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< Echoes of Memory

Leaving Home: June 14, 1943

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by Agi Geva

It was a beautiful summer morning with no sign of rain so I thought it would be a good idea to go swimming at Tapolca. I phoned a few friends to join me. Even Shosha, my-12-year-old sister, wanted to come, which was unusual as she did not like to be with my friends so much.

Mother agreed after warnings to be careful in the deep water, to avoid the sun, to watch out for the boys, to not get in the water too soon after a meal, and to make sure to return before nightfall. 

My sister and I got sandwiches, green peppers stuffed with white cheese, and schnitzels with chicken wings. We all met at the bus station, looking forward to a carefree, pleasant trip.

It was a beautiful place to spend time with friends: two pools between trees, with lots of young people, talking, laughing, singing, running around, and playing ping-pong.

Who would or could have thought that just one year later, on June 14, 1944, all of us would be getting into cattle cars not far from that bus station, everybody wearing a yellow star on their blouse, and starting out on a three-day journey to an unknown destination? 

Could we have thought that instead of laughing, joking, planning the day, there would be crying, fainting, screaming in a cattle car?

That was our reality exactly a year later. Mother, Shosha, most of my friends, and I got off the car in a daze together with another 50 or so inhabitants of Miskolcz and entered a huge campsite, surrounded by Germans yelling at us “los los,” to move more quickly. We could hardly move at all, having been in a cramped position for three days without sufficient food, drink, air, and light. 

We were in Auschwitz, in a killing center. 

The year before, on the same day, we were swimming, laughing, joking, but that day we were prisoners. The reason? We were born Jewish.

The Germans separated the men from the women immediately on arrival. I can still hear the desperate cries and sobs of farewell.

There was not much time for grief or thought as we were moved, pushed into rows of lines to go forward to face three German officers who sent some of the women to the left or to the right side. 

Mother’s concerns of the year earlier were of getting into the water after a meal, but now her concerns were of life and death. The choice of the meal to take to the pool turned into having no meal at all for the previous days and no meal for many days to come.

When the line started to move forward, Mother became worried about what lay ahead. She explained that she had to take the risk of leaving us behind by going forward to see what was happening, guns or no guns. She was pale and scared when she got back. 

“You should never mention that we are family,” she told us. She heard girls pleading to stay with their mothers or vice versa to no avail. She understood that girls younger than 16 were sent to the left.

Mother had a few suggestions. She instructed us to say that we were 18 and 19, respectively. In order for us to look older, she told us to bind our scarves on our heads downward, under our chins and she bound her scarf the opposite way, atop her head, in order to look younger.

The year before, we definitely did not want to go anywhere with Mom, and now all we wanted was to be near her.

When we got to the end of the line and faced those Germans, we did not know that our lives were at stake, that the left side meant execution. All we wanted was for the three of us, Mom, Shosha, and me, to stay together. 

I had feelings and emotions that I had never experienced before. I was in a panic and I was desperate, but when I saw Mom and Shosha on the same side I was sent, my joy and relief were overwhelming. I could not remember ever having been so happy. I saw the same joy on my mother’s face. What would we have felt if we had known what we did not know at that time, that our lives had just been spared by not being sent to the left side?

On the day in 1943 when my friends and I went swimming, we all returned home together by bus, happy, tired, and content after a day of fun. 

There would be no return home from Auschwitz for any of my friends. Their lives ended there. 

From our group that went swimming that day, only Shosha and I survived the Holocaust.

©2018, 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 11agi geva

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