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Life is but the shadow of a bird flying high overhead, darkening the sun for a fraction of a second. Throughout the history of the universe, the existence of humans is the blink of an eye, or one heartbeat out of the thousands upon thousands of pulses in a person’s life. In other words, that’s pretty short. Short, and often full of suffering.
Some people suffer a little, like losing a job or contracting the influenza. Others suffer more, like losing a family member or being a victim of theft who lost all their prized possessions. Finally, there are those who suffer because others want them to. Those are the ones in the camps.
It’s hard to live in a place where death walks around you all the time and takes thousands of victims every day. Its even harder to look death in the face.
One day, I had been looking down at my feet, trying to remember the last time I had worn real shoes. My toes were frozen, for it was the midst of winter and they and my face stung bitterly. Suddenly, I walked into something hard. At first I thought it was a wall, but as I looked up my heart pounded in fear as I realized what it was. Walls don’t wear guns upon their backs. Nor do they hiss, “Schmutzige Jude!”
At one point I had a name; now I am called by a number, or by any of the various hateful words they spat in our faces. At one point, I had a family, but after I was forced to watch my father be shot to death, I began to abandon the idea of such a cruelly hopeless happiness. At one point, I had a home, a beautiful apartment in Warsaw with a lovely window overlooking a river; then I was crowded into a tight ghetto, thirty people to a room, and finally shipped here. At one point, I had faith, but that was torn from me along with my identity and my soul.
It is the summer now, yet I am as cold as the first day that I was brought here. My stomach was churning with anxiety and fear that first day; now I can’t tell the difference between fear, and starvation. I used to cry myself to sleep; now I cannot even produce the tears. My brother was lucky- he was killed before he made it to the camps.
I work in a weapons factory, producing bullets for their army. If I produce a set of faulty bullets, I will be killed. If I pause for a moment, I will be beaten. The tattoo on my arm burns as I recall all of the vivid memories I have made of the countless deaths I have seen. Father, brother, younger sister... All gone, like a flash of lightning drowned out by the crash of thunder.
Today it was warm and rainy. I gratefully tip my head back to receive the cool water, but the taste burns against my tongue. The water has mixed with the gas coming from the Little White House, as they call it. It tastes like pure despair.
Suddenly, one of them approaches me. He tells me that I will have a chance to bathe, and gives me a towel. He leads me to a place where about twenty other women are undressing and wrapping their towels around their waists. I am grateful for this opportunity to be clean for the first time in a long time. I cannot remember the last time I bathed. We walk into the Little White House.
Inside the door, a sign hangs. It reads, I believe, ‘Sauna’. There are several small showers with thick doors there. They crowd us all into one shower. By now I am used to the crowding, for my barrack is full of a few hundred women. They close the door tight, and I start to wonder.
I look towards the shower head. No water comes out.
Suddenly, a scream echoes in the room. I whirl around to see what is going on behind me. A small vent has slid open, and a little capsule drops into the room. Shrieks echo now all around me, and I am sure that one of them is my own. Lost in confusion, I watch as the women in the shower start to drop, one by one, until my vision blurs. I cannot breathe; my lungs burn, desperate for oxygen.
The shrieks die down, and I think to myself that it is over, I will be okay. Then I hit the floor, lying in the glare of the sun as the bird’s shadow departs forever.