Author's note: This piece was for a fictional history contest after reading the book "Night" by Elie Wiesel.
BlackFreedom is represented by the color blue. I never saw blue. Even before the war began, I couldn't see clearly enough to know color. Due to my terrible sight, I lived in the 'world' Ivanna created for me. My sister told me of everything and anything that she saw. She described it in detail and only hoped I could picture it as well as her.
In the year 1943, I was 16 years old and lived in a small wooden home with my mother, my father, and my sister. To the people in our town of Haus, Poland
I didn't have any friends and I didn't speak. I was decent looking, according to Ivanna and my mother, but I wouldn't ever find out. Ivanna and my mother didn't always tell me what was going on, especially when something bad was beginning. But this time period was so bad, even I, the blind, could tell.
One day when Mother and I were walking about, wondering around the market I heard the man shouting. They called him Abdeel. He claimed he was living up to his name, Abdeel meaning "servant of God" because he was warning us all. Abdeel was bellowing about premonition and how the world was going to change for all of us. How we would lose our freedom and how we would lose each other. Very few people or none at all believed him, despite the fact that he stood out there every day for a month straight. I even think he had done permanent damage to his voice from yelling.
Even I didn't know what to believe. Abdeel's word's came back to me, "Hell on Earth! Hell on Earth! Flee we must or burn we shall! Khoyshekh tsukumen tsu! Khoyshekh tsukumen tsu!"
Darkness approaching. Darkness approaching. What could have he been signifying? If it was true that this darkness was impending, I laughed a little to myself. The world would be dark. The world would be. Black. The rest of the world now would know how it felt to be me.
For the next few days life went on as it usually would. We celebrated our holidays and I hear everything was beautiful. Ivanna makes everything sound beautiful. It wasn't until the weather had turned warm before it was apparent that panic had risen once again. I overheard my mother and father talking. They were whispering about the next town over called Felsor and how people were missing. Jewish people. I shuddered when I heard this and decided it was a good time to turn in for bed.
However, I never made it to my bed that night. I heard the glass from the window plummet to the floor as the window shattered and the thuds of the 'monsters' banging on the door. The screams of my mother were burned into my memory and the vulgar words from my father paced shortly after them. I heard a deep voice that I didn't recognize speak.
"Calm yourselves, Jews. You have 10 minutes to pack your belongings. Your family and the other families like yours are being re-located. Ask no questions. Do not speak out, because nobody will listen." He snarled at us like we were trainees in the army.
I stood there unsure of what to do until I felt my mother's gentle hands rest on my shoulders. She swiftly walked me the familiar path to Ivanna and I's room. I heard the sound of the door being ripped open and a sudden gasp coming from Ivanna.
"Mother, what's going on?" Ivanna said, her voice was full of fear.
"Dear, pack your things. All of your things. Quickly now! We've only got ten minutes! Dress warm! And help your sister!" said my mother. I could faintly hear the gritting of her teeth as she tried to keep calm. Her hold on my shoulder tightened. When she released me, I turned in the direction where I heard my sister's voice coming from.
"Peninah, stand in the corner. I'll throw you clothes to slip on."
That's how we spent the next few moments. I could tell she was panicked by the way her feet sounded as they hurried across the floorboards and how her breath was uneven. She informed me she was packing each of us a bag full of clothes and loafers. I just waited until I felt her tugging on my hand.
"Come now, sister. We have to go."
I didn't know then that I was leaving the house and everything I once knew behind for good. Ivanna once told me the house was carved in wooden glory and that it was the nicest home on the block. I felt a tug of pain in my chest as we were pushed out the front door. My elder sister's hand never left mine as I felt the cold ground through the slippers that were on my feet as we moved down the street.
"Where are we going?" I spoke. I was certain I heard a few gasps because I wasn't one to talk.
"I don't know, Pen," said my father's cold voice.
We walked for what seemed like forever, but I couldn't tell. My chest felt clenched when we stopped for the first time. The sound I heard told me where we were; the ear-splitting horn of a train coming to a stop.
"Jews! Eighty to a car! Eighty to a car I say! Beeilen Sie sich!" shouted a heavy voice. He must be one of the 'monsters', hurrying us to get into the compartments. Ivanna later told me the 'monsters' were ogre like men with full mustaches and a uniform that reminded her of the ugly mice we caught in our kitchen sometimes.
I clasped her hand and my father's as were forcefully shoved up a hard plank that lead us inside the train cars. It was crowded; I could tell by all the voices I heard, some of them were cooing children, while others were shrieking. I was pushed up against my sister, but her arms were enclosed around my body. Protecting me from harm like a sister should. But were we in for harm? I had no answer at the time.
We stood there for hours in the exact same position. The compartment began to smell of vile scents. My eyes were watering from the extreme of it. I think I may have vomited once or twice.
Tension in the crammed place was thick enough to cut. I could sense other emotions such as fear, guilt, and anger as well. I even heard someone saying Bakushos, the prayer for our needs. From the way his voice sounded, it seemed like we needed a lot. In my head, I joined him in saying it. Praising and pleading for help for something to settle the uneasiness that surrounded me.
I didn't know how long it was till we arrived at our destination. At least, I assumed we had. The loud horn blared once again, before there was the hint of fresh air. The doors were sliding open. The fresh air was like a gift from God and it made my body feel cleansed.
The fresh air only had a short span though because soon, as we I was pulled off the train, a new scent filled my head. It smelled like something was burning, though I couldn't give it a name. Around me, I heard more prayers being said as well as reactions to the place where we were.
"Good, lord. Good, God! Please help us!" A woman cried out.
Ivanna took my hand and led the way. We walked again and again for what felt like miles. Then, that retched smell was growing stronger? What was it! My thoughts drifted to another place while I felt the stone ground cutting my shoes. I think my feet were bleeding. I ignored it.
"Next!" I heard a raspy voice shout. After a few seconds, we inched closer towards the voice.
"Peninah, they mustn't know. They mustn't ever know. Pretend you can see. Pretend you are scared and that's why you're holding your sisters arm. Don't speak. Never speak." My father said. That was the last time I ever heard his voice. Those words traveled with me everywhere I went.
"Next!" the voice from before bellowed. It was close to me, but I turned my head, digging my face into what I hoped was my sisters torso.
"I am 20 and she is 18," Ivanna's voice said, horror spilling out. The owner of the male voice grumbled.
"What are your occupations?" he said.
"Gathering," Ivanna said. I shuddered in her side.
"Why isn't this one speaking or turned outwards? Turn around girl!" His voice was an inch away from my ear and my insides shuttered. I felt a sudden blow to my side and I would have fallen over if it weren't for my sister's grip on me.
"Please, she's just scared!" cried my sister.
The guard grumbled before I heard him curse at himself.
Then we were moving again. I just moved my feet while Ivanna steered.
"Are we safe? Ivanna, are we safe? Where's mother? Where's father? Where are we?" I frantically asked, my head still buried in her side.
"Pen, were fine! We're going to be okay! Were just here for a little while! Mother is fine! I swear!" she called out and I heard emotion in her voice; the emotion of sadness.
"Right!" a gritty old voice which I assumed to be fairly close to me stated, "Here for a little while? Darlings, this is your death sentence. Take your old life and give it a big ole' kiss goodbye. This is hell brought to life. I knew it was too good to be true! Us Jews, given land? Given freedom? To hell with it! The Messiah hasn't come and I'm starting to doubt he will. I've heard stories about this place. And trust me, none of them are stories I'd tell to my children before I put them to bed!"
"What kind of stories?" I said.
"Bad ones, child. You smell that wicked smell? I bet that's your mother thrown in to the fire pit right now. Burning her alive, they are! Burning them all! Welcome to Auschwitz."
The voice was a male and it sounded out of place. His voice didn't sound like it belonged in Poland. If we still were in Poland.
"Who are you?" my voice was weak.
"My names, Igor Welkson. I'm a regular around here. A solider. W. You see, I come from America. The free country."
This time, my sister spoke up. "My name is Ivanna and this is my sister Peninah. Tell me, Igor. What's going to happen to us?"
"Bad things, my dear".
And bad things did happen or at least that's what Ivanna told me. I never heard from my mother, maybe Igor was right. Maybe they did throw her in the fire. I remember walking into a new place, where I heard screams of terror and wails of sorrow. I breathed deeply and pretended like I knew. I felt them tugging on my hair and I heard the snippets of the shears. I didn't know what was happening.
Ivanna told me they shaved my head. They ripped away the locks on my head without a single comment and sent me on my way.
As time went on, I adjusted to a new way of life. It was still in darkness though. Everything was black. The sounds seem to fit the darkness as well. I never heard laughter anymore, only cries and prayers. I never left Ivanna's side. When we slept, it was on something suspended in the air that we had to climb to reach. To everyone else, I was clumsy as I walked. Nobody knew my secret.
When we worked, we had to gather things. I counted on my sister for that. When I was in this..place, I never touched a single berry. Ivanna did double the work for me. Sometimes, she's slide something juicy and tasty into my mouth
Ivanna was running my life. I only ate when she shoved the dry bread into my mouth. I only drank when she poured water down my throat or held up a pile of freezing grains. She called it snow. I never spoke either. I'd speak a 'thank you' after each ration of food, but that was it.
Igor Welkson caught on though. My sister told me that he watched her like a hawk with those glimmering blue eyes of his. She said they were beautiful. Blue…freedom. Igor told me he came from the free country, called America. How I'd wish I was there.
He knew I didn't do any work, but he never told. Eventually, Ivanna told him our secret. The one my father said never to let escape us. But my father wasn't here anymore. Igor claimed to be shocked, not to the fact that I was blind, but that I had survived this long.
We begin to grow close to Igor. Ivanna said that she was fond of him and if this was another lifetime, maybe she'd wed him. They could be happy in another life, where screams didn't haunt everyone. Ivanna told me in secret that my blindness was no longer something to hate. She told me she felt green with envy because I just saw blackness. She claimed it was better than the real world.
I didn't know the time of day or even the time of year, except that it was cold out.
"What day is it?" I asked my sister. I'd noticed over time, that my voice had begun to change and the warmth on my head meant that my hair was growing again.
It was then I noticed that my sisters hand wasn't in mine. I didn't feel the warmth of her body close to me. Where could Ivanna have gone? Was she playing a joke? She liked to do that in the past.
"It's 1944, Pen." Igor said. I didn't know he was around.
"Igor? What are you doing here? Where's Ivanna?"
I knew we weren't in what Ivanna called the barracks. It was there that we slept and ate. Instead, we were in the fields where we picked the fruit.
"Peninah, Ivanna's gone." His voice was cold.
"Gone? Where'd she go? I don't need food! I don't need water! Tell her to come back and work! Tell her to come back to me! It's not safe!" I replied to him in panic.
"Pen, the last time you two ate was almost two weeks ago. I've been keeping an eye on you. She left a while ago. I just received word of it now, heard some old chinwags talking about it when I made my rounds. Her body was taken to the crematorium this morning." I felt a rough hand place itself on my shoulder.
"What's that?" I said.
"The fire place,"
I felt my knees lose their support as I fell to the ground. Spiky thorns that Ivanna used to warn me about when we worked had dug their way into my skin. I was bleeding again.
"Don't worry, I'll take care of you," said Igor.
And Igor did take care of me.
He would take my hand and lead me to the barracks. He said it was night time and nobody else was around. The path was soon burned into my brain.
Step left and go twenty steps forward. Step to the right and move forward another twenty. Simple.
It was this way for God knows how long.
Ah, God. I'd lost my faith in the Messiah long ago, when he took Ivanna away from me.
Igor brought me food and I worked the way Ivanna and I used to. I'd memorized the steps that I took to the 'bushels' as she called it, long ago.
Sometimes, Igor would hit me. He claims it was only for the sake of my life, but I didn't mind. I was use to pain.
One day, I was to take my steps and meet Igor to get a small ration of bread. He never showed up. And this behavior was continuous. I'd make my way to the barracks as usual, but this time somebody stopped me.
"Freedom is coming. Freedom is here! The Messiah is upon us!" An elderly voice cried. After hearing that, I laid in the spot that Ivanna and I once shared. I laid in darkness for hours.
The camp was liberated, I found out. The camp was free.
I was free.
I wasn't moving when they found me and my breath was barely noticeable.
Later, they told me they took me to a medical ward where they found out my secret. They heard I was blind. What a miracle it was, they thought. A blind women, surviving such a tragedy.
What was this tragedy? I never did get the name of it before Ivana died.
They decided not to take my life away from me, but help me heal. No I never saw the world, but I understood it better. They asked me so many questions that I didn't have the answers too.
"What's life like for you? Did the Nazi's ever find out about you? How did you do it?"
Life was always dark for me. It wasn't a change. What were the Nazi's? Were these the 'Monsters' that took away everything? How did I do it? I don't know.
"What is life for you at this very moment?" A woman asked me in the future. The year was 1970.
"Well, my dear, the world for me, is and always will be…black," I said to her.