by Addison Coles
The day was March 3, 1941, that’s when it all began.
“Hey, Lanie wake up,” Robin said.
I looked over at her. My brain was still fuzzy with sleep, and my eyesight was a bit blurry.
“Ro,” I said groaning, “why are you waking me up at this time in the morning?”
“Look, out the window,” she said.
Slowly, I got up and peeked out the window. There was a train, and it was stopped on the railroad by our house. It looked shabby and run down, but I could see people inside the train cars.
A man stepped out of one of the nice-looking train cars and started walking right up to our house.
“Mom, Dad!” I yelled out into the hall. It wasn’t like my mom could do anything about it,
though. She was sick and on bed rest.
“There’s someone outside,” Ro said.
I heard my father getting out of bed.
“I’ll get the door,” he said, and his voice was cranky and tired.
I looked out the window just in time to see the man knocking on the door. I ran downstairs and peeked around the bookshelf.
My dad opened the door and the man barged right into our house as if he owned the place.
He looked at my father and said, “My name is General Vonhass, and you and your family are to come with me”.
To come with him, to come with him! How could he say that? I mean, I could tell in the way he held himself and the way he talked that he thought he was king of the world, but that didn’t give him the right to walk into our house and talk to my father that way.
My father looked at the man, and when he spoke, his voice was calm and controlled, like he knew this was coming.
“And if we don’t obey your orders?” he said.
The man, or “General Vonhass,” spoke then. “If you don’t obey my orders, you and your family will be forcefully removed from this house. Either way, you’ll end up in a camp, but it will be a lot easier if you just follow my orders.”
Then, it just clicked, and I realized what they were talking about. Hitler’s camps. The ones for Jews. And I was a Jew.
I ran upstairs and grabbed my sister. My dad had warned us about this, and we had a plan. I was supposed to grab my sister and take her to mom’s room, where we already had packed bags in case this exact situation occurred.
I was about to open my mom’s door, when General Vonhass stomped into the hallway. I turned and looked him in the eye, then I shoved my sister behind me.
The General spoke then, and what he said shook me to the bone. “It’s time to go. Auschwitz awaits.” Auschwitz, did he really say Auschwitz? We couldn’t go there. Ro would never survive that horrible place. I had heard stories- stories told by the people there and, God, they were horrible. In one story, a man watched his son be beaten to death, and all the while the guards watched and laughed.
Oh, God. I feel sick to my stomach, and I can’t handle it anymore. So, I do what I always do when I can’t handle something- turn off my emotions. While I can’t get rid of them completely (that’s not how emotions work), I can shove them so far back in my mind that they’re barely there. It’s a skill I learned when mom got sick, because I had to be strong for Ro, and I had to be strong for her right now.
“Ro,” I said, “go get mom and the suitcase, and don’t forget mom needs her cane to walk.”
“Ok,” Ro said. Her voice was quiet and shy. “I will”.
“I’ll go help Ro,” I said. I walked into mom’s room and helped her stand, and then handed her the cane.
“Thanks, sweetie,” she said.
I looked over at Ro, who had the suitcase in her hand. She looked so small and frail in her light blue nightie, curly blonde hair spilling over her shoulders, and that huge, leather suitcase in her hand.
“Alright, do we have everything?” I asked her.
“Yah, I’m pretty sure we do,” she said.
“Ok, let’s go,” I said. I helped mom walk to the train. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this. The train car was crammed, and it smelled strongly of human waste and body odor. I almost threw up. I helped my mom up into the car. I tried to find somewhere for her to sit, but there was only enough space to stand, and even then we were all squished together.
As I looked around the car, I realized just how bad the conditions were. They were treating us like we’re cattle. But that’s the thing, we were not cattle. We were human beings just like them, so what if we had different religions? I was still lost in my thoughts when the train jerked to a stop, and we were in front of Auschwitz. They opened the train, and we all piled out. There were people around us holding guns and telling us to hurry. There were two lines. One led to the gas chambers, and one led to slavery. We walked to a checkpoint where there were two men separating us into the lines.
Slowly, we made our way up to the checkpoint, and with each step we took, my anxiety grew. When we finally made it to the checkpoint, I felt like I was going to explode. All the thoughts running through my head were going to kill me. “If Ro gets taken away to die, there’s nothing you can do,” my brain said. “If you get taken away, she and mom would die. They wouldn’t make it by themselves,” and that was all I could think.
“Give me your arm,” one of the men says.
I slowly hand him my arm. He pulls out a tattoo gun and starts to tattoo something on my arm.
Ow, ow, ow was all I could think.
Finally, he’s done.
I look down, and wish I hadn’t. There’s a number where blank skin used to be: 5749. It’s my number, their claim on me. I want to shout and scream at God – tell him to help us! What did we do to deserve this?! I must have zoned out, because a second later, a man snaps, “Hey, number 5749! Go on now, we do not tolerate disobedience here,” he says.
“What about my sister?” I say.
“She can go too,” he says.
“And my mom?” I say.
“The sick one?” he says.
“Yes,” I say.
“No, she can’t,” he says, “she’s going to the gas chambers”.
For a second my shield drops, and I run to my mom. “Mommy!” I say. I can’t keep the tears in. I can feel them rolling down my cheeks, taste them in my mouth. I look over at the guard, and for a second, I think I see a glimpse of sympathy in his eyes. But just as quickly as it was there, it’s gone, and he looks away.
“Honey,” Mom says, “take care of your sister for me.”
I can hear the tears in her voice, and when I look up, her pretty amber eyes are filled with tears.
“Tell Ro I love her, and remember that I love you,” she says.
“I love you, too,” I say.
Then she walks away.
I run to Ro, who’s already started walking to the gate that will lead us to hell.
“Where’s mom?” she says.
“Oh, honey,” I say, “Mom had to go the other way.”
She looks up at me, and tears well in her eyes.
“She said she loves you,” I say.
She jumps into my arms and cries.
A bit later, we have made our way to our bunk. I wasn’t expecting a mansion or anything, but this is horrible. I’m sharing a twin-size bed with my sister and another girl. Her name is Lily, and she’s my age. There are five other beds in my bunk and 18 people. The beds are stacked one on top of the other like my bunk bed at home, except there are three beds stacked together, and it smells funny.
By the time we were situated, and the sleeping arrangements were settled, it was dark out. We went to get our rations, and they gave us two pieces of stale bread and a glass of water to share. We ate, and then we followed the path back to our bunk. When we got to the bunk, we climbed into bed. Ro was by the wall, I was in the middle, and Lily was on the outside. Lily and I talked for a while. I think she and I will be good friends.
That morning, we’re awakened by the sound of a man shouting, yelling out names and assigning jobs. My name is first, then Ro’s. I’m working in the kitchen, and Ro’s job is sewing.
Later at my job, I’m making the soup – basically just water with some salt and a couple of potato skins and turnips. A lady walks in and, as she walks up to the counter, she faints. I run to her, and a man grabs my arm and drags me back to my soup. What he doesn’t know is that I felt her wrist for a heartbeat before he got to me. There was no pulse. She’s dead. And from the looks of it, she starved to death. Her cheeks are sunken in, and I can see her ribs through her shirt.
I look down, but really I want to cry. That poor woman! She was killed, because she was a Jew. The day goes by slowly, and I can’t get her face out of my mind.
Two weeks later, Ro is starting to look like that woman whose face won’t leave my mind. I’ve seen many dead people while I’ve been here. I’ve seen dead children, barely even five. I’ve seen young women and men who were beaten to death or starved, but her face is the only one that haunts my nightmares. I know that if I don’t get more food for Ro, her face will haunt my mind, too. She can barely walk now. Her muscles have all but disintegrated. She has huge bags under her eyes, and she looks like she could die at any moment. That’s why I’m stealing some food from the kitchen tonight. I know I will probably die doing it, but I’m not doing much better than Ro, and I would rather me die then her.
I hug Ro goodbye, then I look at Lily. She draws me into her arms and squeezes me tight. Over these weeks, we’ve become like sisters.
“Take care of her,” I say.
She just squeezes me tighter, and when I look at her, there are tears in her eyes. I give her a weak smile. Then, I walk to Ro and give her one last hug. “I love you,” I say.
“Right back at you,” she says, and attempts a smile, but it looks scared and sad.
“Goodbye,” I say, and walk out of our bunk.
Once I get past the door, I start running. I run for what feels like miles. When I reach the rations room, I find a twig and unlock the back door. The alarm goes off. I’m terrified, but I shove it to the back of my mind and start throwing tons of food into my sack. I hear footsteps approaching, and I grab one last thing, a sack of potatoes. The bag feels like it weighs a ton, but it doesn’t matter, I pick it up and start running. I run for a while, till I get to our assigned spot. I drop off the bag and run the other way. I’ve run for a while, and I think I’m in the clear, when I turn a corner, and I am face to face with two guards.
“Grab her,” one says.
I’m in shock I think, because I just stand there, while they put a sack over my head and tie my hands behind my back. I feel a sharp pain in my head. “I’m going to die,” is all I can think, before it all goes black.
When I come to later, I’m propped up against something. I still can’t see, because they haven’t removed the bag. I hear someone talking.
“This young woman it being used as an example,” he says. “She tried to steal more food than what was given to her.”
Someone walks over to me then, and pulls the sack off my head, replacing it with a gun pointed straight at me. I know I’m going to die for sure. I look around and realize the whole camp is here, including Ro and Lily. A least they will have food.
I make eye contact with Ro. “I love you,” is all I can get out before the gun goes off, and everything goes black. The last thing I saw was the terror in Ro’s eyes, a tear rolling down her cheek.
That concludes my story, or should I say, the story of how I died. You see, I didn’t do anything wrong, I was kind and good in school, but I was still killed. And why?
Well, it’s simple. . . I was Jewish.