“Jood! Sie werden sterben! You will die today!”
Shivering and naked she stood with as much dignity as her little 10-year old frame could muster. Biting winds swept across the courtyard where the women, and children daily lined up. Over-coated soldiers made no attempt to hide their lascivious looks and lewd remarks, as they walked up and down the lines, randomly selecting this day’s victims.
I need to keep hope. Greta knew the gas chambers were closed. Rumour around the camp was the Russians were on their way to liberate them – but that same rumour had been circulating since November, and here it was almost February, with no end in sight. The soldiers, irate because they couldn’t gas the Hungarian Jews, now amused themselves by selecting prisoners and using them for target practice.
Working her hands into her side, and shuffling her feet together, Greta longed to be invisible – what was to stop the soldiers from selecting her today? Last week they’d picked out Friedl, and shot him with the same disinterest that one would have towards a rat. The worst part was not being able to cry – show emotion and you were singled out, often with fatal consequences. Inside, though, she seethed with a rage that threatened to engulf her shaking, emaciated body.
Something was different about the soldiers today, they were distracted, and she heard snippets of their conversation. Her German was rudimentary at best, but she understood enough to know something was up. “Russian” was mentioned a few times, and when a captain legged it from the main offices yelling, even she could understand, “Die Russen kommen!”
The Russians are coming! Greta knew the Russians had to be better than these Jew-o-phobic, mindless soldiers, but even so, fear took hold of her, and wrapped cold fingers about her heart.
Muffled screams filled the snowy air as the soldiers shot into the lines, trying with their last ounce of authority to kill as many people as they could. Greta measured her length, not caring that in her fall she smacked her jaw on the frozen ground, and scraped her entire front. Self-preservation was all that mattered now. She covered her ears with freezing hands, and prayed.
The silence, when it fell, was almost deafening, apart from the sobs of those less able to contain their emotions. Cautiously Greta opened her eyes and looked for the tell-tale soldiers boots. In the distance she heard more gunfire, and yelling, but the soldiers were nowhere to be found. In bewilderment she stood along with several of the other children. They were alone, the prisoners for the first time in her living memory were alone. She bent down to pick up her bundle of clothes, preparatory to putting them on
The noise of approaching vehicles caused her to stop, head halfway through her worn, tattered jersey, bracing for the worst, not even hoping for the best. She looked at the barbed wire fences 100 yards away, and saw on the road several open cars jolting over the ruts, and a young soldier in a uniform she didn’t recognize shout into a bullhorn. He repeated himself in several languages, until she recognized her native tongue. “Free! You’re Free!”
She stood stunned, arms still upraised, as cheers broke around her. People randomly began hugging and kissing, and then she heard the Rabbi’s wife chanting, “Sh'ma, Yisra'el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad - Hear, Israel! Adonai our God, Adonai is one.”
Greta joined in the chanting, slowly walking towards the barbed wire fence, and freedom. She didn’t know what the future held for her, or the others, but for now they were liberated from the oppression, from the hatred and the fury of the Fuhrer.
(A work of historic fiction in honour of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz - January 27th)
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