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Eliezar was running at full speed. His lungs had started hurting 500 steps behind him, but he knew his life depended on running. When the Nazis came near his village in 1939, his parents repeatedly emphasized that. Dark times were ahead for Poland. It is now 1942, and unfortunately, Eliezar’s parents had underestimated the power of dark. The Nazis had sucked out life and joy with a level of skill the world, or at least Eliezar Jankiel’s family, never fathomed to be possible. In those fateful three years, Eliezar’s mother and younger sister, Bacia, were brutally murdered by the Gestapo. His father was hauled away like trash to a concentration camp. That is why it is just Eliezar and his older brother, Isaac. That is why an eleven year old is suffering as much pain as he. That is why he is running at full speed when he has never been a strong person physically. He is simply average height and build for his age.
He finally stopped once he reached the obliterated village soon to be used by him and Isaac as a temporary sanctuary. Eliezar saw his brother lying down in a street covered with broken glass from the ransacked Hebrew stores. A few tears streamed down Eliezar’s weary face. He quickly brushed them away, not wanting his brother to see him crying.
“Eliezar,” his brother called, “why are you running so fast?”
“Are all my possessions safe?” Eliezar cherished a few small items he carried around in a sac from town-to-town. His father’s yarmulka was like a blanket of love now that he was not around. And the Torah, given to him at six years old, provided him with spiritual strength in his desperation. Finally, all the money he had managed to find: seven coins.
“They are fine, Eliezar, now tell me why you were just running as fast as you could.”
“I was looking to get some peaceful time to myself. As I was walking in a quiet field, I saw multiple figures in the distance. I walked a little bit closer to get a better look, and that is when I…”
“When you what?”
“…saw the guns.”
Isaac shook his head in disappointment. “Eliezar you must be more careful. These are dangerous times and one of these days you are going to go out and not return. I do not appr…”
He did not get the word out before Eliezar saw his jaw drop in shock and fright.
“What is it Isaac?”
He lifted up his hand and pointed in the distance behind Eliezar. That is when he saw it, too. A Nazi patrol of twelve men coming towards them. The soldiers were not running towards them so Eliezar assumed that they had not spotted the two Jewish boys hiding in front of them.
“Slowly turn around. Without making any sound I want you to walk around towards the side of that building. I will be following close behind you, okay?”
Eliezar stealthily maneuvered to safety around the side of the building. Isaac was just about there, when a loud bang viciously rocked Eliezar’s world. In a matter seconds, Isaac lay mortally wounded on the ground. The bullet had pierced just below his waste, preventing him from standing. Eliezar quickly ran and knelt beside him.
“Isaac! You’ll be okay! Wypoczynek! Relax for a moment and then please stand up!
“Eliezar, I will be captured as I cannot run anymore. Here, take your bag and run, as mother and father taught you.”
“Just listen to me. Run as fast as you can!”
“I love you Isaac.”
“I love you, too, Eliezar.”
Just like that, Eliezar was off in a sprint. He could not bear to look back and see his brother die. All he could possibly think about was running. Finally, after about one mile, he stopped by a small stream. There he did the only thing he could think to do.
He cried. He sobbed out his sorrows as best he could. He was alone. An eleven year old boy. In Poland, 1942. Running from a cruel foe he had done nothing to incite. Eliezar was fully dependent upon himself. No more Isaac, or Bacia, or mother, or father. He was utterly alone.
After a few hours rest, Eliezar rose up and ran south to Siedlce. A city scathed by the war although not as badly as some other towns. At least for now. In Siedlce, Eliezar met up with a rabbi called Aron. This rabbi gave Eliezar food and shelter for one night. It was not until the next day that the two first had a conversation.
“What has become of your family, as you are fleeing the Nazis by yourself?” said Aron.
“They were captured and murdered. I am what is left of a once happy family.”
“I see you have a Torah with you. Do you read it often?”
“The messages provide me solace so yes, I do.”
“That is good for a young man like you.”
“Man. You are the oldest in your family, as you are all that remains of your house. You must take on the severe challenges of life. You are a man. Whether you want to be or not.”
“I do not want to be.”
“Eliezar, you must be strong and of good courage. For you are the honor of your family. It is you who must rise to the challenge and accept your true stature.”
Eliezar just nodded and prepared to leave. Just then, terrified screams erupted from the street. When he looked outside he saw why. A group of Nazis were burning down the synagogue. As Eliezar turned to close the door, he noticed a look of sorrow on Aron’s face. Although it was not a look of sorrow Eliezar had ever seen before.
Ever accustomed to the task, Eliezar set off running out of the town. To where, he knew not. All he cared about was leaving the presence of the Nazis. He was terrified by the fact that he was so close to them. With thoughts of fear racing through his mind, he did not notice the soldiers talking just outside a small house. After a few more steps, he felt something sharp against his neck. A knife. Blood seeped out of a thin but painful gash in the back of his neck. A few moments later, his foot at the outstretched leg of one of the soldiers and he was on the ground.
“Please do not hurt me!” Eliezar pleaded in hopeless desperation.
“Quiet, you trash!” spat a soldier who was now holding him firmly on the ground.
“Please, I’ll do anything!”
“I said to be quiet!” the soldier shouted. In an instant he had Eliezar knocked out cold on the ground. When he awoke, it was close to midnight. A half hour later, Eliezar was lying in a dark room in the most accursed place on earth. A concentration camp. It was just now that he realized other people were there. All of them sleeping in an almost peaceful manner.
“Get up, move, move!” was the angry order yelled a few minutes later. “Go to barracks number six!”
Almost in unison, all fifty prisoners began to move, a silent but ever palpable sorrow among them. They arrived at the shooting range ten minutes later.
“We will defeat all trial and tribulation!” shouted a group of courageous prisoners.
Even while facing death, the united Jewish prisoners stood together, never showing weakness.
Each prisoner lined up with their backs facing their murderers. But not Eliezar. With his last remaining inkling of bravery, he turned to face his death, the strengthening words from the Torah in his head. He knew now Aron’s words to be true. Eliezar was eleven. Eliezar was now a man.
“I will die bravely for my family.” Bang, bang! Bang, bang! Shots were fired consecutively. “I, too, cannot run anymore.”