My life here in Poland has been a blur. The cruelty and torture is too much for me, a fourteen year old, to bear. The sound of little kids crying, people being beaten, and mothers and fathers weeping and begging makes it hard to stay strong. Most of the time I feel as if I’m going to collapse and never awake. Although, sometimes I’d wish that would happen. Right now, my main concern is food. I can’t remember that last time I’d eaten. I grasped my arms as I acknowledged that I’ve missed having clean clothes. I’ve missed having a comfortable bed to sleep on. I’ve missed my house, my friends. I’ve missed my family. There was nothing I could do about it now, though. Nothing at all.
The air was dry and cold gusts of wind left chills on my white skin. I could smell a terrible odor coming from the poorly built buildings in the camp, but by now I was use to it. It’s amazing how much a person can get use to. From behind me I heard large footsteps plunging in my direction. My breath caught in my throat as I instinctively feared the worst. “Timber! Gather the timber! Get!” A man in a uniform spat as he kicked dirt upon me. I assumed we, Jews, were going to be building more stations soon. I dusted the dirt off of the yellow star a man sewed onto my blue and white pajamas. I will never understand the hatred Germans have towards me. Have I ever caused them harm or hurt? Is this what was intended for my life? Labor and starvation? So many questions overwhelmed my weak and exposed mind every day. Questions that I hope would someday be answered.
A few hours later, I was doing my daily labor routines, occasionally being scolded at by German officers. Camile stood next to me, looking probably as miserable as I did. “Today’s your birthday.” she whispered, looking cautiously around for officers. “I know.” I whisper, not making eye contact. “I can’t really get you anything.” Camile said. “Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t expecting anything.” I said. “That’s why I am giving you hope for your birthday.” Camile smiled weakly. “Hope?” I asked. She nodded. “Listen. I overheard some others talking about men trying to put a stop to Hitler’s cruelty. The men have found some of the camps in Germany. They threatened war against the Germans. They had no choice other than to let the Jews in the camp free. It’s only a matter of time before they get here. Aziel, we are going to make it. All I need you to do is remain strong, and never forget who you are. Inside and out.” Camile whispered more happily than I ever heard her before. My brain took a while to process what I just heard. My eyes glittered and my heart began to swell with warmth and….hope. “Camile, I can never thank you enough. Thank you! You are my best friend, the only person I have left. And for you I am grateful.” I said.
I began daydreaming of seeing my family again. Hearing the laughter of my brothers and sisters running about the house was a memory I still cherished. One memory stood out to me the most though. Mother had just heard about the Germans and how they demanded all Jews move into Ghettos. She hugged my brothers and sisters and me and told us that no matter what happened we would always be together. Seeing her weak and sad troubled me and made me feel guilty for her pain. “Momma, I’m sorry.” I would say. She would pull me close and lay her hand on my head. “It’s not your fault, baby.” I would stay there for what seemed like forever, just my mom and I, embracing and sharing our fears and worries. Knowing that she too was scared helped me through everything. She helped me through a lot of things. She never once gave up or lost any hope. She would remind me every day that hope was the key to everything. Now it was the end of March in 1945, and I was once again being reminded of hope. And now, I guess I realize that my mom had been right all along. Hope is the key to everything. Hope is what got me to where I am. Hope is what kept me strong and going. Now I knew I wasn’t going to be alone. I knew I was going to make it. All I had to do was keep my chin held high and my heart strong.
The next three weeks seemed to pass by quickly and vaguely. Every second I was thinking about when the men would show. I kept imagining the smell of fresh air and the sight of people. People who were not hurt or starved. Now it was the middle of April and my heart pounded faster each day. I began shoveling up ash and dirt, being sure to stay consistent. Camile was somewhere. I haven’t seen her in days. I would try my best to not worry, but something always seemed to get to me. Like the fact that I’d seen a pair of blue and white pajamas that happened to be dirty and sitting in front of Camile’s “housing”. But she asked me to remain strong, so I’ll remain strong. I began to turn around when I heard foreign voices shouting at what I thought was the officers. My heart sped up a million beats faster. A man with a gun came in through the gate and went into the houses to investigate. “Come on! Let’s go. Everyone gather up! John? We need assistance!” The man shouted, seeing injured people. I wished so badly I could understand him. A shorter, sweet looking man came to me and gestured to the gate where the other Jews were standing, looking anxious. I dropped my shovel and an overwhelming sensation filled my heart and soul. I think I started tasting freedom. I looked around frantically for Camile. Jews were already being loaded onto the foreign men’s vehicle and I began panicking. I ran up to a familiar man and asked him if he’d seen Camile, but he had a sincere look in his eyes that made my heart jump. “Where is she?” I asked quietly. He shook his head in what looked like despair. “Aziel... I’m sorry.” I dropped to my knees and began weeping. “No! She can’t be- you have to help me! I can’t- I won’t go without her!” I yelled. I couldn’t bring myself to my senses. The one person I cared about was..gone. “Listen, Aziel. Camile would have wanted you to go. Camile was a lovely girl, but we can’t stop what happened.” The man said. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “Come on.” I looked around feeling unsure. I got up and wiped the tears off my face. After everything Camile has done for me, I’m the one who gets to live. Everything felt so unfair as my new life was beginning to flash before my eyes. “For Camile.” I said. “I’ll stay strong for Camile.” The man smiled.
It was our turn to get onto the vehicle. The man took my hand and pulled me up so I could get in. “Thank you.” I said, still sadly weeping. And that’s when I knew Camile and my mother were right. Hope is the key to everything. Because of it, I made it. And from then on I began my journey as a free, unstarved Jew. And I was happy.