She was young. She was beautiful. She was French… and she was fortunate, because not everyone had a place to hide. She was Jewish. And the country she called home… was no place for her.
I was there to hear her story and I liked her right away. She was still beautiful, wrapped in a pale cloak of old age. Her elegant face framed the sad eyes of an angel… and her delicate hands moved with the charming uncertainty of a child.
For her, the war happened inside an empty room.
Thanks to connections which were made in hushed dealings underground… a safe place was secured for her, inside an asylum for the mentally insane. She was discreetly admitted. Under false pretenses… and with a fabricated name. She had a room to herself. A small cell, really… and she remained there in solitude. In confinement, for the duration of the war.
The room itself, was not worth mentioning. It had a window, though…and through that small pane of glass, life was delivered. Just enough to sustain her.
She stood on tip toes to feel the glare of the sun… and her small body hummed… a silent prayer in silver moonlight. There was a tree, which attracted little birds and other creatures. On it’s bare branches she watched winter’s icicles melt… giving way to spring’s pink blossoms. She counted them, many times… just because. The window was her calendar and her companion. Her temple and her world. Without it, how would she have known… that she still existed?
She wasn’t allowed to have a hair brush or any personal objects. She was treated like the others… for her own good. Only one doctor knew. Who she was, why she was there… and it was in everyone’s best interest, that no signs of the truth should show.
She told me how she would lie awake…. and listen to the screams, which electro-shocks sent rolling… like waves right through her wall. It happened during hours of day and night. In the room next to hers.
Sometimes, she’d wonder where her parents were. And the moon and the flowers and the sun and the snow… never could tell her if they were alive. They only knew that life was happening… and that beauty existed. Hard though that was, to believe.
She never did see them again. She survived… and that was their wish all along. Finally, she wandered back outside… and became a single teardrop, in the blue river of displaced persons. Flowing painfully together, toward new lives on their own.
That was when she met her GI. He loved her because she was beautiful… and because she was young. And because she was French. He didn’t mind about the Jewish part… and he promised to take care of her. If she would be his.
She was grateful. A future now awaited her, across a choppy sea. So they danced and they drank… and he told her to forget, the very things that brought her to him. The fight for survival… the nazis and the screams.
Her children wanted her to speak of it, though she never could convince herself that she should. So, she was thankful for this chance… she added, boldly.
He patted her knee and said he’d make some coffee. When he was gone, she lifted lightly off her perch on the sofa… subtly gauging his distance, before she spoke again. She leaned in as close to me as she comfortably could and said… you know, I never really left that room.
~ Jessica Surely ©2013
* During a two year period, I interviewed over 200 Holocaust Survivors (on camera) for The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.