My friends are all gone.
Naomi and Leah Baugh.
The Nazis took them.
And they never came back.
One day we were playing marbles on the street with the other kids.
The next their apartment was empty.
Nobody was inside, I checked.
Except for a scrap of lace on Naomi’s bed.
Mama gets a scared look on her face when I mention my friends.
Papa turns pale.
And then they feed me some lebkuchen and put me to bed.
They stay up for hours later, though, whispering to themselves.
The neighbors down the hall are gone, too.
They were nice to me.
Mrs. Akkerman once gave me a new pair of boots when mine were worn out.
I saw them leave with all their belongings on their backs.
I heard Papa mentioning some ‘camps’ this morning.
Where the Führer was sending our neighbors.
I never thought of them as Jews, though, they were just my friends.
There were lots of noises last night.
Aeroplanes, I think.
I would like to be an aeroplane flyer when I grow up.
Then I could fly with my friends high above in the cotton candy clouds.
We celebrated my seventh birthday yesterday.
Mama got me a chocolate cake covered with icing.
Papa got me a new doll that closes its eyes when you hold it.
I only wish I could show it to my friends.
Half our apartment building is empty now.
Some of the shops in town are ruined.
Mama covered my eyes as we walked past.
But I still saw the bodies and the destruction.
We watched the Führer on the Television last night.
His mustache is funny, like a square, and it jiggles when he speaks, which I find funny.
I did not understand most of what he is saying.
But Papa grew paler with every word.
Some of the older kids in school were talking about ‘Hitler’s Youth’.
And marching around giving looks to us younger kids.
One of them pressed a badge in my hand and when I looked at him, he smiled down at me.
It had the Führer’s face on it.
I pinned my new badge on my bookbag and wore it proudly around the house.
Mama’s eyes grew wide and she fluttered her hands at me.
But she did not tell me to take it off or take it off herself.
She only looked desperately at Papa who stared bleakly away.
Papa came home from work today with sad eyes and bad news.
We are at war with the world, which seems rather silly to me.
Why would we war against the world when we were such a small country.
Our lives were no longer our own and our minds were filled with hate.
Mama took me to visit Oma today for her seventieth birthday.
We took the train to Kiel and passed by Auschwitz.
I saw so many people pressed to the fences before Mama pulled me away from the window.
And so, so, so many bodies.
Mama says that our country is doing a bad, bad thing.
I do not understand.
They took away Naomi and Leah Baugh and put them in Auschwitz?
But they never did anything wrong.
The Nazis marched into our house last night.
Demanded to see our identification.
I screamed and Mama screamed when they pointed guns at us.
Papa was scared too, but he gave them what they wanted, and then they left.
The world is on fire, burning and burning until I cannot get the smell of ash out of my nose.
Or at least my town is.
Bombs, Mama calls them, and says that they are very deadly.
We stay in the cellar of the apartment, flinching at every sound, crying softly in the dark.
We hear the tat-tat-tat of shots.
It must be nighttime by now.
My legs are cramped and my whole body is stiff.
My stomach hurts.
Mama tells me to hush when I whimper at the loud bangs.
But, I can not help the loud shriek that comes out from me when the cellar door bursts open.
A man waving a gun appears on the stairs shouting for people to stay here.
He does not finish his statement before collapsing, the back of his head a bloody mess.
Papa tells me, a year later, that I did not make a sound when the Nazi killed that man.
I did not make a sound when he rounded us all up.
Not a sound when they stuffed us into a train.
Not a sound when they put us in a new apartment.
Mama tells me, a year later, that there is no sugar, milk, or bread in our new town.
Our food is being rationed to the tee.
Our lives are being rationed.
There is a family in the apartment across from us, a little boy my age too.
I find out his name is Stefan Fischer and he is eight years old, just like me.
I tell him mine is Emilia Schmidt and I am eight years old, too.
He shares his marbles with me.
I remember two sisters with who I used to play marbles, too.
Stefan and I both hate eating borscht every single day for every single meal.
But we have no choice.
It is either borscht or hardtack.
Which Mama tells me is made from cardboard and bones.
There is constant noise outside our windows, and dust often falls onto us at night.
When that happens, we have to go into the cellar for hours on end.
I once wet myself when a bomb goes off right outside our home.
Stefan slips his hand into mine and whispers that he did too.
I woke up one morning to find the sky blood red.
Aeroplanes buzz over us like the flies that hover over the bodies in the street.
I no longer want to be an aeroplane flyer anymore.
I want to be a hero.
Mama tells me, a year later, that the Führer has demanded Papa join the army.
I scream and plead for him to stay.
But he tells me that a nine-year-old girl shouldn’t scream or yell.
And to be strong for Mama.
Mama cries every day.
I cannot cry, for Papa told me to be strong.
Papa told me to be a brave young girl and protect Mama.
So I do.
Papa never comes home.
Mama turns into a shell of herself.
I can barely get her to feed herself, and we switch roles from mother to daughter to daughter and mother.
I burn my hands a lot trying to heat some borscht for her to force down.
Mama tells me, a year later, that America has joined the war.
I turn on the Television to see that the Führer’s mustache is still there.
I do not laugh anymore, for I know that he is a bad, bad man.
Who does bad, bad things.
Mama tells me, a year later, that the Führer is dead.
I do not believe her.
But her face is shining for the first time since Papa died.
And the sky is silent.
Mama tells me, a year later, that over six million Jews died in the camps.
I remember two little girls with who I played marbles.
And I cry, for the first time since Papa told me that nine-year-old girls do not cry.
Because the war is over, and I am alive.