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Archive for August, 2010

Left and Right

I peeked through the basement window, watching the Nazi soldiers march through the streets. Their backs were straight, eyes focused ahead. “Leah!” her mother’s sharp voice said, “Get away from that window! They’ll see you!”

I stepped off the bucket I had been using as a stool and went and stood in the darkened basement with the rest of my family; Mamma, Rizpah my little sister, and I. My eyes filled with tears thinking about the day that we received the news of Papa’s death.

Leah!” mamma’s tired voice called, “Could you please answer the door? I am up to my elbows in dishes right now and need to get them done before Rizpah wakes up from her nap!” Sighing I put down the book I had been reading and ran to answer the door. I opened it and immediately took a step back. There were two uniformed officers standing there. They held their hats uncomfortably in both of their hands and looked at me, their expressions grim. Putting my hand to my mouth, I backed even further away from the door, shaking my head, tears coursing down my cheeks. “Leah, didn’t you answer the door? Why do you never….” Her voice trailed off as she rounded the corner, catching sight of the two officers. Her eyes widened and she stood frozen in place, silent.

Ma’am…Mrs. Levy….”one of them began and then paused …He knew that everything had changed. “I regret to inform that your husband has been killed while he was serving in the line of duty.” Bowing his head respectfully he took a step back. The other stepped forward and handed my mamma a box containing Papa’s dog tags and other personal effects. Mamma crumpled to a heap on the floor weeping.

BOOM! A loud explosion snapped me out of my reverie back into the present. Rizpah put her tiny hands over her ears and began to wail loudly. Wordlessly, Mamma grabbed my hand and Rizpahs and lead us to the trap door.

Ever since the war had started in 1939; we had hidden in this small cellar many a night while our small Polish town, Lodz, was being bombed. It was now 1941 and there didn’t seem to be an end in sight to this dreadful war.

Mamma closed the trap door overhead just as we heard the clomping of soldier’s boots above us. Trembling, I clamped my lips together in an effort not to scream. I could not give away our position. I had to be strong for Mamma.

They were now coming down the stairs, yelling in German. I heard the sound of boxes, shelving units, other things crashing to the floor as they searched the basement. One of the soldiers was getting closer to our hiding place. He stopped and stood right on top of it. I held my breath hoping and praying that they would not find us.

He stepped off of the door and began to walk away. I slowly let out my breath, thinking we were safe.  The next thing I knew, the trap door was ripped open. The three of us stared down the barrels of the guns that they had pointed towards us. Rizpah began to cry as they ripped her out of my mother’s arms. They grabbed Mamma next and then me. I heard one of them exclaim as they realized what we were.

Jews

They tied our hands behind our backs, pointed their guns to our backs, and made us walk up the stairs. Though I refused to scream or to even cry out, I could not stop the tears from coursing down my cheeks.

Loading us into vehicles filled with other Jewish families from our small community, they began to drive. We bounced along roads for hours, not knowing where they were taking us. When we finally stopped they made us all board trains. We sat in the corner of a car, huddling together for warmth. For two days we traveled; our dignity taken from us slowly with each passing day. They did not allow us to move from our car. It reeked of human excrement.

The train finally stopped and they made us all get off of. Then they separated us by genders. The soldiers ordered us to strip off our clothing. One woman refused and he struck her in the face till it was bloodied and bruised. We all stood in line, doing the best we could to cover ourselves up. I shivered violently, it was winter and the air was freezing.

They then had us form lines. Two Nazi officers stood at the head of each line. As each person came to the front he would point right or left. Mamma and Rizpah were five people ahead of me. Quickly I counted ten people in front of them.

Right, Right, Left, Right, Left, Left, Right….

The line moved forward.

When it was Mamma and my little sisters turn the officer gave them a cursory glance and pointed to the left. I hoped that I too, would go to the left.

Right, Left, Left….

It was my turn. I looked the officer directly in the eye, arms at my sides. I lifted my chin. I would not show any sign of weakness or intimidation. He cocked his eyebrow at me; a slow grin began to form on his features. He was leering at me. Though he sickened me, I stood unblinking. He jerked his thumb to the right. My heart dropped. I looked at my Mamma and sister with longing.

They then led us into the camp. I learned later it was called Belzec. I glanced to my left and a wave of nausea hit as I looked at a pit filled with thousands of shoes.

As I made my way across the uneven, cold dirt path, I looked ahead and saw a strange building. Black gray soot and smoke rose from the large chimney that sat atop of the building. It was then I realized that that was where they were leading my Mamma and little sister. My heart flew to my throat, I knew something was wrong.  I felt panic rising in my chest “Mamma!” A searing pain rent through my body as a whip ripped into the bare flesh on my back. I bit my lips so I would not cry out.

Shut up Stupid Girl!”said the soldier who had whipped me, “If you say another word I will give you the beating of a lifetime!”

I squared my shoulders and walked forward, not knowing what was ahead of me. I knew that whatever it was, I was going to have be strong for Mamma.

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Smoking Room

It was  like any other night at Jerry’s Bar. Not much had changed from what I could tell. It had been quite a while since I had been back to my home town. I took a long drink of my Blue Moon and looked around… recognizing many of the people. It was then I noticed one fella sitting at the counter by himself. It was obvious that he had had too much to drink and would soon be looking for trouble.

I chose the stool next to him and sat down. He slowly turned and looked me up and down, trying to focus on my face. “Who’re you?” he asked. I just grinned at him and slapped him on his back. “Doesn’t really matter does it?You won’t remember in the morning…” He gave me a calculated look before he started laughing. I laughed with him; enjoying the moment. “Hey Barrrnnneeyy…” The inebraited man called out. The bar tender gave the man a wary look. “Give my friend here a shot of Jack Daniels!”

We stayed that way for a while, talking, drinking, and occasionally laughing. I knew my presence had caused the man  to settle down.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a package of cigarettes. He stuffed them back into his pocket before He lit the fag up and drew it up to his lips. The next thing I knew; my face was enveloped in a cloud of smoke. The drunken man just looked at me. I felt a small amount of irritation… “You best not be doing that again…” I warned. He took an exaggerated  drag and pursed his lips blowing another cloud of smoke into my face. “I’m warning you if you keep this up…” Moments later my senses were assaulted by the smell of acrid smoke…

Before he knew what was happening, I was on my feet, dragging him up by the collar. I used my free hand to rip the pocket containing his cigarettes off of his shirt. “Hey now just a minute…” He began…I cut him off by shoving a ciggarette into his opened mouth. He had five left in the package and I made him eat each and every single one.  ‘Barney!” I called, “Fill up a glass of beer… He is gonna need it.” Barney slid the foamy substance in my direction. “Drink it, all of it…” I forced the glass to his mouth and made him drink the substance down. That done, I picked him up and threw him out the front door.

I turned and looked around me, noticing for the first time I had an audience. All eyes were wide and jaws were dropped. The next thing I knew everyone was clapping and cheering; exclaiming that they wished they had done that years ago. I smiled  to myself as I sat down and ordered another Blue Moon….

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