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The Reflection in the Window

By Nesse Godin

On March 10, 1945, the Soviet Army found us in the barn. We had been there for three weeks. The Soviet soldiers told us that the Germans were losing the war, that the Nazis were retreating. They informed us that they had already found other camps and some survivors.

The soldiers could not believe the sight they saw in that barn. There were not quite 200 women there, some sick and in terrible shape, some dead. Outside there was a mountain of naked skeletons, dead women piled up on top of each other.

The Soviet soldiers suggested that if we could, we should try to walk to the village where there were many empty homes. Some of the Germans were afraid of the Soviet soldiers and escaped toward the interior of the country.

The soldiers also promised that they would come back and carry the women that could not walk to the village.

Lena, her cousin Mollie, and I started to walk toward the village, which was less then a mile away. The ground was covered with crisp snow and on the side of the road there were piles of snow that the people must have shoveled off the road.

We must have walked ten steps when Mollie fell to the ground and refused to continue to walk. She was having chills and had no strength to go on. The three of us sat on top of the snow on the roadside. It was very cold and we had very little clothing on— just underpants, a dress, and a blanket over our head.

We saw some women passing us and some were just falling to the ground.

The soldiers kept their promise and came back and started to carry the women toward the village. A young soldier stopped near us and wanted to take Mollie, but Lena did not want to separate from her cousin, so he picked me up and carried me instead. Many months later I was reunited with Lena and she told me that Mollie died while they were waiting to be picked up to be taken to the village.

The Soviet soldier who carried me told me that they were setting up a hospital in the school gymnasium and it would take a few days until it would be ready. In the meantime he would drop me off at one of the houses.

The soldier took me into a house and put me in the kitchen. He laid me down on a sack that was stuffed with straw. A woman was lying there already. She looked very familiar and then she told me who she was. She had been a teacher in one of the schools from my hometown of Siauliai.

I was so tired and weak that I fell asleep. I was awoken by the noise of women near the stove. They were boiling water. They had found some dry bread and were dipping it in the hot water and eating it. We had not had any food for a few days.

I was so hungry that I asked the women if they would share some of the bread with me and my friend, the woman who was next to me.

The women handed me a bowl of hot water with bread in it. I was not too sure if that was all for me or if I was to share it with the teacher. I asked the ladies about food for the woman next to me. They answered that my friend would not need food anymore—she was dead.

I felt so bad that we were free but many of us still died even after liberation.

A few hours later, some soldiers came and carried the body of my friend out. I did not have the strength to go out with them. I never knew where she was buried.

Later in the day some other soldiers came and brought us some food and promised to come the next day to take us to the hospital. By that time it was starting to get dark. I was thinking that now I was free.

How does the free world look? I gathered all my strength, stood up, and tried to look through the small window in the door. I could not see outside because it was dark already, but what I saw was the reflection of a horrible-looking creature. Eyes sunken into the head, one cheek swollen, the other hollow to the bone—a living skeleton. I turned around to see who was standing behind me. Whose reflection did I see?

There was no one there. This is when I realized that the horrible-looking creature was me.

©2005, Nesse Godin. 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.