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Work Will Set You Free
\11291. 77 years ago this was just a number. 77 years ago I had a family. 77 years ago my arm was free of ink. But one year later, everything changed. I can still feel the pain of the engravement of this number on my skin. I can still hear the whispers of a man telling me to stand on my toes so I would look taller, so I wouldn’t be sent to death. I’m now standing on this same soil in Auschwitz, reading the words Arbeit Macht Frei. Work Will Set You Free. I think back to my time in the concentration camp, and snap back to reality as my great granddaughter, Sarah, pulled on my shirt.
“Grams,” she whispered, “are you okay?”
“Yes my dear, let’s move along,” I returned as we stood at the gate, ready to tour modern day Auschwitz. I’m yet to tell Sarah about my experiences during World War II. As a Jew who once lived in Germany, I experienced the holocaust first hand. 76 years later, I’m back visiting for the first time.
As a 90 year old woman, Sarah had to guide me while walking around the camp. Noticeably, there were train tracks running throughout the site, in which she assisted me in walking over. “What’d they use the trains for?” she questioned while looking around.
I explained, “on the tracks ran passenger cars. They used those cars to ship Jews to concentrations camps. They forced hundreds of people on each car, which were about the size of the bed in your room. From miles away, you knew that wherever you were going, it was no better than the place you were coming from…..”
“Were you on one of those, Grams?”
“Yes.” I replied bluntly, and Sarah knew better than to question further.
A we kept walking around, I noticed the other people touring are keeping their thoughts to themselves. It may be because these hardships are unimaginable, or because no one knows what to say in a place and at a time like this. We just walked and stared at what is the death sites of millions of people. As we reached the barracks, more memories flooded back to me.
“These were our homes at the time, Sarah. These barracks were filled with people. You slept on wood, crammed in between many other women. If one person was sick, everyone was sick. You lived with the sound of cries every day, the smell of burning flesh day in and day out, and malnutrition affecting everyone around you.” Sarah stayed silent. She didn’t know what to say. I don’t blame her.
Continuing on our journey through the past, we arrived at the gas chambers. Little did Sarah know, I had never been inside of one, but her ancestors have.
“When we first came to the camp,” I started, “we were sent to stand in a line with the rest of the other captive Jews. Here, I was told to make myself look taller, older, and stronger. At the time, I didn’t know why. I couldn't understand why a child must possibly make themselves look older to please others, why because of our young age, we should be killed. I shouldn’t have taken the words that young man told me for granted, because I survived the first stage of examinations, when my parents and baby brother were sent to their deaths.”
“Was this where they were sent, Grams?”
“Yes, honey. They thought they were going to shower. They never returned.” There are more stories I could tell my great granddaughter as we finished our tour. Running for my life from Nazis who wished to rape me, watching my peers starve so greatly that their body composed of only skin and bones, and unwillingly viewing public hangings of people that could have easily been me, but I didn’t want to scare her. She’s still young, only 12, and has more to learn in her life.
76 years ago I was kept in this camp. 76 years later, I’m back where I started. This time, I’m not here to die, I’m here to live.