Dawn Eventually Comes
Dawn Eventually Comes
It was dark. I could feel mother’s hand over my mouth. I
don’t think I could have made a sound even if I had wanted to. For
me, fear had never surfaced as such a dominant emotion before. I can
still remember that long night as if it were yesterday.
I could hear father downstairs talking to the Nazi soldiers.
I'm not sure if I even understood the word “Nazi” at that time. I
only knew that these tall, scary men in uniform were bad, very bad.
It was dark and even though I couldn’t see, I could feel the presence
of David and his parents huddling in the corner. I kept thinking,
"I hope David doesn’t make any noise.”
It was 1944. The war should have been over. There was no
possible way in our minds that Hitler would be able to follow through
on all of his threats. Obliterate an entire race? Impossible, but
here we were, hiding our long time friends, a Jewish family, from Nazi
David was a year younger than I at seven years old. We had
grown up together and had always been best friends, despite the fact
that I was a girl. Our parents were friends long before either of us
was born. They enjoyed each other’s company and wanted David and I to
grow up feeling the same way.
I grew up as a Lutheran in Lutheran church where I also
attended school. David went to the temple. Not once did we think
about this difference. Our parents were friends, we were friends.
No questions asked.
So that dark September night, when David’s family was hiding
in my bedroom, it never crossed my mind that they were Jewish and we
weren’t. I had no idea what the consequences of that meant.
The voices downstairs grew louder and the silence in my room
grew thicker. I could hear father’s voice growing angrier. Suddenly
the door flew open, the light came on, and we had nowhere to hide.
The events that took place next passed before my eyes in slow motion.
A huge, burly man with curly blonde hair grabbed David’s father,
Moshe, and began to drag him out of the room. Tears began to run
down David’s mother’s face. Moshe turned to her and I can so clearly
remember the few words he said in which he placed his life, his faith,
and his family:
“Hold on to our son, Rachel. Our God is still with us.” The
soldier pushed him through the doorway and down the stairs before
Rachel even had a chance to respond. She was next with David in her
arms. And then my mother and I were also forced out of the room.
My mother turned and looked questioningly at the last soldier.
“Where are you taking us?” My mother’s voice did nothing to
betray the fear she must have been feeling.
“You’ve been hiding Jews!” he practically spat. “Did you
think you would not be punished for this crime?” He then grabbed
mother’s arm and shoved her toward the steps. My mother scooped me
up in her arms and we stumbled down the stairs and out the front door. I saw my father standing in the street yelling at the big blonde soldier who was towering over my father’s small frame.
“Are you telling me I cannot pack any belongings for me and
“Fool! Don’t you know you should be shot right here and now
along with your Jews? You’ll come with us and if you have no clothes
you’ll be happy. You’ll fall down and kiss our feet, grateful to your
God that you’re still alive!” The soldier pushed my father forward
causing him to trip over Moshe who fell into my mother. I slid from
her arms, hit the street and scraped my knees. Not only was I scared
to death, now I was bleeding. I remember watching drops of blood hit
the ground. Maybe because I was young, maybe just because I was
scared, I remember thinking I had never seen so much blood. I wish
to God that was the only time I ever had that thought, unfortunately,
it was only the first.
They loaded us all into the back of the truck, still not
telling us where they were taking us. We traveled for hours picking
up more Jewish families along the way. We were the only non-Jewish
people on the crowded truck. This I did not understand. What about
the other people who had been hiding Jews? It was not until I was
older that my mother explained that my father was involved in a lot
more than just hiding our friends.
There’s a lot between that long, hot, crowded trip and our
arrival at Auschwitz that I don’t remember. I’m not sure if I slept
or if I was in shock and just naturally blocked things out. I can
still hear my mother’s voice, though, crooning in my ear, “We’ll be
okay, Lizzy. We’ll be okay.” What I remember about Auschwitz is
limited as well, but I remember much more than I wish I did.
There is one night, in particular, that I’ll never forget as
long as I live. The night I lost my best friend. Selection was
horrible. The soldiers took the power of God into their hands. They
could decide to lived and who died, hence selection. My family and I
were separated from the masses because we were not Jews, but we were
not spared the sight of watching these innocent, unjustly persecuted
people, split apart, family by family.
David was still a “baby”. “Not old enough to be of any use.”
It was his curse. If I could have made David look 10 years older by
sacrificing my own life, I would have done it in a heartbeat. It
probably wasn’t what I was thinking then, but as you grow older you
torment yourself with what-ifs and if-onlys. We were forced to watch
as they marched David, along with hundreds of other young, innocent
children, straight into the ovens. Hell on earth. It was the most
horrifying experience I have ever been through. After David was gone
I could not tear my eyes away from Moshe and Rachel. All life had
drained from their bodies. They were crying silent tears so as not
to draw attention to themselves, but more likely, to us. Rachel had
pleaded to go with her son, but the guard who was watching us told
her she was too pretty to be wasted in the ovens. He wanted to have
a little fun with her first. His words, like his smile, were crude,
but I cannot remember exactly what he said. I do remember the hatred
in Moshe’s eyes, though, that matched the fear in Rachel’s. Where
was their God? Had He forsaken them? Had ours forsaken us?
Moshe and father were separated from us at that point and we
were told nothing in the time to come, if they were still alive or
not. Rachel was taken and put in an over crowded tent with other
Jewish women. My mother was made to work in the make-shift “hospital”
because she had nursing experience. Maybe because I was a girl or
not Jewish, I was spared the ovens and permitted to stay with my
mother. I don’t know if it was worse to be where we were or where
Rachel was. I watched hundreds of people come and go. I’d never
known you could actually smell fear and taste death. The things I
saw in that hospital are indescribable. I’m not sure I’d want to
share them even if I could find the words. I tried to stay focused
on the few people who did come through with the faith and optimism
that could brighten even the darkest corners of our little hell.
There was one boy who was a joy to take care of. His name
was Isaac and he couldn’t have been older than fifteen, or so mother
said, even though he told us he was eighteen. He came into the
hospital with a broken ankle. He was nothing but skin and bones.
I would sneak him my portion of bread whenever I could. Despite his
condition, Isaac had the voice of an angel. Every morning when he
woke, he would sing hymns in his native tongue that would be so
achingly beautiful they brought tears to my eyes no matter how many
times I had heard them. And Isaac would weave such amazing fairy
tales that I would sit enthralled for hours listening to his voice
and his stories. They were always happy stories with happily-ever-
after endings. They were full of enchanting princesses and knights
in shining armor on white horses. I would hear these stories and
replay them in my mind throughout my days. They helped me get
through the roughest times when people, young and old, died in my
arms. They kept me going when I was so tired and hungry I could
barely stand. They saw me through the news of the death of my father,
the most invincible man I had ever known. I finally reached a point
where I settled myself with the fact that I would grow up and die
right there in that awful hospital in that concentration camp. I
didn’t see a way out. I was no longer looking for one. I escaped
through Isaac’s stories and that was enough.
Then a miracle found its way to our camp. Liberation came in
the form of American soldiers. I had never been so happy to see a
man in uniform. Almost a year after we’d first arrived there, we
were free. We were reunited with Moshe and Rachel. We held each
other close, all of us knowing the pain of loss. My mother remained
incredibly strong and never once lost her hope in her faith. She was
my rock in the midst of the storm and I believe I survived because of
A year later we moved to the United States of America, the
land of the free. Moshe and Rachel had two more children but never
once looked at them without thinking of their precious David. My
mother never remarried although she was still young. I believe she
felt my father’s presence was always with her. She eventually died,
naturally and happily. As for me, I write, I share my experiences,
and I stand up for freedom of religion. I learned that David’s
memory, as well as my father's and the millions of Jews who were
slaughtered, lives on through me despite our varying beliefs. I also
learned that no matter how long the night may seem, dawn eventually