The patter of the rain kept the beat of the march steady as we trudged through the mud. The downpour of rain was only outdone by the onslaught of whips crackling on fellow Jews’ backs. Night was
falling, and with it the temperature. Rain turned into snow, making a soft bed for the dead to lie upon. Finally, after a three hundred mile journey, the Nazis ordered us to halt. The snow was
falling rapidly and had already risen to my ankles. I lifted my foot. The shoe that was once there had been almost completely annihilated by the continuous march. What had began as a beautiful
scarlet tennis shoe had worn into a torn, drab rag. Seeing that there was no shelter within sight, I began to ponder how this situation had arisen. ..
“Zuriel, are you there?” my mother yelled above the chaos which was occurring in the street. The Nazis were in a rage. They were raiding Jewish stores and setting fire to the synagogues. Cries of despair filled the sky as may Jews saw both their places of worship and what was left of their livelihood disintegrate before their eyes.
“Yes,” I answered, moving towards her voice. I saw her silhouette in the moonlight that came from a nearby window. “Mom, are we going to be alright?” I asked nervously.
“Yes, of coarse.” We embraced while looking outside the window. My father was among the crowd, desperately trying to put out the fire that had engulfed his shop. Mom and I watched as the fire gradually shrunk as he smothered it with his blanket. A Nazi saw his effort and advanced towards him armed with a club. He raised it above his head and drove it down harshly. My father let loose a deafening moan before falling to the ground. Once there, his only solace to his throbbing head was the unconsciousness that followed the ensuing volley of additional hits from the Nazi. The Nazi kicked the limp body into the still burning shop and watched it get set aflame. Mom and I stared in disbelief. The fires, the killings and the Nazis all seemed to stand still as death welcomed another member into its ranks. The stillness was shattered by a brick flying through the window. A lit torch shortly followed it. Mom and I frantically dashed outside, only to be met by the SS. They forced us into a van and put us on a train bound for Dachau.
Once there, all of the men stepped off of the train while all of the women remained on the train to go onwards to a different camp. I bade my mother farewell, but the goodbye was cut short by the whistle of the train. My head was shaved and I was given the number 30982. I was sent to bed well into the night with only a stale piece of bread to tame my savage hunger. My stomach kept me awake all night, and when the first inkling of sleep entered into my eyes, a Nazi officer barged into the sleeping quarters demanding that everyone get to work. I was assigned the task of working in the gravel pits. This strenuous work was to be done from dawn until dusk. During my two year term I witnessed many attempts at escape, but the combined forces of the Nazis in the watchtowers and the electric fence with barbed wire made these attempts result in death. Eventually, my thinning body became too weak for the labor that the Nazis required of me. Consequently, I was put into a group of men and sent on a death march to Auschwitz-Birkenau. …
Thinking gave way to movement as I realized that the Nazis were ordering us to march again. By sunrise, what was left of the group arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The infamous slogan “Work will make you free” was etched into the entrance. “Free from what?” I began to wonder. Certainly not free from Nazi oppression nor from public disdain. Indeed, the only liberation that one found in these camps was that from the things and people to whom they hold dear.
The Nazis brought us to a checkpoint and directed us to the left. We were instructed to remove our clothing and go into the showers. A hole in the ceiling opened and a container of gas was dropped. Immediately, people went into hysteria, fleeing from the container and banging against the door in a feeble attempt at survival. The gas stung into our faces and eyes. We all gasped for breath, but there was no iota of breathable air to be found: the invisible fingers wrapped around our throats, preventing any intake of air. I laid flat to the ground and listened to the tales of the dying: sobbing, scowling, and choking. I too joined in the chorus until everyone else was quiet. The door opened and I was dragged out along with the others. Though I was no longer conscious, I was still clinging to life. The Nazis paid no heed to this as they loaded up the bodies, myself included, into a truck and transported us to a mass grave. Indiscriminately, we were dumped into a deep hole. The impact of the fall was enough to make me regain consciousness. I surveyed my surroundings: dirt was falling on top of my body; the Jews whom I called friend just three years ago were laying beside me, dead. The most pleasant sight was the mountain of footwear, with my worn out shoes at the base. The tattered soles beckoned to me, but alas, I could not reach them. What beautiful shoes they would have been if not for this massive genocide.
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