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Did He Know I Was Jewish?

By Julie Keefer

A gentle breeze rustles the leaves. It is sunny and warm. The sun hits my face with a warm glow. Babcia (“Grandma” in Polish) digs for a potato or carrot in a picked-over patch of land. I scamper after her. I catch up with her, pull at her skirt to get her to play with me. She sighs, wrinkles her forehead, but agrees to pick dandelions with me. We both pick dandelions. She sits with me and makes me a wreath of dandelions. I wear it proudly. The smell of violets, wet leaves, and damp earth fills the air. Babcia continues to look for food. I try to follow her but my eyelids start to droop, and I begin to feel heavy; my steps become more and more sluggish. I fall asleep. Babcia goes back to the house. She stands outside with Mrs. Schwarczinski.

Am I dreaming that someone is carrying me or is it real? A Nazi soldier is carrying me to the house. As he nears the house with me in his arms, Babcia opens her mouth to scream. She is sure that he has killed me and is bringing back my dead body. Mrs. Schwarczinski covers Babcia’s mouth to keep her from crying out. The soldier explains in German that he misses his children back home and that I remind him of them. He found me sleeping in the meadow and was bringing me to the nearest house.

I jerk awake. I am three years old, a wilted wreath on my head, my old coat half-buttoned, shoes that are too large on my feet. I am smiling. He takes my picture. Did he know I was Jewish? Or was he just oblivious? Did he see a happy child—any child—naïve and dreamy? This is how I choose to remember him. Somehow he developed the picture and got it to Babcia. She hid it until the end of the war. It is the earliest photograph of me that exists. I have it today.

© 2016 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.