It was the year 1938. I was 25 years old, happily married with a promising future filled with big dreams. My husband, David, and I lived in a small town in Poland. Our little home was barely even on the map, and it was just what we had always dreamed of having. Both of us grew up in the growing political climate of Germany, and decided that we wanted to escape and explore the world together. Poland was to be just the beginning of our traveling adventures. We were well on our way, but then we found we were with child. Our traveling adventures were put on hold, and instead we began a new journey together in parenthood.
David was a beautiful man. He stood at an impressive height, well built, with ebony curly locks of hair. I had fallen in love with him instantly. His handsome looks were only surpassed by the beauty of his heart. As a Jewish officer, he would come home and tell me all the news about what was happening back home in Germany. The stories of the Nazi party attacking innocent people seemed to be too horrific to believe. How could anyone be that evil? Little did we know that our entire world would soon learn how true that evil could be.
A year had passed, and it was now March of 1939. Germany continued to invade town after town with its evil Nazi regime. News finally reached us that soldiers had entered Poland territory. Due to our living by the border, we were the next city on the list. As invasion began, David, our young daughter, and I constantly stayed on the move. “It looks like our adventure won’t end here, darling,” I remember David saying to me. I simply replied with a worried smile and a heart filled with fear. It seemed as if we were living on borrowed time, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something horrific was about to occur.
In early April, we learned the gastapo was not too far behind us. We didn’t stop for anything, we couldn’t stop for anything. Our goal was to reach the sanctuary of the Soviet Union. We knew we would be safe there due to the treaty Germany had made, which promised neither country would attack the other country during this World War. We were soon to learn that some promises were made just to be broken. Evil doesn’t care about keeping its word.
David and I had made a little home near the border of the Soviet Union and Poland. It was a beautiful spring, sunny day. David was out on patrol and I was home with our little girl, Annaliese. I can still remember the sound of the Nazi soldiers knocking on my door. When I didn’t answer promptly enough for their tastes, they forced themselves inside and began barking questions. They asked me my name, my age, my birthplace, my ethnicity. Like bullet fire, the questions came one after another in constant repetition. Even in my fear, I was finally frustrated with their intrusion and demanded to know why they were there. How I would soon wish I had just kept my mouth closed. Apparently, my indignation angered the soldiers. The last thing I remembered was one of them raising a fist, then everything became dark. The darkness would never leave me after that day. When I woke, I instantly looked for Annaliese. I found her in the corner in my husband’s arms. “When did he get home?” I wondered to myself. Then the panic set in and I remembered the intrusion, the soldiers, and all the questions. I also realized we weren’t home, but in a freight train filled with other people. Most were neighbors in the tiny village near our home. A home we were to never see again.
After a long journey, we arrived at a camp with a large gate and a sign that read “Work sets you free.” I looked at David and worriedly asked him what that meant. He responded with his usual positivity and smiled his beautiful smile. Annaliese wiggled in his arms. He kissed her gently and then pulled me close. “Don’t worry my beautiful girl. We are together, and as long as we are together, everything will be okay.” It would be the last words I would ever hear him say.
“Men to the left, women to the right.” The Nazi’s order barked through the last sliver of hope I had. We were sorted like cattle and forced to separate.
“No sir, please. You don’t understand. We must stay togeth-” My request was met with the back of a soldier’s hand.
David kissed me and silently begged me to obey. He cried as he held Annaliese. I think he somehow knew it would be the last time we would ever be together. Annaliese was suddenly grabbed out of David’s arms and shoved in my direction. The Nazi that had slapped me pushed David to the left and forever out of my sight. I could only move to the right with the other poor souls as Annaliese softly whimpered in my arms, distraught after being abruptly pulled from her father’s protective embrace. Our journey to the right led to a wooden barracks with built-in wooden slabs for a bed. Annaliese and I found an empty “bed” and sleep overcame us.
The next day dawned, and it was time to begin the work. At that time, I still hoped to be reunited with David. The thought of a possible reunion was what kept me pushing forward. The Nazi soldiers told us we would be rewarded with a shower after our work was completed. I worked without complaint, thankful that Annaliese was still with me. Many of the other mothers looked at her longingly, and I could only shudder to think what had happened to their children. It was difficult to work and care for Annaliese. She would whimper, and I would quietly nurse her under my filthy gown, or hum softly to her. My instincts told me I had to survive. I had to push through for our little girl.
Finally, the end of the day came. Our work was completed, and the promise of a shower was ahead. More trains had arrived with more soldiers and people. I assumed that my fellow prisoners and I would be allowed to rest, while the new arrivals would work as we did. I was so naive. Annaliese and I were in line waiting for our turn to shower when I smelled it. Gas. The air was permeated with the stench of gas and vomit. Then the silence was shattered by the screams.
Chaos erupted and everyone began to force their way out of the line. The Nazis had put their youngest soldiers on post that day because they had no knowledge of how to control the mob. I took advantage of their inexperience, clutched Annaliese tightly to my chest, and ran. I remembered a small ditch near the outskirts of the camp. A fence was just beyond, so I hastily made my way to it. I quickly found my destination, glanced over my shoulder to see how many soldiers had followed, and tripped. Down Annaliese and I rolled until we came to a stop on a pile of….something. I raised my head and realized what we had landed upon. Bodies. Countless bodies. All victims of bullets, the gas chamber, or the Nazi’s physical brutality. Those that arrived weak or old had apparently been murdered instantly. Those that were strong had been made to work until it was their turn for the promised “shower.” I couldn’t dwell on the poor souls that lay beneath me, their final resting place nothing more than mud, blood, and filth. I had to escape. I had to find David. I had to protect Annaliese. I had to survive. I slowly began to crawl over the bodies, a silent prayer uttered for their souls. Their sacrifice became my salvation. Each time I would hear a soldier approach, I would lie down in the filth and stench of death, and wait for them to pass. To this day, I do not know how Annaliese remained quiet the entire time. One by one, we crawled over the bodies as I made my way to the fence and our freedom. We were nearly there when I saw him. My David. His eyes wide with horror and his mouth forever in a scream. I put my hand over my mouth to keep from crying out and screaming. I looked down at the child pillowed against my breast. I looked back at David and touched the side of his face.
In those few precious moments, I quietly wept for my David, for the future we would never have, the adventures we would never take, and the daughter he would never know. My grief almost overwhelmed me enough to give up. I wanted to stay there with him and give myself over to the darkness that enveloped me. It was at that moment that Annaliese chose to stir, and her soft whimpering broke me out of the abyss. I closed my eyes and allowed the tears to fall from my face and onto David’s, covering him quietly with my final goodbye. The rest is a blur. I continued my crawl and somehow managed to make my escape through the fence. My feet were covered in bloody blisters. My clothes stained with blood, vomit, and the stench of death. My hair was matted and my skin covered in dirt and mud. But I was alive. For the sake of our daughter, I was alive.
I walked for two days, nursing Annaliese with the last bit of strength I had left. I had to survive. I will survive. Please God, let me live.
He must have heard my pleas, for moments later I was rescued. Polish officers saw my frightful state and took me to a nearby camp. It was over. I was showered, clothed, fed and allowed to sleep. Annaliese never left my side. A day or two later, we were on a train, and then a boat. I stayed in the little cabin we had been given, alone with Annaliese and my grief, and mourning my precious David.
After several days of travel, we reached our destination. My first sight was of a lady, her arm outstretched to the sky with a torch in her hand. It was Lady Liberty welcoming me to take rest and seek refuge. A kind gentleman escorted Annaleise and I off the boat. He had papers with him that had to be completed in order for me to be placed in a boarding home in New York City.
“My dear,” his kind voice penetrated my thoughts, “May I please have your name?’
“It’s Hope,” I replied. “My name is Hope.”
Lauren Hudson is a 17-year-old girl living in Alabama. Lauren has a deep love and appreciation for history. She hopes that by reading her work, others will grow to share that same love with her. Lauren plans to continue writing historical fiction in an attempt to bring more attention to important events that shaped our world’s history.