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The Seeker and the Storyteller
It was in March when they came. Two Gestapo police trudged up my steps and rasped on my door. Soon, the scratching turned to pounding, and as I approached the door, I could feel the blows hitting my own body. I turned the handle only to feel the vibrations even more heavily. They stepped over the door frame like robots. The blonde man spat at me, slurring his words behind a grin. He wanted me to get only the things I could carry. He wanted me to pack up my entire life into my sturdy but broken, arms.
I was told that I was being evacuated out of the ghetto I lived in, to “Lake Forest.” When the Gestapo told me that, he let the words fall lightly to the ground as his laughter came crashing down behind it. I was so naive. I had no idea as to what “Lake Forest” was. I had no idea that I was being sent to the most horrific and petrifying places in Nazi Europe, Auschwitz.
I vigilantly stepped out of my front door onto the pavement. The two Gestapo followed, their guns flashing in the bitter sunlight. We poured onto the streets like rain and exchanged looks of perplexity and of empathy. We all lived in the ghetto called Theresienstadt, and in late March of 1942, we were put on trains to be sent to our new home.
I dragged my body into the stuffy train and planted myself next to a small girl. She was still; she looked as though she had already given up. The constant turning of the wheels on the train lulled me to sleep after several hours of the ride. A light tap on my forearm awoke me from my slumber, the girl had moved. She had soil colored hair, and murky brown eyes that had tears swimming beneath her pupils. Her pooled eyes looked fearfully up at me, as if she was apologizing with her expression. We exchanged looks of empathy, while more people penetrated the train doors.
As more crowds pushed through the gates of the train they brought on more sickness, death and disease. The young girl with the broken mind and bleeding eyes died that night; the sickness and disease had taken her away. Each time we stopped, we removed the dull corpses and replaced them with less than vibrant beings. She had been removed; swallowed by death with no one to remember her existence. At the time, I was sure that my fate would follow hers within hours of our last stop. I could feel my body breaking down, falling to the depths of hell in pieces that could not be put back together. I would drift in and out of a therapeutic sleep. My stomach would shrivel up from the hunger. It was humid and foggy from the heat that coursed through the cars. A wintry pole supporting a seat on the train was digging into my back, freezing my skin. It felt good compared to how blistering the air was wrapping around my frail bones. The conditions were not only fatal but they were brutal. I had no food, no water, and no reason to live, except for God; he was the only one I still had some sliver of faith for.
I slid up from the floor and looked out the window. Snow blanketed the earth and the sky was a dreary gray. The train came to a deliberate stop. I had arrived at Auschwitz.
The men and women were separated into lines, staggering next to each other. Their clothes were peeled off in layers, leaving only one section on. They left a shirt and pants to stick to their fading membrane. I kicked off my shoes and passed them to the S.S officer. He gleefully threw them into a heap of lost casings for our bare feet. I pushed on. Up ahead there was a table, with a man behind it. He was busily asking questions, and hurriedly jotting notes down on a slip of paper. The ink from his merciless pen bleeds on the page, determining a Jew’s fate. I approached the table cautiously. He asked me my height, my hair color, eye color, my race, my religion, my weight. He measured my nose, my face and my forehead. Then he asked a question I had not heard before, “How do you work?” I was shocked, so I told him I was a hard worker. I can read, write, and complete physical labor. His pen bled one more time, and I was finished. Human after human, paper after paper, I had made it through the line of women and children. We now stood in rows, awaiting instruction. An S.S. officer strode to the front and barked that the following names would work in the factories for as long as we stayed here in the camp. My name was slurred from in between his pink lips. I left my row and went to my barrack. I broke through the flimsy wooden door and lay down on my bunk. Only a few moments later I heard shrieks and cries, feet dragging on the ground leaving their last goodbyes etched into the gravel.
I began work in the factory the next day. I was tediously putting gun powder into metal casings. Ironically, they were the bullets that would kill the next Jew that didn’t do something right. They were the bullets that would slay a Jew, but to them, they are only a Jew.
One day while in my bunk, a woman came in bleeding. She had bruises and gashes all over her frail body. She was broken and falling apart at my knees. Her faith and soul was slain before my eyes. She begged for my help, for water. I had nothing. I had no mercy to give. I had no love or empathy I could give. I felt so helpless. That morning when I woke up, she was being removed. She was dead. First it was the girl with the dark eyes, and now the woman with the eternal scars. Maybe tomorrow it will be me, or maybe I will endure to be the storyteller of the dead.
Life in the camps was brutal. We were fed little to nothing, rarely bread. We occasionally ate soup, and sometimes we had no water. I began to get very sick from this malnourishment. My stomach disappeared and my mouth was constantly dry. My lips were cracking and I was constantly losing my voice. One day at work I passed out as I planted my last bullet on the belt. My head got light, my eyes went black and my feet fell out from underneath me. When I came to, I was being kicked, beaten, and pulled. I had stopped working and it put us behind. I was being fervently punished. I was so wrecked; I began to believe that I actually deserved it. I had broken two ribs and my right arm.
After a month of recovery in the infirmary, I was released from their care. I went back to work in that same factory. I had the same routine, day in and day out- heave my helpless body out of bed, shove breakfast down my cracking throat, rush to the factory, work till lunch, and skip lunch so I can complete my work. Use every bit of my energy to drag my fragmented corpse to my bunk, wake up, and repeat.
After three years of living in Auschwitz, I was sure that I would die there. Each day I relentlessly followed my routine; I was beaten and battered every time I tossed my insipid soul into my bed. I could feel my essence leave me each night, looking for death, but death was busy. He was hunting for me somewhere in the distance. My mind wasn’t ready to die, or to be executed, but my physical being was, was ready to give up, to stop the continuous fight. It was early January when I became so sick that I could feel death taking its arrow and puncturing my heart. I was as skinny as a twig, and I was about to snap. I passed out during work more often, which meant more thrashings. My spirit left me more often and my mind drifted. I would stare at nothing as if I was falling asleep with my eyes ajar. After two weeks of torture, I was back in the medical center. I wasn’t myself anymore, but I hadn’t given up on God. He was my guidance through the mess I called my life. He taught me never to give up, and to persevere.
It was his guidance and love that helped through such hard times. Two weeks of suffering and threat brought me to you today, and so did the Soviets.
In mid January they came. We had been warned that night. The General came from his fortress and announced that we would be moving. All of us were to collect our belongings, if we had any, and to line up outside of our barrack. I was sick, and all sick were to be left behind with only each other to worry for. Everyone in the infirmary was left behind to die, to allow death to complete his mission. The doctor rushed to clean up his things. He packed up his needles, his medicine, and our lives. He ambled out the opened door; he never even looked back to see the lives that he would be jeopardizing. He didn’t seem to care, and that was that. We were helpless. I could barely get up. I could barely speak, let alone move. I knew death would have his victory celebrations tonight, only so he could move on to his next victim, his next accomplishment.
The bed shook and roared like thunder. I rolled over, not wanting to wake up. I heard shouts outside our building. I was sure that I was dead. Was this heaven, I asked myself? Has death captured me? Or is God rescuing me? The door to the infirmary burst open and a chilled, bitter wind blew throughout the room. A convoy of men went around shaking beds, waking the living, and quaking the dead. When a man shook my bed I threw my arms in the air and began trembling. This was real. I was actually being saved. The man wrapped his arms around me and untangled my feeble legs from the sheets. He carried me outside and wrapped a blanket around my shoulders. I was put in a truck and driven away. I felt needles penetrate me, and hands comfort me. I slowly coasted back to a slumber.
That night I escaped death. I broke free of its rigid grip, and I survived. I did not survive because of luck or because I didn’t want to die. I survived because I had something to live for. Death spent all his time seeking, and I spent my time remembering that I must, one day, become the storyteller.