Jewish Historical Fiction discussion

Never Again - International Holocaust Memorial Day

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Susan (last edited Jan 24, 2020 05:33AM) (new)

Susan Shalev | 13 comments To mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz I am offering my ebook Of Bitter Herbs and Sweet Confections for free from tomorrow (Sat 25th) for the next few days. It is also on Kindle Unlimited. This fictionalized memoir, based on real-life experiences presents the story of Tanya, a Jewish teenager, as it unfolds over a ten-year period from 1939 to 1949. Tanya's exile, far away from the death camps of Europe, is a Holocaust novel with a difference, which opens a unique window on to a lesser known facet of this horrific chapter in history.


Chapter 16: Return to Poland
We are on the last leg of our journey home, and my emotions helter-skelter between excitement and trepidation. Will everything be as I left it, or will Tsanz be unrecognizable? I begin to make mental lists of all the things I will do once we are home. First, I will shut myself in my old bedroom, absorb the sights and smells of my private sanctuary, and go one by one through all my possessions. Of course, now that I’m older I will probably discard some of them; perhaps Dovid would like to have the childish toys and books.
None of my old clothes will fit, so Mama and I will have to go into town and purchase a whole new wardrobe. I won’t linger too long in the apartment, because I can’t wait to see Erna. We have so much to talk about. I hope our friendship won’t change now that we are young women, no longer little girls. But perhaps she is already married and has moved away. I refuse to dwell on unhappy scenarios.
I am deep in thought as our train crosses into the Ukraine. My musings are disturbed by quite a hubbub which erupts in the carriage. I look out of the window to see what the pointing and fuss is all about, and become an involuntary witness to the ravages of war; the countryside is littered with gutted houses, the charred remains of trucks and tanks, and rusty barbed wire. Death and destruction shroud the fields and villages, and I almost wish I was back in the closed cattle truck, from which I would not be able to see the sad scene through which we are passing.
And then the rumors of atrocities begin. We can’t comprehend the scope of what has happened, until we are finally repatriated on Polish soil, and are confronted by some Poles.
‘What are you doing here, Jews? We thought the Nazis had succeeded in murdering the lot of you. This is our country and we won’t let you back in.’
Their voices drip with malice, their faces screwed up in disgust. The hatefulness of their words and grimaces hits me like a physical blow.
We have not heard anything from our family in Poland these past years. As we begin to grasp the enormity of the murder and destruction, we fear that the worst has befallen our nearest and dearest, and that we won’t find anyone left alive.
‘We will go to Tarnów first,’ says Papa. ‘Surely the family will have gathered there.’
Before we reach Tarnów, the train pulls in to the station of Ozwiecim. We ask where we are, and a railway worker points out a site in the distance.
‘See that over there? That’s the camp known as Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazis murdered millions of your people there.’
I think I must have misheard the man, or that he must be deranged to make such a ridiculously exaggerated statement. What can he mean by millions? I join a group of young fellow travelers who decide to go and see for themselves.
Climbing down from the train, I tell Mama and Papa not to worry about me.
‘I’ll meet up with you at the next station.’
My companions and I walk alongside a railway branch line through some fields for about twenty minutes, until we reach a gate, above which a decorative banner fashioned in wrought iron proclaims Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free). The place is enormous, with row upon row of barracks, surrounded by layer upon layer of barbed wire fences and sinister watchtowers. At first glance it reminds me of the ‘magical castle’ we discovered in the taiga, and I give an involuntary shiver. We continue on a little further, and suddenly a most awful smell hits us.
‘Cover your noses and mouths,’ a worker shouts at us, ‘to block out the scent of death. The smell and ash from the ovens still linger in the air.’
I am perplexed. ‘Ovens?’
He comes over to us.
‘First the bastards gassed the poor prisoners, and then cremated them.’
I feel physically sick, and put my hand over my mouth, fighting the urge to retch. I can see that my companions are reacting in the same way. One girl actually vomits, and another swoons.
We start to walk around the compound. The empty barracks bear witness to the suffering of those who had been incarcerated in them. Names and dates are scratched on the walls next to the tiers of wooden pallets, which are the only items of furniture. A stove stands alone in the center of the large space, and pieces of bloody rag and stains on the floor testify to violence, and unhygienic conditions.
We continue on to the far side of one of the barracks and peer inside what appears to be a storeroom. We stop dead in our tracks, as we are greeted by piles and piles of shoes; men’s, women’s and children’s, in all sizes, styles and colors. In another storeroom there are piles of eyeglasses in every shape and form. There are mountains of battered suitcases with their owners’ names chalked hopefully on the side, and heaps of human hair. Horror upon horror bombard us, much more than a young mind can absorb or process. It’s incomprehensible. Surely no one is capable of doing this to other human beings.
I tremble in shock and anger, overwhelmed by what I am seeing. But the worst is yet to come. We make our way to one of the crematoria, a square brick building, whose tall chimney unremorsefully advertises its macabre function. With such an enormous task to complete, the workers have not yet managed to finish cleaning out the deep brick ovens. Some still contain skeletons, and the floor is scattered with bones. Tears course down my cheeks and sobs shake my whole body. I close my eyes and pray that none of my family or friends have met their death here.
Arm in arm, dumbstruck and horrified, lending each other support, my companions and I make our way back in grim silence to the train station. I climb on to the next available train to continue my journey.
How will I tell Papa what I have seen and heard? I don’t believe there can be any Jews left alive in Poland. Perhaps ‘millions’ was no exaggeration at all. Other passengers are sharing the stories they have heard. How whole communities have been wiped out; ghettos, labor camps, forest massacres; more and more gruesome accounts.

message 2: by Susan (new)

Susan Shalev | 13 comments Huge heartfelt thank you to all who took advantage of my free promotion of my book Of Bitter Herbs and Sweet Confections. I hope you will read and enjoy it. I would be eternally grateful for reviews.

back to top