". .. . There were loud noises and a terrible confusion. There was an explosion and I awakened so suddenly I fell off the edge of the mattress. Outside the house it was still dark, and there were gunshots and people were screaming. My father and the other man we lived with were at the window, staring out into the darkness. 'The Nazis are here!' said my father. Ester [the author's stepmother] gasped and one of the children started to cry. From outside came the sound of deep, snarling voices: 'Alle Juden raus . . . raus.' People were screaming right outside our door. Children were crying.
Ester cried, 'My God, my God, what are they going to do to us now? What are those Germans going to do to us?' There was a noise right outside the door and Ester started sobbing, gathering the children fearfully into her arms. My father ran outside to see what was going on. Immediately, my grandfather started praying: 'God help us. God, what's happening? God protect us.'
I jumped up from the mattress. Someone ran into me and I tripped on some twisted blankets and fell. Everyone was running around in the dark and before I could get up, someone stepped on me. I got up and pushed my way to the door. Outside people were milling everywhere, yelling and crying. Men in military uniforms were herding them with clubs and rifle butts to the marketplace called Rynek (city square). My father ran back into the house.
'The trucks are coming to get us. At the marketplace they're beating us and loading us onto huge army trucks. I guess we are just leaving, to where I don't exactly know.'
'What are they going to do to us? What are they going to do to us?' cried Ester. I went over to her and said: 'Mother, don't be afraid. God will save us.'
'Oh, God! Help us, save us. What are they going to do to us?'
Still wearing my pajamas, I ran out of the house. The houses were one-story high, with sloping roofs, and I climbed up on the roof and stayed there for a while hugging close to the tar paper and listening to the cries and sounds of terror. The sky was pink, the color of a baby's skin. Everything else was black. I crawled to the edge of the roof and looked down. A woman was trying to hide her small child in a garden overgrown with weeds. The weeds were very tall and she crouched down, protecting the small body with her own. The child started crying. She shushed and fumbled to keep it quiet, but it was too late. A Nazi hit her with his rifle butt, and stabbed the child with his bayonet. The soldiers were going from door to door, shouting, 'Alle Juden raus!' and pushing the people toward the marketplace, a square in the middle of the ghetto. I was still in my pajamas. I saw a soldier throw a small child through a window of a tall house. Another soldier was dragging a woman by the arm. She was holding back and fighting him, begging him to leave her alone. She was wearing only a nightgown; her legs and feet were bare. The soldier yanked her ahead of him and hit her in the face with his rifle butt. I was crying quiet stinging tears and could not seem to catch my breath.
After a while, I got down off the roof and sneaked back into the house. My father was gone. Ester was holding the small children to her breast and rocking back and forth. She stared at me wildly for a moment, as if I were some sort of alien, and then she leaned forward and savagely whispered:
'Antloif mein kind und du vest bleiben beim leben.' ('Run, my child; run away so that you will save yourself.')
'But mother, where shall I go?'
'Go. Go anywhere. Hide. Hide. Hide. They're killing us all. I am sure of it now. The trucks are taking people from the marketplace to unknown places of slaughter.' I backed away from her and turned toward the door.
'Shmulek . . . ' I turned around. She stared at me for a long time, and her dark accusing eyes sent shivers up my spine. I wanted to run and I wanted to stay. I didn't know what I wanted to do.
'Schmulek . . . I love you. I know God will protect you.'
Bursting into tears, I ran toward her, but she pushed me away. 'Go. There is no time. Go quickly and hide. Run into the countryside. Save yourself.' She had a premonition that this was the end.
I ran outside, still in my pajamas. People hurried past the end of the alley, clutching their few belongings. In groups and in pairs, they hurried past, pushed from behind by the uniformed Germans. A young girl broke away from the rest. She threw down the bundle she was carrying and ran down the alley. A Nazi guard saw her and aimed his rifle. Then, seeing me, he swung the rifle in my direction. I ducked around a corner just as a shot rang out; above my head a board exploded into splinters. Breathing hard, I climbed up onto the roof where I had hidden earlier. The flat sloping roof had been used as a storage place and I covered myself with old boards and pieces of rubbish.
The sun climbed slowly and the tar paper got warm and soft. Gradually, the shouting, screaming and occasional gunshots subsided. All day long, there was the sound of heavy trucks. Hiding where I was, under the planks and rubbish, I felt sick. Dust made my throat and chest hurt, and the smell of tar paper heated by the sun made me sick. I drifted into a daze, a sort of dreaming wakefulness and flies crawled on my ear. Whenever there was a noise close by, my heart beat so hard I thought it would burst.
By late afternoon the ghetto was quiet."
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Copyright © 1999 M S Rosenfeld