Sad Fiction Inspirational

I am trapped. Of all the museums to be trapped in overnight, this is the one I would choose last. I’d much prefer the Museum of Science in Boston, or the Louvre in Paris. So many museums to be trapped in, but this one is the most frightening.

I haven’t got a phone charger. I’ve checked. Ten times. Yes, I know the likeliness that a phone charger would appear out of nowhere is beyond infinitesimal, but one always has to allow oneself to hope, so I checked. And checked. No luck. Let me check again. Nope. No charger.

And no battery charge. The phones require a special code to access. There’s a guard, but he’s passed out asleep. And I don’t want them to think I’m a thief. I’m stuck here, and I can’t get out. I’m hungry, too. There’s a water fountain, there’s a vending machine. I had some coins, but the snack got stuck and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the candy free.

I’m surrounded by those disturbing images, the frightening memories they must have had if they survived, and the knowledge that many of them did not. This is the worst. Period. Museum. Period. To be trapped in. Major period, underscored, and highlighted. I hate this.

I went here because I’ve studied the field all my life. My first experience was when I was seven years old. My parents had taken me to New York City, to the Lower East Side. We’d parked in front of a pickle stand, hid the suitcases in the secret compartment of the white station wagon, locked up, and crossed the street. While we were gone, the pickle vendor watched as someone broke into our car, found the suitcases, and left with our clothes, but that’s another story for another time.

We’d entered the bustle of the Old World brought to the streets. The Lower East Side, at the time, was very Jewish. There were vendors pushing carts. The tenements were split: the ground level led up the building through dank stairs bereft of the convenience of elevators. There were three or four stairs to a small ledge, that led into the stores on the ground floor. Men leaned over and barked to us, begging us to come see what they had in the tiny strip that formed their shop.

On one ledge, a man had been sitting. It was summer, so he had his pants on, but just a white tank top. His belly hung over his belt, which was a stark difference to the photographs I see around me right now. But on his arm he bore something that the people in these pictures also have. A number.

That was the first time I’d heard about the Holocaust. When I asked about the tattoo, not knowing of tattoos or the Holocaust at my tender age, he began to tell me, though my mother was afraid I’d upset him. He’d said, “No. She should know.” And he told me about the Holocaust in ways I could understand, being careful not to traumatize me. He changed my life. I studied the Holocaust ever since, and that’s why I finally, at the age of fifty-seven, managed to get to Washington DC in order to walk through the halls of the Holocaust Museum I’d only read about.

It was powerful, and I learned so much. I learned so much I hadn’t known, and my heart was heavy, and my eyes were tear-filled, and I was scared, and I was sad, and I was angry all at once. It hit me hard. As hard as the first bit of knowledge of the Holocaust had fifty years earlier.

But now I am trapped here. I am trapped with images and statues of people being tormented, tortured, and murdered. I’m reading the plaques and cards telling about what happened, and though I’ve studied the stories, it’s still hard on me.

I see the warnings against fascism, and I get angry all over again. Not just at what happened then, but at things I see happening now. I remember when I was in a show, in the “Diary of Anne Frank.” I was the only Jewish person in the show, playing the only non-Jewish role. I even made a little pop-up Holocaust museum to raise funds for the local education center. And when I was there, people had approached me. “It’s happening again,” they’d tell me. “My son is afraid to admit he’s Jewish.” “I knew the woman in that poster.” “My father escaped from the death march after being in three Concentration Camps.” I’d given each of them hugs. I listened and talked. I held their hands. I burned inside.

But then, the show closed. I brought the money to the Center, having torn down the Museum, and was left with memories. And still, I went to this museum and learned more, and it all is coming back to me again. The pain, the anger. The fear.

And now, I’m trapped. Still trapped, with hours to go, and not enough food in me. I can survive the lack of food for the night. I fast once a year, it’s only one night. But my stomach growls, and that’s when I hear the first voice.

“It was worse than the stories say,” it says to me. A worn, elderly voice, tired and male. I look around but see nobody.

“Tell me,” I say. And he does. He tells me about how they pulled his teeth from him before he was even fully dead. How he’d managed to stay alive after the gas by burying his face in another person’s body and using the already-dead person as a gas mask. He’d been affected, was weak, but was still alive. And that’s why his gold teeth were removed when he was alive. When he made a sound, they realized it. The gasp of the fellow being forced to do the grisly task alerted the guard. And that was when he was put out of his misery.

“It was a relief, by then,” he finishes.

And then another story comes. A child, a young girl. How her doll was taken first, and the “mean man” bashed the doll’s head against the wall in front of her, then grinned, and grabbed her and did the same thing to her.

And another and another, until my hands are on my ears and I’m running from that part of the display. I end up in a room with children’s pictures, the art from the children of Terezin. Here, they were starved, but not murdered. This was a transit camp. Here, they suffered, but they drew their pictures. The voices come back. Children, talking at once, telling me about Friedl Dicker. They tell about how she teaches art, and how she hides their pictures. How the pictures were put in a suitcase. This is how these pictures survived. Some sad, some full of hope. How these children retained any hope, I will never understand.

I want to hold them all, I want to tell them I care, I want to apologize to them. Instead, I just sob into my hands. An hour more has gone. Only four more until morning.

I wander into the section where they have the symbols of the Nazis. There’s the hateful words coming from them, yes, but then I hear one young man.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t believe it, I didn’t agree. I just did it because I was afraid. I was afraid. Please forgive me, please. How could I have done that?”

“Who were you?” I ask. My voice is barely a whisper. 

“Nobody. I was a nobody. I was a coward. I did horrible things. I deserved the worst, but I lived when they did not. When that child did not. Forgive me, forgive me. I don’t deserve forgiveness.”

“No,” I say. “You did. You didn’t believe it. You were afraid. I understand that. Listen to the others. They believed. They meant it. You were afraid, and yes. You are responsible. You should have been brave. But I can understand your fear.” I pause, inhaling and remembering the other voices I have heard. “But it is not for me to forgive. It is for them.”

I wander around some more, intentionally leaving the Nazi symbols behind, and heading towards a section that speaks of the liberation. I begin to breathe easier, though the tears still blur my eyes. Only two hours to go. I spend the rest of the night there. I must have fallen asleep at some point, because I waken, startled with a slight scream, to being shaken awake.

“Miss,” the guard says. “Have you been here all night?”

“Yes, “ I say. “I was trapped. But I survived. As will their stories.”

March 21, 2024 20:12

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.