This was written for the same competition as "What If...?", the poem I posted last year. I'm not expecting to win this one, either...
My Sister's Doll
"It was horrible. We had heard the stories, of terror, hunger, death, but none of it really sank in. As they say, eyewitness accounts are stronger than hearsay. I remember the day we were deported. It was overcast and gray, but not rainy. Aya wanted to play outside, to splash in the puddles, but Mama refused. 'You'll get sick,' she said, 'Not today'. But she escaped anyway, and splashed off down the street, clutching her doll, and getting her dress dirty.
"When Mama noticed, she sent me to fetch her back, and scold her. So I went off down the street in my old raincoat and hat, wary of rain. I saw her in the town square, crouching down, happily oblivious to all around her – including the soldier marching towards us. I ran at him, yelling to get away. He smirked at me, and told me to go home. Scared, we did.
"Mama grabbed us when we entered the house, and hugged us, sobbing. 'What's wrong?' I asked. She only motioned and told us to pack; we had a half an hour. I took my pencils and sketchbook, clothes, and a kerchief. We all took kerchiefs, to cover our heads. Mama tried to tell Aya to take something, but all she said was 'My doll, I want my dolly!' Finally, Mama allowed it, along with a pillow and some food.
"Through the whole ordeal, Mama was amazingly calm. Then there was a knock at the door, and it banged open. The soldiers barged in and herded us out. I looked back at our door, standing forlornly open. Thunder boomed, rain came down, and everything was a blur.
"We were put in cattle cars for days. Then the train broke down, and we had to walk the rest of the way. Throughout it all Aya clutched her ragged doll, her pink dress getting frayed and muddy. Mama turned into a shadow of herself, leaving the caring of Aya and, well, herself to me. Aya was very contrary, yelling at me and giggling at the guards. We became scarcely more than shadows. We had been dropping bags and bodies along the way, and we left a trail to the horizon. Yelling, barking, screaming, crying, and worst of all… silence. Mama just followed like a dog, whipped and broken.
"Every day I had a routine. I would awaken to shouts and groans, and force myself up. I would get Mama and Aya up, and we would walk. Mama stared vacantly ahead of her, and Aya rocked her doll and crooned. By the end of the long march, we were barely able to stand up, and even the soldiers were slower. The camp was dismal and dark, and very very scary. There were other 'people' there, but I didn't recognize them as such at first. They were skeletons! Mama didn't even react, but Aya and all the rest of us got very quiet. The soldiers still beat us, and still yelled at us, but they were so much more gleeful about it. As if they knew what effect having all those people lined up at the barbed-wire fence was having on us. Aya cried and gripped my skirt in her grubby little fist, and I couldn't help but notice that it was my skirt she was holding and not Mama's.
"They put us in a room where they told us to strip, and handed us old uniforms. They looked like prison-garb, and I guess that's where we were – in some type of prison, just for being Jewish. Aya absolutely refused to give up her dress, and for some reason, the soldiers let her. So there she was, day after day, running around in a ratty pink dress, in amongst all the blacks and grays. Something about that touch of color brought hope to me, that we weren't totally forgotten.
"One day in late fall, something was in the air. I didn't know exactly what it was, nor did anyone else. But the soldiers were shouting at us more, and drilling more, and killing more…. Mama disappeared one day. They said she was taken to a hospital for her cough, but wouldn't she have come back? She didn't come back…. Aya was oblivious. Then one day the soldiers got frantic. They were yelling at us, and herding us to the parade ground. And the dogs were barking, and we were just silent. And Aya was holding her doll. Somehow she had found it, and spirited it away. It was filthy, and torn, as if it had been thrown to the dogs, then tossed out. Rumors had spread, 'The Allies are coming, the Germans are losing, the Germans are winning, the Allies are retreating…' But in the current situation how could any of us believe that?
"There were precious few children in the camp, and after that day, even less. There were less people after that day. They lined us up and shot us. We were in the back of the pack, and missed most of it… the man to my left was shot. Aya fell to the ground and hugged her doll. I knelt down next to her, but was pulled away. The soldiers were marching through; looking for survivors… someone had pulled me into a hole under a barracks, and wouldn't let me go… I could see Aya crouching there, clutching her doll in her ratty pink dress, as the soldiers marched by. For some reason, they had never even noticed her. She had kept her dress, and her doll, and… her humanity. It struck me then, that as the rest of us were withering away under the pressure, and disappearing, she had stuck to it with all the stubbornness of a burr. And somehow, the soldiers either respected that, or didn't notice it… I didn't find out until later that it was way out of the norm. Not the killing, but the fact that they didn't bother with her.
"That night we huddled under the barracks and watched the soldiers leave. Aya found us, and crawled into my arms. The next day, cars rolled into the courtyard, and stopped. Soldiers got out and stared. The bodies had not been removed, and were just lying there in the sun. There were still some wounded, but most of them had died in the night.
"The soldiers turned out to be Americans. We could hardly believe it at first, and stayed hidden. We couldn't understand what they said, but Aya ran out to them and asked them if they were here to rescue us. Apparently one of them spoke Hungarian, and answered yes. She giggled and waved to us. We slowly came out of hiding, leaving one of us behind… Others came out as well, until there were nearly twenty-five of us standing there, clumped together in a forlorn little group, out of the hundreds who had been here.
"Life went on. We went to a DP camp, where there were others like us; worn, tired, barely human. They said that they were there to help us, but it was just another camp. I think they truly did believe they were doing the right thing, they just didn't know how to go about it. Aya was the darling of that camp as well. She got us extra bread, potatoes, things like that. And she refused to let go of her doll for even a moment. It was her lifeline, I think, and it was mine as well. I grew up mighty fast in that year of concentration camps and brutality. I was mother to Aya, sister to others, friend to many. They confided in me; I confided in Aya. She would look at me with this Look in her eyes, and if to say 'You're my Mama, you'll take care of it'. And I did. Right up until someone came to get us and took us to the Goldene Medina and gave us a new breath of life, right up until she became part of America, more than I could ever be. Right up until she got married, and I was her old spinster matron.
"There just didn't seem to be any point in inflicting my sorrows on some innocent man. But now, many years later, I can look back and see how Aya was so precious, so priceless. She was our lifeline, our last tenuous grasp on humanity. So while she reaches out to her thousands, through her teaching and her books, I reach out to mine, through my stories and this documentary; so that posterity will ever know the horrors of that time, and never ever come in danger of losing their humanity the way we almost did, so many long years ago."
This account is entirely fictional. Any part that seems related to or similar in any way to another document or story is not intentional.