When the chances for freedom dance so tantalisingly just beyond the gates, so many of the women here ask me why I choose to stay. Some say it’s ignorance, others say it is a stupid and futile attempt to cling to a religion that Hitler is so intent on destroying. I understand they say harsh things to compensate for their own pain. So I tell them, there is nothing worse, no greater sin than voluntarily giving away your faith.
My faith does not blind me. I can see and feel the presence of death here. It’s a constant companion. It’s sometimes unbearable seeing those around you suffering more than you. One young woman, she was Polish, I found myself very fond of. She never spoke to me, but she needed to speak out. Her face was a constant mask of anguish, and although she never wavered in her cold front, it was clear she was afraid.
This Polish woman was very attached to two younger girls. Together they didn’t speak much, but they spoke amongst themselves quite often. She acted as their older sister, and perhaps she was. She shared the meagre portions of the dry bread and murky brown water that doubled as soup or coffee with them. At one stage, she gave up all her food rations to these younger girls, trying to stop them from starving, to keep them alive and with her. It broke her heart when they died. But what broke my heart, was seeing the rest of her die with them. When they died, it seems she lost the will to fight, to survive.
Despite all this, Katya I believe her name was, was determined to carry their bodies and lay them at rest. Although she struggled the whole way, she did accomplish it. It was a brave act. When she came back to the wooden hut that we slept in, she didn’t even make it to the bed before she dropped to her knees in despair. It was a shock to most of the women, seeing her cold front crumble the way it did. She crawled over to a wall, and threw her hands against it, and in one soul piercing scream all her bottled emotions flooded out. Her shoulders shuddered as her shrunken body heaved with heart wracking sobs. I crouched beside her, and although we didn’t speak the same language, I feel I gave her more comfort than any words could. Although I have lost my five sons, my motherly instinct was not lost with them.