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Beth Israel Congregation


And That Which Survived Rampant Fire Could Not Survive Merciless Hands

by Julia Pols
Brunswick Junior High School

My sister is gone. I will never see her again.

Please let her be one of the lucky ones.

I remember when they burned the books in the streets that night when I was nine.

My mother held me to her skirts and the flames roared tall in the center of the square. Pages curled and flew threw the air, blackened and dead. We stayed in the street until the fires were stamped out and the soldiers left. My brother and father sifted through the ashes, seeking remnants of our past to save for the future. My mother went inside to be with my young sister and our grandmother. I was left alone, gazing at the wreckage, the remains of books I had read. A sliver of paper, darkened at the edges, fluttered past on a gust of wind, a blessing. I snatched the page from the air and read the writing there. 'Shema yisrael...' I recognized the prayer there, and tucked the page in my apron pocket.

And five years later, when I sat with my sister, helping her with school work. The window shattered and life became a blur. There was pain as a shard of glass pierced my shoulder. 'Upstairs,' I whispered to my sister. 'Hurry.' She scrambled to do as I said. More windows fractured. In the streets, screams and cries. I heard my grandmother's lament, 'The shul! They're at the synagogue!' I ran into the street, and there was the rest of my family. Not huddled together as we had five years before, but standing in front of the temple, soldiers gripping their arms as our synagogue burned.

I knew I would never see them again, and I never did.

And I knew I wouldn't make it out alive, two weeks ago. They marched down the street. I held my sister to me so they couldn't see the stars on our chests. But they grabbed me. They ripped us apart. They saw the word 'Jew' emblazoned across our shirts. And they took us. I grabbed for my sister's hand and held it as they took us away.

I looked out across the neighborhood I had grown up in, full of goyim who wouldn't challenge the soldiers capturing us, and I knew I would never see it again, and I haven't. Just like I knew so many other things.

Just like I knew, I would be one of the lucky ones if death was the only thing they did to me.

I see what they do to the other girls. I hear their screams. The ones that aren't the sounds of people dying. I can hear the difference.

I know I will be lucky if the only thing they take from me is my life.

Just like I knew fighting for my sister would be futile but did it anyway.

Just like I know the Americans won't rescue me.

Just like I knew the people I grew up with wouldn't rescue me.

Just like I know that nobody cares.

Just like I knew.

I knew what was happening when no one else did. I saw, and now it's too late. Too late for me.

Here they come. It's too late.

They grab me and pull me away. All I can do is pray.

Please let me be one of the lucky ones. Please let me see my sister again.

They wrap a blindfold around my eyes. I struggle. I try. I can't save myself though, and I couldn't save my sister. They pull me along and take off my blindfold, but I don't open my eyes.

Let me be one of the lucky ones.

I rub the scar from Kristallnacht, a memento which will never leave me, like the slip of paper from the burning book did when they dragged me into this living hell. Ripped out of my clutching fingers, and that which survived rampant fire could not survive merciless hands.

I can see the page, even if I cannot hold it. In all its beauty, curling and crinkled, darkened, with those exultant words scrawling across its still white surface:

Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One.

I have always known these will be my last words. I lift my voice:

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Ehad.

And then I hear the whistle of the bullet-