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The Weight of My World
Thursday, December 7th, 1943 nighttime
Fear. Anguish. Loss. This is what I see all day in the eyes of my younger brother and sister. It has been one week since the police came for my parents. I don’t know where they went or when they will be back but I have heard rumors about a horrible place called concentration camps. My family is all Jewish and proud to be but right now I don’t feel so proud or safe for that matter. When my parents were arrested, my siblings and I were at friends’ houses. When we came back, no one was home. I was frantically looking throughout the house when I heard a light knock at the back door. It was Mrs. Calsmith, our neighbor. She told me that the police had taken my parents. She told me to take my brother and sister and run far from this house. She said the police would realize any moment now that our parents had children, who had not been arrested. I did as she said and packed up a blanket, some food from the cupboards, grabbed my siblings, and left. We walked on the back roads of a couple of towns till we came to an abandoned house. That’s where we slept that first night and every night since. I know I shouldn’t stay here long but where else can we go? The only people I ever trusted are gone, and Caleb, my seven year old brother, and Meg, my five year old sister, are in my care. I can hear the howling of the winds outside. I can sense the drip of the rainwater falling onto my arm because of a leaky roof. The quiet is unnerving. I feel like I am being watched. The darkness holds secrets. I hope tomorrow will bring sunshine.
Friday, December 8th, 1943 mid-afternoon
I woke up this morning to the familiar sound of rain pounding the roof. The crash of thunder made Caleb and Meg stir but soon they fell back into a deep sleep. I pulled out a piece of bread for Caleb and me from the sack of food I got from the cupboards. My brother asked me for another piece and I gave him one. It means I won’t eat the rest of the day but I can’t say no to him. He looked at me with the same big brown eyes my father has. He reminds me so much of my father but I probably remind him of mother as I share her light blue eyes. I can see that hunger is gnawing and eating away at his stomach. When Meg wakes I give her some bread too. Right now, I’m sitting at the window listening to Caleb tell Meg stories and I’m also watching the road through. I wish--- I see something coming up the road. It’s a big black spot and--no it’s just a cloud of rain. Wait, it seems to have some sort of long coat and oh no--------
Saturday, December 9th, 1943 late at night
My heart won’t stop racing because every bump and creak makes me jump. I’m writing because I can’t sleep. This journal is the only thing I have to confide in. Turns out that the black cloud I saw yesterday was really a German soldier coming to inspect the house. At first, I thought he was just riding by but then he started slowing down. I grabbed Meg and Caleb, our sack of food, and my journal, and bolted out the back door. I didn’t have enough arms to carry the blanket too, so I had to leave it there. I stuck the blanket under a loose board so hopefully the soldier won’t know we had been there. I slowly closed the back door so it wouldn’t slam. A forest of trees was behind the house with a blanket of thick underbrush. It was our only chance. I heard the front door creak closed and I knew the officer had come into the house. I ran for the trees with Meg on my back and Caleb running on my right. The branches snapped under my feet as I flew by them. The crunching of the leaves sounded like cannons going off. I tried to be as quiet as possible so the officer wouldn’t hear me but I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. Low branches hit the side of my face and I tasted the metallic, bitter taste of blood. The rain seemed to form a hazy curtain that made it hard to see anything. I made a big mistake. There was something I didn’t notice ahead of me until I was a mere five inches behind it. A quick turn to the left or right could have saved me but my brain was on default mode and all I could think about was getting away from that house. A six foot tall, black, furry creature stood in front of me. Its back was to me and I probably had only a couple seconds before it turned around. A tree stood next to me. Only Meg and Caleb would be able to fit. I stuck them in it and told them to climb. I heard the animal’s claws ripping at something I couldn’t see. Then that fateful moment came and the animal turned around and saw me. I looked into its beady black eyes and it stared right back at me. A second went by and then it lunged for me. I screamed and turned left and stared running. The animal was right behind me. The claws scraped my leg and I felt a sharp agonizing pain of a deep cut. I pressed on thinking of the two people who were waiting and relying on me. A tall tree came into view and I started to climb. The animal stared up at me for quite a while but when it realized I wasn’t coming down, it left. When I was positive it was gone, I climbed down and went back to find Meg and Caleb. They were shivering and crying. They saw me and a relieved smile spread across their faces. I helped them down, gave them the last of the food and we continued on. My leg was burning but I saw a village up ahead. I knew I could hide there. So now that’s where we’ve been ever since last night. I found this barn and we climbed up into the haystacks. All of today we have just been talking and fantasying about food. I can hear the deep breathing of Meg and Caleb as they sleep. There are tears on their faces. Those tears are for my parents and there is nothing I can do that’s going to comfort them or make them feel better. I wrapped my leg in a piece of the sack the food was in. My cut stopped bleeding but it’s bruised up pretty badly and it still hurts. I now have a throbbing headache from lack of food. I vow to go out tomorrow and find food. I have to keep what’s left of this family alive. Right now, I think sleep is the only thing that can bring a sort of peace to my weary body and mind.
Sunday, December 10th, 1943 mid-morning
This morning I went through the village and found a baker. I grabbed some of the burned bread when he wasn’t looking and also grabbed an apple from a bin outside someone’s shop. When I got back to the haystacks my brother and sister were still sleeping. I wanted to have a bite of the food before Caleb and Meg woke up because my headache was hurting so bad but I resisted. When Meg and Caleb wake I’m sure they will ask, like every morning, if our Mom and Dad have come back, and I always have to tell them no, not yet. A deep pain of sadness that starts in my heart and continues to spread over my body overcomes me every time I have to tell them no. It is the truth, though. If I can’t give them my parents then I at least have to give them the truth. They deserve to know about our parents because we are a family and we can’t lie to one another.
Monday, December 11th,, 1943 late at night
I took a risk. It was dangerous and was based completely on rumors but I took it. I was walking through the backstreets of town when I heard rumors about Hitler’s army coming to the village my brother, sister, and I were staying in. I also picked up an old newspaper that had a list of wanted Jewish children who had tried to escape from the Germans. My last name was on that list. It also had a list of those children’s parents and who had been taken to concentration camps. My parent’s names were on that list. As soon as I saw this I knew we had to get out of this town. I raced back to the haystacks, grabbed Meg and Caleb, and I hopped onto the very back of a train. We are still on the train. I don’t know where we are going or when to get off. I just know we had to leave that village. Again, our food is gone and we have no water. I’m scared and nervous. I don’t know what to do. The weight of keeping my family together and safe is weighing me down. I’m only fourteen. I shouldn’t have to deal with this. But I won’t give up. Giving up would let down my parents if they were here. I can’t afford to disgrace them and throw away everything they’ve taught me because an obstacle was set in my way. I have to live up to my full potential and preserve through these hard times.
Tuesday, December 12th, 1943 dinnertime
We hopped off the train by a forest. We traveled along it till we stopped on the top of a tall hill. I set Caleb and Meg by a weeping willow because I didn’t want them to fall over the edge of the steep hill. When I had walked over to the side of the hill and looked down I had just about fainted. I saw people working and they had looked exhausted. Their ribs were beginning to show. I saw the train we had hopped off of an hour or two ago. It was unloading many people and a soldier was directing the people. They had the yellow stars pinned to their coats. I looked down and there he was, my father. His body looked exhausted. His hair was cut short. His ribs were showing through the thin shirt he was wearing. There was a bright red stream of blood trailing down his arm where he must have gotten cut. He didn’t even notice the blood, he just kept working. I instantly hated the people who did this to him. I scanned the crowd for my mother but couldn’t find her anywhere. My anger grew to the point where I wanted to get revenge on whoever had done all of this to my father and had put me through such pain trying to keep my dwindling family alive. I couldn’t bear to watch it anymore so I walked to the willow tree where Caleb and Meg were sleeping. My anger was cooling and now all I felt like doing was crying. Why did these people take my parents? Why do Meg and Caleb have to put up with this? Why do I feel so alone? I grabbed my siblings and took them deeper into the forest. I lay them into a tree and then climbed up myself. My heart is torn. I want to run to my father and have him tell me it’s all going to be okay. The other part of me doesn’t want to enter that horrible place my father and maybe mother are living in. My father looks hungry, tired, and the familiar twinkle in his eyes is gone. What should I do? My head tells me to keep Meg and Caleb safe from that place but my heart tells me to run to my father and help him. What should I follow, my head or my heart?
Wednesday, December 13th, 1943 late, late at night
We saw him today. I didn’t have to pick my heart over my head or vice versa. My father came to us. The concentration camp let four men, one being my father, come to the forest to collect firewood. We were still in the tree and I was scared to death we would be found. But right as the soldier was about to pass by our tree some kind a signal was given to him from the camp. He told my father to sit under the tree we were sleeping in and told him not to move. My father sat down willingly as he was so exhausted. My father could barely move. When the soldier had left I whispered softly to my father. He was startled and looked up fast. Caleb was awake and as soon as he saw my father he jumped down and into his father’s arms. Tears were slipping down Caleb’s face. I dropped down too. I told him how much I had missed him. I told him our story and he told us his. He told us he had been taken by the police and forced to work at this concentration camp. I asked about our mother and he got a very grave look on his face. He told us that our mother had died in the gas chambers when they first arrived. I am motherless. The shock hit me like a ton of books. My father told me I had to leave this place and go far away. Tears had started to drip down my face as I refused him and told him I wanted to keep him safe and away from the concentration camps. He said I had to leave. He told me I had to do it for Meg and Caleb. He told me he would try as hard as he could to stay alive and I knew my father would keep his word. I hugged him hard and by now Meg was awake and hugging him too. He gave me a canteen to hold water in, as the officers had given them to all the prisoners. He also gave me my mother’s necklace. It had a small key on it. He told me my mother had given it to him before she entered the gas chambers. He told me the key would unlock the good times of the past but would also help to unlock the future. I could always hold my mother close to my heart. I put the necklace on, put Meg on my back, took Caleb’s had and hugged my father. I started walking away but looked back one last time. Tears were brimming in my eyes. I noticed something about my father’s eyes. The familiar twinkle was back. He knew that my brother, sister, and I were alive. He had something to fight for now. I knew he would fight through this. My family did not quit when something was hard. We will fight till the very end. We will win.