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The Lithuania Escape
I still remember her screams like they were yesterday, they still keep me up late at night, haunting me. I held Abbey close to my heart and gripped her hand like I was holding onto my own life. Nothing could separate us, now, more than ever.
It all started about six years ago, six long years ago. I, Devorah was 12 at the time and Abbey was 6. My family and I were having dinner with our German friends. “Devy, Devy, DEVORAH.” Abbey tugged on my sleeve whispering. “I have to go to the bathroom, NOW!” I smiled, a little annoyed but nodded as Abbey did a little dance in front of me. She grabbed my hand.
“Excuse us, where is the bathroom?” I slid out of my chair as the Webbers pointed to a hidden door down the hall. “I'll be only a few minutes, I apologize my sister has to use the toilet.” They smiled warmly. Unlike everyone else who hated us Jews, the Webbers didn't hate us, they were kind to us instead. I pressed my hands on my sisters back and hurried her down the long hallway. I pushed the door open letting my sister go in first. "I will be waiting outside, be quick! We don't want our hosts waiting!" She shuffled into the door and closed it with a slam. Tapping my foot impatiently while waiting, I realized that she had already been in there for five minutes. "Hey Abbey lets go, you've been five minutes already!" All of a sudden there was a knock that shook the whole house.
German soldiers broke down the door and stormed into the kitchen. “If you are a Jew you are to come with me!” they looked around harshly. At this time we were moderately clueless, we didn't know what they wanted exactly. We had seen them go into Jewish homes, take people and never return but to me, I never thought much of it. My parents, the smartest people I know, didn't miss those things. They locked eyes with me. Calmly, they stepped out of their chairs and went with the officer. “Is this all of you?” narrowing his eyes he snarled and scrunched his nose like he smelt a bad smell.
"Yes, this is all of us." my mother whispered, quickly glancing down the hall at me. I have learned not to question my parents, I would trust them, no matter what they said. If they decided not to take us with them, there must have been something going on inside their heads. The German soldier looked at the Webbers for assurance. They nodded. "Fine Devorah! Are yo-" I cut my sister off as I pushed her, along with myself into the bathroom. "WHA-" I cut her off yet again. As put my fingers to my lips, she scrunched her eyebrows and looked at me like I was insane. Just as the officer was about to leave he must have heard Abbeys muffled talking.
He slammed the door and looked suspiciously around. "I think I may have a look around!" he said critically. I looked frantically around the huge bathroom, for any sort of spot that we could hide. Just our luck there was a perfect closet for us to hide in. This will just have to do. I shoved a reluctant Abbey into the closet. After Abbey followed me. We just barely managed to fit ourselves in the closet as the officer burst through the bathroom door. I pushed Abbey to one side of the closet behind some clothes, luckily, she was small enough to fit there. I had to crouch as far back in the closet as I could hoping that with any luck we wouldn't be spotted. I hated to separate Abbey from my side, but that is the only way we could avoid being seen. I heard what seemed to be loud bangs and crashes before the closet door was torn open. I held my breath until the door was slammed shut again. Abbey reached out and grabbed my hand, and I squeezed it in return.
Not long after hearing a door slam, came a light knock on the door. “Hey, it's me Eva (Mrs. Webber) open up!” I kept the door shut, I didn't know who I could trust anymore. “It's alright, I promise, the bad men are gone.” Eva kept prying me to open the door which made my suspicion grow. “Okay fine don't open the door, I just wanted to help you.” I heard footsteps fade away. Slowly, I twisted the doorknob just so I had a small enough crack to see through. The coast was clear. I started to walk towards the second doorknob until I felt a little pull that made me scared for my life. When I saw it was Abbey was pulling my sleeve, I let myself breathe again. “Where is Mommy and Daddy, Devorah?” I had forgotten how much of the conversation she had missed while using the toilet. My feet kept pushing forward hoping she would just drop it. “Devorah?” It took me everything in my power not to stand in front of my sister and lie, to say that everything was just fine, that they were just taking a walk. I knew she wouldn't understand if I told her the truth, that she would ask an abundance of questions but I couldn't just lie to her. I turned around and stopped her in her path. Finding it in myself to look her in the eyes was hard, I still told her the truth, as much of it as I knew it anyway.
“They were taken.” I left it there and did not elaborate any more than I had to. By the time I finished my sentence we had reached Eva.
“Well, I am glad you came to your senses and was able to trust me, so now that you trust me I want you to go back to your little hiding place. “She kept on glancing back towards the window.Honestly, I was a little upset at her.
“Why” I pushed my questions.
“Well, Be-.” She was cut off by the loud screams of a woman. A woman I knew, it was my mother. Never in my life had I ever heard her scream, but somehow I knew that scream. “Go, NOW!” Eva whisper-screamed.
“Abbey, listen to Eva, I need to do something, go back to that closet, now” she never really questioned my judgment, for that, I was relieved. Abbey trotted through the hallway taking short small glances in my direction. No one told her exactly what was going on but I think she kind of secretly understood what was going on. Eva whipped around and stared at me, her eyes like daggers.
"What do you think that you are doing?!" Eva looked like she was about to explode. I felt there was something that she wasn't telling me. "I made a promise, to you and your parents Devorah, to keep you safe." She looked at the floor like it was the most interesting thing in the world right then. Why did she need to protect me, what did she need to protect me from? Mom and Dad were going to be alright, what was she talking about? I shook my head as the shrieking screams of my mother floated in and out of my ears. I knew Eva would stop me but I had to try. Running up to the window I peeked the top of my eyes out of the window. I got a quick glance of the soldiers until Eva pulled me out of the window. "Are you stupid!? They will see you, then take you too!" All of a sudden all I couldn't tell what I was feeling. What I felt was desperation, I was desperate for my parents to return to my side. I was livid at the German soldiers for taking my parents. Confused why Germany would want to hurt us, why they hated us. I was feeling so many things at the same time I could process it all.
"You know what is going on, don't you?" I accused. She shook her head yes. "I want you to tell me this, all of it, but first I want to see what happens to my parents, and you are going to let me." Tears ran down my face like a fast flowing river. "Fine, but be quiet" she mouthed as she put a finger to her lips but then nodded sharp and quick. There was no way to prepare myself for what I saw out that window. I saw about four or five Jews run, they ran faster than anyone I had seen anyone run before. Little did I know they were running for their lives. Among them were my parents, dirty and scared. In my head, I was praying for them all the way Just as they made it away from the officers and seemed to be home free there were officers hidden in the bushes. Each officer took one of the jews into their arms, my parents included. The hidden officers dragged the jews back to the street with everyone else. They lined up the Jews into a line.
"Let this be an example, to everyone else, obey or die." Immediately after the word left his German mouth the words hung in the air. He clicked off the safety then shot them, shot them all. That was all that I remembered, the sound of the safety clicking off, then collapsing into Eva's arms.
It has been almost 4 years since the day my parent were shot. We have been hiding ever since then. Eva and her husband have been caring for us. They provided us with food, water, shelter, things then jews had no access to. I was thankful for this, I was, it was one of those things though, you never really realize how much it means to you until it's taken away. Though we were surviving, we weren't thriving, we were unhappy here. Little did we know then that this was thriving for people like us. Sixteen now, I understood almost everything that went on, or at least I thought I did. So did Abbey. Eva was bad at keeping things that were going on quiet, so was I, I wouldn't deny it. After our parents were shot, telling her what happened broke my heart, she was so young and innocent. To her Eva and Charles were her parents, they weren't but it was the closest she had to a parental relationship. She knew they weren't our biological parents but letting her treat them that way was the only way to keep her from hurting over the loss of her own parents. For letting her do that, no one could blame me. She needed someone to be there for her like parents and that is where she went for that, and that was fine with me. It pained me to think that she forgot mom and dad, but she needed to heal, whether she showed it or not she missed them, so did I.
There was a sudden knock on the tiny little door that leads to our little basement. I knew every time it was Eva or Charles who knocked. Still, it jumped me, even after the four years living in the same routine. Eva knocked our little code signaling it was safe, knock pause knock knock knock. The latch swung open revealing a smiling face of Eva. She was so kind to us, she always had been, she was like the second mother of my life and I was so grateful for that. Eva held out her hand as I climbed out the hatch Abbey trailing not far behind me on the ladder.
“Hey girls!” Eva chimed. She was so cheery and happy. Usually, I was happy too, but not today. Finally, it hit me that I was tired of living in my little hole. It has been four years already, four years too long. I know I should have been happy with what I had, but my innocence to the outside world made me naive. I had no idea. I refused Eva's hand. “Well..” she replied. “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed!” I couldn't believe my ears, I couldn't believe what she just said to me! “Devy what's wrong? you can talk to me you know that.” Walking past her I felt my brain about an inch from exploding into a million pieces. She grabbed my arm and turned me around. “He-”
“Let me stop you right there!” I just about yelled. “You are not my mom stop treating me like a child, a child I am certainly not. I am sixteen now! I am old enough to decide for myself how to live my own life without you riding right up my-” this time she shut me up.
“You listen up you ungrateful child, I am doing you a favor, I could have let you run into the road after your parents and ultimately die, just like they died shot right in the gut, a long painful death is that what you want!” Abbey wasn't much of a talker but this was a touchy subject for her.
“Both of you shut your traps!” she said softly. All of a sudden there was a light rap on the door.
“Hide!” Eva hissed. Pushing Abbey in front of me into the closet, I lightly shut the door barely making a sound. The front door creaked open to hear a woman's voice booming.
“Hey Eva,” said a familiar voice, Charlotte Eva’s good friend. Eva said hello back to Charlotte. Abbey tried to peek her head into the place I was watching from I pushed her down instead.
“What can I do for you Charlotte?” Eva said in her innocent voice, still blocking Charlotte from entering the house. Charlotte looked around the house as in search of something
“Well, I heard arguing, and was wondering what was going on.”
“It was nothing, Charles and I just had a small little spat that's all.” Charlotte nodded her head like she understood. Then her eyes closed.
“What's wrong Charlotte? ”Eva asked her face full of fear.
“Charles isn't home is he Eva,” Eva nodded her head yes furiously and a slight ‘yes he is at work’ escaped her lips. “No he isn't Eva, that's a bum rap, I know he is at work. I didn't want to have to do this Eva, I really liked you. What a shame that this had to happen to you. All you have to do is tell me that you are hiding them”
“Wait, Charlotte, what do you mean,”Trying to change the subject Eva added, “How did you know that Charles was at work?”
“Because I killed him too.” Charlotte pulled her gun out of her holster and shot Eva right in the forehead. Abbey would have blown our secrecy if I hadn't covered her mouth to contain her screams and wails. She collapsed into my arms like a sack potatoes. As I cradled Abby's body, I slightly rocked back and forth hoping to calm her down. Still, she shook like a wet puppy dog, quivering in fear. A swarm of Nazi soldiers piled into Eva's kitchen, stepping over her dead crippled body. “Find them!” Charlotte demanded. She must have been in charge of that search. The bottomless pained part of me would have loved to be found and just gotten it over with, just to let them shoot me already. From what I heard from Eva and Charles mid-morning conversations, us Jews were very unpopular and were often shot on sight. If they weren't shot, they would be worked, often to death. I looked at Abbey who I had been holding since the gunshot had left the barrel of the gun and all of a sudden I had something to keep me going, someone to keep alive. I would never leave her. This was all my fault, Eva's death, I picked that fight and she ended up paying the price. Because my mind had wandered off, I didn't realize how close they were to us. I could smell the nasty Nazi smell radiating from each and everyone one of them. Scared more than anything, I couldn't imagine how Abbey felt. The creaking footsteps inched closer with each breath I took. Abbey squeezed my hands harder and harder until it had reached a level of strength I never knew she was capable of. Actually, it was quite painful. Doors slammed open and shut, and a once clean kitchen turned into a wild mess, it was as if an evil tornado had ripped through the house. Actually, that seemed to be the case.
“Where are they!” A Nazi soldier growled. As if on cue Abbey sneezed, a quiet high pitched noise. The Nazi peered around the room until he ripped open the door that kept us hidden. The door that hid us, now wide open, revealing us. Our fate now rested in the humane nature of the Nazis. I was praying that they felt a reason to kept us alive.“Ich habe sie gefunden!” (I found them!) A Nazi soldier yelled in triumph. Charlotte walked over to where we were huddled together on the ground. “Get up!” She grabbed our arms and pulled us up off the floor violently. We stood up quickly, faster than we ever moved in our lives. I was definitely more scared now, more than I have ever been before. I was scared for the fate of myself, but I also cared and worried more about Abbey “Bring them to the truck!” she ordered one of the soldiers. Being hidden in a basement was living royalty compared to what came next. Expressions of disgust were one of the only things exchanged from the officer to us. A quick ‘move faster’ escaped from the officer's mouth but that was about it. Next to me, Abbey was crying a river. I felt for her, this was nothing she should be dealing with. My fault again but, there was no escaping now. A quick painful jab in the back from the officer signaled us to get into the car. I shot a quick glance towards Abbey who tagged close to my side. Only getting a quick view of where we headed showed about a million people crammed in a place meant for only ten. The sliding door shut in our faces. This was a quick glance into my future, one I had no idea was coming.
I think I counted 3 days. 3 days with no air, no space, it was almost toxic. People surrounded us on every side. Abbey often hugged my leg and stuffed her nose and face into my shirt or pant leg. I found myself stuffing my nose into any crevice of clean cloth on my body. The stench lingered and made me feel sick. I'm pretty sure we were sleeping with dead bodies, they surrounded and suffocated us from any sense of comfort or content.
Once the doors opened, I felt the sweetness of fresh air. Relief flooded throughout my body. This didn't last long. All of a sudden I saw the lines of people flooding into a gated area.
“Devorah, what's going on?”Abbey wailed.
“Shhh” I held her hand silencing her. I knew it was best not to talk, it could only get us into trouble. I was trying to process this all myself. None of it made sense. I felt a tap on my shoulder. Whipping around, my eyes were met with a woman's frail, old body.
“Is she yours?” a kind older woman asked, her eyes full of wisdom. I was kind of hoping she might be able to help me. I didn't know what was the right answer, was it better if I said she was mine? Or should I deny anything anyone asked? She looked at me expectantly.
“No,” I said plainly. She nodded.
“You looked young, that's what I thought, how old is she?” I didn't know why she was asking these questions.
“Why are you asking me all of these questions?” she smiled like she knew what I was thinking.
“They are going to ask you all of these things if they try to send you to a work camp. You need to be prepared to answer the questions with the right answer, the answers that that will keep you alive.” I had a feeling all along that she wanted to help me.
“Ten years old” I replied to the question.
“Say she is twelve and that you are 18. Absolutely don't say that you are her mother. They will think that you are too weak to work.” I turned to thank her but as I turned, she was gone as if she was never there in the first place.
Finally, we reached the entrance. We all piled into the area like herds of cows. I often glanced back behind me to make sure Abbey was still there, it was a madhouse trying to get into this place. So many thoughts occupied my brain. Was this a safe haven or certain death? I couldn't trust anyone anymore, no one except for the sad little girl walking beside me. Keeping her alive was the top priority, always. Honestly, I wasn't sure if I could handle the responsibility. I had to have eyes on the back of my head, constantly watching everyone. The soldiers clearly looked at us Jews us as only pieces of trash. Most of them looked like they wanted to kill us. Their motives for hating us were unclear to me. Not knowing that I was standing in place for too long a soldier came up to me.
“Move!” he ordered. Picking up my pace was the only way to stop him from riding on our tails. Sixteen years old is a weird age, you were in between adulthood and teenage responsibilities. Right now, I felt like a child abandoned by their mother, stuck and clueless. Before today I had felt so big and strong. Now, I feel small, like I was five years old again confused and afraid. An older man with a scruffy beard probably in his early forties approached us.
“Hello children, I'm Abram!” He said this with so much enthusiasm I think he may have been insane. “You look lost, May I assist you?” My feeling was all mixed up as if they had been squashed in a blender. I looked him over skeptically.
“Yeah. Sure.” I mumbled, still trying to decide about him.We walked with him as he babbled on about his life or whatever he was saying, I wasn't paying much attention I was still trying to process everything that was going on. Abbey, on the other hand, was listening with every inch of herself on the edge of her seat. She used to love listening to me read to her before bedtime, listening to this story was the first time I had seen her smile in ages. Abram stopped walking at a gray, plain, house the same as every other house in the area.
“If you like you can stay with me, I can keep you as safe as possible.” Honestly, I saw no other option. He was the kind of person we were looking for, someone to take care of us. Still, I was skeptical. I think that he spied my hesitation. “I won't bite, a quick nod would be sufficient. I just wanna help you I know how hard this can be when you are alone.” Looking at Abbey, she seemed enthused by the idea.
“Fine, we will try it,” I said hastily. “Thank you,” I added when Abbey wasn't listening. He smiled and gave a curt nod. He opened his front door and led us through his house, it felt almost comfortable. Little did we know this was going to be the last comfortable week we had.
One morning a week later, we were reluctant to leave what little we had for a bed. The loud and noisy siren woke me with a jolt rudely awakening Abbey and I. By the time I had shoes and was ready to get out the door, Abram and Abbey were at my feet urging me to get going. We practically ran out the door to see what the ruckus was about. The whole little town was gathered in what seemed to be the middle of the area and a soldier was rambling on. Half of us were all to get on a cattle car and we were traveling to another little town. I looked at Abram for some sort of idea what to do. He motioned for us to follow him. I was just starting to get to know him, I wasn't sure what to trust yet. Against my better judgment, I went along with him putting my life as well as my sisters in his hands.The soldier was splitting up the town. Abram was running over to the group that was leaving in the cattle car.
“Are you CRAZY!” I grabbed his arm. Abbey turned to me, alarmed.
“Trust me Devorah I KNOW what I'm doing.” I let go of his arm and again followed him. I sure as heck hope that he knew what he was talking about. The soldiers pushed our half into the cattle car. Here we were, living this nightmare over again one step at a time.
The cattle car was at least a small portion better than it was before. When we entered, everyone started out alive. Days past, and the stench grew like an undesirable plague. When the day finally came that we were released I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Before now, I had seen the better half of the brutally painful truth, we were all destined to die. We were welcomed into the place people called “the death camp” with pushes and shoves. I heard words murmured and whispered some like “death camp” and “Lithuania” and “we are all the walking dead”. I was naive to my surroundings, completely oblivious to what we were really facing.
Abram looked like he was about to cry. “I'm so sorry girls.” At first, I was confused, then I saw everyone that occupied that ‘town’ we had just walked into. Abbey grasped both of our hands and gave mine a little squeeze. My immediate response was to be angry at him, we were at least a tiny bit safe before now. From the murmurs I hear, we are now doomed to a certain death. After seeing his remorse, and the way he felt, I really couldn't be terribly mad at him. He had truly wanted the best for us, for strangers he knew for less than a week. Flashbacks quickly returned to the first day of this whole journey, from starting in the Ghetto. Thinking those days were bad, and then seeing now, I couldn't have been more wrong. Those days were a mere two weeks ago. We all filed into the entrance again like a herd of cows, this time, the place we were heading into had an evil eerie feeling like a scary movie you have to turn around to avoid the disgusting graphics. The graphics though were the people. Each person looking like a walking skeleton, I had to tell abbey to look away. Even I had to look away. Being in the cattle car seemed like it was going to be the worst part, seeing what I was seeing, the cattle car looked ideal. I would have taken that a hundred times over what I was seeing and smelling. The smell was almost intolerable, the smell of rotting bodies lingered in the air. Abbey covered her nose and mouth with the sleeve that hung way past her hand. Abram held on to Abbey's hand and wouldn't let go. The people around us looked almost dead, you could see every bone in their body protruding from underneath the skin. I looked from Abbey to Abram, they looked healthy enough, looking at myself so did I. The officers weeded out who they wanted to go to the camp on the cattle car. We didn't seem to fit the description of what the people around us looked like. The reason for us to come here didn't match up. Abram brought us to that group, but he wasn't the one who decided if we were allowed to travel or not. We stood out like sore thumbs, the more I looked around, around 100 of us who got off the cattle car train were healthy. They had us all line up into lines as the soldiers examined us.
“Look big and strong. Both of you.”Abram whispered. The soldiers looked everyone over. There were clearly two lines, one for the healthy, one for the weak. Abram was examined first.
“There.” the officer pointed to the line, the healthy line. Abram let out a sigh of relief. Then it was Abbeys turn. I hoped to god that if she was asked a question that she listened to the woman, honestly she was eleven but she could pass as a smaller thirteen or a medium twelve-year-old. He looked her over closely. “Is she your mum?” he asked harshly to Abbey.
“No, she is not my mum. My mum was shot.” Her face twisted into an accusatory knot.
“So how old are you?” Abbey looked at me slightly. Then I could see her brain light up.
“Twelve and a half.” He looked a tiny bit unconvinced. After waiting a minute or so he pointed to the line next to Abram. I saw Abbey crossing her fingers as the Nazi looked me over.
“Age?” he snarled.
“18 sir” I responded as polite as I possibly could. He nodded clearly buying it. He again pointed to the same line as Abram and Abbey stood. I closed my eyes, one hurdle avoided. Being split up would be absolute torture, one we would have no control over. Abbey stood in the middle of us holding our hands, glad that we were together. There was about ninety of us in that line, the healthy line. Probably twenty or so in the other line. I felt sorry for them, being in that line, didn't seem to be good. We were forced to stay in line as we walked, being closely watched by several Nazi soldiers. For those stupid enough to escape, the soldiers were ready to strike like a cobra hidden in plain sight.
“Dev, I am tired, can I ride on your back?” instead of turning around I put my hands on her.
“No, and don't talk they'll catch you.” She dropped my hand and kept walking. I felt for her though, my legs never worked so hard in my life! We must have been walking for hours! The trees parted to reveal an abnormally large opening, a pit to be frank. My brain strained to try to figure out what they were doing with us here. The soldiers separated us into our little groups again. They took the twenty and placed them in lines in front of the pit. Each Nazi took a line. The pulled up their guns. I couldn't watch this I could tell what was coming. They shot everyone in swift loud bangs. The first person in line faced a quick painless death while the last person suffered a slow death, often being buried alive. I would have tried to cover Abbeys eyes but I wasn't sure if that would lead to them shooting me too. I heard screams from the in-betweens and ends of our line probably two or three people. They cried and cried until the Nazis went over and pulled them off the ground telling them to be quiet or they will soon meet the same fate. I closed my eyes and pretended that it never happened and that we would be fine. In the back of my head, I wondered that if in the end, we would meet the same fate as the people who were shot in front of our eyes. But that's what those thoughts were, just things that sat in the back of my head, thoughts that I hoped that I never would become a reality.
“Now,” The head Nazi started. “You WILL do what I say if you wish to live.” Abbey looked at me her eyes filled with so much emotion that it all blurred together. Wanting to pick her up and run away vaguely crossed my mind, but we would certainly be caught. This was not an option, no matter how much I wanted it. There was only one choice now, listen and keep our heads down and out of trouble. “You will work to dig the bodies out of these graves make them into a pile and burn them like they were never there in the first place. Got it!” we all nodded obediently. I was appalled. I hoped that I would be able to keep what little food I had in my stomach down and not in big heaps in front of me. “Get to work, NOW!” he ordered. We were all confused where to start. We all started to walk slowly towards the pit hoping not to anger the cruel officer but wanting clarity. ”Now!” He bellowed. Leave it to Abram to ask a question that could get him killed.
“Excuse me, sir, what are we to dig with, and where should we dig?” He said this quickly. Thinking that I may have seen him flinch, I hoped that the officer would have mercy on him. I think the Nazi was deciding what to do with Abram. All of a sudden the Nazi came charging at Abram until he stopped when he reached the tip of Abrams' nose.
“YOU, listen to me you SCUM, you will dig with your hands, if I didn't need you, I would have killed you for asking me questions, you have no right to talk to your superior or even look at me without permission! Understood!” the evil lion roared. Abram nodded furiously, slightly quivering. I couldn't blame him, the officer was extremely intimidating. Abbey hid behind me uselessly shielding herself from his wrath. We all climbed, slow as a group of sloths into the pit. All ninety of us, on our hands and knees, digging for dead bodies. I will always remember the first body that I found. I was digging, my hands tired and dirty. The pit filled the majority of men, they helped me pull out what was left of a dead body. The skull showed and bugs spilled out of the body's mouth. I just about puked, though I didn't puke, I felt my eyes getting all watery and I almost cried. Everytime after, when Abbey started to see something I told her to move on, and I took over where she had been working so she would never have to see what I had. Sometimes I tried to sing a soft lullaby to ease the pain. Every time, the officer would yell at me and smack me in the back with his gun. So I stopped trying to ease the pain, instead, letting it take control. We all worked until we couldn't work anymore, fortunately, at this time it was dark. The soldiers led us through the same path we had walked before, I was getting worried about Abbey, she lagged behind us looking like at any moment she would collapse. I stayed back a little bit, giving her an opportunity to catch up with us. Abram looked a tiny bit confused when I slowed my pace to barely a walk, but in turn, followed me. Abbey caught up with us.
”What are you doing?” she hushed. I quickly looked around making sure no one was seeing us.
“You look sick, are you alright?” I tried to feel her forehead but she pushed my hand away and kept walking, picking up her pace quickly, I rolled my eyes, she was always like this when she was sick. Sickness is almost inevitable here but if you get sick there was no medicine. Sickness could lead to death if you aren't treated with the correct amount of rest or medicine, this worried me more than anything. After walking on end for hours we got back to the camp. Thinking a building would make me feel better, I tried to think of the positives. We were alive, that was about it. So much for feeling better. The Nazi leading our group stood in front of us and made an announcement.
“This building is where you will be sleeping for tonight.”He moved his hand in one quick motion to the building to his left. “You will be delivered food and are to be to be to sleep at eight o'clock.” We all filed to the small building. Walking into the room I was relieved that there was some sort of sleeping area for us all and some water I was parched. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. There wasn't enough water for all us.
“Hey!” yelled Abram. “We need to be diligent about the water, there are ninety of us and about one gallon so we need to be fair.” I smiled at Abram encouraging him to continue. Abram was clearly looking like the leader of the group right now, I was secretly rooting him on. The soot and grime ran up the hands of everyone in the group, if there was a sink I would be washing my hands for hours trying to remove the death from them. Clearly, I wasn't the only one that felt that way a couple people sat excluded from the group sitting in their filth crying. Most of us in the group were men, only 6 or so children including us. A woman, in particular, caught my eye, she sat at the end of the hard cot and cried, screaming “Adam” on the top of her lungs. Being here was torture if I could ease someone's pain even a tiny bit I would. In such a way I would hope someone would ease mine.I wanted to help her.
“Hello,” I said with caution.
”Hello,” she replied rubbing her eyes with the sleeves of her shirt. She looked as if she would have been beautiful if it wasn't for the grime that coated her skin, masking her beauty.
“May I ask what is wrong?” I questioned with a little less caution than before. She hesitated for a moment debating how much to tell me.
“It was my husband, Adam, they killed him right in front of me.” she shook her head and looked away from me her eyes continuing to water. I wanted to help her, I really did but I didn't know how to, so I gave her the only thing I had to give.
“I'm so sorry that happened to you, my parents were shot too.” I hugged her and she put her head on my shoulder and cried. I could help but to think about all of the horrors the people in this world have come to.
Trying to sleep wasn't very hard in it of itself but sleeping through the hunger, now that was the challenge. Staring at the ceiling, humming, crying, all of which were failed attempts to try to sleep. I was definitely tired, I was but lying on these boards covered with a barely a sheet didn't help. Apparently, I wasn't the only one awake, I heard stirring in every corner.
“Hello?” I whispered softly.
“Yes?” Came a familiar voice. Abram turned on his side from a few cots away.
“I don't like it here, I don't like it one bit.” Besides me Abbey tossed and turned, still fast asleep. My eyes fell upon her and Abram sighed.
“It's not your fault you are here Devorah, It's really not.”
“Yes, it is Abram, my fault she is sick, my fault Eva is dead, my fault my parents are dead, all of it was me.”
“Stop, it wasn't, stop okay, it's none of our faults you have to understand that.”
“Then whose fault is it, I would like to kick them in the butt!” He smirked.
“Try to get some rest, I have a feeling that we are going to have an extremely long day ahead of us tomorrow.” With that, I closed my eyes hoping that I would wake up and everything would have been a really bad dream.
The second that the sun woke up, so did we. The soldiers piled into the little house.
“WAKE UP! They roared causing everyone to scramble up. “Now,” he started.”You will eat in the eating hall then be back here in ten minutes no exceptions, anyone late will be shot.”After the last word left his mouth everyone ran out of the house to the hall a two-minute walk away. Once we got there everyone greeted us the same way a snarl and occasionally spit. I was starting to see a trend. Entering the hall we were informed that we would have two meals a day at the same time every day and if we missed them we would be shot or starve to death. This was not an unusual sentence, do this or be shot do that or be shot, honestly I have debated trying to be shot a few times to ease the pain I'm living in, but ultimately decided against it. I couldn't leave Abbey all alone.
After we ate breakfast of bread crusts and leftover soup tasting exactly like water, we left, yet again, to the pit. Apparently we would never eat in the hall again, but instead, we would eat, sleep, and live in the pit. This information made my stomach turn.They shackled us and let us go, to go work terrible painstaking hours in a pit filled with bodies.
Every day was almost exactly the same routine for months. There was occasionally a moment of action in between the days, but, they all blended together. Abbey got better quickly. We all had to become custom to the nasty smell of burning bodies and the constant urge to want to wash our hands but other than that, most of us survived the long hard months. We lived in the pit sleeping eating using the bathroom, essentially doing everything. The pain and suffering we went through, I will never have the luxury to forget. One day, things decided to change for us.
It was a day like every other. We woke up at the crack of dawn, ate what little we had for food and water, worked tireless hours in the pit, ate, then went to sleep in the same pit where we worked. Almost every night we had nearly silent conversations.
“Look at all of us!” A man named Avi cried. “We are walking skeletons tied up in chains, all of us!” This angered many of us, it reminded some of them how close we were to death.
“Your point Avi?” Another man, I think his name was Levi, wondered out loud.
“They are going to kill us soon! don't you see the way they look at us, I bet they are figuring the best way to kill us and when right now!”
“So what do propose we do then?” Abram piped.
“Escape of course!” Avi said like we were just plain stupid. Elisha chuckled.
“So, you expect walking skeletons to outrun dozens of fit Nazis, pish posh are you out of your right mind.”
Elisha shook her head. Lots of us agreed with her. Avi shot right back.
“Not if we escape under their noses and get a head start and get to a safe haven before they catch us!” We contemplated this.
“Again,” Abram started.”How do you propose we go about doing that.” Avi thought about that for a second. He smiled.
“We dig out.” This idea got a lot of curious smiles and nods.
“So, what's your plan, Avi?” Avis smiled mischievously. This idea was the beginning of something so much bigger.
We worked the same as we did every day, we dug, we burned, the same routine over and over again. Until it hit night. They could only see us for so long. We were so compliant for so long that they didn't expect anyone to be stupid enough to escape, until us. There were a barbed wire and few lights but besides that, they paid no attention to us. What we were planning, it didn't happen overnight, instead, over a two month period. We had at least that long until we were done our work and they killed us. At night we did what we told and never disobeyed, they told us to dig, and that is definitely what we did. We dug for our lives and nothing less.
I still remember the first day we were told to dig, Abram stood up in front of everyone and asked the officer what to dig with and the officer told him to dig with his bare hands. I laughed at this now. Before I found this to be so appalling. Now, this felt like my nature, to dig anyways. Still, digging up bodies bothered me, I just pretended that they were just fabric dummies. This helped sometimes, but not most times. I tried to talk to Abbey but she refused to talk most of the time, most times she sat and hummed and talked to herself. Going crazy was something I worried about her, this whole thing she was doing wasn't healthy. Neither was digging up bodies so I suppose it didn't matter. Abram stayed essentially by himself in his own little world as well, I felt completely on my own these days. No matter, we would be freed soon enough. I tried to keep that in my head as much as possible. Dig, eat, dig, sleep, it was a pretty consistent pattern. The hourglass was counting down our lives by the days. We were becoming slim bodies, and fast. Abbey and I did more sleeping than anyone else. They said for us to rest while they started the tunnel, I felt like it was just because they didn't want kids getting in their way, which annoyed me, I was seventeen or so. I thought I was far old enough to help, I didn't argue though, the sleep felt nice. It felt again, like a broken record, playing on repeat every day the same exact thing over and over.
50 days in and they wouldn't let me or Abbey help. We probably would have been the most rested and best diggers, still, they refused. Abram was in the loop so I chose to ask him what no one would tell me.
“Hey, Abram?,” I hushed making sure no one would hear me.
“Yes, Devorah?”He said waiting for me to spit it out.
“How far along are we on the dig?”
“Close Devorah, very close,”
“Okay, you say that every time, it's been two months!”
“Keep your voice down! We probably have a month or so left on the project you need to know how hard it is to do what we want to do, lots of energy and time.” I nodded, I understood, I wish that they comprehended that.
“Let me help”I pleaded, hoping that he would change his mind.
“It's not up to me to decide but I will bring it up.” I smiled at him, but he just shook his head and disappeared down into the tunnel like I was nuts. So I kept my head down and worked beside Abbey until I was told to do otherwise.
66 days in they actually decided to put me to work. “We needed all the workers we could get, all of the hands we can get all of the energy. We plan to leave in ten days. One of the things is that you can't bring the kid with you” Levi explained
“Agreed.” I smiled excitedly I could help. Abbey looked up from her position and awkwardly stared at me.
“What was that about?”Abbey said immediately when I returned.
“They are letting me work!” I said with enthusiasm. She looked skeptically at me.
“YOU, what about me?” I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head no. She threw down the dirt she was digging and moved on another part without saying another word to me. Knowing that she was mad, I decided to keep my distance from her letting her cool down, let her be mad, I wouldn't let her do something she could get in trouble for.
That night I traded posts with Elisha and helped dig, I could smell freedom, sweet freedom, it was beautiful. I dug like I had never dug in my life, with an energy that I didn't know I had. It definitely helped I had something to dig for other than dead bodies. We were so close I could feel it. It was in within reach, close enough to touch, so close to freedom I could breathe it. Levi saw the expression on my face and laughed, I never felt this much hope since I arrived at this wretched place.
Ever since we came up with a plan to leave, everyone seemed so happy, well not happy but hopeful. They all could feel how close we were, honestly, I felt it too. The morning before we planned to escape we all were so happy but worried too that we may be caught and that our efforts were for nothing. Even Abbey, who had been miserable and almost silent since we arrived, seemed chipper and talkative today. We played the day the same as every other day, plain and tiresome. I think the soldiers who watched us were getting too comfortable with us, they thought they had the easy job, they thought we were the ones that were compliant. On no level did they like us but I think that they thought they didn't have to watch us because we had always been so easy to follow them, I can't imagine the looks on their faces when we escape. This made me question our plan, they would obviously come looking for us and would obviously trying to find us and kill us. Where would we hide, where would we stay? These questions flooded my mind, I over thought our plan and saw flaws and cracks in every corner. I dismissed them, I wasn't the one leading this. It was no use getting myself worried over this, it was a chance I should be happy about that.
“What's our plan, Avi?” I asked almost too silent to hear. He sighed deep and loud.
“We are escaping,” my eyes almost rolled out of my head. “We are getting groups of four or five and shipping them through the tunnel, groups at a time. We will start as soon as it starts to get dark. We will start by cutting off our shackles with a nail file that we found, then we will crawl through the tunnel to freedom. You, Abram, Abbey, Levi and I will be the first group.” I smiled not realizing until now how close we really were from escaping. Our plan was really happening, in a few hours this fantasy would become a reality, it didn't seem real until now.
The sunset was pretty that night, a nice fade from red to orange to yellow, unlike any sunset I’ve ever seen in my life, I hoped this was a good sign, a sign we would all make it out alive. Maybe it wasn't a sign in that way but it was definitely a sign that it would be getting dark soon. In about a half an hour we will start to cut off our chains with the file. Avi told me instead to start now. I grabbed Abbey's chains and rubbed so fast I thought I would start a fire. About ten minutes later I broke through her chains breaking her free. She smiled and thanked me softly. Next, it was my turn I was on a time constraint hoping the officers wouldn't question my peculiar behavior trying to be discreet. I started to file at my own shackles. Fifteen minutes later I was free as well and handed the file to Abram, my heart was beating so fast I was surprised no one turned around to hear where the thumping was coming from. After everyone was freed from our group, I grabbed Abbey and we started up the tunnel when the Nazis turned their backs. We were the lucky ones, we got a head start. The Nazis didn't realize anyone was gone when only five people were gone. Fifteen, twenty, then they started to notice. We were already about a half hour ahead when we heard gunshots, lots of gunshots. We were running before, but now we were sprinting, only about eleven of us were far enough ahead to avoid being shot. They still would be looking for us, so we kept running, running for our lives. Abbey was lagging behind so Abram grabbed her and swung her onto his back like a backpack putting his life at risk. I couldn't stop now. If I stopped now I would certainly not have the momentum to proceed to run. I heard loud stomps and barking of dogs they were gaining on us. As my heart threatened to stop me I ran faster now. I heard the Nazis on our trails, all of a sudden I heard the running turn. Glancing back at the fellow Jews who had been trailing behind us, they had turned the other way leading the Nazis away from us, I was grateful. This was short-lived, it was only a delay, they would find us too if we stopped running now. We continued running for what felt like hours, sometimes when the Nazis couldn't be heard we slowed to a slower jogging pace but we never stopped moving our legs. My legs felt like jello, no, more like pudding that I had no control over, I just ran feeling nothing but pain.
I think we ran until sunrise, for a bunch of skeletons we ran, and we ran fast. Dodging trees, downed branches, and puddles. I was proud of myself only falling once. When the scenery changed I was completely stunned at what I saw. I saw what looked like a field of people, soldiers to be exact. Quickly we dove behind a giant rock. We were trapped. My stomach dropped we made it this far and now, now we were going to die.
“Dang it!” Abram swore.
“What do we do they are gaining on all sides!?” Abram let Abbey off his back. We all contemplated this until they got close enough to see their uniforms. They were Americans, they were the ones here to save us from what I heard. Abraham laughed and I laughed too when I saw who they were. I laughed until Abram stood up hands over his head walking to the officers. I tried with unsuccessful efforts to pull him back. The man was physco I swear! This was honestly what I thought until everyone else copied his actions. Once there was nothing else we could do, Abbey and I did the same trailing behind them like they were a shield. The American officer held up his gun walking towards us quickly. He got about ten feet away from us until he lowered his gun. Abram and the officer just stared at each other for a few seconds until Abram said the first words.
“Man are we GLAD to see YOU!” Abram smiled putting his hands down.
“And who are you?”The officer pondered skeptically, almost harsh.
“Well I am Abram, but we are all Jews that have escaped and the Nazis will be here any second if you could assist us that would be fantastic,” Abram said this hastily, almost like it happened every day. The officer furrowed his eyebrows.
“There is a train, about a mile, a straight shot from here, say Colonel Alex sent you and you all will be secured on the train to a boat dock. Take the boat and you will be on the way to America, there you'll be safe. Her take this and show it to them.” Handing Abram a pin off his shirt he patted him on the shoulder, “Good luck to you all!” This was all really happening, and fast. The soldiers kept on walking towards where we were stationed for months, hopefully freeing the rest of the people there. We had walked for miles on end, I hoped that that was indeed where they were headed. They had their own problems to worry about and we had ours. It all seemed too easy, are the Americans setting a trap for us or was this a legitimate escape? Well whatever it was, was better than digging up bodies and burning them. We still ran to our destination, never knowing what lies hidden for us in the shadows. Hoping it wasn't a Nazi soldier or a vicious dog, we were still careful about every movement we made.
The Americans were not lying when they told us there was a train waiting on the train tracks. The conductor was standing on the side of the train facing away from us using the bathroom.
“Excuse us,”Abram tapped his shoulder lightly. The conductor zipped up his pants seeming very alarmed.
“I have a gun you know! Don't get too close to me or I will shoot your nasty Nazi butts right outta Lithuania!” Abram smiled warmly, yet frantically.
“We aren't Nazis, we escaped from a camp and we need your help, but we don't have much time, Colonel Alex said we would tell you that he sent us and you would bring us to a boat dock.” With this Abram showed him the pin, he said this all very quickly, every few seconds glancing behind us to make sure no Nazis followed.
The conductor led us to a spot in one of the train cars and told us when we get to the dock he would come and escort us onto the boat. All eleven of us rode in the back staring at each other unsure of really what to say.
“Sleep Abbey, you need it, we both do,” I commented, extremely exhausted myself, with that we fell asleep for the rest of the ride to the dock.
A slight patter rapped on the door until it was slid open revealing a smiling conductor. “Well, ladies and Gents we are here!” There was no feeling that could express what I was feeling, except maybe relief. We were really here, so close to absolute safety.
“Thank you!” we all said as we slipped out of the train with ease. Salty sea smell stung my eyes and the brightness blinded me. When I was finally able to see, what I saw startled me, a giant boat, the size of a cruise ship sat in front of us. I had never seen a boat like this before, it was amazing! Following the conductor to the boat, we saw how beautiful freedom was. There were people bustling and pushing all around us carrying boxes on and off the ship.
“Right up there, is where you will talk to the captain, tell him what you told me. Show him the pin. Good luck to you all!” The conductor saluted us and walked the opposite way back to his train. Abbey waved to him as he stepped into the train and he waved back, smiling brightly. We walked to the boat dock. Following the conductor's directions, we walked to the captain's quarters. The captain seemed like a busy man, he swayed back and forth shouting orders and checking boxes off his list on the clipboard he carried.
“Excuse me?” Levi stammered cautiously. The captain, just now noticing us, turned to us eyes narrowing looking his sheet over for some sort of reason why we were here. “Alex sent us, sent us with this pin to show you that we have safe passage to America on your boat, sir.” The captain took the pin away from us, looking it over.
“This doesn't happen very often, while you are here you may ride at the cabin through the door next to mine. There are fresh clothes in there, they are meant for men, all of them, so they mostly won't fit you seeing how thin you all are but at least they will be clean. Dinner is served at five.”With a smile, he vanished through the crowds.
We all rushed as quickly as we could to dry clean clothes, the captain wasn't kidding, I swam in the shirt I was given. Never the less, I was grateful beyond belief. All of a sudden, the dinner bell chimed, I smiled now everything was absolutely perfect.
By this time we had eaten it was nightfall. Everyone had crammed into the room we were given. I couldn't find it in myself to sleep yet. Everyone else went out as quick as a light. I slipped out careful not to step on anyone to look out at the ocean. I planted myself at the front of the ship, letting the salty air take me to a completely other place. It felt good to actually feel safe somewhere, it felt good to be free. I really needed to get used to being free, I didn't have to worry about anyone capturing me, I was headed for America, the land of the free. Still, I jumped when Abbey touched my shoulder and came to sit beside me.
“Hey,” she said simply sitting beside me laying her small head on my shoulder.
“Hey,” I said in return. I remember the last time we sat like this, this close, just being sisters, it was so long ago. We were innocent then, we never so much as a thought in our nightmares about what we had experienced in the last year and a half. We stared out into the sea not saying anything, and that was almost enough.
“I love you Devorah,” she said tears starting to form in both of our eyes. I took her hand in mine.
“I love you too, Abbey.”
“Can I ask you something Devy?” She said her lip quivering. “Are we safe now?” Now we were both crying.
“Yes, Abbey we are safe now, I will never let anyone hurt you ever again.” I stroked her as I hugged her close cradling her body. I would never let her go, I would never let them get her, never again. We were safe now.