I’m cold and my feet are wet and I’m trying to stay invisible as I walk home from HaShomer HaTzair. Nobody glances my way, and for that I am grateful. If the wrong person sees me there are many things that could happen. I could be shoved onto one of those trains. I could be beaten or raped. I could be killed. These are not safe times to be Jewish.
As usual, I pull my jacket around me. My armband practically glows white with the blue star on it. Once, I was openly proud of being Jewish. Now, this feeling is tainted by this horrible band which bears the mark of my religion. I wrap my arms around myself to cover my body from the wind and I place my hand over the armband. The thick woolen gloves almost cover it, but not quite. I shuffle my purse, empty save for a little rouge and lipstick, to hang, helping to almost completely conceal the band from view. This way I can walk more safely. This way, they might glance past me. I try to be invisible.
I’m not an ugly girl, but I wouldn’t think myself beautiful either. I have been told I have a very “Polish” look. My friends have joked with me and told me I don’t look like I belong to my family. I’ve brushed it off by telling them I take after my great grandmother. A strand of my hair falls loose so I tuck it behind my ear. As I pass by one of the shops, one owned by a Polish family so there is no graffiti on it, no stars with “Jude” written on it, I catch a glance of myself in the reflection. My brows knit together and it makes me cringe. An 18 year old’s skin should be wrinkle-free. It would be if I’d reason to smile more.
There have been rumors that each person in the ghetto could only have 181 calories a day. We, outside, are in slightly better luck as we can risk our lives at the black market, but even so we are starving. Restrictions are placed on us so that even the basic foods are denied us. Meat, eggs, and bread are a luxury. We barely keep ourselves alive. Every day we grow closer to resorting to drastic measures such as theft. I’ve suggested it, but papa is firmly against it.
I turn the corner onto the street where I live and I stop, frozen for a moment as I look at the horrifying sight. The day that we feared has come. I slip into the alley and peek my head out and watch as my mother, father, and younger brother are led away. My parents carry a suitcase each and my little brother carries a small sack. He is stopped and the Nazi opens the sack, rifles through it, and pushes it back at Hayim. As Hayim hustles to move closer to Mama the Nazi boots him in the behind causing him to stumble.
I pull myself back into the alley and hide behind boxes of garbage. Tears sting my eyes as I see my family torn from me. I do not realize yet that I have nowhere to go. I do not acknowledge that I am all alone.
I’m shivering, whether from the cold or grief I do not know. I decide I need to get into shelter, I need to hide. My brain scrambles for an idea and comes up empty. I cannot go to the neighbors. The Jews will be hauled away with my family and the Polish…well. They can be almost as bad as the Nazis.
I can’t run to Anna. Not now. I’m afraid for her, but she lives closer to the forests, out of the main part of the city. We are closer to the ghetto, closer to the danger.
I decide I will wait where I am, making plans for the next day in order to keep myself from sleeping, and sneak back into my house once I’m sure the Germans have gone.
My planning is cut short as I watch the Nazis enter my house…MY house…and haul off anything even hinting at being valuable. They load it into carts and carry them away. Memories are vanishing into the hands of these monsters and I am helpless to stop it.
My tears freeze like the icicles hanging from the window sills of the large building I lean against. I pray nobody looks down, sees me, alerts the Nazis. So far, I have not been seen and I thank the Lord for that.
The daylight fades and finally they are gone. I know I cannot enter when anyone might be awake so I stay where I am until late into the night when most of the lights are out, well past curfew. I scoop up snow to pretend I am eating and drinking, but it isn’t helping me at all. With the lights out, I bring myself out of the alleyway brushing my feet left and right to kick off footprints until I’m on the walkway where it’s all patted down. I creak open the entrance and sneak into the apartment where I have spent all my life growing up.
I don’t turn on the light. I feel my way blind and stumble on debris left behind. There’s a broken chair in one spot, some dashed plates. I cut my thumb on a shard of glass and pull it out. Sucking the bloody finger I continue to my room. No bed, just some shreds of blankets. I go to the corner where my father and I sat a week ago.
“Golda,” he’d said to me. “If we get separated, if you and Hayim can escape, or Mama and me, I am hiding this here. Look for it, it may help you. Run away. Run as fast as you can. Get out of Poland. Promise me.”
I sniffle, remembering the promise. It’s a promise I intend to break. I rip up the floorboards that Papa so cleverly disguised. His skill as a woodworker had served me well. Hidden beneath were a few Zloty, some jewelry, and a flimsy map showing me the way out of Poland. I take them all and shove them into my jacket’s pocket. Leaning against the corner of the wall, next to the hole, I fall asleep.