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< Echoes of Memory

Don’t Ask for Soap


By Charlene Schiff

It was a gloomy winter morning in the ghetto. The loud speaker was sending information of interest to us. “Today we need children for light work. Congregate in the market square. A Selektion will take place in half an hour.”

Mama was always uneasy about my volunteering whenever such announcements occurred. She knew that sometimes workers reported for duty and were never seen again. The few times I was lucky to be selected I returned home safe, with extra food.

The work was usually indoors, in warm rooms, and the workers in the kitchens, who were not Germans, were quite generous in rewarding us with food to take home. Mama reluctantly gave me her permission to go to the market square.

Eight of us were selected. We were marched to the administration section of town. I was assigned to scrub office floors, peel lots of potatoes, and polish about 30 pairs of men’s boots. I was in a building that I believe had been a hospital before the war. Being indoors in a warm place and knowing there would be food to take home made the work almost pleasant.

At the end of a full day, all eight of the children met in a large room adjoining the huge kitchen. Cooks, their helpers, and assorted workers kept the place very busy. I asked one of the workers for some soap in order to wash my hands, which were covered in shoe polish and dirt. Several Germans had just walked in and one of them overheard my request and became enraged. “Soap, she wants soap, I’ll show her…Come with me,” he barked. He ushered me into a small room with several gurneys and ordered me to climb up on one of them and lie face down.

It was quiet for a few seconds. He pulled my dress up and then I felt as if sharp knives were cutting my backside and I was on fire. The merciless beating continued. I tried to keep from screaming and bit my lip until my mouth was full of blood. This was the end of my life, I thought.

I don’t know how long this went on. The next thing I remember, my friends were trying to get me off the gurney. My panties were in shreds and I was bloody all over. They practically carried me back to the ghetto as the excruciating pain made it hard for me to walk. I was told they counted 25 lashes. They wondered how I kept from screaming.

For weeks I couldn’t stand up or sit down. The people in the kitchen were nice enough and gave some food to my friends for me. That was a bit of compensation.

©2011, Charlene Schiff. 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:   charlene schiffechoes of memory, volume 6

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