Again, the moon rose above our town that night, but this time, I was not on my way to the theatre, but on the train into the unknown, not only missing my ballet shoes, but also my mother and little sister. Around me stood a frail-looking crowd, stripped of nutrients and anxious for doom.
“Excuse me sir? Do you know where we are being taken?”
“I imagine they’re taking us to the farm, considering we are packed like livestock into this freight.”
“Perhaps you’ve seen my mother and sister?…They were first taken after the repossession of valuables.”
“No, I am sorry…everyone blends together like cattle, and I lost my daughter as well.” His complexion reflected doom, and none of us were safe.
“Geh raus! Folge mir!” The soldier told us to follow him out of the train, pulling our limbs like kids do to their dolls.
“Ow…watch it!” All attention turned towards me, and for the first time in my life, I wanted none of it.
“What is your name, Miss?”
“Claudia Baum…now, I do not know where I am, but please tell me where my mother is.” I believe I surprised everyone that day, for the silence grew so loud, I could hear the drum of my own heart.
“Ah, Claudia Baum…I do not know who you are, but you will now be given the name, 140603,” What animal would be so cruel, as to name a person by numbers?
“Bewegung! Claudia, follow me!” he said with pure anger, as if he was possessed by the devil himself.
As we entered the mundane lot, a sign hung above the entrance which read “Auschwitz-Birkenau.” The air reeked of an unfamiliar smell, almost like the burning of flesh, and the clouds created a layer so thick, I feared there would not be enough oxygen for the bulk of us to survive.
In the middle were blocks 1 through 20, where I soon found would house over a hundred people on each floor. On the right side sat three towers pointing towards the heavens, releasing toxic fumes. Certain nights, I swear I heard the near silent screams of children and the echoes of “Mommy, help!” Overtime, I began to develop the perfect ballerina figure, as we were rarely fed, and my face grew gaunt and lost its glow. I still had not seen my mother and sister, which took away any residual appetite, and replaced it with fear.
However, I was found by the one person who would understand and perhaps rescue me from that prison. Stefan was a fresh import to Auschwitz, and from the start, he did not belong. I saw him as my block was going through health-check. He was deciding whether the women were healthy enough to be kept for work or sent away due to severe illness or weight loss. No one had to be Sherlock to see the tears in Stefan’s eyes as he diagnosed the poor women with dysentery or typhus, and the look of guilt he displayed when he marked their names with a black “x,” sending them to burn or shower in doom. I had grown so weary in the camp, that I prayed that I too would be taken to a place of peace once again–peace six feet under. But when he saw me that day, something in him snapped. In a hurry, he got up from his resting place, and pulled me aside, still acting as if he was completing a health-check.
“Oh, Claudia! I am so sorry, my love.”
“Take me with the rest Stefan…I cannot bear it anymore,” I pleaded with true pain.
“Claudia don’t sa-”
“They took my mother and Elida…they took my ballet slippers…they took everything from me Stefan.”
“Mark my words, I will burn this camp down before anything happens to you.” I knew he did not have enough power to do anything of the sorts, but oh how this love soothed my soul.
“Please tell them to take me instead of my mother and Elida.”
“No one will hurt any of you.”
Yet promises in Auschwitz were always broken. Less than a week later as I was walking to the mess hall, I saw the mutated versions of my mother, hair half-shaved and a meatless body, and my baby sister, who had been chosen for experimenting. Our eyes locked and said goodbye, and both were placed into the showers, where their muffled screams made no sound over the groaning of a mournful nation. I had no more tears in my body. My heart grew stone cold and lost its humanity by the minute,
“You made a promise Stefan!….they’re gone now!”
“I tried, but I am no match to them. They began to catch on…saving you is my priority now, whatever it takes.”
“How can I trust you?”
He took me below the bunkers and I trailed slightly behind, out of breath and strength. A single chair and blanket was set up behind the make-shift walls, and he pointed in excitement.
“Here is your new home. I will be down here 3 times a day to bring food, water, and see how you are doing”.
“Are you sure no one will find me down here?”
“Yes I am sure…I used to play down here as a little boy, and no one could ever find me.”
“I love you, Stefan.”
“Always,” he replied with a smirk.
“I will repay you one day..”
“No need…just make it out alive.”
Photo Credit: i.pinimg.com