Written by Heimiti Beziac
“Montez dans le train et dépêchez-vous!”: “Hurry up and get on the train!” - French
“Steige schnell aus!”: "Get out quickly!" - German
‘Arbeit Macht Frei’: ‘Work sets you free’ - German
“Bewege dich jetzt!”: “Move now!” - German
I have always watched over her and listened to her prayers. ‘Why do I not help all those sinless souls in need if I claim to love all, even the wicked?’ The unknown answer to that question stops many from believing in me. I have created men and women not only for my glory, but also to share the beauty of my power with them, to see an evolution of life. She knows that. But her heart is too pure for such cruelty that resides in the world. She is one in a million innocent souls to have suffered the same fate… Yet, here she stands. Her charm invades her surroundings, where too much blood has been spilt over those haunting years. The first orange rays pour through her fingers as the brightness of the sun shines over the boundless horizon. She breathes through the ocean’s salt, lingering in the air. The soft breeze brushes through her hair, tinted by the first rain of autumn. She looks up to see the milky clouds that gracefully dance in the painted sky. “They watch over me…” She whispers quietly to herself. The waves wrinkle towards her melodically and enrobe her feet, offering her tender chills playfully running up and down her spine. She crushes the delicate grains of cold sand under her toes, retaining the essence of history. “These dark days will sully our nation’s history forever. 74 trains will travel to Auschwitz; 76,000 French Jews will not return.” She hears the radio speaker’s voice echo in her head. Her lips compress together as she frowns painfully. I can see those agonising memories running back to her.
'Lucie?' I could hear my mother’s voice echo in my mind. The blinding light above my head blurs my vision. Slowly, I can perceive her with my little brother buried in her arms, grasping her floral gown.
'Lucie get up! You and Jacques need to hide!' Her large azure eyes widen as she frowns. Fear is written all over her… Adrenaline kicks in, she grabs my hand and leads us to the wardrobe. Her hands tremble as she tries to fit the rusty key inside.
'Mama what’s happeni-' Suddenly, a heavy sound drops on the parquet floor. The crippled wooden door had given up on trying to protect us. A man dressed in a navy blue costume rushes inside the room. He lifts his enormous hand with his broad fingers to pull hard on my mother’s hair, as Jacques falls to the ground. I crawl to cover him as mother screams and begs for mercy.
'Please, do whatever you want to me but you leave my children alone! They are too young! If you are looking for my husband, he isn’t here!' Helplessness grows inside me as I tighten my cold hands on Jacques’ eyes. I feel the warmth of his tears drip on my neck.
'Please stop! Let go of our mother!' The man looks at me furiously to slowly loosen his grip, as my mother’s brown curls bounce away from his broad fingers. She lets out a painful cry as she drops to her knees to embrace us. After having checked under every bed and curtain, he finally speaks with a hoarse voice
'Hurry up, you have five minutes to pack only your essentials.' His cold blue eyes pierce through mine one last time as he turns around to await us by the door. I couldn’t believe this was happening, we were being forced out of our home. I look at my pale hands and pinch my skin as I think to myself: “Wake up, this is just another nightmare!” In vain, I open my eyes and look around as mother dresses Jacques with his Sunday outfit.
'Come here darling, I want you to wear the dress Dad and I were going to give you for your 17th birthday. He would also like you to do so right now. They will not take our dignity away from us!' She hands me an elegant white laced dress.
'Mama, this is beautiful. Thank you so much… To you and daddy.' Father must still be hidden in the caves. At least I could only hope for that… I feel melancholy tingling up my nose as I slip it on, hoping this torment ends soon.
We walk through Paris in this canicule on the 17th July 1942, to reach the Vélodrome d’Hiver. All people around me are afraid and enraged by this injustice. In chaos, we walk through the entrance to see a gigantic stadium, more cramped than I could’ve ever imagined. My eyes are stinging from the putrid smell that fills my nostrils. We push through the crowd to find an empty spot on the wooden bench. The aridity in my throat is intensifying. All I see when I look around are families holding each other, asleep or crying from exhaustion and fear. I wonder how long they had been there for, what their lives were like before then? Why is this happening to us? ‘God if you can hear me, please give us the courage needed to get through this and forgive us for the terrible sins we seem to have committed, as Jews.’ Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I see a body falling from the floor above us. The noise of her body’s drop covered the voices of the thousands of people surrounding it. Mother screams as she covers Jacques’s eyes.
'Is this what they want? They lock us up in here for us to go insane.' She shivers hysterically, her teeth and fists clenched from terror. Gently, I caress her hair to calm her down.
'It’s okay mama, we’re going to be okay. We just have to stay strong and not give in like they want us to.' Shocked, I couldn’t help but stare at the life slowly pouring out of the lady’s weak body, staining the filthy floor. Would we get this desperate that we would want to die this way too?
'Lucie! Tamara! Jacques!' I turn around to see my father running to us. His smile broadens to show his immense relief. His hair is dark like the sea at night. His eyes are so green they remind me of the grass that grows through the dusty snow to show that a new beginning will be given to us. Jumping into each other’s arms, our deep breaths free from our lungs. I can feel fatigue weighing down on me to my discontent. In vain, I give in to my natural urge and fall into a deep, irrevocable sleep.
'Kauffmann Samuel. Kauffmann Tamara. Kauffman Jacques. Kauffman Lucie.' The blinding light blurs my vision again but this time, it doesn’t seem to go away. I feel icy in this insurmountable heat, my body shivers and cold sweats run down my back. My head is pounding brutally; I cannot think straight. I feel someone carrying me and confusion settling in. 'Montez dans le train et dépêchez-vous!' People are pushing us around trying to get through. The train wagon was completely dark, there was no light to be seen.
'Lucie, I’m sorry darling but you will have to stand there is no space to sit in here.' The putrid smell fills my nostrils again. Abruptly, obscurity drapes around us, it seems as if bliss had become unattainable.
'74 trains will travel to Auschwitz; 76,000 French Jews will not return.' The young woman slowly lifts up her sleeve. Her gaze is haunted by ‘A-15510’, the number engraved in her porcelain skin, her given identity back in 1942. Pearl-shaped drops rolled down her rosy cheeks as she rubs her skin vigorously with the wet grains of sand to make it disappear…
The screeching of the train pierces my eardrums. Anxiety rushes inside me as the wooden doors squeal open by the German SS. 'Steige schnell aus!' Refusing to let go of each other, we firmly link hands together. The aggressive dogs’ barks terrify me. As soon as my foot touches this unholy ground, a robust man grabs onto my arm and mother’s to push us away. Jacques falls in the muck and screams in pain.
'Daddy! Jacques!' Anger and poignancy ache all over my body. I run back as fast as my frail legs can take me and kiss Jacques and father goodbye.
'I love you, please take care...' Jacques sobs as he holds my neck tightly. 'Lucie stay with me!' Father lifts his tiny body and kisses mother one last time. Suddenly, I see two other hefty men coming after us to separate father and Jacques. 'NO! This is my son!' Father resists against the man with all his strength but in vain, as I hear Jacques’s agonizing cries in the distance.
As her secretive and wild mind wanders, she fondles with her silky golden strands of hair. Her hazel eyes, puffed by grief contemplate her surroundings. She is overwhelmed by the pain and beauty that this place preserves. Tempted by new horizons, the young woman seeks an escape from her bitter past…
'Arbeit Macht Frei’ A crooked sign stands above our heads. Work makes one free? They tear each family apart, torture us and force our dignity away from us to call this freedom? I stare at mother. Every part of her looks empty. An endless stream flows on her livid cheeks. It pains me to see her so miserable.
'Mama, we will all get through this. I am here with you and we are going to fight hard for daddy and Jacques.' Her eyes stare into mine. I see her lips trembling with sorrow.
'Bewege dich jetzt!' The atrocious burring tone of the metallic gates throbs in my ears. I feel my heart sinking in my chest. This place reeks of misery. The somber clouds hanging over us thicken as they absorb each heartbreak. Those demonic angels mask the golden rays we all long for. We shuffle quickly into a cold building where a few women dressed in filthy rags and tatters await us. Their hair is tied back and covered under greasy fabric. One of them snatches my arm and slams it on the wooden table. She takes a pen and digs it under my porcelain skin. Blood gushes out of each symbol she carves.
'I hope you realise that you will probably never see your father and brothers again, they have probably already been executed for all I care!' Mother leans my head on her heart for comfort, but I don’t care about what that woman says. I know she is wrong… God is watching us, I feel his presence. I know he will protect us. My skin burns as she wipes the blood off with a stained cloth. ‘A-15510’ That woman who has so much hate dwelling inside her, has given me a belittled identity. An identity that is unknown to all, including me. By the wooden table, another sits with a barrel between her legs. Her obsessive glare migrates from diamond necklaces to silver bracelets, stroking the valuables gently. Until, her gaze travels up to meet mother’s wedding ring. Mother’s eyes fill with salted drops as her right thumb and index slowly slip the proof of my parent’s love off her slender finger. The gold shines in the sickly yellow light one last time before getting lost in the filled barrel, cemented by a greedy embrace. “Take your clothes off!” Heatwaves come smashing against me. A big oven burns a pile of beloved garments. Melancholy runs back to me as I slip my elegant white-laced dress off, to throw it in the devouring flames. I hunch over quickly to sit on the wooden chair, where a man’s vigorous grip jerks my hair back and with a ‘snap’ of a rusty pair of scissors, my blonde strands tumble down my back. I feel humiliation weighing in every part of my body, his claws scraping my fragile skin. I see mother from the corner of my eye, harmed by her own vulnerability. Her chestnut curls slide down her body to rest on the foul floor, hidden by the dust. I feel the chilly gust skimming my naked scalp. Suddenly, the man throws an ensemble for me to put on. A rotten smell from the used fabric follows his gesture as I cough in disgust. I can already picture myself as a sickly thin prisoner wearing rotten striped pyjamas, working to become a free woman.
She wraps a golden strand of hair on her ring finger and kisses it softly, the rest spiraling into the petite waves. She lets herself fall onto the cold wet sand. The shells tingle the tip of her toes. Her heartbeat slows and echoes in her mind like a clock’s ticks. '76,000 French Jews will not return.'
The dark blue sky is filled with lustrous stars. I look over in the tight bunk to see mother unceasingly shaking. 'Mama? Are you okay?' She slowly moves her body towards me and caresses my cheek. 'Just know that I am so proud of you and the beautiful woman you’ve become.' My chest vibrates as my pulse quickens.
'Please don’t say that Mama, don’t say that like you are about to leave me. I can’t do this without-'
'Yes you can, you must. I am too weak to fight and if I am to go soon, I want to die knowing you will fight with everything in you.' I feel a million tiny blades penetrating me. The warmth of my tears stings my nose as I bury her in my brittle arms. 'I love you Mama. I promise I won’t give in…' I kiss her forehead ashened by death, her chapped lips eternally smiling.
Be careful darling don’t go too far!' Comfort comes to the young woman’s heartache as she sees her child giggling away, chasing the deafening seagulls. She smiles faintly as she feels an abundance of gratefulness fill her beating heart. The dancing clouds become stagnant in the painted sky, awaiting for more remembrances. 'God are you there?'
The icy wind blew over me as my old rags hung from my neck. As I run my fingers down my body, my eyelashes brimmed with many tears. I am a skeleton, a walking pile of bones. 'God please give me the strength I need, I beg you. I promised my mother.'
I keep walking in the frozen muck, imploring the Lord for a crumb of bread. Suddenly, through the barbwire I see two German soldiers pointing their guns to a man’s head, leading him to the ‘Death Wall’. I drag myself closer to it and see a familiar face. His hair is dark like the sea at night. His eyes are so green eyes they remind me of the grass that grows through the dusty snow, like cypresses mocking Mother Nature with their eternal green coats. It was my father they had condemned for a humiliating end.
'God, are you there? Please help us!' Instantly, his gaze crossed mine. He managed a smile through his fatigue and mouthed: 'Don’t give in Lucie, we love you…' The soldier pushed father against the bloody wall, when the noise of a trigger deafens the atmosphere. All the birds in the nearby trees flew away, chased by death. The sound of my scream melts, tortured by melancholy. My body collapses and despite being chilled to the bone; all I can do is grieve…
'I don’t know what will become of me but God, I trust you will decide my fate and not let these demons forge my destiny…'
'Mama?' Lucie takes her daughter’s hand and kisses it with tenderness. There is an alluring twinkle that persists in her slanting green eyes, so green they reminded me of my father’s. Her chestnut curls bounced over her forehead as she leans over to embrace me with her chubby arms.
'I love you my little miracle, my beautiful Jacqueline.' She walks along the historic beach in Normandy, holding her child’s hand, ready to live and grow in a world where ugliness can turn into true beauty.
Dearest Lucie. I know you now understand that the sinless souls that have left the Earth I have always loved. The unknown answer you so longed for lies deep within your heart. People do not die to fill the heavens, they die to live in a better place, to let others remember them and experience the miracles of life. Miracles that can only be seen by the ones who aren’t condemned to repeat the past…