First of all, I just need to say that this is a work of fiction and I’m just referring to the holocaust in general and everything situation is just my imagination and not what really took place.
My mother used to say that I was born with the sounds of gun shots drumming through my ears that she named me Hope in order to make my life better. I didn’t get what she meant until I started going to school. I loved history. It was quite uncommon for children at that time to love history moreover to be obsessed with the subject. Ever since I was little I would read my father’s huge books by sneaking into his study. I couldn’t read at first obviously but little by little I started actually reading the stuff inside them without just scrolling through the books. I loved the smell of old books and the fact that I’m reading someone’s story and seeing what they saw in their lives.
When I was around 10 years-old, I got used to my father’s constant absence from my life. At that time, it didn’t matter to me whether he was there or not. I know I shouldn’t have been happy but when he was present, he never let me in to his study. His absence made me read more books. Then I started reading around books about World War I. I didn’t know what was they talking about. I knew what the words ‘world’ and ‘war’ meant separately. I couldn’t understand why they were talking about a war that concerned the entire world when we were living peace. Well, I thought we were in peace as my mother made sure I was ignorant to what was really happening outside.
I once asked my mother what was a world war and did it actually happen. She glared at me and forbade me to speak about it ever again until I wanted to get beaten up. Even then I didn’t think about it much. My life in Germany was peaceful and I loved my country. It wasn’t much compared to all the pictures of other countries I see in books but I loved the building, my neighbours and my school. I loved the house I was living in even though it wasn’t a mansion. I thought my country loved me too. That’s what my school made me to believe. I thought what I read about the so-called ‘world war’ was just a fiction and nothing more than that. I thought it was something invaluable to know as my mother forbade me to speak about it. Little I knew that it was something that actually happened and that it actually a war that took place in order to end all wars.
The day after I turned 11, was life-changing for me. As usual I was getting ready to go to school when there was a knock on the door. I thought it was my father who sometimes comes to get a change of clothes but, for some reason my mom was crying quiet loud. It was so unusual to me. I’ve never seen my mother cry nor heard her crying. Leaving my bag on the table I ran downstairs to see what was happening. I saw Emma, the neighbor hugging my mom tightly while she was weeping. I didn’t ask what was happening but ran outside and was surprised to see people clustered around the outside wall of the house. I slowly walked towards them only to stop midway when I saw a man covered in blood lying next to the wall. It was my father who I didn’t think of much. His face was unrecognizable but I saw the ring. It was same as my mother’s. For some reason I didn’t cry. I was angry at myself for not shedding a single tear when the coffin was burning. I didn’t hate my father and I knew I loved him, but, for some reason I could feel something dangerous was going to happen and that my father’s death was just the beginning.
Even after three months of my father’s death we went on with our usual lives. Nothing that is out of ordinary happened. I went to school the same way and came back home the same way. The other children too, although here and there I get to know that some fathers of children had died the same way as my mine. However, no one questioned. No one was dared to come forward and ask what was happening and why men are dying suddenly. Maybe that was when it started. Maybe it started because no one questioned.
I can remember as if it happened yesterday. It was winter and it was snowing without a break. At first I didn’t hear it. No one did as no one came out of their houses. But then it happened and the peace was broken, without anyone knowing. There was a loud noise outside the house and I my mother started panicking. It was a noise that I have never heard before in my life. I was going to ask my mother what was happening but before I could even ask, the loud noises that made me cover my eyes continued. The ground was shaking and the glasses that was on the cupboards started falling. I could feel everything shattering around me. My mother got hold of my arm tightly and dragged me out of the house. For the first time in my life I was so scared that couldn’t ask my mother anything. I let her drag me with her.
Outside it was pure chaos. People were running everywhere and some were lying on the ground with their hands on their heads crying out loud. Some people were screaming but I couldn’t hear anything with all the loud noises that were reverberating around me. Some houses were burning to the ground. I tried to recognize some people amidst the chaos but it was of no use. Out of nowhere Emma came running towards my mother and said, ‘Run and hide. they have started again and this time they are killing all the Jews,’ before running back to her house. My mom was glued on the spot and taking my chance I asked her ‘who is a Jewish?’ she looked at me with half a smile and said it’s us and added, ‘never leave my side Hope.’
I don’t know for how many days we ran hiding behind bushes whenever my mother saw a soldier. Everywhere we go houses were burning and people were running everywhere. Some were willing to give us shelter for a night but some threw us water and threatened to call soldiers when they realise we were Jewish. On the days we had to run and hide in the night, I begged my mom to go back so we can live peacefully but she kept saying if we go back now we would end up like dad. Even then I was ignorant to what was happening in the world. I didn’t know another world war has started and people were dying and some were killing each other. I didn’t know it was the country I loved so much started the war. I didn’t know it was my country that was killing my people. I didn’t know it was them who killed my father.
To be honest, I thought it was only burning house but the more we ran deep into the country that I realise they were killing people. They were killing those who belonged to my ethnicity. They were killing every jewish person they could find. They dragged women and children somewhere unknown. It was known that they would be dead too. I ran with my mom as much as I can and only stopped when we were sure there was no one following us. My legs were scraped and bleeding and I could feel my mother aging more than I ever did. She was weak that sometimes she fell and started breathing hard. But she didn’t say anything. She didn’t even complaint but kept running and never let go of my hand. Maybe it was me who slowed her down as she kept looking back at me with every step she took. I could see in her eyes that she was afraid that I would suddenly disappear from her sight. My mother who only cried when my father died, wept everyday hugging me when we were in someone’s house. She forced me not to speak. She told me to act like a mute because if I spoke they would know I’m a Jewish as a result of my accent that I never knew existed.
But then we were caught. That day we were crossing an isolated place with soldiers. They were collecting jewish people in the middle of the place and this time there were women and children too. The soldiers were scary looking and they kept pointing their guns at the jewish people. I couldn’t understand why they were pointing their guns at us. I didn’t get why they wanted to kill us when we all lived in peace. Aren’t we all citizens of the same country? Every time for the past days when someone was getting killed my mom always made sure to cover my eyes although I could clearly hear their screams vibrating through my ears for days.
My mother was more conscious than I ever saw her. She knew we came to the wrong place and that we should have stayed hidden. But the damage was done. My mother knew that one soldier was looking her way when she was walking and purposely made sure to hide me behind her loose skirt. When she realized she was being followed, she carried me and ran as much as she can. When she knew she couldn’t run anymore, she hid me behind a wall in an isolated building and said in a hushed voice, ‘don’t speak until it’s completely safe. When you get the chance run away. Someone will help you. Until then don’t stop. You have to live, promise me ok?’ she glanced back for a second and kissed my forehead saying, ‘mama liebt dich’ and then she ran. I saw her getting caught from my own eyes. I covered my mouth so that they couldn’t hear my muffled voice. She didn’t look at me when they dragged her by the hair, treating her worse than an animal. I wanted to scream and help her, but what could a 11 years old child possibly could do. I was helpless. But I stayed where I was letting my tears speak the words that I couldn’t say out loud.
She was dragged to the group that was in the middle of the place. I thought the soldiers were going to take them somewhere. But I was so wrong. They were shot. Every single one of them when they were begging for their lives. I was 11 years old when I saw my mother getting killed. I couldn’t do anything when she was falling to the ground losing her last breath except lie there without making a sound. My whole body was shaking with anger and helplessness. Every man, woman and child who was in the group was killed in cold blood. When they made sure all were killed they spat on them. I wanted to go and kick them but I knew I would die the moment I step out or make a noise. I cried without making a noise looking at my mother’s lifeless body. I remembered my father and his lifeless body and felt angry for loving this country who killed people that they lived together with so many years without problems. The soldiers collected all the bodies into a small lorry and took them away to god knows where.
I don’t know how many days I stayed there crouched in that tiny hole. I had to run. I couldn’t stay hidden forever. So when I was sure that no one was there I ran. This time I didn’t stop. I ran even when I couldn’t breath. Even when I didn’t have strength to take a step. Even when my whole body was refusing to go further I ran with everything I had. Then one day I collapsed in front of a house.
It’s been exactly 10 years after I saw my mother getting killed in front of my eyes. Today I’m living a comfortable life. When I collapsed in front of a house I didn’t know that people living there would take me in and give me a new life. I still don’t speak. It’s not like I can’t speak it’s just I refuse to speak. What happened 10 years ago was a part of the World War II. With years to come I learnt that it was a massacre of Jewish people and it was called the holocaust. The family who took me in still doesn’t know I’m Jewish and I never intend to say it. I still get nightmares about what happened and every night I see my parents’ lifeless bodies. I don’t have any photograph of them with me and I could feel their memories slowly fading away no matter how much I try to hold them in. sometimes I used to scream in my sleep and I was informed that I have PTSD. My new family thought it was because I must have seen houses getting burnt. I didn’t correct them.
The war took my family and everyone I knew. When it was all peaceful I went back to find any traces but all were lost. The houses were rebuilt and every destroyed place was restored. There were statues everywhere remembering the people who were killed. That was the only time I went back to Germany and I didn’t go again and I will never step into that country. I don’t know if it’s hatred but if go I’ll remember and feel everything. They took my entire family. They killed innocent people who didn’t do anything wrong. We were just living our lives peacefully without causing anyone trouble. None of them deserved death. They were killed for belonging to an ethnicity. They were treated as worse than animals. In the end, belong to a different ethnicity or not we are still humans. We belonged to the same species. Unfortunately, it was us who created barriers to separate ourselves.
I witnessed the holocaust with my own eyes as a child and I thought I will forget everything that happened when I grew up. I thought I will realise it was just a bad dream and my parents will soon wake up and we will still live our lives peacefully with everyone in that small house. But I was wrong. Even as an adult, no matter how much I try I’m still haunted by everything I saw and every scream I heard.