubt in my mind what kind of payment was expected from me. We had met a few times to make a "Foursome"--if one can call it that--including my boy and my girlfriend's 2 children.

Since I had no intention to oblige, I thought it best to return the precious article, and put an end to those meaningless dates. I appreciated the generosity when told to keep the sheet.

Nothing could be kept secret in those surroundings, and a few weeks later, I was offered a great deal of money for that strong linen sheet by the younger brother of the woman who was in charge of our camp. Very trustingly I departed with my treasure without even asking for a down-payment.

Some time passed by till I laid eyes on my customer again, wearing a handsome white suit! I asked him for the money he had agreed to pay; his smirking reply was that he had none!

At that moment I regretted being a woman. I would have liked to wipe that smile off his impudent face! And yet, I was almost in awe witnessing so much boldness. I couldn't help finding the incident somehow amusing: There was this charlatan strutting around in my precious bedsheet for which I hadn't received a penny, and it was my own fault for being so gullible. Still, I didn't like having been made such a fool of, and decided to take some action.

Relating the story of the boy's wicked behavior to his sister only upset her, and didn't gain me anything. I decided to go to the police to set matters right.

Here I was all alone at age 23 with my 4-year old son, whose father had been killed in Russia; our possessions consisted of the clothes on our back and all one small knapsack could hold. That youngster who cheated me so shamelessly did not live in a refugee camp, he still lived with his family.

My disappointment and apprehension is hard to describe when I learned nothing could be done to recover my loss; that on the contrary, I could even be charged with "Black Market Dealings!" I swallowed hard and thought it served me right. However, my visit to that police station proved to be most fortunate: In the policeman interviewing me I recognized the officer who used to guide the traffic back home at an intersection I had to cross daily when I was 16 years old. He also occupied with his wife an apartment in the same building where I visited some relatives occasionally at that time.

Our surprise was great to meet again under such circumstances so far away from home after 7 years. I think it was our background that revealed our former acquaintance rather than recognition. Some time later he proved to be of help sent from heaven.

Glad to get out of that refugee camp, I had accepted a room for myself and my little boy in a village nearby. After a year's search for my mother I located her in a hospital. She had gone through great misery when the Russians invaded our homeland and bombed our house to the ground. A few more weeks of recovery and I was able to take my mother with me. Some kind people in the village where I was living now gave her a place to stay. We were overjoyed and together continued the search for my sister and my 2 brothers.

Our happiness was of short duration. When I went to the Mayor to register all of us, (I was still registered in the refugee camp, the previous Mayor had told me I could not be registered, but since I had a room already I could stay) he told me cold-heartedly to get out of that village within 3 days or he would have the police throw us out. We had no right living there and should return to the camp!

He was given all the facts of our situation. A Red Cross nurse who lived in the same house pleaded with him on our behalf, as did the landlady, because I had lived there with my little boy already 8 months and we were respected tenants. Butter would sooner melt a stone than this man's heart. It was incomprehensible!

In our despair I contacted that policeman from back home, whom I had not seen since our first meeting. Now, the affair with the white bedsheet through which we had met paid off: That kind police officer was able to get us a nice big room the very same day in town! We were very grateful for his help out of our serious predicament, and when my sister found us a few months later, we experienced no problem taking her in to live there with us too.

Edeltraut L. Scheffler-Plath


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