She was in the line, the one you didn’t want to be in, the one leading to the deportation train going to Treblinka, a death camp.
We all knew that’s where people were being sent. There was a time when it was a mystery, but the mystery was long gone.
Those of us not in the line just stood and watched mothers and fathers clutch the tiny hands of their children.
“Where are we going?” the children would ask.
We’d watch the lies said with smiles, sometimes even with laughter. We’d watch parents do their best to stand upright and appear calm. Though when you looked closely, you could see shaking hands, stuttered speech, and sometimes tears. Some would yell and plead, but most walked solemn yet strong.
But this day was different. On this day, Ruth stood in line with her parents and two younger brothers.
We knew this day could come. She and I, though deeply in love, and before the Nazis invaded, planning for marriage, lived separately with our families in the ghetto. We kept hope about life together even after the Nazis took over and even after all Jewish people were required to live in the Warsaw Ghetto. But the deportations to Treblinka began withering our spirits.
Everything inside of me sank. I looked around at the guards hoping I could find Jan. He was someone I knew from life outside of the ghetto. We grew up near the center of Warsaw together. In our early teens, we’d go to cafes, where we drank hot cocoa from bowls and ate fresh gelato from Italy. We’d sit on worn-out red leather couches, our cocoas on the coffee table adorned with old newspapers under the glass.
I’d help him study math problems. And he’d tell me stories about girls. He was tall and handsome with a square jaw, a muscular body, and a big smile with gleaming white teeth. He was charming, the kind of person who could always make you laugh.
I had none of this. And so sometimes, a cute girl would walk into the cafe. I’d look at her and want to say something. But nothing would come to mind.
He’d laugh at me. “Say something to her,” he’d nudge me.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Just compliment her. Say her shoes look nice.”
I wouldn’t, of course. So we would just resume tutoring.
We weren’t close, and we weren’t friends. But we were close enough that now in the ghetto, he’d sometimes bring me a loaf of bread. He told me he’d do his best to look out for me, though there was, of course, only so much he could do.
Now I needed his help. I approached him cautiously.
“Not now,” he sneered at me.
“Please help. I beg you. Ruth is in line. Please take her out. I’ll do whatever you need.”
“No. This isn’t the place to care about someone else.”
“I know. But I care. Please help me.”
I was desperate, and he knew it. But I could see in his eyes that care was long gone. He turned away; there was nothing else to say. I watched Ruth continue in line. And then she was gone.
Note: “A Warsaw Ghetto Deportation” is a historical fiction short story from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. While based on real events, the story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.