By Charlene Schiff
It was an early autumn day – the forest was dark and I could hardly see the sun. I felt dampness all around me and I was tired, but there was nowhere to rest as this forest had sparse underbrush and it was difficult to find a hiding place.
By noon, after walking most of the night, I had reached the edge of the forest. A small group of people sat in a circle nearby. My first reaction was to run for cover. I thought I heard muffled words in Yiddish. Did I dream it? Quietly, I moved closer. The longing for human contact was so strong I disregarded all caution. I walked up to the group. A young woman moved a bit and motioned for me to join them. There were six of them; the young woman with a peasant kerchief tied around her forehead and behind her ears, cradled an infant in her arms. The baby was strapped to her chest with a heavy shawl. On her feet she wore flimsy sandals, her dress was old and faded. The baby was listless and sucked on his mother’s finger. Next to the woman sat two young men, well dressed; both were wearing almost new knee high boots; each of them had a leather briefcase bulging at the seams. I wondered what was in them – food, clothing – they didn’t offer any information. To their left sat another woman, in her early thirties, with a worried look on her face, somewhat disheveled, in summer clothing and light shoes. To complete the circle there was another man, with a short red beard. All I remember about him is his annoying, constant nervous tugging at his beard. I took out one of my two treasured carrots and handed it to the woman with the baby. She promptly stuck it in the baby’s mouth.
All their stories were similar to mine. Somehow they were able to escape during the liquidation of their ghettos. All came from towns and villages not too far from my hometown. None of them knew my family; they had not seen my mother for whom I was searching.
Lost in our thoughts and conversation, we became completely oblivious to the outside surroundings. Suddenly, a group of children appeared, as if out of nowhere----“Jews” they yelled - with glee - and ran away. Obviously, they went back to call their parents. There was a small monetary reward for reporting a Jew.
Overcome with fear, we knew we had to hide. It was harvest time and there were huge haystacks in the fields. These haystacks were as big as barns. We all ran and hid in one of them. Why we all hid in one haystack, I cannot explain. We ran and made our way as deeply as we could into the haystack. It was difficult to breathe as the hay was full of dust.
Pretty soon we heard voices. It sounded as if the entire village was there. They were singing and joking among themselves. They zeroed in on our haystack and attacked it with great enthusiasm. They screamed every epithet imaginable and urged us to come out. They used pitchforks and were stabbing the haystack again and again. I heard cries around me, but I concentrated on just trying to breathe.
I don’t know how long this lasted – it seemed forever – then all became quiet. The dust and hay were choking me, but I tried with all my might not to cough.
Slowly, I made my way out of the demolished haystack. It was dark and difficult to orient myself. When my eyes got accustomed to the outside darkness I saw, to my horror, naked bodies lined up in a row. I stood dazed, looking at the bloody, mutilated bodies of my six companions whom I met earlier that afternoon. I didn’t even know their names, except for the baby – his mother called him “Buzio.”
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