A story I wrote a very long time ago. What do you think?
The snow outside is grey. Or maybe it’s the dirty glass of the window that makes it seem that way. I can’t tell.
This cabin is small, and cold. The walls are of stone, and so is the floor. The others are lying on their bunks, trying to elicit some warmth from their thin sheets.
It’s my little sister, Esther. She’s a small child, with straight black hair and brown eyes. She used to be chubby, but now she’s thin, so thin.
“I’m cold” she whispers.
I pat my lap. “Come sit here. It’s warm.” I lie.
She’s not heavy, not at all. Her hips feel bony and hard. I wrap my arms around her.
“When are we going home?” she asks. There are tears in her eyes. “I want Mama!”
Her words bring back memories. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know our mother is dead.
A lifetime ago, they took us from our homes.
The German soldiers, with the black spider on their arms. They smashed windows, doors, and often, people as well, as they dragged us off to ‘labor camps’. As ordered by the Führer, whom they also call Hitler.
They separated the men from the women. That was the last time we saw our father.
I remember the march. The truck we were on broke down, so they marched us, barefoot, over the snow. Two days. No proper food, no shelter. My mother grew more haggard with every passing day. She often stumbled as we marched, and the soldiers would crack their whips at her heels.
On the last day, she fell, and didn’t get up.
I put Esther down and ran to my mother’s side. I shook her and rubbed snow on her face. She didn’t stir. The other’s stepped over and around us. They didn’t stop, or even look. I didn’t blame them. They would have been whipped if they had.
“Get up!” roared a voice above me. The whip came down crack on my mother’s back. Crack I screamed at him to stop. Crack Esther ran forward, but I held her back, tears streaming down my face. Crack I dragged Esther away. Crack He’d have whipped us next, and the thought of my sister’s bruised body being whipped was just too horrifying. Crack
“Abby? Are you crying?”
I blinked. “What? No. No, I’m not.”
Esther shivered. “Where do you think Mama is?”
I bit my lip. “She’s probably somewhere safe, Es.”
“Do you think so?”
“I’m sure of it.”
She yawned. “I’m tired.” She mumbled. “But I don’t want to go to sleep.”
“I have bad dreams.”
“Oh Es.” I hugged her closer to me.
“I wish you’d sleep with me Abby. I never have bad dreams when you’re next to me.”
“You know I can’t. The bunks are too small.”
“I want my teddy. I wish I brought him.”
“They’d have taken him away.”
“Why are they so horrible?”
“I don’t know, Es.”
I really didn’t.
It was later, that the door opened. It was a soldier. “Everyone outside!” he barked. “Single file!”
We rushed outside, as quickly as we could. I hurried out, dragging a reluctant Esther behind me. “It’s cold.” She whimpered.
I shivered, but for a different reason.
We often got called out separately, usually to do a day’s work at the local houses. But we’d never been led out together like this.
We passed other cabins. Ghostly faces peered at us through the windows.
We reached a large, square building. We were led inside, through a long corridor, into a small square room. It smelled strongly of disinfectant. Large metal doors lined each wall.
There was a hiss as one of them opened.
“You filthy animals are to be given a shower,” announced a voice. “Get inside!”
I felt strangely calm as we entered the square metal room. It reeked of some chemical.
This was a gas chamber. I knew this, and many of the others knew it too. I’d heard their whispered conversations, in the dead of the night. An invisible poison would be pumped into this room, and it would choke and burn us to death.
We didn’t scream, or try to run. But as the door clanged shut, I heard a quiet sob. Another voice started to chant a prayer.
Esther looked around, with wide eyes. “What’s going on, Abby? What is this place?”
I sat down, with her in my arms. The floor felt terribly cold.
“I don’t know,” I whispered.
“You’re crying Abby. Please don’t.” Her small hand brushed my cheek. My heart nearly burst for my sister, my sister who would never grow up, never kiss a boy, and never look up at the sky and be glad she was alive. I cried for my mother, my father and all the men, women and children who had been where I was now.
I looked up, wiping my eyes. A young woman with long blond hair was looking down at me, a horrified expression on her face. “What are you doing here, child?”
She looked into my eyes. She knew. She knew I knew. I saw her close her eyes. A single tear cut a jagged line down her face. She sat down beside us. It suddenly struck me how surreal this was. We were sitting down, and talking, with our deaths only moments away.
“Why?” I asked dully. “Why?”
“I’ve often wondered the same thing,” she said softly. “But I do know this. One day, be it when all the Jews in the world are dead, these men will realize what they have done. The will the faces of every man and woman and child they led to death.” Her face hardened. “And for them, there will be no rest.”
I tried. I tried to take satisfaction from her words, but they rang hollow in my heart.
Esther was looking at her, fear and confusion in her eyes. “I don’t understand.”
I put my arms around her. “Don’t worry, Es,” I whispered. “We’re going to see Mama.”
I felt my heart break. “I promise.” Dimly, I was aware of the young woman crying. Her tears were not for fear of death, I knew. She wept for us.
High overhead, a clang sounded. I thought I heard a faint hiss.
“Whatever happens, stay with me Es,” I said. “Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid if you’re here, Abby.”
“I love you Es,” I whispered, and closed my eyes. I felt the young woman encircle us with her arms. Her warmth reminded me of our mother. I felt a single tear trickle down my face.
Smoke curled in the grey air. The sergeant wrinkled his nose. “They smell even when they burn, don’t they.”
The soldier next to him bit his lip.
“Filthy Jews. The world will be better for their loss,” agreed another man.
The soldier shook his head. “They’re just women and little girls. Why do we have to kill them too?”
“Filthy whores! A Jew’s a Jew, whether it’s a dog or a bitch.” The sergeant spat on the snow, and walked away.
The soldier closed his eyes. He remembered the screams and the sobs and the desperate hammering on the door. And then, the terrible silence, which had been even worse.
He pinched his nose, and turned away.
Behind him, the smoke curled away, into the high heavens.