As Tchaikovsky’s lullaby grew in tempo and the forte approached, the sirens of the bombs still overpowered the symphony. The stage mimicked an earthquake, and the aftershock was a chorus of wailing. Still, I spun upon the stage with grace that triumphed fear.
Performing was my passion and ballet soothed my soul. I would often sneak out in the middle of the night climbing out of the back window. Our building consisted of eight stories, and everyone on the block knew everything about everyone. We were located on the outer boundaries of Rogoźnica, where the population of eight hundred and fifty-six, soon to be fifty seven with the birth of my little sister, formed a miniscule speck in a world of chaos. So, a few nights a week I would inch down the side of the fire escape, avoiding the searchlights and aggravated hearts of the gestapo. The theatre was in Torun, or the town square, which to my luck, crawled with gestapo soldiers. As the depiction of a young Jewish girl, I had a target on my back, screaming for attention to be brought to my hooked nose, droopy eyelids, and dark hair. I was proud of my appearance, and as a human being, I did not understand why we were all scolded with such pure anger. Avoiding these soldiers meant using a technique which few people are able to master with such grace and without foot cramping — ballet. Each tiptoe inched me closer to the theater, somehow avoiding an immediate bullet to the head for yearning to ballonné under a spotlight, rather than a searchlight. I was a success, envisioning a standing ovation for this abnormal talent, opening the back window of Slowacki Theatre. The scent of broken-in shoes, dust buildup, and nerves hung in the air of the ruins. However, before me stood a six-foot platform with the power to make even a girl like me feel superior, for once in my life. Upon the stage I began to glide, manipulating each arabesque, jete, and fouette to decode a difficult, yet beautiful melody of movements in my cardboard and cotton-stuffed pointe-shoes.
One night, my efforts to stay hidden failed me, for a young boy crept in through the window behind me. This boy was coming of age, with golden locks and crystal eyes that reflected the deep sea. In any girls book, Stefan was the man of their dreams. A match had more mass than him, yet he held himself together with a manor suited for royalty. However, he was virtually untouchable for girls like me, because he came from a long line of powerful Nazis; even though a forbidden relationship would make a lovely version of Romeo and Juliet. Then, for about two weeks, Stefan continued to creep in the theatre’s entrance, and watch me float across the stage, slowly falling in love with the care-free, Jewish girl he saw on those dark nights. He was not trained to move gracefully though, so one night, the commotion of fallen coat racks and bones made my short life flash before my eyes.
“Please, do not be startled,” Stefan timidly reassured me, inching closer to my refuge. I knew that if I ran, it would not make a difference, for before me stood impending doom, personified as Stefan Anacker.
“Please, do not take me with the rest…I was rehearsing before the sun came up.” Nothing can express the way I felt that night, with a chill so deep into my frail bones, and the darkness that filled my eyes when I saw the loaded gun anxiously dangling below his waist.
“Something tells me you do not know who I am.”
“Well, of course I do.” I instantly regretted the words that came out of my mouth, yet a waterfall of nervous rambling started to pour out. However, I cannot recall the gibberish I spoke that night.
“Calm down, calm down.” Stefan reassured me with urgency. “I know this may come as a surprise, but I have been watching your nightly performances for weeks now, and I could not help but notice a beautiful girl like yourself.”
“You’re not like the rest, are you?” His blonde hair and blue eyes disguised a kind heart and true resistance against the Nazi regime.
Those words kicked off the beginning of a beautiful teen romance; one that I would admire from outside the entertainment store- behind the designated area, of course. Each night we resumed our private affair, where I taught him to dance in return for an audience of one, and the feeling of belonging. The moon was an alarm for the curtains to be drawn, and the applause of my one spectator comforted me during the trials of daylight.
“Bravo, my love…How about an encore?”
“You know I have a mathematics exam tomorrow, and my mother must attend her interview with the gestapo, so I have to watch Elida.” My baby sister had been born, and her eyes reflected an entire life ahead of her; hopefully one that lacked bondage and discrimination.
“Oh, the things I would do to be with you when the sun is out,” Stefan yearned flirtingly.
We often exchanged glances during check-ins, census tallies, and support rallies, yet the dystopia I lived in created a barrier between a public relationship. Perhaps I spoke too soon, for I would soon be by his side, fighting for my life.
The light stroking of my mother’s gentle fingertips woke me one morning, but her expression shone of urgency.
“Wake up Claudia…They are coming to gather our valuables.”
“Oh mama, please do not let them take my shoes.” Mother had warned me that the gestapo was ruthless in taking what they found valuable, and I feared they would take my satin shoes, or heed them as a reminder to lock the theatre completely.
“Not to worry…They will head straight for the spoons, father’s eyeglasses, or the set of dining chairs,” she spoke with a certain reluctance in her voice, as if she knew the worst was yet to come. I knew this tone yet failed to react to ensure her comfort.
“But mama, what if they see how the light hits them, or the way I stitched the ribbon to fit me?”
“Mama, what if one of them has a daughter like me, and she wants them to dance?”
“Well then, Claudia, at least you know they’re going to a dancer like yourself.”
“Mama?…Are you scared too?”.
“There’s nothing to worry about Claudia…please watch Elida today,” she changed the topic of conversation, ignoring the fact that I could read her like my own diary.
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