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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #1227670
A first person account of the horrors of WW2. Based on the true event of Krystalnacht
The howling wind turned the drops of rain into icy daggers that were whipped up into spirals, endlessly seeking out victims to saturate with their piercing cold. I slowly edged my way forward along the cobbled street, arm in front of face in a futile effort to ward off the waves of water thrown up from the pavement. Leaning forward to compensate for the buffeting wind, I pulled my pathetically small raincoat around my neck and wished that I lived closer to my school.

Not that we had much choice. We being Jews. There were only a handful of places that we could go in the city then, let alone schools. Even then there were the stares. Those sideways glances and narrowed eyes that follow your every move, waiting for you to do something wrong, to step out of line. The ever-wringing hands just waiting for an excuse to grab you by the neck and shake you, shake you until all the wickedness, all the potential wrong doing, everything that makes you Jewish is left on the ground. Until all that remains is a perfect, pure, Aryan citizen.

Well that won’t happen. Mother says that we are all put on this earth for a reason; I think that if that reason is to be constantly trodden on by the Germans like dirt then I’d very much like to meet the person who put us here.
The warm and yellow, yet sparse beacons of light provided by the gas lamps fought a losing battle against the inky and oppressive blackness of the already mature night. The driving rain blurred everything, making colours run together until the yellow of the lamps threatened to bleed into the surrounding black.

The ever-increasing lateness made me nervous and I increased my pace to a speedy walk, punctuated with continual glances behind me. I reached the street where my father owned a shop, increasingly rare for a Jew. He would still be working and although he would be angry that I was out so late I was looking forward to a respite from the rain. Along the way I passed other, grander shops, each with intricately patterned curtains and beautifully hand painted signs. While the colours, lettering and borders differed, the messages remained quite the same: ‘Jews not admitted’, ‘Jews enter at their own risk.’ Or perhaps the simple, foolproof and ever-popular; ‘No Jews.’

Faint sounds of shouting seemed to drift down the street, accompanied by louder, more ominous sounds such as crashing and low thuds. Up ahead a German mother and her son hurried through the rain in large, expensive leather coats. Upon seeing me, she pulled the child closer to her as if I was going to somehow infect him. I felt like crying out with all the force of an entire lifetimes’ worth of oppression, to collapse in front of her begging to know what I had done wrong and what I could do to make it better.

But I didn’t. I kept walking, head bowed, tears mingling with the rain until they were one and the same. I kept walking as the pair crossed the street to avoid me. I didn’t stop, as I passed the signs glaring down at me, daring me to enter, to test their wrath. I never faltered, as I thought of that boy and his potential, his future and the wealth of decisions and experiences that lay before him.

I thought about what I would do if given those same opportunities, what I could make of my life. For an instant I forgot about the numbness of my limbs and lapsed into my favourite daydream; a classroom full of young chattering pre-school children and me in front reading them stories and pointing out all the wonderful things that Jewish people had done for the world.

As quickly as it came the image faded; washed away by the insistent rain. I imagined what would happen if people found out what I was thinking. There was nothing more absurd than the idea of a Jewish teacher; what better way to poison the minds of precious young Germans.

Wrapped up in this impossible reality, I didn’t notice that the door to the shop was open, or that most of the front window was missing. It wasn’t until I walked inside and saw a tableau of utter chaos that I realised something was horribly wrong. Through the darkness I could see the dim outlines of broken jars and toppled tables. The floor was strewn with everything from flour and salt to tomato soup and fruit. I started backing out of the shop but slipped up in the doorway and landed on my back with a thud. The sudden breaking of the silence was all I needed to rush out of the shop in a blind panic, uncaring of the tempest that awaited me.

I headed nervously towards home again, a thousand explanations running through my head, each more disturbing than the last. Before I had made it to the end of the street I stopped dead in my tracks, the colour draining from my face and into my shoes. Not wanting to more than anything else in the world but knowing that I had no choice, I slowly raised my hands in front of me.
My father didn’t sell tomato soup.

The crimson wet that stared back up at me was like a stab through the heart. It took all my willpower not to throw up on the street as I fought to swallow bile.  There was no rain now, nothing to wash it off, nothing to do except run, run for home faster than I ever had before. My legs were as lead and my head a feather, threatening to float away and leave my body to deal on its own. Still I ran, as fast as I could, faster than I could, not noticing or feeling anything but the rhythmic pounding of my feet and heart and the distance to my home that stubbornly remained the same no matter how fast I went.

The sounds grew louder and more threatening until I could hear individual voices rising over the others. They seemed passionately angry and hateful but I could not guess at what could make so many people so furious. Now accompanying the frightening sounds was the acrid smell of burning, the smell from fires that burn indiscriminately through wood, plastic and rubber. Perhaps worse things. Completing the almost surreal environment was a red flicker that grew over the horizon, reflected in the clouds and pillars of smoke now rising on all sides of the street.

Confusion, fear and paranoia swelled up inside; the closer I got to my home the more I knew deep down that nothing could prepare me for what I would find. The streetlights went by in a blur and the wind, now void of water, tried its hardest to deter me from my destination. I noticed nothing, one thought and one thought only burning in my mind; to reach home and to reach home before…before anything happened; I just needed to get home and be with my family, nothing could happen before then.

I found myself praying as I ran, surprising myself as I had given up on it a long time ago, after all how could a merciful and loving God prefer one race over another? Stupidly and inexplicably I thought of my grandmother and how proud she would be if she knew of my regained (if circumstantial) faith. I did not even know who or what exactly I was praying to, just that I wanted my family to be safe, for everyone to be safe. I made up for a lifetime of stubborn atheism by devoting my entire being and belief into this moment.

“Please God may my parents be waiting for me in the doorway. Please grant speed to my failing limbs so that I may reach them in time.”
My home was just around the corner now and the background noise had risen to a climactic cacophony of violent sounds that caused violent images in my head.
“Please let my father scold me for being out before telling me of his accident in the shop.”
Suddenly there were people everywhere, running to and from my street; some yelling and others crying.
“Please let me get there, I have to be with them, I have to be there…”
Ten more strides and I would round the final bend, in sight of my home; seven…six...five…
“Please God let me reach my family, I need to go faster, please let this be a mistake, I have to get there, I must…”

I was much too late.

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