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I Am One Who Survived
I heard them talking.
I sat down the bar, unobtrusively, from two young gentlemen in Addy’s Diner. I heard them talking. The younger looking blonde boy with the blue eyes had said something of the Aryan race and it drew my attention.
“Yea, the Aryan race,” he was saying to the slightly older boy with the long black hair, with his back to me.
“There is no such thing as the Aryan race.”
“I know!” The young boy was working up an excitement due to the blatant denial from the other boy. “It was all in Hitler’s head. He thought a race could be pure. And only the pure were worthy of living. He was nuts, Alan!”
“You’ve heard the story all wrong, Steve,” Alan stated adamantly.
“No. You see. He sent all those peoples, millions!, to concentration camps. They were burned, gassed, tortured, worked to death!” I was flinching with every word he said, his words piercing me where no others came close. “They had numbers tattooed on their arms in place of names. They were housed like animals. Haven’t you learned all of this?”
“Yea I learned it,” Alan spat, sounding angry. “But I’m not stupid enough to believe it. It’s just a scam. None of that happened. You’d better just forget it now, Steve. It isn’t worth any of your time.”
The young boy, Steve, stared blankly at the other, Alan. He looked hurt and shocked. I shared his sentiment. I had remained silent through their conversation but I could not remain silent now. I stood slowly from my stool, my old joints telling me to remain in my seat. But I couldn’t do that. I saw Addy watching me through the window into the kitchen.
‘I’m sorry,’ she mouthed silently.
I nodded solemnly at her, continuing my long trek down the bar, where I stopped before the two young men. They both turned to look at me. I looked back for one excruciating second, etching those young, unknowing, and untouched faces into my mind. Then I very slowly and deliberately unbuttoned the cuff and began rolling up the sleeve of my left arm.
There it was.
The contrast between the pale white of my skin and the stark black of the numbers forever inked there was startling, even to me. I turned it out to them, letting them see. The light seemed to refocus, all of it illuminating my arm, as if it, too, was looking. I watched the faces become shocked and then turn into something I had seen on the faces of many but had never been able to identify. I had found, long ago, that the people whose faces bore it, did not know what it was any more than I did. Just one more thing linked to what burns inside my mind. Memories which I had never fully detailed to anyone.
Without rolling down my sleeve I turned towards the door of the diner and I walked away. Just as I reached the door I heard a small voice.
“But, Sir,” he pleaded me, “Please. Please tell me what happened to you.”
I looked back over my shoulder to see the dark haired boy, the skeptic. He was standing unsteadily on his feet, one hand raised as if to place it on my shoulder.
“What did you say?” I asked him.
He fell back onto his stool and hung his head. “I want to know,” he whispered. “If you can tell me… I need to know.”
There was something in his voice. He had lost someone in those times. It explained his behavior. Someone he had never met nor ever would, but someone just the same. And it had never been explained. Not once. Some families, some people, loose their voice at such times.
I stepped forward. “Are you Jewish?” I asked him.
“Me?” He said looking up. “No, I’m not. My grandmother, she was. I don’t know what happened… No one told me. I just don’t know.”
I walked forward and sat on the stool beside him. I placed my hand on his shoulder. “I will tell you my story. It is your job to hear it and remember it.”
He looked up at me with eyes full of thankfulness. I had found someone who could appreciate what I had to say. This would be my new beginning. I felt a sense of pride well in my stomach. I was proud that I, with my own thoughts and words and feelings, could save at least this one boy from the ignorance that time has created.