Hey guys! I am currently working on a book review, so for today I am sharing something slightly different. I am going to show you one of my short fiction stories. It is set in Poland during WWII in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw.
Please comment your thoughts or your overall response to the piece. Also, let me know if you are interested in reading more of my work in the future.
I will just give a warning that this is an emotional piece with some very upsetting imagery.
Waking up in Budzyń by Laura Rogers
Renata Aumann felt like a rat in a cage. She felt small and dirty, plagued by the swarming German insects, puncturing her fresh and draining her will to struggle on. The bunker was cold and uncomfortable. A concrete floor and bare brick walls speckled with mould. It was better than out there, but it was nothing like her home in Düsseldorf. Home was the place where she could have kept these children safe. But that wasn’t possible anymore, not since the Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, gave the order.
Yet in Warsaw they remained while the war erupted across the world in violent waves. Half the human population was besieged under the weight of these waves, waiting for a break to come up and breathe, and the other half didn’t care. The other half were the ones who stomped about on the high ground, in groups large enough to make the earth move, sending the water crashing down again and again.
“Berta, come and sit with Isaak and I,” Renata’s voice was soothing and she smiled with as much encouragement as she could muster.
“How long do we have to stay?” Berta was a smart girl for six years of age, perhaps too smart. The war was effecting her in ways that Renata could not protect her from.
Berta and Isaak were shielded from the physical dangers of the ghetto, blocked from the ferocious feuds between the German police and the Jewish resistance beyond the walls of the bunker. They were safeguarded by the brave young fighters standing up against the Führer, and by her. She would not relent. She would not see these children taken away to a place of death like so many others.
But Berta had already been taken in other ways. Her young mind had been exposed to the kind of horrors that a person cannot come back from. It was like some of her stayed behind, the shock stealing a bit of her and freezing it forever.
She was glaring at the ceiling of wooden panels. Her arms stretched upward, an attempt to shift the panelling and escape. But there was no escape that way, the only escape was to wait. Berta’s hands could not reach. She wandered in the direction of Renata’s voice and stumbled through the tangle of filthy sheets that were strewn across the hard ground.
“How long do we have to stay?” Berta spoke the words again, as she did many times each day.
“Not go yet, ‘erta,” mumbled Isaak, who was sat on Renata’s lap smudging the dirt on his hands with fierce concentration. His brown hair was flaccid and his face ashen. A scratch ran over his right cheek where Renata had reached for him in the night from fear of him being taken. It glistened with a few specks of dried blood in the semi-darkness. The tiny shards of light which graced the room illuminated the spark of guilt etched into Renata’s eyes, beside the dark voids of fear and the light pools of hope.
Isaak had begun speaking a lot back in Berlin. That was where the children had come from. And now they were here, amongst thousands of other Jews, and Renata had found them. Isaak only spoke to Berta now. He held on to Renata like she was about to drift away and become part of the gathering smoke over the battle grounds, but he did not speak to her. It were as if he could not allow himself to believe she was really there, not when his own mother had been taken so suddenly. One day there and the next a part of the smoke. She hadn’t asked about the father.
“Come now. It’s time to sleep. Berta help your brother.”
They moved instantly, as if they knew what she was about to say. They curled up on the floor. Berta tried her hardest to wrap Isaak in the sheets. She struggled to sufficiently cover him, taking her place loyally beside him to provide more warmth.
“Goodnight mama, goodnight papa, goodnight Isaak, goodnight Renata,” she chanted as swirls of mist flew from her lips, swirling around face and mimicking her curls of dark hair.
Renata watched them before falling into an uneasy sleep. She dreamt of whiteness. She was under an infinite milky sky, pale and neutral. The beast of war had clamped its claws around the thoughts of her exhausted mind, like a cage which she could not escape. In the waking hours she could occupy herself with thoughts of the children, but at night she was weak, forced to recall the worst of her memories. A prisoner of her own mind.
In the distance of the vast white landscape she saw Commander Mordecai Anielewicz, the leader of the resistance. She assumed it was him from the height and stance. Tall and strong. His ideals paved the way to the Jewish people’s future, courageous as he was in his spirit and believing as he was in his vision.
He became obscured from view. There was a group of Jews, standing much nearer than the Commander had been. She felt a piercing jolt of panic stab her chest as a troop of German soldiers appeared from behind, stepping around her as if she were not there. They marched forward.
Renata was stood in the Umschlagplatz, the transfer point between the ghetto and the camps. The group of Jews were about to be deported. She had to do something. She ran. Her muscles burned within the distance of a few steps but she carried on, the uncovered soles of her blistered feet pounded the ground in a swell of anger. The soldiers stood before the Jews.
Upon reaching them she flung herself into the nearest soldier, clawing at his eyes and kicking his legs. She screamed until her throat was shredded raw and tears were streaming down her face. Her head was ringing with the screams of a thousand Jewish people. It was a sound that rang out across the open expanse of nothingness as the sky turned blood red.
The soldier didn’t react. It was her dream. It was her memory. But a memory can never be changed. It can only be relived as a nightmare. She stopped fighting the soldier as she saw them. They looked so small next to those around them. The children. Berta with her rosy cheeks and curls. Isaak with his innocent eyes that had so much more to see. And a gunshot in both their foreheads.
There was only one more thing that Renata saw before she awoke. She saw herself being carried away by German soldiers, arms bound tight to her sides. Being taken from the Umschlagplatz.
She awoke in Kraśnik being pulled roughly from her sleep by unforgiving hands. She was in the Budzyń labour camp. The fear that she resented as much as those who put it in her rose up in her chest once more. The room was dark and smelled damp. She could just make out the shapes of several other figures in the room. They were moving around, pulling on ragged clothes and coughing heavily into their hands.
She tried to move and every part of her body screamed at her to stop. She grabbed what felt like a wooden post and hauled herself into an upright position. She was on a bed that had no sheets. She was naked and cold. She felt the cool air against her head and raised a quivering hand to her scalp. Her head was bony and scared. She winced as her thumb nudged a dry cut just above her left ear. Her hair was gone.
The children. Her fright drew her into a standing position. She pulled on rags from the floor to cover her body and then moved towards one of the figures.
“Have you seen them? The children? The little ones? The girl, she’s six, only about this high and she’s got curly hair and the boy, a little younger, he can talk, he can.”
The man whose eyes she had found in the dark looked as miserable as she felt. He shuffled along past her.
“They need me,” she continued speaking whilst she began searching through the bunks. “I was with them just now before we all fell asleep. My family was taken from me and theirs from them and I must protect them. I am all they have left.”
She knew what was happening, but there was no way to believe it. Her mind had already fallen too far into the depths of the prison. The children had never been there before she slept, before she dreamt of the Umschlagplatz. The hunched figures of darkness around her must have thought she was mad, whispering to ghosts. But she could have sworn they were there. She could have sworn they were still in the bunker. She could have sworn they were still alive. The children she left dying in Warsaw almost three months ago.