The ghetto was nearly a ghost town.
Hannalore held her bag in her right hand, and braced her wobbling, pregnant mother with her left. They were shoulder to shoulder with thousands of others, all sharing one common trait; white arm bands with a blue Star of David. After endless months of quarantine in the ghetto, Hannalore looked over her shoulder at the somber, broken city she once loved; Warsaw. How long have I dreamt of fleeing you, and now, I am petrified to leave…
A soldier with a bullhorn blared in Hannalore’s ear, “Please remain calm as you board the train. All of those that resist will be shot. You are being resettled in the East, so please remain calm…”
She caught his eye, and he scowled at her as if she were something unpleasant adhered to the bottom of his boot.
The massive herd of human flesh was prodded along a wide path lined with barbed wire fencing. As Hannalore and her mother turned the corner, they saw it. It was an ugly monster of steel, graying wood slats, and more ominous razor wire. Dozens of freight cars dotted the tracks. Most were already full.
“Perhaps they won’t have room for us…maybe we’ll get to stay behind.”
“We can hope, child.”
Their massive group was shoved in the freight car, well beyond capacity. Many of the men began to protest as the soldiers pressed even more bodies into the car, but were stifled as the door swung shut. Several young children began to cry in unison. The soft murmurs from their mothers made the men hang their heads…they were captives at the mercy of a merciless regime. Hope was a vapor they dared not cling to.
The train began its slow departure. As it gained momentum, the motes of sunlight that peeked through the slats created a surreal onslaught of light and shadows. Hannalore became very aware of the bare spot in the sole of her left shoe.
“Mother, there’s something on the floor that burns…”
She closed her eyes tightly, “It’s lye.”
“What’s it for?”
Before she could answer, the train car filled with panic. A man peering between the gaps yelled, “We are heading north! We are going to Treblinka!”
Hannalore whispered to her mother, “Treblinka?”
Enormous tears filled her eyes, “It is the camp with no barracks…”
“No one lives there.” The words hung between them; as the depth of the words washed over Hannalore’s young face, she put her arms around her daughter and recited the Kaddish between sobs.
The two were startled by the ear piercing sound of splintering wood. Four men held up a fifth, who was pummeling the wicked wood with his heels. It began to give way. More joined in; hammering the grey boards, completely undeterred by the damage the wood slats gave back to them. A porthole less than the size of a milk crate flooded the cabin with light and air.
A man on each side of the hole held the barbed wire clear of the opening; the young men who were small but brave enough, lined up to make their leaps of faith. After a couple squeezed through, the passengers let a collective scream at the sound of successive gunfire. An elderly woman at the back of the car squinted out as the train rounded a bend, “There are two soldiers on the last flat car!”
This only stopped the processional for a moment before they resumed their escapes.
Hannalore’s mother clutched her arm, “Go child! Jump!”
“No, Mama! I don’t want to leave you! I won’t!”
The tears poured down her face, “Make the sign of the cross…”
“Do it, child…do it to live.”
Hannalore crossed herself, and then collapsed onto her mother’s swollen belly. Her mother stroked her hair and wept. She wept for her children; born and unborn. She wept for her people.
She led Hannalore to the opening, and kissed her forehead, “Live, child. Love…and forgive.” She ripped the arm band free from her daughter, letting it fall to the lye covered floor.
Blinded by tears but numb from sheer grief, Hannalore threaded herself out of the freight car, and leapt into the tall autumn grass.
She laid there prostrate until she could no longer hear the rumble of the train.
And then she ran.
"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."
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