April 21, 2024

It’s my call: The final hours …

KGOMOTSO ALBERTS

I can hear whimpers from where I am sleeping. It has become something I am accustomed to. The darkness, the smell of blood and the sound of gun fire. I try to stop the echoes and the voices in my head but they seem to overpower me. I am a prisoner in my own body and my mind is the master.

   It has been two days since they captured me. I can recall the event very well. I must say, I anticipated it. After all, I have nothing to live for. Susan and the kids were killed months ago by the soldiers and my will to live began to diminish slowly. Time passed but I am frozen in the moment of their killing. I hate them. I hate them but, most importantly, I hate being a Jew. The room in which I am sleeping is packed with people and I can sense that fear is in the air. We have to expect the worst from here on.

   An old man comes my way. His name in Stanley – I read that on his pyjamas. I can tell that he has been in here for long by the faint marks on his face and the heavy bags under his eyes. He sits next to me, holds my hand to his chest and whispers, ‘Don’t give up.’ The words hang in the air. By the time I come out of my trance, he’s gone. The alarm goes off and one of the Nazi soldiers comes to fetch us. All the women and children are screaming as they push us into a place that looks like a bathroom. My heart starts beating heavily.

   Upon entrance, they instruct us to strip naked. We comply. Something keeps telling me that we are in danger. I enter the place. Seeing the showers, however, doesn’t ease the discomfort in my chest. After we have all filed into the place, the Nazi soldier shuts the door and we wait …

   Five minutes later the showers go on. Instead of water, gas is emitted. People start screaming; some pray while others just surrender to the gas. ‘Don’t give up!’ The words ring in my head and suddenly something possesses me. I begin clawing my way up the wall. I have to be thankful for my long nails.    Suddenly, the gas is turned off and the Commandant marches into the chamber. I climb down to find myself in a pool of bodies.

   The door swings open. A number of people stumble out into the fresh air. Of a hundred-and-something people only fifteen have survived. ‘Don’t give up!’ I have to get out! It is now or never. A young man who is looking around, takes my hand and gives me a paper. I read the words ‘Follow me!’ on it.

   I manage to slip away from the group and follow the young man. We run, making it to a container where fire-arms are stored. We do not exchange a single word. He hands me a weapon. We run …

   A guard spots us. He calls out loudly but neither of us stops.  We do not stop running until a single shot is fired. I turn my head to see the boy on the ground with a bullet in his chest. They tell me to kneel down. I smile and take aim at the Nazi guard who had shot the boy, but then everything goes black.