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In her silence she tries to understand the hatred that surrounds her.
As soon as the human cruelty surfaces in some part of the globe... The wound is opening once again. The memory of the tower's humidity and darkness brings back her childhood's terror. This helpless creature, just freed from her diapers, had decided that she would never hate, yet the sight of the swollen faces of hungry children stirs her conscience and brings back the burning memory.
Brusquely closed window, a half open door, the painful memory arises from the omnipresent death, from the immense emptiness of the substitutions imprinted in foreign languages in which she is going to be. The path of impossible love..., from life into oblivion.The daily routine of emptiness ...With hidden words and deceptive looks. The wound so deeply buried, that nothing can heal its pain.
A panic-stricken hand covers her mouth... She's choking... The sobs shake her thinned and aching body. He cuddles her and whispers: sleep my little Gutele. Her guts are churned by hunger and the cold. She's sobbing very softly... Mamele... The huge rats are crawling in this narrow and twirling staircase. It fills her with dread. She faints and wakens elsewhere.
A strident scream traversed the silence of the dark and chilly night, an abysmal sob accompanied the bundle that was thrown over the wall. Someone was waiting for her down there. He ran as fast as he could to hide in the adjacent dark courtyard.
A fat lady muttering strange words leans over her ... She gives her hot milk, but gets angry when Gutele babbles: Kaka... Kaka... Shut up, you're going to get killed, whispers a frightened Bronia.
Where am I? Where's my daddy? There was also a baby who cried... And Mamele!! Where is she? Panic is tearing Gutele's guts. Confusion settles in.
This first word abruptly snatched away, this "kaka" in Yiddish that could never be replaced by "gawno" in Polish, made this bewildered child believe that she could not show her behind with pride. Forgotten and despised, deprived of love, her tarnished body will claim its repossession.
Suffocated Rachel collapsed on the narrow bed. Hana holds her tight but cannot pretend anymore. They know... What have we done to deserve so much suffering? Let's pray to God to protect them.
At the "Kopernik" camp, they do not even go out to work. It's more and more difficult to find fresh supplies. The inhabitants of the city of Minsk Mazowiecki succeed sometimes in bribing the guards and to pass some food. Typhus is spreading rapidly and the Gestapo's visits are more frequent, almost daily. Today, they summarily shot the two sick prisoners. News from the outside are terrifying. The dead can be counted by the thousands and there is little hope of surviving.
The few survivors from deportation to Treblinka continue to join the only location where they still have some relatives. Those who are not on the lists of the workers assigned to the Wehrmacht, are shot on a daily basis, and the "illegals" hide in attics, cellars and warehouses.
The children, the first ones to be banned from these miserable premises, sleep exhausted in innermost recesses. Their cries are silenced with no mercy.
Those who came out of their hiding places in the city and from the forest speak about the pernicious and fearful behavior of the "Aryan" population. It leaves very little chance of surviving outside of the two remaining labor camps. The 280 specialized workers employed by the Wehrmacht, authorized to reside in the Kopernik camp were constantly harassed by the Gestapo aware of the arrival of the "illegals"' especially the women and children of these workers. The SS tried to convince the Wehrmacht to give up these slaves.
The deprivations are such that only death would ease their suffering. Those who have some lucidity do not discuss if or when they're going to die, but only the "how" that remains unknown.
Timidly, the idea of a resistance was coming to the fore. Not to survive, but rather to die as fast as possible, with some dignity. According to the most recent rumors, a network of resistance had been formed in the Rudzki factory where 150 other survivors had succeeded in establishing a liaison with the world of the living.
Some villagers remember the horror and cruelty of the SS, Ukrainian and Lithuanian fascist guards who amused themselves by shooting and smashing the heads of little children on electric posts and the portals of the adjacent church during the liquidation of the Ghetto, a day of torrid heat in the end of August 1942.
Indeed, some help is slowly getting organized. The boys can hardly be placed. The babies have more luck and are entrusted to "Aryan" peasants or villagers in the surroundings of Minsk Mazowiecki. The priest and the notary of the city courageously provide fake certificates of baptism and exercise a discrete pressure on the ones who are ready to defy the threat and constant surveillance of the ss and their collaborators. The death penalty weighs heavily on the slim efforts made to take out the few children from the infernal of the Kopernik camp.
What can we hope for the few children placed outside this only place where a handful of Jews who remained alive after this horrendous liquidation "Aktion" at the Ghetto of Minsk Mazowiecki?
Gutele grounds herself under the bed and does not want to go out despite the smell of fresh bread that is shown to attract her outside. With her terrified eyes she observes others with a desperate intensity full of unanswered questions. They talk to her slowly, reassuringly, but she stays clamped to her fear. Jozio's heart wrings with compassion. He talks to her so gently that the child starts to sob silently with so much sadness, that Jozio cannot any longer hold his tears and accompanies Gutele in her sorrow. The child gives in, and with a pounding heart, she curls up against Jozio's slimmed chest. Bronia tries to wash her face but the child refuses to release her protector who is melting with tenderness for this disarming smeared face. Worn out, Gutele falls asleep in the arms of Jozio.
Rachel is crushed by the separation with her babies. Jozio manages to give her some news from Moshe, her husband, who is hiding in the hydraulic tower somewhere in town.
The circulation of any information is dangerous but Jozio, employed by a phone company under German control, has a pass and succeeds in bribing the German guards with money and vodka bottles. He even managed to spot a "Fritz" who seems friendly. His intuition is right. His "Fritz" will help him to get out of trouble many other times.
In the middle of the night of the 1Oth of December, the SS order the residents to get out of the camp. 150 of them will be sent to Kaluszyn, a small town close to Minsk Maz, to catch up the wagons for Treblinka a few days later. Some other "illegals" are shot on the spot. Rachel escapes death once again. Her hiding place was not found by the officers who do not risk venturing in the warehouses where she hides with her sister Hana. They feel the breeze of death getting closer and closer.
Esther, her six¥month baby was entrusted in the hands of a woman in the surroundings of Minsk Maz. Gutele, her two¥year old daughter, is a couple of streets away from the camp and Rachel wants to see her so much that this thought obsesses her and hence she forgets everything else. Rachel is going to try to meet gutele and moshe. Nothing else... Nothing matters.
Jozio is going to arrange this meeting at his home, ignoring the danger of death. Fritz will help him...
They arrive like shadows in this room darkened by menace. The child wakens and stares wide-eyed, thinking that she's dreaming this unbelievable luck of curling up in Mamele's arms. She is squeezing Moshe's hand so firmly, that her body trembles like a leaf on this stormy day. Gutele is in heaven... They are here. They kiss her so tenderly that her cheeks are inflamed with happiness.
Mom will stay a few days with Gutele. Moshe will leave the next day with Jozio to join his brothers in the Ghetto of Warsaw. There, they are going to seek a solution because the camps of Minsk Maz. seem definitely doomed.
The following day they will enter the Ghetto of Warsaw. Jozio straight by the gate, with his telephonist's cap, and Moshe disguised as a Polish peasant, will jump from the running tramcar.
Rachel forgets the danger for a moment. She washes her beautiful blond hair, and scrubs her body that is aching from anguish and deprivation of the last three months of flight and clandestiny. Gutele doesn't leave her for a second. She follows her, hangs unto her skirt, and babbles constantly. Time stops... Only the present counts. Do not think about the future...
The day went by so fast that the arrival of Jozio and Bronia seems premature. Rachel explains to Gutele that aunt Bronia and uncle Jozio will take care of her for a couple more days and that she and Moshe will come back soon. Rachel makes her promise to be a good girl and obey her guardians. She's so gentle and persuasive and Gutele loves her mom Rachel so much. How could she not believe her!!!
Rachel lays her magnificent green eyes on the child with such an intense love that it will outlive her absence and accompany Gutele in her dreams, all her life, chasing away the nightmares. Rachel believes in her promise to come back.
Outside, quickened steps burst this bubble of survival, this last breath of life. The bubble will be perforated and plunged into the darkness. The SS officers knock on the kitchen door. Rachel escapes through the window of the living room, after shoving Gutele behind a closet. The window collapses into this cold night of December.
They will not find them. But they threaten to come again soon. Jozio shivers all over and bronia turns pale with fear.
Gutele holds her breath. She knows how to recognize danger. She has been hidden so many times : in the humid tower with the crawling rats, in the dark cellars full of cockroaches, behind beds and cupboards. Her instincts are acute and Gutele will not move.
She decides to obey her guardians in order to join her mom and daddy. The desperate message of Rachel stands the test. Gutele, like a good girl, will wait for her a mom, with tenacity, all her life.
Rachel passed through the hole in the wall to reach her hiding place inside the camp. Hana shyly attempted to calm her fear but she was already burning with a fever.
On Christmas Eve, the 218 residents of Kopernik were shot by the SS. The others were awaiting their approaching end. Rachel was delirious... She was perceiving a world full of grace and gentleness. Only love dominated her last dreams. Moshe was with her playing with the girls. Her mom Golda was at her side caressing Gutele's curly hair. She was herself holding her beloved baby Esther while her daddy Nahum, was watching his grand¥children tenderly. There was no violence nor injustice in her last dreams.
Typhus, an ordeal in Rachel's last days, allowed her to dream of a glorious future that would fulfill her wishes of good life, heal her maternal wounds, and sweep away this terrible fate for no reason other than the insanity of humans, hate and cruelty. The fever chased away the turpitude, swept away the dread, and erased the horror... Especially the one that engulfed the camp of Kopernik on the morning of the 1Oth of January 1943.
Everybody has understood that no one will escape this time. The 30 prisoners, dragged out by the SS officers, attacked their jailers. Hanoch has thrown a piece of steel on their heads, Menashe has slashed his torturer with scissors and Icchok has sunk his teeth in the throat of his executioner. They have tried to defend their honor with their bare hands.
Nobody else wanted to answer the call of the SS. They refused to exit the building, thereby defying their assassins. You will step on our cadavers, the prisoners were shouting breathlessly. They threw everything that could harm these fascist automates. The scrap, rocks, and any hard object thrown out of windows by these desperate hands, sharpened the anger of the SS who encircled them with submachine guns and started to throw explosive charges into the buildings of the camp.
An inhuman scream invaded the space, burning mutilated corpses were flying in every direction. The machine guns pierced the ones who tried to flee the ones. Moshe Goldstein grabbed his Torah saved from e destroyed Shul, while reciting with a sob "Shmah Gael" for his absent God. It was his last prayer. Esther ~ffman danced in the flames as if she were possessed the grief of leaving orphan her unique son Lolek.
Hana tried to jump from the second floor, her young body who hung unto the window, half burnt, half pierced by bullets, has haunted for a long time the habitants of Minsk Mazowiecki who were forced to admire "the show."
Rachel and all others sunk into the abyss, into oblivion. Their ashes are still there, floating in the foul air.
Jozio and Bronia assisted to the spectacle of the burnt corpses They watched, powerless, this horrible Massacre. They went back to Gutele full of rage and sadness. Gutele understood that she would see her mother only in her dreams. Despite despair, she has not forgotten her promise and continued to... obey Jozio and Bronia, even when her daddy Moshe did not come to get her, as promised. He perished in the Warsaw Ghetto three months later.
When Bronia was imprisoned, and Gutele was hiding in the cave, Jozio was unwillingly selling many of his belongings to bribe the Gestapo chief. Everyone had suspected Theodore, who could have betrayed them cause of some unfinished succession dispute with Jozio.
When Bronia was freed, they decided that it was better for them to leave the city, to protect the little one and also their own lives were in danger. They did not doubt that these terrible times would come to an end, soon. They were walking and running, fleeing the bombs, tanks, greed, and human wickedness. They knew that their own relatives and neighbors did not particularly appreciate their love for this child taken out of hell that fell upon their land.
Gutele who became Genia, wanted to forget her family and people.
Damned those unfortunates. They have been pushed into the bottom of the abyss. Their non¥buried ashes are still floating in this land, guilty of not loving them: And the assassins will go largely unpunished because of indifference and lies of those who stayed alive.
The survivors were not even able to cry. Their complaints disturb the hypocrite order of the world since humans chose to ignore their own madness. They confuse the dream with the nightmare and make it disappear.
Gutele is still waiting for her mom to come back. Will she?
Only a washed out commemorative plate on the rebuilt primary school, hidden in a corner of her village reminds the lost dreams of Rachel and Gutele.
Translated from French by Patricia Benezra, Ottawa October 94
Graveyard of my "Shtetl"
Floating in a foul air
Their immolated bodies
Stay forever there
Half a century
I bore my intense grief
Of such a tragic absence
For no reason for it
I rejected this pain
So impossible to scream
In other lands where I went
Under pretence to live
Myosotis among trash
Sole like a moon