A young Jewish businesswoman reflects on the horrors of the holocaust - contest.
|They were plunged into darkness, she wailed loudly like all the others hoping they would take pity and let them out. Then Hilda could feel herself choking and instantly woke up breathing heavily. Her apartment was pitch dark. This time of year she always has nightmares. She fumbles on her bed side locker until she finds the switch for her bed side light. She next fumbles around for her thick glasses and places them on her face. It was 4am January 11th 1988.
She removes her bed covers and sits up at the edge of it in her silver silken pyjamas. Her heart pounded rapidly, the dream seemed so real.This day 50 years ago her grandfather paid a small fortune to an English couple to take his only child, his daughter Helena to safety in the UK. Helena (Hilda’s mother) was eight at the time. It was after midnight when her grandfather got the false papers for her but only after more money was extorted from him. At 6am that morning on Alexanderplaz, he handed over his only daughter to strangers whom safely took her to the United Kingdom and looked after her. Both he and her grandmother thought, the whole nazi movement would pass, that all would be back to normal in no time.
She stood up and made her way across to a wardrobe and opened it up. She spotted a plain black suit and rubbed the material. Her grandparents had a successful tailoring business ‘Goldbaum Tailoring ’. How she would love to be able to wear one of the suits made by her grandparents into work, she would be so proud; she wondered would they be proud of her. She never planned to come to Berlin.
Her grandparents when they realised it was getting late and things were not panning out as they hoped had made provisions for escape. Huge sums and bribes were extorted from them. On the night of their planned escape, German troops stormed their luxury home and they were both arrested and shortly afterwards taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and never seen again. The war slaughtered most of her family apart from her grandmothers aunt Renata, whom survived and never returned to Germany. She settled in Vienna and in 1949 Hilda’s mother moved back to Austria with her at the age of 19. It’s here where Hilda’s mother met her father and in 1953 they wed and had a traditional Jewish wedding. Two years later they moved to Hamburg and in 1956 Hilda was born.
Sales manager for a hotel chain she was offered a promotion in Berlin and in November 21st 1987 she made the trip to Berlin. Now head of sales, she wondered if her grandparents would be proud of her. She closed her eyes and imagined them taking credit for her business acumen, her grandmother wiping tears with pride as she watched her granddaughter wear a suit they made especially for her. She could feel her eyes water. She took the suit out of the wardrobe and placed it on her bed. Her grandparents were good Germans. They hired staff of all faiths and paid them well, always willing to give someone the chance to learn and earn a living. At Christmas the regular male customers would get a free tie as a thank you for their custom and the ladies a nice scarf. Yet despite this their business was dubbed with a Star of David, Storm troopers would stand outside and stop people entering, eventually people stopped entering without any storm troopers. It must have really hurt her grandparents she thought, as she removed her pyjamas and made her way into the shower.
It bothered her alot what happened her grandparents. Who could of betrayed them, in such a cruel manner take their money in good faith and then have them arrested. Everything they had was looted from them within hours.
She removed her glasses and placed them in a glasses box and left them on a shelf by a long wall mirror. She entered the shower pod and turned it on. Her mind began racing to the cruel shower jokes she had to endure occasionally, did they realise how hurtful such taunts were, maybe they didn’t, perhaps she should have said something, or what if she did and they just taunted her more.
Hilda turned off the shower left the Pod and fumbled on the shelf until she found her glasses. She looked into the mirror while she dried herself off. She was 170 centremeters tall and weighed 81 kilos. She dried off her shoulder length black curly hair and brushed it down. Her mother said she looked like her grandmother, though her grandmother was slimmer and fitter and had air of elegance about her. Hilda never minded been second fiddle to her grandmother in the appearance department.
She gingerly put her black suit on and buttoned up the jacket on her plump frame and put on a pair of black shoes. On her jewellery stand her Star of David necklace caught her attention and she put it on and looked in the mirror. She remembers her mother talking about her grandmother’s jewellery collection, how she loved to play with it and dress up. Her mother would speak fondly of the engagement ring her grandfather gave her mother which she promised to pass on to her. Sadly the ring was extracted off her grandmother’s finger and never seen again. A tear streamed down her left eye and wiped it away. She wondered what ever happened that ring. Is someone wearing it and innocently not knowing the history behind it or are they wearing it and don’t care. The fact that someone may not care gave her the shivers as she played with the Star of David with her chubby left hand fingers. What if her grandparents where here today, could she tell them it was truly safe to wear your Star of David chain and Kippah in public. She thought a little bit more about this, she would love to say anti-semitism was a thing of the past but it wasn’t, hate still lived. What about work, she only wore it on religious occasions, it upset her that 50 years later it may still not be safe so removed it and placed it back on the stand.
She entered the kitchenette and made a strong mug of coffee, she thought about a bagel but she wasn’t hungry. She enters her adjoining small living room and pulls back the curtains. The city was beginning to come to life. From her apartment window you could see the Berlin wall and Karl Marx Strasse. Along this street was where her grandparents business was. She squinted hard through her thick glasses hoping she would see something that looked like her grandparents place of work but each time the disappointment just got greater. It was in the Eastern side of the city. How she would love to see it, it was meant to have been an amazing establishment, a three story building. The first floor for Menswear, which her grandfather looked after, the second floor ladies wear which her grandmother looked after and the top floor for repairs and alterations. At it’s peak her grandparents hired 30 people, and had customers throughout Germany, if not Europe. She also longed to see her grandparents house which was close to the Brandenburg Gate. Hilda enjoyed the memories her mother had of the social events her parents hosted. The house had a front and rear garden and was like a mini palace inside. If she could only see it for 1 minute it would please her greatly. It seemed like life was out to taunt her and persecute her too as the house was also on the eastern side, as too the camp where her grandparents perished. The tears rolled down her eyes, what had they done to earn such persecution, It saddened her greatly. She was so close to what remained of her family history, yet as far from seeing it as someone in Australia. The tears continued to roll, it was like life was mocking her, taunting her by bringing her this far and not allowing her any further, dangling a carrot in her face she’ll never be able to grab.
She dried her eyes and took a big mouthful of coffee. She looked down on the street, a road sweeping truck was cleaning the street. An image came to her head of her people been pushed on the streets to clean them by hand with a mocking mob looking on, she began to cry a little more. ‘How would I of survived back then’, she asked herself ‘would I have been stripped naked on the street and mocked for been fat, would I have joined a resistance movement but I hate violence, would I have tried to survive in the forests but I don't have suitable skills, what if it happened again who could i get to help me?’ She pondered.
‘Pieter he would help me but his girlfriend doesn’t like me and she’d certainly report me. The Mattheus family they would protect me, oh wait, they have 2 children, I couldn’t ask them to help and put their children at risk. Maybe someone at the tennis club?’ ‘No!!’ she reconsidered, ‘A few old timers there are not happy with my membership, they would do anything to see the back of me, as for work, a few are jealous, they maybe anti-semites, what if one of my own employees started to blackmail me and extort me, what could I do, what if anyone did, they could strip everything off me and I could do nothing!!’.
She snapped out of the trance she found herself in and dried her eyes again. She longed for someday to be able to visit the East, but life was cruel, and the city had been cruel to her family, what made it even crueller was the fact her family history lay the Eastern side and she was helpless to change it.
She envied her colleagues for whom this would be another dreary Tuesday, what had they to worry about, the up and coming soccer Internationals for West Germany, no money until payday, it all now seemed trivial to her.
Her grand aunt whom never married on her mothers side had since passed away. Her father had one brother survive and he was in America married with 2 Children, she herself like her mother was an only child, her family tree cut down ruthlessly.
She placed the empty mug of coffee in the sink and put on a black mackintosh jacket. She had a 20 minute walk to work. For some the walk is a chance to get some exercises and take in the buzz of the busy streets, for Hilda the walk was full of haunting pasts. She picked up her brief case and looked at a photo of her grandparents with her mother as a child, ‘never again!! ‘ she said to the photo as she opened, closed and locked the door behind her.