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Writing in the Stars (holocaust short story)
“Oh look!” I cried, running across the thick, whispering field. Helmuth followed slowly behind, taking his time to wade through the golden, sun soaked grass. When I breached the tall, long grass, and burst out upon the huge, dark hill, I gazed up at dusky, frostbitten sky. Helmuth parted the grass, and stood with me, gazing at the stars. It seemed as if there was writing in them, Work will Set you free…Arbeit wird euch frei machen. They were so dark, though, so sad, and I frowned. I was tired of seeing sad things. But it was warm here, and at least I wasn’t running through the biting snow…I wasn’t really sure where we were, exactly. But it didn’t matter. Not to me.
“Oh wow..look how bright that one is!” I whispered after a moment, pointing out the one that was getting brighter, and bigger, dazzling in the crisp black sky.
“That is your star.” Helmuth said quietly. I tilted my head.
“Well then. Where’s yours?” I asked, knowing full well that his couldn’t be as bright as mine. He lead me across the tall hill, and pointed. It was the dot for the ‘i’ in wird. It was different than the other stars…though not all of them. Some of them were different as well, like Helmuth’s…I had to look really hard at it before I realized that his star was different than the other ones because it wasn’t dark. I looked at it.
“It’s not as bright as mine.” I stated but he shook his head.
“Yes it is. And brighter.” I was about to argue when I heard a muffled sob from behind us. The rotten, dark stench of burning flesh suddenly snaked its way around our quiet little hill, and I held my breath. I didn’t want those memories to come back. We both turned, annoyed with the smell, and noticed something that wasn’t there before. A tiny little bundle sat on the hill behind us. I scooped it up and discovered that the infant wrapped inside was the source of the rotten stench. I looked at the small, round innocent face, and it gazed at me though wide, watery eyes. I held it towards the sky, and it stared I awe for a moment. Then it squealed, and reached for a certain star.
“That’s his. His star.” Helmuth stated.
“Do we get stars?” A quiet voice asked, and when we looked, there were three young children. Their eyes wide with fear, tainted with horrors, their golden and dark hair matted with blood. I nodded, and they looked up at the sky.
“All I see is writing.” One boy complained. But after a moment, he grinned. “That must be mine.” He said. We all stood on top of that dark, breezy hill, gazing at the stars. The other two children soon pointed out their stars, and every time one was claimed, it pulsed a little, and seemed to break from its shell, and it became more illuminant. There was something about them that intrigued me…something I’d seen before. Something that they’d made us wear on our jackets when they didn’t want us to exist anymore…Then I recognized them. They weren’t just dots that sprinkled over a royal twilight dusk, reaching on and on forever…they were our dots. Our stars. David’s stars. A woman approached us, and even though her fairly young face was dripping sweat, mixed with dark scarlet blood, and even though her arms were ripped and scared, she managed to look rejoiced.
She whispered, “This is where we can make peace.” I held the baby tighter. These stars, I realized weren’t stars. They were lost souls, embedded in a dark, velvet sky, blown here from far away. They rode on trains, dying off one by one, then worked to death, being beaten, shot, mauled, torn apart, burned, hanged, boiled, destroyed. They were dark. Alone. Ashamed. Empty. Shells of what once was, and what could have been. And even though they were crushed, carcasses of once beautiful existences, they were still there. Just because they were ruined, screaming, and in pain, that didn’t mean that they went away. So neither did the writing. So neither did we.
I stood for a long time, and soon, our quiet little hill was whispering again, only not with the breeze. With people, pointing out stars, calling for loved ones. It was crowded, but I didn’t feel squashed, like on the train, or in our ghetto. They were crying, some of them, trying to weep away their pain, and darkness that they carried like hard stones in their heart. But after a while, it became empty. Even the infant and Helmuth was gone. So I just stood there alone. I stared at my star. I couldn’t leave. Not yet. The rest of them had moved on, but I was still attached. To revenge. And hate. I wanted to destroy the Germans. The civilians that threw things at us on the trains. The children that laughed at us as we passed us and called us rats. The Nazis that tortured and killed our people. The smoke that rose from the chimneys, the ashy bodies of people that we loved raining on us like a burning rain. But most of all their Führer. I wanted to kill Hitler. No not just kill him once. But for every single Jewish infant that he destroyed. For every man and woman that he tortured and crushed. I couldn’t let go of my spite.
And so I sat there on that hill, sobbing and stewing in my spite, unaware that my star grew fainter and fainter the angrier that I grew. The hill filled and emptied many times, filling to the golden, hissing fields beyond, and I still stayed. I stayed, and I cried, hating and wishing. Until, eventually, the hill didn’t fill up anymore. And all the stars were bright and burning. Accept two. I was sitting, and crying when I felt a hand on my shoulder. When I looked up, it was this old man, his eyes withered and dead, burned by all the things he saw in those death camps. His beard was long and white, like the gnashing, burning snow, and tangled like the women’s hair when they shaved it off. He was bent, and crippled, but he seemed happy, and alive.
“Young man?” He whispered, and I looked at him. At his creased, wrinkled face.
“Yes Holunder? Elder?” I replied. He gestured to the sky. I looked, and now, there was only one dull star in the sky. The other must have been this man’s. I nodded. “Yes sir that is my star.”
“And why, may I ask, is it dark and lost?” He asked.
“I can’t let go. They tried to ruin our entire existence. They murdered children and babies and…I can’t let go of that. I’ll never let go.” He nodded, and seemed to understand.
“Yes. They did. But they’re just people.”
“No. If we’re rats, then they’re monsters.” He looked at me, his eyes watering.
“No. We are not rats. And they are not monsters. They…come with me.” He said. Then he began to hobble away. I looked back up at my star, at this place I’d spent so long, then followed. We trekked for hours, days, weeks, months. Years. And as we walked, I noticed that all the stars were alight. But as we got further away from my hill, more and more stars were dark, until, it was almost impossible to see. There was no stars that were glowing. Then we reached another hill. There were a few people waiting. They were German. I knew it. I didn’t want to go.
“See those stars?” He asked. I nodded. It was the same scene as I’d just seen, only, not all the stars were lit.
“Do you see any differences?” I shook my head.
“But these are German stars. Citizens. Children. Nazis.” I didn’t speak. It wasn’t possible.
“There are no differences between us. We are all people. It doesn’t matter how cruel or evil. No matter if they were crushed, destroyed existences, they’re still there. They don’t go away. They’re just the same as you and I.” I stared for a while. The old man had patience. He waited with me. And I watched the sky. Stars lit, and went dark. Lit, went dark. Light. Dark. Light…Dark. Just like ours. The man placed a hand on my shoulder.
“They made mistakes. Just like you.”
“I never killed anyone.”
“Doesn’t matter. You and they are the same people. There is no difference. And you’re just like them.” I felt hate for this old man surge through my body, and I clenched my teeth.
“I am NOT like them.”
“Ah but it seems that you can’t see them as people. Just as they seem to see us.” Then he was gone. He’d moved on. And as this realization dawned on me, a bright, blazing flame tickled my eyes, and I turned, to see my star blazing from light-years away, swallowing me up, and taking me away. I’d moved on.
“When you enter here, you will be silent. When you leave, you will have something to say.”