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Hope for Today, Strength for Tomorrow
I drive my shovel into the ground as hard as I can. It seems as though all my anger and bitterness has been building inside of me, begging to be let out. I want to yell, scream, let myself know I am still alive. I wish I could feel something, anything, other than raw hatred. How can the guards stand there barking at us so nonchalantly? We are humans, too!
I try to regain control over my raging temper. They are only puppets, I tell myself. Hitler's puppets. The Devil's puppets. If only they knew this hell we live. Hell. I used to think it a curse word, but now I know better. Nazi should be a curse word, or Hitler, or Auschwitz. There is no curse word terrible enough to describe where we live. Hunger so intense I could eat this dirt. Agonizing pain, day and night. But worst of all are my emotions. Or should I say, emotion, for there is but one. Hatred. I have become immune to sorrow, sadness, even hope. Hatred is all that is left and it is consuming me.
I am in a Nazi concentration camp, one of millions of Jews forced to labor endlessly like slaves. I have no family. I used to have a mother, but not anymore. All I can remember is her screaming, "My daughter, my daughter! Please!" as the Nazis dragged her away to be gassed four months after we arrived at Auschwitz. I used to have a home in Poland where I went to school and had friends, but all of that is just a shadow of memory now. I used to try to remember, but now I know that it hurts too much; it is like pouring salt in old wounds. So I try not to remember, but that is just as painful.
Now I glance down at the number carved into my arm. It is a constant reminder that I am slave; I do not own myself, the Nazis do. I am nothing more to them, or anyone else, than a number written in a book. I stroke the hateful lettering as if I might somehow rub it off, be free of my number and escape from this dungeon.
A Nazi guard bursts into my thoughts by clouting the side of my head with his gloved hand and screaming at me .German is a perfect language for him, I think bitterly. It is as harsh and ugly as he is. I resume my shoveling and begin to wonder what exactly I am digging. With a shudder, I push that thought out of my mind. They say that an idle mind is the Devil's workshop, and our own imaginations are much worse than anything the Nazis could possibly do to us. I can only hope that's true.
Much later, we are corralled back into our barrack for bed. I curl up in my bed, cold hungry, and alone. I am crammed with seven others into a wooden shelf that serves as a makeshift bed. The splintered wood pokes at my bare feet like thorns, and I toss and turn in an effort to relieve my pain. When my mother was here, she would sing softly in my ear on nights such as these. I try to remember one of the songs she used to sing to me, but then I stop myself. No, I tell myself. Don't try to remember. She is dead and always will be. I begin to cry in spite of trying not to. At first I cry because I am alone and have no one, but then I begin to cry out of hatred for the Germans. How could they kill my mother? How could they be such vicious animals? How could they tear my life apart so quickly? I close my eyes and feel the warm teardrops slide down my cheeks.
A hand touches my shoulder and I sit up with a start. I look around for who touched me. To my left is an elderly woman, snoring noisily, to my right, a girl around my age, who is awake. I recognize her from the cattle cars we took to get here. She was standing with her mother and father and two little boys, probably her brothers. I wonder what has happened to them.
"Are you okay?" she whispers quietly.
"Is anyone in the camp okay?" I respond fiercely. She does not respond but puts a comforting arm around me. I wipe away my tears, embarrassed that she saw me crying, until I notice she has been crying also. I venture a question to break the awkward silence.
"Is your-is your family," I stumble over the words. "Are they d-dead?" After a long pause, she answers.
"Yes, they are all dead," she says quietly as a tear rolls down her cheek. "And you?"
"My father died when I was young, and I don't remember him at all, but my mother died here." I wrap my arm around her and we both begin to sob.
The next day, I see my friend at dinner, waiting in line for food, as I am also.
"Hello there!" I call out. She glances around to see who called her until she sees me.
"Hello!" she calls back. "Feeling better today?"
"No, but at least now I have a friend."
"Speaking of which," she says. "What is your name?"
"Kasia, and you?"
"Irenka. It is very nice to meet you, my dear friend, Kasia." She says with mock formality. We both begin giggling until we spot a guard looking our way.
Life continues almost as it has been, except for one change. Irenka. She has brought a faint glimmer of hope into my meaningless existence; she has made my life a little more bearable. Of course she cannot change my empty stomach, or decrease my grueling work. All she can do is offer me love and friendship, which may be all it takes to bring this deadened soul back to life.