The boys broke into a run as they heard the toll of the school bell, a warning that they needed to get into the schoolyard before the bell stopped clanging and their teacher stepped punctually out from the school entrance. To be late for Gymnasium was unpardonable and punishment would be quick from Herr Braun. Lothar, the first to reach the schoolyard, pushed open the gate and the rest of the boys piled in as fast as they could. They were just in time before their teacher came out of the building, a large three-story structure, painted yellow with white columns at the recessed door entrance.
Rudolf stood on the grass in a neat row with the other boys, greeting Herr Braun with “Heil Hitler,” his thin arm jutting up in unison like a robot. The teacher greeted everyone in kind and began taking attendance. He was a small man with a neatly trimmed pointed beard and thick glasses. He always wore a dark suit with a bow tie and at all times carried a wooden pointer he used to tap on the blackboard to emphasize what he was talking about. Herr Braun exacted fear in Rudolf’s heart because of his brutal punishment if homework was not completed. Although small of stature, Rudolf had seen Herr Braun inflict beatings on fellow students with his pointer that left raised welts.
The group of friends stood rigidly, breathing hard from their run into the schoolyard. Herr Braun eyed them suspiciously, but his eye landed on Lothar, his usual target of venom.
“You…Lothar, why are you breathing so heavy?”
Lothar, a gangly boy with sandy brown hair and a crooked smile, took a deep breath and began to explain but his throat was dry and only a croak came out.
“Well, I am waiting, Lothar,” Herr Braun said.
Lothar tried to act in a nonchalant manner. “Herr Braun, I am breathing hard because I am out of breath.”
A frown came to the small, pinched face of Herr Braun. “You are breathing hard because you are out of breath,” the teacher yelled at him. “You nobody! You pimpf! Do you understand I want to know why you are out of breath?”
The teacher stepped beside Lothar and struck him hard on the side of the head with his pointer. There was dead silence among the students. No one dared make a sound or even look sympathetic toward Lothar for fear they would receive the same reaction from Herr Braun.
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