“Whatever happens to us, do not cry. Do not give them the pleasure. Please, don’t cry, my love. Be strong. Promise me.”
“I promise, Mother.”
The train ride was quiet. Besides the occasional sob of a woman and the small whimper from a child, the only thing to be heard was the terrible, haunting click-clack of the wheels as the train sped along.
My mother sat beside me, her back rigid, her hand clutching mine, but her face calm. And she did not cry.
Neither did I.
The train screeched to a halt and the guards in green uniforms, with inhuman black eyes, appeared from nowhere. “Draußen, draußen!” They didn’t raise their voices, but rather bit off the German words with intense disgust, making the beautiful language ugly and harsh. “Schnell!”
Mother increased the pressure on my hand until it hurt.
But I did not cry.
We were ushered out of the train and onto a wooden platform. My nostrils were immediately assaulted with a terrible stench.
I wanted to vomit, but I would not show such weakness. I wanted to cry, but I could not. I had promised Mother.
I spotted a small gray house with window boxes full of cheerful flowers. A simple sign hung in the house’s front yard. “Sobibor,” it read.
The rumors were true.
And yet I did not cry.
A man in a white coat spoke to us. “You are all here to work for the Reich. First you will be separated according to your sex. After the women receive haircuts and you all drop off your belongings and undress, you will take a disinfectant shower. Then you will be given new clothes and shown to your barracks. Now go quickly. We haven’t time to waste.”
I did not believe him.
Nevertheless, I did not cry.
Guards moved in, separating the men and women. Panic began to rise from those who had been in denial. It wasn’t really happening. It couldn’t be.
Oh, but it was.
Many people screamed when they were separated from their loved ones. Many cried.
But not I.
After being led into a very large building, we were commanded to form a line. The line wove to a cashier window where our money and valuables were handed over. Next, our suitcases were taken away. Then we were commanded to undress, continuing assembly line style. Shoes formed one enormous pile, coats another, then our dresses, and undergarments…and so on until we were naked. Stark naked. It seemed, to me that we would be leaving the world with only that which we had come in.
But cry, I would not.
Everyone was then prodded into another, smaller building. There, our hair was shorn from our heads. My brown locks fell to the ground and were swept up into the mountain of others’, becoming one, becoming common. No longer mine.
Our nakedness was complete.
Still, I did not cry.
We were thrust back outside, but this time, we found ourselves in a pathway. A wooden fence about seven or eight feet high sheltered us. But the barbwire that ran up the sides of the fence told me that perhaps the pathway was fenced to keep us in, not prying eyes out.
The men were there as well, as naked as ourselves. Instead of joyous exclamations to find each other alive, no one made eye contact at all. Perhaps everyone was afraid to find their loved ones in the same horrible state.
A man in the familiar green uniform instructed us to follow him. He would lead us to the showers. Four guards behind our company urged us forward.
A brick building loomed at the end of that horrible walkway. All 150 of us were shoved inside.
When the sound of hissing met my ears, I knew my hunch had been correct, but I did not cry. Just squeezed my mother’s hand.
It was no disinfectant shower we were receiving.
We were being gassed.
And still, I did not cry. Not even when my mother fell to the floor, in a heap. Not even then.
I would not cry, I could not. I had promised.
I knelt beside her and held her limp hand. The screams of horror started to fade in my ears. My vision blurred, my head grew heavy on my shoulders. The invisible gas stung my eyes, but I did not cry.
I merely lowered my head to my knees and let my world go black.
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