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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1. Winter 1940

 

                WINTER 1940

The ground lay cold and bare. The trees were stripped off their leaves but the ambience was filled with a mild pleasant drizzle. While the opulent and seemingly safe residents of Warsaw were busy securing their warm winter coats, those in the ghettos were struggling to make ends meet.

Warsaw Ghetto-one of the largest had been crammed with Jewish citizens. A bridge had been constructed recently which separated them from the rest of the world. The place, which was tightly guarded, was suffering from one of the worst kinds of unemployment along with diseases caused by malnutrition. But the Jews knew how not to go hungry. Along with the meager 100-odd calorie meals coming from Nazi Reich, they also had the privilege of smuggled food and other goods.

Now turning back to the scene, we find the sky completely covered and not a drop of sun seems to seep through the clouds. Harsh, biting wind blew across the glum ghetto and Lev, strapping handsome lad in his mid- twenties, stood staring at himself in the stained mirror.

It was a little over 7 and somehow, everyone in his room was tired and fast asleep. He cleaned his teeth and softly gargled in warm water-ensuring that his cold would go away and the process wouldn’t even disturb his roommates. He quickly got into his brown trousers and cream colored shirt-which was poorly washed as the mud stains were still visible. He pulled his old, faded coat over his shoulders and buttoned it making sure that stains remained hidden. He secured the Star of David band carefully yet sadly. If one was caught without the band, one would be harshly punished. Lev brushed his hair stiffly and replaced the broken comb back into his pocket.

He glanced at his roommates-eight of them, who were still sound asleep. When he had moved into the ghetto, he knew no one except his generous neighbors. While they drifted away from him, only these eight teenage orphans became his pillar for support. He helped them and they helped him. He taught them English and they taught him how to survive in this cold, war-like crisis. He smiled as he squinted at two of the boys tightly hugging each other and sleeping.

Lev stopped smiling and slowly made way through the creaking door. He walked happily with his head towards the sky. Strong stench lingered around the place but that wasn’t a bother. It was cold and wet. But was it raining or snowing? Lev wasn’t interested at all.

He paced through the dilapidated ‘apartments’ and stopped in front of a soup kitchen- only one officially functioning. He walked inside and found himself in the warmth and comfort of the kitchen fire and that of his host.

“Hullo!” He received a boisterous greeting from Helga, a gypsy cook. She was dressed in her usual long, multi-colored frock and gave a friendly smile.

“Morning” Lev beamed back. He looked around. The sound of violins being played violently and furiously echoed in the kitchen along with the tinkering of steel bowls. He turned back to Helga who handed him a large bowl with very little soup in it.

“What’s this?” Lev was surprised.

“Cabbage soup” she replied.

“Yes, but it’s very little.”

“That’s all I can give now. Go on, finish up” she urged him.

“Can’t I have more?” Lev began pleading like a little boy.

“Don’t be such a ninny. Eat up!” Helga was stern.

Lev accepted the bowl and turned away.

“Well…” A thought seemed to have popped up in his mind. “Never mind.”

“Well what?”

Lev turned to her again. “After all this teaching… After so much of Shakespeare I taught to Dovev and Nadav, is this how I get repaid?”

Helga looked at him without batting an eyelid- she was careful and strict. Emotionlessly, she picked up the ladle, dipped it into the large hot vessel with a bang and quickly poured a big helping into his bowl.

“Just this once” she said dropping into a whisper before the other cooks could realize what she did.

“Thank you.” Lev’s eyes gleamed with excitement.

He looked around. The soup kitchen, which was crowded usually during the mealtimes, wore an empty look. Except for the students who were practicing violin secretly in the next room and the cooks, Lev found no one.

“It’s going to be a lazy Sunday” he commented.

“I reckon they must be exhausted after the play” remarked Helga as Lev loudly slurped his soup, “although I thoroughly enjoyed last night’s Arabian Nights.”

Lev let out a weak smile. The plays were a privilege and a big distraction from the present situation. He was glad that he could put his literature knowledge into good use.

Finally when Lev finished the soup with difficulty (it was made of stale cabbage), he happened to meet Abel, a seven year old boy. Like Lev and Helga, he too was a resident of this ghetto. The small, short boy wore a cap and smiled cheerfully at Lev. He had come with his uncle to eat.

“Good Morning, Abel,” Lev greeted. Abel greeted back.

Upon asking the reason behind Abel’s smile, Abel whispered into Lev’s ear, “Can you keep a secret?” Lev nodded. “I managed to get some bread at the market.”

Lev was surprised. “Market? How did you…?”

“There is a guard who lets people in and out of here. All I did was join a crowd, smile and I got into the Aryan Market,” he replied.

“What else did you get?” asked Lev in a low tone.

Abel took out an apple from his pocket and handed it to Lev.

“That’s good,” remarked Lev, at the boy’s cleverness.

“You keep it” replied the boy in an innocent way. “I got some bread and more fruits for myself.”

Before Lev could thank him, Abel’s uncle Asriel took him away.

Lev shrugged the matter aside and returned to his apple. He wanted to eat the fruit, but the growing crowd left Lev no place in the kitchen.  He headed out and he thought of heading back to his apartment.  But he changed his mind and decided to sit under a tree instead.

There was an old, rugged tree right in front of a guarded gate. He sat down and began to relish the snack. Two Nazis were outside the gate, talking to each other when they happened to notice Lev lazing around.

Let them do as they wish; they brought me here but it doesn’t imply that they own me, Lev thought. Let them feel jealous.

One of the guards was about to go and report the matter when a loud screeching sound distracted all three of them.

A black car stopped in front of the gate.

Lev knew that car. He didn’t move-he stayed and watched.

The car’s window opened and the Nazi, who was about to leave, started talking to the person inside.

Words were exchanged and the guard hurried away.

The other, bespectacled Nazi signaled the driver to stop the engine. He opened the gate and a lady came out of the car and walked inside. She looked at Lev who was sitting down.

Lev took a deep breath and watched her sit beside him.

She was dressed in black-just like the car. Her short, brown hair was neatly pushed back into curls. Her lips were blood red and she carried a small red purse.

“What are you doing here?” Lev asked.

“Can’t I come here?” she shot back.

“I didn’t mean that”, he replied.

“I know. I came here to meet you,” she said.

“After all this, Rosa…? It’s impossible for us to …..”

“I know!” she interrupted. “But I can’t let you…”

Lev turned away. He didn’t want to look into her eyes.

“I love you. I can’t let them torture you in this fashion” she replied.

“I told you not to come here."

“Don’t you forget-some time ago, we were engaged.”

“But it’s over now.”

“I can’t live without you. Let me come and live with you.”

Lev looked at the apple.

“Give me that!” The lady grabbed the fruit from his hand.

“I was eating that!” Lev protested.

“Let me settle down here… with you” continued Rosa.

“It’s a bad idea” replied Lev gruffly.

“I can adjust with the cabbage soup and your roommates” she replied.

“It isn’t that easy. It’s so appalling here. Besides your father won’t agree to this match” he replied.

“I’ll run away. No one can stop us then.”

“Don’t be so absurd!” he exclaimed.

“Then what should I do?” Young Rosa put her hands gently on Lev’s shoulders.

“Rosa…” Lev said finally looking into her deep brown eyes. “I don’t reckon it’s a good time to talk. Why don’t we wait for a month or so? We’ll let the fog clear and then we’ll talk.”

Rosa’s gaze was fixed on Lev but the latter was distracted by the tinkering sound at the gate.

“You had to bribe Spikey to come here, right?” he asked looking at the bespectacled Nazi struggling with his keys.

“His name is David. He isn’t as stern and heartless as the others,” Rosa replied. “Pa wouldn’t let me see you. David helped me.”

A moment later, the other Nazi appeared. He barked at David although Lev and Rosa could hardly make out the words.

David quickly opened the gate and said something in German.

“I’m afraid Pa has found out. I’ll have to leave now, dear” said Rosa embracing Lev.

Lev wasn’t done with the hug when Rosa broke off.

“I’ll come again,” she said as she handed him the apple back. She bade him goodbye.

She walked toward the gate and the other Nazi signaled her to leave. She got into the little, black car and gave a short smile.

Lev stood waving amid the drizzle. The engine roared for a minute or two and then the little car was moving away from Lev, going back into the obscure cityscape.

“I hope you don’t,” he whispered as the car moved out of his sight.

 

Lev strolled around the ghetto. The Germans called it-‘Jewish Quarters’ but for them, it seemed like exile. He met people who congratulated him either for his magnificent direction of the ‘Arabian Nights’ or for sharing his wonderful, bountiful literature knowledge.  All those who struggled to keep warm or fight hunger too met him and exchanged a few words with him.

After the conversation, Lev was left with a guilty heart, tearful eyes and some bitterness in his mouth. He didn’t feel like finishing his apple so the half-eaten fruit lay placidly in his pocket.

It was a little before five when Lev arrived at his apartment. The drizzle was there. So was the stench. But his place looked gloomier than ever for the eight merry youths sat waiting silently yet sadly.

“Oi, why so serious?” asked Lev as removed his coat and put it away.

“Haven’t you heard?” asked Avniel, a fair-looking boy who spoke with a strong German accent.

“Heard what?” Lev didn’t know about the matter. He eyed them curiously.

Yoel, eighteen, sensible of all, spoke up.

“We met Asriel in the kitchen. It was noon. He seemed broken and when we asked him about the matter, he…” Yoel paused.

“He what? Go on, I say” urged Lev. “I hope nothing bad has happened.”

“Abel set out for the Aryan Market again. Only this time he had forgotten his band. Some of the Nazis found him suspicious. They realized that he’d escaped from here and he was caught with the band,” said Yoel. Every word coming out of his mouth created horror and suspense in our protagonist’s mind.

“Then?” The word could barely escape from Lev’s lips.

“He was…shot immediately…” Words stung Lev like thousands of poisonous arrows.

Lev felt numb for a moment. He tried to move his hand but it began shaking uncontrollably.

Flashes of the boy began playing in Lev’s mind. A sharp sensation passed through his chest. He fell back into his chair.

He stared at the boys with a peculiar horror.

But only a weak smile escaped from him.

“This isn’t funny” he said.

The boys confused looked at each other.

“We aren’t joking, Lev” replied a 19-year-old Michael.

“But I met him just this morning” Lev cried.

 Thirteen year old Jedd embraced his teacher.

Lev had to get a grip on himself. If he reacted without control, then what would happen to the young boys who didn’t know how to react?

Little Cale’s eyes were flooded with tears. Lev looked at the thirteen-year-old boy’s pale, shriveled face. Jedd let go of Lev and allowed Cale to sit beside Lev.

Lev slowly wiped Cale’s face.

“You sang…together, didn’t you?” Lev’s voice cracked.

Cale nodded his head tearfully. Instantly he put his arms over Lev.

“He…shared…bread” sobbed the boy.

Lev patted his back while the others grimaced over the matter.

“He was so young! He was hardly seven” cried the sixteen year old Seth.

“He didn’t deserve it. If I ever come across the bastard who did this to him, I’d definitely love to strangulate his neck” commented 15 year old, violent Aaron.

“Aaron!” Lev said sternly. Aaron became silent and only the sobs of Cale echoed in the room.

Lev pulled away from Cale. He looked at everyone’s sad faces.

“Abel was a merry boy, wasn’t he?” he asked and Cale nodded again.

“He was always cheerful and never hurt anybody.” He paused, took a deep breath and continued. “He was a good boy. Let us honor him by being helpful and… kind.”

He stared at Cale who gave a weak smile. Others too nodded with approval.

“Come Cale, everyone” said Lev as he stood up. He walked towards the mattresses which were placed awkwardly on the floor. He sat down in the middle uncomfortably and the boys followed him.

The boys slept and Lev sat in the middle, brushing Jedd and Cale’s hair.

“Sing” said Jedd and the others too looked longingly at Lev.

Lev began to sing a Polish song which he had created when he was not even as old as Jedd. It was about a garden having roses, pansies, petunias, tulips, jasmines and his favorite red poppies. He had hardly sung four lines when he realized that the boys were already asleep. He hummed the tune for a while until he drifted away… into dreams.

 Dreams.   

   

 

 

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