...Grandma came to tell us that the Germans were hanging Jews in the city.

I said "Why? What did they do?"

Grandma said, "They didn't do anything, they were just there."


 

1 - Invasion of Lodz

In 1939 when I was eight years old, my country was taken over by the German army. It was the beginning of World War II.

I was born in the big industrial city of Lodz, Poland. The city had more foreign people than natives. There were Jews, Germans, Russians and others. My parents spoke three languages that they learned in childhood.

At that time, we lived on the outskirts of the city limits. That is where my tumultuous life had its start. My friend Ana and I liked to spend hours behind a big jasmine bush, sitting on Mother's beautiful bench. It was a good place to hide from the world and talk all we wanted. On this warm September day we were just sitting, counting leaves coming down from the neighbor's big tree.

Suddenly, Ana asked if I heard something. I said "No." But after a moment I did hear a strange muffled sound. It was getting louder and closer. Then the ground under our feet felt like it was trembling. When I looked up there was a plane roaring over our heads, almost touching the tree tops. We clung to each other, not moving a muscle. The house seemed to be too far away to run to. Then Mother screamed for us to get in the house, in the basement.

Here we stayed for days, listening to the roar of planes above and feeling the floors tremble under the big tanks and trucks. There was not a day of peace. One day, Grandma came to tell us that the Germans were hanging Jews in the city. I said "Why? What did they do?" Grandma said, "They didn't do anything, they were just there."

Some days later I woke up to the sound of loud music, drums and trumpets. As I ran down the steps to see what was going on, Mother told me not to go beyond the gate. I said, "Yes, Mother, yes," but I ran outside toward a spectacle of fluttering flags in the wind. Soldiers in yellow uniforms and black shiny boots were stomping on the ground like trained horses. I had never seen such a parade before. It took my breath away. Excited and scared for being on the wrong side of the gate, I looked back at the house.

Mother was standing in the window with my baby brother in her arms. I believe she was crying. The couple next door stood holding hands on their porch. I felt that there was something wrong that I was not able to see. Scared, I ran around to the kitchen. There, to my surprise, I saw a scraggly Polish soldier sitting at the table smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. His uniform was wrinkled and torn on one shoulder. Then to my horror, I noticed blood on the clean floor by his shoe. Mother asked her helper, Ana, to change his bandage. He said "Oh no, I have to catch up with my battalion." Then he thanked her, put down his cigarette, smiled and was gone, leaving behind a trail of red blood and a chilling silence.

Father didn't come home that day. He sent a boy to tell us he was going to Warsaw with most of his friends from the Post Office where he worked. He left believing that the city would survive the onslaught of the terrible invasion.

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Chapter 2 - Uncle Stas Would Not Let Us Starve