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One Last Glance
Earlier that day, I had a huge fight with my mom. She told me that I was being ungrateful for the things I had. “Well if I am, then what do I have that others don't,” I asked put out. “You have the freedom that my family never had before my grandmother came here,” she said sternly while cleaning up the dinner table. Ignoring her I went to finish my algebra homework for tomorrow. She came in a few minutes later and said, listen Anna, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get mad, but maybe there’s something that can help you understand what I meant. Puzzled, I asked what she mean. Come with me, she said as she lead me up to our attic. “Whoa, what's all this,” I asked motioning to the chests of books, clothing, and other things. This she said while picking up a worn and tattered blue book, is your great grandmother’s journal from World War 2. well, how is this going to help me I asked rather confused. If you read it my mother said, it may teach you something that I cannot.
So I took it into my room and began to read. My name is Anya Beckenbauer, I am seventeen and living the most magical and wonderful summer. I just met a boy my age, his name is Rolf. My father was hired as a stable hand for Rolf’s family’s farm, and I work as a maid for the family’s youngest daughter. I often caught Rolf looking my way, so I smiled back and laughed when he quickly turned his head. I simply dismissed his staring as looking at how hard I was working. He would always smile though, his smile, a smile that could melt my entire soul. My knees went weak, my heart jumped, my face blushed, and I was hypnotized. I have seen him so many times since I had come to work here. The same routine, and soon I couldn't help but fall in love with him. For some strange reason, I thought that he felt the same way. I know it’s a crazy thought, but it’s what I think. I mean, I spent so much time daydreaming about him that I almost always miss a spot when I’m cleaning, a button when I was dressing his sister Katherine, or spilling when I served tea.
So far her life didn't seem all that bad. I mean sure she had her problems but come one, who doesn't. So I kept reading, not for my sake. Simply to bide me some time until my mom asked me to tell her what I learned. The next day I knew that he felt that way too. I saw it in the way he looked at me, the way he smiled when I was around, the way he cringed if I were yelled at for doing any number of things. I often got yelled at, for things I didn't even do. Like forgetting to feed the chickens. When they knew that Lucy was the one who’s chore that was. I knew I had to tell him that I loved hum, but I didn't know how to tell him. I knew I was going to at the very next chance I got. Once I got up the courage and went to find him, I was astonished at what I saw. Rolf with a member of the Gestapo, a million questions were flying through my mind. What was he doing here? Why was Rolf with him?
After they were doing talking I saw the mean gruesome looking man push a stack of papers into Rolf’s hand. As I passed I saw that they were nothing less than what I feared most. Militia papers, Rolf was going to war. There was nothing I could say that would matter now. I walked quickly away and wiped away the tears that formed in my eyes. I wouldn't let him see me cry. I just couldn't bear it if he saw me fall apart. I guess I didn't act very well, because as soon as I got to the house, Rolf arrived soon after. He looked at me and asked what was wrong. I looked away, but I felt his eyes watching me with worry and compassion. He then reached over and took my hands in his. His hands so cold that I almost jumped, but I soon got used to them and even relaxed. I couldn't help but begin to silently cry again. It felt like forever as we sat there just, not talking; simply sitting. But as I looked into his clear; glassy; blue eyes he arose and as suddenly as he came, he walked away. Then next day would be the end of it all. He was leaving, and I couldn't stop him.
When I awoke he was already gone. I know this sounds somewhat over dramatic, but I was overcome with despair. I felt as if a part of me had died that day. Now, somehow...life would have to go on. Would I ever see him again, only time would tell. Somehow I had to move forward. I figured the best way to do so was to work away the emotion. Maybe someday my heart would heal, but I missed those moments when I melted. I missed the way his warm smile greeted me everyday. Little did I know that Rolf would soon come to my rescue once again. I would soon know a tragedy that would strike me right in my heart. The winter had come and gone, and spring was upon us. All at once, numerous Jewish families were disappearing, never to return. I watched as my friends disappeared one by one. When would that be me, I wondered as I was left completely alone. I finished my chores but was soon so distracted that I couldn't concentrate on anything.
“Anya,” my father called out. “Yes,” I yelled, “What is it?” “Come in my child,” he spoke softly, but with an urgency I could not mistake. When we were inside he told me the horrifying news. “We must go tonight,” he said. I didn't argue, but I understood that if we didn't we would await the same fate that my little sister and my mother had come to three months ago. Death, in a closed chamber. Poisoned gas pouring into your lungs. Saying your final goodbyes as your heart failed from the “shower.” We were one of the few Jewish families who actually knew about this horrifying death. Our friend had escaped last year and come to tell us of their deaths. So I knew with all my heart, I wouldn’t come to the same end as so many before me, if I could help it. They didn't even know.
As I was finishing my chores I was so nervous that I began shaking uncontrollably. I even broke three teacups, spilled tea on Rolf’s mother, and bumped into his sister on my way out of the house. I was a klutzy mess and I had to hurry to pack before the darkness fell. For tomorrow would come soon and my life would change forever. Little did I know that the change was far different from that which I had expected. Later that night my father explained our plan of escape. When he finished, he looked into my eyes and said very seriously, “promise me that if anything happens to me, you wont stop running. Do you promise?” yes, I promise,” I replied with my mind wandering to thoughts of my mother, then of Rolf, then of my father, then of me.” What would I do without my father, and without Rolf? I didn’t even want to think of it, but I couldn’t help it. There was a definite possibility that I would never see either of them again after tonight. Go to bed, and when I wake you in an hour it will be time for us to leave.
When my father returned into my room it was pitch black outside and the reality suddenly hit me. I was leaving the only home I had known for years. I grew up here, I was only 8 when we had come here. And now 10 years later I was leaving, only I wasn’t returning. This was the start of a new adventure to put it like my father always did. He wanted me to look at this experience as just another part of my journey through life. So that’s what it would be, I was embarking on a new bend in the road. A new stretch of untouched, pure, raw adventure. We grabbed our bags and enough food for a few days and set off through a deep raging ravine. Now, when I say run, you run, spoke my father in a hushed tone. As he spoke, I heard footsteps begin behind us and start to quicken as we did. “Okay, this way Anya,” my father said. “HEY!! STOP, you there STOP!”, yelled a man.
“Yes,” said my father, “what is it?” “you’re under arrest,” yelled the man in the Nazi uniform. “Why,” questioned my father. “I think she can answer that for you,” said the man pointing to me. “I can,” I asked shocked and unaware of what he was implying. In response, he simply held up my mothers star of David necklace. “Anya,” said my father, “how could you be so careless?” “I...I don’t know,” I stuttered before I collapsed into tears. “It will be ok,” said my father while trying to comfort me. “Come on,” yelled the man as he pushed my father towards the clearing, MOVE!” My father looked at me as if he knew then that he was going to die. “Goodbye my Anya,” he whispered, “you’ll be strong for me wont you?” I nodded as they pushed him further away. I heard them yell fire as I closed my eyes trying to run from this horrible nightmare. I heard my father drop the ground dead, but not before he looked up into the sky, and said, “I’m coming Mary, meet me there.” Mary was my mother’s name.
At that moment I was only happy because I knew that he was going to be with my mother. But now I was alone. I didn’t know where Rolf was, and I was on my way to a concentration camp. What horrors would await me I wondered as the men pushed and pulled me through the road. Instead of letting me walk, I was being dragged through the street. Even when I could get my feet under me, I would trip as my shoes came off. Then I would fall and once again I would drag on the ground. As we approached what looked like a cottage I thought, maybe this won’t be that bad. But as we got closer I saw many mean looking men, and only a few had sympathy and kindness in their eyes. I managed to look around and what I saw was nothing less than mortifying. There were men, women, and children covered in blood and bruises. What kind of people worked here I wondered. And right as I thought those words, I saw Rolf. He was just as handsome as ever, but hidden behind this Nazi monster. I knew somehow that if he still loved me he would protect me.
I was pulled harshly along towards the building. The bushes scraped and scratched my knees and made them sting. I began to speed up but soon lost my footing again. I was taken inside and put roughly into room like an iron cage. I heard the two men say things to each other in a language I couldn’t understand. I was then picked up again and put down hard on a cold metal table. I didn’t even try to sit up for I feared what would happen if I did. I was bound hand and foot and turned onto my stomach. They asked me a series of questions, and each time I answered in a way that didn’t suit them, they whipped me. They unbuttoned the back of my dress exposing my back, and I immediately felt violated. As the whip came down hard on my skin I felt a sharp pain rip through my entire body. Hearing the screams brought back memories from previously watching my father’s death. The only difference was that no one was dying, and that the screams I now heard pierce the air, were coming from my own mouth.
The man with the whip said one more thing in the strange language and then stumbled off into the next room. I was untied and flung into the nearest cell, which was already filled with five other girls. As I lay there on the cold stone ground I heard them whisper around me. They looked at me with compassion and began to wash my cuts with semi-clean water. It created a burning sensation, but later a calming feeling as they kept cleaning my wounds. I was touched at their compassionate and the goodness that they had shown me . It was late night when the officers left their posts and went to bed. I managed to get into a sitting position, leaning against the wall. When all the lights turned off, the five girls gathered around me and began to murmur. Do you think she’s ok? Maybe she needs some water. Ok, Mary, Beth you two go get it. I saw two black silhouettes walk across the cell and come back. Here tilt her head back said the one giving the others directions. I felt two cold hands against my head and as I leaned back my mouth filled with day old water. Surprisingly it quenched my thirst and tasted ten times better than I thought I would have.
As I moved my head forward as the girls set the water back down on the ground. I looked around the dark closed space. “Why are we here,” I asked anyone who would listen, although I hadn’t really expected an answer. “It is because we’re Jewish,” spoke the oldest, “the Nazis think we’re no better than dirt.” As she said this, I thought of Rolf. Had he changed or had he always thought that of me. I was tired and couldn’t dwell on this anymore, so I said goodnight and slowly drifted off to sleep.
I was running through the forest around the camp. I wasn't even thinking about where I was going. I just ran. Why had I ever believed that he loved me. Now he had sent them after me. As I kept running my face and legs were pierced again and again by the long branches crossing my path. I turned right then left and then right again down into the ravine. I was climbing over rocks, streams, and hills. The rocks scraped and cut my legs, but I went on. I ran toward the home I used to know. I ran for what seemed like hours, but when I came to the farm they were waiting with their guns pointed at me. Ready….Aim…..and before I could hear fire, I woke up panting. The other girls had woken up before me, and were now trying to soothe me. It was just a dream, they told me. Yes, but what did it mean. Was Rolf really a monster, or was I just creating the worst possible outcome in my head so that if it happened I would be ready to accept it.
I quietly explained my dream to the group of shaking girls. Each shuddered at different parts of my story. Everyone shuddered when I mentioned Rolf and how I used to know him very well. “So, what do you think it means,” I asked them. Mary, answered first. “I think you're just trying to fool yourself. I think he really loves you and you're just scared that this will separate you more than it has,” she said as she motioned around the empty room. “No, she’s a Jew, he’s a Nazi. Its not going to work,” said another. “Don’t be so negative,” Mary said again. They argued whether or not Rolf was going to rescue me or whether I would die unknowing his love.
I couldn’t listen anymore and ran out into the yard. I washed my hands and face in stream. As I brought my face up out of my hands who should appear but Rolf. I rubbed the water and the streaks of past tears off of my face. I looked at him, trying to be brave and accept the fact that this new monster might replace my beloved Rolf. But then the reality of my situation crept back into my mind. My entire family was dead, Rolf was a Nazi, and sooner or later I was going to die. Once again silent tears streamed down my face as I thought about my dull future. My face now looked as though it had been run over thousands of times because of the tears that now flowed. In the time I had come here, Rolf’s eyes and face had softened, but he had never looked at me. The real question was if his heart had softened too. I pondered this as I watched them go and then I hurried back inside.
When and how would I talk to him? How was I to get his attention? These were the questions I now faced. I was assigned along with two other girls to take the soldiers their meals. Perfect, I thought. I would always take his meal, although I wondered if it would really help anything, or just make it all worse. Later that day the three of us went to the small brick kitchen. We got the meals and went to find the find the soldiers. Once we found their dining area we took their meals around to each one. When I cam to Rolf I slowly placed his food in front of him and curtsied, then walked away. I watched him from the side of the room, but it seemed as if he didn’t notice or didn’t care that I was here. Maybe Rebecca was right. Maybe being a Nazi had changed him, on the inside too.
Each morning we awoke at 5:30 and got dressed, washed our faces, ate the little we had, and went off to work. As we got into a single file line we were pushed roughly towards a building which was labeled sewing and mending. Here we sewed new uniforms for the soldiers, and mended their old ones. I heard petrifying screams of women and children. I saw a girl run past her entire hand a bloody mess. Instantly I knew what had happened. The girl had caught her hand between the machine and the cloth. We worked here for 5-7 days, each day the same routine. And each day the same thing happened. Women and children disappeared and were never seen again. It was frightening to think that someday that would be you.
The soldiers lead us in the single file line across camp. Here they put us to work building new huts, clearing the area, and laying a new foundation. We soon tired of this work too. Since death had visited every other group, it seemed only natural that our small group would be visited too. The first to go was Anne, she was sick of the violence and spoke out. The big burly middle-aged man yelled in her face until she broke down in tears. He grabbed her harshly and pushed her towards the gas chambers. As she walked she looked back at us, a huge grin on her face showing through her tears. At first we wondered why she would smile when death was coming. Then it struck me. She no longer had to endure this torture. We envied her happiness, but not her fate.
It was Tuesday and we were moved once more. This time we were assigned to cook all the soldiers meals. This job meant waking up ant 3:30 in the morning. Although I was frightened I was also excited. This meant that I would be moving to a larger cell. When we got tot the meeting house, we were aghast to find out that we would be pawned off to the highest bidder. Rolf won, me a prize. A trophy to be won or lost. And as I walked towards him I frowned, trying not to cry. I was so scared that he had changed. I analyzed his face, but couldn’t decipher his expression. We walked side by side until we came to a friendly looking cottage. It seemed out of place next to all of the jail cells, and factories. I looked up into his eyes and saw a glimmer of hope. We walked up the steps and stopped. He said only one word, “Come.” I followed close behind. I soon found that this small cottage reminded me of the old farm.
It was set up to look like the inside of his old home. Even some of the furniture looked the same. My heart beat so loudly I was sure he could hear it. I looked outside and saw a smaller house. All at once I become homesick. Than I walked over to the mantle and nearly died. There was the picture he had sketched that summer, sitting there on the fireplace. I was so overcome with emotion and heat that my vision failed me and I fell to the ground. I don’t know how long I lay there, but soon Rolf bent down and picked me up with ease. He got up and walked into a small yellow room and cautiously set me down on the bed. I slowly opened my eyes and saw him sitting there next to me looking at me much like he had on the summer day so long ago.
Life was far better with Rolf. He was nice to me without making it too obvious, he gave me a bed, an old dress, and two square meals a day. With Rolf I wasn't scared to see what the next day would hold, I cherished each moment with him. One day I was out washing clothing and linen, when I saw my old cell mate Marie. I asked her curiously if her living conditions had gotten better, worse, or stayed how they were. She looked at me with a sad expression on her face but joy in her voice as she asked, “you are being treated better?” at first I thought she would be angry at me for gloating about it. But as I explained the change, she grabbed me in a hug and said, “Oh Anya I believe he still loves you, this is wonderful!” “You really think so,” I asked in awe. “Yes, he must. Why else would he do such risky things for you?” I felt my face turn beet red as she asked me this question. A question I asked myself over and over during the days I’d been there.
After I washed the laundry and had a nice long talk with Marie, I headed back to Rolf’s house to pin it up on the clothesline. As I hung the laundry I couldn't help but overhear what Rolf and another soldier were discussing. “We would like to move the girl back to her cell,” said a mean looking German officer. “Well, I would like her to stay here to work,” replied Rolf. “But we think its time for…” the officer said trailing off when he noticed me. “No! No. No,” said Rolf, “she works for me without complaint. I want her to stay here.” “Don’t argue!” yelled the man as he pushed Rolf aside, “we’ll be back in two days time to retrieve her.”
After the officer left Rolf led me into the main room. We sat down and he looked at me holding my hand as he said, “we have to leave.” “No! I wont have you risk your life for me,” I argued with tears streaming down my face. “I already lost you once, and I wont lose you again.” He paused before asking, “do you love me?” I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I couldn't even speak. “Tell me, do you love me, he asked once more speaking softly and holding my hand to his lips. “Yes,” I whispered, “yes I do.” He swept me off the ground and kissed me. How long I had wanted to kiss him. I felt as though it would never end, and I wished it wouldn't. But sooner or later I had to wake up. And what I woke up to wasn't what I wanted. We had to leave tonight, or be lost to each other forever.
We knew that we didn't have much time, so we started preparing to leave as soon as we could. I was extremely nervous, but I was even more nervous to stay. Rolf and I both knew that if we didn’t leave now, I would return to my cell and most likely die there. Rolf planned our route of escape. He made a map of all the Jewish villages. We would be extremely lucky, if any were left. After everyone was asleep Rolf dug a hole from the fence to the other side and moved a huge rock in front of it. He didn't make me do any work since the man came to our cottage, except for preparing what we needed for our trip and when a soldier came to see Rolf I worked to cover our fear, planning, and waiting.
While preparing, I couldn't help but think of how quickly and drastically my life had changed in only a matter of hours. I was actually planning on escaping the camp, Rolf and I were going to try to leave and get to America without getting caught. I figured the best part of it all was that Rolf still loved me. We talked up until the time we had to leave. We talked about everything, when I had come to work for his family, when I had come to the camp, and even that moment, we cherished it all. We talked about our plans for the future. A future in America, a place we had never been, a language we had never spoken. Everything would be new, and nothing would be the same. Nothing except the fact that we were together.
He told me how he’d loved me since the very first day I had come to work for his family. I agreed with him that this was the moment I too had fallen in love with him. We parted our ways and I walked to my room, pulled out my tattered journal and began to write. October 29, the weather has gotten worse. I can see my breath ice cold freezing in mid air. In the course of three days I had gotten the man I loved, and I was now leaving to a better life. I know now that I cant hold grudges toward my darkened memories, or my yellowed past. But I couldn't help it, I wasn't any different that those who were locking me up. Every day reminds me that every person on earth has trials to go through, no matter how great or how little we see them, life can and will get better, if not now, someday soon. My life is a road, and on this road I found a much needed and desired love, and on this road we will have a happier life, a new life; together.
It had only been one day since the officer had come to talk to Rolf and tomorrow we would be gone. Would they come after us, or would they just let us leave. We didn't know but we weren't taking any chances. I packed and we left with only one small bag. That way we wouldn't be slowed down. Inside the bag we had food, water, a blanket, and the picture john drew. I had to leave my precious diary behind, along with the little else we had. So we set off in the cold black of night. With the fog and snow, I could barely see my own feet, and the blurry outline of Rolf’s hand outstretched toward me. I grabbed his hand as we began walking. We walked silently through the brush. Whenever someone would walk past, we froze perfectly still. Then when we knew they were gone we moved forward. He refilled our water with ice when we came across a frozen pond or stream. We would get more food only when we found a Jewish village that hadn't yet been taken over, or one that was completely emptied but left with its shops and few food stands.
After we walked for quite s while, we arrived at the first town. Unfortunately for Rolf and I, the town had been emptied months ago, and abandoned of all life. But there were still
a few shops standing. We found a market and were about to walk in when we saw a Nazi truck racing toward us. I felt Rolf’s hand feeling for mine as he pulled me into the back of the market. He pulled me through the store until he found a good place to hide. We saw a soldier emerge from the truck. We were a little confused that only one soldier would come to look for us. We hid under a table with straw in our faces.
We couldn't see the man but we could hear his heavy boots moving closer. Then, all of the sudden Rolf was yanked away. The soldier took Rolf by the hair and looked very seriously into his eyes. “Why’d you leave Rolf?” ‘I don't want to be a soldier, so I’m going to America Robert,” said Rolf. “May I come with you,” asked Robert, “I’ve been in this war for so long, I'm not really even sure what its about anymore.” yes,” said Rolf, “but only if you promise me that you will be on my side no matter what happens, and no matter how ugly this gets.” I was scared whether he would keep our secret or not, but I finally decided that if Rolf trusted him, then I would too. Robert finally replied, “ok I will. But only if you help me rescue my girl. She’s held in the camp four days north of here. Please will you help me?” Rolf agreed without hesitation and began to walk toward my hiding place. “Come here Anya,” its alright, he spoke in his soft voice as he pulled me from my hiding place. “Well hello there,” said Robert. I was surprised at the softness in his voice. “Hello,” I spoke in my new German accent I had acquired over the 4 months I spent in the camp. “Rolf, you didn’t tell me this was about a girl,” said Robert, “of course I’m on your side.” Rolf and I stared at each other confused until he said, “oh yes. This is Anya. Anya this is my old friend Robert.” “It’s nice to meet you.” “Yeah, you too,” said Robert in a cheerful voice. “Well, shall we be off,” asked Rolf as we walked towards the truck.
We drove for four days, stopping at each camp along the way to see if Anne was there. When we finally arrived at the last one, we found her number written on a piece of paper. We walked through the cells trying to find her, even a disfigured image of her. Each cell had girls of all ages, cleaning each others wounds. The scene brought tears to my eyes remembering the girls that had cleansed my deepest wounds. I fought back the tears as we walked and walked down the rows of young girls and old women. When Robert stopped at the last cell I saw his face light up, he looked like a little boy on his birthday. I looked into her eyes as she stared back at him. She cried because of the same thing I had cried for when I saw Rolf. Her prince charming had come to save her. So we stole the keys and broke her out. But I couldn't help feel some pain while I walked away from the crying girls. The sight jerked my heartstrings. Again I couldn't help those people I left behind.
We walked together now, two by two. We stepped outside the camp and just kept walking. We probably walked for 3 hours until we came to the truck, which was now running low on gas. Anne and I hid in the back while Rolf and Robert drove to a gas refill station. We put up the secret wall to make it look like the truck was full of boxes and not of people. We had to be silent in order to stay unknown. We drove liked this for three days and made our way toward the docks. As we carefully unloaded the truck, I saw a nerve-racking sight. The captain from my camp was standing a few feet away dragging a group of children. He ordered them to be quiet and keep up. But one boy decided to make a joke of it and mocked the captain. As soon as the boy spoke I knew what would happen. Then the guards ordered the boy over by the wall and yelled READY! AIM! As I saw the boys face grow white I heard the word FIRE! And I turned away into Rolf’s arms. I couldn't see another human being die, not after my father and my friends. We hurried away from the scene and the boy’s body, and we boarded the ship. Rolf and I looked out over the huge ocean and towards America. We were on to bigger and better things, and for now nothing else mattered. Just Rolf, me, and the wide open sea..
As I closed my great grandmother’s journal I blinked back tears. I hadn't realized until now that the stories from world war 2 weren't just stories. They were people’s lives. I had taken my freedom for granted, when I wouldn't even be here living my life if it hadn't been for courageous people like my great-grandmother. She did what she had to do, even if that meant going against all she had been taught, and even if it meant putting her life on the line. She was an amazing women who’s life I had never truly looked into, until now.