The Holocaust Survivors

Hello! This is my movella for historical fiction contest.
It is about a man-Lev and his band of eight 'monkeys' who are living in the Warsaw Ghetto. How they escape from the resettlement and concentration camps forms the crux of the story.

The story is fictional but the background is real. I have attempted to state only authentic facts. If there is any mistake or error, I'd be happy to correct it. It is not meant to hurt anyone or defame any religion or person .

I hope you enjoy....! Thank you...

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2. Summer 1941

 

Summer-1941

The bridge was calm but guarded. A siren wailed lowly and it was followed by the appearance of a band of Nazi soldiers. They were armed. The gate creaked open and people wearing the Star of David armbands walked frightened. A Nazi soldier glared at a lady wearing scarf. The middle-aged lady clutched a young man’s hand as she walked past the soldier. Tobias, Yoel and Michael walked with no fear, holding each other’s hands. Followed by them was Lev who walked dejectedly. His eyes were fixed on the ground and he didn’t even bother to look at the Nazi soldier who passed rude comments in German.

The Jews made way carefully through the armed convoy. They stopped in front of a large complex called ‘Schneider Works.’ Oskar Schneider was a German business man with a Polish ancestry. He was successful in opening a factory which manufactured vessels and cutlery- the earliest of its kind in Warsaw. Select few were lucky enough to get Ken cards to work there. They managed to earn themselves a bowl of thin cabbage soup and few slices of stale bread. It wasn’t much but they had to make do.

Lev and his eight monkey-Aaron (15), Avniel (14), Cale (13), Jedd (13), Michael (19), Seth (16), Tobias (17) and Yoel (18) had somehow moved on after Abel’s sad demise. The ghetto was rocked by more deaths. People starved from hunger, suffered from diseases and struggled to survive. Death had become a frequent visitor in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The boys managed to keep themselves warm and cheerful. They never lost hope. Lev, on the other hand, was trying to keep them happy while he battled with his own emotions. Morning and evening were spent in casting dishes and Lev would spend the rest of the time teaching the boys. He’d not have much time think. He would often remember Rosa Schmitt, his beloved. He knew that relationship wouldn’t work but he didn’t want to risk everything for her either.

The workers would work from nine to five and even on this day, Lev, Yoel, Michael and Tobias came out at half past five. The armed convoy was there, keeping a careful watch on all of them. Lev was about to enter the gate when someone caught him by the arm. Lev was alarmed to find Spikey stopping him.

“You dropped this” he said handing out the Star of David band. He was sweating uncomfortably.

Lev looked at his arm. His band was safe, under the coat though. Before the other Nazis would get to know what was going on, Lev quickly grabbed the band and walked inside.

The boys got into the apartment before Lev. After a hard day’s work, they were relieved to get back. Though their abode was dilapidated, it seemed comfy enough for them.

The boys retired to rest but Aaron and Cale remained awake-teasing each other. Lev glanced at the two. He smiled. The boys had no one and it was the story with Lev. As they had to stay together, they didn’t have much of a choice. But somehow, they became close to each other. Lev had almost become their guardian- sharing each other’s burden, taking care of them and teaching them.

Lev looked at the Star of David band which Spikey had given him. Oh! How he loathed to wear that thing! He took it into his hand and felt something hidden inside it. It was a letter!

The letter was addressed to Lev. It had come from a certain resident of the luxurious Edelweiss Lodge. It was from Rosa.

It was as follows:

Dear Lev,

             I hope you are well. I apologize for not writing to you before. You see Pa has been promoted. He’s colonel now. By far, I feel it’s the worst that has happened. The countries are still at war. Deaths are countless. The fog hasn’t cleared yet.

            I wonder if the boys are well. I heard that Toby, Yoel and Mickey are working with you in the factory. Are the boys getting food? I find it very awful to see such young, innocent people working, sweating their hearts out. I also heard about Abel. Poor lad didn’t deserve that! I have never felt so much for them until now.

           I have been meaning to talk to you but ever since Pa took over, it seems so difficult. I know you are facing a difficult time and I feel very guilty as I am not beside you. You see I have made some friends. I know some people. I will do my fullest to reach you. Until then, take care…

                                                                                                    Yours lovingly,

                                                                                                        Rosa.

Lev read the letter carefully. He was surprised that Rosa still wanted to see him.

Well, the letter said nothing much about the outside world. But it provided an insight to her plan.

 

It was a warm summer afternoon and Lev was standing in the crowd contemplating about the letter which he had received two days ago.

Only the loud cries of a baby echoed around. Clearly the Nazis were irritated by the cry. Chleb. He was a Nazi soldier who was infamous for stealing rather snatching bread from the Jews for fun. He was nicknamed Chleb- which was Polish for bread. He was very stiff and his uniform never sported a wrinkle. His eyes were grey and cold. No one knew his real name.

Chleb snatched the baby from the lady’s hand.

 

 

Everyone looked at him with horror. Lev made the boys to look away. The lady glared at him with her red eyes. She took the baby back and turned away from the beast. She looked at the baby- he was clearly shaken but he had stopped crying. He was alive though. The rest of them stared at demonic Chleb who was still smiling.

“Why don’t you talk to us? Tossing kids like that!” Chleb looked searchingly at the crowd trying to figure out who spoke.

Lev walked front.

“You?” Chleb asked, eyeing at a scrawny, gangly Lev.

Chleb let out a cold laugh as the other officers grabbed Lev’s arms.

“You are so disgusting a maniac! Inhuman demon!” Lev shouted back.

Chleb walked to Lev and whispered, “I know that.” He turned to his companions.

“What do you say?” he asked. “‘Throw him in the dungeons?’”

The others laughed at this remark although the Jews remained silent.

The laughter had not died away when the gate burst open. A Nazi soldier, the one who was with Spikey when Rosa had last visited, barged in accompanied with a poor-looking girl.

He dragged her and threw her onto the floor. She wore a simple dress and no shoes. Her uncombed hair covered her face. She also carried a bag. She sat on the ground, sobbing.

The Nazi soldier spoke something in German.

Chleb laughed and remarked, “Better late than never. Throw her in with this lot. Let her go to the factory. We might…have to use her later.”  

The other Nazi officer pulled her by her hair. She stood up, screaming in pain.

“What about him?” The SS officer holding Lev asked.

Chleb looked at Lev and turned to the lady. He walked to her, grabbed her by the arm and pushed her toward Lev.

“Let him go, for now. And you” he looked piercingly at Lev. “You take with you.”

The SS officers stepped away from Lev.

The siren wailed again and the Nazis moved back and lined up.

The lady, who was still sobbing, had almost fallen over Lev.

“It’s all right” he tried consoling her.

“Lev…” she whispered.

Lev moved apart from her and looked at her face.

“Rosa!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

The gate opened. The Jews began to walk. Lev and Rosa remained still. Chleb gave a wicked smile and commented something in German.

“I think we better go” said Rosa in a hushed tone. Lev, still unable to grasp, slowly nodded.

Rosa held Lev’s hand tightly. Her other hand, which sported an old Star of David armband, clutched the bag.

They walked towards the German factory and disappeared into the crowd.

 

This day too Lev and his hardworking roommates along with Rosa came out of the factory at five-thirty.

They quickly settled down in their apartment and heard the outside news from Rosa, while they attempted to rest.

“So that’s what is happening outside!” exclaimed Michael when Rosa finished explaining.

Lev excited turned to Rosa.

“I had asked you to enquire about the Egan couple- previously my neighbours. They were Roman Catholics. They moved into a certain Auschwitz. They promised they’d write” said Lev.

“I checked. They…” said Rosa as she shook her head.

“Didn’t make it, did they?” Lev felt a shiver go down his spine.

Rosa slowly nodded.

“Aarrrrgh!” A loud growl bellowed.

Lev turned to the boys.

“Excuse me,” said Jedd as he put his hands on his stomach. “I reckon the soup wasn’t enough.”

Lev looked down. “Well, it’d be better if we slept now.  We’ve got a big day.”

Rosa glanced at Lev and then turned to the boys who began fumbling with their large blankets.

“Maybe you don’t have to sleep hungry tonight” she said and the boys’ faces lightened up.

“How do you mean?” asked Seth.

Rosa took out her bag and began fishing for something. Jedd and the rest looked eagerly at her. She took out a package which was safely hidden amongst the clothes. Two loaves of bread. A jar of jam. A bunch of bananas. A set of toffees. They were all safely hidden in the bag.

The boys couldn’t help but drool.

“How did you get it in?” Even Lev was surprised.

“David helped me smuggle these when the Nazis were away. I knew they would be of help,” she beamed back.

“Well, I don’t think we’ll require that” said Lev turning away. The boys nodded for their leader himself had refused.

Rosa took out a slice of bread and began applying the jam.

“Are you sure you can sleep without having this?” she asked as the juicy red full of fruit jam made contact with the whole grain bread.

Jedd was the first to fall to temptation. He was hungry and couldn’t control. The rest followed him.

The modest one room apartment transformed into a picnic spot. The boys relished the jam-sandwiches. Each of them had a banana and a toffee. In the end, a loaf of bread along with a little jam and a few toffees were still left. They felt drowsy after a hearty meal and within a few minutes, most of them were snoring.

Rosa smiled, looking at the boys’ tired yet peaceful faces. She focused at Lev who sat emotionlessly.

“Aren’t you hungry?” she asked. Lev gazed at her tearfully.

“I can’t,” he replied. “I can’t…”

Rosa sat beside him.

“Why? What’s wrong?” she asked- her voice clearly indicating some tension.

“Why did you come here? You shouldn’t have” he responded in a serious tone.

“Pa wanted me to marry someone else. Some Gestapo officer,” she replied.

“Why didn’t you? He’d have kept you comfortable and… alive” retorted Lev. He quickly turned to see whether all the boys are sleep or not.

“I couldn’t. I wouldn’t have been as happy as when I was… with you” Rosa replied ruefully.

“Well, it’s not very pleasant here either” he replied gruffly.

“We will cross the river, without fear” said Rosa as she put her hand on Lev’s shoulder.

“Together” added Lev patting her hand comfortingly.

                    *********************************

The convoy had lined up on the bridge. The Jewish workers were waiting for the siren to go off.

Lev turned to the ghetto. The strong stench was still lingering. The smell had been the result of starvation, diseases and death. It was the result of cruelty. People suffered and died in the ghetto. Though at first, it seemed too unbearable, but soon people grew used to it. There were children, women, old people and men among the departed.

Slowly the siren wailed. The Jewish Police (Judischer Ordnungsdienst) officer carefully opened the gate. Citizens of the ghetto walked warily and lined up in front of Schneider Works.

The factories looked like a safe haven for the workers. Not only was it a distraction for all of them, but also it helped in keeping unemployment at bay. A German company-Tobbens had employed about 12,000 Jews by 1943.

But presently, the hundred-odd Jews looked at the factory hopefully under the August sun.

“You wait!” said the Jewish Police officer stopping Lev and Rosa.

Tobias noticed this and shot a tensed looked at Lev. Lev, in turn, gestured his hand in a guaranteeing way and signaled him to go into the factory.

Lev and Rosa were tensed but they waited patiently.

“Come” said the Nazi officer who came into picture. He escorted them to a Nazi quarter.

“Go in” he ordered Lev in his strong German accent.

Lev looked at Rosa who nodded back. He hesitated to go inside but the Nazi soldier opened the door for him and pushed him inside. “He’s here, chief” Lev heard and the door shut with a loud boom.

Lev looked at the room. A table and a set of chairs lay placidly in the centre. A corner-shelf had been decorated with books. The room carried a business-like ambience and in front of Lev, behind the table hung a swastika banner.

“Too ostentatious?” A voice boomed from behind.

Lev turned to find a middle-aged Nazi soldier standing behind him. Lev recognized him immediately. He chose to remain silent.

“I feel the swastika is very…showy.” The man spoke with a German accent.

“I don’t think it matters.” Lev finally talked.

“It doesn’t matter?” the man looked at Lev irately. He took his hand from his pocket. Wham! A loud smack on Lev’s cheek and he was on the floor.

Lev stood up with his hand over his face which was burning with embarrassment. He felt like giving the old man a piece of his mind but he didn’t.

“You are ruining my daughter’s life!” The Nazi soldier screamed at his face.

Instantly the door burst open and Rosa barged in. She froze, flabbergasted.

“Pa, what are you doing?” she shot. The other Nazi officer came in behind her. He grabbed her hand and attempted to take her out.

“Wait!” she shouted. She looked at her father. “I will talk.”

“Take him back.” Rosa’s father ordered and within no time, Lev was standing in the factory.

He was completely boggled. He remembered talking to Rosa’s father but after that slap, he seemed to have forgotten what happened next. Thinking about the old soldier, Lev couldn’t have attacked him because of his age…because of Rosa.

Lev decided to wait. One hour. Two hours. Three hours passed by and finally, a fuming Rosa returned.

“Urgh!” she growled.

“What happened?” Lev asked although he didn’t want to know.

“He wanted me to come back” she said.

“Then, what did you say?”

“I refused. He called me a sissy child. He told me that you…I should stay away from you” said Rosa gritting her teeth. “I disagreed. I felt he was being overprotective. I’ve never seen him so serious…”

“What was the verdict then?”

“He told me that I could stay here, with you. He said that he will never talk to me again” said Rosa in a low tone. “He warned me that it’s dangerous… but never mind. It’s all right.”

“All right? It isn’t!” exclaimed Lev.

“You lose one, you gain nine,” remarked Rosa in a hushed tone.

                    **************************************

The following Sunday, Lev and Rosa met Helga in the kitchen. Helga was a Romani cook. She was married to a Jewish businessman. Her children were Dovev and Nadav.

Helga looked a dejected Rosa. Rosa was still clearly upset at the argument. She had never spoken to her father like that. She was angry at him but she couldn’t stay so for a long time.

“What happened? Why so sad?” she asked.

“Rosa had an argument” replied Lev vaguely as Helga poured some of the stale cabbage into his bowl.

“Why are you sad, Helga?”

“Did you know Benji?” she asked.

“The one who played the flute? He was very good in memorizing poems” remarked Lev.

“Yes, that’s him. He stayed two apartments from us. He died yesterday” said Helga.

“Really?” Lev was shocked.

“Not only him… many of them. They are dying of hunger and diseases” said Helga. “If I could do anything, I’d do it for sure… at least to take Dovev and Nadav out of here. So, what is happening outside?”

“It’s still tense. The Atlantic Charter has been signed” said Rosa. “At least that’s what we heard.”

Helga nodded slowly. “I just hope everything will be well. You two be careful.”

Helga knew about Rosa. She was fond of Lev and his band who were not so different from her own sons. Her motherly side never allowed Lev and others to go hungry, well, most of the time. She poured a large amount into Rosa’s bowl, gave a short smile before Rosa walked away.

“It is horrible” said Lev. “First Abel then this boy...”

“Yes. Toby told me about that day” said Rosa. “What Chleb did was unforgiveable.”

There was a silent pause but the bowls sliding over tables, spoons hiting the bowls and slurping of soup echoed in the whole room.

“There are underground tunnels here. What if we start digging one?” asked Rosa as she sat down beside Lev.

“Oh. Then, where are you planning to go?” asked Lev.

“I haven’t any idea. I want to go far away from here” said Rosa. “Maybe Switzerland or the US.”

“I wish too” said Lev.

“I wish Pa wasn’t so angry” Said Rosa.

“Do you regret it?” asked Lev.

Rosa quickly shook her head. “But I wish the matter would have got sorted out”she said sadly.

“Don’t worry. It will be” said Lev as he put his hand over shoulder comfortingly.

 

 

 

 

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