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Take It All Away
Author's note: Written in an eighth grade Language Arts class, this fictional piece is filled with indescribable facts of life in the concentration camps that spread across Europe during the years of Adolf Hitler. The assignment was to write a journal as if we were someone experiencing life during World War Two, and this was the "life" that I chose to live. We had to make sure that we had a certain number of facts about the era written into the piece, so that is part of the reason why the character of Angela has such extensive knowledge of her surroundings. I did not publish this "journal" for several years, and still to this day remain just as hesitant, because I do not believe that this can truly honor the survivors and the victims of this terrible time. Angela represents what millions of human beings had to witness, and I hope that her words help to ensure that, in this case, history will never repeat itself.
I translated my journal from German to English in 1961 after I saw the trial of Adolf Eichmann, who had been the supervisor of Jewish and Evacuation Affairs in the S.S., on live television.
I don’t know if you understand the meaning of the book that you hold in your hand.Inside, my diary contains memories of horrors; of nightmares; and of the faintest traces of hope and dreams. I am a survivor of a genocide known as the Holocaust. Perhaps you have heard of it, or this is the first time the word has reached your ears. Either way, I am now giving you a warning. This novel is not filled with light-hearted fairy tales. It is your choice to continue. Only do so if you want to understand the truth.
----Angela Cuyler, 1962
I don’t know why this is happening. Not “how,” but “why.” Why are we hated, when other people are responsible for the actions that we took part in? It seems unlikely that we will survive, if they continue to treat us... so horribly. What did my people do, besides being different from everyone else? Does it really matter? Will Auschwitz claim our lives?
We arrived almost completely ignorant of what was happening. We had not eaten in a day, and our muscles were SO sore from being cramped in one position for what had seemed like years. Maybe, as a rough estimate, 30,000 people were arriving from the trains onto a strange, mile wide area known to me now as “The Ramp.” We were shoved into an enormous line that was perhaps five people abreast. The one suitcase that I had brought with me felt like a pile of bricks in my hand, and the midday sun beat down on our necks. Some were arriving from trucks, while most were filing out of the boxcars of the trains on the railway that lead all across Europe. We had been told, probably just like everyone else in this mammoth crowd, that we were being “relocated in the east." All of the uniformed men (the S.A. and the S.S.) looked at us as if we were scum, as if they wanted to show their hate for us even after being told to remain calm, and to be calming toward the people arriving. The strangest thing there was the noise. Sure, the trucks and trains were bellowing their regular sounds, and the Nazi soldiers were screaming at us from all directions, but everyone else, except for the newborn babies, uttered barely a whisper. We inched along in this enormous line, trying hard to breathe in the warm summer air. Mom, Emma, Dad, and me. Together, we are the Cuylers. I walked along the edge of the masses, looking around and trying to remain sane. Inch by inch, we moved forward to an unknown destination. We were coming along side two men, storm troopers (the Sturmabteilungen, or the S.A.) by the look of them. Usually, the S.A.’s job was to take to the streets to beat up and sometimes kill opponents to the Nazi regime. They are also called Brown Shirts, because of their uniforms. Now, the two men on our right were probably supposed to be working, but here they were, resting their vocal chords so they could yell at us as soon as they were ready. One of the two, tall with a distinct mustache, was saying, “...yet! I had to supervise the Sonderkommando just yesterday. The body count was so high, and the stench from the bodies was bugging my nose all night!”
His words caused a cold, dead feeling to settle into my lungs. I wanted to run far from here, far from all of this. I could not comprehend how he could talk so freely about death. Turning my eyes away, I saw the front of the line. It eventually stopped, then started up once more in two separate forms. One, which was dismal to say the least, was trickling into an entrance that was several times larger than the group that was being let in. On the top of the gates, there were giant, bold, capital letters that said “Arbeit Macht Frei.” In case you can’t understand German, it means “work makes you free.” I looked at those that passed through, and somehow knew that it actually marked the end of their freedom. I also noticed that only fit men, and a few young women, were being allowed in. Then I glanced in the other direction, towards the line that was swelling by the second.
"What is it with these Nazis and making things bigger than they actually needed to be?" I couldn’t help thinking, but immediately regretted my words. Everybody in the second line was heading towards an ominous giant. It was a dull grey building, with no windows, and it seemed to take all of the light out of the world just by existing. Beside it, was a smaller structure. It was made of brick, with a tiled roof. The thing that caught my eyes, which were steadily growing wider as things unfolded, was an enormous chimney just to the right of the smaller building. Black smoke was belching from its bowels, and the wind was carrying it and a horrible smell up and into the air. The feeling of horrible cold came back again, only much more powerful, and I was finding it hard to breathe. Don’t ask me how I knew, but I did. I had this overpowering feeling that we had to get into the smaller line; I couldn’t fight this urge, and I didn’t want to. I grabbed the arms of Emma, my younger sister, and my father, and signaled for my mother to do the same. I stopped moving forward, and let the rest of the people move ahead of us, so that once more, we were near the end of the line. That is when I started to speak, but it was barely a murmur, so that no one else would hear.
“Listen closely. I know this is hard to explain, but we have to get in the line that is leading towards the gates with the large letters. It is obvious that they won’t choose families to go in the line, so we must pretend that we have no family. Mom, you have to get in, no matter what. Be tough, look strong. Make sure you keep Dad within your sight at all times. Emma needs to stay with me.”
I looked at all of them. It was my silent good-bye. I knew that they wanted to refuse what I was saying, but our surroundings told them otherwise. They also gave me silent looks of regret and sadness. I tried to hold my tears back as I said the next few words, “Know that I love you. This is the only way to survive. Take care of yourselves, and don't react if anyone goes into the large line. Dad, you start first. Then Mom.”
We all looked at the only man in our group. None of us were surprised to see tears in his eyes, and streaks where they had dribbled down his dust-covered cheeks. He gripped his suitcase, sporting white knuckles, and let go of our hands. To each of us, he gave a bear hug, and then kissed Mom. Without saying anything more, he started out into the crowd, and we saw his face appear one last time a few meters ahead of us. Then, without warning, Emma and I were pressed together as Mom gave us her version of a lasting embrace. We both felt the salty droplets splash onto our heads, and hugged her back as best we could. In a few moments, she let go, wiped her eyes, kissed us both in turn, and followed Dad’s footsteps.
Such is the madness we had to endure. I don’t know, but hopefully I’ll find out in the future, why the Allied Nations allowed themselves to be fooled into thinking that Germany could not be stopped. We are people too. In our opinion, anyway. I cannot write more now. I’ll let you know what happens if I get the chance tomorrow. I’m exhausted enough as it is.
We made it. I suppose you guessed that by now. It’s not easy to explain, and I might have to give some extended details, but here’s a summary:
After our parents vanished into the masses, I turned to Emma, who was on my left, and began to try to explain, “Emma, I’m sorry that things have to be like this. You are going to be the hardest to get in. Make sure you stand straight, and be tough. You have to look like you’ll last a while. Stick to me like a burr caught on a summer dress, and I’ll try to do most of the talking.”
She turned her eyes on me, eyes that were filled with a mixture of hate for the soldiers and fear for us. She said nothing, but nodded once. I nodded back, then tore the yellow Star of David from my jacket. Although I had been forced to where it pinned to every shirt I had owned since 1937, when the leader of Germany began “Aryanizing” Jewish businesses, forbidding Jews from practicing law, and not allowing Jewish doctors to treat non-Jewish patients, it felt a relief to finally tear it off. It would also keep up the appearances that we were not related to each other. After doing so, we started moving once more, and let the crowd carry us along. The S.A. men that we passed earlier were gone now, and I once more had a view of the grey building that had chilled my insides. Surprisingly on my part, it may have been a life or death situation, and I had only one shot at getting us through, but I had the bored look of shopping at the grocery store plastered on my face. Then, as if on queue, we were next. An S.S. (the Schutzstaffel, who serve normally as auxiliary policemen and protectors of the Nazi party leaders. They became the private army of the Nazis after 1934.) physician was supervising this, and occasionally he would ask a few questions, then point to whichever lines HE thought they should belong in. He started with Emma, first, and I was so thankful that we were both tall for our age.
He glanced in her direction over his oversized notebook, and asked, “What is your name?”
Emma also looked in his direction, and for a second there I forgot that she was seven, and could have sworn that she was a highly rebellious teenager that only cared for her own survival.
“Emma Sara Hayner,” she retorted, giving herself a new identity.
Yeah, I know that her name sounded a little weird. I’ll explain. As a way of identifying Jews, the Nazis forced us to change our names. Every girl who was of Jewish decent had to have Sara for a name, and every boy had to change theirs to Israel.
“Do you have any family?” was the man’s next question.
Emma replied, “You Nazis killed them.”
I had to resist the urge to raise my eyebrows, because that was COLD. Then, I had to resist punching the man on the spot, for he had hit Emma across the face, producing a resounding smack. She looked defiantly back at the black shirted man, refusing to back down even with that rising red mark on her face. I was so proud of her for acting that way, and remembering what I had said.
Then...he pointed to the swelling line that headed toward the grey building. My heart stopped for three beats, then restarted in a frantic panic that had absolutely no pattern, my smile gone from my face.
Trying not to shout, I stepped from the crowd as Emma, trying herself not to panic, began to head to the line that was still as large as it was when it had started, and said, “Hey, what are you doing? She will at least be able to work for a few days without falling to the floor. And she’s strong, too, for a twelve year old.” Yeah…I was lying through my teeth at this point.
The man turned in my direction now, and his eyes turned hard as he saw that I was both a girl, and part of the line yet to be sorted.
“And who are you?” he responded coolly.
My character suddenly changed. I was calm, confident, and arrogant. “I’m a criminal. I murdered two Gestapo for harassing me on the street. The name’s Angela Sa-…Cuyler, and I’m sixteen.” I had to stop myself at this point, since I had almost identified myself as a Jew (not that I’m ashamed), and I had no idea that I had that kind of a personality. I don’t think Emma knew either. I looked at her, and saw the right corner of her mouth lift ever so slightly, the smallest of smirks imaginable.
It quickly vanished as the man glanced in Emma’s direction once more, and asked, “How old are you?”
Emma sank once more into her charade, and replied coldly, “I’m thirteen.”
Severely annoyed, and obviously thinking that he had better things to do than supervise this tiny feud, he jerked his thumb angrily at the smaller line, then buried himself in his notes once more. With significant space dividing us, we haughtily made our way to where we were directed to, and within seconds, we were heading under the forbidding gates that, as I said before, marked the end of all liberty. Although the tension in my body lessened by a degree or two, it was short lived. I had no idea if Mom or Dad had made it in with us. And the worse part was, I noticed, since we were the last ones in, that only maybe two hundred people had made it through the gates, while all of the rest were going in the other direction. Grouped together, our moods were dismal at best as we stood in the middle of the road with a collection of S.S. men and women stood conversing amongst themselves at the front of the line. One of the women stepped abruptly up and began shouting to the lot of us, making it seem like we all stood a little straighter. “Listen! You have been chosen to work, and nothing more. You poisoners of the race are going to be here until you die. You mean nothing to any of us. There is nothing left in the world for you. Every one of you is just a liability that we are keeping alive because, in the oddest of ways, dead weight can actually be somehow useful. Separate into two lines! Men on one side, women on the other!”
We scurried to obey, and in the confusion, my heart sped up as I glimpsed my mother’s face in the middle.
I realize now, that while I did this, I was so happy that I did not realize to search for the face of Dad, and it saddens me.
My happiness was once more short lived, for they led the men away to the left, while we followed the same woman that had shouted at us into a building to the right. Inside, it was dreary, with only artificial lighting that flickered occasionally to light our way. We lined up once more in a horizontal line, feeling the cold floor on our feet. We were ordered then to throw our suitcases in the corner. Someone dared ask why, and they were slapped across the face like Emma had been fifteen minutes before. I resisted the urge once more to fight back after I saw the loaded gun holstered on the belt of one of the female guards, and tossed mine into the pile. Afterward, we were shoved over to a table, and behind it was another woman, holding needles that held black dye inside them. One by one, we were tattooed with a number, and asked our names and why we were there. I have to admit, the process wasn’t that painful, although it was definitely uncomfortable as the inscription B-22394-2B emerged on my skin. I had to keep playing my part, so I told them a shortened version of the bragging that I had given to the S.S. physician for their records. As we lined up once more, the next order was the worst of all. We were told next to undress, right in front of everyone else. I wanted to scream, to do something, anything, but some instinct, as always, held me back. I closed my eyes to hide my rage and shame as I obeyed, folding the articles, along with my shoes, in a pile at my feet. I felt a small breeze as it was whisked away, and could tell from about three sobs near the front that some were trying to hold back tears. Only five minutes later did I find out why. I felt a horribly irritating pull on my scalp, and a strange sensation spread all along my spine. My eyes flew open, and I watched my long black hair cascade to the ground. They were shaving each and every one of our heads. It was finally true. There was nothing left in this world for us, although I guess there was an exception in my case. A jacket and pants, ragged and abused from wear, were flung into my arms. On the coat, there were green triangles on the sleeves, and one large on the back. I looked at what once was Emma, and saw that she held a jacket with a different color. She had a yellow and red set of triangles, the yellow on top of the red. I looked around the room, and guessed the meaning of these triangles. About 75% of them had yellow, which marked them as Jews. There was also a significant number of brown, which symbolized Gypsies from Romania. The green triangles, as I had, signified criminals, and there was one mauve, which was probably a Jehovah’s Witness. There were also three pinks, and I think they were homosexuals. There were maybe ten reds, and they looked as if they would only last a few days, so they were probably political enemies. There were five blues, and I thought they were émigré, or people that fled Germany because of political reasons (three guesses why). I put my new garments on, and also found some measly shoes that did NOT smell pleasant. Putting these on as well, I tried to stand tall, thinking that I had to be brave for Emma. Gazing down at her, I saw she had done the same as I. Gently I lay my hand beside hers. She brushed it softly. I almost smiled then, but forgot to do so as we were marched out of the room into the brisk night air. We marched for an hour or so to another, larger building. It was brighter than the former one, and white tile lined the floor. There were counters there, with pots, small bowls, and tin cups. We were each handed a small bowl of what looked like water, rotten vegetables, and meat. I suppose it was their definition of the main course that we deserved, with no spoon or fork to eat it with. Next came a hard, stale piece of bread, followed by a tin cup filled with something that I suppose you could have called tea. With nothing to eat for almost two days, I suppose it didn’t matter with what we were given, and it didn’t matter that we were standing up either. The only problem was that our bellies cried out for more. They collected the bowls after we were finished, and left the tin cups to us. For water during the day, I thought. Again, we were marched outside. The sun had disappeared long ago, and it was still cold for summer. As we walked, I spied a flat object to our left lying on the ground. By the faint light of the lampposts, I saw it was a clipboard, with papers and a pencil attached to it. I moved to the edge of the line, trying to look inconspicuous. Making sure none of the guards were behind us, I swiped it from the ground and clutched it to my chest, crossing my arms tightly and pretended to shiver from the cold. I kept this with me as we marched along smaller roads, and into a smaller building once more. Inside were bunk beads, with no pillows or blankets to be seen, and they were stacked about three high. In my opinion, they were best described as shelves with a border. Most were already full, and were being shared by many people, and there was no light accept for that of the full moon. They peered at us sleepily, as if we had awoken them from their much-needed sleep. We on the floor shifted uncomfortably under their gaze, and flinched unexpectedly as the door slammed behind us, the guards leaving us to get back to their own “lives” as the dark closed in. I grabbed Emma’s hand, and we weaved through everybody else until...yes! There! We both crashed into the overjoyed arms of our mother. She immediately began to cry once more, and we stood there for several minutes, just holding each other. After wiping our eyes in the darkness, I noticed an empty set of beds near the end. I led them there as the other women also headed to their own sleeping arrangements. We arrived there, but I stopped Emma from lying down on the bottom bunk.
Her exhausted face looked at mine in confusion, so I started to explain, “We cannot sleep there ever. Who knows how long we are going to be here. Warm air rises, so we need to climb to the top. It’ll get cold faster than we expect, and we should not freeze up there.”
She made what looked like a nod, for she was almost asleep on her feet. The three of us climbed to the top, and Emma crashed right then and there, asleep at last. Mom wearily shook her head, lay down, and lay Emma’s head on her chest. I, however, moved over to a shaft of moonlight, and looked at the clipboard in my arms. I temporarily ignored most of the papers, and grabbed at the pencil, and notebook that lay at the end, and began to write, knowing that I had to get what was going on down on paper while I had the energy to do so.
So now you know. I am obviously not good at this sort of thing, because it is hard to keep a journal in these kind of circumstances. Currently, I can easily fall asleep to the sound of snoring and the growling of our stomachs. Before we were brought to Auschwitz, it was a rarity that I could fall asleep without my father playing the piano softly downstairs, and now look at me. Well, I suppose you can’t, but that’s beside the point.
I’ll see if I can describe current events some other day. I’m going to “clock out” now. I need to save my energy. Waking up is getting harder as winter sets in.
Hello once more to the miserable world that I live in. If you could call this living. The bodies keep piling up every day. Most collapse from...well, anything that is remotely hard. I learned soon enough not to trust the water rations that we receive here. Disease and diarrhea are common sights, and it is no way near easy on the stomach. We cannot afford to loose the one meal that we ate the night before. We get the same ONE thing every day: meat and vegetable water with the crust of bread, something that faintly resembles coffee, and tea once in a blue moon. Every morning, we are sent to somewhere to work, and it depends on the place. Mom, Emma, and I hope to work in the factories. Usually, we march a few miles to a group of different buildings. We work for twelve hours a day, with few, if any, breaks. This is actually one of the better places to slave away, because here we are sometimes given a slice of bread for lunch, and we work inside, so we don’t have to brave the outside weather. We produce materials for the German war effort. Emma complains once in a while that she can still feel the bullet casings in her hands, since she does that task often. There are civilian workers that work with us too, but they tend to try to ignore us and our frightening, skeletal figures. Did I mention that this diet is doing WONDERS on the human body????? Barely any fat cells on me!!! I see my rib cage everyday, and I lost my butt a few days ago!!!!(Note: this is a large amount of sarcasm that I’ve been saving for the past few days.) Anyone that is not fit to work is sent to that grey building that I mentioned a few weeks earlier (I’m serious again). Everybody knows it, too. We work because we carcasses are actually useful. Aren’t you happy that we feel slightly needed?
Emma and I were walking around outside on one of our breaks today. We were on the edge of the camp, and we saw that it, as well as the entire perimeter of Auschwitz, is surrounded by barbed wire, and in the distance we saw a forbidding watchtower, evenly spaced between a second one, and a third, and so on. Emma reached out to touch once of the spikes, but I stopped her right before her skin touched the metal. Just at the last second, I had seen white strips and wires of...something, attached to the metal, as well as a shiny metal box hanging from a pole on the fence. It was running electricity all along the enclosure, and I don’t want to think of what would have happened if she had touched it. I pointed these out to her, and soon I felt her embrace me in a grateful hug. As the bell rang, signaling that we should begin to work once again, Emma headed back to the side door. I watched her go, and looked once more at the fence. I had not pointed to the dead body that was lying against it yards away, between the tower and our factory. Suicide is not uncommon here. Who wants to live this kind of life, anyway?
I also picked up an extremely sharp rock as we were walking to the cafeteria. I need it to sharpen the pencil that I use to write this journal. As a result for lagging behind, I was beaten. This also is something that happens often. The bruises still smart, but I’ll live. You anger the guards for the tiniest reason, and they beat the snot out of you. Yeah...um...I don’t know if there’s anything else interesting to talk about. I’ll say “goodnight” then. You have to give me a break...writing by the light of a crescent moon is not easy.
I am so exhausted beyond words. It is so hard to stay awake. Things, as hard as they have been, are even worse. The reason why? Three words: the rock quarries. Mom and I were told to work there instead of the factories this time. Our job was to break huge rocks into gravel, and then load the material into waiting trucks that carried it to who knows where. Sweat poured down our backs despite the cold air, and sometimes dripped into our eyes. I got several cuts and scrapes. I cannot afford this, because my body is struggling to keep my feet moving. It does not have the energy to heal wounds. By the time we were back in the barracks, Mom and I could barely crawl up to our top bunk. It’ll be extremely difficult to even raise our arms tomorrow. Emma looked at us with concern in her eyes. Thankfully, she did not have to work in the caves and ravines like we did. She worked in the factory as she usually did. I hoped so hard that she didn’t panic when we were chosen to go elsewhere. I watch her now, sound asleep, and wish that she did not grow weaker every day. It is not a simple thing to witness. Please, don’t let her give up. She has something to live for. As does Mom. As do I. We have each other.
Yeah, I know that it’s corny, but it is the truth, so deal with it.
I finally went through the other papers that had originally been held onto the clipboard. It...is hard to describe what I found. They were plans, lists, notes, and they all told of the horrors that we are living in.
As you and I already knew, we are at the concentration camp called Auschwitz. It was built after Germany invaded Poland and the Allied Armies declared war on September 1st, 1939, beginning World War II. The Nazis identified old army barracks as an ideal site on the outside of a town called Oswiecim. To make this “lucky find” even better, they surrounded the place with barbed wire and electric fences, established sentry towers, and moved in only a handful of guards to run it under the orders of senior officers. Auschwitz was also somewhat in the middle of Europe, easily accessible by the railroads, yet some distance from major centers, so no one would see what was going on inside. It also turns out that there are three parts of Auschwitz. They are simply Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (also known as Auschwitz-Birknau, since it was near a village called the second part of that name) built in 1941, and soon after that Auschwitz III came into existence. We live in the B-IIB, or the Family Camp, area of Auschwitz-Birknau, and aren’t we the lucky ones? Just this year, before our arrival to this h*** on Earth, they installed special purpose gas chambers. These are the grey buildings I described, and there are a total of four of them in Auschwitz II. Beside these are crematoriums, or large ovens designed to burn dead bodies. The gas chambers are disguised as showers, and up to 2,000 to 2,500 people are killed using carbon monoxide or a gas called Zyklon B inside one, then their bodies are carried away by a group of slave workers known as the Sonderkommando. They are forced to drag the bodies away, check and strip them of any valuables, then feed them into the ovens. Sometimes the mounting death toll is too much for all four of the crematoriums, so there are mass burial sites and quicklime pits to also used. The bodies that are of no longer use for slave labor are also burned. We die from obvious reasons: overwork, malnutrition, and disease. There are ways to survive, if you are foolish enough to call it that. Working in the factories allows us some small freedom, as I wrote before, and we are at least indoors for most of the day. I discovered from receipts, some building plans, and notes, that there is another option. Another role that we can play is working in the Canadakommando. They are teams of Auschwitz prisoners employed to sot through the mountains of belongings that arrived with each transport of prisoners, and then to store those items in the “Canada” warehouse (It’s called that because the real Canada is considered a land of plenty.).
Our work hours increased from twelve to thirteen, today. I don’t think that the war is going well. And that, I suppose, you might consider a small scrap of hope to live on for? Wrong. That just means that they chip away at the rarely given breaks until there will be nothing left. The treatment of we, who were once people, deteriorates in front of our eyes. What happens now?
I made another discovery today. I don’t know if it’s important, but I just thought you might like to know. It turns out that some prisoners also work as guards. I think it is because the Nazis want to reduce the number of guards required to control the camp. The S.S. use prisoners to do the work for them. They often appoint criminals to act as Kapos, or prisoners who are used to supervise the others who are on work duty. I know from experience now that they obviously enjoy their power. They retain a few privileges by savagely applying every order to the rest of us, and are notorious for their cruelty. Just yesterday, I was lagging behind a few paces after factory work, and one of the female guards, who also live in our set of barracks, beat me with the other end of her gun. The tiniest bit of freedom makes people go ballistic. If I am chosen to be a guard, I promise that I won’t treat those under my care with such violence.
My shoes are no longer usable; the soles came completely off today. I asked a S.A. man if I could have a new pair, but he spat in my face. I don’t know what I’m going to do. The winter storms are settling in, and it is cold enough already.
I can barely write today. This life has taken its toll on me. Emma held my hand just to stand upright, and she leaned on me heavily just to keep standing in the first place. Mom is stronger than we are, and I am glad of that. She offered her meal to us today, and we both refused, for we did not want her to suffer as we were. Our feet freeze every night despite our best efforts, and it is a miracle that we are able to return circulation to our toes in the morning.
Please let us wake up tomorrow...
WE DON’T HAVE TO WORK TODAY!!!!
I couldn’t believe it, at first. But they gave us a slice of COOKED fish for breakfast this morning, and we didn’t have to march on the icy ground at all. I’m writing in the sun as we speak, and it feels so good on my face. I also got a new pair of shoes, and I thanked the man even though they were thrown at me from a bit of a distance. The snow blinds us as it sparkles on the ground, and we have to resist the urge to start a snowball fight. Oh man, it feels so wonderful to be free for the day.
The reason for this temporary lapse in work? Apparently, it is a Christian holiday today called Christmas, and it is celebrating the birth of Jesus, I guess. I can’t remember if we celebrated this particular day back before..., well suffice it to say that its working out fine. We rest for an entire day with nothing holding us down. I’m glad for this reprieve of the worries. I don’t want to think about tomorrow, just about today.
The strength that we saved on Christmas helped greatly for days afterward. We worked with a vigor that we had not had before. The buzz sadly wore off this afternoon, although I am glad that it lasted for so long. Emma, Mom, and I stick together as much as we can, and yet try not to attract attention to ourselves. The Nazis will find any excuse to beat us down. Both sides know that we are nothing. We are reminded constantly that we are replaceable. There is always another person to do a job better than we were doing. It is times like this that I think of Dad. Don’t get me wrong, I think of him every hour of every day that I spend awake. I don’t even know if he is still alive, let alone near our barracks, since the men and women are kept separate from each other. I would do almost anything to find out what happened to him. Please take into consideration that I said “almost”. Dad did so much for so many other people, and I would hate to do something that I would forever regret for some small piece of information that probably would not be very accurate. We are numbers, remember, not names.
There was a strange man that watched us work in the I.G. Farben chemical and munitions factories today. He was examining us as if we were insects under a microscope. He also looked important, for he asked questions frequently to the guards in low tones, and they always answered him. When they were talking, they addressed him as Dr. Josef Mengele. He watched us work for a while, and I tried not to look at him too much. His eyes...they frighten me. The second I saw him, I knew that he was...something worse than anything else I had seen. As soon as he left, being the first one out the door, I breathed a sigh f heavy relief. I don’t want to see him again. Yet, I have to remind myself over and over: you can’t always get what you want.
We worked even longer in the factories. I think we work for fourteen hours, now, sitting on hard benches or standing beside conveyer belts as we put one thing or another together over and over again. Sometimes, like today, we are ordered to lift heavy metals onto waiting truck, and it makes our muscles shriek in pain. I couldn’t help but remember our last day at home:
It was the sixteenth of August, 1943. Mom had knocked on the door to my room, and I had invited her in as I always did. I had been sitting by my open window, feeling the cooling breeze across my face while reading a book. I looked up as she entered the room, and stop smiling.
She looked at me sadly and said, “We have to go...somewhere. Please pack a set of clothes, and get yourself a jacket. Meet down stairs when you’re done.”
I had wanted so badly to ask her why we had to do this, but one look at her worried and scared face...I could not bring myself to ask her. After seeing my nod, showing that I understood, she then went across the hall to Emma’s room to give her the same news. I had done as I was told to, and trundled down the stairs, through the living room, and opened the door to the second flight of steps that led to my father’s carpentry shop. I stopped at the last step, and saw my father leaning against the wall that held nails and hammers. His suitcase rested against his right leg, and he looked up at me before returning his gaze down at his feet. My eyes were drawn, as always to the gaping holes that had once been our windows. I remembered why that was, which is a memory for another time, then redirected my stare to the three, black shirted S.S. men that stood in the doorway. I knew what they were, and their heavy commitment to the Nazi teachings. I felt the air rush past me as Mom and Emma stopped at the end of the stairs behind me. Together, trying to be calm, we collected beside Dad and waited to see what was to happen.
One of the men, the tallest and most intimidating of the group spoke loudly, “Mr. Cuyler, you are hereby under arrest. You and your filthy Jewish family, for helping enemies of the state, sheltering them in our home, then transporting them outside of Germany in order to escape the rule of our Füher, are being relocated to the east. There is no place for traitors and lesser beings in our Reich. Get in the truck!”
Without saying anything more, he and his companions stomped outside to the waiting vehicle and stood in front of the back part impatiently.
Dad uncrossed his arms, picked his one article of luggage from the ground, and just looked at us. Tears sparkled in his eyes, and he whispered, “I’m so...so...sorry.”
Together, as if one large person with several arms, we converged on him, and we hugged each other as if nothing could tear us apart. We were soon interrupted by a vicious honk from the car’s horn, and we filed out of the shop, wiping the tears from our eyes as we climbed into the jeep. From there, we were taken to the train station. We were treated like freight as we were shoved into the railcars. There were no bathrooms, no benches, and only slated openings as windows. It was mostly dark inside, and the air reeked and was extremely stuffy as the day wore on, the car bumping along the rails. There was no room to move, since the cars were packed to their fullest with people, and when we arrived on “The Ramp”, some did not get up once more. We were exhausted and bewildered, but lucky to be alive.
That is how we came to be here. What they said was true. My father, for years before we were taken away from our home, had given refuge to Jews in Berlin, where we lived. He would transport them to the border of Germany on different trips. Those that stayed at our house never were there long, often pretending to be customers when they entered the front building. Dad had only a few trustworthy people help him, but occasionally, outside helpers came to the shop. I wish now that he had interviewed these men and women more closely. I know that one of them probably was paid richly for snitching on us, for that was the only way the Gestapo and S.S. could have found out. I miss Dad so much. None of us have anything to hold onto. We cannot trust ourselves to make friends, because they might be dead the next day. Death makes life for the living harder. All we can do is hope that he is being treated with the kindness that he deserves. It’s not likely, but it’s all we can do. Every night, after I’m done writing and working, despite the tough shell that I developed, I still cannot help but think: "Is my Daddy still alive?"
The days are finally starting to get warmer. I have long ago become tired of massaging my blue feet, and rubbing my hands together to give myself some warmth. I didn’t think I could sum up the energy one more time. There was no more snow on the ground, and our shoes were not soggy. Since we didn’t lag behind, the guards didn’t beat half of us to death and expect us to work immediately afterward, and they seemed to actually take it a bit easier on us. All in all, today was the best of this year. We have lasted this long, and I suppose that might be something of an accomplishment. All the time, we mentally say to ourselves “Keep breathing. You have to mean something today. Today is not for dying.” It works for most of the time, too. We cannot try to keep the other people in the camp alive. There is no trust anymore. To put it bluntly, we have the same attitude as our captors: They live. They die. We cannot trust ourselves to care. I hate having to think this way.
That man, Josef Mengele, came to once more to the factory. He watched Mom, Emma, and I particularly closely today. Is it okay to want to wish someone had never existed?
I have news, also. I am actually developing HAIR again. I think it will probably be shaved off as soon as it becomes noticeable, and strangely, I don’t really think that I can bring myself to care. After all, it is definitely developing a whitish hue, and I am NOT an old lady! Then there is the fact of lice. They are already making themselves at home in some of the women’s coats, and I really don’t want bugs in my hair. It is downright unsanitary, just like the rest of our “lives”.
There were strange sounds all around us at noon. When we looked outside a window, strange airplanes were hovering at a distance from Auschwitz, as if observing us and studying our lives. They were definitely not from Germany. If you looked carefully enough, I think I saw the sign of the Soviet Union on one of them. This made my eyes widen, but I had not worn glasses in months, and I could not trust myself to believe anything at this point. It would have been false hope.
Other than that, Emma’s birthday passed with little disturbances. Other than Dr. Mengele popping in AGAIN, nothing really happened accept for what I did for Emma after work. We were tired, feet dragging on the dirt, the usual. But, as we were served our food in the cafeteria, I took my bread, and wormed my pinky finger through the middle, and kept it there. Then I took a piece of steak from my “soup”, and placed it on the tip of my pinky. I showed this to Emma, and said dryly, “Happy Birthday, Emma. Blow out your candle!” And you know what happened? Emma smiled so wide, with her now yellow teeth, for the first time since December, and made this big show. Without saying anything, she pretended to be thinking REALLY HARD about a wish, sucked in a huge breath, and blew the meat off my finger, which was still in the middle of the bread. Mom and I clapped silently, without touching our hands together, and in unison, we handed her our bread for her to eat. Her eyes widened, but as she was opening her mouth to refuse, I shoved my roll into her mouth, sliding my finger out, and pressed her lips together. I took Mom’s roll and put it in Emma’s hand, and looked as serious as possible. In reality, I wanted to burst out laughing as Emma frowned angrily, but chewed my roll, and then ate Mom’s without complaint. We said a wordless “cheers” by clinking our bowls together, and downed the broth in a single gulp. I’m glad that I did to the best of my ability to make Emma’s birthday special. It was not much, but it was enough. Tonight, we forgot about the horrible, haunting, starving ghosts that we were. Tonight, we were happy.
Why must it be that, the moment we are smiling, and the rest of the world falls away, something must counter-balance that happiness?
It’s Mom. I found the following information from her labored breathing and whispering as she lay down on her side of the bed. This morning, she had been chosen to go to another area of Auschwitz. She wouldn’t tell me where this place was, only that at first, it looked like a hospital. Inside, there had been maybe five people that were being treated for minor injuries. Then everything changed. As soon as she passed through another set of doors, she had been strapped to a table, and the pain began. That man, Josef Mengele...he made her suffer. It seems that, because Germany is concerned with creating a master race, that Josef was obsessed with genetics. He presided over medical experiments on women and children. While Mom was in that so called hospital, he ranted on about twins helping in his research, and about how he was often in attendance when new transports arrived, just to be on the lookout for twins and people that would be chosen to be tested in the hospital. It turned out that he was also to be credited for improving the gassing system at Auschwitz by making is more scientifically effective. Mom was experimented on without the use of anesthetic or concern for her survival. She had been their guinea pig.
From hearing this, I am a mixture of emotions. Okay, I’m lying. My mind is a freaking TORNADO. I want to search for this “hospital” and burn it to the ground. There are so many other things that I want to do, but I know that I can’t, and I’m not planning on doing anything except be there for Mom. She looks so pale now. I am unable to describe how worried I am. There is a stain on her left hip, and I don’t want to write down what I know it is. I am so uncertain about what to do. I wish there was someone to tell me...something. Thankfully, we were given a blanket, and I wrapped this around her a few minutes ago. She deserves it.
Mom is definitely worse. I had to hold her up while we worked in the factory today, sitting on the metal benches. She was running a fever, and I would rush to the single lavatory in order to get some water for her every hour. I was beaten every time I did so, but I don’t give the smallest trace of a care right now. She needs to stay alive, she needs rest, and she needs everything in the world right now. Her head is on my thigh, and I can barely hear her breathing. It is raspy, and her eyes are flitting around frantically around in her eyelids. I’m going to sleep exactly in this position tonight, sitting up so I can be her pillow. I covered her not only with the blanket, but my own jacket. I will do anything for her, now. Anything. Nobody is there for her but us. We have to be there. We need for us to be there. Let her live. Let her smile again. Let the world fall away. Let us keep her with us.
Mom...didn’t wake up this morning. She was cold, and her chest...it didn’t move. I did nothing; how could I do anything? Emma soon saw what kept me frozen in place. She was the one that burst into tears; that tried so hard not to cry out in pain. That was when I broke down, too. We sobbed together, as if the Nile river had broken out of a dam in order to be the tears we shed. Over her...dead...body. We wanted to die then. To be with her once more. To feel her arms around us once more. Anything but this...motionlessness. I knew that we had to leave her there. The Sonderkommando would take her away while we were at work. She would be carried to the crematoria, and burned along with all the others. I didn’t want to think about it, but I forced myself to accept it. We had to do something though. Some memento that proved she had existed. So, I shook Emma’s shoulder gently. She looked at me, at the tears that were winding down my face. I gently lifted my sister’s head off of Mom’s chest. I took the blanket off of...the body, too. I undid the buttons of...Mom’s...jacket, and took it off. Emma looked at me with wide, frightened eyes, but they grew calm as I lay the jacket in her hands and replaced the blanket.
“She always wants...wanted...to keep you warm. She want-...ed...to keep you safe,” I struggled to say.
And Emma took off her own jacket, put Mom’s on, and then put her original one back on. “We’ll share it, because she love-...ed...you as much as me,” she said shakily.
We hugged each other tightly, breaking apart at last when S.S. shouted at us to get moving from the far wall. He didn’t care if our mother had died. Honestly, I didn’t care what happened to us, for nothing could be worse right now. Without saying anything, we came out into the sun, and he was about to raise his club, or I guess it was actually a whip, and was about to beat the both of us, but I tranquilly held my hand in front of it, and said that I would take the punishment, since it was my fault for being late. He was to whip me the same amount of times as it would be for the both of us. He obliged, and sent Emma away to join the line. As I felt the stinging whip hit me over and over, I never made a single cry. It was a relief to feel...something, and I didn’t want Emma to hear me.
Emma and I were almost lifeless today. We never said a word. My back stopped bleeding eventually, and tomorrow or the next day, I’m likely to develop scabs. It doesn’t matter. Emma is all that matter’s to me now.
There was a lot of commotion that went on throughout the camp. Remember the planes? Well, they have been bombing the I.G. Farben factories for the past couple days. The ground shook for maybe ten minutes as the blast went of. I was temporarily happy when it happened. The German’s deserve a little trouble... or a lot...or everything to blow up in their faces...and I found it amusing to watch the S.S. scramble about like frightened cockroaches. I really do hope that Germany looses the war, because then there will be no more death for us inside the camp. No more losses, no more fear. Nothing but freedom.
We are working earlier, harder, and longer every day now. As Germany is obviously beginning to loose the war, our working conditions are deteriorating further and further. The guards, still anxious as more bombs explode near and on the factories, will find any reason to shoot you on the spot. The Nazis are also trying to speed up the killing that goes on in all of the areas of Auschwitz. The barracks are steadily becoming overcrowded; some share seven to a bed, as we now do. Emma and I try not to talk to anybody, since nobody would want to talk to us monsters, anyway. The gas chambers and crematorium are on all the time now. The S.S. also whisper of the Allied Armies landing in Western Europe TODAY (they’re calling it D-Day), and it is also rumored that the Soviet Union is putting up quite a fight with Germany, too. They might land in Poland sometime this year, but I have no idea when. As I said, this news is bittersweet. We are constantly on the verge of death, and yet we might just be free in a few months time. Mixed feelings, huh?
Once more, I had the “privilege” of working in the rock quarries. If you think I was tired the last time, I can tell you this: I have bruises on my bruises, blisters on my blisters, splinters from the shovel and picks, and I am so tired I could fall asleep at any second. Nevertheless, I need to keep going, because of a promise I made so long ago. (sigh) You want me to tell you exactly how the promise came about, don’t you?
I stumbled sleepily down the stairs to the carpentry shop on November 10, 1938. The first thing I noticed, just as I always did years later, was the remnants of our windows scattered all over the floor. The shop was a mess. Everything was barely hanging of its hooks, leaning on other precariously breakable items. The floor was a sea of knick-knacks, and it was strangely beautiful, for the glass that was strewn about was reflecting the light of the sun in triangles on the ceiling. Mom was standing, hands on hips, in the middle of it all. Dad was a few steps ahead of her, trying to salvage what he could from the rubble. Mom turned, saw me at the foot of the stairway, made her way carefully toward her eight-year-old daughter, and knelt down in front of me. I examined her face. It was stressed and tired at the same time.
“Mommy, why is Daddy’s shop such a big mess?” I asked innocently.
She had sighed then, and answered my question by asking one of her own,”Do you really want to know why? Why this, as well as so many other things, has happened?”
I knew Mom then as well as I...did...now, and I knew she wanted to lie to me. She wanted to shelter me from the outside world just as she had always done.
I didn’t want that to happen, so I bit my lip, thinking about it just a second longer, before straightening up and, trying to be as mature as possible, replied, “Yes, I want to know.”
That was when I found out about...everything. It was on January 30, 1933, that Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. In that same year, roughly a month later, the government of Germany took away the freedom of speech, assembly, press, freedom from invasion of privacy, and from house search without a warrant. It was in April of ’33 that the Nazis really harnessed all the power for themselves, leading Germany in a nation wide boycott of Jewish businesses. Hitler began to unleash his plans that he had kept hidden all along. It was Hitler’s dream to create a master race, ideally with blonde hair, was tall, and had blue eyes, and was called the Aryan “master race.” That meant getting rid of anything that would poison that race, especially the Jewish people, who supposedly “lived off” the other races and weakened them. Hitler and the Nazis spread these ideas by hanging posters, printing this in the newspaper and in books, broadcasting on the radio, in movies, and even having it taught to children in school. Many other races, like Romanian Gypsies and those of African decent, were targeted, as well as the handicapped, and ways of life such as those who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals. Anybody that disagreed with the Nazi ideology was condemned as well. The German leader, known as the Füher, was also bent on conquering other lands for his German race to grow in. He and the Nazis invaded the Rhineland on March 17, 1935. Although he temporarily halted all of his plans, and removed the signs of anti-Semitism when the Olympics were held in Germany in the summer of 1936, he started up again with the same drive, and annexed Austria on March 13, 1938. The Evian Conference, which was held July 6-15 of ’38, was held by other countries to discuss refugee possibilities for those who wanted to leave Germany, but most refused or made up excuses about not being able to help out those targeted by the Nazis. In addition, last night the Nazis burned thousands of Jewish synagogues, and looted Jewish homes and businesses. Maybe a hundred people had been killed, Mom had nearly been arrested, and Dad had almost been deported to something called a concentration camp along with about 30,000 other Jewish men. Mom said it was called Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.”
I had listened to this silently, not asking any questions or making any assumptions. I processed all of it once more in my head, then jerked my eyes upward abruptly and punched my fist straight up in the air.
“I’ll help you,” I said, “Anything you need me to do, I’ll do it! These next few years are going to be tough, I know it, and you’ll need a lot of help with so many things. I’ll take care of Emma, just you wait and see!”
Dad had walked over to me then, knelt beside Mom, and ruffled my hair with his giant hand, making me giggle as it always did.
“We have no doubt that you will,” he said, grinning. He picked me up in his arms, allowing me to put my arms around his neck, and stated dryly, “Well, let’s see if we can wake Emma up. She’s a handful, even if she’s only two. Let’s see what you can do about those stinky diapers.” I had made a really loud groan, and Mom and Dad had laughed so hard that Dad almost dropped me as we made our way back up the steps.
It still means something to me right now. I may have been a bit foolish at eight, but I really did mean it. Every word, to the syllable. Looking at her face; the dark circles under her eyes, the hollow cheeks, the taunt, see-through skin; I want to give her, just as I did Mom, everything that she asks of me. She had to work with me in the rock quarries for the first time. She did not complain once, but the strain on her was too obvious to ignore.
Will the destruction of innocent lives ever stop here? It was a mass murder. That is the best way to describe what happened. The Gypsy camp, also known as B-IIE, located in Auschwitz II and half a mile from our own barracks, was destroyed. I don’t know how many were actually living there, but some 3,000 people filed outside and were marched to the gas chambers. None of them came back. They are all dead. I don’t know, and I’m not even sure that they knew, what they had done to deserve such monstrosity. Will we have to suffer the same fate?
Another factory was blown up by the United States today. Big Boom. Lost of debris. Had to suppress a cheer. Yadda yadda.
My birthday was okay. Emma did the same for me as I had done with her. It also still made me smile, because I had also tried to refuse the bread, and she still shoved it into my mouth all the same. Thanks, sis! (Please once more note the sarcasm, but I also kind of mean the “thanks” that I wrote.).
Emma was so weak today. Her limbs shook as if she were having a seizure every time she moved them. I fulfilled my promise again on this day; only I did something extremely dangerous. I gave her my entire meal to eat. I knew she wanted to scream at me to stop, but I had to feed her everything, holding the bowl to her mouth for her. She was that weak. My stomach is on the brink of tearing itself apart. Before Emma fell asleep, I asked her, well actually I ordered her, to wake me up the next morning. I need to wake up...I have to.
Even if you beat us down, we still have a fighting spirit. A few days ago, I was offered to help with a...special project against the Nazis of the camp. I surprised myself and the person who asked my by refusing. Later, I realized why I had done so. If I had taken part in the violence that occurred today, I would be no better than the Germans that keep us here...
A group of prisoners revolted during the course of the day. They blew up one of the crematoriums. No longer will one of those horrific buildings burn people like my mother. I did temporarily rejoice along with others that had not participated, but regretted it. Just because I didn’t help those that bombed the crematorium, it does not give me the right to cheer them on. I think I’m learning to let things go. I want to leave feelings of anger and hate behind. I want to be a better person, one that is above feeling hostile towards others.
Winter is setting in again. I am taking measures to make sure that we survive this time. With the war taking bad turns, I don’t know if we’ll get Christmas off again. I know that this is definitely going to sound like I’m off my rocker, but I think we can get through because of these "measures." Every night, we hold our feet as close to our chests as possible, and cover them with Mom’s coat. It’s nice to think that she’s still helping us stay alive. To tell you the truth, we’ve had to resort to doing something weird. Brace yourself. I’m picking all of the tufts of grass that are still alive all around the camp. They can help keep our bodies warm if we stuff them in our clothes, and when we are hungry, we can eat the grass and its roots. You’d be surprised what your definition of a meal is when you are starving to death in Poland during the icy cold winters.
We have no time for “luxuries” any more. The war is NOT going at all well. Our work hours increased to sixteen today, and thousands of people that have been deported here are being gassed. They are still determined to exterminate us, even if they loose. Hitler has brain-washed these people so much, but I am wondering if half of them have even seen him. They’re taking orders from an officer, who is also taking orders from another, higher officer, and so on. It can get a bit confusing. To keep Emma busy sometimes, I’ll ask her some math problems while we get ready for bed. I’m trying to hold onto some of the things that I learned in school before Jewish children were banned from public schools five days after Kristallnacht. It’s actually not so bad to teach her things that she might need in the future.
I was right. They did not give us the day off. The only reason that it mattered to us was so we could get some rest, but I guess we can live without it. Yes, Emma and I have begun to eat the grass, and it does provide some nutrients that we had not been receiving before.
The Nazis are freaking out, now. They talk freely, not caring what we hear. The Soviet Union has landed in Poland. They might be marching here as we speak, but I’ll try not to get my hopes up. The S.S. have begun to try to erase what they have been doing here. They are gassing those that work in the crematoriums, and those that worked in the Canada- and Sonderkommandos, and replacing them with new people. I think they are trying to cover up any accounts, and destroying the witnesses. I’m glad that Emma and I never had been chosen to perform those tasks. No one should have had to. We do what we’re told to, and try to remain out of sight. Things are not going to be easy.
Everything is destroyed. Barely anything remains. Our morning began with explosions all around us. Emma and I climbed down from our bunks as the quaking reached its peak. We lay under the three beds for hours, staying hidden, while we heard the screams of the other women, as terrified as we were about what was going on. Then the shouting started. The doors to our barrack were thrown open, and the women were ordered to line up outside. They were to be marched out of Auschwitz with all haste. Emma started to get up, but I held her back, and we stayed there as the rest filed out the doors. The Nazis didn’t bother to check if there was more, they just moved onto the next one. More hours passed, the bombing over with, and the yelling dulling out into nothing. Finally, we crawled out from under the bunks, as did two other women, and stepped outside. It was deserted. The air was heavy with grey smoke that filled our lungs and made our eyes water. We all looked around, and began walking along the roads, gazing at the destruction. All of the gas chambers and the crematoriums had been blown up by the Nazis in order to hide the evidence of the slaughter that had been taking place at Auschwitz. Thousands of prisoners were lying on the ground, dead. The rest that were still alive, besides we who remained, were being marched towards Germany. I felt so sorry for those who would have to endure the long walk there. They, like us, were already underfed and exhausted enough as it was. They would have to face a challenging walk, with either ill-fitting clogs or no shoes at all. We had been left behind: a handful out of thousands. We have to really think about where we go from here. Our survival instinct has been used up enough as it is, and who knows if anyone will discover us here. Will we still stay alive? Will the days turn into a blur?
We cannot try to escape, even though we are free to do so. Emma and I will not be able to survive if we walk along the railroads. We don’t know where the nearest town is. We have to stay here. It is hard to even move. I spend most of the time sleeping, or trying to keep Emma awake. Usually, I do the latter with math problems, or asking her to spell words in the dirt with her finger. Yesterday, we raided the cafeteria and tried to salvage as much food as we could. I have to remind myself not to eat it all at once. It has to last. Sometimes, when I want to go for a walk, Emma will raise her head from the bunks, which she has been spending most of her time in and beg me not to leave her. Usually, I’ll lie, and say I’m going to the bathroom, or I’m going to look for more food. I make sure that she has plenty of blankets, and is wearing Mom’s jacket. January is a winter month, after all. I walk to escape the memories. This is one of those times where you need some way to vent. I don’t have the strength to punch a wall, so I walk. That is tiring enough. Sometimes, Emma comes with me, and we’ll travel to the abandoned S.S. barracks. Usually, we try to guess what kind of life a certain soldier lived by pictures, or how he kept his room. It’s not a bad way to spend the time. We once found a radio, but it is broken, and the batteries had run out before Auschwitz was liquidated. I think we’ll sleep in the S.S. barracks, tonight. I can see darkened clouds in the distance, and with the way the wind has been blowing, it might snow tomorrow.
We’re free. It is unbelievable. We watched men from the Soviet Union come on monstrous tanks along the road. We could not shout, for our lungs were weak, and most of us had caught a cold, and even some the flu. They broke the gates down, and it was as if a stone tablet, which had been holding me down, was suddenly lifted. I smiled widely, and shook Emma awake. We had been lying on the street, leaning against a brick building. When she saw the men that had entered, she had gone hysterical at first, thinking that the Nazis had returned.
I shook my head, and told her simply, “We are being liberated.” She looked at me, into my hollow eyes, and lay her head down on my thigh and cried hard in her overwhelming happiness. A Russian soldier walked up to us as she did so. He looked at our skeletons, at the skin that stretched over our bones. I knew he was scared of us, that he was wondering if we were actually human. In sketchy German he said, “We are here to help you.” I looked at him with tears in my eyes as well. I said back to him, “Thank you. We need the help.” He nodded, and went over to a truck that was parked nearby, asked another man to help him, and they carried steaming bowls of canned stew, and warm milk, and a stretcher for Emma. The man that had spoken to us put Emma on the stretcher, and she latched onto my hand. The Russian helped me to stand, and I held onto her and him together. They lead us to the back of the truck, helped us inside, lay Emma on the floor, and handed me the food. The two men then left us back there to help other people in Auschwitz. There was another man inside the truck. He was tall, with white hair, and blue eyes. He was eating the same thing we had been given, so I began to feed Emma the stew, slowly, so that she didn’t wolf it down. She drank the milk haltingly, as if she couldn’t believe that this was all happening. I, too, started to eat. It was as if we had died and gone to heaven. It was real, fried salmon, with celery and carrots. I was truly warm for the first time since September, and the milk flowed silkily down my throat. The problem was, the man that was in the truck had inched towards us, and was now sitting on the floor on the other side of Emma. He was staring at me as I ate. He looked at me in an odd way, examining every inch of my face.
He asked in a hoarse voice, “Excuse me.”
“Yes?” I replied across from my now asleep sister.
“I’m looking for someone, and I was wondering if you knew anything that could help me.”
“I’m looking for my family.”
“I hate to be obvious, but it’s likely that they died a long time ago.”
“I understand that, but you know what it’s like, not knowing.”
I sighed and continued, “Yes, I do. Ask your question.”
“I’m looking for a woman in her mid thirties. She had brown hair, and possibly two young girls were with her. One would be about eight now, while the other would be fourteen.”
“What were their names?”
“My wife was called Arabella, while the two girls were Emma and Angela.”
My heart stopped. I can’t remember when it restarted, but I asked, shakily, trying not to let my hope bubble to the surface, “I may have known them. What color was the fourteen-year-old’s hair?”
“Did she once own a tabby cat called Finn?”
“Yes, but that’s getting a little off topic,” he replied, raising his eyebrows in the same manner that...Dad...once did.
I tried to keep my voice level, but it still shook when I asked finally, “What is your name?”
Now the man looked really confused, and he cocked his head to the side before answering uncertainly, “Leonhard Cuyler, why?”
My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. My breath shook as I tried not to pass out. I shook Emma awake. She glared at me when this happened. I shook my head and, carefully, lifted her onto my lap. I stood up, and limped over beside the old man. He still stared at me, but I didn’t say anything until I sat beside him, with Emma still on my lap. They both gazed at me, now. I inhaled deeply, and said to my father, “Daddy, it’s us. Angela and Emma.” They both looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “Emma, it is him, its Dad,” I continued, “He just described us.” Then, looking at Dad, I insisted, “Remember?! ‘Anything you need me to, I’ll do it!’” He still looked a tad confused, so I kept going, refusing to give up, “You offered for me to change Emma’s diaper after Kristallnacht. I did the worst job, and you had to take it from there and start all over!” Then his eyes widened as he understood. “Oh God...” he whispered.
We did survive. We lived on. Most Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, like my family and I, could not return to our normal lives after the war was over. Special “DP” camps were set up for all of the “displaced persons” who had no home to return to. They nursed the three of us back to health, and eventually, we immigrated to the United States in 1953.
I still, even to this day, will wake up in a cold sweat and think that I am in those barracks once more. I did not remove the tattoo that was given to me at the death camp. My daughter, Kirsten Arabella, asked me about it once, when she was just two years old in 1958. I could not bring myself to tell her why. I also sent her to bed the day Adolf Eichmann’s trail was broadcasting on the television for the world to see. Nobody is really ready to face what had happened.
I began to translate this journal a month afterward, fishing it out from under my bed. I don’t remember why I stopped writing when I did, but I think it adds a finishing touch to the whole thing. I suppose I was done telling my story. I wanted to give this to the world because. . . Mom loved it when I would write down fairy tales and stories when I was little. This may not be a fantasy, but it is a tale that needs telling.
Thank you for reading my memories.
----Angela Cuyler, 1962