Hastily I rubbed my eyes; it was hardly morning when I awoke. Stunned and shivering from the frigid air and overwhelming pain in my head, I took a moment to let my eyes adjust to the room. The salty taste of blood sat evident in my mouth, a constant reminder of my place here. How long have I laid here? What have they done with my family? My mind was a broken record of nagging questions. My eyes burned as my mind moved faster than my quivering, exhausted limbs. The echoes of sobbing and the whisper of prayer encapsulated my world like a slow poison. With a heavy ‘thud’ I hit the ground not knowing where I would go or what I was seeking to accomplish; I just had to get away from here. Small emissions of light shone through spaces between the boards on the wall and illuminated my bunkmate’s faces. Young skeletons of men and boys crammed together with four and five men on one small wooden cot. Some had bandages on their heads and tattered clothing used as slings. In the far corner, three young boys bounced around like corn in a kettle, chasing a rat out of their bunk; or maybe hunger had gotten the best of them, I wasn’t entirely sure. Coughs and moans echoed from every direction and the stench of human excrement and disease was unbearable. I felt myself suffocating. Outside the walls of our housing unit, I could hear the pitter-patter of German Shepherds, muffled spits of German and heavy footsteps making slosh out of the newly fallen snow. There is no real chance of escape- just submit to the powers of the SS outside the door. Suddenly I saw her there, a reflection in the puddle on the dirt floor beneath me. A timely reminder. I am a winter daisy. I am your winter daisy.
I have never known an evil like that of the Nazis and I find myself forsaken by God in this Hell. Each day I spend digging graves, ones that I wish were my own. Each night I am kept awake by the sounds of train whistles and gunfire searing through the cold December wind. Each night I must listen to the disheartening chaos; I must relive the day I arrived here. With a quick look over and a point of a finger, right or left, the doctors are the executioners. Each cattle car held the same promise. Some will be my neighbors, my friends, and others, my family. All useless lives in the eyes of the Nazi Regime. Tomorrow, I will bury them.
To my knowledge, it is December 1944, at least it was when I was captured. I do not know the day. Any sense of time is lost here and I find myself retreating into a daydream. I think back to when I was a boy. I place myself in the warm spring air, on long walks around our crowded city streets in Krakow, and playing cards with my mother. I think back on the bitter cold of December 1915 when the local doctor came to visit her. I bolted outside so fast I felt like my feet had taken the pinewood floors of our apartment, with them. Like a wall of glass, the wind hit me, much like the frigid wind bites my cheeks each day as I work here; a prisoner. I ran all the way to the sidewalk before my knees buckled and I found myself face first, sobbing in the snow. It was dusk and the busy streets of Krakow were business as usual. The sounds of vehicle engines, screeching brakes, and muffled, meaningless conversation whirled around me like a vortex of color and sound. Collapsed there, surrounded by a million people, I was all alone; a familiar feeling in this prison. By the end of the month, the Cancer had spread. By the New Year, she was gone. I grasped my wrist to steady my shaking as I placed a single red rose on the crest of her mahogany casket. Tears stung my eyes. My life would never be the same.
Grasping tight to my suitcase, I closed the cab door and looked up at my new home. My grandmother’s house was a small cottage tucked away in the Carpathian Mountains, not far from where I had lived with my mother. Covered in light dust of snow, the two-room cabin was dressed with thick Cedar columns supporting a covered porch and garnished with hanging ferns between each one. Beautiful flowers filled the homemade flower boxes nestled under the antique windows. The smell of pecan pie and rosemary drifted out the open door and into the crisp mountain air. I took a deep breath and let everything consume me. At that moment something in the window caught my eye. As I approached the cottage, I could feel my grandmother’s eyes move to mine as she stood in the open doorway, “Sam, are you alright?” Grandma called as I walked past her and to the flower box to her right,
“Ah,” she said with a grin, “I see you’ve found my snowdrops.”
As she threw the kitchen towel over her shoulder she left her post braced against the doorway and gently handled the flowers with her fragile fingers,
“Winter daisies.” She beamed.
I had never seen anything like it. The white bulbs of petals fell down like tiny lamp shades illuminating the flower box. Their long green stems stood strong and evident through the snow-covered soil,
“I didn’t know there was any flower that grew in this cold?” I asked, puzzled.
With a lingering smile she replied, “my dear, there are many more reasons to embrace the cold, rather than to wilt from it.”
She left me there, shivering on the porch pondering the resilience of such a beautiful, little flower.
I lived with my grandma until it was time for me to go away to university. It was 1925 when I received my acceptance letter to Humboldt University in Berlin. My grandmother was so proud. I remember her scooping me up and dancing with me around the living room, the soft afternoon light streaming through the open windows and illuminating her wrinkled complexion and bouncing, curly hair. For a moment, time stood still. I remember thinking how proud my mother would be and the thought brought tears to my eyes. I was eighteen years old, ambitious and ready to venture out into the world. I admired the bittersweet feeling in my stomach and pondered the idea that my life could be better than I had ever dreamed. I was going to be a doctor. I was going to cure cancer.
“Bis Sie schmutzige Juden!” I felt a sharp stab in my side as I was awakened from my daydream. Once leaning up against the doorway I now lie crumpled on the floor. My side ached with pain as I felt another blow hit the back of my head,
“Holen Sie sich die Hölle ich gesagt!” Groggy and dazed I began to crawl.
The warm blood dripping from my nose served as a harsh contrast to my frostbitten skin. All at once I could smell the sweet, savory scent of Pecan pie. I could see the ice-capped mountains and the cottage below, beaming with antique charm and elegance. I could see my grandmother standing in the doorway like she had the day I stepped out of that taxi cab; then there was my mother. Lovingly, she opened her arms to me, a smile held from ear to ear. Behind her peeked the white, silky petals of Grandma’s snowdrops. I looked down upon my feet, dressed with my best Sunday shoes, my toes nestled sweetly in heavy wool socks. I reached up and felt my head warmed by the cover of my favorite wool Tyrol cap. Suddenly my grandma’s words played overlapping in my mind, ‘There are many more reasons to embrace the cold than to wilt from it.’
Slowly, I awoke. Stunned, I took a moment to let my eyes adjust to the room. Lying there on the floor, I peered through the cracks in the wall at the snow falling outside. Suddenly something caught my eye; I tried harder to focus my eyes as my heart pounded. Hastily, I crawled closer to the wall, crying out from the pain of my freshly beaten body. Motion by motion I crawled, moving inch by inch toward the tattered wall of my quarters. Finally, I rested my face against the 4-inch gap between me and the rest of the world. The white glare reflecting off the snow burnt my eyes and sent my head into orbit. I winced as I tried to get my eyes to focus. And then, there it was. I stared in disbelief at the tiny patch of green and white just feet from my face. My mind flashed back to my grandmother. I could see her smile, I could almost feel her, “I see you’ve found my snowdrops- ‘winter daisies’.”
The salty taste of blood sat evident in my mouth, a constant reminder of my place here, but it was that moment I was reminded what I was. It was that moment I knew that I would survive.
Historical Fiction work is a product of research and sources regarding life in Nazi Germany and the hardships faced by those in Concentration camps. It is in no way a first hand or true account of personal events during this time. Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops on January 27 of 1945. 1.3 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, and others were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945; at least 1.1 million were murdered.