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Schwarzenberg, Germany, December 1944
It’s dark. It’s cold. And there is no-body here. All of a sudden, these loud high pitched, fear inducing sirens begin to pollute the air. I know I have to run. But I am rooted to the spot. They are gone. That only means one thing; they have been taken by them.
Panic begins to rise within me. They would soon realise there was one missing. They would come looking for me. I had to go. But where? I start to run. Tears blinding the way. They could still escape right? This wasn’t the end was it? I swore I would keep running until it was safe to stop. Only, I didn’t know when it would be safe...
It wasn’t always like this. I used to be a normal teenage girl. I went to school, I had friends, we would laugh and talk about boys and fantasize about a future we wished that we would someday have... Only now... Now we won’t. My family are gone. My once close-knit, wealthy family who everyone looked up to has been taken. I’m all that is left. Left with nothing. It hits me like a tonne of bricks. I have nothing.
I don’t know how long I’ve been out for. Minutes? Days? A week? I have to blink a couple of times before my eyes can focus and I can see my surroundings. I’m in a dark shed. I can only see shadows that appear to be benches with sheets hanging over them... Everything is covered in a layer of dust that must be at least an inch thick! It is obvious that this shed doesn’t often get used. I can hear footsteps. I don’t know if I’m in danger or if I am safe. Do I run? Do I pretend that I’m asleep? All of a sudden two electric blue eyes are looking into my dark brown ones. Oh no! Please no! Those eyes can only belong to one person. The person that is now my worst enemy! Back then I could admire him from afar, but now? Now he would have me dead! His Dad is one of Hitler’s right hand men! Please let this be a dream! A very cruel nightmare!
“Elisabeth” he says.
“Dominik” I reply.
This is no dream.
“You have to trust me! Please! I swear! I saw you lying there in the street, so vulnerable and out in the open. I couldn’t leave you there! I just couldn’t!”
“So you saved me just so you could have the glory of turning me in?”
“But your Dad...” The way his eyes cut straight through to my very core shocked me. The sadness, and loneliness made me instantly regret what I had said.
“I am NOTHING like my Father! If he ever knew I had saved you or even spoken to any of you from school – we would all be dead!”
“Then why did you save me? Why would you risk your life for me? You could be killed... We haven’t spoken since... Since it all started...”
“I couldn’t leave you there...” He was looking down at the ground now, kicking the floor with his shoe.
“But why?” I asked gently. “Aren’t you supposed to be joining the Nazi’s next month? You’ve been in with the Hitler Youth since all of this began...”
“I swore when it all started that I would protect you no matter what the cost. I can’t help but protect you. It’s my duty to protect you. I’ve been trying to look out for you ever since I first saw you. I haven’t seen or spoken to you since it all started because I didn’t know what to say...”
“No Elisabeth, let me finish...”
“Dominik! There’s someone coming!” I could see my fear reflected in his own expression.
“Quick! Under here! Don’t move! I’ll come get you. You’ll be ok. I swear it on my own life!”
He dropped the sheet just in time. “DOMINIK!” said his father in that characteristically loud Sergeant voice. Everything he said was the same volume of any regular person yelling. Fortunately, (well for me anyway) Dominik was softly spoken, especially in comparison with his Father. “Yes Sir!” Saluted Dominik as he sprang to his feet.
“What were you doing down there?”
“I found a coin Sir, but as I was walking I was flicking it up in the air and I dropped it Sir. I was just looking for it when I thought I saw a mouse scurry past going this way. However Sir, now I can’t find it so it seems I must have imagined it Sir.”
“Well then boy, no more chasing mice and flipping coins! Your mother needs help – let’s go! I only came up this way because I saw you come here first – I don’t know why you insist on it.”
I hear them both leave, and I think that I should come out, figure out where I was exactly, but just as I am about to Dominik’s words run through my head and I decide to stay right here. Turns out I trust him after all... Actually, I think I’ve trusted him all along.
Soon the sky turns dark, and those fear inducing sirens ring out once again through the otherwise silent night. What am I supposed to do? Sit and wait? Or run? Realistically I can’t do either. If I stay here I was surely dead, but if I run I’m dead also. Will Dominik come back for me? Surely not. It would be his certain death if he came back for me! Surely they wouldn’t bomb those on their side... Suddenly I realise we all used to live together, intertwined in our communities. No-body cared until he came into power...
Someone is running down here. This is it. I’m going to be taken to ‘camp’. No. I’m not going down without a fight. There’s nothing here to arm myself with. Guess it will just be my own fists and feet... I crouch, ready to spring out. But the face that appears before mine throws me. It’s Dominik. “C’mon, we gotta go! Quick!”
“What?” I said. I was so shocked that I was rooted to the spot. He grabbed my arm. “The sirens. Can’t you hear them? We have to go now! This is our only chance!”
He dragged me out of the little shed that I had taken shelter in. He threw a dark cloak around my shoulders. I was thankful because it was so very cold outside, and the snow was beginning to fall. How can the snowflakes look so beautiful in the night with the light catching them when we were running through the streets that could very well be our last resting place; dodging the bombs that where falling towards us. I couldn’t tell you how long we ran for. It seemed like days. We occasionally stopped to rest and eat. Always in the woods though. He had to hunt for food, try and catch something with the little weaponry we had; a knife and a small shotgun with only a few bullets left. It’s not like two runaways – a Jew and a Hitler Youth, together, could just walk on in to a store and buy some food. And even if we could, we didn’t have any money!
Just when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore, that I would just stay right where we were, in the middle of no-where, we came across a whole group of my people! I couldn’t believe it, I went to run out to them, but Dominik grabbed my arm. “Careful” he whispered. “It could be a trap. What if it’s a concentration camp? I can’t let you walk straight into there!”
He was right and he knew it. But how could I just sit there, free, and watch them, my people who had been stripped of everything they once owned?
“Dominik!” I said in a harsh whisper, “who are they?” I pointed to the officers who where flanking my people. They weren’t in a uniform that looked familiar, where they even in a uniform at all? Dominik crept a little closer so he could get a better view. He signalled for me to follow him. As I crept up behind him, he turned and whispered to me, “it’s the Nazi’s, but something isn’t right, that uniform there, see how faded it is? Normally they don’t allow the officers to wear a uniform that is that worn”.
What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even think! Dominik brought me back to the present. “And another thing... That’s not normally how they are transported by the Nazi’s... I think... I don’t know what I think... There’s just too much that is going against protocol...”
“What do you mean?”
“Wait here. If I don’t make it back by nightfall you are to move on. You can’t stay here. If I don’t come back that means they will be looking for you. Do you understand?”
“Dominik, please. Please don’t go” I pleaded. I couldn’t lose him, not after I had just found him again, not after everything we had been through. He’s all I have left.
“It’s the only way to find out what is going on Elisabeth. It’s not like you can just walk on out there.”
“Neither can you.”
“It’s better me than you.”
He had a point there. I had to agree. It was more likely we would get information if he went and asked. He was supposedly ‘one of them’...
It wasn’t long before he came back to me, although it had seemed like hours. His uniform barely resembled their uniform anymore. How had the leader not noticed? Domink told me that the person leading the Jew’s was Oskar Schnidler. Oskar claimed that he was saving the Jew’s. It was worth a shot. Really, what did I have left to lose?
“Oskar is taking the Jew’s to Brunnlitz. We will have to work, but we will be safe – food and shelter, and we will still be together.”
Dominik was all I had left. I didn’t want to let go of him. Ever.
Dominik led me over to the other Jews. Suddenly I gasped and stopped dead right where I was. “Elisabeth? What’s wrong?” Asked Dominik “We’re going to be okay Elisabeth, we’re going to be safe.”
“Dominik” I could barely manage a whisper, tears where running down my face now, blurring my vision. “There’s my sister”.