Below is a short story written for a group of 8th graders that needed some background knowledge on the Holocaust prior to visiting the Holocaust Museum. Peace. Mark
My name is Mia Salamon and I am dead. You should not concern yourself with my death though. It was my life that was of horror and hardship. Sometimes death is a blessing. Sometimes life is what nightmares are made of.
Let’s look back to 1939. I was 23 years old and recently married. The world was tense as there was war again. World War like there was just before I was born.
The war that included much of the European world. I was born and raised in a small town in Poland. That is where I met my husband Abraham.
Abe was a farmer with his father in a small town. He made enough money for the two of us to have a simple but comfortable life. Things seemed to be going well for us when I found out that I would be having a baby which made my world sing.
I had little Sarah in March. She was the sweetest thing anyone could hope for. Our lives were full of happiness and hope for the future. Everything felt perfect.
In October of 1940, the war raged and was growing larger by the day. I listened to the news about the Germans. These people seemed so angry. I was not sure why they were so angry, but everything they talked about had something to do with hatred. There was talk that the Nazi armies had invaded a town in Poland not too far from home. I could not wait for Abe to get home to I could feel safe.
Abe should have been home by six o’clock, but it was now eight-twenty. I remember that was the time because I looked at the clock when there was a knock at the door. It was Abe’s father. He was at the door crying. When he finally settled down, he explained to me that Abe was involved in an accident at the farm. He had been crushed to death by some of the farm machinery. All I remember was the room spinning and I fainted.
Life was hard without Abraham. His family took care of my finances, but Sarah and I were alone in the world. I had no one to listen to the radio with. I had no one to tell that I was scared.
Sarah was almost two and life had changed.
All Jewish people were treated as though we had done something wrong. We were not able to go out at certain times. We could only use specific areas of the town, shop at certain Jewish owned stores, and could not play in the community parks. The Nazis were in charge of our part of Poland. Sarah and I were prisoners in our own home. The streets became dangerous and all of the family owned stores were taken over by the Nazis and closed. Several stores were destroyed and the items in the stores taken by the young German soldiers.
All Jewish people had to wear a yellow star on their clothes. It had to be sewn on the outside of their coats and had to be visible at all times. There was great punishment for not wearing the yellow star. The stars were outlined in black and all said “Jude” which pointed out that the person wearing the star was Jewish. If you were Jewish, you were scared.
Every day was a new challenge. There was rumor that the German soldiers were coming around and collecting the Jews to bring them to some type of camp. The camps were called ghettos.
The rumors turned out to be true as it did not take long until a large wagon showed up in front of the apartment building. Soldiers came up the stairs shouting, “bekommen Sie Juden heraus” meaning “get out Jews” in German.
We were given 10 minutes to gather our things. We were told to leave all valuables behind and only take some clothes and some kitchen utensils. “Maybe we are going to return soon”, I thought to myself. When the soldiers came back for us, they dragged us down the steps. I had a hard time holding on to Sarah. They did not even seem to care if they hurt her.
We were all loaded onto a large wagon. Most were too scared to talk or ask questions. Some men were whispering questions to each other. “Where do you think they will take us”, “are they going to kill us”, “There are more of us than them, should we attack them?” I just hugged my Sarah as tightly as I could. They can take all of my things. Just leave me and Sarah alone. I did not want Sarah to see that I was scared so I didn’t cry although I was sobbing inside.
We arrived at an old village with apartments. There were fences all around the place with barbed-wire surrounding the grounds. In front of the apartments were piles of furniture, suit cases, and other belongings. It looked as though all of the Jewish people in my neighborhood and everything they ever owned were brought here and just dumped out on the front lawn.
The German soldiers yelled for us to quickly get off of the wagon. Our belongings were thrown into the piles. I grasped Sarah tightly as I was afraid they would throw her into the pile as well.
I wasn’t sure what to do. Where do I go? Who can help me? Just then, an older women grabbed my hand. “Come with us dear. You can stay with us in our apartment. It is tight, but we can take care of each other there”, she explained.
I followed her with Sarah in my arms. I was shaking inside and could not even think clearly when she told me that her name was Ida. I had never seen Ida before, but I am glad to have someone here for me now. I know I can’t do this alone. I miss Abe.
The next morning I found out that this place was a Ghetto, a place fenced off to hold Jews until a decision was made as to what to do with all of them. The Ghetto was dirty and had little food to offer. We only had running water for a few hours each day. All able bodied people were forced to do work. We repaired fences, cooked, and had to sort out the piles of furniture. When we were finished sorting out the furniture, the German soldiers would look through the piles as if they were shopping. They would take whatever they wanted. This was our stuff!
Life in the Ghetto was hard. I found myself doing my daily tasks without even thinking about them. I felt numb. My only concern was for Sarah and I even seemed to be losing my will to make sure that she was safe all of the time.
Three weeks after arriving at the Ghetto, trucks arrived with several German soldiers. These soldiers looked all official with very dark uniforms. They all had red arm bands that had an interesting black-lined design on them. These men were mean and meant business. They called for the guards and ordered them to line us up. As we lined up, I saw one of these new soldiers punch Ida in the face. When she got up off of the ground I noticed blood coming from her nose and mouth. How could this be happening?
After hours of standing in lines, the new soldiers yelled orders and had the lines separate. The group that I was part of was order to get one suit case full of our things and meet back in the line in five minutes. I ran quickly with Sarah to get our things. One suit case was all we were allowed to get. I ran back into line and waited for the new instructions. There was talk that we were going to a better place to work and stay until the end of the war.
We were packed on to the trucks in a hurry. There was yelling and screaming, pushing and shoving, with no regard for human life. Sarah fell to the floor of the truck and someone stepped on her arm. She cried and one of the guards yelled to shut the baby’s mouth. I was not sure if Sarah was seriously injured, but right now all I could worry about is keeping her quiet.
The trucks raced along dirt roads for what seemed like hours. We had to stand on the back of these trucks as there were no seats and it was so packed with people. I thought for sure that some people were going to fall out of the truck every time we hit a bump or went through a pot hole.
When the trucks stopped, we were not at a place that had work or new apartments. We were at a very dirty and simple train station. The train cars were not for people, but for cattle. The train cars were made of old wood and each car had a place for a guard to stand and watch over the car.
There were Germans yelling all over the place. They were forming lines at the center door of each cattle car. There was pushing and crying as well as screaming. I fell to the ground and started to sob. A young German soldier grabbed my arm and dragged me towards one of the lines to enter the cattle cars. He looked at me and with sadness in his eyes said he was so sorry about all of this. A tear fell from his eye as he put me and Sarah into the line.
We stepped up into the car and there were already about two hundred people in the car. No one was allowed to sit or lay down. Another two hundred or so people were shoved into the car. There was no room. There was no air. The doors were slammed shut and locked. Many people started screaming and crying. A few men begged for the screaming and crying to stop. They were worried the air in the car would all be used up. The only way that we were able to get air was though the natural cracks in the boards which let in some sun light. There was a small window towards the front of the car that was nailed shut, but had a loose board. One of the men near that window was able to crack the board off to allow us a little more air. All I could think was that I hoped that this ride was going to be short.
The ride was not short at all. I am guessing that the ride was about six hours long. The man that was leaning against my back had a heart attack about an hour into the trip. I think he died, but he was still standing and leaning on me because there was no room to fall. Some people had no choice but to relieve themselves in the cattle car. They simply had to go where they were standing. Due to the death, sickness, and bodily functions, as well as the lack of fresh air, every minute seemed like it was an hour.
When the train finally stopped, it seemed like forever that they opened the door to our car. When they did, we were greeted by yelling and pushing. Several people fell out of the door. Some were already dead. Some simply fainted from the rush of fresh air or from standing in cramp quarters for such a long time. We were all lined up in front of the cattle car. It was at this time that were we made aware of what really happened during the trip.
Twenty men from our car were ordered to go back on to the cattle car and to retrieve the dead bodies. There were sixty-three dead. Their bodies were piled near the rail car and their belongings were stacked on to a cart. Love ones of the dead were not allowed to go near their family members. The weeping was unbearable.
As the soldiers were lining up the people leaving the rail cars, we were sorted as one sorts laundry. We were sorted into men and women, old and very young, and there was a line for anyone who was disabled. My biggest worry was that Sarah would be taken from me. I was happy for the moment as they allowed me to hold on to her.
As my group was led to some type of building which they called barracks, I looked back at the tracks that we came into the camp on. There was a metal arch with the words "Arbeit macht frei" which means Work Will Set You Free. This must be some sort of a work camp. So, work will set us free. I vowed to be the best worker I could possibly be. I want to be free from this nightmare!
I later found out that the people that were disabled we taken straight to the death camp part of this place I would later find out was named Auschwitz. They were “disposed of” because they were of no use to the Germans.
Two days after arriving at the camp, I officially had my uniform. It was one piece and was made of some type of rough canvas-like material. It was a grey- white with a faded blue stripe every two inches. It hurt my skin and was not at all warm enough in the cold winds of Poland. I was not yet used to the sleeping quarters. They called them bunks but they were very poorly built shelves for people. There were two people assigned to each section of a bunk. There was no padding on the wood, so sleep didn’t come easy. That will shortly change as after a day of back-breaking work, sleep anywhere is welcome. My bunk-mate and I shared one small blanket as I held tightly on to Sarah.
Food was never enough and never really had taste. It was a weak and watery soup made from potatoes and some slivers of meat. We each were allowed to hold on to a rusty metal bowl which our food was served into. I was told that the bowl I was using now belonged to my bunk-mate’s mother.
Today they called for row call. Apparently they were really busy the day our trains arrived, because they now were taking care of things they should have taken care of immediately after we arrived. I was pushed into a line where cold water was poured over me to wash me. Then all of my hair was shaved off. I heard it was to delouse us in case we had lice. Lice and other such bugs were very common in the camp. While I was getting my head shaved, an older German woman took Sarah. She smiled at me in a nervous way that should have bothered me at the time. Sarah cried as she was taken away. That was the last time I had ever seen Sarah.
It was a few weeks later that I found out that the children under the age of eight and the older people over the age of sixty were taken straight to the death camp as well. I really missed my Sarah. I hurt for her. What have I allowed to happen to her? What kind of place is this? Will work really set me free? Do I really care anymore?
I was only a shell of myself. I weighed less than 70 pounds. I had no hair with many scars on the top of my head. My arms were bruised and I limped when I walked. I felt like I was in my 70s, not my 20s. I went through each day as if being controlled by an outer source. I gave very little though to my existence. I hurt, but was too numb to feel anything. I bled from my sores, but had no desire to stop the bleeding. Food was in front of my as my stomach growled with hunger, but I had no energy to bother to eat.
Everyday there was death. People were dying while working. They died while eating. Those that had the energy to resist the demands of the Germans were often shot in the back of the head and left to die and rot in the field. The camp smelled of death and despair. Pain could be felt in the breezes. Screams of the dying were more common than the lice that crawled on our bodies. Death seemed to be relief now. We just waited our turn.
I awoke to excitement in the barracks. Women who wanted to die seemed happy for some reason. They were all taking about being promised showers today. I have not felt warm or clean water for quite some time. Maybe a shower will give me hope? Maybe there is hope.
Within an hour, we were lined up and marched across the camp. There were giggles and smiles that seemed to make the sun shine today. Even in pain, women made sure not to walk too slowly and miss out on this prize. We finally arrived at this big grey building. The building was built into the ground. There were stairs leading down to the green metal door that we will enter. There were chimney stacks on the roof for the fireplaces burning in the shower house to warm to place. There were no windows.
As we made our way toward to the building we were stopped for instructions. We were to undress on our way into the shower house. No clothing of any kind is to be brought into the building. There were many of us so we had to use as little space in the shower as possible.
Finally, it was time to go in. As we were up on a small hill, I looked around. I noticed a building a distance away. There were men in striped uniforms working with wheel barrows and carts. There was a dark brown smoke coming from two large smoke stacks. The winds changed and the odor was unbearable. I was so glad we would not be out here to smell this rotten smell.
We were led into the shower buildings. There were many rooms. Shower heads stuck out of the brick near the burning wood piles. The people kept coming in. The women started pushing as they did not want to miss out on the clean water. This reminded me of the cattle cars. There was not any room to breathe. No space to even fall on the floor.
The heavy metal door was slammed shut. The lights were turned off. The people in the shower building screamed and cried. There was pushing and some were clawing at each other. We heard walking on the roof and then large clanging sounds. The fire seemed to turn to smoke or some type of gas. We were choking. This went on for several minutes. The crying and screaming was unreal. Death was coming quickly for most and slowly for the unlucky. I was dead.
Apparently the shower house is actually a death chamber. We were pushed into the building under the thinking that we would be getting a shower, when in reality we were being gassed. The walking on the roof was the German soldiers pouring a chemical called Zyclon-B. It is a granule that when heated in fire turns into a deadly gas.
When most were dead, the back doors opened and many Jewish men came in to pull out the dead bodies and load them on to the carts. German guards came in to look for the living. The living were shot to assure their death. The bodies were brought to the building that I had seen earlier to be cremated. The smoke that I saw and smelled was that of burning Jewish bodies.
In death, I found that there were many other concentration “death” camps in Europe. It was not just the Jews that were killed. There were about 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust. There were an additional 5 million lives lost. These people were the disabled, Gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, Homosexuals, and other groups that the Nazis considered undesirables.