by Vanessa Falagian
Cries all around me. I can smell the sickness in the air, hear the cold back-shivering screams of people
being shot or beaten. Women and children whimpering in pain. They are putting numbers on us like we are dogs to
keep track of. Buzzing in my head. I am next. The needle comes toward me. Pain sears through me. I scream.
I am eighty-one years old. It's midnight and I can't go to sleep. It is haunting me. Coming back. After all
these long, painful, lonely years, I still can't get it out of my head.
For me, like many others, it all started one day in April. I was playing with my handmade beautiful doll,
Hannah. My mother made her for my twelfth birthday. Hannah had long black hair, deep blue eyes, and glossy red
lips. My brother Zvi, was pretending to do his homework. Papa was reading his usual Sunday newspaper in his
chair. Mama was cooking what smelled to be a delious meal; the aroma was almost unbearable. My baby sister, Rachel,
was sleeping peacefully. Then suddenly, there was a heart-stopping pound at the door. Everyone froze. Then my
father rose from his chair with some difficulty. He had hurt his leg by slipping on some ice while moving some stuff
in our family restaurant, it never fully healed. Papa limped to the door and opened it. Two German soldiers rushed
in and started yelling at us in German. Mama rushed into Rachel's room and grabbed her. Rachel..............
When we finally stopped. The guards yelled at us. "School, get out. Lay down. Hurry." They commanded. I
helped Papa while Zvi held Rachel for Mama. One by one, many soldiers came and took all the children under six
years of age, they put them into a cart. They said it would be more comfortable for the young ones and that the
cart held toys in it. With great hesitation, each family gave up it's children. We laid on the ground for two hour
while they took all our belongings. I remember they took my only piece of jewelry, a beautiful heart locket. The
necklace itself was a delicate thread of gold. The heart was also golden and contained a diamond in the middle.
The real gift was what was inside. It had a picture of Papa holding me as a baby, both of us wearing huge smiles.
Finally, the guards let us get up; they pushed us back inside.
When we arrived at the camp, they split us up
into two groups, women and children on one side, men on the other. Children and wives were ripped apart from
their beloved fathers and husbands. My family was the same, but strangely without so much struggle when they
came to separate us. Well, let me clarify that. Not so much struggle when it came to Zvi and mama, I on the other
hand a completely different story. My stubbornness not only led me to two black eyes but a broken heart, for my
father said the harshest words that I would ever hear him say.
"You stubborn child! You embarrass me! Go to your mother, now! Get away; stop acting like you haven't
been raised as a proper young lady!" With that a soldier finally managed to separate me from my father, and in
exchange for my willfulness he punched me in both my eyes.
We were led into a room that was bare except for a ceiling lamp that set off an eerie glow to the room. A
woman stepped in. Her face was pale and sour. Her mouth looked like someone had sketched her thin pale lips.
Her hair was pulled into a severe bun. Her clothes looked like she had just arrived from an important business
meeting. Her heels clapped loudly, breaking the silence. She spoke sharply.
"Undress now, you will be taking a shower."
Everyone looked at each other and just stood there.
"Schnell ! Right now, undress!!"
Shyly we undressed and stepped into a room. It was very crowded, but no one seemed to mind when the
warm water sprouted out from the numerous spouts on the ceiling. Then everyone started to bathe herself. The
pleasurable coolness of the water abruptly shot off. We moaned in complaint as they opened the door.
out into another room with long wooden tables, filled with articles of clothing. We were handed a kerchief and one piece of clothing. I can still see the pathetic excuse for a dress. It was a little more than a rag with a hole cut out
on top. It was faded blue and was stained with perspiration.
I was putting on my dress when two men came
walking in. There was a wave of shrieks of embarrassment and surprise. The thing I remember the most were their
sly smiles. I wanted to smack those smiles off their idiotic faces. They told us to come into. The younger
man explained,"This is Harr Ubergrau, your hair cutter; he'll do his job and you'll stand in line and will not give any
The older one inserted,"Remember no hair, no lice."
We got in line, and I heard whimpers from the women getting their hair shaved. When my turn came, Mama
had to give me a pus. I started to cry even before my hair was being cut. I watch my long, silky, black hair fall
silently all around me.
Afterwards we went into the last room where those dirtbags put the numbers on us. I sat on
an enormous chair. I shut my eyes. I heard the cries from the others. I felt it, a hot burning needle jabbing into
my skin. I screamed so loudly, I thought that people miles away could hear me. I looked at the hideous numbers
on my arm- J16894. Blood blossomed all around the numbers. A soldier directed me outside and gave me a
shovel. He told me to dig, so I did. I put all my anger into my work each time I put my shovel to the ground.
strength only lasted for a little and soon I slowed. I needed to stop, my body felt ......
Later on that day I met a
girl named, Rebekah. She had been there six months and was much more experienced then me. I can still see her
bony face, chapped lips, and shaved head. Numerous grotesque scars on her head stood out extremely well. Most,
she expressed dryly, were from soldiers hitting her with their guns or sticks. Our first night was very interesting
despite our current situation. The difference in the way she looked from the beginning to the end was of the night
was great. Early on, her eyes were sad, shadowy blue; at the end of the night, they contained bright laughter. The
whole night we talked about our lives before the war. She told me about her family: her talented singing Mom, her
hard working father, and her lovable brother. She told me that she really wished she had spent more time with her
brother and hadn't picked on him so much. She wished that sh.....
The next morning and the days following were the hardest days I had ever experienced in my short, young
life. Every day was like a repetition of the day before, waking at dawn, eating thin gruel, and working long
agonizing hour. Except for one day. That day would change my life. I had a bit of a cold; I was coughing and
coughing I couldn't help it. The soldiers often looked for people who weren't working as well as they demanded.
That day, they wre very critical.
I heard shouts and screams, one after the other, bullets blasting from one direction
to the next. Then it quieted down, and everything stopped. Silence. I heard my heart thumping in my ears, and
when the screams began again, it skipped a beat. Prisoners protested loudly as they were forced into the
"showers". The "showers" could be filled with gas balls, and people were kept in there.
Then I heard the horrible words,"That one!"
Before I knew it, my kerchief was ripped off my head. When I looked, Rebekah had put it on. It was a worn-
out print of delicate little flowers surrounded by hearts. On me, it fit snug, but on her, it was loose, giving her a
silly, and cute look. I asked her what she was doing.
"I am taking your place. Those idiots wouldn't know the difference between two Jews if their life depended on
it. You have to be strong. Don't ever give up. Promise me you won't."
"I promise." I said through my teary eyes.
When they took her away, I wanted to break down and cry. But then I remembered what she said to me that
night we first met.
"Never let those self-centered idiots see you cry; it gives them more power.
It all seemed to happen so painfully slow. She didn't even put up a struggle. Her face showed no sign of
regret nor sorrow, but held a strange peaceful look.
Before she disappeared from my view, she smiled and declared,"We shall meet again in Heaven!"
The guard gave me an evil look. I went back to work fighting back my tears. I wondered why God choose to
keep me on earth. What use was I? Was he trying to punish me for something? Trying to prolong the pain? The
rest of my days at camp were a blur. I was ready to give up. I thought I was going to die there, at age thirteen.
Weeks later when I finally collapsed I saw two giants; I swear they looked like angels. The GI took me in his arms
"You are finally going home," he said softly. Then I fainted.
I woke up in the hospital facing the window. I thought I was in heaven. I saw birds everywhere singing their
beautiful songs of joy. There were flowers by the millions. There were green trees everywhere too. The sun was
shining big and bright. The skies were blue and not a trace of clouds were to be seen.
Now here I am eighty-one years old. I see myself back there as a child looking out the window thinking that
was Heaven. These days I think it will look a little different. When I go there, I will find something that will keep
me happy forever, my angel, Rebekah.
from the June 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine