My knees gave out and I slumped to the cold ground of the train station. Mameleh (Mother) caught me under my arms and pulled me up sharply, her fingers digging into my flesh. "Get up Hadassah! Now! They will see you!"
I didn't care anymore. The will to fight, to survive, had slipped away. Leaving in its stead a heart, a mind... a body, ready to leave that tomb of existence, no longer able to fight the evil that had engulfed us.
After we had been captured, they had taken Yacob and Tateh (Father)from us at the holding camp, the Jewish community center. They told us that they were conscripting them to build roads for the New Europe. That we should be proud. Mameleh and I never spoke of it, but we both heard the rumors; no one ever came back.
Mameleh held my arms hard, gruffly pulling me up and heaving me halfway onto her hip before I would slip down. I tried to stand, knowing Mameleh was using all of her meager strength to keep me upright.
"If you fall, they will take you from me, 'Dassah. You must try harder! I cannot hold you much longer!"
I pushed up, willing my thighs to be strong, my ankles to not cave. It worked for a brief interlude as Mameleh and I united like conjoined twins. Our separate, insufficient strength united to make almost enough together. Wrapped in each other, the will of our love was stronger, for a moment, than the weakness of our bodies.
My mind departed to where minds go when they can no longer accept what they see, hear...feel. It was just ahead of the soon failure of my body. I was barely aware of the wetness running between my legs; The stench of living like animals no longer registered.
Mameleh's sharp intake of breath, grabbing me tighter , wrenched me out of my unconsciousness,
"You will do it then?! How do I know this is true? That you are not lying?" Her suspicious amazement made her words urgent, hard and whispered all at once.
"Frau, I would not put my life in danger to take a sick little girl, only to hurt her. If I meant her harm I 'd only need to leave her with you and let her go to the camps. Quickly, you must decide! I can only take one and if it is not her, I must take another!"
My eyes tried hard to focus on the voice, my brain struggled to make my eyes work. What I finally saw was not to be believed. A German soldier replete with Nazi arm band and Iron cross on his collar. We'd seen so many of those in the last weeks, it was burned into my memory. A quick look into his eyes betrayed conflicting emotions that did not reflect the cruelty of the uniform. It all seemed a dream.
I knew he was asking to take me from Mameleh, but I couldn't conceive why he would bother to ask when the other soldiers only took and did as they pleased. Not for a moment did I consider she would say yes. I closed my eyes against her chest. I could feel the pounding of her heart, the quickening of her breath,
"Yes! Yes! Please take her! Take her far away from this hell!
"Mameleh?! NO!!!" I was screaming but it was silent. The scant breath I had escaped through my lips as if through a tiny hole.
Mameleh looked deep into my eyes, cupping my head fiercely between her hands. Wild disbelief of what she was about to do mingled with an astounded glimmer of hope,
"Adonai has made a way when there seemed to be no way, Hadassah! I can hardly believe it myself! Never forget that I love you, my child. Never!"
With no further words she shoved me into his arms and he clamped his hand over my mouth so my objections wouldn't bring attention to us in the crowd. I quickly fainted from shock and lack of air.
Two weeks later, I stirred awake slowly, not knowing where I was. A woman sat beside my bed in some sort of uniform , white and clean. The room smelled of antiseptic and the faint scent of her perfume. I tried to sit up but failed.
When she saw that I was awake, she came closer and tenderly took hold of my hand.
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