By Charlene Schiff
I was in the water up to my neck. The water was cold. We were hiding in the bulrushes and I knew we could not move. It was very quiet and any sound would give us away. Mama gave me some soggy bread. It tasted awful, but she insisted I had to eat it to keep strong. I was tired and wet. The night was dark and dawn came suddenly. In the light of day we saw that many other people from the ghetto had made their way to the river. Shots, which had been sporadic during the night, became more regular now. The Ukrainian guards kept yelling “Come out Jew, I can see you,” and most of the people were doing just that.
Mama kept whispering to me to stay put and not to make any sound. Days passed in confusion. Shots kept coming, seemingly from every direction. It was hard to remain quiet while listening to screams and cries and watching fire and smoke coming from the ghetto.
“When are we going to cross the river, Mama?” I wanted to know. Mama tried to keep me calm and assured me that we could cross the river as soon as the Ukrainians and Germans left. “When will that be?” I asked rather impatiently. After all I was only 11 years old. “Soon, my sweet child, soon,” Mama replied. “At that time we will make our way to the farm of the K. family,” Mama explained.
Farmer K. had promised to hide Mama and me. We knew his family. We used to buy dairy products from them before the war. It was very tiring to stand in the river and at times I dozed off leaning on the bulrushes. One horrible moment I woke up and Mama was nowhere in sight. I was terrified, all alone, lost. I felt betrayed and guilty for falling asleep. I felt like screaming and crying for Mama, but could do neither. By evening, all had become quiet.
I thought Mama had not been able to wake me and had made her way to the farm where she would be waiting for me. I crossed the river and walked until I reached the farmer’s place. He greeted me in the barn like a stranger who was not welcome at all. He would not even let me in the house. I noticed Papa’s gold pocket watch and chain dangling from his dirty coveralls. He told me my Mama was not there. I never saw my mother again.
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