Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2021 finalist Lily Tuvi! Lily finished 8th grade this past school year. Her story is called “I Survived” and is about a woman who escaped a concentration camp. Enjoy!

By Lily Tuvi

Paris, 1946
I sit at the train station patiently waiting for my train. My fingers lightly tap over the leather suitcase in my lap. I sigh and hold my wrist to examine my watch, wondering what time it was. 12:15 am. Where is that train? It was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago. I look at the man sitting at the baggage holding desk, the brim of his hat is resting on the tip of his nose as he sleeps soundly. I can’t help but notice that I was the only one in the train station besides him. I look out at sleepy Paris through the glass above me and admire the stars. Suddenly, it begins to rain. The street lamps highlight the drops of water descending from the sky. I button my coat and place my chestnut beret upon my head. Why did I feel uneasy? Why did I feel scared? The war was over, there was nothing to fear now. That’s what I told myself. 

I dislike waiting, and especially for trains. 

I remember sitting in the back of a train and seeing the words “Deutsche Reichsbahn.” I was petrified as I was taken to Auschwitz. Rotting wood and barred windows. We were being treated as if we were animals being taken to the circus. My heart swells at the thought. My gloved hand finds its way to the golden Star of David upon my neck. I inhale, cross my legs, and glance at my watch for a second time. 12:30.  I felt a tug on my dress and looked over to see a sobbing woman clutching the fabric. Her eyes were filled with desperation. She cried for her baby, her voice alternated between Polish and German. Her body shook as she pleaded and choked on her words.“Poproszę, Bitte” The memory of her voice echoes throughout my body. The man at the desk is still fast asleep. I know that I have been sitting here for half an hour but it feels like someone just moved the hand on my watch. I can’t help but let my mind wander…

When I arrived in Auschwitz, the men were separated from the women and children. I held Joseph’s hand and lightly traced the lines on it with my finger. As I began to cry, I felt his face in my hair. His warm lips touched my ear. He left kisses down the side of my face. He put his hand to my chin and turned my head towards him. I looked into his eyes and whispered “Ich liebe dich.” I squeezed his hand tighter. “Ich liebe dich auch” he replied. I grabbed his face and softly kissed him as a tear slid down his cheek.  I knew it was goodbye, but I thought maybe…just maybe if I didn’t say it, there was a chance it wouldn’t come true. 

The burning in my chest returns and my shoulders become tense. My eyes become glossy as I replay the painful memory of saying goodbye to my dead lover. I could have saved him. I know I could. My stomach sinks with guilt. I try to breathe but regret and heartache consume my entire body. I had to let go of Joseph’s hand. As we were led away from the other groups, I didn’t look back. I and many others followed a soldier through a door. We were registered and given prisoner numbers. As I watched the number being engraved into my skin, reality had caught up to me. I realized that there was no “what if’s” and I probably wasn’t getting out of Auschwitz. Every last bit of hope and optimism was gone. My destiny had been decided for me. We were told to undress and let our heads be shaved. Then we were forced to shower in front of other people. I was nothing. I was humiliated, worthless, and stripped of my identity and dignity. The pit in my stomach grew larger. Our clothing was taken away and we were ordered to put on a striped uniform that had our prisoner numbers stamped onto it. As we were waiting in line to collect our uniforms, I noticed one that looked different than the others. As I got closer, my heart leaped. I realized what it was. Somehow, a Nazi uniform had gotten mixed with the uniforms for prisoners! The small bit of hope that I thought I would never feel again, came back. I was willing to take any risk because at that point I had nothing to lose. I grabbed the uniform and hastily removed myself from the line, sneaking into the corner of an empty hallway. I quickly put the uniform on. The olive green sleeves of the oversized coat hung below my fingertips. I picked up the peaked cap and momentarily stared at the Swastika. I swallowed the bile rising in my throat and placed it on my shaved head. At the end of the hallway, there was a door. I walked to it, not wanting to draw any attention to myself. My heart was practically beating out of my chest. The moment I left the building, I let out a breath of relief. “Was machst du?” a voice shouted at me. What are you doing? Right then, there, all the relief in my body instantly turned to fear. I froze and then slowly turned around, revealing a nazi soldier standing about 15 feet away from me. “Badezimmer” I replied. Bathroom. He visually inspected my body, looking me up and down. At that moment, I was almost sure I was going to die. I was absolutely horrified. Then I watched him walk through a door to another building. I just realized I hadn’t been breathing that whole time. I turned back around and started walking towards the corner of one of the buildings. When I turned the corner, I collapsed in relief. The big steel gates were so close. I looked around to see if there were any guards. The coast was clear. Slowly, my surroundings started to disappear from my vision. I was looking down a tunnel of darkness with the gates on the other side. Just me and the gates. So I ran. I didn’t stop. I just ran as far as I could. My heart was beating and beads of sweat were dripping down the side of my face. I began stripping pieces of the uniform as I ran. I looked back to see the olive green pile of clothes. That peaked cap was resting on it. The swastika was looking into my eyes. I shut my terror-stricken eyes and turned my head. Not once again did I look back. After about half an hour of running, I was about two miles away from the camp. I came to realize the situation, fell to my knees, and started sobbing. I groaned at the feeling of my aching lungs and dry throat. So many thoughts were racing through my head. “What just happened?”, “Will they be looking for me?” , “What about Joseph?” I knew there was no time for curiosity or second thoughts. I had to find refuge as soon as possible. I wanted that feeling of relief, but I couldn’t find it. I am free. That is what I told myself. All I felt was guilt. This shouldn’t have happened. Innocent people are getting ruthlessly murdered and I cheated my way out. 

I was not free. I could be free until my people were. 

The sound of an incoming train pulls me out of my thoughts and brings me back to reality. I pull my sleeve up to check my watch, but this time, I let my thumb brush over a tattoo of the number 98247. It was 1:00. I lift my suitcase and make my way to the entrance of the train. As I step inside, I notice that the train was completely empty besides one man. I sit down beside him and smile, trying to be friendly. He looks back at me and nods.  He had round glasses and a long brown coat. He opens his pocket to grab his stopwatch. Stitched into the inside of his pocket, there was a red patch. Out of restless curiosity that formed while sitting in the train station, which had felt like forever,  I squint to try to make out what it was. Then my heart froze at what I saw. It was a swastika. The familiar pit in my stomach starts growing and my eyebrows wilt. Am I safe anywhere?

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