I froze at the sound. Someone’s crying, I thought. There, up ahead in that copse of trees. I crept up the path. The wind stirred uneasily as I drew closer.
“Hallo!” I called. “Brauchst du Hilfe?” Do you need help?
There was a pause, then a small voice replied, “Nein.”
“Wo bist du?” Where are you?
“Bitte, lass mich in Ruhe.” Please, leave me alone.
I turned the corner and peered behind the stand of bushes. There, shivering under a pine tree, was a little girl, about seven or eight years old. Her wide eyes looked on me like a lamb about to be slaughtered. Her thin fingers clutched the threadbare shawl about her shoulders. She wore no shoes, only stockings.
“Poor girl,” I said, still speaking in German. “What’s happened to you?”
“Don’t come near me,” she pleaded. “Don’t.”
“I won’t hurt you. Let me help.” I took a few cautious steps in her direction. She cringed away from me. “You’re cold, you need help. I’m a doctor.”
She raised her chin. Anger warred with the sheer terror in her eyes. “Are you one of Them?” I heard the capital “T” in the word.
“Who are ‘Them’?” I asked, genuinely puzzled.
“Them. The ones who took my family away.” Her brief burst of bravado fled as soon as it came. Her face crumpled and she began to sob. I knelt by her side. My instincts automatically catalogued her ailments: hypothermia, dehydration, lack of food. She was still strong, despite her hardships. This was no ordinary little girl.
“Let me take you back to my cabin,” I said, in a tone that allowed no opposition. “You can tell me your story after some food, a bath and warm clothes.”
“Aber, Frau Doktor...”
“No buts.” I helped her to stagger back to her feet. “What is your name?”
“Katya.” Suddenly, she seemed shy. “And what is yours?”
“Andrea Weisgard.” At the sound of my name, she tried to pull away from me. “I’m American, but my great-grandparents were German.”
Katya shook her head. “I will only bring you trouble, Frau Doktor Weisgard.”
“Let me be the judge of that. Come on. Lean on me if you have to.” We started back down the path towards my cabin. The words to the Hippocratic Oath floated through my mind. “First do no harm...” I would help this poor girl, as best as I could.
But what was I going to do afterwards?