WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER
I never considered myself a weak woman. Being a didikai, a gypsy woman, weakness was never an option. Being a gypsy in general meant no weakness, or at least to never show it.
Gypsy is supposed to be a derogatory term for Romani, nomadic people who believe what they believe and follow who they decide to follow. Of course we disgusted the Germans. We lived in their country but would not follow their rules. We bought their wares to sell to other gypsies. And we had no shame doing it. We lived by our own rules and would not hail Hitler. He made rules against our kind, forbidding us to leave our homes and placing decrees on our people. Yet we would never yield to his ways.
You notice I say "we did" instead of we do. There is no we anymore, just me. Myself. Both my husbands dead, my daughter lost and found and lost again. And me? I don't know what I am anymore. Not a gypsy, not a German, and not a woman. For gypsy woman aren't weak. Gypsy woman don't sell their children for a piece of paper. Especially to the ones they despise. But I did all these things, and I live to tell the tale.
My tribe lived out in the woods of Germany. Deep, deep in the woods. The time was 1937, and a decree had just been past that gypsies were "inveterate criminals." By being incorrigible, we could be arrested on the spot. So we hid. A blow to our pride, to have to hide like animals being hunted, but that's what we had been reduced to. We were literally being hunted by the Gestapo, where they would raid and kill, or we were sent to the ghettos with the Jews.
Yet we felt secure. Hidden in the woods, we lived our own lives. Our children ran free, and taught the things we believed to be important. And my daughter…
Oh my glorious daughter. Nadya. She was beautiful, in every way. Even with her disability. She had a twitch, from the time she was born. She would seize for minutes at a time, at any time. It was frightening to watch but I loved her all the same. And she was smart, oh how she was smart. She learned things faster than any child, which plants were poisonous, which river had the cleanest water, how to catch fish the fastest. She was a brilliant child, and had men willing to marry her when she came of age, even with her twitch.
And then the Gestapo took her. To this day, I still blame the Gestapo. Even if I had refused their offer, they would've found her. They still would've taken her to the camps. Her and the other children they took. They still would've killed the tribe. They just would've had one more notch on their gun, one more dead count. I didn't give them that satisfaction. It's sick what we'll sacrifice to deprive satisfaction.
I suppose, looking back, it was my lack of common sense that caused me to lose Nadya and my first husband, Gunari. I was walking. I loved to walk back then. Walking was the only time I was alone, and allowed to feel anything at all. And all I felt was fear. I feared the Gestapo, as much as I denied it to the others. I feared their guns, and I feared death. And fear of death made me betray the others.
Walking, I forgot I was an animal, and I now know how careless animals get eaten. They forget they have something to fear. As did I, until I heard a shout and turned to see a gun pointed in my face.
"Wait, Elmrich. Don't kill her yet. She's a gypsy, which means there's another goddamn tribe out here."
The gun stayed pointed at my face, but the Gestapo's grip on the trigger loosened. I cursed myself a million times for being so careless. The Gestapo smiled; the smile of a rat.
"Should we torture her?"
"No," the other officer sounded frustrated. "Gypsies can't feel pain, or anything else of the sort. They have no souls." He sneered at me.
"Offer her something she wants."
"And what exactly could she want?" The one with the gun, Elmrich asked.
"Hmm… her life perhaps? And freedom of persecution? We can spare one gypsy wench for an entire tribe."
Elmrich turned to me now.
"We'll either kill you or let you live. Either way your tribe will die. We'll find them. You make it easier for us and you can live as well."
Gypsy ethics makes it a sin to betray your tribe. But they were going to die either way, and this way, I might be able to warn them. They couldn't kill our entire tribe with just two Gestapo.
"I have a daughter. Let her live as well and I'll escort you to the tribe myself."
Both Gestapo smiled their rat-like smiles and agreed.
So how did I end up losing my daughter? Twice? All because of a cursed twitch really. And my cowardice. I knew they wouldn't spare my husband. Males were too dangerous these days. Gypsy children were targets as well. From stories we had heard from other tribes, Dr. Josef Mengele loved gypsy children. He performed horrific experiments on these children, but no one knew what they consisted of. I assumed they would spare just one. And they would have, except for one khantino twitch.
They radioed in for more Gestapo. I sat and watched the two of them joke amongst themselves in German. Soon more appeared, plenty more to take out our tribe, with only 20 adults who could defend it.
One of the new Gestapo gestured at me, and I stood, and stumbled. My knees were shaking too hard to support my body. Eventually I stood stably, and then I walked.
I walked the worst walk of my life. I was walking the path to killing my husband, and my family. The people I had grown up knowing and loving, who had been there for my suffrage and I had been their shoulder in their own suffering, I was walking to their execution. I was the executioner.
Once the Gestapo could see the smoke from our fire, they slowed down, and began to gesture to one another. I thought of running, for a few seconds, but another Gestapo grabbed my arm.
"How many are there?"
He hissed in my ear.
"20 adults and 9 children. Nadya, that's my daughter, please-!" He cut me off before I could say anything else.
"If we catch them by surprise we can take them all out. Kill the men. Keep the woman and children for the camps."
"Please, sir!" I pleaded. One of the Gestapo turned to me briefly, and then spoke to the others.
"Ask for a girl named Nadya. Bring her back here. Go now."
They marched into the woods as one, a sea of death to drown my unsuspecting family. I tried to ease my guilt by thinking of my daughter, and how she would live even though many would die. Die for the life of one girl.
I stood with the Gestapo that had stayed behind. Soon, I heard the sounds of gunshots and screams. Soon after that, I heard the begging of the ones who hadn't been immediately killed. I heard laughter, and more gunshots. Most distinctly, I heard the sobs of the children watching their parents die before their very eyes. I knew they were wondering what was going to happen to them, and I knew. The knowledge made me sick, but my child, my Nadya was safe. And so was I. And that was all that mattered.
I saw them as they broke from the clearing; the children in the lead and the Gestapo behind. My Nadya saw me and cried out, but I held my finger to my lips to silence her.
"Take the children," one of the officers ordered. "Except for that girl; leave her."
The children's sobs echoed off the trees as the Gestapo led them away. Only Nadya and myself were the only Gypsies left.
My daughter stared at me with terrified eyes, and I had never felt more helpless. As her mother, I should be the one protecting her. But I was just as afraid.
Suddenly Nadya fell. She had been sitting, so her sudden movement startled the Gestapo. They turned to her, guns drawn. I leapt from my spot in front of her, screaming for them not to shoot.
"She's having a seizure. She does this sometimes, but I promise it will be over soon."
The Gestapo watched in awe as my daughter laid there, her eyes open and drool leaking from her mouth. They were jabbering at each other in German, gesturing at Nadya and nodding vigorously.
"We're taking this girl as well. Either you fight us and die, or you give her to us and we'll allow you citizenship."
"Just kill her too!" One of the officers shouted, and a few took up the cry. But I was deaf. Give up my daughter? Give up the only thing I had left? They killed my husband, killed my tribe, and now they wanted the only thing I had left? Never.
But… I still had myself to live for, didn't I? They would kill me if I tried to stop them, and take her regardless. There was no saving Nadya. She was already dead. Me, I could still live.
"Take her," I whispered hoarsely. "Take her and damn you all." That day I became a citizen of Germany, and whenever I look at this card I hear my daughter screaming for me to save her, as I stood there and let them take her away. I thought they would kill her and I would never see her again. I wish they had. I wish they had killed her so I wouldn't have to face the pain of seeing her a second time. But I did.
It was 1946 now. The persecution was over now, and we were all safe. From the Nazis at least, not from ourselves. I had moved into Germany and found a husband, Caden. He was a pretty Irish boy, also wounded by the Nazi persecution. He had a lover, who he sold to them for citizenship. So similar we were.
I came home from the market that day to find Nadya sitting at my table. I thought I was going insane. She stared at me with contempt in her eyes.
"Mother." Never had I heard her speak the word with such hate. Caden was sitting next to her, staring at me.
"Oh, Nadya, my Nadya, my daughter! How are you alive?" I reached for her, and in response she slapped my face.
"I screamed for you. From the moment they took me away, and when they cut open my stomach so I could never breed Nazi filth, and when they raped me over and over to make sure it worked, I screamed for you. Every night in the dark, waiting for death or worse, I begged you to come save me. You never came Mother. Not once. You watched them take me away and you didn't even try to stop them! You let them cut me! You let them rape me!"
She lifted her shirt and showed me the ugly scar running from the top of her stomach down. I tried to look away but she grabbed my face in her own hands.
"And now you don't even want to look at me, is that it? You washed your hands of me to save your own skin, and now you won't even look at my scars? Feel the pain I felt when you abandoned me!"
My Nadya, my glorious daughter was screaming now, and tears ran down both of our faces.
"I'm sorry. You don't know how sorry. There was nothing I could do, Nadya! Either way you were dead! What was the point of risking my own life?"
Her eyes were fire. She glared at me with such hate and such anger, that my own insides melted.
"So I knew you tried. So I would stop screaming for a savior that would never come."
"Oh Nadya…" I whispered. I turned to Caden now, who stared at me with tears in his eyes.
"The things we do in the name of love. Love for us. We hurt the ones we claim to love the most."
He fell to his knees then, and cried out, "Oh Alder! Alder I killed you!" I knelt next to him to console him and Nadya knelt on his other side.
"Did you speak of a man named Alder just now? Are you Caden?"
He turned to her, the confusion obvious in his eyes.
"Yes, but how do you know him?"
"Alder and I were in the same camp together, Auschwitz. He watched over me there. They did experiments on him too, and they took away his testicles so he would not be attracted to men any longer."
Caden had leapt to his feet and grabbed Nadya by the shoulders.
"Where is he? Is he alive?" he demanded. He shook her roughly. Nadya reached into her pocket and pulled out a gold ring. She handed to him.
"Alder died trying to escape. As he died, he told me to find Caden and tell him all is forgiven. I never thought it would be this easy."
She turned to us both. "Alder died because he couldn't handle the pain any more. Death was better than the camps; anything was better than the camps. And while we suffered, and while he died, you sat comfortably numb in your homes, your loved ones distant memories. You pretended to suffer in your guilt because you were alive and you believed us dead. Well, I'm the ghost to attend to your guilt. Alder is dead because you were coward. I'll never have children because you, my own mother, was a coward. They did tests on me to figure out why I twitched so, and it was painful, and it was horrible, and I'll never forgive you for that. Alder forgave you Caden, because he loved you so much that the pain he suffered he could bear, knowing you were okay. So take your ring, and your guilt, and your I'm sorries, and I hope you choke on them!"
And then she was gone. It was like my daughter had died a second time, and this time more painful than the first. For every thing she said was true, and that was what hurt the most.
Sitting here now, I wonder if I would've done things differently knowing the outcome. For Caden's dead now. Soon after Nadya left, I found him hanging from the rafters upstairs. The guilt had eaten him alive, as it should've. Now I'm alone, and I wonder if it's worth it. If I had died then, I wouldn't feel this pain now. I wouldn't feel the emptiness I feel every time I breathe.
Caden had the right idea. He's hidden from his guilt, while I deal with mine every time I breathe.