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What I Saw and How I Lived

We were all sitting around the breakfast table, Ma, Iti, Aaron and I. Ma was reading the paper and sipping her tea. It was quite boring to watch her, but there was not much else to do. I had begun to memorize every wrinkle on Ma’s person to better remember her in case something happens. The Germans who dislike us Jewish people have begun to be rougher on us taking away many of our priveleges, and I was beginning to worry about her.
There was suddenly a terrible crash as Ma’s teacup fell from her hand and shattered into millions of tiny pieces on the floor. Ma was trembling, her eyes scanned the paper faster and faster.
“Ma,” I said, “do tell what is the matter.” Iti and I were in shock and couldn't look away from our mother. Aaron didn’t have any objections but then he was fast asleep sucking his thumb.
Ma did not even glance at me; her knuckles had gone white clutching the paper. I sighed and snatched it from her hands.
“It says that all Jews over the age of twelve must wear the Star of David on their left sleeve. Wonderful,” I said slamming the paper down on the table, “simply wonderful.”
“We will be fine Rebecca,” said Ma distantly.
“Of course we will be fine,” put in Iti.
“Yes I know, the Germans will only know exactly who is a Jew; you are twelve Iti this affects you too. What’s next? Are we going to have to wear collars and dog tags like dogs? Oh that’s right everything will be just fine. There isn’t a thing that could possibly go wrong. I will just be in my room thinking about how nothing will happen that shouldn’t while you two sit there and stitch stars on your sleeves.” I will admit that I was mad at Ma. She was always so optimistic even after Pa had died, and I was sick of it.
“Hush Dear you will wake Aaron,” Ma said but, I knew it was just her excuse to make me shut up. So I just went to the room Iti and I shared and closed the door behind me.
It was then that I swore I would never wear the Star of David on my clothing. The Nazis had no right to tell me what to do like that.

I managed to keep the Star of David off myself for two weeks. It was at that point that Ma broke. She took me aside and said, not meeting my eyes,“The Germans are vicious Rebecca, and we could be killed if we don’t do what they say. You have shown me that you could have never worn the Star, but now it is time to give up. Please. Just give up before something bad happens.”
She had the face of someone who was terrified; she was pale, looking near tears, and I could see more wrinkles engraved on her face than I remembered her having before. So I agreed. I wasn’t about to argue with someone who was in fear and that was the longest thing I had ever heard her say. So I ended up sewing the Star of David on every piece of clothing I owned, while Ma and Iti read the few beat up books we had in our possession, and Ma rocked Aaron in one arm.
Once all of my stuff had the Star of David pasted on it, Ma felt that it was safe to go outside again, and we went on short walks through town always being sure to walk in the gutter. Germans were standing around stiffly, and it pained me to have to bow down to them and dirty my dress in the gutter.
We were granted the luxury to take walks for three more days, then a German soldier glared at us, and Ma got scared again. We weren’t allowed to leave the house after that.
As the days passed, Ma became more and more cautious, and we saw less and less of her. She was always in the room she shared with Aaron doing things we couldn’t see. Eventually she would come out for dinner, and when Iti and I pressed our ears against her door we could hear her mumbling things. Strange things like “won’t be needing this now will we?” and “we will be gone. Yes, very gone and far away. Far, far away”.
It didn’t help, in Ma’s opinion, that we looked Jewish. “Black hair, olive skin, why must we stand out so much?” she would say.
Eventually it became too much for me. One night at a time I knew Ma to be asleep, I slipped out of bed and walked to the door opening it just a crack, so I could breathe in fresh air. That’s when it happened; I saw light and heard the low mumble of voices. Across the street Germans were dragging our neighbors who were Jews, to a truck and throwing them in the back despite the shouted protests of the people they were messing with. It was almost as if they had wax in their ears.
I found that even though every fiber of my being was telling me to run, to hide, I couldn't move a muscle. My eyes were fixed on the scene unfolding across the street. I was filled with a sudden unexplainable anger, an anger that was fully focused on the Germans who were across the road. If they dared try anything like that to my family...well they wouldn’t get the chance now would they? I would stop them. Yes, stop them before something dreadful happened. I would stop them even if I had to stop them myself.
Suddenly there was a hand on my arm, and I was jerked backward away from the door. I had to clamp my teeth down over my lips to stop myself from crying out. The short hunched figure of Ma slammed the door shut and turned to face me, pointedly placing her hands on her hips.
“Well?” said Ma eyes flashing in fury, “Explain yourself. Now!”
“I needed fresh air,” I said quickly with an air of confidence that I did not truly possess.
“Fresh air!” she exploded with a tone of anger I hadn’t previously known she possessed. “Could you have not simply opened a window?”
I silently cursed myself for my foolishness. I hadn’t even considered doing that, so I lied to save my pride, “It would not have been the same you see...I wanted to be able to look out on the world again, not only smell the air.”
“Then you are more foolish than I knew, Rebecca, you could have been seen.”
“What’s so bad about being seen?”
“The Germans hate us, you are getting older almost sixteen am I correct?” I bobbed my head, “ Well the Germans might think twice about killing babies like Aaron who don’t look threatening, but you and me and Iti look very Jewish, and we aren’t little babes dear. You and Iti are nearly all grown up, and they fear you could harm them.”
“I see,” I said, but I was really just thinking of how she had said I was almost grown up.
“So, I need you to stay away from this door. Can you do that for me?”
Slowly I nodded, “And Ma,” I said as she began to turn away, “how did you know I was up and about?”
She looked back at me with a small smile and picked up a glass with some sloshing liquid, “My throat was dry. I forgot to put a glass by my bed.”
And, so we continued our life and stayed inside always. Ma helped me move a dresser under one of our windows, so I could stick my head out and breathe; she did make me promise to close it at night though.

After a while, Ma started to notice more and more Jews being taken away. There was a rumor going around that some Jews were being sent to labor camps. We didn’t know what they were, but they didn’t sound good.

Ma said that we ought to move to our attic so the Germans couldn’t find us as easily. At first I opposed the idea saying we shouldn’t hide, because we were strong enough to stay out in the open. But eventually I gave in after seeing the deep furrowed wrinkles in Ma’s face grow larger; she seemed to be in a terrible pain.

Aaron grew sick, since Ma didn’t have enough food and he was still nursing. She was giving too much of her nourishment to me and Iti. She always said, “You eat it; I am not hungry.”

Aaron was unnaturally thin and sickly. He always cried. Cried and slept. As much as I wanted to wake him just to see if he was alive still; I knew I should let him rest, so I let him be, but often watched his breathing.

“Ma, I am terribly worried about Aaron. He doesn’t deserve this; he is but a child,” I said.

“I know dear; it pains me watching him, but there isn’t much I can do. I can barely gather enough food for us three. Iti is hungry too you know. We can’t live without food; Aaron may still live without medicine,” lamented Ma.

“Please, I am begging you,” I whined.

“I may be able to get the medicine for him, but I may not. Still I will try,” said Ma, and so she left.

That was the last time I saw Ma, and I knew Iti blamed me for her departure. If Aaron had words, he probably would have too. It was next to impossible to keep him quiet; he was always crying. We tried feeding him things like old rotten mushed carrots, but he couldn’t keep anything down. Iti and I spoke of what we could do but came up empty handed.

Eventually, Aaron didn’t even cry anymore; all he could do was sleep. I never heard his cry again. The silence was painful. I couldn’t even hear his heartbeat anymore - he was gone.

Iti was looking bad too. I suppose I looked the same, so we resorted to me going out in the night searching rubbish cans for any scraps of food.

I can still remember the day the American soldiers showed up bearing guns. They broke down the door of our attic letting the unfamiliar daylight seep through then proceeded to give us small offerings of food that probably saved our lives. But I remember most of all our neighbors crying in our name, and saying we could stay with them, because despite how they had acted before when the Germans had punished anyone who liked Jews horribly they loved us.

I can hardly believe we survived. I don’t think Iti and I would have survived without the help of our neighbors, but here I am an old woman. I am approaching my eighty first birthday, breathing and laughing despite the Natzis’ efforts.

I have learned that in this world we live in, humans can be beautiful and amazing creatures like those who saved us from that horrid attic, but then there are the monsters of men; like the Germans who ruined my life and crushed my spirit. It took me a while to trust anyone but Iti again - too long. But now I can look down into my grandchildrens’ eyes and smile saying “I love you” because I was strong and I survived.




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This article has 3 comments. Post your own!

enternalhope777 said...
Dec. 16, 2011 at 11:40 am:
Words alone cannot dscribe how amazing this story is.
 
Pretzel..Dream replied...
Dec. 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm :
Thank you!
 
NyghtNinja replied...
Apr. 6, 2012 at 10:25 pm :
Wow. That was amazing! Great job!
 
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