Goodbye Old Life

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Thirteen-year-old Jacob is faced with the German occupation of his hometown, the death of his father, and being sent to Auschwitz death camp.

Submitted: August 20, 2016

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Submitted: August 20, 2016

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Goodbye, Old Life

 

Thirteen-year-old Jacob Blatt looked around the crowded ghetto. People stood in long lines waiting to forfeit their identity cards, important family documents, books, and photos, anything that told who they were. He watched as men carried huge folios of the Talmud and the Torah scrolls and dropped them onto the spillage of human lives. A German military officer stood next to the piles and smiled crudely and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll get everything back.”

Jacob knew they would never get these things back. How would it all be sorted if they returned to the ghetto? They were never going to return. Jacob stepped up to the pile and dropped his families birth certificates, identification cards, and passports onto the pile. He stepped aside and watched as his mother dropped the family photos, and books onto the pile. Jacob noticed the sadness on his mother’s pale face. He knew his mother was tired. She sat up at night worrying about her children. Now with the rumors of the ghetto getting liquidated, the anxiety on Mrs. Blatts face was obvious. Jacob took his mother by the hand and walked with her to their small house they shared with 2 other families.

“Mama, we’ve finished the knapsacks,” nine-year-old Sala told her mother when they walked through the door.

“That’s good, Sala. I’m going to go lie down for a while. I didn’t sleep well last night.” Mrs. Blatt kissed Sala’s blond head and went into the bedroom and closed the door.

“Where do you think the soldiers are sending us?” Sala asked, looking at Jacob.

“I don’t know, Sala. There are rumors that we are being sent to a work camp.”

“Mama says a work camp will be better than the ghetto. She says we’ll get more food and better housing.”

“I hope so,” he replied.

Jacob heard a commotion outside and walked to the window. Fire leaped from the piles of documents, photos, and books. The Talmud and Torah scrolls turned to black ash and fluttered to the heavens. The two Rabbis fell to their knees and ripped a tear in their coats and started chanting, “El Maleh Rachamim. . .” the Prayer for the Soul of the Departed. All that remained of thousands of lives was just a grey heap of ash. All Jacob could think was that their identities had just been erased. There were no papers showing Jacob Aaron Blatt, born 16th March 1931, in Prague, Czechoslovakia had ever existed. In a flash, his old life was gone. The liquidation of the ghetto couldn’t be far now.

Jacobs thoughts turned to a time before the war. His father had brought home a radio for the living room and Jacob and Sala watched as Mr. and Mrs. Blatt danced around the living room arm in arm. It was a happy time before ghettos, work camps, and death.

“What are you dreaming about, ahava?” Mrs. Blatts voice brought Jacob from his thoughts. Mrs. Blatt always referred to Jacob and Sala as her ahava’s which was love in Hebrew.

“Just thinking about happier times,” he said turning from the window. “I’ll go fill the water bucket.”

He grabbed the pail and headed out the door. He made his way through the crowded street and around the people. Once at the well Jacob waited for the line to dissolve. He could hear people arguing, parents scolding children, and children laughing and playing games. These were the sounds that Jacob liked to hear. He knew that if these sounds could be heard, they would be okay.

“Listen up!” An SS Officer yelled from the ghetto gate. “Every man, woman, and child must be at the ghetto gates on Sunday morning at 5am. You are only permitted to take your personal belongings, as much as you can carry, in a sack on your back, not weighing more than 50 kilograms. No suitcases permitted and you must be prepared to walk for long distances.”

The liquidation. Jacob filled up the bucket and hurried home, trying not to spill the bucket of water. He hurried through the door and asked his mother if she heard the news.

“We heard the order. I wasn’t expecting it so soon. I wish they would have said where we were being sent,” Mrs. Blatt said sitting down at the table. “I have no idea what we should take, and what we should leave.”

The next day, Sunday morning, Jacob and his family joined the thousands of other ghetto inhabitants at the gates. He looked up at the rainy sky and said a silent prayer. As the gates opened Jacob held on to his mother’s hand and led the way out into the rainy streets. He shifted the large bag and sighed. He had insisted on carrying the largest bag because he was the man of the house.

Jacob was dead tired when they finally came to their destination a few hours later. He looked at the hundreds of cattle cars and boxcars that sat along the tracks. “Move! Into the wagons fast!” the soldiers shouted at the weary travelers. Jacob led his mother and sister to a boxcar and climbed inside. They went to the dark corner and huddled together. Once the car was loaded, the steel doors slammed shut. Jacob looked around the crowded car at the old men, women, and children. They are all being persecuted for no reason. How can someone be persecuted for being a Jew? It’s not our fault we’re Jewish. It’s not my fault I’m Jewish. He couldn’t help but think. He leaned against his mother and closed his eyes as she wrapped an arm around him.

Jacob was shaken awake by his mother. “Come on, we are here.”

Jacob looked around and saw the cattle car was almost empty. They were ordered to leave all their belongings in the car. Once out on the ground Jacob spotted huge spotlights, endless rows of cattle cars, and people everywhere, and SS soldiers barking orders. Dogs barked and pulled against their leashes, children cried for their parents, women cried for their men, and the Nazis soldiers screamed and cursed. It was complete and utter chaos.

“Mama, I’m scared,” Sala whispered to Mrs. Blatt.

“I know ahava, but we’ll be fine.”

Jacob reached over and grabbed Sala’s hand and squeezed it in a reassuring way. The women and children were ordered to march and they came to an SS Officer. With his stick, he motioned for some to go left and some to go right. Jacob already had a feeling that one way led to life and one way led to death. Mrs. Blatt held onto Jacob and Sala as they walked up to the SS officer. He looked them up and down and motioned them to the left. They marched to a building where they were ordered to wait.

Jacob’s thoughts turned to the time when his father was killed outside their home right after the German occupation. The Jews had been ordered to turn in their valuables and Jacob and his family were on their way home from city hall when two officers ran up to the family and started shouting at them in German. Mrs. Blatt was the only one who spoke German and she started pleading with the officers that it was a mistake. One of the officers struck Mr. Blatt in the face with his pistol and he fell to his knees.

“Papa!” Sala screamed, running for Mr. Blatt.

“Jacob take your sister in the house!” Mrs. Blatt yelled to Jacob.

Jacob grabbed Sala and practically dragged her into the house. He had just barley reached for the door handle when a shot rang out. Jacob turned and saw his father dead on the sidewalk and tears poured from his mother’s eyes as she dropped to her knees and muttered his name. A few days later a neighbor came over and explained to Mrs. Blatt why Mr. Blatt had been shot. Apparently, someone had told them the Blatt’s were smuggling jewelry and thought Mr. Blatt was guilty.  After his father died, Jacob felt that he wouldn’t be alive much longer. He knew in his heart that they wouldn’t live to see liberation day.

That feeling got much stronger when an SS woman ordered them into a room. She shouted for everyone to undress. Jacob looked at his mother for guidance and when she nodded he started taking his clothes off. The SS woman ordered them to fold their clothes neatly and to tie their shoes together. “You’ll take a shower and get disinfected,” the SS woman told them.

As they undressed Jacob remembered when he and his family had a picnic along the Danube. His parents sat on the banks and watched as their children splashed in the water. Jacob would splash Sala and she would try to chase him but he would swim off before she could catch him. His parents laughed and smiled. It was the last joyous occasion the family had before the German came.

Jacob was brought from his thoughts by the slamming of a steel door. Jacob grabbed his mother’s hand as fear gripped his heart. “Goodbye old life,” he whispered softly.

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© Copyright 2017 John Luther. All rights reserved.

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