October 23, 2019
by Agi Geva
June, 1944. My family was in a concentration camp; my mother, Rosalia, my sister Shosha, 13 years old, and me, Agi, 14 years old. My father, Zoltan, had died a few months earlier, on the same day that the Germans occupied Hungary.
I was dreaming. I was at home, getting ready for school. I even heard the voice of Shosha, telling me to hurry up. Then I woke up to the touch of a rough grey blanket on my skin and I knew that I should not open my eyes. I should linger a little longer in the dream. I should even daydream and concentrate on those pleasant memories. But the loud wake-up call put an end to all that. Reality became the present—the unbelievable prisoner situation that I still wasn’t able to understand or get used to. The dream followed me during the whole day, pulling me back into the past of not that long ago.
We were allowed only a couple of hours of sleep, but I could not wait for the night, when I might dream again of the same or some similar pleasantness, that used to be mine, my life, my reality.
It made the hunger more bearable, the thirst easier, the extremes of heat or cold and the harsh inhumane treatment by the guards less horrific. When the real dream did not come to me, I daydreamed, imagined, and relived my childhood. Sometimes the dream was a nightmare of the awful reality of being a prisoner, kept behind fences, limited in movements, kept from having showers, using the bathroom, changing clothes, having freedom of speech. In reality, someone decided the meager amount of food and water I was to have. I also heard that there was a possibility of not surviving on so little food if the situation lasted much longer. That was scary.
Then one day, almost a year later, I dreamed that I was sleeping on a bunk with some strange girls and women, being a prisoner. I gradually began to feel some sensations, but somehow, they did not make sense to me. That acute pain of hunger in my stomach, which I had grown accustomed to, was not there and my mouth was not dry.
When I touched my head, it was not the baldness but soft hair that I felt under my fingers. But I was still reluctant to open my eyes. I touched soft fabric, my head was on a pillow, there was music coming from somewhere, mixed with the chirping of birds. When I stretched my arms, my hands did not touch a stranger.
When at last I woke up, completely, and opened my eyes, I realized that I was not in the concentration camp, in a barrack, that I was home, free and all that suffering was really, really behind me, in the past.
I was deliriously happy!
Never since then have I taken my FREEDOM for granted.
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