Being a wickie at St. Catherine’s Lighthouse on the Isle of Wight had its good points, Benjamin thought. His wife Edith and daughter Judith aided him in his work, so it became a family endeavor. Also the lighthouse grounds doubled as a meteorological outstation. During daylight, the Margolies family sent hourly reports of temperature, humidity, cloud height, cloud formation, wind direction, and wind force to the Meteorological Office in London by Teletype. This allowed Benjamin the satisfaction of working within his chosen field.
When Benjamin was paid his salary a small amount of petrol was delivered to power the engine that turned the lighthouse shaft. He was never tempted to divert a portion of this petrol to his motorcar, as he had none, but he did have to keep an eye out for neighbors who did.
On weekday mornings Judith trudged up from Undercliff to the village of Niton for her primary school, and sometimes her mother accompanied her when she needed to attend to shopping. At sunset on Friday, when it was Shabbat, Benjamin and his family ceased from all their labors and remained indoors. On rare occasions Benjamin took his family by ferry and bus on such modest holidays as they could afford. One time they went to the beautiful Lake District in the northwest of the country, camping in the high, treeless hills called fells that qualified as mountains in Eng- land.
The Isle of Wight lay within the English Channel, and the English Channel was the chief arena of contest between the United Kingdom and Germany in 1940. That is not to say the Margolies family would have been entirely safe if they had moved closer to the Lake District.
The Luftwaffe had a clear advantage when it came to the quality of their aircraft, but with the new Chain Home Radio Direction Finding systems providing early warning of attacks, RAF pilots could rest until scrambled, use less fuel, and put less wear on their own aircraft.
As the Luftwaffe began to take heavy losses in bombers and fighter cover they tried attacking some of the Chain Home stations, including one that was constructed near to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse. The Margolies family was unharmed but they had their first taste of the War. Towers constructed with an open lattice structure are practically immune to blasts. The few antennas the Germans did manage to topple were repaired within days while operators from nearby dummy stations broadcasted signals to make the enemy believe no harm was done at all.
The Luftwaffe tried flying lower and approaching England below the sight line of Chain Home stations but the British used smaller systems intended to direct gunfire against ships in the Channel and German losses continued to mount at an unacceptable rate. Eventually the Luftwaffe accepted they would be spotted electronically and switched to night raids, thinking the RAF’s fighters could not see them in actual combat. The British quickly produced even smaller systems for planes that rapidly ended German night bombing over England.
The Luftwaffe lost nearly two thousand planes and Hitler was forced to shelf his invasion plans indefinitely. In hindsight Hitler’s ‘Operation Sea Lion’ was never realistic. Even if Germany had obtained a lasting command of the air, Britain still had an unmatched Navy.
The United Kingdom shifted emphasis from air defense to air offense, but during the course of 1941 it became clear to Bomber Command that nighttime navigation to the correct target was a serious issue. In 1942 an electronic guidance system called Clarinet was developed. Clarinet used two highly directional radio beams, one transmitting Morse code dots and the other one transmitting dashes, to be received by a single bomber flying point in the wave to minimize the chance of the Germans reverse-engineering the system from a downed plane.
The night bombers flew out from England on a straight line along the radio dots, and when the lead plane encountered the strongest part of the radio dashes from another angle it dropped a load of marker flares. Then the whole bomber wave dropped their bombs on the flares.
Concrete was transparent to the Clarinet frequency. So an antenna was constructed inside Benjamin’s lighthouse mounted to the central shaft. That way the structure of the lighthouse would hide the antenna and the Germans, it was thought, would never suspect a thing. Periodically a targeting order came to Benjamin Margolies over the same Teletype he used to transmit his weather information to London. The message gave him a precise angle to position the antenna, a duration and start time, and whether he was to transmit dots or dashes.
The Margolies family was kept busy throughout 1943 as the RAF focused their bombing campaign on Hamburg and the industry centered in the Ruhr valley. The next year a large number of American, Australian, En Zed, and Canadian troops were transported to the south of England.
They trained with Tommies in preparation for the invasion of France. To ensure their success a tower of deception was assembled that the world had never seen before nor since. False plans were even planted on a corpse that was allowed to wash up on a French beach. A world of false radio traffic was created and maintained to let the German High Command conclude that US Army General G. S. Patton was gearing up to lead the entire force over the narrowest part of the Channel where Dover could be seen from Calais. The Germans knew it was the smart move.
Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay, in overall command of the invasion, left absolutely nothing to chance. On June 4, 1944, just before D-Day, Sir Ramsay actually took time to visit St. Catherine’s lighthouse. The weather was quite murky and wet so he cut his inspection short. Benjamin showed Ramsay the room where the Teletype and Clarinet transmitter were installed. Ramsay thanked Benjamin personally for his service to the King, and Benjamin, for his part, considered it prudent not to mention the assistance he received from Edith and Judith.
The Admiral seemed to be captivated by a wall chart and asked Benjamin to identify it.
“That’s my moving five-day weather forecast for Undercliff, sir. That would be this stretch where the lighthouse is located. We are in a rain-shadow, you know. And also a fog-shadow. The weather here is not nearly as immoderate as it is for the Overners.”
After the War it was Benjamin who coined the word microclimate.
He led the Admiral into the white octagonal tower to inspect the Clarinet antenna and took him spiralling up the ninety-four steps to the top. Benjamin showed Sir Ramsay where the huge crystal lens had been chipped by a 1943 air raid. They could see thirty nautical miles out to sea. The whole English Channel was roiling with whitecaps kicked up from high winds which threatened to derail the immanent invasion.
“And you do this weather forecasting as a sort of hobby?”
“Perhaps more than just a hobby, Admiral Sir Ramsay. I’m trained as a meteorologist, and I’m a damn fine one, if you don’t mind me carrying my own chair. But it’s wartime now, and I’m a wickie for the duration. Now I know we’ve all got to pull together to stop Jerry, sir, and I’m sure other professional men are in the same predicament as myself, but all the same, one must use the skills one has been trained to use, or one’s mind gets in a bit of a rut.”
“I see,” said Ramsay.
“It’s not the purely sterile pursuit you might imagine it to be, Admiral Sir. By a strange fluke of geography and wind and water currents, the weather here at the lighthouse has a very high correlation with the weather directly across the Channel on the coast of France. I’ve checked it for years, sir, in every season, and the match occurs more than eighty percent of the time, well outside the realm of coincidence. I intend to publish a paper about this after the war.”
“Is that so? Remarkable! And what do you forecast for Undercliff?”
“A twenty-four hour break in this miserable weather, partly cloudy, winds drop to five knots. Then on the afternoon of the sixth of June we return to the same pattern. Everywhere else along the English Channel there will be fog and rain and winds gusting to thirty knots.”
Admiral Sir Ramsay was elated. Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist had predicted the same short break in the weather using B-17 aircraft far out over the Atlantic to gather the data. General Montgomery was willing to take the risk, but Ramsay and Ike were still cautious.
Allied Intelligence said General Erwin Rommel, master of the Atlantic Wall, wasn’t even presently in France, a sign the Germans were anticipating at least a week of bad weather. But now a doughnut hole in that weather was confirmed by a second, entirely unexpected source. Sir Ramsay had moved over to General Montgomery’s camp and was ready to give the nod on the invasion. It might be enough to convince Eisenhow- er, the Supreme Allied Commander, to launch the massive invasion of France just as the Germans were letting down their guard.
The Admiral asked, “Does the strange correlation of weather between Undercliff and the French coast hold for the Pas-De-Calais?”
“Alas, no, I’m afraid that predicting the weather for Dover and Calais is a puzzle, and my reports to the Weather Office are but one piece.”
The Admiral sighed, suddenly reluctant to proceed. There was one final duty Benjamin Margolies could perform for England, and it saddened the Admiral to deceive the man, but there was no choice. It was, in fact, the chief reason for his visit. He said, “Then it is time to reveal the real purpose of my visit here, and why I have attended to this myself rather than send a staffer. What I’m about to tell you has the highest possible classification. You cannot mention a word of it even to your family.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Mr. Margolies, the following three weeks will be very lively ones for you, I’m afraid. You might be aware that much of southern England has become one large armed camp containing millions of troops from several countries, and all their supplies. As we get closer to the moment of the Allied invasion across the Strait of Dover, which is set for the final week of June, you will find that your Clarinet task orders will be coming in at a much greater rate than ever before.”
“Nightly rather than weekly, then, sir?”
“Twice nightly, I’m afraid. We will soon be bombing the potential landing areas continuously, day and night, and you’ll need to get such sleep as you can when it is light. I wanted to tell you this, Mr. Margolies, so when it happens you do not imagine things have gone terribly amiss.”
“I understand what I must do, sir,” said Benjamin Margolies. “Perfectly.”
So after a brisk shake of their hands they descended the spiralling steps mounted inside the structure of St. Catherine’s lighthouse and were parted, but Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay felt thoroughly soiled.
One time a German U-boat captain gazed at the shore of the Isle of Wight through his periscope and noted that St. Catherine’s lighthouse stopped flashing for hours. It was a small matter but he noted the start and stop time. The report wound its way through Berlin. One clever analyst realized the data matched the start and stop time of the Clarinet signal originating from what they thought was a nearby antenna. A second observation verified the light beam remained lined up on a target in Germany that was taken out by night bombing.
In the early morning hours of June 5, 1944 a U-boat surfaced off the Isle of Wight. Commandos rowed ashore to raid the lighthouse, led by an SS captain named Felix Schaub who doubled as the political officer to ensure the crew’s loyalty to the gangsters running Germany. On this occasion Felix Schaub wore his black pre-war Schutz Staffel uniform for the brutal psychological effect he knew it would have on the Margolies family.
Judith and Edith whimpered in terror when they were tied up and threatened with pistols pointed at their heads. Benjamin demonstrated the operation of the Clarinet system to Captain Schaub, but the Germans neither destroyed the gear nor tried to remove it to their submarine. Instead, Schaub identified each member of the Margolies family by name, and told them he knew they were Jews.
“Mr. Margolies,” Straub said, “this is a matter of life and death for your wife and daughter. I do not make empty threats. The fate of Edith and Judith will depend on how you answer two questions. First, what is the target area of the planned invasion across the Channel?”
Benjamin stiffened in dismay. He was confronted with the choice of losing his family or betraying the trust Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay had given him. To prod him along, there was a slight nod from Schaub. The hammer was pulled back on the pistol pointed at Judith’s head.
Margolies capitulated. It was never really a question. “Dover to Calais,” he said, letting escape the breath he had been holding for half a minute.
“Goot,” Captain Schaub said. “And the timing?”
“I do not know the precise day. I know only that it will be during the last week of June.”
The SS officer smiled. “I am a man of my word,” he said. “Your family is safe. But this is what I want you to do now, Mr. Margolies. When you get your orders to operate Clarinet, you will carry them out, but you will be just a little sloppy when you align the antenna. Not too much, Mr. Margolies! Perhaps only a fraction of one degree. Just enough to throw off the resulting bombing raid by a few hundred meters. You will do this until your government returns to their original wisdom and no longer prosecutes its war against the Reich. But this is the most important part: you must tell no one you are sabotaging the raids, or that we were ever here.”
“Or you’ll return and kill us?”
“Mr. Margolies, now I am disappointed in you! What does a man have in this world if he fails to do what he promises he will do? You have my word that neither you nor your lovely wife Edith nor your beautiful young daughter Judith will be killed. But I am not sure that you are a man of your word, Mr. Margolies. So at this time we will take them to the concentration camp near Saint-Malo in France.”
“No, I beg you!”
“Do not be alarmed, Mr. Margolies. Your wife Edith and your daughter will not be unduly mistreated there, nor even on the way there. This camp I mentioned that lies in Brittany is where all the British Jews we captured in the Channel Islands have been relocated. But if we learn that a future air raid using the transmitter inside this lighthouse is successful, things will not seem so good. But even then, my word will hold! Judith and Edith will be simply be transferred to a work camp deeper in France or perhaps even in Germany.”
Judith and Edith Margolies were taken to Cherbourg by raft and by sub, and by the morning of June 6 they were inducted into a French farm that had been dubbed a clinic for racial hygiene.
Schuab’s report, sent by coded radio from the U-boat, filtered up to Hitler, and the final piece of deception in the Fortitude element of Operation Bodyguard was in place. Hitler reinforced the defenses in the Pas-De-Calais region and left only a skeleton force at Normandy. Captain Felix Straub and the Uboat at his beck and call only just made it to Cherbourg in time.
In the early morning hours of June 6 the Channel was filled with 7,000 vessels carrying 160,000 men to the beaches of Normandy, and not Calais, as Benjamin told his tormentors. Mr. Margolies’s weather forecast had tipped Ramsay into Montgomery’s camp for having a go, and that in turn convinced Eisenhower.
Two Panzer tank divisions, which might have defeated the invasion, were kept on a tight leash by Hitler because he didn’t trust his own generals. Hitler himself slept until noon on the sixth of June, and didn’t release the Panzers until four in the afternoon, by which time the beachhead was relatively secure and Allied aircraft dominated the skies to the point of forcing all German tanks to move only at night.
For two months the Allies were tied down in the Normandy region trying to break out of hedgerow country while the Germans attempted to contain them. When the Allies did escape, the breakthrough was very near to the Saint-Malo area where Judith and Edith were being held. To prevent their premature liberation the Germans moved everyone in the camp to another one deeper in France, far from the front lines, precisely what Felix Straub threatened would happen should Benjamin Margolies prove faithless in his sabotage, when he in fact never was.
Benjamin continued to operate the Clarinet system when the nightly orders came in over the Teletype, but he deliberately altered the requested target angle slightly. He sincerely believed Captain Straub that it was the only way he could save the lives of Edith and Judith.
The deception came crashing to an end in September when Judith failed to register for secondary school. The constable came calling, and he found evidence of the raid by the German frogmen. He notified army intelligence, and they in turn squeezed the truth out of Benjamin. Sir Ramsay successfully intervened to keep Benjamin out of prison, but Sir Arthur Harris of RAF Bomber Command insisted the man be sacked from his lighthouse job. He was forced to move to a small cottage on the beach nearby and he was not even permitted to operate his weather station inside St. Catherine’s lighthouse. In his isolation Benjamin gradually began to despair of seeing either one of his loved ones again.
After breaking out of Normandy at Avranches, General Patton’s Third Army moved across France at an unbelievable pace, performing a right hook that nearly encircled Hitler’s forces opposing the invasion. Judith and Edith were moved to different camps at least once a month. The constant relocation was encouraging in a way, but things grew progressively worse the nearer Edith and Judith were taken to Germany itself. Internment camps were abandoned for work camps, which were evacuated in turn for what could only be called punishment camps.
Early in 1945 after one more relocation, Edith and Judith reached their final destination, an extermination camp called Ohrdruf-Nord deep in the heart of Germany proper. In that place Jews were worked to death constructing a railroad center that would never be finished. Along the way currency, gold, and jewelry (of which Judith and Edith had none) were sent to the SS headquarters of the Economic Adminstration. Watches, clocks, and pens were sent to the troops on the Western, Eastern, and Italian fronts. Their civilian clothing was given to increasingly needy German families.
Judith saw things that pushed far beyond any boundaries of human evil she thought were possible to exist. Ohrdruf wasn’t even the worst camp in the hellish constellation. Those were to be found further to the east, in Poland. Many men have a taste for sixteen year old female flesh. Judith learned to trade her body for scraps of extra food. The longer she could delay taking on the figure of a skeleton, the more opportunities he might have to trade her body for food, for both herself and Edith.
This became a huge problem during the terrifying and humiliating appells, or inspections, that followed roll call and lasted most of the day. The guards realized Judith and Edith were wasting away at a slightly slower rate than their companion prisoners. They were successful in feigning weakness, but it was almost impossible to hide their extra weight, and suspicion was raised.
When the guns of Patton’s tanks could be heard only forty miles away, the twelve thousand inmates of the camp were being loaded onto cattle cars. The prisoners were being rushed to transfer to Buchenwald. Edith Margolies slipped and revealed that she had a little extra food hidden away. What happened after that Judith told no one but her father, years after the war, on his final day of life. Learning the manner of the passing of his wife might have even been the thing that killed him.
Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army captured Ohrdruf-Nord on April 4, 1945. Judith was one of the very few prisoners left standing. After the war in Europe when Judith had been sufficiently deloused and scrubbed, and had demonstrated her status as a British subject to the satisfaction of the Occupation, she was placed on a ship and sent home to her father.
She met him on a dock at Portsmouth. Judith gazed upon him as though across a great gulf which was the memory of the unspeakable ordeal she had somehow survived. They were utter strangers to each other. When he took her home Benjamin tearfully begged his daughter to tell him what happened to Edith. The girl said nothing. Every time he pressed, she would only shake her head. But the beach bungalow was very small, and it was not very long before Benjamin caught a quick glimpse of the mass of whip scars on his daughter’s back.
The Margolies family had been royal subjects for many generations. Benjamin Margolies was a meteorologist with a specialty in ‘numerical methods of mesoscale forecasting’. He lived, unfortunately, just before the proper tool for his work, the computer, had been invented.
But Jews were very rare in the United Kingdom, which might have explained why, during the Great Depression, Benjamin Margolies could only find work as a lighthouse keeper at St. Catherine’s Lighthouse on the Isle of Wight, just a few miles off the southern coast of England. Still, Benjamin faithfully served the crown in what capacity he could, even operating a directional transmitter hidden inside the lighthouse which guided bombers on nighttime raids in Germany.
Ultimately he was compelled, without his fully-informed consent, to become part of the disinformation campaign leading up to the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Just prior to the invasion his wife and daughter were abducted by German commandos as surety he would sabotage the raids. His wife Edith never returned to him.
Judith Margolies was an eighteen-year-old survivor of the Holocaust. She did not sleep nights anymore, not even a full year after the War. Instead she stayed wide awake on the back porch of her beach cottage, watching the coast with her war surplus Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle for Nazis who would never come. She suffered terribly from something 20th Century doctors called shell shock and 21st Century doctors would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
One instant Judith was scanning the beach below St. Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight. The next instant a giant appeared. The manner of the man’s appearance was entirely out of the ordinary, Judith thought. Then again, so was standing watch all night every night. Judith realized it was possible she wasn’t entirely sane.
In the feeble light of the full moon in the west and the hint of dawn in the east the giant’s face seemed too dark to be a Nazi, but he could have applied camouflage to his skin just like the frogmen who whisked her mother and herself to France. Judith wasn’t taking chances, not after what she had suffered, not after what she had seen her mother suffer. She fired a round into the air from fifty yards to get the giant’s attention before he advanced closer.
The strange man loomed higher than anyone she had ever seen, perhaps a full eight feet tall. The man watched Judith draw near with the rifle. At ten yards hy said, “You have no need of that weapon with me. I will offer no threat to you.”
“Who are you?” Judith demanded. “You don’t sound remotely English.”
“My name is Michael,” hy said. “And you are correct, I am not from your country at all. I am from somewhere very far away.”
Judith’s rifle dropped a bit from its sight-line on Michael’s head. It was now aimed at hyz heart. She said, “So what are you doing here? And how did you get here?”
“I am here to speak to you,” Michael said. “As for how I arrived, I could explain it to you, but you would think me entirely balmy, rather than just yourself.”
Judith lowered the rifle to point at the ground between them, and there was the faintest glimmer of a smile. She said, “And what would you, having come from so far away, have to say to me?”
“I would ask whether you would hunt real enemies of Jews throughout the world, rather than ones you imagine might come here.”
Judith unchambered the round and slung the rifle over her back. It was just before dawn, and in the light that was beginning to gather, Michael could take a better look at Judith. The girl had just reached adulthood, but there was an aged look in her hollow eyes, as though she had already lived four lifetimes, and it haunted hym. Obviously a kind of Darwinian process in the camps had produced a girl who was able to outwit, bribe, or intimidate anyone to get what she needed to survive. Michael saw the results on Judith’s face. He asked, “Do you live here, at the lighthouse?”
Judith shook her head. “We used to live there, but my father was sacked, for reasons that were entirely unfair. After the war he was allowed to resume work at the weather outstation, but we must live here.”
The work camps had emaciated her body, but when she returned home to the Isle of Wight and was fed by her father, the weight came back in the form of strong, wiry muscles. She was eighteen but looked twice that.
“I should like to meet your father,” Michael said.
Judith spat at the ground. “He has sold his life to the Goy and betrayed the promise of God that our people should rule Eretz Yisrael.”
“When you say your people,” Michael said, “I know you are not speaking of the British, Judith Margolies. You are also a member of a people whose very right to exist is always being questioned.”
Judith’s eyes narrowed at Michael. “How do you know my name?”
“I know many things about you, Judith. I know that your father rendered a service to the Crown that went far beyond the sacrifices that any other Britons were asked to make. I know he was used by the government to help deceive Hitler as to exactly where the invasion was going to take place. They planted false information on him. I know you and your mother were taken to camps on the Continent by German special forces. I know they tattooed the number 271828 on your arm and I know that you have come through such suffering and human degradation and evil that few could ever begin to understand the mere periphery of it, let alone sympathize with the core of your ordeal and your memories of it.”
Judith showed Michael the six numbers tattooed to her arm in Ordruf Nord to affirm her assessment was correct. She said, “The Crown owes a very large marker to my father, but he will not cash it in to obtain a small thing, a concession of such little import it could not possibly disconcert the government in the smallest way. The Foreign Secretary refuses to allow Jews to immigrate to the British Mandate in Palestine. Not even Jews who are already British subjects.”
“Oil,” said Michael.
Judith nodded. One word, but it explained everything. She said, “The admiral who deceived my father is dead. My father has resumed his profession and he is willing to let the whole matter go.”
“What would you do if I said I could take you to Palestine this very day?”
“What would I do? Please give me a moment.”
She went into her cottage, and returned ten minutes later carrying a small tote bag with clothing and her personal effects. She also carried her rifle, but now she also had several boxes of .303 caliber cartridges carried on little straps. But she had not taken the time to wake her father and notify him that she was leaving, and Michael knew that as matters stood the girl could not be persuaded to speak to him. Michael also noted, with some satisfaction, that Judith carried in one hand a quantity of unleavened bread. That was the essence of the feast of Passover, to reaffirm the willingness of the children of Israel to respond without delay to the command of their God to depart their place of captivity. Perhaps Judith had an intuition of who she was really dealing with.
The crack of dawn in England instantly changed to early morning in Israel. Michael had moved east toward the rising sun. Judith saw the light had shifted, and the terrain as well. The cool beach was gone, replaced by warm desert. Astonished, Judith looked into Michael’s eyes and asked, “Who are you, really?”
He said, “I will never lie to you, Judith, but at this point I think were I to tell you the entire truth you would hold me to be absolutely barmy. For now, at the very least, I hope that you simply consider me to be a teacher and a friend.”
Listening to Michael’s words had an effect that Judith could never put into words. She was silent for many minutes as her body shook with dry weeping.