November 01, 2017
by Julie Keefer
It is 1948. I am seven years old. The sun is shining, violets perfume the air, tall grasses sway in the breeze, and the sun warms my face. I am holding hands with Dziadzio and Babcia. I’m skipping. I am alternately smiling and giggling when I hold up my arms and force Dziadzio and Babcia to carry me. Dziadzio is home from the hospital in the Alps. I am happy. I feel safe. Suddenly, my eyes are drawn toward a high, metal fence like the ones used in prisons but without the studded, rolled wire on top.
Forcing their noses into the holes in the fence, children about my age with large, misty eyes stare longingly at us. They look like caged animals yearning to be free. A sign identifies the building as a Catholic orphanage. I stop, grab Dziadzio’s huge hand, stand on tiptoe, and stare into his hazel eyes. “Dziadzio, promise me that you’ll never put me into that place.”
“Yes, Julitchka, I promise.” My huge, strong, loving grandfather has been the pillar of my life during World War II in Poland and later through our last displaced persons camp in Austria.
The following week, Dziadzio and Babcia take me to the Catholic orphanage we had seen before and leave me there. I am being sent to America—the youngest of a group of orphans. Suddenly, my world is turned on its head. The person I love and trust most in the world has deceived me. He promised that he would not leave me, but he has. He’s broken his word. I cannot understand what terrible things I’ve done to make him abandon me. I cry constantly until no tears are left. I stop eating. I want to stop living. No one wants me. My parents are dead. My baby sister is lost. And, even my Dziadziu doesn’t want me. Why live? I become weak and frail.
One day I hear a nun murmur to another in German, “We had better contact her grandfather. She’s fading away and might die.”
I loved and trusted my grandfather, but he has sent me away. He betrayed me. Now I am all alone. I feel worthless, unloved, abandoned—a bad person who should not be alive. I am seven years old. I am being sent to America.
©2017, Julie Keefer. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.
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