"that we are being taken somewhere in Hungary to work in the brick factories. It seems that here, we are too close to the front..."
"Each of us will be allowed to bring his personal belongings. A backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else."
"There are rumors"
"Go and wake the neighbors" "They must get ready..."
It was close to midnight. Nobody felt like going to sleep, though some people briefly went to check on their homes. Others left but asked to be called as soon as my father returned. At last, the door opened and he appeared. His face was drained of color. He was quickly surrounded. "Tell us. Tell us what's happening! Say something..." At that moment, we were so anxious to hear something encouraging, a few words telling us that there was nothing to worry about, that the meeting had been routine, just a review of welfare and health problems.. But one glance at my father's face left no doubt.
There is nobody outside.
"Someone is knockingat the sealed window, the one that faces outside!"
"The news is terrible," he said at last. And then one word: "Transports." The ghetto was to be liquidated entirely. Departures were to take place street by street, starting the next day. We wanted to know everything, every detail. We were stunned, yet we wanted to fully absorb the bitter news. "Where will they take us?" That was a secret. A secret for all, except one: the president of the Jewish Council. But he would not tell, or could not tell. The Gestapo had threatened to shoot him if he talked.
(The ghetto waking up in the morning)
"There are rumors," my father said, his voice breaking, "that we are being taken somewhere in Hungary to work in the brick factories. It seems that here, we are too close to the front..." After a moment's silence, he added: "Each of us will be allowed to bring his personal belongings. A backpack, some food, a few items of clothing. Nothing else." Again, heavy silence. "Go and wake the neighbors," said my father. "They must get ready.." The shadows around me roused themselves as if from a deep sleep and left silently in every direction.
You have to wake up we have to go.
FOR A MOMENT, we remained alone. Suddenly Batia Reich, a relative who lived with us, entered the room: "Someone is knocking at the sealed window, the one that faces outside!" It was only after the war that I found out who had knocked that night. It was an inspector of the Hungarian police, a friend of my father's. Before we entered the ghetto, he had told us, "Don't worry. I'll warn you if there is danger." Had he been able to speak to us that night, we might still have been able to flee... But by the time we succeeded in opening the window, it was too late. There was nobody outside.
Go check the window Elie!
THE GHETTO was awake. One after the other, the lights were going on behind the windows. I went into the house of one of my father's friends. I woke the head of the household, a man with a gray beard and the gaze of a dreamer. His back was hunched over from untold nights spent studying. "Get up, sir, get up! You must ready yourself for the journey. Tomorrow you will be expelled, you and your family, you and all the other Jews. Where to? Please don't ask me, sir, don't ask questions. God alone could answer you. For heaven's sake, get up ... " He had no idea what I was talking about. He probably thought I had lost my mind. "What are you saying? Get ready for the journey? What journey? Why? What is happening? Have you gone mad?" Half asleep, he was staring at me, his eyes filled with terror, as though he expected me to burst out laughing and tell him to go back to bed. To sleep. To dream. That nothing had happened. It was all in jest...
(Elie ran to the house of one of his father's friends.)
My throat was dry and the words were choking me, paralyzingmy lips. There was nothing else to say. At last he understood. He got out of bed and began to dress, automatically. Then he went over to the bed where his wife lay sleeping and with infinite tenderness touched her forehead. She opened her eyes and it seemed to me that a smile crossed her lips. Then he went to wake his two children. They woke with a start,torn from their dreams. I fled.