My Only Hope
The silence permeated the darkness. The cold wind whipped at my hair and threatened to rip my thin shawl away from me. I hugged my arms to my chest securing my shawl and tried to keep any sort of warmth inside. Slowly my feet and legs went numb from crouching but I couldn't move. No, if I moved, I died.
They were close. I could hear them yelling to each other. I could hear their heavy boots on the soft ground. If they found me I would not live to see another day. A tear slipped out and then I couldn't hold them back. Silently I cried. I cried for myself. I cried from mamma and poppie. Most of all I cried for my sister Maria.
She was so tiny and fragile…and innocent. I thought back a few weeks before. We were in our barracks resting and talking in small whispers. The evil lady in black boots and a green uniform barged in and told all the children that they could take a shower. Maria eagerly jumped out from behind mamma and I and ran toward the lady. We begged her to stay until the evil lady beat mamma into silence. Maria was scared then. I saw it in her face. Her brown eyes were wide with fear and a tear slipped down her face. She began to run back to us but the evil lady stopped her and shoved her and the rest of the children out the door. Lather that day we saw black smoke coming from the "showers" and mamma and I knew that we would never see Maria again.
Mamma left me shortly after. I think that mamma couldn't be strong now that Maria was gone and so she let herself go. She didn't try to fight the sickness, cold, and hard work. One night while we were lying on the wooden bunks in the barracks she took my hand and spoke in a barely audible whisper. "Survive…whatever it takes, survive. Find Poppie. I…I can't take it much longer…they've gotten me just like they got Maria." The next morning I woke up with mamma's hand still in mine. It was cold…too cold.
Mamma loved me. I never doubted that. I had thought about it the day after she died. I had come to the conclusion that mamma thought that I had poppie still on earth and that Maria was all alone in heaven, so she went to keep her company.
I was alone though. I hadn't seen poppie since the day that we were herded out of the cattle cars. Men and women were separated. However much I hoped that one day I would be reunited with poppie, a little voice in the back of my head thought otherwise. "You are alone…all alone." That was the scariest part of it all. I could stand the cold and work. Sickness had raged through my body and I'd survived. That was all before Maria and mamma died. I had reason to live then. I had a purpose and that made me strong. Now though, I had nothing. No one to live for, no purpose in my life.
I began to let go. I turned off my brain and walked through life like a zombie. Sickness raged through me again and this time I didn't try to fight it. I let it consume me from the inside out. Death was coming. I could feel it and I longed for it.
That is, until a single ray of hope shot through me giving me enough strength to turn my brain back on and tell my body to live again. The war was almost over. The Germans were losing. All around camp the prisoners talked about freedom. I had almost made it. A surge of relief shot through me as I realized how close I'd come to letting death defeat me. Things changed rapidly. The Germans needed to get rid of the evidence of the camps. They were rounding up more prisoners for the "showers". Panic spread through the camp and I knew that my only hope was escape.
So here I was crouching in an alleyway behind a few metal barrels. The noise was getting louder, the yelling more intense. Trucks zoomed by and fires burned in the streets. They were burning the evidence.
The tears continued to run down my face and the wind still whipped around me. I was numb from the waist down and my fingers were freezing. This was it. They would get me anyway. I closed my eyes.
Someone was nudging me. I'm dead…right? Why would any one nudge me in heaven? It hurts…you can't feel pain in heaven. Maybe I'm alive after all. I force my eyes open and blink. The sun is shinning. I don't dare move but the nudging continues. I hear a voice…not a harsh German voice but a gentle American voice. I slowly turn around and find myself staring into the most handsome face I have ever seen…the face of my savior. He is smiling and even though I don't understand English, I can understand the two words that he speaks to me, "You're free". He offers me his hand and helps me up. My legs are so numb that I can't stand up and I tumble to the ground. His face is instantly filled with concern and he rushes to pick me up and sets me on the back of a jeep.
I am free and alive. This thought fills me so completely that I start to believe that somehow, somewhere I will find poppie. The jeep lurches forward and I ride off with the soldiers words ringing in my head. "You're free!"