Froehliche Weihnachten, Sieg Heil

Author’s Note: The author apologizes for the lack of umlauts.

Froehliche Weihnachten, Sieg Heil

The soft layers of the cloth diaper rubbed over the sensitive mound of her womanhood with each step. The press of the padding tingled along her nerves, radiating waves of comfort in the quiet dark of night. The hem of her red nightgown swished around her ankles while the lace collar, cuffs, and hem shone like fresh snow in the dim yellow glow of the kerosene lamp. Her thick woolen socks made no sound on the wooden floors of the old farmhouse.

Gertrude carefully opened the doors between various rooms, trying to keep squeaky hinges silent. She tiptoed over the squeaky floorboards as she slunk through the house on Christmas Eve. Snitching a few Christmas cookies was an old childhood tradition between her and her twin sister.

The only thing that slowed her annual Christmas Eve sojourn was the diaper. Even a single cloth diaper forced her thighs apart, making her waddle. The thickness slowed her gait down. Just one layer, just one diaper, yet it felt like she wore several pairs of thick woolen underwear.

How had her sister Heidi tolerated such a bulky undergarment? In bed on a cold night, a diaper was comforting. But up and ambulating around, the warm bulk just got in her way. Heidi never had a choice about wearing and using diapers; she’d been incontinent all eighteen years of her short life.

Heidi had been born with deformed, twisted limbs. She was never able to talk or know when she had to go to the bathroom. Incontinent cripple. The doctors at the hospital had called her condition cerebral palsy. The family had called it a curse, an embarrassment.

Back when Gertrude was was a little girl, she only brought one friend inside to meet her sister. Her best friend, Magda the little Jewish girl. Heidi was kept hidden away, a shameful family secret.

Heidi never went to school. The doctors and family both knew she was incapable of learning. Gertrude tried to teach her what she learned in school, anyway. Heidi was never able to talk, but she learned to read. Heidi and Gertrude even proved it to their parents. The doctors refused to believe it, chalking it up to wishful thinking.

Gertrude slipped into the spacious living room. The diaper pressed against her privates. It was dry; she had no intention of actually using it. She only wore them to feel closer to her dead twin. Heidi had been gone for a year, but the would of her passing was still fresh in Gertrude’s heart.

Heidi had been her best friend and confidant, even if she could only grunt and drool. Gertrude learned to interpret those grunts until they became a language all their own.

The cold living room seemed larger since it was empty. Her grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles were all upstairs, asleep. Her father had cleaned out the fireplace earlier and filled it with fresh logs for Christmas morning. Hand knitted stockings hung from the mantle, lumpy with little gifts. The war had tightened purse strings all across the Reich, but out here in the country they didn’t feel the bite as hard as the city folk.

The gifts weren’t much; just small luxuries to sweeten hard times. Some candy, apples, oranges. Scented bar soaps and body powder for the ladies. A new hairbrush to replace an old, broken one.

Her grandparents were full of old stories mourning the lost glory of the German Empire and life under the kaiser. Her father and uncles had all fought during the Great World War. They had suffered under the economic hardships steered by the inept Weimar Republic government and raped by the even harder penalties of the Versailles Treaty.

Gertrude didn’t pay much attention to politics or what was going on in the wider world. There was too much work to do on the farm, more important things in her immediate life to worry about. What little she knew, she gleaned from the grumblings of the menfolk, particularly when they were soused with drink.

The cold emptiness of the room pressed in on her. The magic of Christmas, that most wonderful time of the year, was as chill and dark as the unlit fireplace. Gertrude was the only girl in her family. All ten of her cousins were boys. Nine of them were away from home on the front lines fighting the enemy. Josef was the only one home on special leave. He wasn’t a regular Waffen SS soldier like the others. He was a member of the SS Totenkopfverbande.

She wasn’t sure exactly what they did. Josef refused to talk about it, but their domineering grandmother pestered him into dolling out a few crumbs. At dinner, he’d mumbled something about guarding a camp. After a few glasses of grandma’s homemade gluhwein, he’d let slip some slurred gibberish about a place called Buchenwald.

The absence of her cousins, the absence of her twin, left Gertrude feeling alone. Up in her little cramped closet of a room she’d once shared with her twin, the lonely isolation had pressed in on her. She hadn’t been able to sleep, even with the comfort of Heidi’s diapers. Memories and shadows of her dead sister filled every nook and cranny of the room and pinched her heart. So she’d fled downstairs, hoping that keeping their old tradition alive would help her feel less alone. That it would bring back some small part of her sister.

The diaper shifted and rubbed against her with every step across the living room. It was a constant reminder of her twin. Usually the warm softness of the thick padding reassured her. Now it only heightened the ache of Heidi’s absence.

This wasn’t the first time Gertrude wore Heidi’s diapers. She’d been wearing them to bed every night since her sister’s funeral. The first time she donned a diaper was the night they scattered Heidi’s ashes in their grandmother’s rose garden. Heidi used to love staring out the window for hours at the summer roses, watching the bees and butterflies.

The night of the funeral, Gertrude had wallowed in the dregs of grief, out of her mind with mourning. So she pulled out one of Heidi’s clean cloth diapers and put it on. Immediately, the press of the thick bulk between her legs had calmed her, reassured her. Heidi was gone from the earth, but she was still with Gertrude in her heart. From that night on, Gertrude wore her dead sister’s diapers to bed.

Tonight was Gertrude’s first time getting out of bed and walking through the house in diapers. The padding that usually comforted her now unnerved her. What if she got caught in a diaper? They’d say she’d gone crazy with grief. They’d lock her up in the loony bin. She should’ve taken the diaper off before leaving the bedroom. She’d tried, but her fingers refused to open the diaper pins. She couldn’t bring herself to do it- it made her feel like she was leaving Heidi behind. Casting her sister aside by taking off the diaper.

Gertrude shuddered at those thoughts, cold from the inside out. The lantern swayed on the thin wire loop handle in her hand. The soft, swaying light danced on the tin ornaments with their shiny, metallic paint. The candles on the Christmas tree were snuffed out for the night; they’d be relit Christmas morning, along with the yule logs in the fireplace. Most of the ornaments were wood, hand carved by her grandfather, father and uncles when they were boys. Some were knitted from yarn, made by her grandmother and aunts.

The ones that drew the most attention were shiny, metallic tin disks proudly displaying thick black swastikas. Her uncle had bought them a few years ago on a trip into the city. He’d wanted to put a big swastika on top of the tree, but grandma refused. She wanted her beloved, tacky, stained glass and lead star instead.

Lumpy presents in cheap brown paper lay under the tree. Everybody knew what they were- new hand knitted sweaters or cardigans. Smaller packages were mittens, scarves, gloves. Everyone was grateful, too- the ones from last year were falling apart after months of hard living and working. A hard life made harder with the extra burden of caring for her disabled sister.

She’d left Heidi behind once before, when the family moved her into a sanatorium several years ago. Taking care of her disabled sister had become too much of a burden on top of all the farm work, especially as the boys grew up and left the village for adventure and glory in the Wehrmacht. She had missed her sister, but the work-exhausted part of her had been relieved to be free of the extra duties.

That relief pricked her conscience now with a sharp slivers of guilt. She rarely had the free time and funds to visit her sister. The home for the physically disabled was in a town several days’ travel from their tiny village. The family received a letter from the sanatorium doctors saying Heidi’s condition had grown more severe, so they’d transferred her to Hadamar psychiatric hospital, which was even further away, for more intense treatment. A few months later, the family received a letter from Hadamar doctors informing them of Heidi’s demise.

Gertrude’s insides had twisted in doubt and disbelief when she’d read the death certificate. The cause of death listed acute appendicitis. Heidi had had her appendix removed as a small child. How could she die from an organ that was long gone from her body? The rest of her family insisted it must be a mistake, a mix up.

Gertrude had travelled with her father to claim Heidi’s remains and get the death certificate fixed. In the Hadamar waiting room, Gertrude had talked to other grieving families there to claim their loved ones’ remains. So many dead patients. They dropped like flies. Was that normal? Doctors assured her it was. The mentally and physically disabled were of weak, inferior blood. They didn’t live very long. It was tragic. Gertrude had the doctors’ sympathies. But, really, they had assured her, it was for the best. One irate man was there to demand an explanation for the burnt ladies’ hairpins in his dead brother’s ashes. The man’s brother had died of appendicitis, too. Quite a few patients had died from that. There were a lot of death certificate mix-ups, and ladies’ hairpins in male ashes. Way too many mixups. It roused Gertrude’s suspicions.

Gertrude’s family swallowed the doctors’ lines. Gertrude didn’t, but every time she voiced her doubts, she was shushed or ignored. The doctors’ told the family it was just her grief talking and not to take her seriously. So she held her tongue, bend her head, and kept working. Put in more hours doing charity work with the Bund Deutscher Madel, or League of German Girls. She could never shake the notion that she’d abandoned her sister to cold blooded killers who couldn’t even keep the remains of their victims straight.

Life unworthy of life. She remembered learning about that in school. She’d read magazine and newspaper articles by prominent doctors promoting the idea. Useless eaters. The disabled couldn’t contribute to society. They only took. Times were hard. Sometimes, to save a healthy body, diseased limbs had to be cut off. There was no room for diseased, useless leeches full of nothing but bad blood. They were nothing but a burden on society, weighing it down. Wasn’t Gertrude’s own sense of relief to be free of her caretaker duties proof of that?

Staring at the cold fireplace, Gertrude blinked back tears. The guilt ridden ache for her sister burned stronger. She forced her mind back to happier times. Normally, she’d have been to the kitchen and back upstairs by now with iced ginger cookies or sweet, sugar dusted fruit bread for her and Heidi.

Gertrude focused on the soft padding rubbing against her crotch and backside as she walked. The sensations distracted her from dark memories. Moving in the diaper was both weird and soothing at the same time, like a beloved Christmas carol sung in a foreign language.

The diaper added an extra layer of warmth in the drafty old house. The heavy cotton of her nightgown and thick wool of her hand knitted socks kept her warm enough, but the diaper added the last layer that made her cozy.

Sometimes, she wondered what the diaper would feel like wet. She blushed at the thought. Once in a blue moon, when the pain of her sister’s absence was particularly sharp, she felt the urge to add on more diapers and rubber panties then let her bladder loose. Fear and disgust always held her back.

How could she even think such a thing? Maybe she really was going crazy. Trying to flee from her thoughts, shut down her overactive brain, Gertrude hurried into the kitchen.

The kitchen was colder than the living room. She sat her lantern down on the edge of the big kitchen table. There was no electricity at night, so she couldn’t turn on the lights even if she’d wanted to.

Cookie tins- some gifts from neighbors in the village or girls from the League- lined up on the counter between the sink and the icebox. The stacks weren’t as high as the years before the war; a reminder that all across the Reich, German families were scraping by just like them. Solidarity in hardship.

The tins were full of pfeffernusse, spongy soft, puffy spice cookies dipped in a sweet, thick white glaze. Others held allerlei cookies- spiced gingerbread and molasses sweetened with a thin glaze. The soft, chewy cookies came in traditional shapes like stars, trees, angels, snowmen and rocking horses. Swastika cookie cutters were popular, too, to celebrate their Aryan roots.

Loaves of sweet bread and nut rolls lay on the kitchen table under dish towels. Gertrude felt almost guilty as she flipped back the corner of a towel and picked up a knife to cut a small slice of stollen. She felt better when she saw a little piece was already missing- another family member already stole some stollen.

Even here, the selection was thin. No confectioner’s sugar dusted the top of the loaf. Usually, her aunt’s stollen was full of raisins and chunks of dried, candied fruit. This year, the raisins were few and far between. Sugar and flour had been used sparingly, stretching the rations out as much as possible. Gertrude had done the same thing with the ginger and clove spices when she made batches of lebkuchen, soft spice cookies dipped in chocolate. She’d watered the chocolate down with milk to stretch it out. The result was less than delicious, but at least they had cookies.

Gertrude cut a thin slice and covered the loaf back up. She broke the slice in half- one for her, one for Heidi. She bit into her small piece. She could barely taste the sugar and spices. It tasted like dry paper- her mom had held back on the butter that made it so creamy and moist. She’d skimped on the sugar and flour. All the sweet bits Gertrude looked forward to and treasured, gone. The stollen tasted like….Christmas without her sister.

Tears blurred her eyes. The stollen was a dry, papery lump in her mouth. She wanted to spit it out. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, the frayed lace cuffs harsh on her soft skin. She forced herself to swallow the flavorless lump.

“Enough. Stop it. You’re a strong German girl. What would Heidi say if she saw you like this?” Gertrude tried to rally herself. If Heidi was here, she wouldn’t have been able to talk, but Gertrude easily pictured the disdainful, scornful look Heidi would give her when she thought Gertrude was being a big crybaby.

She sniffled, blinking back the rest of her tears. She raise the other half of the stollen up to the ceiling. Up to Heidi in heaven. “Prost.” Her whisper was as dry and dull as the sweet-loaf bread. She toasted her twin, then shoved the bland morsel into her mouth whole. She chewed, pretending the stollen was moist and dense, sweetness oozing over her tongue and bits of candied fruit popping between her teeth.

She closed her eyes, remembering happier times of her childhood. Snowball fights with her cousins. Throwing snowballs up at her bedroom window to make Heidi laugh and stick her tongue out. Josef pulling a sled while she sat on it, holding Heidi up. The three of them would go careening down a snow covered hill. Quite often, her best friend Magda would join in.

Magda. The name brought Gertrude up short. She swallowed the mushy lump of stollen. She hadn’t thought of her for years. As little girls, they’d been inseparable, ever since they met in their first year of school. An older girl had been teasing the little Jewish girl, flipping up her skirt and showing the other kids her bulging diaper. The crying six year old Magda had worn thick, bulky cloth diapers covered by voluminous rubber panties. The Jew’s diapers made Gertrude think of Heidi, so Gertrude had calmly walked up to the jeering older girl and socked her hard, right in the nose. Just like Josef taught her. The girl’s nose had crunched, blood spurting out. The older girl had punched Magda back, giving her a black eye before running off crying for her mommy. Magda had given Gertrude the cookies from her lunch as a thank you.

After that, the girls became fast friends. They’d played together every day. Adults hadn’t been happy about the friendship, so the girls snuck off and played together in the woods or in Gertrude’s family barn. There weren’t that many hiding places in the small barn, so they usually played up in the hayloft. Sometimes they snuck inside to play with Heidi. Magda never laughed- she even learned to interpret some of Heidi’s grunts.

Magda and Heidi became friends the first time Gertrude brought Madga to meet Heidi. Heidi’s thick, soggy cloth diapers and rubber panties had leaked all over the bed. Heidi had been upset. To calm her, Magda didn’t hesitate to lift up her dress and show Heidi her own soggy diapers.

Magda, Heidi, and Gertrude had become known by the village kids as the Diaper Brigade. The Diaper Girls. Heidi might not get out much, but the whole village knew of her from her cousins and other relatives talking. Gertrude didn’t wear or need diapers, but she was found guilty and soggy by association. Some of the boys had tried to flip up Gertrude’s dress, too, to see if she was diapered. They knocked that off after Gertrude slugged them a few times. Having a disabled sister and being best friends with a pants-pissing Jew hadn’t helped her popularity with the village children.

As they grew bigger, there were more chores and less time for playing They didn’t see each other as much. Looking back, Gertrude wondered if that was deliberate on their parents’ end. Teachers and youth leaders yammered on about the importance of blood purity, on eugenics and the natural evolutionary superiority of the aryan race. History teachers taught how the Jews had betrayed Germany in the Great World War. They had all been spies for the enemy. They caused the economic hardships under the Weimar Republic. During the Great Depression, while good Germans suffered, greedy Jews grew rich. Most Jews might be bad, but Magda and her absorbent, padded underpants weren’t like that at all.

Everything came to a head one summer evening. Gertrude and Magda had played all day; Gertrude walked Magda home to keep other German kids from teasing her. The windows to Magda’s house were open. Magda’s uncle and her father were arguing inside. So Gertrude and Magda, just like many kids would, hid under the windowsill and listened in.

“Come with us, Jakob. I’m begging you.” The deep voice belonged to Magda’s uncle, Rudolf. He had been a tailor, at least until a law had been passed that banned Jews from the profession.

“Move to America? They don’t want us there. No countries want us. They can barely afford to feed their own people. There’s no room for us, anywhere. We both fought in the Great War for Germany. It’s our home. Things are really tough right now, so people are lashing ut. We just have to be patient and ride it out.” The reedy voice belonged to Magda’s father, Jakob.

“I’ve got a job lined up. I could get you one, too.”

“Through the same connections you get those American papers from? Do you have any idea how much danger that puts us in?” Jakob hissed, sounding like a leaky hose.

“I burn them after I read them. It’s always good to hear what the other side says. And that’s exactly why I’m leaving. You can only read German papers, listen to German radio- hell, the Volksempfanger model can’t even pick up any foreign broadcasts. First the Brown Shirts boycotted our businesses. Then, a law says Jews can’t own land. Another law says Jews can’t be newspaper editors. Then we’re not allowed in the National Health Insurance. No more Jewish teachers, accountants, dentists, doctors, lawyers. Then we have to register all our wealth and property. We have to get identity cards from the police. Our taxes go up. Everyday, the list grows. They take more and more of our rights and our money. I’m taking my family out of here before they start taking our lives. I see the writing on the wall. “ Magda’s uncle sounded tired and sad, like this was an old argument.

“…” Silence stretched out while Magda’s father didn’t reply.

“I won’t-I can’t- put it off any longer. So, come with me.” Her uncle implored.

“Those American rags made you crazy. How are you going to afford the emigration tax for Jews? It’s up to 80%. Those bastards will take practically all your money. You’ll be poor in America.”

“Take it all now, or little by little- either way, it’ll end up in Nazi hands. We’re already poor here. There, at least I’ll have a job. I can always make more money. Even if it’s just with the clothes on my back, I’m leaving while I can. I wish you’d come along with us. Even our parents are going.”

“You’re going to leave me, Martha and little Magda in this house all by ourselves.” Magda’s dad sounded tired, the fire going out of him when he realized he couldn’t change his brother’s mind.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. At least let me take Magda. This life here…it’s no future for her.” Her uncle’s voice trailed off into low mumbling. Gertrude and Magda hadn’t hear the rest of the conversation- a series of harsh whispers followed by the fleshy thump of a fist hitting a table. The door had banged open; the girls had shrunk back against the wooden siding of the house.

Magda’s uncle had stepped out onto the porch, face tilted up to heaven. He had noticed the girls with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “The world’s falling apart. Why don’t you two go sew it up a bit? Go play.” He’d given them each a piece of hard candy from his pocket and walked off.

Moments later, Magda’s father had come out onto the porch. He’d stared at his brother’s back, then had looked down at the girls. “Gertrude, you head on home. No more playing with Magda.”

Gertrude’s child mind had thought he meant for the day. Turned out he meant forever. Days later, Magda’s uncle and the rest of the family left for America. All the small village watched them go. Only the few Jewish families were sorry to see them leave.

After that, Magda sometimes snuck out to Gertrude’s farm to play when she could, when her father wasn’t looking. Those times were few and far between. They grew increasingly further apart until they stopped altogether. After a law was passed that kicked Jewish kids out of German schools, they didn’t see each other at all.

Then one day, a group of SS Sturmabteilung soldiers- Brown Shirts- appeared. They had the Jews gather up what belongings they could then herded them at rifle point into trucks. That was the last time Gertrude ever saw Magda.

Gertrude shook her head, pulling herself out of old memories. What was wrong with her? Christmas was supposed to be the happiest, most joyful time of year. Christmas Eve was the most magical night of the year. Yet here she was, wallowing in sad memories. She should be remembering happier times with her sister. With Magda. If she was going to mourn, it should be all the German soldiers who’d died on the front, who gave their lives to protect their families, their freedom, their Reich. The National Socialist Women’s League had thrown a memorial Christmas luncheon earlier today for families of fallen and wounded soldiers.

Gertrude swallowed. The stollen made her mouth feel dry, like she’d eaten paper. Her tongue rubbed the roof of her mouth. She poured herself a glass of milk from the icebox. Her grandfather owned a few cows and some goats, so milk was one ration they didn’t have to worry too much about. They were even able to give and trade it with the villagers and other farmers.

After the dry, papery, tasteless stollen, the milk tasted cold, creamy and sweet as it flowed over her tongue. She closed her eyes, savoring the taste. She leaned back against the counter. The diaper’s thick padding cushioned her backside, bringing her thoughts back to Magda and Heidi. Heidi had spent her whole life in diapers. Magda had worn diapers because of an underdeveloped bladder. Had Magda ever outgrown her diapers?

Gertrude finished her milk and rinsed her glass out. She gazed out the window over the sink. Snow fell in flat, lazy flakes, blanketing the world in white. Bare branches piled high with snow bowed under the accumulating weight. Bushes, fences, and water troughs in the animal pastures were just lumps under the thick white blanket. The full moon shone down through thick, dark clouds heavy with more snow. The moonlight glistened off the white snow, softly illuminating the night. No animals stirred. All was calm. Quiet. Peaceful.

Gertrude stared at the scene, trying to soak that serenity into her soul. She thought of her favorite Christmas song. Silent Night. The special Christmas Eve radio program had played a new version of the beloved classic. She hummed softly, trying to carve that peace into her heart. After a few moments, she sang in a low voice.

“Stille nacht. Heilige nacht. Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Only the Chancellor stays on guard. Germany’s future to watch and ward. Guiding our nation aright.”

The new song was popular with certain segments of the population. Around the community bonfire in the village that evening, the Church choir sang the original while the boys and girls in their Hitler Youth League uniforms sang the new version. Then the older boys lined up, taking turns jumping over the crackling fire to prove their bravery. At the end, when everyone was heading home, each household took a burning twig from the community fire to light candles on their Christmas tree.

The clouds drifted across the moon; blue shadows on the white snow danced and shifted to reveal a set of footprints in the deep snow leading into the barn. Gertrude’s stomach tightened at the sight. Her tranquility and peace shattered. The tracks were fresh; already thick flakes were filling in the holes. Everyone in the family was in bed, fast asleep. The prints were too small to belong to a full grown man. A child or a woman, then.

Nervous knots in her belly tightened into anger. One suspect immediately leapt to mind. Ilse, a woman from the village. Was she trying to raid their barn again? Gertrude had caught her twice trying to steal a few eggs or a bucket of milk fresh from the cow. Gertrude was too soft-hearted, letting Ilse off with a warning that next time, she really would turn her in to the police. Perhaps Ilse was after a chicken this time- a roasted hen for her Christmas supper.

Gertrude’s blood boiled. The family barely had enough to get by as it was. What little extra they produced, they needed for trading. All across the Reich, bellies of good Germans went hungry together. Gertrude wondered if Ilse was tainted with thieving Jewish blood in her family tree. She certainly behaved like a greedy, selfish Jew.

For a moment, Gertrude considered waking Josef up. He’d scare the hell out of Ilse. Hell, he’d arrest or shoot her himself. Was Gertrude really such a cowardly pansy that she couldn’t handle one thieving neighbor? Indignation and self disgust stoked the flames of her anger higher.

Her eyes fell on Josef’s shiny boots and rifle in a corner by the door. She didn’t need to bother any of the menfolk. She’d handle Ilse on her own. Make her regret taking Gertrude for a fool. Gertrude wasn’t going to shoot her, not on Christmas Eve. Just scare her with that big rifle so bad Ilse literally pissed herself. Maybe Ilse would wish she was wearing a diaper, like Gertrude was.

Gertrude giggled darkly at the thought. She smiled, baring her teeth as she crossed to the coat rack. Her own wool coat was still wet with melted snow from when she fed the animals earlier and got them settled for the night. So she put on Josef’s heavy coat. It was huge, swallowing her up. His high boots felt like she was putting her feet into boats. Between the thick diaper, oversized coat and boots, she felt like a little kid playing dress up. The rifle was cold in her hands, but she held it comfortably.

She knew it was loaded, too. That morning, Josef had taken her out to an empty field to shoot tin cans off a fence. She’d smuggled him out a bottle of grandma’s gluhwein and some Allerlei cookies. After two hours with the gun, she felt confident enough to use it now. Or at least scare a trespassing thief with it.

She carefully, quietly shut the big door behind her then trudged into the cold and deep snow to the barn. The bottom of the coat and the hem of her nightgown dragged through the snow. She held the lantern down low. There were no windows on this side of the barn, so she wasn’t afraid of giving away her position. There was no hiding under the full moon, anyway. And she was the one with the gun.

Snow crunched under her boots, her feet slipping around inside and knocking her off balance. The diaper forced her legs apart, already throwing off her center of balance. She wobbled back and forth with each step as her feet slid around inside the huge boots. Between the diaper and the boots, she waddled and lumbered like an unsteady toddler just learning how to walk.

The barn seemed much further away than usual, thanks to her hampered gait. The yellow light from the lantern swayed with each waddle. Cold air blew against her face, turning the tip of her nose and cheeks a rosy red. The closer she got to the barn, the tighter she clutched the rifle. Anger faded to a nervous fear, yet she trudged on. The press and sway of the diaper swaddling her loins reassured her. She held the rifle like a toddler would a stuffed animal for security.

Was this was what soldiers on the eastern front felt like as they faced the Red Army and a Russian winter? As Gertrude trudged along, she couldn’t help but think of her cousins away at war. Were they, like her, dashing through the snow, gun in hand, to face the enemy? Or were they hunkered down in a bunker with their fellow soldiers, gathered around a tiny Christmas tree like the magazines and newspapers depicted? They weren’t in diapers, though. Diapers and a rifle. She would’ve giggled, finding that thought amusing, if she wasn’t so angry and nervous.

She reached the barn. The footprints were almost completely covered. Snow piled up on her head and shoulders. She dislodged most of it by shaking her body. She froze as she stared at the closed barn door. Her heart hammered against her ribs and her cold palms grew sweaty. She really should’ve gotten one of the menfolk. What if it was someone besides Ilse? But who else could it be? Especially on Christmas Eve. Ilse was the only one for miles around who’d been caught stealing in the barn. Twice.

Besides, Gertrude had the rifle and she knew how to use it. She had the advantage. Her cousins on the front lines weren’t scared. They were brave, strong German boys. They’d laugh at the big baby scared to go into her own barn. Maybe she really did belong in diapers.

Gertrude clenched her teeth, screwed her courage to the sticking place, and siddled into the barn as quietly as she could. She raised the rifle so it looked like she was ready to shoot. She slowly looked around. Shadows and darkness; only a sliver of moonlight peeped through one small window. She only had that little bit of light and her lantern to see by. Smells of hey, dirt, animal sweat and manure filled her nostrils.

The light also gave away her position while the darkness hid the intruder. Her pulse sped up. She kept her back to the barn door to prevent an ambush. Her gaze slowly swept the quiet dark, looking for any movement in the shadows. Darkness within darkness.

“I know you’re in here. I saw your footprints. Come on out with your hands up, you yellow bellied polecat.” She tried to sound tough and intimidating by repeating a line she’d read in a book set in the American wild west. The cowboy character had sounded tough and badass as he gunned down Indian savages. Her pounding pulse seemed to bounce off her bladder like it was a drum echoing her heartbeat. Fear made her suddenly aware of how badly she needed to pee.

Silence. The two cows, goats, and big draft horse were sound asleep in their stalls. Hens slept in their cages. A few clucked softly, rustling their feathers as they settled back down. Even the cranky old rooster slept on. He usually squawked up a storm anytime a stranger passed by. Underneath the stench of the barn and animals lurked the faint smell of stale human urine, like an outhouse.

“If you don’t show yourself, I’ll blow your brains out.” If the thief hadn’t seen her, she just gave away she was armed. Maybe that would intimidate the thief into surrendering? Ilse was a young widow with many children; she was too poor for a gun, and too stupid to use one even if she did have it.

The silence stretched out. Gertrude raised the lantern to widen the circle of flickering, yellow light as she took tentative steps forward. Josef’s huge boots clomped heavily. Her feet slid. The diaper’s thick padding prevented her from bringing her feet together. Her bladder twinged. She clutched her pelvic muscles together.

“I mean it.” Her voice warbled, losing its threatening edge. Pale brown eggshells appeared in the edge of the light’s reach. Drops of wet, clear egg white glistened in the light on the shells. Gertrude’s eyes narrowed as her lips compressed into a thin line. A trail.

Her confidence grew. The barn was small. Even in the dark, there weren’t many places to hide. Animals and equipment and tools were squished in together. She checked the stalls. No one hid in there. The shells convinced her it really was Ilse, just as it had been the other times. A wheelbarrow leaned against the hayloft ladder, blocking it. Gertrude had left it there earlier after feeding the animals, too tired to put it away. The only place for someone to hide was the little nook in the corner at the end of the chicken cages.

Gertrude clomped forward slowly, warily. Her ears strained for any small sound that would give her quarry away. Nothing. Had the thief somehow gotten away? Impossible. There was only one door, and she was in front of it. The closer she drew, the stronger the underlying smell of human urine grew. The thief was just very good at hiding. But not good enough- as the lantern light approached the back of the small barn, more broken egg shells appeared.

She slid her hand under the thin metal handle of the lantern and let it slide down her forearm to rest in the crook of her bent elbow. This left her free to grip and steady the rifle with both hands. Everytime she lifted a foot to take a step, the oversized boots slid off her foot, hitting the worn wooden floor with echoing thumps. The eggshell trail led to the dark corner past the chicken cages. Gertrude’s gaze was so intent on the rim of lantern light and the dark nook she forgot all about her bladder.

Her muscles tensed. Her breathing slowed. Her heart pounded in her ears. She approached the end of the chicken cages. One cold, sweaty finger hovered near the trigger. With a deep breath to steady her nerves, she rounded the corner. The lantern lit up the little storage corner.

More eggshells. A few hay bells. Wooden crates full of old, broken tools. Some metal milk canisters peeked out from under an a partially fallen tarp. Perhaps it had been pulled. The other end of the tarp covered a stack of crates, making a tent between the tool crates and the milk canisters. Perfect for hiding a body. The outhouse smell was strongest here.

Gertrude shuffled closer in an awkward, scooting waddle to keep the boots quiet. She took a deep, steadying breath as she neared the tarp. Her heart thundered in her ears. She used the tip of the rifle to fling the tarp aside.

“GOTCHA!” She froze in shock. The girl huddled on the floor was not Ilse. Gertrude would know those big blue eyes anywhere, even if she hadn’t seen them in years. Ever since they’d been marched away at gunpoint.

Magda stared up at her, blue eyes huge in her sallow face. Her body was as tense as Gertrude’s. Both were too scared, too shocked to scream. Her clothes were layers of dirty, tattered rags. Her once plump face was gaunt. Her cheeks were sunken hollows. Baby fat and pudge melted away to reveal sharp angles and jutting bones. Egg liquid shined on her thin lips in the lantern’s light- she was so hungry she’d sucked raw eggs.

Their gazes locked, brains too stunned to process what was going on. Childhood friends- the Diaper Girls- reunited on opposite sides of a rifle. A bedraggled Jewish girl who smelled of pee and a healthy Nazi girl in a clean diaper.

The smell of fresh, concentrated ammonia filled the air as a puddle of liquid expanded from under Magda, soaking her skirts and the floorboards, dripping between the cracks. A wave of warmth flowed over Gertrude’s crotch, her bladder caving under the strain tension, fear, and shock, collapsing under the strain of heavy emotions. The padded cloth diaper was thick enough to absorb her pee without the protection of rubber panties. The girls peed at the same time.

Only Gertrude gasped, face flushing in embarrassment. Her diaper was heavy, weighed down by her urine. The diaper pins kept it warm and snug against her, but the wetness and weight let her know it was there. The soggy cloth clung to the fleshy folds of her lady parts, yet the rest of her was dry. The contrast was strangely soothing.

Poor Magda had no diapers, and she apparently never managed that potty training thing. Gertrude could only stare down at her. Her body felt numb and leaden, her brain kaput. She could only focus on the feeling of her wet diaper and stare at the puddle of urine around her childhood friend.

Those blue eyes just continued to stare up at Gertrude over the barrel of the rifle. Magda had no reaction to peeing herself. No fear of death, either. Only the shock of unexpected recognition. Gertrude kept her finger on the trigger, kept the muzzle pointed at Magda.

“Magda.” She managed to croak out. Her voice was loaded with questions that never made it out of her throat, that her sluggish mind was just beginning to form. What the hell happened to you? What the hell are you doing here?

Those blue eyes slowly blinked. “Gertie.” The reek of pee drowned out the barn and animal scents. Gertrude hoped it was Magda’s puddle and not her own wet diaper that smelled so bad.

“You’ve changed.” Gertrude couldn’t keep the tremble out of her voice. The pee smell reminded her strongly of days she’d come home from school to find Heidi in a drenched, leaky diaper and wet bed that stunk up their small room. What should she do? She hadn’t expected this at all. Magda was her childhood friend. Magda had also broken into the barn and stolen eggs. Typical Jew behavior. Right? But Magda wasn’t a bad Jew. At least, she hadn’t been as a child. Who knew now? She was hiding out like a common criminal on the run. Magda didn’t look like a criminal- she looked like a scared, cornered rabbit.

“So have you.” Magda spoke softly. She never moved in her pee puddle. Her eyes took in the uniform coat with the swastika band on an arm. The big boots. The rifle. Sadness crept in to replace surprise. Slowly, she shifted on her knees. Her long skirt grew wet and dark with more pee. The rifle’s muzzle now pointed directly over her heart. “It’s easier if you shoot here. Death is quicker. You can get back to your Christmas celebration sooner.” Her voice was a soft and quiet as the surrounding night, without the serenity. Calm, detached, emotionless. Dead inside.

Gertrude recoiled like she’d been slapped. She stepped back. Her wet cloth diaper rubbed her privates and squished with each step. She lowered the rifle, holding it in one hand at her side. Shock gave way to surprised outrage. “You think I’ll shoot you?!” Horror turned her voice into a high pitched squeal. A few chickens clucked and a cow lowed at the sound.

Magda simply stared at her with a blank, gaunt face. “You pointed a gun at me.” Her blank tone was matter of fact.

“You broke into our barn! Of course I’m gonna point a gun at a thief. I didn’t know it was you!”

“Even when you recognized me, you never lowered the gun.”

“I-well. You. I-I didn’t know what to do! I still don’t. You think I’d shoot you?! What the hell’s wrong with you?!”

Magda was calm and collected in the face of Gertrude’s shocked hysteria. “I’ve stared up a gun like this held by a soldier in a coat like that. He fully intended to shoot me. I’ve seen people lined up and shot down into big pits by soldiers in coats like yours, armed with guns like the one in your hand. Of course I expect you to shoot me.” Her voice was flat, but her blue eyes were full of horror at the memories.

Gertrude shook her head, stepping back. “You’re lying.”

“It’s what happened to the Jews from our village. A few of us survived only because it started storming. Lightning struck a nearby tree. The soldiers got scared, wanted to get indoors.”

“I don’t believe you. If it was true, the newspapers would’ve reported such atrocities.”

“What do you think is happening? All across the Reich, Jews are disappearing. You saw the soldiers round us up at gunpoint like we were criminals.”

“The papers said Jews were being relocated. Killings were never mentioned.” Gertrude firmly believed the papers and the news on the radio. She crossed her arms awkwardly, the rifle slipping down in her grip. The lantern hanging off her elbow swayed.

“I’m telling you the truth. Where do you think the Jews are being relocated to? I bet the papers nor the radio ever mention that.”

Gertrude shrugged. She had no answer to that. “Does it really matter? They’re being exiled from the Reich.”

Magda smiled darkly. “First it was a train ride. They stuffed us into a small, poor section of a Polish city they’d walled off. I shared a tiny apartment with three families. There was no room. Little food. Once the ghetto was stuffed full of people, the Nazis sealed it off. Then they started liquidating. People disappeared, packed into cattle cars. Not a train for humans. For animals. That’s how they see us. Animals.”

Gertrude wanted to deny it, say her once-friend was lying. Jews always lied. But she knew how Jews were viewed…the things taught in school, read in papers and books, heard on the radio. Even in the movies, in songs. A Jew was no better than an animal. Less than an animal. How could she argue with that?

Magda’s haunted blue eyes bore into hers. “Once in a while, someone would escape and come back. They told stories about camps and gas chambers. Huge chimneys that belched black smoke day and night. The smell of burnt flesh spread out for miles around. “

Gertrude wanted to call Magda a liar. That was like something out of a horror book. Edgar Allan Poe stuff. Not reality. Yet, if it was real, how were people getting away with it? It was one big, governmental conspiracy theory. Too surreal to be true. Just like all the dead Hadamar patients. Her old doubts about Heidi’s death surfaced. The doctors had been state employees in a government run hospital. Was Magda’s story that much of a stretch? Or just more Jewish lies? As a child, Magda had never lied to her. She’d trusted Gertrude with her deepest fears and secrets.

“Y-you’re not supposed to be here. I-I’ll go g-get my d-dad.” Gertrude’s tone warbled her indecision. She was torn on whether to believe Magda or not.

“If you’re going to do that, I’d rather you just shoot me. I’ll be turned into the Gestapo and end up right back on the train to Auschwitz. Or Buchenwald. I don’t know which one they planned to take me to. The soldiers never tell us where we’re going. I only know because I overheard two of them talking.”

Buchenwald. The name punched Getrude in the stomach. That was the place Josef didn’t like to talk about. Gassings and mass graves. Working in a place like that, it was no wonder Josef had turned cold and guarded. She still wasn’t fully sure if Magda was telling the truth or not, but that name swayed her. Maybe she just didn’t want to believe such horror was going on. All she knew was she couldn’t turn Magda in. She had to help her. Heidi would’ve wanted her to.

How could Magda speak of such horror yet stay so calm? By shutting down her emotions, pushing reality to a distance. The same way Gertrude got on with the loss of her sister and her suspicions of her death.

“You can’t stay here. It’s not safe.” Gertrude was calm and firm in her resolve. She knew what she had to do. She gestured to the oversized coat. “Josef is a guard at Buchenwald. I can’t offer you refuge.”

Magda’s lips twitched in a small, wry smile. “No where’s safe.”

Gertrude held out a hand in an offer to help her up. “I can get you some supplies. Sneak you into the house. Get you warmed up. Get you some food.” Her gaze flicked to the broken egg shells littering the floor. “Some cooked food. Everyone’s asleep; it’s safe if we’re careful.”

The morbid amusement fell from Magda’s face. She stared at Gertrude’s hand like it was a poisonous snake. “You’re going to turn me in. You’re trying to trick me. It’s what your kind always does.” For the first time, emotion crept into her voice- hurt and bitterness. Her face stayed blank.

“What? No. I-” Gertrude was taken aback. Her hand fell to her side. As children, they’d been friends. A team. A dynamic, diapered duo even if Gertrude wasn’t actually diapered. Now, they were divided. Lying Nazi. Filthy Jew.

Gertrude closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a few moments to calm down. Opening her eyes, she tossed Josef’s rifle aside, far out of her reach. She’d have to come back and get it later. “I want to help you. The world’s gone crazy. I don’t know where I stand. But you were my best friend. I know I have to help you, for old times’ sake. Heidi would’ve wanted me too.”

She could see the indecision on Magda’s face. Magda looked away, dropping her eyes from Gertrude’s gaze.

“Would’ve?” Magda caught the past tense in Gertrude’s words, but she spoke with a distracted daze, mind preoccupied with deciding whether she could trust her old friend or not.

“Heidi passed away.” Gertrude’s voice was soft.

“Oh.” Magda nodded. No offer of sympathy or condolences. She took the news like it was just another everyday fact of life. Like she was used to hearing about people she knew and cared for dying. “My parents were shot.” Her voice was flat, matter of fact.

Gertrude’s eyes widened. “Oh, Magda. I’m so sorr-”

Magda held up a hand, shaking her head. She didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t want to face the emotions she’d stuffed away. Silence and seconds ticked between them.

Magda’s blue eyes flew up to her. “Everyone’s asleep, but you’re up?” Suspicion laced her tone. She wasn’t ready to trust Gertrude just yet.

“Yeah. I’m not lying. I’m only up cuz I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about Heidi- it’s my first Christmas without her. I looked out the window and saw your footprints in the snow. I thought you were the village idiot out to rob us again, so I came out to give her a good scare. Instead, you scared me.” Gertrude smiled a little at the lame joke. It fell flat since Magda didn’t know Gertrude had peed her diaper.

“I’m the one who peed.”

Gertrude thought the response was meant to be a joke, but Magda didn’t smile and her tone was flat. Maybe, after all she’d been through, she was incapable of smiling.

“So, you’ll let me help you? We still have Heidi’s old clothes. Her-her….diapers.” She added that last part softly. She didn’t know for certain if Magda still needed diapers or not. Maybe, like Gertrude, she’d just peed herself out of surprise. Gertrude didn’t want to pry. She was also reluctant to part with her dead sister’s belongings. Magda had been Heidi’s friend, too, so… “If…if they go to anybody, it should be you.” She didn’t realize she spoke that last part out loud.

“Okay.” Magda nodded. “I don’t have much of a choice. If I leave now, like this, my skirt will freeze.” She hesitated, then added. “It’ll be nice not to be so smelly.”

That comment made Gertrude wonder how long Magda had been on the run, peeing herself. She held out her hand again. Magda took it, allowing Gertrude to help her up. Magda’s pee had soaked into the wooden floorboards and her ragged skirts. Gertrude smiled. Magda’s face stayed blank.

Gertrude noticed Magda shivering; she offered her Josef’s coat. Magda looked at the swastika armband and shook her head in refusal. She’d rather freeze. The girls made their way back to the farmhouse.

After the cold outside, the kitchen felt almost warm. Magda stood just inside the big door on an old rag rug, shivering and reeking of pee. Gertrude wrapped Josef’s huge coat- warm from her body head- around Magda’s shoulders. Under all those layers of dirty rags, Gertrude could feel her sharp shoulder bones. This time, Magda didn’t protest.

Gertrude fired up the old wooden stove in the corner. The family had a new gas stove, but they still used the old wood stove for heat. Magda’s eyes were huge as she looked around the room she once knew well. She huddled by the coat rack, as if waiting for Nazi soldiers to rush out and arrest her. She looked so small and terrified. It was the same haunted look Heidi had had on her face when Gertrude had left her for the last time.

Gertrude’s heart twisted. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to get you some clean clothes. Hide in here if you hear anyone.” She motioned to a pantry door just past the long line of family coats. The pantry was supposed to store canned goods and other foods, but it was mostly full of old junk. Generations of pack rats ran in her family.

Magda nodded, shuffling closer to the pantry door. Gertrude left and took the lantern with her; Magda was left in darkness, with only the moonlight coming in the window to see by. The crackling fire in the wood stove filled the kitchen with waves of warmth.

Upstairs, Gertrude took off her wet diaper. After the soggy warmth of the thick, wet cloth, her privates were extra sensitive to the cold draft in the bedroom. For a moment, she was tempted to put a dry one on. She moved more freely without the bulky diaper. It made her appreciate being potty trained. She put on a pair of dirty panties; she had no time to clean up her pee-damp privates. Helping Magda was her priority.

Out in the barn, that had been very clear. Here in the house, so close to her slumbering kin, she wasn’t so confident. Was this really the right thing to do? It’d be so easy to go wake Josef, her father or one of her uncles. Let them handle this. Betray Magda like she did Heidi. Well, she hadn’t actually betrayed her, but leaving her behind at the sanatorium felt like a betrayal.

Gertrude returned to the kitchen with her old Bund Deutscher Madel, or League of German Girls, camping knapsack stuffed with Heidi’s winter clothes, diapers, and rubber panties. She held a fresh change of clothes, some towels, and a bar of lye soap. She set everything down on the kitchen table.

“I’m back.” She whispered to the empty room. Magda was nowhere in sight.

Gertrude went to the pantry door and opened it. She held the lantern up, smiling sadly. She almost felt like a child playing hide and seek. Magda was as skittish as a newborn calf- so different from the bold, chubby girl who never hesitated to sneak onto the farm to play with Gertrude and Heidi. Such a huge change helped convince Gertrude that Magda was telling the truth about the horrors she’d witnessed.

The pantry door squeaked softly on its hinges. At first Gertrude didn’t see Magda hiding amongst the piles and heaps of junk. She certainly smelled her; the girl reeked of stale urine. She wondered how Magda hid so well in the dark. Maybe she’d had a lot of practice. “It’s just me.”

Magda’s head popped up from behind the remains of an old, broken vacuum cleaner and a stack of old pots and cracked mixing bowls with a chipped tureen balanced on top. “I heard footsteps upstairs. Doors. So I hid.”

Gertrude smiled. “That was me. I tried to be quiet.” She picked up an old, chipped wash basin and pitcher that was from her great grandparents’ time. “I got some soap and clean clothes. I thought you might like to wash up.”

Magda actually smiled at that. It was a faint smile, but it gave Gertrude hope. For that brief moment, Gertrude glimpsed her old friend.

Magda followed Gertrude to the sink. Gertrude filled up the porcelain basin with warm water, put a towel on the floor for Magda to stand on so water wouldn’t splash everywhere, then handed Magda the bar of soap and a washcloth. “Just toss your dirty clothes on the floor. I’ll take care of them. While you’re cleaning up, I’ll fix you some leftover stew.”

Magda just nodded, but her eyes lit up at the sight of the soap. Gertrude turned her back to give Magda some privacy. She dug through the icebox for the leftovers.

Magda’s soft giggle filled the quiet kitchen. “Thank you, but don’t worry about it. In the ghetto, I had to shower with other women to save on water. I’m used to it. An old friend seeing me naked is better than a stranger.”

Did that mean Magda trusted her now? Gertrude wasn’t sure what to make of that. “There’s no meat in the stew, but my Tante Johanna’s real good at canning veggies, so they taste like they’re fresh picked.”

Behind her, she heard the rustle of clothing as Magda undressed. The wet plop of a saturated diaper hitting the hard floor filled the silent night, followed by the splash of the water basin. She heard Magda’s little sigh of pleasure as she scrubbed down in the warm kitchen. “I’m sorry it’s not a real shower. It’s just- the bathroom’s upstairs and everyone’ll hear the water running.”

“This is fine.” Magda waved off her apology.

Gertrude still kept her back to Magda as she pulled out a pot and heated up the leftover stew on top of the wood stove. She also warmed up a glass of milk. While she was waiting for the stew to heat, she fished an old tin from the back of a cupboard and filled it with Magda’s favorite Christmas cookies. Some stollen, pfeffernusse, and allerlei cookies. She almost slipped in some swastika shaped ones but caught herself just in time.

Packing a tin of Christmas cookies for her friend flashed her back to childhood. As a Jew, Magda didn’t celebrate Christmas. But Gertrude had always snuck her a gift of yummy cookies. And on Hanukkah, Magda snuck her a tin of sufganiyot- fluffy, jelly stuffed donuts deep fried and dusted in powdered sugar.

Gertrude slipped the tin into the knapsack, along with some home-canned vegetables grown in the garden. She gave what she could spare without arousing suspicion in the rest of the family for missing goods. “It’s not much. I wish I could do more. But here’s clean clothes and some food. A few Marks I’d saved up. I was gonna give them to Heidi…and Heidi’s…underwear in here. Y’know. Just in case.” She hedged around saying diapers. Magda might be okay with talking about them out loud, but Gertrude wasn’t.

“It’s more than I could ask for. I don’t have much further to go. I-” Magda abruptly cut herself off. She headed into dangerous territory; the multitude of things left unsaid between them.

How had Magda gotten here? Gertrude had figured out that much- she ran away, obviously. Escaped from a train headed to a Nazi camp. Buchenwald? Maybe she’d have met Josef there. With his rifle. Did Josef shoot Jews? Would he shoot Magda? Gertrude shuddered, cold all over from those thoughts.

She heard the soft rustling of cloth as Magda dried off and got dressed. The distinct sound of rubber panties sliding over skin then pulled over bulky cloth diapers filled the room. Gertrude stirred the stew on the small stove. It bubbled away, filling the kitchen with a mouth watering aroma. She turned the burner off and poured the stew into a bowl, then set it on the kitchen table next to the knapsack. She added a few slices of homemade bread. Gertrude fiddled with the empty pot as it cooled on the stove. She listened as Magda finished getting dressed.

The chair scraped on wood then Magda sat down in front of the stew. She no longer reeked of pee, so she smelled better, even if she didn’t look any better. Heidi had been a gangly thing. With the weight loss, Magda had no problem fitting into Heidi’s old woolen dress. Gertrude wondered how the diapers and protective rubber panties fit.

Magda sniffed the stew appreciatively, her eyes widening like she wanted to plunge in face first and devour it all in one gulp. Her stomach rumbled, echoing the hunger in her eyes. She calmly picked up the spoon and ate in a slow, controlled manner like a polite lady would. LIke she wanted to prove she wasn’t just an incontinent animal.

Gertrude watched her for a moment, wondering what the hell her friend had been through. “There’s no pork. Just veggies.” She glanced down at the stinky, pee soaked wet rags on the floor. On top of the skirts, tattered sweater and ratty coat were torn, saturated cloth diapers and ripped rubber panties. How long had Magda been stuck in leaky diapers? That was one question answered- Magda obviously never grew out of her diapers.

“You already said that. Even if it was pork, I wouldn’t care.” Magda swallowed a carefully chewed bite.

“Did I? Sorry.”

“Thank you for the food. And the help.” She added as a forgotten after-thought, as if she hadn’t used her manners in a long time.

“That’s what friends are for. Anyway, while you’re eating, I’ll take care of this.” Gertrude looked at the pee-soaked clothing stinking up the kitchen.

“B-but, that’s my p-pee! My d-diapers!” Magda’s flustered, horrified whisper filled the kitchen.

“Just eat. It’s not a problem- I used to do stuff like this for Heidi all the time. I’m used to it.”


“Eat, eat.” Gertrude waved her off. She got Heidi’s old metal diaper bucket out of the storage pantry, filled it with hot water and soap flakes from a box under the sink. Then she held her breath, picked up the urine saturated rags and soaked them all in the bucket. She hid the bucket in the pantry to take care of later.

When she came out of the pantry, Magda finished mopping up the last bit of stew with the last bite of bread. Her eyes were closed in unguarded ecstacy, savoring the last bite. Gertrude expected to hear her moan, but she made no sound.

Opening her eyes to see Gabby watching her, Magda blushed. “It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to eat so much. I’ve forgotten what a full belly feels like.” She stood up to carry her bowl and glass to the sink. Her chair fell over; the clatter of wood hitting wood echoed like thunder throughout the quiet house.

Magda and Gertrude froze, staring at each other with wide eyes. They held their breaths. Silence stretched out. Tense seconds felt like hours. They never moved, waiting for the sounds of feet on the floor upstairs. Silent minutes passed.

Gertrude wished she’d put on a clean diaper. She had to pee. Her poor nerves couldn’t take this. She wondered if Magda had peed her clean diapers and rubber panties.

Gertrude gave Magda a nervous smile. “Looks like the coast is clear.” She whispered softly, afraid to talk too loudly after the noisy bang.

Magda didn’t return the smile. “I need to go.” Her face was stricken, her hiding place ruined. Gertrude wondered how long had Magda been running and hiding. Her eyes were that of a haunted animal.

Gertrude wanted to argue that Magda could stay a little longer- it was Christmas, after all. But then common sense overruled her emotions. It was too dangerous for Magda to stay. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the last time she’d ever see her best friend. She swallowed thickly and nodded. “I brought down my old boots. I noticed yours have holes in them. Mine are a little worn, but sturdy. They’ll get you where you need to go.”

Heidi’s socks looked brand new on Magda’s small feet. Gertrude had also brought down Heidi’s old winter coat, knitted woolen hat, scarf, and gloves. Heidi’s clothes had all been hand-me-downs from Gertrude, except for the yearly Christmas cardigan from grandma. All of Heidi’s clothes were supposed to have been donated to charity, but Gertrude couldn’t bring herself to part with them. She supposed this counted as a type of charity. Giving them to Magda, helping out a friend, felt better than letting them go to some stranger.

That stranger would be a fellow Aryan. Gertrude felt she was betraying her people. Magda was a Jew. Gertrude should put a fellow Aryan before any Jew. Even if that Jew was her friend. But this felt right in her gut, in her soul. This is what Heidi would’ve wanted.

“Alright. The boots squish my toes, but they’re much warmer than my old ones.” Magda finished dressing and stepped toward the door. She sounded as close to happy as she could, under the circumstances. More uplifted than happy. Like her hard times had been sweetened just a little bit. A small candle of hope lit her heart. A flickering belief that she just might make it, after all.

“Here. I…I hope this gets you wherever you’re headed. ” Gertrude handed over the canvas knapsack and helped Magda shrug it up over her shoulders. She didn’t know what to say. Goodbye seemed so inadequate. Talking about the past seemed like talking about the future; both were to taboo, too dangerous or painful to voice. Magda trusted her enough to accept her help- that trust stemmed from the trust and love of their childhood years. But Magda didn’t trust Gertrude enough to tell her where she was headed. Gertrude could too easily alert the German authorities about the runaway Jew.

“Thank you……I guess not all Aryans are so bad.” Magda faltered over the last part, as if it cost her emotionally to say that.

Gertrude wondered yet again what all Magda had been through. She opened her mouth to reply when they heard footsteps on the stairs, wooden boards squeaking.

Gertrude froze, but Magda flew into action. She ducked into the cluttered pantry, hiding on instinct. How many times had she hidden like this? Yet again, she reminded Gertrude of a hunted animal.

Josef appeared. He was a tall, dark shadow in the flickering lantern light. The folded white cloth he held glowed like snow under the moon. “Gertie. What’s going on?”

“J-Josef!” Gertrude’s brain froze. She couldn’t think. Her partially full bladder twinged; she wished she was diapered.

He came into the kitchen. He wore thick cotton pajamas, wool socks, and a house robe. She blushed when she realized he was holding one of Heidi’s clean, folded diapers she’d left out on the bed. Heidi had had a lot of diapers. Most of them Gertrude gave to Magda, but a few she’d kept for herself.

“Your bedroom door was open. I found this on your bed.” He held up the diaper.

“G-good morning! I couldn’t sleep a wink. So I-I started cleaning. Those diapers make great dust cloths.” She saw him glance at the pot on the wood stove and the empty bowl.

“All that cleaning made me hungry. So I had an early breakfast. You know how I love veggie stew. Everyone else is tired of it. But not me. No siree.” Gertrude laughed nervously. Her heart slammed against her ribs. She eyed the diaper longingly, wishing she was wearing it. She’d be calmer if she could just pee herself.

Josef stared at her like she’d grown another head. Did he suspect something?

“Are you hungry? I can heat you up a bowl. How about some tea? We’re saving the coffee rations for Christmas breakfast, but I traded some eggs for extra tea bags yesterday. Or some warm milk?”

He looked around the room, peering into the shadows. “You’re very jumpy, Gertie. Is anyone hiding here? I heard voices. A little Christmas tryst with a lover, perhaps?”

“Of course I’m jumpy- you scared me half to death! Sneaking around like that. I should slap you upside the head. Scaring people like that. As for the voices, did you hear a man? No. As if. I’m insulted. I was singing. It’s Christmas morning, so I was singing Christmas carols.” Gertrude rounded on him, hands on her hips. She hid her nerves behind a veil of indignation.

Josef raised an eyebrow. “It sounded more like talking. Then again, you’ve never been able to carry a tune in a bucket.” His tone turned teasing.

Gertrude’s forced laugh was too high in pitch. She swung at him playfully; he ducked. She grabbed the diaper off him and smacked him with it. “And here I was, going to be nice and offer you some stollen and gluhwein. But if you’re gonna be mean to me…” Why did she keep offering him food like she wanted him to stay? She wanted him to go away. She did it to placate him. Keep him from being suspicious.

“Gluhwein? Well, it is Christmas morning…” Josef’s eyes lit up at the mention of mulled wine. “Then you have my most sincere and humble of apologies.” He bowed with exaggerated grace, like a grand duke apologizing to a royal princess.

Gertrude couldn’t help her giggle. This was the Josef she’d grown up with. “Maybe a cup or two.” She teased.

He smiled. “Good to see you can still smile. I heard you haven’t since Heidi’s death.”

Gertrude’s smile turned wooden. “There hasn’t been much to smile about.”

Josef stepped close then his muscular arms wrapped around her. “You were close with her. We all miss her; she was family.”

Gertrude laid her head on his shoulder, but his touch wasn’t as comforting as it once was. She could hear the ‘but’ in his voice. “But it’s for the best.” She finished.

He kissed the top of her head and her tangled, unbrushed hair to placate the bitterness in her tone. “I know times have been hard. Just think how much harder they’d be if Heidi was still here.” His voice was gentle, tender. He tried to cushion a hard truth.

He was right. The truth of his words stung the worst. She remembered what a relief it was to no longer have the added burden of caring for her sister. She pulled away. “I loved her.”

“We all did.”

Sudden tears blurred her eyes. Gertrude waved a hand at him to silence his words. She forgot she still had the diaper; the thick white cloth fluttered in the air like a flag of surrender. “Gluhwein, right? Let me get you some.” She spun on her heel to fetch a glass and a wine bottle. Her eyes were dry by the time she’d poured him a glass of mulled wine and turned back around.

Josef had cut off a slice of stollen and chewed it. His face held the same disappointment she’d tasted earlier.

“Maybe next year will be better.” She held the glass out to him. The thick, dark wine sloshed about looking like blood in the dim light. It made her think of Magda’s words in the barn. Blood seeping from bullet wounds caused by guns like Josef’s rifle. She couldn’t picture her loving cousin shooting someone, even if they were a Jew. Josef shooting Magda dead like her parents. Those thoughts churned her stomach sour.

“Gertie, what’s wrong? You don’t look so good.” Josef took the glass, set it on the counter, then his big hands grasped her shoulders. She found comfort in the same hands that pulled the trigger.

“The world’s falling apart. I’m going crazy.” Gertrude shook her head to clear the thoughts away. She forced a shaky smile. “I’m okay. I just need some sleep.” She needed to get Magda away from Josef.

“I know the feeling. I have nights like this. All the boys do. Here, drink.” He held the wine up to her lips, pressing her to drink.

Gertrude took a sip. The wine only held the barest hint of its usual strong pice, and the wine itself had been watered down to stretch it out. It was almost as bad as the stollen. She stepped back. “It’s late. We should get back to bed. We’ll have to get up soon. You go on ahead. I’ll clean my mess up.”

“I’ll help.”

“No, it’s women’s work.”
“I don’t mind.”

“I do. I feel bad enough for waking you up.”

“I can’t leave you alone in your state.”

“I insist. It’s not much mess. I’m fine.” Gertrude’s heart sped up. Magda was trapped in that pantry until he left. What if she was still in there when everyone got up?

Josef noticed the wet bar of soap, the pitcher, wash basin and towels on the floor.

“Oh, the soap? I had a nightmare. Woke up all sweaty. I didn’t wanna wake everyone and use the shower upstairs. So I just freshened up down here. You go back to bed. “

Josef pulled out a chair and sat down. “It’s almost like you want to get rid of me.” His tone was partially teasing as he cut himself another slice of flavorless stollen.

“But I feel bad. You work so hard all year. You got really lucky, able to come home for Christmas. The rest of our cousins aren’t here. You should be resting in your own bed.”

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep, leaving you like this. Out of all us kids, I was closest with you. You were like my baby sister.”

His words gave Gertrude inspiration. She handed him a wine bottle and smiled. “Okay. You know what would make me feel better? Continue me and Heidi’s Christmas Eve tradition. You take this and go wait for me upstairs in my room. I’ll be up in a minute with cookies. Okay? Please.” She added puppy dog eyes when he hesitated.

“Oh, alright.” Josef caved under her pout.

“Yay. We’ll save this Christmas yet.” She just hoped he didn’t find her wet diaper she’d hidden under the bed. Getting Magda out of here was more important.

“Well, go on.” She shooed while Josef took his good, sweet time getting up. “Get a head start on the wine.” He perked up at that suggestion.

“Alright, alright. I’m going.” He stood up. “Hey, my coat’s on the floor.” Bottle in hand, he headed for the coat rack. His coat was a dark shadow on the floor.

Gertrude almost peed herself. “Ah! I’ll get it. You go on. I wanna surprise you with the cookies.” She reached for the coat, but Josef already picked it up. In the dark, far from the lantern, he didn’t notice the coat bottom was wet.

She stepped in front of the pantry door. Soon as he hung the coat up, she grabbed his arm and tugged. “Come on. One of the cats or dogs probably knocked it over. They’re all in for the night cuz it’s cold.”

“Someone left the pantry open.” He easily shouldered her aside with his much bigger body. A metal pot clanged into another one, followed by a scuttling noise. They both froze and looked at each other.

Gertrude forced a smile. “Milky! I bet it’s Milky. Dumb cat, into the pantry again. You know how that cat is. Always getting into things. Knocking stuff over. Maybe she saw a mouse.”

“The pantry should’ve been shut.”

“I left it open when I got the wash basin out. It’s late. I’m tired. Sue me.” Gertrude ducked under his arm, shut the pantry door, and leaned back against it. “Now, are we going to d wine and cookies or not?”

“Aren’t you going to let the cat out?”

“Um. Yes. After you get moving. You’re holding up production.”

Josef smiled in amusement. He grabbed the knob and pulled the door hard, knocking Gertrude out of the way. She stumbled, heart in her throat as he stuck his head into the pantry. He was sure to find Magda. Would he take her outside and shoot her? What had she been thinking, dragging her into the house like that? Stupid, careless-

“I don’t see the cat. There’s nothing in here.”

“Krampus! There he goes! It’s Krampus, not Milky. Hard to see a black cat in the dark!” Gertrude blurted though nothing ran out of the closet.

“I suppose so.” Josef stepped back. He yawned, then looked in the dark pantry once more, where the lantern’s flickering light didn’t reach. Where Magda hid. Gertrude held her breath, fear squeezing her heart.

Josef shrugged his big shoulders and shut the pantry door. “Alright, I’m heading up.” He took a swig from the wine bottle.

“I’m getting the cookies. I’ll be up in a minute.” Gertrude waited until Josefl left and she heard his big feet on the squeaky steps. She grabbed the lantern and tiptoed to the pantry. Even with the lantern in hand, she didn’t see Magda right away. “He’s back in bed. The coast is clear.” She whispered.

Even then, Magda didn’t respond right away. Gertrude thought she might be paralyzed with fear. “It’s safe. I promise. But he won’t wait for long- he thinks I’m coming up soon.”

Magda’s head popped up from the same hiding place as before. “I thought he was going to find me. I ducked down some more when I heard him by the door. The bag hit a stack of pots.” She whispered as she slipped past Gertrude and tiptoed to the door.

Gertrude followed. She tried to hand Magda the lantern, but Magda shook her head. “People will see it. Too dangerous.” She tightened the scarf around her neck and slid the old mittens on. Gertrude opened the big door for her. Magda hesitated at the screen door, about to step out into the Christmas cold. She whirled around and quickly hugged Gertrude.

Just like she used to as a child. For a moment, Gertrude was swept back to childhood. They were kids again- Magda sneaking out of the house after playing with her and Heidi. Except these adult games had deadly consequences.

After a moment, Gertrude hugged her back. Magda pulled away. “The world’s falling apart, but we’ll always be friends.” Gertrude repeated a long forgotten childhood promise. Magda smiled faintly, then headed out into the winter night. Gertrude didn’t know if Magda believed her or not.

She stood at the door and watched Magda go. Magda huddled into the scarf and coat against the December wind. Snow still fell; soon it would cover her tracks. Gertrude didn’t feel like she was losing a friend or being left behind. Her heart filled with a warm glow she hadn’t felt in a long time. She’d lost Heidi, but she’d saved Magda. Lost her sister but saved a friend. She was sure Heidi was smiling down from heaven. Hope even in the darkest of times…maybe that was the gift the Christ child brought into the world.

She didn’t know where Magda was headed, though she had a guess. She thought of Magda’s uncle who’d fled to America. Magda had lost everything in Germany. Part of her kin lived on in America. Surely Magda was headed there. Gertrude didn’t know if she’d make it or not. She didn’t know what the future would bring, for either of them. They’d each face their futures on their own, but they’d have each other in their hearts. Gertrude had her sister in her heart, as well. That love, that strength, would get them through whatever daybreak brought.

Re: Frohliche Weihnachten, Seig Heil

So I’m going to add this here:

I am not amused by an email exchange I am currently having with regards to this story just because someone got their panties in a twist over the subject matter without fully reading it. If you are so damn stupid you actually think this story is pro-nazi, I suggest you read (or re-read) it. Having a serious WTF moment here folks.

Re: Frohliche Weihnachten, Seig Heil

Jeez, people. I get that it is a long story, but don’t complain about a piece unless you’ve read it! This one is seriously not pro-Nazi. I mean, come on!

Re: Frohliche Weihnachten, Seig Heil

It’s really not that long either.
So to anyone that thinks this is pro-nazi, it may be one of the farthest from.
This is a really well done story and you owe it to yourself to give it a read.

It does not disappoint.

Re: Frohliche Weihnachten, Seig Heil

A really interesting thematic link between eugenics and diapers with Heidi. I never thought of them in the same context before… There’s a lot of beautiful thought and detail here. The reveal of Heidi’s fate was a cold drop in the gut.

I can’t say I love the story. When it comes to writing, I buy into the theory of reduction. I believe every major element should perform an essential function, and if you can remove one without changing the story’s core meaning, that element rattles around like a loose bolt in a car engine. A small imperfection, yes. But it takes something joyful to something merely functional.

Put another way, it feels like the diaper parts were mostly added because, hey, it’s the ABDL Story Forum. Neither Gertrude nor Magda needed to wear diapers to advance the themes. So I’m left with mixed feelings.

Re: Frohliche Weihnachten, Seig Heil

Well I can now give a little more background on my previous post:

Basically someone who shouldn’t have even had an account got butthurt because he figured out a story on here was parodying a story of his that was removed along with him and his previous accounts. Sadly I can’t got into a lot of specifics, but in the process of being and idiot and trying to get revenge on CK for the parody he managed to commit a felony. In fact I have the distinct pleasure of having to face that fucking moron in court in the near future as a result.

Needless to say? Still pissed about it, but going to laugh my ass off when he gets his handed to him in court :stuck_out_tongue:

I can’t believe I missed this one! It’s rare I find a story online set in the Third Reich that doesn’t fall flat on its face. But I’m not surprised you’re the author to pull it off.

My only desire now is an epilogue where these two meet again as old women in America. They have a lovely dynamic.

This is a fantastic story, I really enjoyed this! I would love to read more on this but as a one shot it is still a great window into your characters world.

This is really well written too so I can’t really offer any critique at all, except maybe some nitpicky stuff. The only thing I noticed was that you teased Josef finding the wet diaper and what would happen but the story ended before that was explored. Maybe you could have explored the character of Josef a little bit more also, like his bond with Gertrude, and how he was feeling about the reich, like ask the question if he would be an ally or an enemy to Magda. But those are just nitpicky things.

So all in all this works really well as a short story but also would read a novel on this.