Chapter 0 - Prologue
A boy of about fourteen years old stalked through the night, searching for a dim glow of civilization, although there was nothing "civilized" about it. He came to what looked like a small military camp, posted just beyond the city limits.
It was 1944, nearly the end of World War 2, a time of mass destruction and more bloodshed than ever before. Innocents were being ripped from their homes and slaughtered. Weapons were being built that could obliterate thousands of living, breathing souls.
The boy stood at the gates to the camp and stared up at the two guards who were guarding it. Someone might think that the guards were there to keep out intruders, but it was really the opposite. They were there to keep prisoners inside.
"You there!" One of the guards shouted at the boy, "How did you get outside?"
The boy shrugged and rolled up his coat sleeve, revealing the numbers that had been tattooed on his arm. 14604 they read, they were the numbers of just another nameless, faceless prisoner, not human anymore, just a number.
The guard laughed and joked, "Looks like our dog finally came back!" He took aim at the boy and fired, as there wasn't any room left and he couldn't let the boy live.
The soldiers aim certainly wasn't off, but for some reason the bullet didn't come out! It was as if he had shot a blank.
"My gun's jammed" The soldier reasoned, then beckoned the other soldier to give it a shot.
The boy just kept standing there, staring calmly at the guards. There was no sign of fear on his face as the other soldier took aim and fired. A loud bang was heard when the soldier fired, but no bullet came out!
Bewildered, the guards suspected that the boy had something to do with their broken guns. So they did the only reasonable thing to do at the moment, open up the gates and take a closer look. This might seem like a terrible mistake, and it truly was, but he was just a boy, the guards reasoned.
As the first guard stepped out of the gate, a knife appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and was lodged in his throat. The boy shimmered, flickered, as if he was a candle or a glitch in the television.
The second guard panicked and started to shout, but his screams were quickly cut off as the knife in the first guard glitched into the second. The boy was there, in front of the second guard, holding the knife in his hands and pushing it into the guards chest, a steady flow of blood staining the soldiers’ shirt.
The two soldiers fell to the ground, dead and lifeless, and the boy took the knife and continued forward. Unfortunately, someone had heard the cry of the guard and the emergency alarm was now blaring through the camp, alerting everyone to the threat.
Despite the intensely loud sirens going off around the camp and the searchlights revealing the boys figure, he stayed blank and calm, his eyes never wavering or glancing around.
As the guards rushed at the boy he gave each and every one of them a calculating glance, then stabbed those who were close enough, effectively killing three or so guards who tried to grab the boy. The guards who were farther away took up their rifles and fired, launching a stream of deadly projectiles.
The boy waved his hand and the bullets slowed down, moving along at a snail's pace. The same flickering could be seen in the bullets also. The boy threw the knife in his hand at one of the guards, who ducked to avoid it. A few seconds later the guard slumped to the ground, the knife had been thrown too fast to avoid.
The rest of the remaining guards held their ground. Their military training refused to let them run away. With a battle cry the boy broke into a run and charged at the guards.
The sound of guns and panicked shouts filled the camp. The steady wail of sirens filled the air as the bodies of soldiers fell to the earth, their blood drenching it a sickly red.
A group of women and children huddled together in their small shelter. It stank with urine and pus, and most, if not all, were infected with some disease. They listened silently to the shouts and gunfire, fearfully squeezing their eyes shut whenever the sounds got too close. After a while, the shouts and guns stopped, and the door to their shelter was swung open.
"You're safe now." the boy said, and walked off to another shelter. He did the same thing to that one too, and another, and another. The scared, tired, and disease ridden people stumbled out of their enclosures, silently lifting up prayers of joy and thanks.
The boy stumbled away from the crowd and walked into an alley. He knelt down on the floor, no longer able to stand. A tear trickled down his face, and his body trembled in grief. He sobbed, then pulled a two way radio out of his coat pocket.
"This place is clear." The boy stated, struggling to keep his emotions out.
There was a sound of shuffling, then a girl at the other end, "Okay... Did you find them?"
Chapter 1 - Realizations
Yarden Hyman hadn't always lived within the cold, damp, ghetto, but he couldn't seem to remember the last time he had a good meal, or even the last time he'd seen a field of grass and flowers. Jews weren't all that appreciated in Europe, especially in Germany during the year of 1939. Everything around him was black and white, covered by thick ash and dust, making everything feel lifeless.
Despite these unfortunate circumstances, Yarden and his family would always focus on those who were in much worse circumstances than they. Even if Yarden's family of four and their cousin, Gabriel, were living in a rickety, rundown, two room shack, the Hymans did their best to care for the sick or elderly. Although the notion of them being better off than others seems impossible, it was true. Children were constantly being orphaned or abandoned, deadly, fast-killing diseases such as typhus, smallpox, and dysentery were as common as a cold, and getting an extra slice of bread was considered a blessing.
Yarden and his cousin Gabriel were busy helping out their neighbors clean off all the mud on clothes that had fallen off of clothes lines. In some places rain falls very lightly, and doesn't come down hard enough or long enough to get anything dirty, but in the ghetto, the rain will go on for hours, even days, sometimes causing dangerous flash floods.
Yarden's hands were completely red, rubbed raw from all of the scrubbing, but still he scrubbed, because there was still another pile of clothes to clean. His brown hair was covered in grime, making his brown eyes appear lighter than they usually do. He had grown to adopt the characteristics of Gabriel, such as sticking to a task until it was finished, and being positive in the midst of negativity.
"When will these piles of clothes ever end?" Gabriel complains, looking with despair at the mountain of muddied clothes that were still left.
"At least it's better than going outside the walls again." Yarden replies, while holding his hands together in an effort to stop the soreness.
Gabriel grumbles underneath his breath and tackles another dirty shirt. "I would have much rather preferred a trip outside than staying here and doing chores" he spat, putting an emphasis on "chores".
The work continued silently throughout the day, until the last sock and the final pair of pants had been cleaned. Near dusk, they decided to go and climb up to the top of the roof to watch the first stars come out.
Yarden and Gabriel tiredly sprawl out on the roof and watch as the sun slowly fades from view.
"The sunset is always so beautiful." Gabriel drawls.
"It's so different from our surroundings inside the walls." Yarden observes. "Do you remember what it was like before all this?" Yarden asks, and gestures to their dreary surroundings.
"Yeah... I remember." Sighs Gabriel, "Everything was so filled with color... and life! Just like this." Gabriel points to the sunset, "The sunset reminds me that even in our darkest hours, there is still some beauty in life."
The two boys fell asleep on the roof that night, dreaming about how things had been, and wishing for them to come back. Life for the Hyman's was a dream, sometimes bad, sometimes good, but sooner or later, they'd wake up.
It is Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat, a day of rest for the Jewish people. The Hyman's gather around their small yet adequate wooden table. Mrs. Hyman lights the Shabbat candles, a tradition that has been passed down through the ages, and they all sing festive songs.
After the singing ends, Mr. Hyman recites a blessing for a single loaf of bread, another tradition which was passed down. The family talks about their week, and laughs about the antics of Noam, the youngest of the family, who took a small pot filled with water and somehow managed to drench everyone's bedding. It hadn't been funny at the time, but looking back at it, everyone seemed to think it was the funniest thing that had ever happened.
The family might not have had much, but they made a livelihood out of what they had. They were content with their situation, and helped those worse off than themselves.
Later on that week, Yarden and Gabriel were running some errands for Mrs. Hyman. They were on a mission to get some clean water from outside the wall. Surprisingly enough, fresh, clean water is not so easy to get within the ghetto.
"It's almost as if they're trying to kill us." Complained Yarden, "Not even giving us enough clean water to drink!"
"Hmm... well, maybe." Confesses Gabriel, "But little do they know that we can go through their little wall. We can get fresh water right from under their noses!" He adds with a smirk.
The pair reach a hole in the wall which they found last week. The boys had gotten bigger and their old hole was too small for them now.
Yarden cautiously looked through the hole before dashing into it. A boy had been caught yesterday outside the wall without permission and had been whipped until nearly unconscious. Yarden and Gabriel didn't want to get caught if they could help it.
Outside of the ghetto, Yarden and Gabriel started walking down the alleyways looking for a water faucet. The war had been tough on all of Poland, but not so tough that they wouldn't give clean water to the common folk. It was only the people who had been forced into ghettos who had been discriminated against.
Upon finding a stray faucet, Gabriel pulled out a leather water pouch that had been hidden inside his shirt. They had filled it up about halfway when they heard angry shouts coming from down the street.
As the shouts got closer, they were able to hear what the commotion was about.
"Please let me go! I was given permission to leave the walls to get food rations for my family!"
"We don't need your kind here! Stay inside the walls and starve for all I care!"
"Die!" One voice shouted.
There was a mob on the streets. Yarden and Gabriel caught a glance of the angered crowd as they passed by the alleyway. There was a man with a yellow star on his shirt who had been picked up and was being carried towards the ghetto. He was strangely familiar, although he was dragged by with such speed that it was hard for Yarden to tell who he was.
"They'll probably just force him back into the ghetto." Gabriel suggested.
Yarden gulped, "Yeah."
After waiting some time within the alley way, Yarden and Gabriel cautiously made their way back inside the ghetto. They took the long way back, and when they arrived at the wall, their hopes of the man being unhurt had been shattered.
The man was Mr. Ilias. He had been beaten and his blood had been used like paint to draw the words "Alle Juden müssen sterben" on the wall.
Yarden gasped in horror and rushed over to the side of Mr. Ilias. "Mr. Ilias! Are you ok? Can you move?"
Gabriel knew what had happened, it was the same thing that had happened to his parents. Mr. Ilias was dead. One look at the old man's eyes told him so. Cold and dead. Just like his parents' eyes had been.
Gabriel sullenly dragged Yarden away from Mr. Ilias. "You can't see this." He kept saying, "You don't want to know."
"What's wrong with Mr. Ilias?!" Yarden panicked, "Is he dead?"
The same words were repeated over and over by the two of them as Gabriel led Yarden back inside the ghetto.
What does "Alle Juden müssen sterben" mean?
All Jews must die.
Chapter 2 - Sent Away
After Mr. Ilias had been beaten to death, life within the ghetto got worse. All of the built up resentment and rage finally came crashing down for those inside the walls. The people inside the ghetto finally woke up to the dangers around them. The walls which had seemed to protect were now the very thing which was stopping them from escaping their infliction.
It had been two days since the fateful event with Mr. Ilias' death, more people had been killed since then. Gabriel said that this had happened before, and after a while the people would calm down and act more humanely, but little did he know that the worst was yet to come.
"Yarden! Gabriel! Come help your family get their things! We need to leave as soon as possible!" Mr. Hyman frantically shouts.
Yarden and Gabriel rush into the house at the sound of Mr. Hyman's excited voice. "What's wrong?" Gabriel asks.
"Some Jewish and SS police are demanding that we evacuate from the ghetto" Mr. Hyman explained, "They said it was urgently needed for reasons of the war economy."
Yarden and Gabriel gather their extra change of clothes and help Mrs. Hyman gather food and cooking utensils for the journey. Yenta, the second youngest, and Noam had been playing outside in the mud and were extremely upset with having to leave their mud sculpture behind.
"Can't we just build it a little more?" Yenta complained.
"Yeah! Our wall is going to be the biggest one in the world!" Noam joined in.
"Sorry guys, I know you don't want to leave your mud wall, but if we don't leave soon we might miss our train!" Consoled Mrs. Hyman, who failed to mention that there would be no chance of them missing it, because if they didn't arrive at the station soon a group of police would be sent to drag them there by force.
"There's a lot more I don't want to leave than just a mud wall." Grumbled Yarden.
The family arrived at the station to be greeted by the faces of others in the same state they were in, startled, excited, even a little bit scared.
"They're going to kill us!" A voice shouted.
"No they're not! If we stay here the people outside will kill us!" Another one said.
Mr. Hyman left to talk to a police officer as the rest of the family wait by one of lamp posts scattered around the station.
"Why do they want to move us?" Yarden whispers underneath his breath.
The younger children cling to their mother, staring at those around them. A short while later, Mr. Hyman returns with a worried look and a flushed face. "They took our house and they're only letting us bring one bag."
"What? But why?" Mrs. Hyman asked.
"I don't know."
Suddenly a group of SS officers surround the people on the loading platform and start to shove them into the train. But they aren't loaded into a passenger car. They're loaded into a wooden box on wheels. Like cattle.
The Hymans realize something doesn't feel right, but by then it's too late. The SS officers drag the family into one of the cars.
"Where are you taking us?" Mrs. Hyman screams.
"Quiet!" An officer behind her shouts.
The family is jammed into the closest train car before any of them can resist. There is no room inside the car to even sit, and everyone is forced to stand and move as little as possible. The train starts, and the shouts of the people around Yarden are drowned out by the sound of the train whistling across the tracks.
The trip takes days, It is filled with the sounds of wailing, men and children alike, with no end. There is no way to use the restroom inside the cattle car, so it soon stinks of urine and feces.
"This is miserable." Yarden tells Gabriel.
"Could be worse."
Yarden gives Gabriel an unamused expression and states, "How?"
"Well, they could have killed us, they're probably just sending us to another ghetto" Gabriel replies.
"How do we know they aren't going to do that by sending us to a concentration camp?" Retorts Yarden. "How long have we been standing here? I'm so tired I could fall asleep standing"
"I did fall asleep standing" Gabriel replies.
Yarden rolls his eyes and shuffles over to the wall of the train car, bumping into several people along the way. He peers through a crack in the wall and tries to make out where they are going. The effort is in vain, all he can see is endless fields of trees and grain, no memorable landmarks in sight.
"24 hours, still no sign of stopping." Yarden sighs.
The train continues on through the night, the steady thudding of the wheels against the track forming a rhythm in Yardens mind as he slips in and out of consciousness.
Then, the train stops.
Chapter 3 - Arrival
The train stopped. The silent whimpers of tired, broken, and wilting people turned into a more desperate scream, some of it from despair, some of it from hope. There was still hope that the ones who had been treating them like rats would turn and look and see, they were also human, created just like them, with lives that mattered just like theirs. But of course, there was no reason for them to hope, they were merely cattle, sent to a farm to be worked until they collapsed, and after they collapsed, slaughtered.
The cries of men, women, and children rung in Yarden's ears as he arose from his stupor. Yarden and Gabriel had been crammed inside the cargo train for two days, time had passed ever so slowly, they had been suffocated from the smell of vomit and urine.
In a daze, the Hyman's were dragged out of the train car by faceless SS troops, who showed no concern for what they were doing to innocent people. They were merely following orders, whatever they were told to do, they did.
Yarden couldn't see himself but after looking at the haggard, tired and hungry forms of those around him, he could guess what he looked like. Gabriel was a mess, his shirt had been stained by the throw up of someone next to him, and he had cuts all across his left arm from being shoved up against the wall of the train car.
Someone who had ridden with them on the train car was cowering on the floor as an SS guard kicked him repeatedly with a metal boot, ordering him to stand up and join the others in the line. Then there was a crack, and a limp, dead body was dragged away.
Mrs. Hyman pulled the family together as they were ushered past a barbed metal fence. Yenta and Noam clung to their mothers clothes, Hanging on as if it were their last rope to their life, and if they let go they would be lost forever.
"Women over there! Men on the other side!" A guard shouted.
"Please don't! He's still a baby! He won't survive on his own!" A woman begged.
"Follow the orders or face strict punishment!" Barked a guard.
"No! Please! My baby!"
Yarden watched as a guard ripped a little boy from the woman's frail arms and tossed him at a man standing next to Gabriel. The woman made an effort to lunge after her son, but the other women in the line pulled her back, fearing what might happen to her if she got back out of line.
The guards pushed the frightened people into bare rooms. Yarden and Gabriel stuck close together for fear of being trampled. "Take off your clothing and put it in that corner!" a guard ordered. Yarden stripped off his sweat and urine stained clothes and followed the others as they got in line to get their hair cut.
Yarden listened to the steady snip snip snip of the clippers and winced whenever they came too close to his head, creating small cuts. He stared at the ground in silence and watched as his and others' hair drifted down, some of it tainted a bit red.
After the haircut, the boys were directed towards another room to take a shower. Gabriel looked around in the crowd for Yarden's familiar brown head of hair, but of course he couldn't find it, because everyone's head now looked the same.
"Yardenl!" Gabriel called. "Yarden, where are you!" He called again, getting slightly frantic now.
"Gabriel? Is that you?" Mr. Hyman asked, anxiously staring into Gabriel's now barely recognizable face.
"Yes Papa, it's me, did you see Yarden while you were getting your haircut?"
Yarden drifted over to the pair and said, "Here I am!"
"Thank goodness you heard us, if you hadn't, there's no way we would have found you in this crowd with everyone looking the same."
When they reached the shower room, they were hit with a cloud of steam and watched as a group of men staggered away in black and white pajamas. The men who staggered away were boiled raw, and Yarden asked, "Why is their skin so red?"
"I don't know, but I think we're about to find out." Mr. Hyman guessed.
Yarden, Mr. Hyman and Gabriel followed those ahead of them into a shower stall.
"Ow!" Yarden shouted when boiling hot water came spurting out of a rusty shower head. He wasn't the only one who was shouting, his cries of pain were joined by a chorus of shouts and moans from those around him. The water pelted on their skin like acid, turning it bright red and making it swell up.
At first Yarden felt as though his entire body was on fire, but slowly his pain ebbed away and he lost the feeling in his body, everything just felt numb. He shut his eyes in an effort to stop the acid-like water from burning his eyes too.
The shower ended and Yarden was slowly able to feel again, and with that feeling, an intense throbbing pain wracked through his body. A soldier yanked the shower door open and tossed in a bundle of clothes, then he ordered them to get dressed.
Yarden tried to get the paper thin black and white pajamas on, but he lost the strength in his legs and fell over. Gabriel and Mr. Hyman helped stand him upright and then finished getting them on.
A guard orders the men in a line and tattoos a number on their arms. Yarden doesn't even feel the sharp knife piercing his flesh because he's still burning from the shower. He was no longer a person with a name or face, just a number.
They were sent to their barracks, a long room with groups of double decker beds with thin straw mattresses on top. After doing the Shema, an ancient bedtime prayer that has been passed down for generations, they settled down on their hay mats, shivering from the cold and drifting in and out of sleep.
So began their monotonous and strangling life in the concentration camp. Everyday it was the same, tiring, laborious work as it had been before. First they were startled awake by the guards. then they marched out to morning roll call, where they stood in silence for hours on end, then worked in the factories, always hauling something from one place to another.
The first bath they had in the camp was certainly not the most pleasant, but at least they were clean, all the water they had now was tainted with rust and poisoned with diseases. The daily rations they had in the ghetto are a feast compared to the food they got in the labor camp. Mr. Hyman was fearful for his wife, he hadn't seen her ever since they were separated upon entering the camp.
Each day they grow more and more tired, weary, and sickly. Each day they do the same backbreaking work, and slowly, bit by bit, those who work with them start to drop dead, finally embracing their cruel fate. Some die from malaria, others die from torture. Never before had the young, the old, the rich and the poor shared a fate like this.
Life in the ghetto had been tough yet survivable, here, they were slowly being pushed towards death, with each day forcing them closer and closer to their inevitable fate. A year passes, but no one remembers Yarden's birthday, what happened on that day, or even what month it happened in. Yarden himself didn't remember the day he turned eleven. Gabriel is now fourteen, but without a calendar to keep track of the date, no one knows.
One day, while Yarden and Gabriel, tired and weary, are standing at morning roll call, something new happens.