The world was at peace, blue skies and green grass. Then I opened my eyes, darkness fleeting forth. This is not paradise. This is Buchenwald. For one moment, every morning, I lay on the mattress in naive bliss, I donâ€™t recall the pain and torture of the days passed, I donâ€™t feel the cuts and bruises from yesterdays railroad track building; then it rushes back to me.
Each day feels like a month, each month a year, and the hope of getting out before January hits are constantly fleeting from us. We can try to escape, but thereâ€™s no hope on the other side. Liberated, free soil is just as hopeless as the prison, it is only a matter of days before someone would catch us and move everyone to another work camp, or worse, a death camp.
As I turn the corner, ready to work for another dark day in the dusty factory, I almost run into the guards, I quickly turn back, waiting for them to pass. The first man has a tone of panic as he whispers in a rush, I only manage to hear him utter, “They’ve come! The Soviets have come. Liberated Majdanek, and soon the rest of Poland will be free.” Quickly, precisely, I run to the others in the factory and spread the news – Soviets are coming, and maybe even the Americans.
After work I rush back to the bunks, carefully skirting around the eyes of vicious guards. If you don’t run quickly, frostbite will overcome your feet and others will steal shoes, scarves, anything slightly loose or easy to remove. My friend Asaf, an old Jewish man who’s survived here since it opened in early1941, is eagerly waiting for me. “Jacob, I have awful news! Come quickly!” Asaf calls to me. I rush to him, “What is it? What is happening?” I urge. “I heard the guards talking today, and it seems that they plan to hurry their plans for us.” “What plans? Should we run?” “The Final Solution,” he whispers with more fear than I’ve seen in him in all our time together, “They will kill us all, before the Americans or Soviets can free us.”
Asaf says heâ€™s going to run away; I warned him not to make another attempt because the Nazis are desperate Their only twisted hope for an Aryan race can be found through acting out in their last moments of power. I know that if I try to escape someone will find me; Iâ€™ve been running since this war began; now I have to hide. With all of the chaos and commotion I manage to swipe a box of crackers from a stash and lock myself in one of the closets in an unpopular room.
My lungs are beginning to tighten now; I’ve been here for at least six days. The closet is small, pitch black, and isolated. I can occasionally hear a commotion or a few footsteps, there seems to be just enough noise to declare the outside world unsafe to return to. So I’m waiting here until I can be certain that there will be no danger when I come out of the closet. Just as I am beginning to slip out of consciousness a strange, yankee voice called out, “Hello? Is anyone in here? We are Americans; we are here to save you. The guards are gone, it is safe to come out.” Before I grasped the situation completely an American soldier threw open the doors and lifted me to my feet. “Son, you are a free man now. What’s your name?” “Jacob. Thank you,” I manage to whisper before collapsing to the ground.
Although I am very relieved to be out of the camp, it seems that marching with the Americans, as a liberated man, will be the death of me. We have been walking for many days, but they will not give us food or allow us to stop and catch our breath. One man stopped and asked me, “Are you alright kid? You don’t look so good.”
Now that weâ€™ve all arrived at the American made refugee camp, Iâ€™ve started to notice the state survivors are in. Most of the people around me look like skeletons, so sickly and broken that they canâ€™t move. To make matters worse, Anti-Semitism is constantly a problem. The hatred of Jews is present everywhere, especially here.
A young, scrawny girl approached me on my second day at the refugee center. “Hello, I’m Sarah.” “Hi, I’m Jacob,” I said, wondering why she seems so happy while looking like she might die at any moment. As if she could read my mind, Sarah perked up and said, “The Soviets freed me from Auschwitz, they told us that it was the largest death camp they’d ever seen. Most of the prisoners were sent on a march westward before we could be liberated, but I’m one of several thousand emaciated prisoners who are lucky to be alive and protected by the Soviets.” “Well, how did you end up here if Soviets liberated Auschwitz?” I asked
“When the Soviets overran Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka they formed a refugee camp; but America, Britain, and France are in charge of the ‘United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’ which responsible for refugee centers and displaced person camps. I decided to come to this center when I heard that the American soldiers weren’t being kind to their refugees.” she explained. “Well they haven’t been kind, but I suppose it’s justified because they’re busy trying to save prisoners from torturous death. They told us to stay here for safety.” “They told you to stay in their camp so they can take credit for the liberation of concentration camps; but in reality American soldiers have liberated very few camps in comparison to the Soviets.” Sarah said in an angry rant. A man sitting by our campfire stood up and yelled, “Americans saved my skin! Do not belittle them. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee provides us with food and clothing. The Organization for Rehabilitation through Training is starting up soon and I hear they have vocational training so we can get jobs. The USA is my only shot at a somewhat normal life.” Many conversations like this one continued to fill the center, debates about which countries were helping most and what options we had as refugees.
“Well, it was nice to meet you Sarah, but I think I’ve been at this camp long enough.” I say as I pack up a few bread rolls and prepare to hike back to Kielce, a city in Poland that my family once lived in. I only walk for a day before stumbling into the city, “the refugee center is very close to the city,” I say to myself. As I enter the city square I begin to notice the rage in the eyes of many people around me. “Get out of here you filthy Jew,” a dark ugly man croaks. “I could say the same to you, sir. You are a no good, scum sucking Pollack,” hollers a brave woman from a growing crowd. Before I can get a good look at the man, he is on top of a Jewish boy, pummeling him to the ground. A full on fight breaks out around me and I try to defend myself, but the world quickly folds in on itself, turning into blackness. “Good morning lad,” a woman calls to me from a corner desk next to my bed. I look around to see that I am in a makeshift hospital and ask her, “What happened?” “You were in the riot over at the town square in Kielce! Don’t you remember? Forty two of your people died.” She says looking at me over her paperwork.
After I am out of the hospital I try to go to America where itâ€™s safer. There are many camps for Jews in Europe as well as the option of moving to Israel, but I have a feeling that America is the best place to start over. Here in Europe, I have neither family nor any future. It only holds tormenting memories. Unfortunately the Immigration laws are too strict and I have to stay here in Poland for a while longer. I hear that a Jewish survivor organization called Sh'erit ha-Pletah, or surviving remnant, is pressing for emigration opportunities to leave Europe, so there is hope.
weeks after my failed attempt to go to the United States, my new friend Stanley runs up to me saying, “Did you hear the news? It’s wonderful! The US Congress passed the 1948 Displaced Persons Act! We can go to America!”
Between 1948 and 1952 400,000 US immigration visas were granted, 68,000 went to Jews, Jacob was one of them.