We are cousins, but we have never met. We have never hugged each other, never laughed and played together. We have never shared a Shabbat dinner , a birthday celebration or engaged in other experiences that members of a family generally do
It is not because either you or I chose that. Rather, we were forced into that. I left this world long before you came into it. I wanted to continue to live, love and enjoy the fruits of hard labor. But the dark forces of Evil snatched me at the tender age of six in late September 1942
Oh, how I remember that horrid day. It was the dawn of a very cold morning. I remember it because I was taught to believe that dawn is that time of day when new opportunities , new doors of hope and vision are opened. I remember preparing for bed the night before. After reciting the Shema blessing with my younger brother, Reuven, and before we fell asleep in the little bed that we shared in a dark corner of the Ghetto, I promised him that tomorrow would be better, that tomorrow our nightmare would end and that we would no longer be hungry and cold
He believed me. But I lied to him, Bat-Zion. That ghastly dawn never carried any blessings, nor the tiniest sliver of Hope
We were awakened by our parents very early. It was still dark outside. They took us in their arms and held us tight . Through the web of sleep, I could hear shouting and crying all over. Mothers yelling and fathers praying. Reuven started to cry and Mom was trying to calm him down
Suddenly, the door to our little room slammed open. I did not recognize the faces of the men who stood at the door holding guns but they were wearing the same uniform as the guards who were watching the gates of our Ghetto. For a second I fantasized that these were our liberators, the people who would set us free at the break of dawn, the ones I told Reuven about. I even smiled at one of them
He must not have liked it because he seized me from my mother’s arms while another took Reuven from my father’s. They dragged us outside as we were both trying to free ourselves from their grip, and threw us on a truck as if we were young cattle. I called my mother I saw the dread in her eyes. She was speechless as she reached out with both arms towards me as if begging me to come back. I wanted to very much. But I needed to take care of Reuven, after all he was only three years old and so frail, I could not leave him alone. I was going to have to be his mother and father until we were reunited with our parents.
The truck suddenly started to move. Mother, and I do not know where she gathered her strength from, began to run after us calling our names .”Take care of Reuven, Shulamit,” she begged of me as she was wringing her hands in agony.
The first rays of the sun were already out when the truck suddenly stopped in the middle of a forest. We were thrown out of it and made to march in one line. There were other trucks with other young children, all crying and shouting in different languages. There were two words, though, we all understood and we all shared, “mama” and “papa
I held Reuven’s little hand in mine as we walked with everyone towards the unknown
After what seemed like an eternity, we stopped. We were told to take our clothes off and throw them all into a pile. Reuven refused..He said he was cold. I had to struggle with him but we had no choice. We were then led to an open pit and told to stand at its edge. Silently and obediently we followed the orders. Suddenly, without any warning, something hit me . The pain was sharp and excruciating. I fell into the pit and landed on someone. I could feel the warmth of their body. I was groping under the blanket of darkness looking for Reuven and calling his name. I called and called until I was no more