The Sound of Rain on Stone
Bury me standing; I've been on my knees all my life.
I looked up at Lodz, my heart sinking with every breath.
"We have to live here?" I asked, eyeing the ghetto with disgust. The skinny people who already dwelled there looked at us with doubt. Though I saw many yellow stars among the crowd, we were soon taken to a smaller part of the ghetto made especially for us, the Roma.
Or as they called us, the Gypsies.
"Ma-sh-llah…" Mother said quietly, taking my hand. Though the guards around us didn't know what she had said, I did. 'As God wills' was her answer to my question, though if God willed us to live here, he must not have been very nice. And after all my family had been through, the least he could have given us was a nicer home.
"I miss Kako." My younger brother, Vesh, complained as we walked. Mother silenced him quickly but I couldn't help remembering our small little dog that had been killed earlier by the Nazis who had later deported us here.
As we were dumped in the streets of the Roma part of the ghetto, a broad-shouldered man approached. He wore the patch, like me, mamma and Vesh did, of a Roma and confirmed this by saying "Na daran Romale wi ame sam Rom Tshatsh"or 'do not fear, Roma, for I am a Roma too.'
Mother smiled but did not touch him--that would have meant she was going to curse him. Instead she replied, "Why do you talk to me freely? There should be a Krisatora…"
The man looked alarmed. "Things are different now!" He said opening his arms out as if the ghetto would explain it all.
"Yes." Mother agreed sadly. "Yes they are."
The man glanced across the street at a guard who was coming our way. "Let us go inside." He said. "There we can talk more freely."
Vesh skipped alongside the man, pestering him with questions about the ghetto and the killings that went on. Mother made as if to stop him from asking, but sighed to me, "Why should he not know? We shall soon be dead." And she started to cry.
I looked at her with distress--even after our wagons were taken from us and our father and dog killed, she had not cried. Now it seemed as though it was all coming back to her, like awaking from a dream.
"They kill the dili." The man was telling Vesh. I recalled that dili was the name for the mentally retarded and ones with ailments. It made me shudder and think of my cousin, Luda, who had been killed for the bent shape of her back.
Later many things were explained to us.
For instance, the man who had greeted us was named Geoff. He and his wife, Heidi, had lived in the ghetto for a month. I quickly became close friends to their daughter, Lotte.
"It is awful here." Lotte told me one day about a week into our stay at Lodz. "They try to starve us but some of the Jewish boys and I sneak out to get food."
"May I join you?" I asked, eager for a look at Germany outside the tall, barbwire walls.
"If the Nazis catch you, you will be shot!" Lotte told me in a loud whisper. "You mustn't come!"
I was stubborn though and Lotte finally submitted to my cries.
"But if they catch you!" She warned once again before moving aside a rusty tire and showing me a gap in the plaster wall.
"You live so close to freedom!" I said, smelling the fresh air on the other side. "Why don't you escape?"
"Mother and father cannot fit, only I." Lotte stated proudly. "And," She added as an afterthought, "if the Nazis catch us, we die."
I understood her argument all to well- the memory of father's pale face after the bullet had pierced him was scarred in my memory.
"If I am not back in an hour, tell my mother." I instructed Lotte and began to worm my way through the hole, my skirt catching and ripping.
Lotte giggled. It sounded out of place in this land of tears, walls, blood and barbwire. "But you don't even know where to get food."
I stopped in mid-wiggle. She was right. I started to crawl back.
"Fifika!" Mother called out in horror as she entered the room. "What are you doing?"
I started to cry. "I am so hungry!" I said between sobs as Lotte replaced the wheel. "I wanted to get us some food!"
"Hush, hush." Mother cooed as if I was a tiny baby.
Lotte looked awkwardly at the hole. As if for the first time, I realized her bright green eyes were sunken; her arms were skinny and her face, hollow. She looked as if she had not eaten the entire time she was in Lodz. When my eyes turned to mother, she looked the same way. A cut along her hairline showed the place where the whip had hit her and her hands were covered in blisters as well as her feet.
I knew I must have looked the same way.
"What's going to happen to us?" I asked quietly.
"They are going to kill us all!" Lotte, Mother and I all turned at once. It was Heidi, Lotte's mom, who had shouted out. Her eyes were more sunken then Mother's or mine and her teeth were black with sickness. Her copper hair was wild and her skirts and shirt were ripped.
"The children--" Mother said quickly, pulling me up. My eyes were wide with fear as Heidi cut momma off.
"Ka jav te xenav tut!" She swore at us. I cringed away and Lotte did too.
Mother stood calmly though there was a tremor in her voice when she spoke. "Come, Fifika." She said. "Lotte, you are welcome to come with us if you'd like."
Lotte nodded numbly and edged out through the door, past her mother. Heidi was panting like an overused horse and the wildness in her eyes made me almost as afraid as going out to the streets.
As we walked along the road of the ghetto, we came upon the body of a young boy who looked as if he could have been Vesh's twin if not for his matted black hair. His face was blue-grey with death and as soon as Lotte saw him she fell onto his body, weeping.
"Popoy!" She sobbed. "Why did they kill Popoy? He was a good boy! His father was a Bulibasha!"
I shivered as she hugged the boy's limp form to her chest.
"Why?" Lotte cried again. "Why Popoy? Why us? Why the Roma? What did we do?"
Mother was very silent. She took Lotte's arm and pulled her from the corpse. Lotte struggled but she was weak from days without food.
"Come." I told Lotte. She glared at me and then nodded, submitting to Mother's hushing and crooning. As I listened to the familiar tune that they hummed, I realized it was the Brigaki Djilia, the song of mourning. I joined in, my voice adding the shaky words.
A guard yelled at us to stop. Instantly we fell silent.
Lotte, though, would not be silenced.
"Beng!" Lotte called to him.
Mother and I looked at her, alarmed. She had just called the Nazi the devil, in Romanian.
The Nazi just laughed cruelly, unaware of what Lotte had said.
"Don't!" Mother hissed to her once out of earshot.
Lotte ignored momma. Instead, to me, she said; "Tonight we must have a Pomona, a feast for the dead."
"With what food?" Mother asked, overhearing. Though she hadn't meant to be mean, Lotte pulled from her grip and ran off, obviously deeply upset.
That night when Lotte came back, she showed me that she had stolen a loaf of bread. I eyed it eagerly, my stomach almost driving me to snatch it from her.
"We feast." Lotte said rather ceremonially, leading me to the back room where the tire and hole in the wall were.
Together we split the bread and gorged on it. I slipped part of mine in my pocket, for Mother and Vesh.
"Can I at least peek at the outside?" I asked and Lotte moved the wheel so I could glance out through the little crack. It led to a back alley, I could see, but other then that, nothing interesting but a few fat drops of rain.
Together we sat, leaning against the wall, listening to the muffled speech of the Vesh and the other adults.
"Are they really going to kill all of us?" Lotte asked quietly.
"I don't know." I whispered back, thinking of papa and Popoy. "They sure kill a lot of us though."
Lotte looked at me and paled. "They took mother this afternoon."
"Heidi?" I asked, suddenly alert. I hadn't seen Heidi when we returned from our walk but I figured she must have gone out to visit friends. "Where did they take her?"
Lotte shrugged. "To be killed." She replied ruthlessly. "Where else?"
I could see the tears on her face. She looked even smaller then normal. I reached over and hugged her close, trying to comfort her like I did when Vesh was upset. Lotte's entire body shook with the deep fear and sadness.
And together we sat in the silence, listening to the sound of rain on stone.
A note on the story: I wanted to write about the changing environment and how it affected many young people. Though a great majority of the people killed in the Holocaust were Jewish, the Rom Gypsies were also targeted. Like the Jews, they were taken to special areas and put into concentration and death camps. At the end of the Holocaust half a million (almost the entire Eastern European Roma) were killed. This story is dedicated for them.