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< Echoes of Memory

Despair and Happiness

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by Agi Geva

How can the same day be the worst and the best?

A gloomy day that could not have been worse, more hopeless, turned into a day of happiness that cannot be measured.

The morning was as usual as any had been the prior few months: the opposite of a morning of any normal human being when a day starts fresh after a night’s sleep.

My day was different. I just ended a whole night’s march and started the day by entering a barn with the intention of getting some rest and possibly sleep. We were not supposed to be seen by the villagers during the day.

I was so tired and exhausted that thirst and hunger became secondary considerations. I fell on the straw, but the hunger pangs woke me soon. My fellow prisoners found some raw potatoes and cabbage in the back of the barn. The guards brought in some milk and bread that they distributed among us.

I was scared at the thought of walking again when night came, in the cold, being so thirsty and hungry.

It was the worst night of my whole imprisonment.

It was very cold and very windy. We walked through stony terrain, crossed shallow rivers paved with sharp pebbles and rocks. My feet were bleeding. The rags bound around them started to come apart. I was frozen and my motions became automatic. I started to cry for the first time since the death march started. 

Out of consideration for Mother and Shosha, I had tried not to show any negative feelings or emotions until then.

The guards kept yelling, “los, los” (quicker). “We have to get to the station to catch the train and then you can all sit down.”

We were guarded by a female officer, a male officer, and six soldiers.

I did not care anymore. I just sat down and announced that I was going to stay right where I was. I could not get up, I could not walk anymore. I could not stop crying.

I felt someone lifting me, half carrying me. It was the German female officer. “The station is not so far away; you have to keep on going,” she kept saying.

There was a rumor that the Germans wanted us to get to the station quickly as the train was thought to have guns and a written order to execute us.

I really didn’t care anymore and kept on sitting down, desperately repeating that I couldn’t walk.

Eventually we got to the station.

The train was gone. We saw that the two German officers were given some white envelopes.

Later we found out that the envelopes contained false documents, passes, to cross the border into Switzerland.

We were sent back to the forest.

Everyone was desperate, exhausted, and disappointed that we would not continue by train.

Then someone called out, “Look, there are no guards around.”

It was dark, but the guards had always been visible and were heard even in the dark. It was true though—they were no longer around us.

Then the Polish Lagerälteste (a camp inmate put in charge of other inmates) gathered us around her and said, “You should know this, that from this day, April 28, 1945, you are free.” 

Mother looked for us, found us, hugged us, and kept us close to her. I cannot remember whether she said anything at that moment.

I stopped crying.

It started to make sense.

I was free. But was I really?

It seemed like a miracle, magic.

I felt an indescribable relief, a cocktail of happiness.

I felt such gratitude.

There was hope and joy again.

Ever since then I never missed a day appreciating my freedom and saying a silent prayer for it.

© 2019, Agi Geva. 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.

Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 12agi geva

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