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All she felt was shock. Pure horror. How could this happen to her? She was Carmela Braun, she got everything. She got a choice. A decision. Carmela thought about her mother, somewhere in Krakow working. She couldn’t know what was happening to her and her father, Carmela doubted she really cared. Carmela’s wide, scared eyes noticed her father suddenly noticed her father gone from her side. She couldn’t see him across the mass of people that were all so different, but all exactly alike. Jews like herself. Their eyes shared the same terrified look. The scene was horribly ineffable.
“Carmela!” Her father yelled loudly in his deep voice, deep with a Polish accent. Although uncharacteristically filled with a sad tone. Carmela turned to follow the voice. She stared at her father, who was now being forced to the ground by a Nazi soldier. She halted, disrupting the surprisingly order of the mob, and people began walking around her. Carmela opened her mouth, though not knowing what to say to stop the soldier from beating her father. Suddenly strong hands gripped her frail arms. A voice spit in her ear, threatening her to keep marching. Carmela could hear her father yelling at her to never stop, to keep going and fighting. A gunshot rang out; she couldn’t hear his voice anymore. She gasped. The strong arms tightened.
She had no idea as to how long they had been walking. Ten minutes? An hour? A year could have passed and Carmela wouldn’t have noticed. All she could think of was her father, who had done everything for her, bought her everything, was now dead. Now she had nothing.
The group kept walking. Carmela hadn’t traveled this far out of Poznan since the last time she visited her grandparents three years ago in 1940. The sky was dark and there was fresh dew across the dead, dry field they were led across. A railroad track appeared over a hill at least fifty meters away. By now, most people’s sobs had ceased, and everyone drug their feet in exhaustion. It was freezing, Carmela realized, she had been so numb and hadn’t paid any attention. Her thin nightgown clung to her body and she shivered. The group began to halt as they approached the carts lined up on the roadway. Although Carmela was too far away to hear the sergeant belt out orders, she saw the men and women being sorted into two separate carts. The cars were rusty red, and the paint was peeling off this sides; it looked like this train had done this job too many times. When she reached the door, a stench hit her like a brick wall, and she looked around the freight car. Jews, like her, were crammed into every nook and cranny in this small space. Her eyes stopped at a young girl, younger than herself, sitting alone in a corner. Her muddy brown eyes were wide in fear and full of tears. Carmela swallowed nervously at the ugly gashed that reached from her chin to her forehead on her round face. Through the mud and dirt, Carmela could tell she was beautiful, although everything about her said pain and suffering. Everything about this place, said pain and suffering. Carmela paused mid-entrance and looked around at the other victims. They ranged from as young as babies, wrapped in cloths and held protectively in their mothers arms; to as old as frail grandmothers. Carmela was pushed again, to the ground. Her knee burst into pain and her nightgown tore on the sharp edge of the floor. Her teeth ground on her lip, and she crawled forward towards the beautiful girl.
Carmela glided down the steps in her winding staircase, slowly taking in the transformation of her family’s mansion. Ribbons stretched across the foyer, vases filled with her favorite color, pink roses, littered the room. Her face lit up into a smile, and her pale blue eyes lit up at the sight of her friends around the corner, and more importantly, the presents staked on the dining room table. They ranged from thin and long, to short and tall, each having a different color, shape, and content. The smell of vanilla cake, made from the finest baker in Poland, drifted into the room. She reached the last step and looked down at her satin rose dress. It hugged her slight figure, and expanded into a trail of ruffles and lace. She chose this dress specifically for this even, her Bat Mitzvah. Her hair was pulled into an elaborate up-do. She looked back up at her friends through her long dark lashes and placed her hand on her chest, where her small pearl necklace laid, and had been laying for about two years. She never could have expected this much before that time.
It was August 30th 1939, in Poznan, Poland. Everyone knew about this special day, she made sure of that. Her whole class was invited. Dr. Braun missed work, the only day in the whole year. Her grandparents rode in from Krakow. Carmela got everything she wanted, although she was still not satisfied. Her huge pile of new presents was full with the gown in the window of the local dress shop, the china doll in the toy store and much, much more. Her friends put together their allowances to afford her the greatest things. Stationary, books, stuffed animals, china dolls. They all wore their best clothes and smiled at her brag about her new saddle for one of her many expensive horses.
She never stopped asking, was never satisfied with anything. She tossed aside wimpy gifts and her eyes analyzed present after present. She would only play with the expensive, they were the best ones. She never once said ‘thank you’.
“Here Carmela,” Adir said, handing her a purple package.
“Oh, this one was under the table,” Danya stuttered, carefully handing her a light blue box.
“I’m sorry, that was the best thing I could afford,” Leah said, blushing as she handed her a small present wrapped in paper. Carmela rolled her eyes and dropped it by her feet.
“Here Carmel, this is from your father and me,” Mrs. Braun said smiling, and she handed her a large package with a matching small one on top. Carmela took the gift with her small hands and balanced it on her lap. She pulled the ivory ribbon slowly, and reached underneath to pull of the paper. Inside was the dress she had seen at the Warsaw dress shop and had demanded to get it, but her mother had said a firm no. It was silky and soft and she pulled it out of the box. It was long and flowed with ribbon and lace. It was a light lilac. She loved it. Carmela beamed at her mother and father, and reached for the second box. This one was square and small. She opened the box and a small gold chain was revealed. She pulled it out; it was a new chain for her pearl.
“Mother, Father. Jego swpanialy. I love it.” Carmela said, gripping the chain. She then began looking around for her next gift.
Carmela gasped and reached for her neck, where the necklace had stayed since she opened the box six years ago. She felt the small bump under her nightgown and her heart started beating faster.
“No valuables, no treasures, leave everything behind.” The Nazi captain had ordered when he stormed into her house that morning. “Only bring a piece of bread and a change of underwear in a small bag.” Carmela had completely forgotten about the necklace when she started screaming for her father. She was sitting next to the beautiful little girl sitting next to her, and she drew her knees up to her chin and shivered. Carmela felt a tap on her shoulder and she turned her head to look at the girl.
“Nazywan sie Ceclia,” my name is Cecylia. Her voice was soft and shook with fear.
“Nazywan sie Carmela,” Carmela whispered back.
“Sabrali mnie, moi rodzicne nie syja,” They took me away, my parents are dead.
Carmela sucked a deep breath down her parched throat, not knowing what to say. The young girl, Cecylia, buried her face in her elbow.
“Przyko mi,” I am sorry. The words felt weird in her mouth. She remembered one of the last times she said those words.
“Mother, look at me! I can dance!” Yelled an eight year old Carmela. She twirled in circles, and jumped in the air.
“That’s nice, Carmela,” Her mother said in monotone, not looking up from the paper she was reading on her desk.
Carmela furrowed her brows and whipped around faster, determined to get her mother’s attention. Suddenly she tripped and fell against the table, smacking her head against the side. The valuable light blue vase fell off the table and shattered into large pieces as it slammed into the hard ground. Carmela broke into tears and grabbed the top of her head. Her head felt wet and sticky with blood and her sight became fuzzy and distorted.
“Carmela!” She yelled, jumping up from her seat. “My flowers, my vase! Your grandmother gave that to me. That was a treasure.” She became redder and redder, standing over Carmela.
“Mother,” She wheezed between sobs, “My head.”
“Carmela, my vase!” She mocked.
“Przykro mi,” Carmela gasped and fainted.
It was late, most of the prisoners of the small freight car had fallen asleep against one another. Carmela and Cecylia leaned against the corner of the car and nibbled on the bread they had packed. It was now dry and molding. They continued telling each other about their life.
“I lived in Tarnow, what about you?” Cecylia asked.
“Poznan,” Carmela said. She remembered the grand doors, perfect garden. Now, all of it was left behind. All of her own treasures. What would happen to them?
“I just had my eleventh birthday,” said Cecylia. “I got my first doll, she was my mothers. One of her eyes is missing and her hair is messy, but she is perfect. My mother had to give up so much to give it to me; it was the last thing she ever got from my grandma.”
Carmela thought back to her first doll. She was just over eight.
She smiled at Cecylia, her messed up brown hair once probably had been brushed to a silk. Her small face, now smeared with dirt, probably had soft and gentle hands wash it every night before bed, where she was then probably tucked in and read to.
All of a sudden, Carmela started to cry. I never had any of that; I probably never will have any of that. She thought. She envied Cecylia. Cecylia reached over and hugged her softly, and Carmela turned her head into her neck. Carmela suddenly blushed and pulled her head away sharply. She wiped her grimy hands across her face and smeared her tears away, embarrassed.
“Przykro mi,” she said shakily, “I don’t know the last time I cried like that.”
“It’s okay,” she assured. “Did you have a doll that was left behind too?”
“Something like that,” Carmela replied.
“Well, tell me about her,” she said, scooting closer on the dirty floor.
For the first time in six years, Carmela told her story.
Carmela, just eight years old, stuffed her little leather bag with some clothes, bread and her stuffed bear, her one and only toy. She scribbled out a note and threw it on the bed.
Drogi Matki I Ojca,
Myjezdzam, nie idz sza mna, nie obchodzi juz. Musze odejsc.
She didn’t look behind as she snuck down the steps on an early July morning. She hiked up her dress and tiptoed down the hallway, carefully avoiding the creaking board. She swung open the door and stepped onto the porch, carefully closing the door behind her. Carmela leaned against the door, and took a deep breath. I have to do this, they don’t care anymore. She thought. She took off across the dew covered lawn. Running to the hedge on the left side of the yard, she slid underneath the carefully concealed hole that she had cut out the day before. She stopped and breathed a deep breath of clean, free air. Come on Carmela, you can do this, you will be happier. She assured herself, Go, Go, Go.
She ran and ran. She didn’t know where to, she just kept running. The sun started to peak over the mountains and she passed house after house. She didn’t stop. The voice in her head kept egging her on Keep going Carmela, keep going.
At night, she stopped and found a place to hide behind a small bush just inside a small grouping of trees. When the sun rose up, she took off again.
On the third night of her escape she stopped for the night at the end of someone’s lawn. Suddenly, she heard hoofbeats and slowly peaked through the leaves. A singe horse ws standing in the street, and a familiar rider was seated on top.
“Daddy?” Carmela crawled out and stood up.
“Come on Carmela, let’s go home,” He said softly, his blue eyes swarmed with tears. “I’m so sorry kochanie, we will make this right.”
Carmela stubbornly allowed herself to be lifted into the saddle. She wrapped her arms around her father and they rode back home, when they reached the iron gates of their mansion, her mother ran out of the house.
“Carmela, I don’t want you to ever think we don’t pay attention to you, ever again.”
The day after, she took her to the toy store and bought her the best doll.
But that was it.
Her mother tried to make her happy, but Carmela ran away again. She was ten years old.
“You don’t care about me, Mother. Just leave me alone!” Carmela yelled down the stairs.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make your recital, I had to work,” Her mother retorted back.
“You don’t even understand, this was the biggest one of the year,” her eyes spilled over in tears, “You promised.”
This time when her father picked her up four days later, she tried to refuse to return. However, her father said they had a surprise for her at home, and stubbornly she returned. This time they bought her a doll, a book, anything they could find that she could want, trying to make up for the fact they couldn’t be with her. Anything to make her stay. She kept asking, partially of revenge, but also greediness over took her. They kept giving, desperate.
I was horrible to them, demanding more and more, they knew if I wasn’t happy I would leave again, and I was only happy with my stuff. But it didn’t seem like they cared about me, they were at work all the time. I barely got to seem them for five minutes a day. By that time, they were so tired and they were rude and ignored me. With all my new things, I grew in popularity at school, I was terrible to others who didn’t have what I had,” Carmela took a deep breath and sighed, “Oh Cecylia, I wish I hadn’t don’t this, they were so good to me, I mean, they had to work and they did it so they could take care of me. I didn’t even realize what a spoiled suka I was being.
“Carmela, it’s ok. You have time to change this,” Cecylia encouraged, her eyes glistened with tears.
“But what if I don’t? We are in this horrible place we will probably never get out of. I never got to say dziekuje, do widzenia, czy cie kocham. I will never forgive myself.” She whispered, realizing the truth.
Carmela grabbed her necklace chain and pulled. The chain snapped and she looked down in her hand at the little pearl. Cecylia gasped and Carmela closed her hand around it, not letting go.
Sometime after Carmela, Cecylia, and the other unfortunate Jews on the freight car were fast asleep, the train rolled to a stop. It was arriving at what would become the final destination for many of the, Auschwitz. Carmela opened her eyes when a banging on the door erupted. It rolled open, revealing two Nazi soldiers.
“Everybody, leave your bag on the train. File out after General Ansgar to the entrance to your left. No talking. You will then be sorted accordingly.” A loud German voice ordered.
Carmela and Cecylia exchanged a frightened look. Sorted Accordingly? Carmela thought, What does that mean? When Carmela and Cecylia reached the door they shaded the eyes from the sun, after being stuck in the dark for so long. Carmela breathed a deep breath of the fresh air, and followed Cecylia onto the pathway. Up ahead she could see two doorways with a man sitting between them. He was sending people through either of the doorways. The Jews kept shuffling forward and were sorted.
Cecylia stepped up in front of the man, looking small and vulnerable. She looked behind at Carmela with a frightened look.
“Stand here,” He directed, his dark, fierce eyes glaring at her. She moved over to a line drawn on the wall and stood under it. The black line was visible by two or three inches over her.
“Left,” Josef Mengele demanded. Cecylia turned into the doorway.
Carmela walked over towards the line and stood beside it. Her heart thudded in her chest. She looked aout at the line of people standing behind her, stretching from her to the train. She turned to look at her face. He studied her and she glared into his dark eyes. She gripped her necklace tighter and tighter in her hand.
“Links,” he told her, and Carmela Braun stepped into the doorway.
Carmela shivered and wrapped her arms around herself as she stood naked in the dark concrete room Cecylia stood next to her, staring at the floor. Suddenly she looked up.
“Why would they have us take showers?” She asked nervously.
Carmela shrugged and leaned against the cold wall, “I guess they want us clean.”
She held her necklace tightly in her hand. Holding onto the only thing she had left.
The doors suddenly slammed shut as the last few people shuffled in. Everyone looked at each other nervously. Carmela’s eyes scanned the room. Mothers with babies crying stood among young children. Grandparents stood beside physically and mentally disabled people.
Suddenly, a green gas began to leak through the faucets. Carmela’s vision fogged up and her senses felt blocked. She couldn’t breathe. The necklace dropped as she fell to the ground.
The last thing she heard was the screaming.