My Cage Home: The Untold Story of a Younger Anne Frank
July 21st, 1941
Hello, Diary! My name is Bryda Adamowicz. I live in Poland. I am nine years old and very happy, because today I got you. Our lovely neighbor Miss Malwinka made your pages from wood pulp and your cover from a blue calico cloth, and gave it to me for a necklace I made for her. Miss Malwinka is very nice. You are so pretty.
It is warm and sunny outside. I helped Mama harvest the vegetables again, and tonight we are going to eat fresh bread with turnips. That is my favorite meal. My brother Bronek does not like turnips, however. He calls them “ickies.”
I am going to go pick more vegetables. I will come back tomorrow. We will be good friends, I know it.
July 22nd, 1941
Dear Diary, I am very scared. Papa and Mama say that bad Germans called Knot-zees, who are led by someone called Adolf Hitler, are coming. They have evil camps where they put Jews like us to get hurt and die. The biggest one is called Oshwitz. The other villages have been found and the people who live there have been taken to Oshwitz in trains and they haven’t come back. Mama says the Knot-zees might be coming here, so we must be careful. Papa says we may go live in the woods.
I do not want to leave our little village, especially our little farm house. But I do not want to die in the Oshwitz camp. I hope we do not have to leave.
July 23rd, 1941
In one week’s time it will be my birthday! I am turning ten, and I may have a party. I still hope the Knot-zees do not come and take us. I do not want them to spoil my birthday, and I do not want to be killed. It would be the very worst if they came during my party! Imagine!
Mama and Papa and even little Bronek say not to be scared, although Bronek does not know why I am scared. If they do come, our village will hide. We are a small village and we might fit inside a large cave where no one could find us. We are far, far away from other villages and towns, so the Knot-zees may not even come here, said Mama. But I do not want bad men to ruin my birthday.
July 24th, 1941
Today was very awful. Bronek is sick with itching spots, and my favorite cow died. She was a very old cow. And the sky is very dark and gray and cloudy for such a beautiful month. My playmate and friend Fajga’s older brother is also scared of the Nazis (he spelled their name on paper and it is not what I thought it was) and says this is a bad omen, what with the sky, and the cow dying. I do not know what an omen is, but it does not sound good. I am going to pack a bag so that if the Nazis come in the night, I can run away very quickly.
July 25th, 1941
I helped pick more vegetables today, Diary. I also tended Bronek and helped so much that Mama gave me a treat… a garden patch! Now I have a small place where I can tend my very own carrots and turnips. It is only half a meter long but Fajga wishes she could have a garden. I will share it with her.
Bronek is still very sick. I am not supposed to go near him or I will get itching spots too. He looks silly with pink dots on him.
I am happy that no Nazis have come. I hope they will not come.
July 26th, 1941
I got to cook all of our dinner today! Mama said it is time I learn how to do such things, since I am nearly ten years old! My party will be very fun, I am sure. It is in only four days!
I made bread from our wheat, which I ground into flour myself. The loaf was lumpy and dry, and Bronek, who loves bread, thought it was disgusting. I did not like it myself. But I did like the stew I made from carrots and turnips and corn. It was delicious and Papa asked me to make it again tomorrow.
Do you think I will be a good cook someday? I loved cooking. I hope my bread gets better, however.
July 27th, 1941
The Nazis are coming. Fajga’s brother heard them marching and shouting in the distance this morning. We will all pack up and leave to the forest now. I had to write this before we left. Everything we can take is in a bag. Papa is tying our livestock to a lead rope, in case we will need them. I hope Adolf Hitler and his terrible Nazis do not find us. I must go now.
July 30th, 1941
Diary, I should wish myself a happy tenth birthday, but my life is not at all happy. The Nazis came nearly as soon as we left for the woods a bit beyond our house. We could all see them as we were nearing the outskirts of the forest.
Our village now has a new home in a crowded, stuffy cave. We hardly speak. Our cave was the only suitable place to settle, and is only a few meters in from the edge of the woods. We can see the Nazi men a ways away, in our empty village. We make cooking fires once a day, and use whatever we have brought with us as two meals for the entire village. Yesterday was pea, apple, ham, hazelnut, and bread crust stew, made from scraps of the first day and tiny bits of things. Today, in honor of my birthday and the party we should have had, we made oatmeal with the scraps of sugar we managed to bring, and we are going to eat all three meals instead of two. I am glad it is at least tasteful.
There is not much to do after we set up our camp. I was needed so much on the 28th and 29th that I could not even write, out of worry and endless chores. But now all I can do is whisper with Fajga, draw with charcoal on the ground and write in you, Diary. There are only grown-up books here and few chores for me. The women cook and the men will secretly scavenge for meat and vegetables in the woods when we run out of food. Only adults may gather food because we must be very quiet all the time.
The Nazis may explore the forest soon. They have explored the field where our village was in all directions, and will be running out of places to look for us soon. If they do not find us, they will find the cows and goats we could not possibly keep and had to set free, and become every bit more suspicious of a settlement in here.
I am so scared; my heart seems to race nonstop. The slightest noises outside of our cave are enough to send me scurrying into the darkest corner. I have not slept a wink since we moved here. The first night I lay clinging to Mama, awake and fearful. Last night I tried to sleep but got only nightmares of what Oshwitz may be, and Nazis.
July 31st, 1941
The Nazis came past our cave this morning. No one has made a noise since then. The only baby, Miss Malwinka’s boy, was previously stuffed into his mother’s breast when he cried, but now his mouth is gagged and he cannot even squeal. I feel sorry for the poor thing, but it is better to tie up the baby than have us all killed. And oh, the terror of this morning… if that child was to make the slightest noise…
My mother and Fajga’s mother were making a potato pudding (from milk and potatoes) that no one seemed to want to eat when a soldier walked past our door. Mama’s mouth got wide like she had seen a ghost and she silently ushered everyone into the back of the cave while Fajga’s mother put the fire out and took the pot into the back. We hid our bags with us, and it was then that Miss Malwinka stuffed her baby’s mouth shut with a cloth. Our curtain of leaves that hid the empty long tunnel in didn’t seem thick enough, and our tunnel to the cave seemed too light and too revealing. The children didn’t dare to even sneeze. More soldiers came by. My heart beat so fast that my chest seemed to explode. My breaths thudded. I seized up. I was frozen with cold shivers but the air was still hot from the fire.
Finally they left, but I know they will find us someday. If only they would just give up. But I fear my life will end soon, and it is a pity to be stuck in a dark, wet cave. Our water is running out and we will need to get some soon, so the men will have to leave occasionally. Right now I am hiding under my blanket of a bed with Fajga, scared for my life. Oh, and Bronek has made four other children sick with his awful spots. I am itching a bit too, and I hope it does not spread to everyone.
August 1st, 1941
Good news! This morning Fajga’s cousin was awake very early and was wandering around the backside of the cave when she slipped down a hole! She found a beautiful place with a lake! And no one will ever think to look down there for a poor Jew village! There are cave formations and even jewels down there, and so much water we could never run out… plus little blind cave fish we can kill and eat! Tomorrow we will all move down into the bottom area.
For the first time in a long time, I am happy. The last time I can remember being glad about anything is when I got my garden patch, and the last time I can remember a whole entire good day is the day before I heard about the Nazis (imagine that I called them Knot-zees!) and Oshwitz. I looked down into the secret room and it is the best sight I have ever seen. I shall not describe it because I will not be able to in the space of this little book. Diary, I wish you could see so that I could take you with me and Fajga to see it.
The only bad thing is I have the spots, even though Bronek has recovered. But today, how can I be sad?
August 2nd, 1941
Diary, the Nazis found us before we could go to the secret room. I must finish writing.
August 6th, 1941
Oh, Diary! I have been through the worst sort of torture in the last four days. The only good news… and it is hardly good… is that we are not at Oshwitz or any of the other camps. We are trapped in our own former home.
The morning we were caught, the men killed Fajga’s Papa and Mama and four other adults with their awful guns for speaking out against the Nazis. They made us squat on the ground without straightening our knees for the longest time; I do not know how long, but those who rested or put their hands on their thighs were beaten until their backs bled. Malwinka’s baby died nearly the second it began. Fajga’s cousin, the one who found the secret cave, is dead from the loss of precious blood. Poor little Bronek is wounded so badly he cannot walk or roll over; I am tending him as I write to you, Diary. To think that the Nazis would kill a newborn, and nearly kill a child who is only four years old… do these creatures have any compassion at all in their evil hearts?
After we were allowed to stand, several people including me collapsed, our legs in spasms. But my brave Mama kept standing, and walked up to the head officer. She begged him not to take us all to the camps (she called them connotation camps, whatever that is). For a moment, she was held by two strong Nazis who gripped her so tightly I could see her arms turn white and then yellow. The head Nazi raised his gun and cocked it. I screamed silently and shook in terror, but I knew better than to make noise. If my Mama dies, I should not too.
But then the evil guard smiled and sat his gun down. He said that he would be glad to keep us from the connotation camps. He said he would not even make us do exercises again, which I suspect are something like the squatting. But… oh, this is the worst… we are imprisoned in our village.
He said that we might pick a space in which to be trapped, where no Nazis could go on the condition that they would guard us day and night. We would each be confined, two together, in a space only one and a half square meters and at least twelve meters from the nearest cage. This place holds our food, water, entertainment, shelter, and such… anything we own that we can fit in. Oh, and no adult can live with a child. I wanted to live with Fajga, but my poor, poor brother must come before her, and she must be cared for with her brother.
My place is on the creek that ran right by my own garden patch. It has our food (my vegetables), our water (the creek), and we have our blankets and the overhang of a nearby tree for protection. Every pair gets some medical supplies in a box, which I have firmly planted in the earth beneath the tree. We took two days to labor all day and night to set up the tiny enclosures which the Nazis rigged with electric wire atop and beneath, so that we cannot escape by digging or climbing… like we could with soldiers patrolling all day.
I cannot begin to describe the hideousness of my new life. Can I even call it a life, now that there is only life to live for? I feel like I have aged twenty years. Could it be that only a short while ago, I was an innocent nine-year-old who did not even know about the Nazis until her parents told her at the last minute, and feared for the end of her birthday party? Right now I am not ten, I am a young woman tending her brother’s ghastly scars and lacerations, writing in her diary in the first free moment she has had in four days.
I must go, Bronek’s blood is gushing again. Why won’t it stop? It has been two days that I have mopped it up with a rag. I hope the fact that he was only tended two days after his injury will not kill him. I hope he still has enough blood to live on.
August 7th, 1941
Bronek, my dear, poor, sad, pitiful little brother. Bronek is dead. Oh, Diary, I wish Mama and Papa and Fajga and even dear Miss Malwinka were here to comfort me! My heart is aching. I will soon split in two. Those awful men are standing there, watching me cry, and seeing my pain. This is the worst torture any Nazi could give me. Now, I would die in a connotation camp to save this child who was my brother. Four years old…
It was all a waste. If only I could die here and now. If only I could blow a breath back into him or replace his lost blood with my own. I will send my family a note from you, Diary, down the creek where their cage is. Mama and Papa must know that these awful creatures, these awful beasts who call themselves Nazi men, have killed their child. If only I could share our pain…
My tears are staining your paper. The fiber is getting soggy and tearing apart as my tears wash away my life, weakening it and tearing it apart. Diary, come alive and be a human friend with me! I shall spend all day now digging a hole to bury dear Bronek.
August 8th, 1941
The hole is dug, as large as one can make it in such a tiny space. Mama and Papa are having a silent funeral with me downstream, I just know it. Have their tears watered their garden?
I have been silent since Bronek died yesterday, and now alone, I don’t ever intend to speak again. What is the purpose? A boy I know got shot for shouting something to his nearby mother, and when she screamed at his death, she got shot too. They should have had the sense not to, and now I will never utter another word.
His grave is just beneath my bed, so I will always sleep near him as I did the first few days. My fingers are covered in blisters that pop and burn at every movement, from my digging yesterday. But I managed to muster the courage to place him gracefully into his resting place. I took his blanket and placed it over his still body. I kissed him softly and cried. My tears, my tears… how are there any left to cry? His face is damp still, I assume, beneath the earth I covered him with.
There was a small rock in my cage that I wrote his name on. It is just above him, and some carrot tops I made to look like flowers are there too. They would have been good to eat, but I must respect Bronek above all else. And if I die of hunger, I will be with his lost spirit. Shall I ever eat or drink again, then?
How I hate the Nazis! They did this to him. They trapped me in here. They trapped everyone else I care about… my parents, my friend Fajga, Miss Malwinka. They are not humans, they are filthy monsters. Monsters with souls that will never meet those of their beloved, if they even have the feelings to care for anyone. How can this be right? Who could do this, practice this insanity? There are only a few of us left here even after only a few days. Of 25 to start, eight adults and at least six children, probably more, have been killed, as there have been some others I did not mention. Only eleven left.
August 9th, 1941
Diary, it is no secret that I wished to die with Bronek. But I saw this morning that that is just what the Nazis want.
Why would they waste their time here when they could have dumped us in connotation camps and gone to do more work in another village? Because this horror is their entertainment, for one, I realized, and because they think we will die quickly. Only nine of us are left, as Miss Malwinka’s husband got shot for trying to escape today, and a teenage girl died of disease today I saw downstream, next to Mama and Papa’s cage. At this rate, we will soon be gone and they can go back to doing their filthy work.
Why should I give them the pleasure of knowing that they have hurt me and that I want to die? Why do I want to die? Although Bronek was everything to me, now I can slowly become my everything and I can make the most of this. As I have just realized, my legs are so stiff from hardly moving that it took several minutes to stand, and that was with pain so great my knees should have been pulled apart. So I stretched them and jogged in place beneath the tree, smiling. The officers were stunned that I was so happy, which made be so joyous I could barely believe my own happiness.
I stood in my fragment of the creek and splashed myself. How have I not realized the pleasant weather all this time? It is warm and unusually sunny. I had a delicious lunch of fresh carrots and turnips today, and I made carrot juice in a cup I found in my medical box.
Diary, my cage home and my life is awful. But frolicking around and making the Nazis shocked at my rebelliousness is rather uplifting. I was nearly able to forget my horrid situation for one tiny moment this morning… just for a second, before I saw the ugly fences again. I will survive here. I will live. This is my cage home, and I will never leave it for death.
Bryda Adamowicz was shot on August 10th, 1941 by a Nazi named Heinz Schmidt for no apparent reason. Her mother and father Adelajda and Czcibor were both shot the same day for protesting her uncalled-for death. Fajga Palubicki, her closest friend, died of hunger two weeks later, as one of the last two left. The Nazis there, who predicted an earlier end to the village, were bored and decided that this was taking too much time from their work. The last remaining person from the village , Malwinka Gryzbowski, was taken to the nearby camp Auschwitz that day. The four officers who patrolled the village of this story stayed at Auschwitz instead of emptying other villages into concentration camps, as their commandants were unsure about leaving them to handle other similar villages, as they were disappointed with their long absence.
Bryda’s village is the only one ever to have experienced this brand of control. To this day, only a tiny handful of people know her story…
© Copyright 2016 Ella Winter. All rights reserved.
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