As I sit here tonight and light a single candle in honor of my best friend and childhood sweetheart, she is not the only thing that I remember. Many emotions come flooding back to me, and not all of them are good.
I remembered my best friend, Mina, from when I was a child. We had been friends as long as I could remember, and we played together after school every day. I remember when I was seven years old I rubbed each side of a peach pit on the pavement until it was hollow in the middle, and I proudly presented this ‘Ring’ to Mina and asked her to marry me. She said yes, and made a point of wearing the ring every day. I truly loved her, and, as far as I could tell, she felt the same. Then, when we were nineteen, she was taken away.
Those few years were the worst years of my entire life. Though I had become a man a few years earlier…that was when I really grew up. Many of my friends were taken from me, simply for being different.
They had sent soldiers all around the country to find new recruits. All men who weren’t too old or sick had to sign up whether they liked it or not. If anyone tried to hide or refused to sign up, they would be put in jail. I wasn’t about to go and kill innocent men anytime soon, and I kept telling myself that I would rather go to jail than be a murderer.
I was able to hide for a short time, but I was eventually caught and put in jail. I was given a uniform with a red triangle on the front and was made to sleep in a cold room with a lumpy straw mattress, and I was to share my room with a few other prisoners.
Not all of these other men were deserters—one man, Hans, was simply a convict. He was in charge of the rest of us, and could do whatever he wanted. Even if it meant beating us.
Soon after I arrived, I began work after only eating a crust of stale bread and a cup of disgusting coffee that tasted about a hundred years old.
The taste of the coffee still lingered in my mouth as I carried boulders from one end of the camp to the other, and I felt like I was going to vomit. A group of Jewish prisoners was digging ditches nearby, and I could hear one of the Kapos yelling at them. I just kept working, not wanting to see what the Kapos would do to those innocent people.
As I was carrying a stone from one end of the camp to the other, I suddenly felt the ground cave in. My heart stopped briefly, but, to my disbelief, it suddenly stopped. I was up to my waist in dirt, and everyone was staring down at me.
“Sir, are you all right?” I looked up to see a woman in a ragged camp uniform looking down at me. Her eyes were sunken into their sockets, and her face was thin, making her cheekbones look prominent. A Star of David was stitched to her uniform with the word ‘Jew’ on it in mock Hebrew writing. Though it was raspy, I could sense something familiar about her voice. And where had I seen eyes that were so green?
“I’m fine. Just a second,” I tossed the boulder over to the side and tried hoisting myself out of the hole. All the time I was doing that I thought about where I had seen her before, but then I remembered.
“Mina? Is that you?” I said in disbelief.
She looked at my face for several moments, before her eyes widened in disbelief.
“Joseph? I thought we’d never see each other again!” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
The two of us just stood there for a few seconds, not saying anything, but just staring at each other. Finally we were brought back to reality by a voice.
“Okay, lovebirds, back to work!”
I saw Hans strutting proudly towards us, wearing a white ‘Camp policeman’ armband. He grabbed Mina by the arm and dragged her closer to the ditch, away from me.
I went back to work as well, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Mina. I hoped she would be okay, and that she would somehow be able to escape, even though I knew it was impossible. Maybe the war would be over soon and we could all be free.
After a while, work was finally over and I was able to go back to the bunk and rest. I was aching all over and was looking forward to sleeping for the few hours that we were allowed to sleep. I was absolutely exhausted, and I was so hungry I felt sick.
I had just gotten into bed when I heard the door to the room bang against the wall.
“Hey! Joseph! I have a surprise for you,” Sneered a mocking voice. I sat up in bed and I saw Hans standing in the doorframe, still wearing his white armband. He’s smirking sadistically, and I immediately realize why when I see who he’s dragging in by the arm. Tears ran down poor Mina’s face, and I saw some blood stains on her clothes.
“The two lovers are finally reunited!” He said mockingly, throwing her to the floor.
“Mina!” I yell, jumping out of bed and kneeling down beside her. She was just lying there moaning in pain, like she couldn’t get up.
“Joseph…don’t…I don’t want you to get in trouble…” She said in a barely audible voice.
“Aww!” I looked up to see Hans striding up to where we were. “How touching!” He said mockingly as he kicked Mina while passing her. He pretended to wipe a tear from his cheek.
“Mina, come on. Get up. You’ll be all right,” I whisper, trying not to let myself cry. I knew that I was lying to her and to myself, but I couldn’t help it.
I draped her arm around my shoulders and stood up, hoping that she would follow. She seemed to try standing up, but I could still feel her supporting herself on my shoulders.
“Too bad it won’t last!” He took something out of his pocket and pressed a button near the top. My worst fears were confirmed when I saw a shiny silver blade slide out of one end.
“No! Don’t hurt her!” I tried shielding her as well as I could while still supporting her. Hans pushed me to the ground, making me hit my head on the hard concrete floor.
He noticed me looking at him, and he got this look on his face like he was trying not to laugh. Even more tears were streaming down Mina’s cheeks and I heard her sobbing hysterically.
“You think that looks painful?” He asked her. “Well, how about this?”
He drew his knife across her throat in one graceful move. He didn’t cut her whole head off or kill her. She was still alive, and was screaming even louder. He took a seat on one of the bunk beds, before taking a box of cigarettes out of his pocket and lighting one. It was absolutely disgusting how he was just able to torture people like that and not feel guilty. Maybe I might have deserved it, but Mina was innocent. Nobody deserved to be punished for their religion.
Mina’s cries became gradually quieter before she eventually fell silent forever. I would never see her smile, hear her voice, or feel her hand squeezing mine ever again. Though I have been married before, I have never truly moved on. There has always been a hole in my life since that day, and it remains, fifty years on. Mina…I hope you know I will never forget you, not for as long as I’m living, which probably won’t be very long. I can’t wait to see you again in some time, but for now, I have to make do with remembering. I hope you see the candles I light for you every year…I had to have my son light this one, since I can’t get out of bed. I’m sorry for that. But I asked them to unplug the oxygen tank now. It’s been long enough.
I can finally see you again.