Would there ever be a time when that word would not terrify me? I peer inside the barracks for the last time to see the changes. Floors barely swept, dingy walls cracked by the force of fists and light…a rare moment of light.
We stand if we can, and try to recognize that we are in an exit line, ready to face our futures…if there is to be one. The clean, fresh faced boys, who are the allies, surround the camp, shaking their heads with shock and disgust. They hand us chocolate and watch with horror as we vomit the blissful treat from our shrunken bellies. They face the fact that we cannot process delicacies, such as sweets, or practically anything. All of their kindness lies at our feet, just inches from entrance to our “home” for the past year.
Who will clean it up now if we’re not here? Not us--the Jews who are the captives of the barbarians. How long will we have to walk to get far enough from this place to forget? Will we ever forget what happened here?
Chaim’s eyes have shrunk even deeper than yesterday. Seems the bastards forgot to leave out water for those of us who have survived when most of them ran to avoid the allies. His mouth hangs open like a sprung steel trap. Do I have to look back in that cavernous place of filth for a forgotten jug of water? Must I get out of line to do it? Will the allies from any of their countries get us some water? Can I trust anyone of those around us?
I just noticed that the only people allowed back in that chamber are the grunts…the Kapos who are the vile privileged prisoners who served as barracks supervisors. They led work details when we could move or copped on us if they spotted that we had one more piece of bread than we were allowed. Then they starved us further and beat us into unconsciousness. How could our own kind do such vicious things to us? How do they manage to stand themselves? They’ve managed to live this long and not become walking skeletons because they’ve had more bread, soup and water than we’ve had.
It feels better to move forward than to stand in place. My head never stops throbbing. I cannot decide what is worse…the grasping pain in my stomach or the sledgehammer that pounds in my head.
I grab Chaim’s arm to help him walk but he needs water. Do I have the guts to ask? Who do I ask— the Kapos or the Allies? Who? I can’t think anymore. My head hurts far too much to think. I won’t look back at the barracks. Without lights on, it’s almost pitch black in there.
Was that my voice? I’m so parched that I sound like my grandfather did in his final years.
“Itch brioche Wiser.” Is anyone listening? Will anybody give Chaim and me some water? Chaim dropped like a sack of clothes on the dirt. I looked into his eyes and he was no longer there. The allies have finally backed up their trucks to haul us out of here, and Chaim couldn’t make it a few minutes longer to leave the cruelty of the camp. I lift my best friend…the only real friend I’ve known in this life…and his limp body is all I have to bring to the truck. “Achtung!” Who said that? The Kapos or the Allies? “Tropen Zie!” They want me to drop my friend in the dust. I hear a rifle cocking and I let Chaim drop. My heart is left in the dust with my last glance at the barracks, now empty, but filled with the horror of what happened within. I climb into the truck and I am offered a small cup of water once I sit down. Who handed it to me? I guess they don’t want to give me more. They remember what happened to the chocolate bar. If only it could have given this water to Chaim, then, perhaps he would have lived to forget this place.
But will I?