Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Sangeetha Kamath, ShortStory 2021 Longlist

The Last Drop Of Poison


Prologue

After what seemed like a dozen nightmares, the train chugged to a grinding halt on the tracks. The passengers swarmed out in a heap and staggered to gain a foothold on the platform. They were suffocating and gasping for fresh air. Ragged, filthy, starving and- very very thirsty!

Winter was upon them. Frosty! The kind of frost that penetrated their coats, boots and gloves. They huddled together, holding their children close and looked around at the sinister surroundings. The thick black smoke belching out of the chimneys of an edifice in the distance smelled so acrid that they could almost taste it.

This wasn't the promised land of the east! This was the ultimate betrayal! This was Auschwitz!

The news filtering around was true after all.


"Bina, Sophie, hurry!" Mindel's voice tinkled like golden bells down the street. Sophie and I were far behind, our long hair and colourful ribbons flying in the breeze as we pedalled our bicycles intensely. We squealed playfully as we braked to a halt beside Mindel who had already arrived at the finish line.

We spread our picnic mats on a grassy patch and ate sandwiches while lazing in the late afternoon sun.

The sky was cloudless and resplendent , painted with the deepest cornflower blue.

I dreamed of being a writer someday. I had brought along my leather bound journal in which I wrote my poems, stories and lyrics. Sophie eagerly took it from me and started reading aloud. Mindel transformed my poems and lyrics into songs by rendering dulcet vocalizations promptly as and when Sophie read out each line from my book:

"Dear myself, never apologise for shining brightly

Sometimes as a raging fire or

As a mellow glow of a fairy light 

In the distant darkness. 

Ignite your spark from within 

Like a star born into itself 

Or explode like a Supernova 

Trailing sparkle dust in your wake. 

Be the Sun creating galaxies and constellations. 

Burn like a single flame of the candle

To keep your hopes and dreams alive 

That's how from the ashes Phoenixes arise. 

I will set no deadlines. 

I will be at my own pace 

In my own race. 

I will be me.Uniquely Me !!"  



Sophie applauded with gusto “If only I was as talented as both of you.” she wished. Sophie with her golden hair, bright blue eyes and sculpted features looked like the favorite doll I once had. Sophie’s beauty was matchless on the inside too.

After downing some cool lemonade, we hugged together and made our way home. Our friendship had only grown stronger over the years.

**********

It was Shabbat today and Mama had cooked an elaborate dinner of Gefilte fish, Chicken Matzo ball soup, Roast brisket, Challah, Roast vegetables and a Pareve Cherry cake. I was always hungry these days. Just when I reached out for my favorite roast potato, Mama slapped my hand and chided “Bonçia! Wait for Istvan and your Papa."

Istvan was a doting brother who was six years older than me. Perhaps, that's why he was very protective about me and my younger sister Raisa. Rasçia---as we endearingly called her. Papa owned a bank handed down to the family over generations. We were considerably wealthy and reputed.

The interior of the house was immaculately done and kept in apple-pie order by Mama. Mama was not only beautiful but she also wore elegant clothes and jewellery. Her perfume bottle held her favourite floral fragrance although the name with gold embossing on it said ‘Poison’. She always smelled of Magnolias and Peonies. And so did the house.

As we all sat down for dinner, Papa blessed the food by reciting Kiddush over the wine and grape juice and Ha-motzi over the Challah.

It was in November 1938 when the nightmares began.

KRISTALLNACHT 'Crystal Night' as it was bizarrely called after the 'Night of the Broken Glass',was only a prelude for the Holocaust.

The aftermath of the assassination of a German diplomat Ernst Vom Rath by Herschel, a Polish Jew, sent shockwaves throughout Germany and Austria. Synagogues were desecrated and torched in hundreds of locations. Our Holy books and Torah scrolls were set ablaze. Homes were plundered and the windows of Jewish-owned businesses and stores were shattered by angry mobs. Shards of glass littered the streets after the vandalism and destruction.

The police and firefighters were asked not to intervene. Many Germans remained mute spectators or looked the other way. The fear was so gripping that they didn't have the tenacity to

help. Kristallnacht pogrom claimed the lives of many Jews in this rampage. Approximately 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

**********

In September 1939, Łódź, our hometown, was annexed into the Reich and was renamed Litzmannstadt. The tremors of Anti-Semitism swelled into our land. Papa's bank was stormed into and everything was smashed. The vault was looted. We were on the verge of insolvency, but his savings helped tide us over for a few weeks after we sold most of our gold, silver and prized assets.

A few days later, Papa came home with badges made of yellow stars for all of us. We had to wear them on our clothing or as arm bands to identify ourselves as Jews. Juden they called us. We were not allowed to leave home after dark, use public transport or walk down certain streets. More and more Jews were evicted out of their homes in a single night to older districts like Baluty. The possessions they left behind were loot for the Reich.Their homes were taken over by the Germans.

Papa was adamant about leaving our home. We stayed on, but it was only a matter of time. **********

Today, on my parents' wedding anniversary, Mama looked lovely in a dress layered with satin and laces. It shimmered in the candlelight with all the colors of the sunset. It was the only elegant dress she had left. Mama had sold her last piece of jewellery for tonight's dinner. Although she tried to keep a happy face, the uncertainty of our future was deeply disturbing.

As soon as I picked up my glass to drink, I heard a commotion on the street outside. Fists pounded on the door, making me drop my glass and spill the contents.

Wehrmacht barged in with guns and truncheons.

"Aussteigen! Get out!" one of them barked orders in German. "You have 10 minutes to vacate this place before we start shooting!"

They knocked curios and souvenirs off the mantelpiece and smashed every fragile item. Mama cowered in a corner shielding Rasçia. Papa and Istvan held up their hands in surrender pleading with them not to hurt any of us. One of them pulled the tablecloth along with all the uneaten food, cutlery and the lit candlesticks.

The fire spread fast on the wooden floor. It danced like a dragon's fury swallowing everything in its path, leaping with a mind of its own. It unleashed it's wrath on the white lace curtains Mama had painstakingly made. A labor of her love over many seasons.

Each dainty strand curled like burnt candle wicks and lay in sprinkles of fine ash. The tablecloth with embroidered bouquets of dainty spring flowers which she only brought out for special occasions was engulfed in the flames.

The varicoloured flowers turned into every shade of grubby brown.

The mayhem was macabre.I hastened to my room climbing two stairs at a time. I yanked my frilly pillow cases, touching the embroidered button roses tenderly with my fingers. I had to save these! My heart was racing. I pulled out an overnight case and crammed it with the first things I set my eyes on. How can anyone expect me to pack away my life, my memories, my dreams, my hopes into a case-- in ten minutes!

Sets of clothes for three days, my journals and luckily the pen bookmarking a page went with it.

A family photograph! In the hallway! My mind was in a whirl.

I dashed out and picked up the silver framed photograph which was lying face down. The glass was smashed into smithereens! I gingerly dusted the shards and held the photo close to my heart.

Our lives had literally gone up in a smoke.

Tiny bonfires still licked the wooden floor. Papa and Istvan had managed to douse most of the fire by throwing water from the carafes and the flower vases.They scrambled helter-skelter to grab valuables. Stash of money,heirlooms.. anything. Mama was by the front door trying to calm down Rasçia and trying not to get hysterical herself.

We were pushed onto the flatbed of the prisoner's lorries and all our neighbours including Mindel's family were squashed inside with whatever we could haul. Those who resisted were walloped and shoved inside. The streets were full of people shouting "Juden Raus! Jews Out!" as the lorry drove past.

We arrived at the ghetto. The sign at the gate said Wohngebiet der JUDEN Betreten Verboten Jewish Residential Area Entry Forbidden.

It was isolated from the rest of Łódź by barbed wire fences, tall wooden posts and watch towers. We were assigned a room by the Judenrat Jewish Council and it was headed by the Eldest of the Jews--- Mordecai Chaim Rumkowski.

Many Fabriken factories came up inside the  ghetto, where uniforms, boots and gloves were made. We got paid in food for making these for the war effort. Mama got a job as a seamstress in one of these Fabriken.

Istvan, along with other sturdy young men, was sent to a labour concentration camp and we never heard from them again.

Meanwhile, Papa was sent to a quarry to haul rocks and pull wagon loads of them.

In May1940, the ghetto was officially sealed from the rest of Łódź. Curfews were set in place, Ghetto police patrolled the streets and there were guards stationed at the gates ready to shoot those who tried to escape. Shootings, beatings and hangings become quite commonplace.

**********

Papa didn't return home one evening. Days passed. Mama ran wildly from the guards to the police to the Judenrat begging for information, even offering them money but it was futile. Nobody knew his whereabouts. In fact, everybody refused to even talk about it. This came as a massive blow for Mama. She wandered the streets delirious---dishevelled and muttering to herself. Her health started failing and she never went back to being herself again.

We had an unforgiving winter. The ghetto wasn’t supplied with enough firewood or fuel. Neither was there enough supply of food.There was a full-scale rationing. Every two weeks we only got:

50 decagrams of rye flour

10 dg of peas 

20 dg of sugar 

15 dg of margarine 

15 dg of honey 

10 dg of coffee 

10 dg of Rutabagas 



With the frigid winds blowing fiercely, many froze or starved to death in this barbed wire cage!

Mindel and I would go for walks in the evenings taking long detours as some of the streets were off limits for Jews.There was a place just inside the boundary of the ghetto---A wasteland filled with poisonous mushrooms and deadly berries.

And there was a lone shady tree that we would sit under.One day, hunger drove me to eat the bark but of course I couldn't. I spat it out. I remembered our dining table, always abundant with food. Food! It had now become a distant memory.

We were totally dependent on the German authorities for food and essentials. Our bank accounts were frozen long ago and our only legal currency was the Ghetto Currency. Faced with starvation, many were driven up the wall to take their own lives after selling the last of their possessions.

I would stand by the barbed wire fence, gazing at the world outside which seemed so alien now. Our future resembled a chasmal black hole.

**********

A thriving black market emerged to smuggle food from the outside into the ghetto even though it was a certain death for anyone who was caught.

Weeks later, Mindel and I along with a few young girls were assigned to clean the houses and gardens of the Schutzstaffel SS Officer's quarters. We came across Sophie in one such house. She was aghast to see us in a dismal state.

One evening, a very worried and concerned Sophie sneaked out of her house to meet us. We were surprised to see her outside the fence near the wasteland. She had run all the way and was out of breath as she tried to push a loaf of bread through an opening.

Suddenly, a shadow loomed large over us!

We gasped when we saw a formidable Schutzstaffel. He grabbed Sophie's wrist and twisted her arm behind her back so viciously that we heard a bone crack. Sophie's screech rent the air. He let go of the arm which hung oddly by her side and dragged her all the way by her hair inside the gates of the ghetto. But Sophie was fearless. We rushed to where he took her, crying out her name desperately.

It only took seconds.His silver eyes glinted coldly at us.

There was a single gunshot to Sophie's head. She was executed right in the middle of the market square!

Sophie fell limply onto the cobblestones. An animal-like shriek escaped my throat. “No! Sophie…!!! What did you do to her! Why!!!"

She was a German, yet she was made an example for the hundreds of gasping inhabitants of the ghetto. This was the fate of anyone who tried to help the Jews!

Sophie didn't die instantly, but lay writhing and moaning. Her golden hair was soaked in her pool of blood where she lay. Yet,with her outstretched hand she weakly waved the loaf of bread at us. The Schutzstaffel wrenched it from her hands. Mindel clung to me frantically. I was oblivious to her sharp nails digging into my arm and shoulder all the time.

Although I couldn't go to Sophie, I stretched my hand out to her from where I stood, screaming helplessly.

Pretty Sophie! Broken, face disfigured, with her brains blown out! She was brave. A martyr! She had outdone everyone. A true Mensch...

A second gunshot to her heart ended it all. Her blue eyes stared lifelessly at both of us. I blacked out.

Many a bodies have fallen limp
Battered, bruised, fractured, broken, frozen
Is it the Death of humanity,
Or the birth of Death waltzing manically!

**********


Rumkowski's voice blared on the loudspeaker a few days later. He convinced everyone that we have to be indispensable to the Reich. He thought that we should give up 20000 children below

the age of ten years including the sick to be deported for extermination. Shrieks and wails split the air.

Rasçia was only seven!!! Was she-- is she... No!! No!! This can't be happening!


The next day, Mindel and I walked in dead silence to our spot under the tree. The clumps of poisonous mushrooms and berries had been cleared out. The land looked bare.

When it was almost time for curfew, Mindel hurriedly pulled me up to my feet and we both walked back. As we reached the apartments, we heard loud shouts and laments. The Blums, the Leibermanns, the Sterns were found dead with their lifeless children in a protective embrace.

And there it was---Dining tables strewn with the berries and half eaten bowls of mushroom soup! If death was inevitable, they'd rather do it themselves, painlessly for their children than send them to be murdered by the Nazis.

The sky descended on us like a shroud---ghastly and Sepulchral.

The list for the deportation was made relentlessly.The next day, with reckless abandon, Mama asked to be in the list of deportees along with Rasçia! She would not be convinced otherwise. Mama had severe arthritis in her hands for a couple of months now of working long hours without adequate rest. She could no longer sew. She knew that it was only a matter of time before she would be a liability.

I cuddled Rasçia all night, stroking her hair and dimpled cheeks. I cried myself to sleep burying my face in Rasçia's soft curls.

The sky was a flaming canvas. The sun dipping in the horizon looked like a ball of brimstone and hellfire.

Mama lifted Rasçia onto the truck and climbed in after her. Rasçia was bundled in a downy blanket with an applique of a lamb on it. Again, the handiwork of Mama. Everybody was dressed in their best, the children too.

Mama was in the dress she wore at our last meal back at home. I clung on to the lacy frills of her dress.

Mama tried to push me away. A guard rammed the butt of his rifle in my ribs and I fell in a heap, doubling in pain.

The truck revved up. “Mama! Please don’t go, take me along too,” I pleaded hysterically. Rasçia panicked and howled uncontrollably. Mama held her close and blew a deep kiss at me. “Bonçia, I love you. Be strong…" she sobbed feebly as the truck started moving.

I ran after the truck. The guard fired his rifle in the air.
“The next bullet will be to your head," he bit his words maliciously.

Mindel grabbed me and held me back as I fought the spasms in my body. "Mama! Rasçia bebia!" My life crumbled.

Voices and cries continued to float from a distance. Everyone watched the truck leave the ghetto until it was only a speck. Then they let out piercing cries and tore the clothes on their body.

I walked back listlessly into the empty apartment and sat in the dark.

The rain poured unabatedly. Ribbons of white water trickled down the curbs as the hopscotch squares washed away.

The giggles and gaiety of little children were gone.

An entire generation was erased.

“How hard are the driving rains 

Are they tears shed by heaven? 

How icy are the harsh winters! 

They fade in comparison to the cold hatred in your heart” 

********** 



People disappeared every other day like they never existed. On the other hand,swarms of people kept pouring in from other liquidated ghettos of the Third Reich territories,even as the boundaries of the Łódź ghetto remained fixed. With cramped and unhygienic conditions, diseases like Typhus became rife.

The deportations didn't stop.The next list had my name and Mindel's on it.This time no trucks were brought to transport us. We walked to the Radegast railway station,our luggage in hand. Those who couldn't keep up or fell down exhausted were shot dead without any remorse. Hundreds of people were crammed into boxcars like cattle. There was no ventilation, food or water. Many didn't make it to the destination.

Eventually, we disembarked on a ramp at Auschwitz which was a total chaos. There were soldiers pointing guns at us and ordering the men to go to one side and women and children to the other. The inmates hollered warnings from afar in Yiddish---"Children must say they are thirteen and above"

There was a brick building in the distance billowing black smoke from the chimneys. It smelled putrid.

A Camp doctor in a white coat pointed a finger of his white gloved hand at me "How old are you?” he asked mechanically.

“Funfzehn.Fifteen," I lied. I was only twelve.

“Rechts,” he muttered, waving to the right towards the worker's side.Those who were not fit to work were sent to the left to be doomed to the gas chamber as I would know later.

We were shepherded into a building and ordered to undress right from our hairpins to our boots. I was embarrassed to do so in front of all the strangers and the guards, but I had no choice. The boots which were given to me by Papa on my birthday were cruelly wrenched from me and thrown onto a mountain pile of shoes and sandals. I was given a pair of wooden clogs.Jewish women in striped uniforms were stationed at tables with electric razors. I was led to one. She barely looked at me, grabbed me by my thick braid and sheared it right at the scalp with a vengeance.

My hair! I cried looking down at the floor at the shorn thick tufts.

I touched my bare head, looked at my reflection in the window pane and gasped. I no longer looked like Bina!

I followed a sea of people when they yelled at us to go to the shower rooms. I was sobbing uncontrollably. The trickle of water was cold but I was colder inside. A guard yelled at us again to get out.

I was given a work dress with blue and grey stripes. As soon as I wore it, I was dragged to a table where my left forearm was tattooed with a number. I was dehumanized, I no longer had a name!

**********

We were all marched to our barracks. Those who fell out of line were whipped. After the Appell roll call where we were counted for hours, we got a slice of brown bread and a swill that passed for coffee. SS-Aufseherin the female guards oversaw Appell twice a day. They patrolled the blocks with their savage dogs and unleashed these on the women they wanted to punish. For dinner, we were given warm water with bits of rotten cabbage leaves or rancid meat swimming in it. It was extremely revolting.

After we retired for the night, I would recite my poems to everyone in the barracks. It provided me with a distraction to keep myself sane. 

“Starlight, Starry night,

Sprinkles of diamond dust across the velvet sheen of twilight sky.

I wish upon a star,

I want to embrace a moonbeam.

I want to revel in all those nursery rhymes and stories

Where they said that the moon was made of cheese.
I wonder what that magic was all about when we never queried
I want to be that wonder-eyed child again and be amazed at everything.
As I chin up and nickname all the stars with all my dear lost ones,
I believe in the magic all over again---they’re the chinks of the heavens above Sending their love,
Melting down on me like warm nourishing butter or a cool respite of mist.
As I go sky gazing every night, I listen to the songs of the stars.
They tell a thousand tales.
I believe in magic and magic comes to me.
I go stargazing and they shine down on me”.


Punctuated after every line that I recited, Mindel's melodious voice breathed life into all my poems and lyrics.

"Mindel, someday you're going to make it big in the music world," I said with conviction. And the women concurred.

We had hopes for the future and that was a good sign.

The Blockälteste in charge of our barrack grunted.

*********** 



I was assigned to Effektenlager Kanada Warehouses to sort out the possessions brought by the Jews, to be sent to the Reich.

A few weeks later, I saw it!

A familiar overnight case.

I opened it with trembling hands and the first sight that greeted me was Rasçia's downy blanket with the lamb applique. Underneath, packed lovingly was her favorite teddy bear without which she wouldn't sleep. My heart broke when Mama's hand knitted yellow shawl peeked out like a pool of sunshine in this stifling room. It reminded me of our happy days when she would sit by the fireplace and work away the needles effortlessly.

For long minutes, I buried my face into the shawl to feel Mama's fragrance, when a surly voice bellowed behind me to hurry up.

Repulsion surged within me. No way was I letting these go to the Reich!

They were too sacrosanct.

I took a pair of scissors and ripped the teddy bear apart. The wool popped out like a white cloud. I discreetly shredded Rasçia's blanket and Mama's shawl to bits and crammed a small patch from each, the size of a handkerchief into the depths of my pocket. Even if found when I was searched, it would be too indistinct to be punished for stealing.

Two weeks later, Mindel was missing after dinner.She didn't return to the barracks at night. Although I expressed my fears, the rest of them knew not to get involved. I waited all night and the next morning Mindel was missing for Appell too. My panic was doubling by the minute. Mindel returned two nights later with a broken nose and front teeth knocked out. She was covered in dog bites and whiplashes. A hysterical scream escaped my lips when I saw her bloodied and quite near death. She could barely stand.The guards who brought her back, threw her across the floor and marched out.

The Blockälteste stood at the far end of the room with a smug look on her face. She smirked and walked away victoriously.

The women dispersed in fear. I helped Mindel gently onto the straw bed.Tears and sobs were racking my body. Mindel drifted into unconsciousness.

The night dragged on. I hugged Mindel close to comfort her. Helplessness was eating away at me. I couldn't ease her pain with medicine or care. Mindel's breath was raspy throughout the night. I thought I heard her say my name Bina..aaa..Or was I hallucinating? All this was a bad dream.

The next morning at four, the call for Appell sounded like an omen. We were being worked to death. I looked at Mindel and I had to wake her up to avoid further punishment. Mindel lay still and looked pale. I was shaking her lifeless, cold body crying out her name over and over again...

Mindel was so skeletal that she weighed nothing as I lifted her battered body onto the cart already piled with people who were finally free from their ordeal.

A familiar voice called out to me "Boncia! What are you doing here?!"

I had stumbled upon Istvan as I walked into a forbidden territory, blinded with grief. He was a Sonderkommando in charge of clearing out bodies from the gas chambers and sending them to the crematoria! He had come to pull the cart to the incinerators. Sonderkommando and other prisoners were not supposed to interact with each other. “Mama and Rasçia were sent to be gassed on arrival, Bonçia” he blurted hurriedly.

I drew in a sharp breath. Nausea rose like a wave inside me.

“When the doors of the gas chamber were opened not a moan could be heard. Rasçia's face was buried in mama's neck. Mama had instinctively tried to save her from the deadly gas. Maybe, Rasçia had found some comfort in her last moments inhaling the faint memory of mama's favorite perfume---Poison.

I wanted to imagine that Rasçia had drifted off into oblivion along with Mama. But who was I fooling! It was Cyanide, the lethal Zyklon-B that ripped apart windpipes, lungs and every cell in the body excruciatingly.

The last drop of poison had left its mark on the terrified wide-eyed faces. But, they were entangled in an embrace,Bonçia. I couldn't pry them apart... I carried them out and sent them together into the same incinerator. I failed you all...” he choked.

Bile rose up nastily in my throat. I leaned over and threw up. When I gathered my bearings, Istvan was long gone…

**********

“The grass doesn't grow here anymore

No flowers bloom

The birds have forgotten their songs
They are aware what awaits; our doom
Evening Dove, what do you mourn?
What do you herald?
The chimneys belch out smoke endlessly
Is this the only way to escape this vile place?
It's not just a colorless winter
It’s deathly white, ash grey
If black had another name,
Would I call it the color of your heart?”


The sky swoops infernally Tartarean over this God-forbidden land.

I was all alone in this world now.

The barrack was silent that night. The women moved about silently, mourning Mindel, sobbing in hushed tones. There was no more melodious voice singing us to sleep.

My poems and lyrics too breathed their last.

**********

In January 1945, the Soviet Union had broken into German defences. The allies were on the road to triumph.The SS Officers evacuated Auschwitz as the Red Army approached. Most of the prisoners were forced on a death march towards Germany in heavy snow. Those who were too weak and emaciated were left behind. I curled up on my straw bed and waited for death, drifting in and out of consciousness. On Jan 27, the Red Army showed up in big trucks.

Auschwitz was liberated!

When I woke up, I found myself in an infirmary.

A nurse appeared from behind a screen door and chirped "Oh you're finally awake! My name's Beatrice. What's yours?"

I was starved of food and starved of kindness even more. She wanted to know my name! My lips began to quiver as I tried to speak and uncontrollable sobs racked my already weakened body. If you could call it a body. I was a bag of bones with sunken cheeks and eyes bulging out. I was filthy and looked like a shadow of who I once was.

Beatrice lost no time to comfort me. Tears welled up in her eyes as she held me in an embrace. "It's alright, you're safe now."

Beatrice washed my flaky skin tenderly with a soft sponge. The warm water and soap felt so good. I hadn't had a bath in ages.

She gently caressed my tattoo. When she looked up at me there was immense pain in her eyes. She asked me one more time "What's your name, córeczka ?"

"Bina" I stammered.

"Bina! How Nice! Shall I call you Bonçia?"

She was trying to put me at ease, but I was dumbstruck. She wanted to call me Bonçia, a name by which Mama called me! I nodded.

Beatrice was talking nineteen to the dozen, trying to make me laugh. An emotion which was buried so deep that at first I didn't trust that I could ever laugh again.

But I did. I laughed, cried, screamed all at once.

I was finally free! 

********** 



I returned home briefly after the liberation. I shuffled down the familiar cobblestone paths stopping by Papa's ruined bank building, Sophie's home---now dark and quiet, Mindel's home destroyed beyond belief.

I stood rooted to the spot, their giggles and voices echoing in my head. When I finally made my way into my neighbourhood, I evaded every glance or sidestepped the people. I couldn't bring myself to look at them, remembering that fateful night. We were reduced to a wreck because they had all idly stood by. I limply pushed the gate and wobbled to what was once the front door. The inside was like a yawning cave. A curious audience watched me. I ran my trembling fingers over my parents' nameplate which was ripped off and trampled upon. The wood was badly splintered and rotting.There was a flood of memories. Dizziness gripped me so hard that I leaned against the wall.

They were black with the smoke and fire of years ago. A thick layer of ash and soot carpeted the floor. I stepped into the dining room. It was in shambles. There were the remnants of our ordeal from that fateful night. Cracked plates, broken glasses, shattered mirrors and window panes. Our furniture was destroyed with sledgehammers and it lay in pieces.

The house was vandalized and ransacked by the townsfolk after we were thrown out mercilessly!

My Home! So lovingly built around a bustling family with siblings..Istvan, Rasçia---A child like a rose who didn't hold a chance to melt the black hearts.

Her toys lay scattered and smashed. Her books hadn't survived the fire. Or the malice.

I made my way up. It was a spectre of what once was. I let out a piercing scream. I hugged myself and lay curled on the bedroom floor for a long time.

My agony was intensifying by degrees. Not the one which I knew at the ghetto or at the barracks of the death camps. This was severe to the extent where I felt waves of emotions that I had held back over the years at the dehumanizing Auschwitz-Birkenau.

'Istvan, where are you?” I have no closure even to this day. I'm not even sure if Istvan had made it out alive. When Auschwitz was evacuated, most of the Sonderkommando were murdered to destroy the evidences of the atrocities committed by the Nazi.

Lampposts started lighting up the streets casting an eerie glow inside. Beatrice was coming to fetch me at dusk. Our ship was sailing tomorrow and I would be in a different country...hopefully around new and kind people. I took one last look at my home which Papa had so lovingly built and bid it a tearful goodbye.

Beatrice was with me throughout the sea journey and even after. The noble lady made me a part of her family. I had found Mama in another form. I got a new start in life all over again. I went to school and completed my education.

**********

It's been an expedition...

Today, I'm an Octogenarian on the Seventieth Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. As a survivor like the many others, I'm going. Not only to face my past, but also to honor the people who were exterminated, even Sophie. I have to say my mourner's Kaddish at the site and release my pain.

I placed red roses against the concrete walls of the dreadful gas chamber. "So this is what it looks like!"

It has borne witness to the blood-curdling screams of the unsuspecting people who were deceived into going inside for a shower and then sealed shut from the outside.There were scratches on the walls made by the captives---Warnings written in Yiddish that this wasn't a shower room. Death was imminent here. To save the next batch of people who entered, perhaps. But there was no escape. It was the very last act of selflessness even as they were dying.

I placed a kiss on my fingers and ran them gently over these marks and writings. Papa, Mama, Rasçia were here...

I hobbled out. As I was gathering my thoughts outside, I could faintly smell a familiar fragrance. Peonies... Magnolias…

"Mama! Rasçia?" I quietened my thoughts, shut my eyes and said my Kaddish. When I concluded, a soft breeze brushed past my face like a loved one's kiss.

**********

"The number which remains
For the world to see
Is the clock tower at Buchenwald
Which has stopped at fifteen past three.

Liberation came at a price.
We were scarred for life, the grief insurmountable
Some have forgiven, some haven't;
But none have forgotten.

History is not just our past,
It's a glimpse into our future, should the same mistakes be repeated.
It only takes a moment of frenzy to transform him into a brute
To unleash the depravity, the demonic lunacy.

We remember,
So that we can retell the horror.
We retell,
So that it doesn't recur

We remember Majdanek,
We remember Sobibór,
Just like we remember Chełmno,
Treblinka, Bełżec , many more

But, Auschwitz-Birkenau!--never has history seen
Such a mindless extermination
Of the millions as you have
All in the quest for 'The One superior gene?'

Never again! The Last Drop Of Poison---
Let it be the very last from every canister,
Every thought, every mind and every heart,
Let's all say "We Are All One!"


A lark sang in the distance…
"Mindel?" But of course!
I smiled heavenwards and walked out of the gates.

A golden streaked sky smiled back at me. 



Disclaimer: The horrors faced collectively by the Holocaust victims are compiled into one lifetime experience for my protagonist 'Bina' who is a fictitious character. Any resemblance to an actual person living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional.

References

Chaim Moredechai Rumkowski. (2019). Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. http://jewishvirtuallibrary.org Kristallnacht. (2000). Yadvashem.org. http://www.yadvashem.org

Lodz Ghetto. (2000). Yadvashem.org. http://www.yadvashem.org

London Jewish Cultural Centre. (1933, May 3). The Holocaust Explained: Designed for schools. Theholocaustexplained.org. https://www.theholocaustexplained.org/

Sonderkommando. (2000). Yadvashem.org. http://www.yadvashem.org

The Nuremberg Trials. (2000). Yadvashem.org. http://www.yadvashem.org United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.-a). German Administration of Poland. Encyclopedia.ushmm.org. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/german-administration-of-poland#:~:t ext=The%20Soviet%20Union%20occupied%20eastern

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.-b). Invasion of Poland, Fall 1939. Encyclopedia.ushmm.org. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/gallery/invasion-of-poland-fall-1939-stories

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (2018, March 12). Introduction to the Holocaust. Ushmm.org; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/introduction-to-the-holocaust

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. (2005). Antisemitism. Ushmm.org. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/antisemitism

www.auschwitz.org. (2019). Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Auschwitz.org. http://www.auschwitz.org

Yad Vashem. (n.d.). Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski. Yadvashem.org. https://yvng.yadvashem.org/

No comments:

Post a Comment