By: Peyton Hindman, First Prize (tied), Grade 8, Stetson Middle School
Discolored white walls with generic paintings surround the small room where dangling wires connect to different machines and fluid bags. A tall dresser spilling its contents from its drawers faces the door. One window lets in a cool breeze that stiffens the air. A small bed with a deep blue blanket sits center of the room. In it lies my grandfather, who is fast asleep on this mellow April afternoon. He had an accident many years ago that left him in a drowsy comatose state. I visit him as often as I can, but not as frequently as I would like. It feels as if he is being pulled away into the light, and I am the anchor holding him in this world. There is so much I want to say to him still. I pray I get the chance.
When he was a young Jewish boy growing up in the Kraków Ghetto, he lived a simple life. His father was a baker in a bread factory and his mother made small change from sewing. He played with the other boys in the ghetto and walked his sister to and from the library daily. He told me once he could often be found with a book in his hands. He would share with me bits and pieces of his life when he was awake. I can recall one time he shared with me his whole story. Afterwards I was proud to call him my grandfather. He had survived one of the darkest moments in the history of humanity and lived to tell me about it. I hope in retelling his story I can do it the justice it deserves.
At first life in the Ghetto was tolerable, even though conditions were tough. Everyone knew their neighbors and people were always happy to lend a helping hand. Unfortunately, conditions in the Ghetto soon became quite gruesome. More and more Nazi soldiers poured into the Ghetto like honey bees attracted to the hive. A curfew was set at sundown, and the punishment for breaking the curfew was death. The Nazi soldiers carried large rifles that were used to shoot you on sight if you were caught. They patrolled the streets night and day, yearning for a Jew to step out of line so that they might display their cruel power
When the train tracks outside the Ghetto’s walls were complete, things started to change even more. Men, women, and sometimes children were pulled from their homes in the middle of the night and forced to board the trains. No one knew where the rains went, and no one came back to tell the tale. This caused a panic among the community. Children no longer played in the street. Use of the library and other privileges were revoked, and no one felt obliged to lend a helping hand. No one went to the flat anymore to help cook meals, and no one would help my Grandfather’s mother sew. As quickly as the Germans were taking the Jews out of the Ghetto, they were herding them in. The two-bedroom flat my grandfather and his family had been staying in was split among three families. A total of five adults and four children were living there. The Ghetto became cold and quiet with a long winter on the horizon. My great-grandfather worked fewer hours at the bakery and was ultimately dismissed. The bakery closed soon after. Together as a family, they still lived on not knowing the worst was yet to come.
One late afternoon on a frigid day in January, an announcement from a speaker in town blared into homes like solemn bells ringing from a church. All Jews were to report to the town square of the Ghetto immediately. Failure to report to the square was punishable by death. Each person was instructed to bring a small amount of clothes and any personal belongings that would fit into one suitcase.
A large crowd gathered in the square. The Nazis with their guns stood in front of the large train that had carted people off before. Everyone in the square was expected to board. A countenance of shock and disbelief stood upon the faces of the people nearby. The crowd was in a state of terror. Children were bawling, men were shouting, and whistles were blowing. The Nazis behind the crowd pinned everyone in like cattle. There was only one direction to go: forward onto the trains. In this state of terror my grandfather was separated from his parents and sister. He boarded one train, and they boarded another. He promised his mother he wouldn’t let go of her hand; however, he was forced to break that promise.
Little did he know, that was the last time he would see his parents.
His train had carried him to a concentration camp about twenty minutes or so away from the Ghetto. At least he thought it had been twenty minutes; his perception of time had not been very good. The train doors opened to reveal a large building surrounded by Nazi soldiers. My grandfather was next in line when he overheard the conversation before him. It was between the German soldiers and a man and his family.
“Who is with you?” asked the Nazi.
“My wife, son, and daughter,” responded the man.
“What are your ages?”
“I’m 37, my wife is 34, and my son and daughter are 7.”
“You may step to the left, and the rest of your family goes right.”
Under a hushed tone I made out the words gas chamber and followed the German man’s gaze to the woman and children. My grandfather had been 11 at the time, and he knew that he must lie in order to escape the fate of that family. He told the Nazis he was 15 and had experience working in a factory with his father. This was not a complete lie as his father had taught him some tricks of the trade. The Nazis escorted him left and he felt a surge of relief as they believed him, as least for the time being.
For several years he worked under harsh conditions in the salt mines, chipping away at the moist rock. Burying any feelings of claustrophobia way down inside him, at least for the time being.
There is one day in particular that he can remember like it was yesterday. This is the one day that he was liberated by the American Army. He had just woken up in his barracks when he looked around and saw no Nazis. They were gone without a trace. They had packed up the night before knowing the Americans were coming. He ran into the field outside his barracks, and through his arms into the air. He basked in the fresh sunlight that rained down on him. He knew he was finally safe. He knew he was finally free.
He returned to the Ghetto to look for his parents, where he was informed of their deaths. After all the Jews had been transported to concentration camps the Ghetto was liquidated. Knowing there was nothing left for him, he moved to the United States to begin a new life. He met my Grandmother, Greta, and together they started a family. He opened his own bakery, in memory of his father and he continued living his life. He and my Grandmother had two daughters; my mom and her sister. He taught me skills in the bakery when I was growing up, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I plan on taking over the bakery soon after my father retires.
The beeping monitor draws me back to reality. Green squiggles flash on the screen showing signs of life. I am back in the uncomfortable hospital chair, awakened from my day dream. Days like this are common for me. I relive my Grandfather’s story because it is not finished. He needs to wake up, so that it may be completed. All stories need an ending and his story is missing one. I will continue to visit daily, hoping to get one. I can’t move on until the final chapter is read, the last picture looked at, and the remaining page is turned. I don’t want him to leave me yet. I need more time.
Two days later after my final visit with him in the ICU, my grandfather passed away I his sleep. That was the way he deserved to go. Peacefully and quietly he went to bed and didn’t wake up. I have come to terms with the fact that not all stories need to end, as my Grandfather’s is still going. The kind, passionate, and loving person he was will live on within me. He always has been and always will be with me in spirit. We don’t get to choose what happens to us in life, but we can choose how we respond. My grandfather chose to live.
Take Me to Reality
By: Madison Chuang, First Prize (tied), Grade 8, Stetson Middle School
The date is October 25th, 1944.
Goosebumps rise on my chilled skin as I lie on the planks of the bunks; the threadbare fabric that hangs loosely on my body does nothing to block out the harsh cold. With the little space I have, I roll to my other side, my grimy face grating along the splintered surface of the wood below me. It digs into my cheeks, and I wince but brush it off as I stare over the side of the bunk. Exhaling heavily, my breaths cloud in the air then spiral into nothing. I then tilt my head towards my mother, Monika, who is sleeping beside me. Her face is not as serene as it used to be; her brow is furrowed as she takes shaky breaths. She is frail, her skin tugging on her skeleton. Every bone, every rib, it’s all visible through the sack draped over her. Truly a pitiful sight to any sorrowful eyes that gave upon her.
At this time, a Nazi soldier marches toward the barracks. He prepares to wake everyone for the daily roll call, where he will assign people to work and others to die. None of the victims of this deplorable crime will know their fates until he arrives, yet somehow their numbers will echo in my ears, bouncing back and forth around my head. I should not be able to know who must perish on this day, yet somehow, I am all too aware.
I position myself to face my mother, who is still resting. Nudging her with my hand, my voice hoarsely splits the silence of the cramped room.
“Mother, please wake up,” I rasp.
“Yes, Anna?” She mutters under her breath, her eyes drowsily fluttering open.
I pause, holding completely still. The soldier is closer now and once he is here, the center of my universe will be robbed from me. An overwhelming dread washes over me. I frantically yank at her sleeve, her bones seeming to rattle under her skin. Adrenaline streams through me, a miniature electric current through my body.
“Mother, you need to listen to me. I know I’ll sound insane, but please, please I’m begging you to get up and run! Run as fast as you can go, as far as your legs can carry you.”
My shrieking doesn’t seem to startle her. In fact, her reaction isn’t one of fright whatsoever. She looks at me empathetically, placing her cold hand upon my shoulder.
“Mother, I –“I peer into her eyes, but I cannot feel the warmth that typically radiates from them. They are frigid, glazed over like a frosted window.
“Please, they’re going to take you today. You need to listen! I – I can’t let them! I can’t go from this wretched place without you, don’t leave me here!” I wail to her in desperation, my eyes snapping shut in frustration.
The corners of her mouth turn downward as she pulls my forehead towards hers.
“I know, darling. I miss home too,” she huffs, as she brushes her fingers across my head.
“What? No! That is not what I just said at all! Please now is not the time to joke around – “
Before I can finish my tangent she cuts me off, but not out of rude intent. It is only now I realize despite my screams, my warnings, every booming plea I have made, she cannot hear. My lips will not move, not in the way I want them to. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make them. A seer cursed with silence, my predictions aren’t heard, for my mouth is already spewing a longing for home. These are not my words.
“Oh sweetheart, we will make it out of here. You and I have come far enough through this, and we can make it through more. We will be okay, I promise,” she says reassuringly. This is a lie, but she does not know it yet. She cannot know it yet. Abrupt vibrations sound through my ears as the Nazi reaches our shack, clanging on a gong in his clenched fist. A cascade of bodies stream down from their bunks as he hollers, his words are piercing into my skull like cutting knives. I stand up, recoiling from the sudden shock of the frigid floor touching my feet. Offering my hand to my mother, she grabs it and I gingerly lift her up. She stumbles, accidentally shoving her small frame into mine as she tries to regain her balance.
“Mother? Are you all right?” My eyes widen as I meet her dismal ones.
She nods reassuringly, rising back up, yet I know this isn’t true, either. She is a feeble thing, puny and fatigued. Her body is unlike her will. Without that will we both recognize she would not have made it this far.
The second gong rings and the flood of people tread outside, my mother trailing behind. Although I have no desire to move I do so. I have lost control of my body and my limbs carry me unto the early morning darkness. We fall into columns of weary prisoners, too drowsy to stand but knowing full well the only free will comes in death.
Time stands still, just as we do. For hours on end, we wait in perfect, patient lines as the Nazis account for every single person in the camp. To break free of this body, run across the tracks and away from this place. It’s all I want to do, but still, I cannot move. Legs together, head up, arms to sides, I still cannot manage it.
“Number 19876, number 19882. . ."
The numbers ring and my fingertips dig into my shirt.
“Number 18734, number 19553. . .”
My dirt-coated fingernails press into my skin from beneath my rags.
“And number 19683. To the showers.”
The growing pain in my chest becomes sharp and dense, heartbeat unsteady. I feel the rapid thumping through my chest as nausea plagues my stomach. Mother looks to me with tears brimming in her eyes. Her number has been called and we know what it means for the both of us. I am doomed to be alone and she is damned to the gas chambers.
“Anna – Anna no. . . No!” Mother wails, her tears spilling down her pale cheek.
The soldier glares daggers at her, his frown twisting into a psychotic snarl. He draws his pistol out of his belt and points it threateningly at my mother.
The Nazi snaps, “Shut your mouth, you absolute swine! You have no right speaking in my presence, so get in your place!”
“I can’t leave my daughter here! Please, please don’t put her through this torture!” My mother pleads, a forlorn expression coating her face.
“I said get into your place, mutt!”
“No! You will not take me away from my daughter!” Her bony fists are clenched, her spit flying into his eyes.
“Then I’ll make you fall in line.” He points the pistol to my mother’s head.
Tears are cascading down my cheeks. Shaking profusely, I bring a hand to my face to wipe them away. “Grandma Anna?” My damp face is drooping, wrinkled and aged. My trembling hand is as well, a silver band around my ring finger.
“Grandma Anna? Are you all right?”
The voice of a woman catches my attention. It is not my mother’s. My mother died years ago, I recall. This is my grand-daughter Eliza. I remember that I love her and that I know her well. She is the light of my life.
“I am all right, dear.” My voice croaks as I rub the tears. It is gravelly, hoarse voice, but I know it is mine. This I am certain of. The date is December 18th, 2010. A warm fire crackles in the fireplace and photographs sit on the mantle above. I see a photo of Eliza as a little girl. I see a photo of my husband, Walter. He is asleep beside me, and I remember that I love him as well, and he does in return. Finally I fix my gaze upon a picture of my mother. Her demeanor, radiant and warm, so far from the last memory I have of her.
"Did you have another flashback, Grandma?" I nod, placing my creased hands into her smooth, warm ones. "Yes, my dear. I did." Eliza smiles sympathetically towards me, her brow dipping with sorrow for me.
"Oh, sweetheart," I place my hand on her cheek, brushing my thumb comfortingly over the flushed surface.
"It is a terrifying place, I'll tell you that. It is cold, dark, and damp. . . But when I come back, dear, am with you and I am warm. I am home."
Ten Years Apart
By: Tara Goldfinger, Second Prize, Grade 8, Stetson Middle School
It was September 29th, 1939. I was nine years old. My family and I were preparing for supper. Mother was cooking kotlet schabowy and the scent rose to my second story bedroom. I dashed down the steps, through the foyer, and into the kitchen. I set out four plates around the dining table, with a fork and knife for each place setting. My sister, Helena, strolled into the kitchen from the living room. "What are we eating for supper?" asked Helena. "Kotlet schabowy and potato knishes," our mother said. "Would you darlings care to grab the potatoes out of the pantry?" "Sure," we said simultaneously. As we started off to the pantry, we heard the front door open. Our father walked into the foyer, took off his shoes, and set down his briefcase. We ran over to him and gave him a warm hug, welcoming him home after work. Helena and I went back over to the kitchen to retrieve the potatoes for our mother. We raced each other to the pantry; I won. We turned on the light and looked around. We noticed the bag of potatoes was on the top shelf. I had always been the bigger twin, so we decided that I'd lift Helena up. I squatted down as my sister sat upon my shoulders and I stood back up. She grabbed the bag and I set her down hastily. She stumbled into the wall when I let go of her. We giggled, turned off the light, and exited the pantry. That's when disaster struck. My sister and heard a large crash come from the foyer. Then screaming. Gunshots were fired. Glass was shattered. We heard men yelling commands.
"Put your hands in the air!'
"Get on the ground!'
I could hear my mother's cries and my father's screams. I faintly heard my mother shout "hide." Helena grabbed my hand and we ran farther from the noise. We opened up the pantry, realizing there wasn't enough room for us to both stay hidden.
"Stay here. I will find another hiding place," my sister whispered.
"Please! Don't leave me!" cried softly.
“I will be right back. We will be alright." Helena shut the pantry door and ran off. I sat down on the floor between the canned soup and rolls of toilet paper. I buried myself as far back into the shelf as I could. I wrapped my arms around my folded legs and kept my head down on top of my knees. Tears were streaming down my face and dripping onto the tiled floor. I covered my mouth with my left hand to keep my cries silent. Millions of thoughts and worries ran through my head. What is going on? Who is in my house? What is going to happen to my parents? Where has my sister gone? What should I do? Why is this happening to me? I sat in the dark pantry for what felt like an hour. Then I heard footsteps going up the stairs. The creaking floorboards echoed in my head. I heard a few voices, but I couldn't understand what they were saying. It sounded like German. I heard disturbances throughout the second floor. First in Helena's bedroom, what sounded like picture frames and mirrors being shattered. Then in my bedroom I could heard my dresser fall over. More and more racket from my parents' room. Next I heard the footsteps proceed down the stairs. There was more conversation between the men in the foyer. The footsteps grew louder and louder. I realized they were in the living room, approaching the kitchen. My heart felt as if it were about to burst out of my chest. Tears flowed out like a waterfall and my breathing became heavy and fast. The footsteps of big heavy boots were so loud it felt like they were inches away. Suddenly they stopped and I tried to listen for any noise.
The next thing I saw was a sliver of light. It grew larger until I saw three armed men in the doorway. The closest man took a large step into the pantry. I held my breath and tightened my arms around my body. My eyes were looking down at my feet, trying not to make any movement. Suddenly, a large hand gripped my arm tightly and pulled me out from my hiding spot. My breath was back and faster than ever. I looked up at the man as he dragged me to my feet. He was like a statue, towering over me with no expression on his face. He wore a dark green uniform head to toe, with large black boots, and a helmet on his head. In his other hand was a long rifle. My fear was so great I could barely notice how tight his grip was on my arm. The man marched me out of the pantry into the kitchen. The other men followed and surrounded me. I noticed that they were all wearing the same uniform. But what I had just realized was the swastika patched onto the sleeves of their coats. In that moment I was struck with the fact that these were Nazi soldiers, breaking into my house because we were a Jewish family.
I stood in the kitchen as the men stared and examined me. They took note of all my physical features. One man pointed to my blonde hair and to my blue eyes. I heard them bicker in German. I was confused about why they held me here. If they wanted to kill me, why hadn't they done it yet? As they continued to speak to each other, I looked around at my house. There were bullet holes in the ceiling of the foyer. Broken glass covered the stairs. All of our belongings were shattered and scattered on the floor. Then began worrying. I couldn't see my parents and didn't know where my sister was. The man who still had a grasp on me walked me over to the foyer. The other two went back into the kitchen. I could hear them breaking more things and searching around the rest of the house. I became fearful for my sister, hoping she could manage to stay hidden. They came back into my sight and aft walked me out of the house. I knew my sister was still in there and hoped that she would be all right.
As the soldiers took me outside, I could see that we weren't the only house invaded. All of the Jewish neighbors' houses were broken into and destroyed. There were thousands of more soldiers around the city. The street was flooded with Jews. I saw dozens of large trucks being loaded with people. I could pick out familiar faces in the crowds. One of my neighbors, Ada Kowalski, was being dragged out of her home and held at gunpoint. My Hebrew teacher, Magna Wožníak, was on her knees sobbing. Eryk Baran, a boy from school, was clutching his mother's leg. I desperately looked around for my mother and father, but they were nowhere to be seen.
I was not taken into the crowd of people, but around all the chaos. I was being led to a car, guarded by another soldier. He bent down to my eye level and observed me the same way the other soldiers did. Then he nodded to the other men, who forced me into the back of the car. One of the soldiers sat beside me and the car started. We drove for many hours.
Eventually, we arrived at an unfamiliar building. It was past midnight, and was exhausted, but I couldn't sleep a wink from fear and curiosity. The soldier in the front seat got out and opened the back door. Then the soldier sitting next to me grabbed my shoulder and forced me out of the car. I looked around for any clues to where I was, but all of the signs were in German. I was walked into the building, taken into a room, and seated on a wooden bench. A man walked into the room and a soldier stayed and guarded the door. The man examined every square centimeter of my face. He observed my hair, skin, and facial features. The doctor wrote down notes on a paper after every test or examination, Later, he took pictures of me from every angle. I was confused, but didn't say a word or try to resist. The man left the room and I was held there by a soldier for about half an hour more.
Eventually, another soldier knocked on the door, and the soldier in my room opened it. I was taken by the arm and walked out of the building back into the car. I was extremely confused and had even more questions in my mind. Why was I taken here? What were those examinations for? Where am I being sent now? We drove for another few hours in the darkness. It was the middle of the night and my eyes were becoming dreary. I hadn't slept for about twenty hours. However, I forced myself awake. After some time we reached another building. This was a much larger building, completely surrounded with barbed-wire fencing. I was dragged out of the car and into the building by the guard next to me. In this building I spent the next year and a half of my life. I was given a cot to sleep on and a thin blanket. Here, I learned how to become a "proper" Aryan. I was trained to forget my original heritage and learn to be a loyal Nazi. I was taught German, and was not allowed to speak a word of Polish. Every day I wore a uniform with swastikas and was taught all of the Nazi beliefs. A few times a week, I was forced to do exhausting, laborious work. For countless hours, I would be forced to do arduous drills and marches to make me lose all sense of my individuality. Anytime I misbehaved or showed a trace of my native heritage I would be punished harshly. Sometimes I was deprived of food and starved. Other times I was physically beaten or whipped. I was even forced to forget my name and I was given a new German one: Nadine Scholz.
After eighteen months of torture and pain, I was sent to a new family. I was taken out of the "school" and driven to Berlin Germany. We arrived at a house just outside of the city. A soldier walked me up to the front door and rang the doorbell. I was nervous about the people who were soon going to be my "family." A woman and man open the door and let me inside. The soldier walked back to the car and drove off. I was warmly welcomed by the couple. "Hello Nadine! Welcome to our home!" the woman said. "My name is Ingrid, but you can call me Mom."
"And my name is Otto, but you can call me Dad," said the man.
My new parents led me through the house and showed me every room. It was a very beautiful, large home. They led me upstairs to a bedroom and told me that it was mine. I thanked them for their kindness.
I lived with the Scholz family for next seven years of my life, until I was eighteen years old. They were very kind and generous to me, but it still didn't feel like my real family. Even with all of the training and teaching, I wasn't able to forget about my true parents and sister. I missed them dearly, and thought about them every day. I also wondered what had happened to them and if they were still alive. When living with the Scholz family, I was sent to primary school in the city and lived a completely new life. A different name, in a different place, with different people. After I turned eighteen years old, I went to the Humboldt University of Berlin.
It was September 29th, 1949 and World War ll was over. I had been living on my own and decided I wanted to go back to Poland to visit. It was exactly ten years since the Nazi invasion at my home. I had gotten on a train early in the morning and arrived in Warsaw by noon. I walked down the streets of my old city, recalling the memories of my early childhood. I started down the sidewalk of the neighborhood, seeing my old home at the end of the cul-de-sac. As I approached the front door, I was flooded with memories of the night the Nazis came. I stood there for a few minutes, thinking back to the exact moments I was taken. "Natalia?" I heard my old name called from behind me. I was confused and thought that maybe it my imagination. "Is that you?" Maybe it was real. I spun around and saw my sister, all grownup before me. "Helena?" I cried. My sister sprinted up to me and we hugged each other tighter than ever. We were both crying, holding each other in our arms. It was exactly ten years since we had last seen one another.
"Natalia? Is that really you?'
“I missed you so much."
"I missed you, too." My family and I lived in a single family home in a small neighborhood in Warsaw, Poland. I had a twin sister, Natalia, and two loving and hard-working parents. My father worked as a businessman, and my mother ran a small bakery. Natalia and I were brought up Jewish. We went to the synagogue every weekend and started going to Hebrew school.
I remember when the Nazis invaded our house like it was yesterday. It was Friday evening of September 29th, 1939. I was sitting in the living room reading a book for school. It was around five o'clock when I set down my book and walked into the kitchen. Natalia was already in there, setting up the dining table for dinner. My mother was at the stove cooking kotlet schabowy. It smelled absolutely delicious. She had asked Natalia and me to grab the potatoes from the pantry for her to make some potato knishes. We were stopped on our way to the pantry, however. Our father had just walked through the front door after work. He looked exhausted, but smiled as my sister and I ran over to hug him. We went back to our original task of fetching the potatoes for mother.
Natalia raced me through the kitchen, down the hallway, and to the pantry. She always made everything a competition. The bag of potatoes was on the fifth shelf, almost twice my height away. Natalia had to lift me on her shoulders to reach the bag. She let me down so fast I crashed into the wall, almost knocking over the cereal boxes. Natalia laughed so much, she could barely speak. I sat on the floor giggling about the accident. We stood up and started off to the kitchen. But we most certainly did not make it there.
As we were about to enter the kitchen, I heard the front door burst open and crash to the floor. Then the sound of gunshots shook the whole house. I dropped the bag of potatoes at my feet and grabbed my sister's hand. We heard a few unfamiliar voices shouting at our parents, and mother and father screaming and crying. What I remember most vividly was the pain in my mother's voice as she yelled "hide." I ran back down the hallway dragging my sister's hand along with me. We opened the pantry door and tried to sit on the floor. There was not enough room for the both of us. I noticed my sister was paralyzed with fear.
"Stay here. I will find another hiding place," I said.
"Please! Don't leave me!" I told her that I'd be right back and that we'd be both okay. I didn't know this at the time, but those would be my last words to her for a long while.
I carefully shut the door of the pantry closed and ran down the half. I turned left into the last room of the dead-end hallway. It was a small half bathroom with nothing but a toilet and sink. My heart was pounding faster than the speed of light. I didn't know what to do. I knew that I couldn't leave the bathroom, or I'd be caught. I spun in circles thinking hard. I looked down and realized that there was a cabinet below the sink. The cabinet was so small, but it was my only choice. I opened the doors and scooped up the dozens of cleaning supplies. Then I opened up the toilet seat cover, dropped them all in, and closed it. I squeezed my body into the tight space and closed the doors behind me. I pushed my knees to my chest and held my head down as low as could.
The chaos continued out in the foyer. I heard muffled sounds of screams and destruction. Eventually, the havoc moved upstairs. I could hears pairs of footsteps above my head. There were sounds of breaking glass and crashing objects from the bedrooms. These people were destroying my home. I wondered who they were and why they were here. But I couldn't even imagine what they had done with my parents. My breath was strong and heavy. I could feel the limited air in the cabinet rapidly heat up. My heart was beating out of control. I swallowed to get rid of the lump in my throat. My eyes were watery, but I told myself "do not cry" and "stay strong."
The destruction upstairs carried on for a few minutes. Then the sound of footsteps on the creaky floorboard returned as the men walked down the stairs. I noticed the voices of the men, but I couldn't pick up on the conversation.
The sounds continued to grow louder. I knew they were looking for Natalia and me. They began to raid the living room. Glass was being shattered and I could hear the coffee table flip over. The footsteps grew closer. Kitchen appliances were being smashed onto the floor. The dining table chairs were thrown at the walls. The noises crept closer and closer.
Picture frames in the hallway were falling and breaking.
I began worrying. My tears were running like faucet. I couldn't control my breathing. I was fidgeting as much as I could in the cramped, dripping with sweat and hyperventilating. They were outside of the pantry, right where I left Natalia. I began wondering if I should get out and help her. But what could I do? If I left my hiding place we would both be captured. I stayed put and listened to the noises. I heard the pantry door creak open, then nothing but silence for a few seconds. Then more conversation between the men. I realized they were speaking German and I couldn't understand a word of it. I didn't know if they had found my sister. The footsteps and conversation descended into the kitchen. They stood there for a few minutes. Then, more destruction occurred. The sounds were louder than ever. My heart jumped as the bathroom door came crashing down. I grasped my mouth with my hand and shut my eyes. Then nothing more happened. I heard them leave the house and I cracked the cabinet door open for air. The bathroom door was down resting on top of the toilet.
I stayed inside of the cabinet for what felt like days. After a long period of silence, I decided to come out and took for my sister. I struggled to get out of the bathroom by climbing over the door. The hallway was covered in broken glass, so I stepped carefully around it to the pantry. The door was already open and I walked inside. My sister was gone. I fell to my knees and the pain in my chest felt like someone stabbed me in the heart. My eyes flooded with water and tears pattered to the pantry floor. I wept, kneeling, calling Natalia's name. Eventually I sat up with my back against the pantry wall. Questions began to stir in my mind. Who was responsible for taking my parents and sister? What happened to them? What do I do now?
I forced myself to stand up and took around the rest of the house. First I went into the kitchen, which was torn to pieces. Then I walked into the living room. It was completely destroyed. I went into the foyer and the front door was wide open. That's when another wave of shock hit me. Outside were hundreds of people flooding the streets. I saw men dressed in uniform directing the people in all different directions. I shut the door to just a crack and ran upstairs. Through my parent's bedroom window, I could see the whole street. I peeked my eyes just above the windowsill so I couldn't easily be seen.
I watched the whole situation carefully. There were people being dragged out of their homes by the men in uniform. Families were scattered and separated in the crowds. I noticed elders on the ground with guns pointed at their heads. Children were crying as they watched their parents get ripped away from them. I tried to look for clues about what was going on. Then I noticed the bright red symbol imprinted on the flags, uniforms, and cars.
The Nazis had invaded. I scanned the flooded streets to find my parents and sister. There was not a sign of them. I looked at my neighbor's homes. All of them had been stormed and ransacked. Even the non-Jewish homes were attacked but the people were spared further trouble. I turned away from the chaos and sank to the floor.
Eventually I realized the remaining damage done to my home. I didn't even pay attention the wreckage when I ran upstairs. My mother and father's room looked like it had been hit by a tornado. The mattress had been flipped off the bed frame. All of their clothing had been torn out of their closet and dumped on the floor, I didn't get up to see the destruction of the room I shared with my sister.
After sitting on the floor with a blank expression on my face, was hit with reality. I realized that I couldn't stay here by myself. If I remained here for any longer, a Nazi soldier could find me. Also, I knew that in the long term, I wouldn't be able to survive on my own. I had to focus on myself right now though. I would be no help Natalia or my parents if I tried to search for them. My best option would be hiding until the Nazis were gone. I could not go back into the bathroom cabinet for any longer without suffocating, so my decision was to hide in the crawl space upstairs. I snuck downstairs and brought up all the supplies I needed: food, water, and a flashlight. In my parents’ bedroom, I bent down and moved the shoe rack out of the closet. Behind this was a small wooden door leading to a very hidden area. I pulled the door out and crawled inside with all my supplies. The crawl space was cozy. It was not as cramped as the bathroom cabinet, but still fairly small. I sat straight up with my back against the wall and my legs extended to the opposite wall. I closed the door behind me,
I can't recall exactly how long I stayed in this crawlspace. It must have been a few days, and I felt like I was losing my mind. The food supply was almost gone, and I had finished all of my water. I could never tell days from nights, as I was always stuck in complete darkness. I was constantly bored. The same thoughts reoccurred in my head about my family. There was nothing to distract me. A few days in, I could hear a disturbance coming from downstairs. This was the first noise I had heard from outside of the crawlspace. I began to worry and it was most likely the Nazis invading again. I held my breath and listened to the sounds downstairs. It sounded like two people this time. They didn't make as much commotion as the last soldiers. Their footsteps travelled through the downstairs and back to the foyer. I could hear their steps get louder as they walked up the steps next. However, it sounded quite different from before. They were quieter and slower. The people moved through the upstairs going through each room. When they reached my parents' bedroom, I could clearly hear their voices. They weren't speaking German. "Natalia?" called a woman's voice. "Helena?" a man whispered. "Do you reckon they have all been taken?"
'It seems so." Their footsteps began to fade as they exited my parents' bedroom. I started to get confused. I knew that these weren't Nazi soldiers. Who were they? If they knew my sister and me, they must be friendly and could help me. I sat up on my knees and pushed the crawlspace door open, and stumbled out of the closet. My legs felt weak after not standing on them for days. I ran out of the bedroom and saw the people walking down the steps. "Wait!" t called. The couple turned their heads and faced me. They ran back up the stairs and knelt in front of me. I recognized them. They were the Mazur family that lived in the next door house. "Helena?" Mrs. Mazur asked, trying to clarify which sister was before her.
"Helena, do you know where Natalia is?" asked the Mr. Mazur.
"She was taken by the soldiers. So were Mother and Father." Mr. and Mrs. Mazur gave me sympathetic looks.
"All right, sweetie, we want you to come with us," said the woman as she stuck her hand out towards mine.
I had known the Mazurs for as long as I could remember. The family had always lived next door. They were friends with our parents and occasionally invited us to dinner at their house. My best option at the moment would be going with them. I knew that I could trust them. I took Mrs. Mazur's hand and the couple led me down the stairs, and out of my home. The light outside was blinding after being cooped up in darkness. The couple walked me down the sidewalk, up to their house. "Mom? Dad?" I heard a voice yell from their kitchen.
"We're home, Henryk!" shouted Mr. Mazur. The couple led me into the kitchen where t saw a young boy sitting at the dining table, eating breakfast. Alongside him was a baby sitting at a high chair.
"Helena, this is Henryk." Mrs. Mazur pointed to the little boy. "And this is Dawid," she said, pointing at the infant. “Henryk is seven years old and Dawid will be two-years-old soon." I smiled at them. "Boys, this is Helena. She will be staying here with us for a while."
Mrs. Mazur took my hand and led me upstairs. Their house had the same layout as mine, so I knew my way around. She took me to the second bedroom on the floor. This was Natalia's room in my house. It was fairly empty with just a bed, closet, and dresser.
"This is your room. We will make it homier soon," she said, kneeling at my eye level. "Let's get you changed out of these clothes first." I had been wearing the same outfit since the day the Nazis invaded. She handed me a t-shirt that fit like a dress. Mrs. Mazur smiled. "Sorry about the size. We will get you some new clothes soon." After a few days I had adjusted to living at the Mazur house fairly wet'. Mrs. Mazur bought me a bunch of new clothes and decorated my bedroom. It was all a bit strange at first. I felt like I was invading, but Mr. and Mrs. Mazur assured me that it was their pleasure to have me. Henryk took a few weeks to get used to me being there. For the first few days, he constantly avoided me. However, he warmed up and we eventually became really close. It wasn't very hard to befriend Dawid. He enjoyed playing with me from the day I arrived. Probably a week after I moved in with the Mazurs, I realized I should ask for the answers I'd been wanting. One day when Mr. and Mrs. Mazur were sitting in the living room, I approached them. "Mr. and Mrs. Mazur?"
"How many times do we need to tell you this, silly! You can call me Patryk!" said Mr. Mazur.
"And you better call me Emilia!" Mrs. Mazur laughed. "You're making me sound old!"
"Can I ask you some questions?" I said.
"Of course!" They both responded.
"What happened to my parents and sister?"
Emilia motioned me over to sit next to her on the couch, "Well Helena, do you know who the Nazis are?' "They were the soldiers that took the Jewish people away."
"Yes, the Nazis are very bad people who do very bad things. They find people they don't like very much and take them away."
"Why didn't they get your family?"
"My family isn't Jewish, but many people in this city are.'
"What are they going to do to my family? Am I ever going to see them again?"
'I'm not sure, sweetie," Emilia said with a sad expression. I stayed quiet. I was upset and on the verge of crying.
Patryk walked over and sat down on the other side of me. "Your parents are very strong and smart people, Helena," Patryk stated. "They both love you very much and I know they want the best for you. So does Natalia. I'm sure she's hoping that you're safe. Emilia and I are going to take very great care of you here, we promise." Patryk and Emilia both hugged me. For the following years of my life, Patryk and Emilia raised me like was their own daughter. They were amazing people and took great care of me. I had to change my last name to Mazur for my own safety. After about six years of living with the Mazurs, World War ll finally ended. During this time I was secretly being taught by Emilia at home. I had to go to church with the family so nobody could question my religion. My identity was a secret and everyone believed that E was the Mazurs' real daughter, but I obviously never forgot about my real family. I was still living next door to the home where spent the first nine years of my life. Almost every day I thought about my parents and my sister. I always hoped that I would be able to see them again. When I was eighteen years old, I finished homeschooling and opened my own bakery like my mother. I lived on my own in a small apartment and frequently visited the rest of the Mazurs. When Henryk finished primary school, he worked part time at my bakery. Dawid was still in primary school and living with his parents. Today was exactly ten years since I had been split up with my real family.
September 29th, 1949. I decided I would go back to the Mazur house to visit. I wanted to especially thank them for taking me in and raising me. It was noon and decided I would go back for lunch. I made my way up the sidewalk when I noticed a woman standing in front of my old house by herself. She looked oddly familiar, just from the back. She had long, straight blonde hair, just like mine. The woman was about the same height as me, maybe an inch taller. Then was struck with realization. This was Natalia. "Natalia?" I called. The woman looked up from her feet, but did not turn around. "Is that you?" I asked again. She spun around. “HeIena?" she said. This was my sister. I ran up to her and into each other's arms. We were hugging and crying, amazed and grateful to see each other after ten years.
"Natalia? Is that really you?"
“I missed you so much."
“I missed you, too."
A Forsaken Life
By: Nadia Kim, Third Prize, Grade 8, Stetson Middle School
September 2nd, 1939 Berlin, Germany
Everything changed in a matter of seconds, as if someone flipped a switch, drowning my family and me in suffocating darkness. It was around dinnertime when it happened. My little brother Adam was saying prayers when all of a sudden our front door flew across the room. I remember looking over to see Mom's face drained of color and hearing her cries telling us to run, to get out of there. I was in shock.
Dozens of Nazis entered the kitchen, flooding the room with swastikas, each face filled with disgust. I was brought back to reality when an enraged Nazi violently grabbed mom's wrists and flung her to the ground. Another hit the back of Dad's legs with a rifle. That's the first time I'd seen Dad cry.
I pushed Adam through the back door. "Someone get them, they're getting away!" Two Nazis bolted after us. We ran even faster. We sprinted across the yard and I lead the way into the woods behind our house. Leaves crunched under our bare feet as we wove desperately through the trees. We trailed off the familiar path onto the untouched landscape where wise trees towered over us. We were deep into the woods. Then I tripped over a rock and stumbled into a bush.
"Ouch. Adam are you all right?" I groaned as I slowly sat up. No one answered. "Adam?" There was more silence. I frantically looked around me, scanning the area. Adam wasn't there. He had fallen behind and been captured. They had him. A wave of sorrow hit me as I realized that was the last time I would ever see him. I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye. I sat in the darkness, stunned.
Footsteps approached. "Find the girl," a gruff voice demanded. I made myself as small as possible, shrinking myself into the bush. I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut, praying for the moment to be over.
"She's nowhere to be seen, sir. We've looked everywhere."
"Keep looking. She couldn't have gone far."
September 3rd, 1939 Berlin, Germany
It's hard to say how long I was in that bush, but I fell asleep and woke up some time later, my back as stiff as a board. I took a moment to listen. The silence was loud. I slowly peeked my head out of the bush. The events of the day were coming back to me. Tears rolled down my face as I tried to process everything. Everyone in my family is gone, I thought. I am alone. I sat dumbstruck for a few more minutes, then tried to figure out what to do next. Maybe I could go next door to the Webers. They would help me. The Webers had been good family friends of ours for quite some time. Well, at least Mrs. Weber. Mr. Weber always came off a little cold; he hardly ever made eye contact with me. I slowly crept out of the bush, my left foot screaming in pain as soon as I put the slightest bit of pressure on it. I stumbled to the ground and noticed a massive gash on my foot, probably from when I tripped. I winced in pain as I stood up again to limp over to my backyard.
The windows to my house had been shattered. I gazed into the empty frames to see a total catastrophe. All the furniture was flipped and shards of dishes decorated the floor. The sight made my stomach flip.
I crept to the Webers' front porch and knocked on the door. Mrs. Weber slowly opened the door and looked at me with a stunned countenance. "Oh darling," she said as she pulled me in for a tight hug. "Hurry, come inside." Mrs. Weber closed the door and gave me a sympathetic look.
"Nadine, who's at the door?" Mr. Webber came into the room, shocked when he saw me as well. With a stern look on his face he said, "Nadine, we can't."
"Nonsense. Of course we can," Mrs. Weber shot back. "Ruth, honey, there's some fruit on the table help yourself. I'm going to go run you a bath. You look like you spent a night in the woods!" Mrs. Weber went upstairs with Mr. Weber quickly following her. I went into the kitchen and quietly ate my apple, waiting for my bath. Mrs. Weber called me upstairs to a tub filled with warm soapy water, gave me a towel, and told me she would be back in few minutes to check on me.
She came back ten minutes later with a change of clothes and a bandage for my foot. While she was carefully wrapping my foot, she said, "Ruth, this is very important. While you are here, you're going to have to hide. We can't risk anyone seeing you, understand?" I nodded my head in agreement. "There is an old bed for you to sleep on in the attic. If you ever needed to hide in there, there's a hidden storage in the wall by the lamp."
I quickly got changed and she brought me upstairs right away. "I'll come check on you every once in a while to see if you need to use the bathroom or anything. You need to be as quiet as possible up here, okay?"
"Okay. Thank you," I replied.
"Good girl." Mrs. Weber studied my face then said, "Darling, I'm so sorry. Stay strong," and left. My eyes scanned the room. There were many old books, paintings, and furniture. It looked as if this place had been their home for years. The dust tickled my nose, causing me to sneeze. I walked over to the bed. It wasn't much, but it was something. I was so grateful. I lay down and my mind started to drift. So much had happened, but I vowed to survive.
"Stay strong," I whispered to myself. Then fell asleep.
September 10th, 1939 Berlin, Germany
A week passed, and things were going smoothly. Mrs. Weber brought me meals every day and brought some bright red ribbons to tie into my hair. I was beaming. The ribbons brought some color to the dusty, bland attic.
I was looking at an old book when Mrs. Weber rushed up to the attic and told me I needed to be quick. "Ruth, they are coming to inspect the house. Get to the secret door. We don't have much time - they'll be here any second." She swiftly rushed back downstairs. I put down the book and hurried over to the secret door. It took a lot of effort to open it. When I finally did get it open, I got inside and shut the door. It was even darker and dustier in there than outside of the attic. Light was limited inside but I could make out the shape of a bookshelf with books that had probably been sitting here for decades. There were also many pictures of families I didn't recognize, perhaps people who had lived here before the Webers.
There was a loud pounding on the door from downstairs. A wave of powerful footsteps entered the house. My heart beat out of my chest. I squeezed my fists together and tried to steady my breathing. Stay strong. I could hear footsteps coming closer. Stay strong. They got louder and louder. Stay strong. There was someone in the room. I could hear them wander around the room, taking their time, inspecting everything.
I felt a tingle in my nose. I needed to sneeze. I gently moved my hand to my face and pinched my nose. I heard footsteps get closer. The tingly sensation was gone. I let out a ghostly sigh of relief and put my hand back down. Then all of a sudden, a sneeze came out of nowhere. My heart sank. The secret door flung open shortly after. A Nazi violently pulled me out from the secret compartment and strongly gripped my wrists, dragging me downstairs. I screamed and tried to fight but nothing worked. Tears rolled down my face, leaving the taste of salt on my lips. They brought me outside and threw me into a large metal vehicle. The vehicle was very dark in color and gave off a very ominous aura. There were dozens of people already in the van. Some were crying and others were comforting them. The vehicle started to move. My wrists throbbed from the harsh grip of the Nazi. I was terrified. Everyone was terrified. The smell of fear lingered in the air, filling everyone's lungs. I hugged my knees telling myself to stay strong. More tears fell from my face as anger rushed in. Why were these people doing this? Why was this happening? I felt achy and weak. I missed Mom, Dad, and Adam so much. I didn't know where I was headed, but hoped wherever I was going, I was going to be with them again.
Unfortunately, like many other Holocaust victims, Ruth did not make it in the end. Her life was taken when she was forced into a death truck, with carbon monoxide taking her last breath. One can only hope that she was indeed united with her family — in the afterlife.
Let her story remind us of the horrible tragedy that took millions of lives in hope that this event will never occur in the future.
The Justice of Yosef Yitzach
By: Anika Chaudhary, Honorable Mention, Grade 8, Stetson Middle School
"Order! Order in the court!" The judge's voice echoed into the strained murmuring of the court viewers. An apprehensive silence set in, so deep, a mouse could creep across the floor with pounding steps. A weary guard twitched his padded boots on the cold, cemented floor as he sat behind the accused desk. There was no mercy left for him; he prepared for the worst.
1945 was a stressed year. European countries worked to rebuild themselves from the morbid events that had just unfolded. The Holocaust left horror, tragedy, and chaos: there was nothing left but the ruins of a torn people. Families huddled their children over the rubble that once was a standing home. They listened to the radio in fear, as it announced what was next to come.
“—concentration camps have been shut down. The Allies are here, it is over now. All Nazi involvement is being dealt with by the ICCT and allying forces . . . it is all over now." Yet, such news wasn't enough, it never would be, to erase the damage that had been done: damage that caused families to be torn from one another, generations murdered, towns raided, and citizens locked-up and labored. The Nazis took everything and had just left, into the midst of the dark from which they had so quickly emerged. Now one guard sat here, behind a large wooden desk, gazing into the bloodshot eyes of the judge. He would never forget what the Nazi had done, but how little he actually knew about the man . . . there was no way to foreshadow what was to come.
Diedrick Steiner: A ruthless Nazi guard, who had killed hundreds of Jews without a flinch, sat before the judge, taking an oath of honesty. The judge glanced at Diedrick with such abomination, it seemed he was communicating a hatred not only of himself, but of all France. Diedrick knew what he was sentenced for, and felt there was little to nothing he could say to stop his impending future. His eyes wore a tired look, his heart raced in his chest, he was going to die for a crime he didn't commit, and there was nothing he could do.
"Please sir, you must believe me! I am not this monstrous role that you all see me to have taken, I had no choice. You see, it is merely a case of mistaken identity, I had never taken all of those lives! I am not a Nazi, or a German, or a murderer. I only wanted to save her . . . I had no choice, it was all for her “cried the trembling man. They didn't know what he had been through, they would never understand. It wouldn't matter. The world watched as German Nazis destroyed an entire people, cultures, and ways of life. They were cruel and tyrannical people, never to be forgiven. The courthouse was filled with angry spectators, ail wanting to see Diedrick pay for his crimes. To them, Diedrick was just another murderous guard at the Dachau concentration camp. The truth was, he wasn't a Nazi at all, but who would believe such as a tale?
"You, Diedrick Steiner, sit here in this courtroom for the crimes against humanity that you have so thoughtlessly committed, for the deportation, execution, and genocide of hundreds of men, women, and children," announced he judge.
"I didn't kill them!" The man was losing grip of his formality.
"Silence! You have no right to speak. Your crimes have taken the voices of millions; your ruling is over!" One of the viewers shouted from across the room. She had stayed in her set, but her furious emotions swept across the court.
"Order!" demanded the judge. "Diedrick, you claim your state innocent, but have no evidence to prove yourself. You say you are not your label, but have no papers to swear by. Your lies only extend so far. Unless you present the truth, you will deservingly pay for your crimes."
"Judge, the only truth I can present is by my words. I have not a certificate to validate myself, as my hands are tied, but I swear by myself that I am not responsible for the life portrayed by this character. I am not Diedrick Steiner, I am not," cried the helpless man. Was he truly going to tell what happened? Would they believe him? He had done so much since his capturing to stay alive. Had all his efforts saved him, or had they guaranteed him a grave?
"Very well . . . you may present your truth, but I cannot assure you it will bring upon a different decision to you case," the judge was growing skeptical. All odds were against the man, what would he say?
It had all started when I was sixteen. I had never thought I had so much, until I lost it all . . . all but one person. Looking back, she was the only reason I made it through Dachau.
To begin, my name is not Diedrick Steiner. That was a purely German name, of which my parents would never have considered. Truly, I am Yosef Yitzach. My mother had picked out the name because it meant "may God add". She said that I was destined for many things, of which God would be there every step of the way to add on a bit of extra love and guidance.
We lived in Augsburg, Germany. There wasn't much to it, just a small working city. My family wasn't bathing in money, either. We lived a humble life, since my Papa was the only one who worked in my family. He was a clerk at the shoe shop in town. We didn't need a lot of money, just enough for me to attend school. My mother always insisted I get an education, "it will help you become the smart man you are destined to be". She had an optimistic character, and always saw the light in the darkest of places. She had to, since she would do the household work; it wasn't the most exciting job and she often times got discredited for it. I had no siblings to play with like the other kids did in my neighborhood, so I learned to help out my parents. I would help my father polish the shoes he brought home, and water the plants in my mother's garden. In my moments apart from my parents, I had to find other hobbies to keep myself busy. I can't remember my younger self without a book in hand, or an article I was writing. My Papa would sometimes smuggle home books from the nearby book stand on his way back. I felt guilty that we couldn't afford them, but was grateful nonetheless.
With all the efforts Papa and Mother put towards my education, I felt the overwhelming pressure to do well in school. High school was not easy, and it was becoming harder and harder to hide my lack of money. The other students would bustle by with their new shoes and new textbooks. I hadn't any of these luxuries. Most days, I would sit in the library during lunch, and read a book until heard the murmur of kids die down as they walked back to class. Just as I would settle back into the acceptance that one doesn't need money to succeed, would see her: Andreia Weinberg. Andreia's family was among the wealthiest in all of our school. From my views, she was rather snobbish, unappreciative of all the privileges her family could afford her. She stalked the halls with her expensive book bag and devilish looks. I did not like her, as she didn't me . . . a key detail that would very soon change.
With such obstacles within school, I looked forward to the time I would get to come home to the warm company of Mother and Papa. I would help Mother set the table every evening. We would discuss the events of the day as we awaited my Papa's arrival. Mother set the faded cloth on the table. I heard the old, auburn door creak and then settle as Papa opened it. He laid down his bag onto the torn rug, and joined us as the table. We sat on the dusted floor with only a cloth to keep the dirt from our clothes. A few minutes later, Mother came from the kitchen with the night's dinner. Her old joints ached as she set down a cup of cold broth along with a paper plate of stale rice in front of me. I looked across the table, my Papa's eyes stared back mournfully. Mother tried to smile, but her lips fell into a sorrow frown. They only had a small hand of bread and vegetables from Mother's garden. I felt my heart sink into the floors, but I couldn't show it. Mother reached out and placed her warm hands atop mine. Her kind eyes looked at me, their expression telling me to keep hope; they always did. The three of us sat at the low-lying table, and went over the course of our day. Papa had a new customer who paid him generously for his resewn shoes. He wouldn't tell me how much, he never did, but pulled out a new book from his bag.
"Just for you, Yosef." Papa grinned contagiously as he handed the book to me.
“Papa. . . , I cannot believe this! Thank you so much!" I hadn't a new book since a few months ago. I couldn't wait to start reading it, maybe Mother would let me stay up late enough to start its chapters. After dinner, I helped Mother clean up what few dishes were on the table, and left for my room. It was a small space between the living room and the back exit. I had a window that overlooked my neighborhood: the kids walking down the street, the parents bringing home goods from the markets, the stray dogs playing in the bushes. I had gotten lost in my book before I took note of the time. It had gotten very late, and must have been past ten pm. Just as I settled onto my mattress, I overheard Papa talking to Mother, his voice worrisome. I crept into the hallways and hid behind the wall. "Margaret, what more can we do. I have nothing, the shop was our only way of income." Papa's shoulders were tensed, his hands started to fidget.
"We cannot just let them take this away, what about Yosef? What about his education, our home?" Mother was standing in the kitchen, speaking barely above a whisper.
"Margaret . . . we cannot keep hiding this. They are coming, we should leave now, who knows what they will do! I have some work friends who can help us cross the border before the military arrives," Papa exclaimed.
"But Immanuel, this is our home. We have so much here, we mustn't leave.”
My heart began to pace faster and faster in my chest. Why were we leaving, what for? Where would we go? I must have made a noise, for Papa turned around, surprised to see me.
"Yosef . . . go back to bed, you shouldn't be up so late."
"But Papa, what were you talking about? Are we leaving?" I don't know why, but I felt my cheeks starting to burn. Tears blinded my eyes, I didn't want to go.
"Aw my dear Yosef, we are not leaving. Your Papa and I were just . . . talking about some complications." Mother noticed my tears and walked to where I was standing. She cradled me in her arms; it was a moment I never wanted to end. How unfair life is, how cruel and irrational it will be, because at that moment, they came: pounding on our door.
"Open up! Margaret and Immnuel Yitzach, open up this instant or we will force our way in!" A deep, menacing voice growled from outside our apartment door. I didn't understand what was going on. The men outside busted down the door and barged into our home!
"Immaneul and Margaret Yitzach, for your Jewish practices, you are to come with me now!" The soldier looked at me, then ordered a second soldier a demand in German, none of which I could comprehend. The other soldiers marched into the kitchen and started searching for any valuables; they found nothing. I saw the initial soldier grab ahold of my parents and drag them from the living room into the hallway. Mother was crying: screaming for them to let go. Papa escaped their hold and ran for me, but the soldier hit him over the head with his gun. I was so scared, I couldn't move! I should have run for Mother, or tried to help Papa . . . but I didn't move. I stayed there, and watched them take away my parents, my only family, everything! They marched Mother and Papa down the hallway. I caught a glimpse of Mother's eyes. They were filled with a terror I had never seen before. It was the last time I had ever seen my parents, because after that moment, they were gone.
The soldiers took grabbed my arms and pulled me up.
"How old are you, boy," he demanded of me.
"Si—sixteen." I shuddered under his cold hands. Before I knew it, the soldier was dragging me out of the room and outside of my apartment building, just as he had done with my parents. He shoved me into a confined truck, filled with other kids with countenances just as shocked as mine. The truck started to move and didn't stop. They were taking us somewhere, but where? The transport was long; harsh. It wreaked of dead animals, I wondered what could have died. Within that moment, it all came into the clear. The horrifying truth stepped out from under its morbid cloak, and revealed itself to me. These men were not soldiers, they were Nazis. They were no doubt taking us away to a camp, the concentration camps, and I would never see my parents again.
She had the same work as I did, and slept in the same bunk room. I was surprised at how we didn't find each other sooner. We began to work together, discretely of course. If a Nazis suspected any form of a connection between us, we would be separated, or worse, killed. We worked all day, endlessly with bruised limbs and aching bones, but we were together. We were both so depressed; we needed each other. We were each other's last strands of hope, I could sense it in her eyes, as she did in mine. We continued like this for the next days, weeks, months, even years. Other prisoners, seasons, lives all came and went. We did not. Andreia stayed next to me. We had grown together. I was now eighteen.
At night, we would talk about our old lives. She would lay upright on her back, and stare at the cracked
"I wonder sometimes if I ever truly had a family." She spoke quietly, but I could hear her sentiment clearly.
"Andreia, what do you mean? You had a wonderful family!" I was astonished at how she couldn't see as though she did.
"From the outside, yes. But from the inside, I was alone. My father was never truly there for me. He would always have a 'business emergency' to attend to. He would buy me such useless and expensive gifts as to make up for it, but it never did. My mother was once a kind soul, but after my father started becoming aloof with his work, she too got caught up in a separate life. Yosef, I envy you . . . envied. Your parents both loved you, true love." My heart hurt, hadn't thought about my parents since I arrived to Dachau.
"But Andreia, how can you have envied me? I had nothing."
"Yosef, you had family." With those words, a lump swelled in my throat. I felt tears run painfully down my cheek. I missed them, I missed them so much! I wanted to just sink into my bed and cry. I loved Mother and Papa, and now they were gone. I stopped myself cautiously from weeping; it's not what they would have wanted. Papa would tell me every time I cried, "do not shed a tear for what you cannot change". He was right, and I needed to be strong. Andreia looked at me with empathy, she knew what I had felt. She leaned in, and laid her head upon my chest. I was so weak, even her light weight hurt, but I didn't want her to stop. I slept almost peacefully that night.
It was a smoggy night when Andreia came up with the plan.
"Yosef, wake up!" Her soft voice whispered gracefully onto my cold skin.
"What is it, Andreia?" I was scared one of the guards would hear us.
"We cannot stay here. We have to leave!" Those words sounded familiar, but I couldn't recall from where I had heard them.
"What do you mean? We cannot just leave. We're stuck here, imprisoned." I didn't understand what point she was trying to communicate.
"No, we must escape!" Andreia's voice was serious, but her eyes gleamed with determination.
"And how do you suspect we do such a thing," I asked skeptically. She wasted no time in informing me of her ultimate plan. She had been playing its events out in her head for weeks, measuring every detail, predicting every problem, working around every situation. In her labor along the camp walls, she had discovered a loose set of bricks and a dug up hole that had been carefully refilled. She believed that other prisoners must have had made a tunnel through the wall to escape in the past. I was doubtful of our chances at first, but she soon started to change my view.
The tunnel was in a darker corner that was only seen by guards during the day, and the few minutes each when the tower lights would shine over them at night. If we left an hour after curfew, just when they packed us into our bunk rooms, we could run to the tunnel and hide in the bushes. We would then have just over five minutes to squeeze though the loose dirt of the tunnel entrance and craw' under the wall. We could go one by one, and time each other of exactly five minutes. She was not sure of how thick the wall was, but seemed confident that five minutes of underground crawling would provide enough space for the second person to climb into the tunnel. Once inside the tunnel, the second person would fill up the entrance with the dug up dirt, and crawl out of the tunnel as quickly and quietly as possible.
I was speechless. There were too many risks for this plan to work, I didn't believe it. Yet somehow, her blissful grin caused all of my worries to pass over me. We were tired and worked and weak. I was ready to go home, no matter the risk! We began to discuss and revisit every detail of the plan, perfecting it down to the bone. By then, it was late December of 1944. I overheard one of the camp guards speaking the date into an odd machine, one I had never seen before. I was shocked! I had lost account of the date of my imprisonment since the very first week of this cam. I didn't know I had been here for this long! The last time I had seen my parents was in early 1942. Since then, Andreia was the only real bond I had, one that grew so strong, it became so much more than just a bond. She became like family to me, we were going to accomplish so much once we escaped.
"Yosef it's time", Andreia whispered. It had been more than an hour since curfew, and we were ready. I slipped out of my bunk and landed softly on the splintered ground. My mind began to trail off into the dreams of my life after escaping. Such dreams of reuniting with Mother and Papa, getting to eat an entire cup of broth and rice, made my stomach grumble and my mind hurt. I hadn't had such a feast in what seemed like forever. If it wasn't for the pattering of Andreia's footsteps, I may have sunk into the depths of my dreams, and not come back.
We crept quietly out the room door, and waited for the tower light to beam past us. We had played this moment over and over in our heads, but now that it was here, I couldn't move. My heart started to race and my knees locked in place. It was happening, the night of how I lost my parents was going to happen all over again. Andreia saw the terror in my eyes, and took ahold of my hands.
"Breathe, I am here with you." Her calming voice brought back the nerves in my legs, and I could feel myself move again. The tower light passed over our position, and we dashed: across the yard and to the hidden corner. When we arrived, we checked for the sign of dug up dirt and loosened bricks. Andreia was right, there was a tunnel! We were so close, I could see it. Freedom was just across this cement wall. I could taste Mother's broth from here.
"Yosef, you go first," Andreia told me with a rather stern voice.
"What? What about you, that not what we planned! What if I lose you?" I began to worry. We had planned that Andreia would go through the tunnel first, not me.
"You won't, I will be right behind you." We were running out of time! "But Andreia—"
"Go!" Andreia had nearly yelled. I still was nervous of this change, and she noticed. She took a deep breath. "Yosef . . . never forget, I am here with you, always. Now go." We only had a few minutes left. I removed the dirt from the tunnel entrance and climbed inside. Once within the tunnel, I crawled along the frozen ground as fast as my weakened body would allow me. It was ages before I saw a light, a light! There was a light, and it began to grow! Slowly, its bright beams extended closer and closer towards me. I was only a few yards away. I ignored all pain in my body, and was now crawling with all of my strength. I got closer and closer until finally . . . I made it out! I couldn't believe it. I, Yosef Yitzach, had made it out of the Dachau concentration camp! I had escaped! My lungs were burning, my legs were scraped, and my hands were covered with dirt, but it didn't matter, for I had gained my freedom.
"Andreia! We—" I turned around, but Andreia was not there. "Andreia? Andreia?" I called out her name, but she was nowhere in sight. "Andreia?" I couldn't find her! "Andreia, please! Where are you, I need to know you made it!" I listened for a sign, anything, to show me she had made it to the tunnel and was on her way out. I waited and waited and waited. I waited for over half an hour, but she never came. I was frustrated and didn't understand what was going on. This was not happening! Was I alone? Had she not made it? That couldn't be!
"Hello, are you alright?" A voice called to me from behind. A man was standing a couple yards away from me. He studied me, as if I was a picture he had seen before. Then he knew he was correct. "Sir, come with me, I can help you to safety."
"Who are you," I called out.
"My name is Martim Schneider. You have come from the concentration camp haven't you? Come with me, I can help you away from the Nazis. My wife and I have a house only a mile from this point." He reached his hand out towards me. I wasn't sure if should have trusted him. What if he was a Nazi pretending to be someone else? However, what if this was real? What if he truly was going to help me? This was my one shot at freedom, at last, he was right here. I started to reach for his guiding hand, but stopped. Andreia. I couldn't leave her. She may still be in the concentration camp, I couldn't leave her behind.
"Sir, what are you waiting for, I can help you. You will be safe!" The man waited for my response. I was conflicted. Do I go with the man to my freedom, to my saving grace? Or do I stay, and go back to my imprisonment for Andreia? I couldn't understand what was holding me back. All I had ever done with Andreia was work to find a way to freedom, and now that I had found it, I hesitated. It had made no sense. Why couldn't I say yes to the man? Valuable moments passed by. Martim Schneider waited for me with a concerned expression. Suddenly . . . it clicked. I knew my answer.
"Mr. Schneider . . . I cannot go with you. I must stay here." Martim looked at me questionably, but then understood. He nodded, and headed back into the street from where he came. I turned back to the concentration camp. I couldn't go, not without Andreia. I hadn't known before, but I did now. I had fallen in love with Andreia, and there was nowhere in the world where I would be free without her. I had to go back for her.
I wasn't sure how I would get back into Dachau's concentration camp. It seemed just as hard to enter as it was to escape. Tall, broad-faced Nazis guarded every aspect of the camp, with guns that fired at a second's notice. I thought of crawling back through the tunnel, but I had no way of timing myself with the tower light. The risks were too high. What if Nazis were waiting on the other end? Is that why Andreia didn't make it through? Had she been caught by guards? My mind began to question all the possibilities for why she had not followed me, but I quickly stopped myself. Such thinking could cost me my life . . . or Andreia's. I needed to find a way in, and fast. Every second she was in the camp was another second closer to her dea— no! I wouldn't let my thoughts become that dark. We had found hope within each other, I just hoped she would keep it long enough until I came to save her.
I immediately stared to look for other ways inside. I had to stay out of street lights and keep silent steps. If anyone heard me, Andreia would be stuck in the imprisonment of those cruel Nazis. I watched as a truck grew from the distance and stopped in front of the camp gates. A frail load of children, roughly my age now, stumbled out of the truck with faces of fear in its purest form. Their arms were broader and their bodies seemed well fed. They must have been a new set of prisoners for the camp. My heart wrenched as watched them take their striped uniforms and head past the metal gates. Their lives would never be the same, if only they knew what was about to come.
My eyes shifted to one of the soldiers a few paces away from the truck . . . towards me. He pulled out a cigar, and kindled it with a match he found from one of the children's jacket. I was furious! I wanted to yell, "You idiot! You chose the wrong side! How can you have taken away everything from those innocent people? How can you have taken away everything from me? YOU are the reason Andreia is still locked up in that . . . that stupid camp!" I was outraged! He stood there like a fool smoking a cigar pleasantly, while hundreds of Jews were dying only yards away. In all of my rage, I put away all rationality. Without thinking for even a split moment, I picked up a large rock and marched straight to the soldier. I marched right up until I was 3 feet away from him. He heard my steps and turned around, gazing directly at my eyes with a hatred I matched back to him. He reached for his gun, but was too slow, for just as he did, I threw my rock at him with all of my might. I watched it hurl through the air and hit the shameful Nazi in the head. With such a force, he fell to the ground: dead.
For a minute, everything stopped. Trees stopped swaying in the wind, loose dirt stopped blowing over the road, soldiers stopped yelling at their prisoners. Everything was silent; it was just the Nazi and me. What did I just do? He was dead. I had killed him. I shook my head, no. He deserved it, and I had to! I needed to find Andreia! I dragged the body behind a cluster of bushes. He was much heavier than I had expected; my weak arms almost dropped him. Once we were hidden, I stole his uniform and gave him my own. This soldier was not any taller than my height, so his uniform, boots, and hat fit just well. Yet, through the entire disguise, only one part scared me the most. It was that his gun fit perfectly into my hands, almost as if I could have used it. I looked at his badge: Diedrick Steiner. Even his name was of pure German. With time running out, I wiped off the dirt from my hands and face, and marched towards the camp gates.
One of the other soldiers by the entrance gave me an order . . . in German. I tried to hide my confusion, but it was no use. I stared blankly at the man. My hands began to tremble. If he caught onto my act, there was no doubt he would shoot me. Thankfully, the Nazi just rolled his eyes and gave me a look of great dissent.
"Steiner, stay behind and watch the gates. We are missing a prisoner, and it could be anywhere. If you see it, shoot." With that, he turned around and stormed into the camp. I was astounded! The Nazis wouldn't even refer to the Jews as people, merely as "it". We were truly worthless under their cold ruling. I obeyed my order, and stood by the camp gates. I kept the gun, still shaking in my hands, close to me as my only protection.
I waited for hours upon hours outside the camp gate. I was plotting how would find Andreia, when something exploded in the distance, then another, and another, and another. The sounds of destruction were growing louder. They were bombs. . . bombs? I squinted my eyes, and saw what had to have been 600 men marching down the wide, front road. Another bomb went off! What was going on? I saw the marching men raise a flag, oh gosh! It was French! These were no men, they-were soldiers. Wait, they were allies! I couldn't believe it! The allies were here, the allies were here! They had finally come . . . but they were heading straight for us! My heart stopped: I was still dressed as a Nazi. I didn't have time to go back for my clothes. I needed to find Andreia. I ran inside the gates and went straight for the bunk rooms. I was so close, but a bomb landed in the camp, throwing me off my balance. I got up, but couldn't stand straight, everything was blurred. I felt a hand pull me up, and throw me into a group of men, of other Nazi's. They were rounding us up into a truck. I turned and saw the prisoners being led out of the camp. They were being set free. This concentration camp was being free and I was on the wrong side! We were gathered up and put into a truck. It seemed unreal that just days ago, the Nazis were the ones crowding up Jewish prisoners into bunks. And now here they were, being taken away by allied forces. The French soldiers took us onto a train, on a nine-hour trip to France. I overheard one of the soldiers speaking, "That was of the last camp. That's it, this bloody war is finally seeing its end." Was it true: was the war finally ending? Had I made it? Was I going to be set free? No, I was still disguised as a Diedrick Steiner. I looked hurriedly around the freight train. They had to know I was a Jew, I wasn't a Nazi! I wasn't a Nazi!
The judge listened intently as I finished my story. The entire courtroom was silent, not a person stirred. I sat uncomfortably in my chair, waiting for a response: nothing. I could see the jury growing impatient. What was the judge waiting for? Wasn't it clear now that I was innocent? He had to believe me . . . he had to.
“Well then . . . the judge cleared his throat, "after such a compelling story . . . I am honestly not sure what to believe. If you are not lying, I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to survive through all war, I give my condolences! However, Diedrick—or Yosef—l am afraid you will still need evidence to validate that what you have said is true. '
I stopped. I had nothing; no papers, no badges, and no passports, nothing. There truly was nothing I could do. My fate was sealed. I have survived through beatings, labor, and bombings. Yet, in the end, it is my lack of evidence that will have killed me. I couldn't believe it.
Mother, I am sorry I didn't properly appreciate the effort you put into my education. I was so privileged to have it! Papa, I'm sorry one book was never enough for me. I know you did everything you could to make me happy. And Andreia, oh Andreia, I'm sorry I didn't . . .1'm sorry I didn't tell you I loved you sooner! I close my eyes, and accepted my fate. I knew my sentence would be to death, and I had said my goodbyes. I was not ready, I never would be, but I wouldn't fight any longer. My time had come to stop fighting. Mother, Papa, I will see you both very soon
"Diedrick Steiner," the judge took a deep breath, "with your lack of evidence proving you innocence, I have no choice but to sentence you the d—"
"WAIT!" A voice yelled from the courtroom doors. I turned around, a slim man in a long coat rushed into the courtroom. "Stop!" It was my lawyer, but who was with him? He was holding a thick file in one hand, and the arm of a frail woman in the other as he ran down the long room hallway. The woman struggled to keep up with the man's pace. "You must stop the sentence, I have someone who can change the verdict." What, but who? Who would be able to save me from the judge's call and prove my innocence? There was no one. My lawyer raised the arm of the woman into the air. I caught a glimpse of her name badge. I was shocked: Andreia M. Weinberg.
By: Grace McCabe, First Prize, Grade 10, West Chester Rustin High School
Ravensbruck was a women's camp in Fürstenberg, Germany. At the camp, 74 women were taken and operated randomly in different places. Bones and muscles would be cut out completely. Then, the Nazis would put various substances in their open wounds, such as sawdust, shards of glass, and infectious bacteria. They would try different medicines on the wounds to see which ones might serve as cures. After the camp was liberated, the surviving girls were flown to the United States by Caroline Ferriday, a philanthropist, so they could hopefully get surgeries to help them. This is a fictional account of one of the women that came from Poland.
The young nurse comes over to look at my leg. She takes off the white cast and gasps. I prop myself up and look down to see the horror my leg has now become and...
My eyes flutter open. I forget where I am for a moment, and then I remember that I'm safely in bed in my small New York City hotel room. It's just another day that the combination of the nightmare and the horrible pain in my legs has woken me up. But, I guess you could say that nightmare isn't a nightmare at all, because that's what actually happened to me. That's what happened to 85 other girls, too. They call us the Ravensbruck Rabbits, the women who were experimented on at the Ravensbruck Women's Camp in Fürstenberg, Germany during World War ll.
It seems every morning goes like this; wake up from a terrible dream, I think about how bad my life is, and then I do what I must. There isn't much else to do, since I can barely hobble around due to the fact that I'm missing multiple bones and muscles in my legs. As I make my way to the bathroom, I glance in the full-size mirror and see my leg again. I've seen it so many times, but I'm still surprised every time I do. It's hard to believe someone would maim me like that on purpose.
I have to hurry, as I'm going out with Caroline Ferriday for lunch at a "cute little cafe" as she calls it. As open the door of my hotel room to leave, Caroline, who is staying down the hall, is already approaching my room. It's hard to not notice her beauty. She's tall, with a slim face and dark hair. When she moves, she has the grace of an angel gliding among clouds. She's a nice person too, which makes her all the more likable. Caroline specializes in helping "rabbits" like me.
Caroline modifies her fast step to keep up with me. As we walk slowly to the elevator, due to my leg, we talk about the day ahead. I have a meeting with my doctor to decide if and when I will get my surgery. If I get the surgery, it will be a long recovery process, and not necessarily a fun one. But I think that is something I can live through. After all, I did survive four years of torture at Ravensbruck.
Caroline and I exit the elevator. We walk through the hotel lobby and outside to the sidewalk. The restaurant is more than a few blocks away, and she offers to hail a cab, but refuse, as I've been providing for myself my whole life, and I can walk a few blocks by myself. We pass by store window after store window. A jeweler, a shoe shop, a toy store.
Then, a pet store.
With rabbits in the window.
All of a sudden, my legs decide that they are going to stop working. My gaze is fixed on the glass case of rabbits. Caroline is a few paces ahead of me, since she hasn't noticed that I've stopped walking. I hear the click clack of her heels coming back towards me, and I feel a warm, comforting arm around my shoulder.
"Rabbits," I say.
Caroline says, "Yes, rabbits."
My legs are back to working now, and they start to walk away, but my eyes are still fixed on those rabbits in the window. But, right before I turn my glance to something else, I notice a tiny little runt in the back of the cage. It gets up to move, and I notice it's hopping around in an awkward way. With a closer look, I realize there's something wrong with one of its hind legs.
It all becomes too much.
I feel my eyes roll into the back of my head and my whole body giving out. Caroline's arms try to catch me, but she isn't strong enough, and the back of my head hits the cold pavement.
As we all shuffle into the little white room, I look at the scared faces around me. None of us know where we are. I've never been in a room like this before. It's dreary and smells faintly of institutional citrus. The guards request that we take our clothes off, and I reluctantly oblige. Some of the other women don't, only to get reprimanded by the crack of a whip on their back. Our captors start calling numbers of fa clipboard, and one by one, girls are being swept away into another room. I'm one of the last girls in there. Another number is called, and a strong hand grabs my shoulder and shoves me through the doorway . . .
First, a misty gray blur. Then, a gradual focus onto several concerned faces. Caroline, who somehow looks taller from ground perspective. An elderly couple, both looking down at me. A little girl, head tilted to the side, clutching a hot dog. A young man, dog leash in hand. A black Great Dane at the end of the leash, eyes looking expectantly at the owner, obviously not interested in my predicament. I work on getting myself up, and I am a little bit startled when the passersby around me jump at the chance to support my arms and gently help me to my feet. Caroline decides to hail a cab after all. This time, I do not object. The cab screeches to a New York stop, and I hobble over and climb in. Caroline opens her mouth to speak, hesitates, then asks me what I am planning to order for lunch. "Just coffee," I manage. For the rest of the cab ride, silence.
After lunch, we head over to the hospital to speak with a doctor about my surgery. I've never been in a hospital this nice before. I make a sudden mental connection with the operation and recovery rooms at Ravensbruck, but I shut it out of my mind before I have one of my "episodes" again. We take the elevator up to a small wing of the building. Caroline checks me in, and I sit in one of the big comfy chairs they have in the waiting room. The room smells of disinfectant. pick up a fashion magazine from the coffee table next to me, and as I thumb through the pages, I realize something incredible. An electric shock runs through my body. It's as if I feel my bones shaking. If I am a candidate for this surgery, I will finally be able to walk like a normal person again. I stare at the page blankly. The model on the page seems uninterested in my realization. Before I have time to go deeper into my thoughts, the nurse calls my name.
I limp into EXAM ROOM THREE and sit on the table. Caroline brings me a cup of water. The doctor, to my relief, shows no resemblance to the doctor at Ravensbruck. He strides into the room with white-coat confidence and shakes my hand firmly. He hands me a paper dress and steps out of the room to let me change. I am almost taken aback by how kindly the doctor treats me. No orders given, no screaming, no whips, no guns. It is very strange to me, quite frankly.
The doctor returns after I don my paper garment, and I climb back onto the table. He proceeds to examine my leg. I look at his face. He is not doing a good job of hiding his confusion and disgust. As he probes, prods, and pokes, my heart pounds out of my chest. So many thoughts run through my head. Did I come to New York for nothing? Did I leave Poland for months for no reason at all?
He finishes his work, washes his hands, sits on the chair in front of me, and looks me right in the eyes. The first words out of his mouth are, "You will get the surgery next week." At first, I am speechless. Then a waterfall of grateful tears. My dream would finally be coming true.
As I walk out of the hospital with Caroline, I feel a revitalizing sense of hope. In a month, I can walk like a normal person. In a few months, I can jog. In a year, I might even be able to run again.
On the way back to the hotel, I ask Caroline to go to the same little pet shop. Caroline looks at me curiously, but replies, "Certainly." This time, I stop right in front of the bunny display case. Instead of having a panic attack and falling on the ground, I scan the case until I see what I'm looking for. I take a few steps and open the door to the store.
I hear the little bell ring on the door, and a salesperson comes out of the back. She greets me with a quick hello and proceeds to ask me what I'm looking for. I tell her. She leads me over to the case of bunnies. She opens the door, and picks out the fluffiest, cuddliest, most attractive of the lot. "That one is lovely but I know which one I want." I point to the runty rabbit with a limp.
"I don't know if you want that one. She has a bad leg. We aren't sure what happened- maybe she was stepped on by the other bigger guys. We were actually planning to put her down tomorrow morning."
"It's okay. I feel like we might relate to each other," I say. I see Caroline behind the salesperson beaming a smile. I smile back. I know my new little friend is going to be just fine, and I'm going to be just fine, too.