In 1928 a girl child is born to Benjamin and Edith Gervasi in London while Benjamin is attending Imperial College. He names her Lilith because it is such an interesting name. His wife Edith thought it was interesting in the way Jezebel or Medusa or Typhoid Mary is interesting. Edith complains, but she knows she can do nothing to change Ben’s mind, so her daughter is Lilith.
In Jewish legends Lilith was Adam’s first wife, created from the soil at the same time as Adam rather than from his rib like his second wife. Lilith left her husband when she refused to accept the sex position that Adam insisted on doing, since it left the man on top. She wanted to do reverse cowgirl. Cursed by God, Lilith became a she-demon who roamed the night looking for souls of newborn infants to steal, but the prophet Isaiah foresaw that even Lilith would find rest in the Messianic Age.
As the decade of the 1930s wears on Jews are systematically stripped of their civil rights on the Continent and begin to be moved into work camps that evolve into extermination camps, but nothing like that happens in Britain. There are even Jews in Parliament. The Gervasi family has been royal subjects for many generations, and Benjamin Gervasi is a meteorologist with a specialty in numerical methods of mesoscale forecasting.
Jews are rather rare in the United Kingdom. During the years of the Great Depression Benjamin Gervasi 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. This job, however, has several good points associated with it Benjamin thinks. First, his wife and eventually also Lilith aids him in his work. It becomes a family endeavor. Second, the lighthouse grounds double as a meteorological outstation. During daylight, they send by Teletype hourly reports of temperature, humidity, cloud height, cloud formation, wind direction, and wind force to the Meteorological Office in London. Benjamin derives some satisfaction to work within his chosen field.
Once a week when Benjamin is paid his salary, a small amount of petrol is also delivered to power the engine that turns the lighthouse shaft. He is never tempted to divert some of this petrol to his motorcar, as he had no motorcar, but he does have to keep an eye out for certain neighbors who do.
Every weekday morning Lilith trudges up the hillside to the nearest village for her Primary school, and sometimes her mother accompanies her when she needs to attend to shopping. On Shabbat they cease from their labors and remain indoors. Very rarely, Benjamin arranges transportation by bus and ferry, and they take such holidays as they can afford, sometimes even to the beautiful Lake District, camping in the high, treeless hills called fells that qualify as mountains in England.
In the lead-up to the War British scientists are tasked to create a death ray based on radio waves to take down German bombers. They never quite manage a death ray, but in their research they find that metallic objects at great distances can reflect a radio pulse and the time delay displayed on an oscilloscope is a very accurate indication of distance. Rotating an antenna can pin down a targets position. Thus is born RDF, or Range and Direction Finding. A network of RDF stations called Chain Home make all the difference in the Battle of Britain, which occurs over the summer of 1940.
Numerically the Luftwaffe has an edge over the Royal Air Force, but when the Luftwaffe attacks they have to hunt for RAF fighters, while the RAF (aided by Chain Home) knows exactly where the Luftwaffe is and can concentrate planes. The Luftwaffe also has an edge when it comes to the quality of their aircraft, but with Chain Home providing early warning of attacks, RAF pilots can rest until they are scrambled, use less fuel, and put less wear and tear on their aircraft. As the Luftwaffe begins to take heavy losses in bombers and fighter cover, they try to attack some of the Chain Home stations, including one that is constructed nigh to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse. But as the Gervasi family can attest, the antenna towers with their open structure are not very susceptible to blast damage from bombs. The few antennas that actually are knocked down are repaired within days while operators from nearby dummy stations broadcast signals that fool the Germans into thinking no damage was done at all.
The Luftwaffe tries flying lower, approaching England below the sight line of Chain Home stations, but the British uses smaller RDF systems intended to direct gunfire against ships, and German losses continue to mount at an unacceptable rate. So the Luftwaffe switches to night raids, knowing that even if they are detected, the RAF can do nothing about it, since the defending planes cannot see the bombers in the dark when it comes to actual combat. The British quickly miniaturize the RDF systems and install them on fighter planes, which rapidly ends German night bombing over England.
Since the battle takes place over United Kingdom home turf, if an RAF plane is shot down, the British pilot can bail out and be back in the air flying another plane, perhaps on the same day if he is not injured. But if a German pilot bails out over land, he is invariably captured, and if he bails out over the Channel he is likely to die from drowning or exposure to cold.
When the Battle of Britain comes to an end in October 1940 the British have lost only about 500 airmen while the Germans have lost eight times that number. Nearly a thousand German pilots are captured. The Luftwaffe lose nearly 2,000 planes and Hitler shelves his invasion plans. Thwarted for the first time in the war, Hitler turns his gaze to the East and begins preparing the Barbarossa campaign against the Soviet Union.
The UK shifts emphasis from defense to offense, and during the course of 1941 it becomes clear to Bomber Command that night navigation to the correct target is a serious issue. In 1942 an electronic guidance system called Clarinet is developed that uses two highly directional radio beams, one transmitting Morse code dots and the other one transmitting dashes, to be received by a single bomber flying in the lead of the wave (to minimize the chance of the Germans reverse-engineering the system from a downed plane). They fly out along the dots, and when the lead plane encounters the strongest part of the dashes it drops a load of marker flares, and the bomber wave drops their bombs on these flares.
A Clarinet antenna was constructed inside Benjamin’s lighthouse mounted to the central shaft. That way the white structure of the lighthouse would hide the antenna and the Germans would never suspect a thing. From time to time a targeting order comes to Benjamin over the same Teletype he uses to transmit his weather information. The message gives him a precise angle to position the antenna, a duration in time, and whether he was to use dots or dashes. The Gervasi family are quite busy throughout 1943 as the RAF focuses their bombing campaign on Hamburg and the industry centered in the Ruhr valley.
In 1944 a large number of American, Australian, En Zed, and Canadian troops are transported to the south of England to join the Tommies in preparation for the invasion of France, and to ensure their success a monolith of operational deception is built up that the world had never seen before nor since. False radio traffic is created to give the Germans the impression that Patton is gearing up to take the entire force over the narrowest part of the Channel where the white cliffs of Dover can be seen from Calais. False plans are planted on a corpse that is allowed to wash up on a French beach. Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay, in overall command of the invasion, leaves nothing, absolutely nothing to chance. In the run-up to D-Day Sir Ramsay even pays a visit to Benjamin Gervasi in his lighthouse on the southern-most point of England.
The weather is quite murky and wet, so the Admirals inspection of the exterior of the lighthouse is necessarily cut short. While his driver waits in the car, Benjamin shows the Admiral the room where the Teletype and Clarinet transmitter are installed. Ramsay thanks Benjamin personally for his service to the King, and Benjamin, for his part, considers it prudent not to mention the assistance he receives from his wife and daughter. Then the Admirals eyes are captivated by a wall chart, and he asks Benjamin to identify it.
That’s my moving five-day weather forecast for Undercliff, Sir. That would be this little strip of land where the lighthouse is located. We are in a rain-shadow, you know. And also a fog-shadow, if you will. The weather here is typically not quite as immoderate as it is for you Overners.
Benjamin leads the Admiral into the white octagonal tower to inspect the Clarinet antenna. He takes him spiraling up the ninety-four steps to the top, where the huge crystal lens (chipped by a 1943 air raid) slowly rotates, and they can see for thirty nautical miles out to sea. The whole English Channel in fact is roiling with whitecaps from high winds which threaten to derail the invasion.
And you do this weather forecasting as a sort of hobby?
Perhaps a bit more than just a hobby, Admiral Sir Ramsey. I’m trained as a meteorologist, and I’m a damn fine one, if you don’t mind me carrying my own chair. But with the war I find myself. . .over-qualified for the task I currently occupy. Now I know we’ve all got to pull together to stop Jerry, and I’m sure other professional men are in the same predicament, but all the same, one must use the skills one has been trained to use, or ones mind gets in a bit of a rut.
It’s not a purely sterile pursuit as you might imagine it to be. By a strange fluke of geography and wind and water currents, the weather here at the lighthouse, which can be quite different from the rest of England or even the rest of the Isle of Wight, almost always corresponds to the weather across the Channel on the coast of France, in the Normandy area. I’ve checked it for years, in every season, and the match is very good, more than eighty percent of the time, well outside the possibility of coincidence. I plan to publish a paper about it after the war.
Is that so? Remarkable! And what do you predict for Undercliff?
A twenty-four hour break in this weather, partly cloudy, winds drop to five knots. Then on the afternoon of the sixth of June we return to the same pattern. This forecast holds for here and the Normandy coast. Everywhere else along the English Channel there will be no twenty-four hour break. There will be only fog and rain and winds gusting to thirty knots.
Sir Ramsey is suddenly filled with great admiration for Benjamin Gervasi, because Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist has predicted the very same short break in the weather over Normandy, using B-17 aircraft far out over the Atlantic to gather the data, but General Eisenhower is dithering as he is ever wont to do. The Admiral knows if he tells the General the doughnut hole in the bad weather is confirmed by a second independent source, it might be enough to make him decide to launch the invasion of France on the morning of June 6, just when the Germans will be letting their guard down with intelligence of a solid week of terrible weather.
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 more like a jigsaw puzzle, and my reports to the Weather Office are but one piece.
The Admiral sighs, reluctant to proceed. There is one final duty Mr. Gervasi can perform for England. It saddens the Admiral to deceive the man, but there is no choice. It is, in fact, the main reason for his visit. The net of operational deception woven around Operation Neptune must be watertight.
BERTRAND 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 wife or daughter.
BENJAMIN Of course. I understand, sir.
BERTRAND Mr. Gervasi, the following three weeks will be very lively ones for you, Am afraid. You are no doubt aware that most of southern England has become one large armed camp containing millions of troops and all their supplies. As we get closer to the invasion across the Strait of Dover, which is set for June 20, you will find that your Clarinet task orders will be coming in at a much greater rate.
Daily rather than weekly?
Twice daily, I’m afraid. We will soon be bombing the landing areas more or less continuously. Now is the time we must make our greatest effort. I needed to tell you this, Mr. Gervasi, lest you think something has gone terribly wrong. And I could not trust this information to others.
Benjamin assures the young admiral he understands his duty perfectly. And with that they part, but Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay feels thoroughly soiled.
The Germans are not complete idiots. A U-boat captain, gazing at the shore of the Isle of Wight through his periscope, notes that St. Catherine’s lighthouse stops flashing for hours. He logs the start and stop time, and a clever intelligence agent in Berlin realizes this matches the start and stop time of the Clarinet signal originating from what they thought was a nearby tower. A second and third observation over the next two weeks verifies the anomaly.
In the early morning hours of June 3, 1944 a German submarine surfaces just offshore and commandos row ashore to raid the lighthouse, led by an SS captain named Felix Schaub who doubles as the political officer aboard the Uboat to ensure the loyalty of its crew to Hitler. On this occasion Schaub wears his black pre-war Schutzstaffel uniform for the psychological effect he knows it will have on the Gervasi family.
With Lilith and Edith whimpering in terror, tied up and threatened with pistols pointed at their heads, Benjamin demonstrates the Clarinet system to Captain Schaub, but to Benjamin’s great surprise the Germans neither destroy the gear nor try to remove it to their submarine. Instead, Schaub identifies each member of the Gervasi family by name and he tells them he knows they are Jews. He tells Benjamin that whether they live or die depend on the correct answer to precisely two questions.First “What is the target of the immanent invasion across the English Channel?”
Benjamin stiffens in dismay. He is confronted with the choice of losing his family or betraying the trust Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay has given him. At the slightest nod from Schaub, the hammer is pulled back on the pistol pointed at Lilith’s head.
Benjamin lets out the breath he had been holding for nearly a minute.
Goot. And the timing?
(smiling) I am a man of my word. Neither you nor your wife nor your daughter will be killed. Here is what I want you to do, Mr. Gervasi. From now on, when you get orders to operate Clarinet, you will carry them out, but you will be a little sloppy when you align the antenna. Not too much! Perhaps a fraction of one degree. Only enough to throw the bombing raid off by a few hundred yards. You will do this until the British government decides it will no longer prosecute its aggression against the Reich. And more importantly, you will tell no one that you are sabotaging the raids.
Or you will come back and kill us.
FELIX Benjamin! I’m disappointed in you! What does a man have in this world if he fails to do what he promises? You have my word of honor that neither you nor your lovely wife Edith nor your beautiful daughter Lilith will be killed. But they will be taken to the concentration camp near Saint-Malo in France were all the British Jews in the Channel Islands have been relocated.
No, I beg you!
They will not be unduly mistreated there. But if we learn that a future air raid on Germany using the transmitter at this lighthouse is successful, things will not seem quite so good. But even then, my word will still hold! Lilith and Edith will be simply be transferred to a work camp deeper in France, perhaps even in Germany. Do you know, Benjamin, it really is astonishing how much work you can get out of a Jew with a whip.
Lilith and Edith are taken in the submarine to Cherbourg, and by the evening of June 5 they are inducted into a French farm that has been dubbed a clinic for racial hygiene.
The lighthouse on the Isle of Wight is not the only Clarinet system that has been raided by Captain Schaub, but it is the only one whose operator remained alive after the raid. Schuab’s report filters up to Hitler, and the final piece of deception in the Fortitude element of Operation Bodyguard is in place. Hitler reinforces the defenses in the Pas-De-Calais region and leaves only a skeleton force at Normandy. Calais, however, is a grand feint. The real invasion takes place on the beaches of Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944. Benjamin Gervasi’s weather forecast has led Eisenhower’s to give the order to go. Two Panzer divisions, which might have driven the invaders back into the sea, are kept on a leash by Hitler because he doesn’t trust his own generals. Hitler himself sleeps until noon and doesn’t release the Panzers until four PM, by which time the beachheads are relatively secure and Allied aircraft dominate the skies to the point of forcing German tanks to move only at night.
But for two months after the Allies are tied down in the Normandy region trying to break out of hedgerow country while the Germans attempt to contain them. The breakthrough is very near to the Saint-Malo area where Lilith and Edith are being held. To prevent their liberation the Germans move everyone in the camp to another in France far from the front lines.
Benjamin Gervasi continues to operate the Clarinet system when orders came in over the Teletype, but he deliberately alters the requested target angle slightly, believing it to be the only way he can save the lives of his wife and daughter. The deception comes crashing to an end in September when Lilith fails to register for secondary school. The constables came calling, finds evidence of the German raid, and notifies army intelligence, who in turn squeeze the truth out of Benjamin. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay intervenes personally to keep Benjamin out of prison, but the bombing command insists that the man be sacked from his lighthouse job for the duration of the war. Benjamin despairs of seeing his loved ones again.
Patton’s 3rd Army moves across France at an unbelievable pace, performing a rapid right hook that nearly encircles Hitler’s forces opposing the invasion. Lilith and Edith move at least once a month, which is encouraging in a way, but the camps grow progressively worse the nearer they draw to Germany itself, until they arrive at an extermination camp called Ohrdruf-Nord deep in the heart of Germany proper, there to be worked to death constructing a railroad center that is never finished.
Along the way currency, gold, and jewelry (of which Lilith and Edith have none) are sent to the SS headquarters of the Economic Administration. Watches, clocks, and pens are sent to troops on three fronts and civilian clothing is given to needy German families. Lilith sees things that push far beyond any boundaries of human evil she previously thought must exist. And Ohrdruf isn’t even the worst camp in the hellish constellation.
Many men have a taste for sixteen year old female flesh. Lilith learned to trade her body for scraps of extra food. Some of this she eats herself, but it is purely business. The longer she can delay taking on the figure of a skeleton, the more opportunities she would have to trade her body for food. The rest of this extra food she gives to her mother. This becomes a problem during the terrifying and humiliating appells, or inspections that follow roll call and last most of the day, when Lilith and Edith are found to be wasting away at a slower rate than their companion prisoners. They are successful in feigning weakness, but it is more difficult to hide their extra weight, and suspicion is raised.
When the guns of Patton’s tanks can be heard only forty miles away and the twelve thousand inmates of the camp are being loaded onto cattle cars for transfer to Buchenwald, Edith Gervasi is discovered in possession of a little extra food. What happens after that Lilith tells no one but her father, years after the war, on his final day of life. The horror of it might even have been the thing that killed him.
Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army capture OhrdrufNord on April 4, 1945. Lilith is one of the few prisoners left standing.
After the war in Europe when Lilith has been sufficiently deloused and scrubbed, and has demonstrated her status as a British subject to the satisfaction of the Occupation, she is placed on a ship and sent home to her father. Meeting him on a dock at Portsmouth, Lilith gazes upon him across a great gulf which is the memory of the unspeakable ordeal she has somehow survived. They are utter strangers to each other now. On the dock and when he takes her home Benjamin tearfully begs his daughter to tell him what happened to Edith but the girl only shakes her head. Two days later, in his Portsmouth home, Benjamin catches a quick glimpse of the mass of whip scars on his daughter’s back. It would be a long time before she could summon the will to begin to recover from her experiences.
Lilith Gervasi does not sleep nights anymore, even a full year after the War. Instead she stays wide awake, watching the coast with her war surplus Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle for Nazis who would never come. She suffers terribly from something 21st Century doctors would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
One instant Lilith is scanning the beach in front of St. Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight. The next instant a woman appears.
The manner of the woman’s sudden appearance is entirely out of the ordinary, Lilith thinks. Then again, so is standing watch all night every night.Lilith realizes it is entirely possible she is not sane.
The female is not a Nazi, but Lilith isn’t taking chances, not after what she has suffered. She fires a round into the air from fifty yards to get the lady’s attention and advances closer.Lilith sees that the strange woman has white hair, but despite that she looked to be rather young, and is perhaps only thirty years of age.
The woman watches Lilith draw near with the rifle but she cannot put her hands over her head because she is nursing a baby.When they are close enough together that they can comfortably speak the woman speaks.
Please don’t shoot again. As you can see I have a baby.
Who are you? You don’t sound remotely English.
My name is Haziel. And you are correct, I am not from your country at all.I am from somewhere very far away.
Lilith’s rifle drops a bit from its sight-line on Haziel’s head. It is now aimed at har heart.
So what are you doing here? And how did you get here?
I am here to meet someone. As for how I arrived, I can explain it to you, but you would think me to be entirely balmy, rather than just yourself.
Lilith lowers the rifle to point at the ground between them, and there is even the faintest glimmer of a smile.
Why did you bring a baby?”
This is my beloved newborn daughter Del. I’m so madly in love with her I never let her out of my sight.
That is quite enough. Lilith unchambers the round and slings her rifle over her back.
It is pre-dawn, and in the gloomy light that is beginning to gather Haziel can take a better look at Lilith. The girl has just reached adulthood, but there is also an aged look in her hollow eyes, as though she has already lived four lifetimes, and it haunts Haziel. A kind of Darwinian process in the camps has produced a girl who is able to outwit, bribe, or intimidate anyone to get what she needs to survive. Haziel sees the results right on Lilith’s surface.
Do you live here, at the lighthouse?
Lilith nods. The work camps had emaciated her body, and 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 is eighteen but looks twice that.
My father is here. He operates the lighthouse and runs a weather outstation.
I should like to meet him.
(spitting at the ground) He has sold his life to the Goy and betrayed the promise of God that our people should rule Palestine.
When you say your nation. I know you are not speaking of England, Lilith Gervasi. You are a member of a people whose very right to exist is always being questioned.
Lilith’s eyes narrow at Haziel.
How do you know my name?
I know many things about you. I know that your father was used by the government to help deceive Hitler as to exactly where the invasion was going to take place.I know you and your mother were taken to camps on the Continent by German frogmen.I know they tattooed a number 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.
Lilith shows Haziel the six numbers tattooed to her arm by the SS to affirm har assessment is correct.
The Crown owes a very large marker to my father, but he will not cash it in to obtain a 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.
One word, but it explains everything. The Middle-East is awash in petroleum, but if the Arabs suspect the Jews will have an independent state there they will attack the wells owned and operated by the British. So the Balfour Declaration and the Churchill White Paper were torn up for the worthless pieces of paper they always were, and all bets are now off in the Holy Land.
The admiral who deceived my father is dead. My father is willing to let the whole matter go.
Little Del starts to cry. It is cold, dawn is just breaking, and che wants hez mother to take hem back to a place that was warm so che can go back to sleep.
You saw the manner of my coming, and your eyes were not deceiving you. What would you do if I said I could take you to Palestine in the blink of an eye?
Lilith does not hesitate at all. She goes into the grounds of the lighthouse complex and returns ten minutes later carrying a small tote bag with clothing and her personal effects. She also carries her rifle, but now she also had several boxes of .303 caliber cartridges carried on little straps. But she has not taken the time to wake her father and notify him that she is leaving, and Haziel knows that as matters stand the girl might never be persuaded to speak to him.
Haziel also notes, with some satisfaction, that Lilith carries in one hand a quantity of unleavened bread.That is the essence of the feast of Passover, to re-affirm the willingness of the children of Israel to respond without delay to the command of their God to depart a place. Deep down Lilith might have a small spark of recognition as to who Haziel really is.
Haziel asks Lilith to hold Del for a short time, which forces the girl to leave her rifle and other belongings on the ground.Holding the infant distracts Lilith from the instantaneous transition. The crack of dawn in England changes to mid-morning in Israel, for they have moved east toward the rising sun. Lilith sees the light has shifted, and the terrain has changed as well.The beach is gone, replaced by desert. Astonished, Lilith almost drops Del, but just manages to hang on to the child. Her eyes lift to meet those of Haziel.
Who are you really?
If I told you the truth, like I said before, you would think me a nutter, and blasphemous to boot. But hopefully, Lilith, at the very least I will be your friend. There may come a time when I will ask much more.
Holding Del in her arms and listening to Haziel’s words has an effect that Lilith would never be able put into words.After a few wordless moments, as her body shakes with dry weeping, Lilith returns the child to Haziel.
After that she is whisked away by a number of Jewish farmers who live a few miles inland from the Mediterranean, at a kibbutz founded by Polish immigrants in 1943 named Yad Mordechai. The settlement lies on the coast highway only eight miles north of the city of Gaza and in later years would lie only two and a half miles outside of the border of the Gaza Strip.
Lilith speaks no Polish, nor at that point has she learned Hebrew (which has already been revived from extinction to become the official tongue of Eretz Yisrael). But all she needs to do was brandish the tattoo on her forearm, and it is enough for the pioneers. They are already well acquainted with Haziel and on good terms with har, but they refuse to reveal anything about her to Lilith when she begins to ask many questions. And in the weeks and months that follow, Lilith begins to suspect she had been taken to her new home by an angel of God.