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Cold Dark Winter of 1943

The winter of 1943 made our lives even more miserable. It seemed that we were always hungry and cold and living in constant darkness. Lighting was either kept to a minimum or, when power stations and overhead wires were hit, it was cut off completely. Windows and doors were kept covered so no light would escape, but this also kept the weak outside light from coming in.

We walked to school in the early morning dark. As fuel supplies were low, the school wasn’t heated anymore so we kept our coats, hats and gloves on in the classroom, and every ten minutes we were given time to stand up and do exercises at our desks. The mood at school was so sour that even the antisemitic barbarians were nowhere to be seen. The fervent nationalistic sentiments, which had been so strong among the youth, were now replaced by a sense of quiet desperation. All of us–Jews and gentiles–just wanted to survive these hard times and see the end of the miserable war, a war no one wanted any more.

When class was dismissed at 1 o’clock, I took the streetcar into the city to join Mother at our store. David did the same from his high school. The streetcars travelled without lighting or heat; and the riders turned into a morose crowd, bundled up in warm cloths, cursing under their frozen breath. At the store, David and I did our homework, interrupted by the occasional customer, usually bringing in a broken window frame for repair. We didn’t close up until late–not because we were so busy, but because the store provided more comfort than our apartment. In our little store, we felt strangely protected, drawing a sense of security from one another, as though we could shut out the outside world and enter a space free from danger and hatred.

By the time we finally closed up and headed to the streetcar stop, the city was in total darkness and the streets were practically deserted. The streetcar came, darkened and in silence. The usual merry ring of the conductor’s bell had been silenced. Even the sport of harassing Jews had subsided, so we could travel quietly and without fear. But this didn’t mean that we could travel in comfort. Jews were not allowed to sit, not even when the streetcar was empty. We had to stand crowded together in an open area at the end of the car, fully exposed to the cold and blowing winds. No one was exempt: not women, not the elderly, not the sick.

Our long walk from the streetcar to home through the chilly, dark streets was made in silence. With our hands shaking from the cold, we would open the door and enter our freezing apartment. We talked very little; there was so little to say.

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