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Storytelling: Warzsawa

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By: Noah J.


Warsaw, Poland, 1942. The country has been occupied by Nazi Germany for what feels like an eternity.  They have rounded up hundreds of thousands of Jews, forcing all of them to live together in an area just over three square kilometers, living conditions exponentially worsening over time. When they felt they had fulfilled their purpose, they sent over 400,000 Jews to their deaths in the extermination camp, Treblinka, sparing almost none. This is a fictional story of a of one man who was spared, and allowed to stay behind in the ravaged Ghetto.

We wound back and forth through back alleys, over steep hills and through sloshing gutters, exhausted from a long day’s toil, with boots decrepit and jackets threadbare and frayed.   The cold was bitter and the streets of the Ghetto were untended, covered with ice and snow from the particularly frigid winter. Most of us were sick, many deathly ill from malnourishment and disease.  We walked in fatigue, in despair, and in pain.

Halfway through our ascent of one of the steepest hills in the Ghetto, one of the sicker men, a fellow by the name of Jurek, collapsed onto the cobblestone like a marionette falling from the hands of an exhausted puppeteer.  I could barely make out the rise and fall of his chest, breath scarcely pale against the raw November air.

Our overseeing gestapo officer paused and muttered some quick obscenity under his breath, muffled by the roaring wind.  He barked for our line to halt, sending us bumping, shuffling and stumbling into each other. The officer tugged aside his thick winter trench coat, flicked his luger out of its holster, and fired three shots in quick succession into the collapsed body.

An echo of thunder rolled through the street, and the snow darkened red.  We marched on through the cold.

He was a baker, you know.”  My brother, Cezar, told me when we made it back to the barrack, “We bought his bread before, a golden, braided challah with dried fruit inside.  Mother bought it for Yom Kippur dinner, a few months before the Blitzkrieg. It cost her a week’s wages, but she insisted it was worth it- if only she had saved the money, maybe it could have postponed her fate later on down the road, even if only for a month or two more. ”

She didn’t know that an invasion was coming, Cezar.  And even if she had, nothing could save her from the trains, you know that.” I followed, “They simply don’t have use for old women here in the Ghetto anymore.”

Our mother died five months back- starved to death the poor woman.  Our whole family was starving, she was just the oldest of us, and provided the least resistance to the cold pull of death’s hand.  A few days after her death, my brother and I, still grieving, stumbled out to the wall in search of food. The only meat we could find was an emaciated stray dog.  I’m sure he was as hungry as we were, but survival of the fittest and all that, I guess... We chased it until our legs were sore. It was a particularly bright sunny day, I remember; it felt as if the clear blue sky was laughing at us, mocking us with the Germans, mocking the starving Jews scrounging for sustenance.  And when I say we were starving, I do not mean the kind of starving our sisters used to whine when they returned home from school before the war-

Mommy I am starving!  When is dinner?”

No.  We were truly starving.  The kind of deep emptiness within where your stomach is an empty cavity, and your bones creak against your sides with every slight movement, and you are tired, and your are weak, weaker than you have ever been before.  We were truly exhausted on that bright summer day- we hadn’t had a meal in almost two weeks.

My brother, attention focused solely on the stray, tripped over a cream colored mound in the road.  Its contents spilled into the streets; it was a heaping sack of plump red apples. Someone had thrown us fruit from over the wall.  We took it up and hurried home to our father and sisters, and ate until our faces were sticky with juice and our stomachs were filled to the brim with sweetness.

I still dream often about thanking the kind soul who tossed us salvation from over a previously impassable barrier.  We certainly would not have survived but a day or two more without it. A night or two after we finished the apples, my brother found work, and we were able to get by on just a few Zlotys a week.  It was survival, if you could call our miserable existence such a thing. I still prefer it to the present. I would rather starve to death than to die at the hands of these szkop - the Nazis.