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Mother Near Death

Even though we walked around the yard very carefully at night, a sliver of light or a faint sound must have escaped to the outside from time to time. Twice in late December, this nearly brought disaster upon us. One time, a guard from the neighbouring factory led groups of Nazis and policemen into the lumberyard, claiming that someone was hiding in the area. A few of the older people were discovered and were at once taken to the ghetto, from where they managed to escape after a fortnight and return to us.

The other time, the searchers seemed more certain than ever that people were hiding in the yard, but lifting up the concrete lids covering our hiding places never occurred to them, or perhaps they were too cold and lazy to make the effort.

As they marched around the yard and inside the sheds for a long time, their heavy boots thumping on the floor above our heads, Mother had a hernia attack. Suddenly, she clutched her side and turned deadly pale. We could see the bundle of hernia bulging out from under her dress. We carefully made as much room for her as we could, so she could lie down ever so slowly. She was pale, biting her lips in pain, as tears rolled down her cheeks. One moan and we would have been doomed.

As the nazi searchers walked just above us, we sat still, not daring to even breathe, separated from our pursuers by only a thin cement slab. Mother twisted in agony on the floor while the searchers walked around above us, for what seemed like an eternity. We felt terribly helpless. We couldn’t even move to hold her hand, to wipe the perspiration off her forehead, or massage her hernia. All we could do was huddle as close together as possible to make room for her. Mother’s breathing became erratic and she mercifully passed out from the pain.

Then we heard a command above us, and the boots marched away. We didn’t dare move, in case they were pulling their trick of marching away while one of them stayed behind in stealth to see if there was any sound or movement. Those of us who had survived this far knew about these games. We remained still and silent for a long time. Then Mother gradually came to and began the painful exercise of pushing her hernia back in place. We began to move around. One of us handed her some water, and somebody else loosened her dress and wiped her forehead.

By nightfall, Mother was able to slowly get up and crawl out of the pit. This was probably the closest call we had during our underground period. I don’t know if anyone else would have managed to suffer the pain in silence, determined not to give in and not to fail us. Once again, our mother’s determination and bravery saved our lives.

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