and the lines in between are blurred by forbidden love.
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love doesn't stop until a heart is no longer beating.
Day 1 - January 1942
Mama said to close my eyes and take a deep breath when I got scared. It would offer me a moment of distraction from whatever was making me upset. So, I counted as I inhaled, wishing the sounds would go away and leave us to the little freedom we had left. With my eyes closed, I was more aware of my racing pulse and the rhythmic sound of my unsteady breaths.
The clothes covering my body smelled of clean soap—a scent I had always enjoyed after Mama and I brought the dry laundry in from the clothesline outside. I knew at that moment that I wanted to remember the fresh smell because it was home, and that’s what they were there for—our home.
Heavy footsteps on the creaking floors sent shivers through my soul. I heard them moving through the darkness of our small house, then a beam from a flashlight bounced off the walls and worked its way through the makeshift cloth doors I was hiding behind.
“Their plates are half full, and the food is still warm,” one of them said. “They're in here somewhere.” As the voices continued, I heard one of them chewing the food Mama had just prepared for us. It made me sick.
We knew the day was coming, but we didn't know when. I had foolishly suggested we run away and hide, but Mama and Papa said it wasn't a possibility because there was no place to hide.
We were stalling, hoping for a miracle, but there had been no miracles in Prague for quite some time, and the hope we once held onto was fading by the minute.
As I listened, feeling helpless and full of fear, I could hear them in Jakob's room, tossing his books and tearing his drawings down from the walls. Then, a loud crash followed the smaller sounds. A tear skated down my cheek as imagined the noise had come from his bureau or bed.
A groan followed every bang, and wrestling noises ensued. “No, no,” Jakob screamed.
“Who else lives here with you?” a man asked.
“No, one,” Jakob shouted. “I live alone.”
Jakob was a little less than two years older than I, and at nineteen, he was trying to protect our family from what was happening, but even the smartest and bravest couldn't seem to conquer the army of Nazis hunting us down.
“You're a liar.” The man continued yelling at Jakob in a thick German accent that was hardly understandable, but then I clearly heard the man follow with, “I can see the nervous look in your eye.” Our walls were thin, and I heard every one of Jakob’s nervous breaths. He always had trouble breathing in stressful conditions, and that situation was making it so much worse.
The sounds of wrestling continued and I squeezed my eyes shut while trying to imagine being somewhere else, but it was impossible to block out the truth.
Papa stormed through the hallway, interrupting the interrogation in Jakob’s bedroom. I knew it was him by the way his shoes clapped against the wooden floors—it was different from the sound of a boot's thud. “Let go of my son, now!” Papa yelled. “Jakob, run!”
“He was lying,” one of the Nazi's said again—the man’s voice was calm and apathetic about the torment he was causing our family. “How many more of you are in here?”
“There is no one else here,” Papa said. “Take me and leave my son; he is of no use to you.”
“You're a liar too,” the Nazi said, playfully, as if he were enjoying the anguish. I didn’t know how many of those soldiers were in our house, but I was sure I heard at least three different voices.
Boots charged through the hallway, and as the echoes grew louder, I realized they must have known exactly where I was hiding. They were heading straight for me.
The cloth hanging in front of my closet’s opening were torn from the rod as the glow of their flashlights pierced through the fabric that was still draped over me.
I was kicked hard—hard enough that I may have normally squealed or let out a cry, but I held my breath through the pain, trying my best to be brave. “What is under here?” a man questioned. I felt as though I was being teased and toyed with, just as Papa was. It continued to be a game for them as the clothes were peeled away, one article at a time, until I was uncovered and exposed as I cowered in the corner while their light blinded me.
My racing heart felt as though it were free-falling through my body like a lead weight, and I felt numb as I was pulled up to my feet. Fear, unlike anything I had ever known overwhelmed all my senses, making it hard to breathe. A hand cuffed my arm tightly and the soldier yanked me forward, forcing me to trip over my dress as I stumbled to keep up with his pace. “No!” I shrieked. “Leave us alone!”
“Do not fight with us, Jew. Grab a coat and a bag. You’re coming with us.”
“I have a right to be here! This is our home, and you are trespassing.” Papa often told me that my mouth would get me into trouble someday, but if that were the day, I would rather it be because I was trying to protect my family versus giving in without a fight.
“You no longer have any rights. You are a Jew—you're nothing more than an animal.” The Nazi stared down at me, pausing before dragging me out the door. His lip snarled as if he were an angry dog. I couldn’t understand what I did to make anyone hate me that much. He didn’t know me or my family. He didn’t know any of us living in that town, but he hated us because someone told him to feel that way.
“I am a human being, like you.” I spoke so softly, my words were probably inaudible, but I had to say it. He needed to hear how I felt, even if it meant nothing to him.
Despite my efforts, however, it was obvious my words had no effect on him. All that seemed to matter was that he knew I was weaker than him, and I didn’t have the physical strength to resist his power as he pulled me out of my house. He dragged me by my heels behind him as we followed in the path of Papa and Jakob.
“Please,” I heard Mama cry out. “Please don’t take my family.”
“Mama, go back inside,” I shouted at her.
“Let my children go!” she shouted. “Those are my babies. I put them on this earth, and you cannot take them away from me. They’re mine!”
“They are not children or babies,” one of the Nazis said.
“Let them go, you monsters!” she shouted louder as she tried to jump on the man pulling me. She clawed at his back, pounding her fists against him, but did little, if any, damage. “Run, Amelia. Run!” Mama told me.
The Nazi soldier didn’t loosen his grip on me for a second. I could have pulled as hard as I wanted to, but he had me trapped. “I can’t get away, Mama.”
Another Nazi took hold of Mama and dragged her away. I watched over my shoulder as she was pushed down to her knees while cradling her hands around the back of her head.
I prayed to God, begging him not to let them hurt her.
“Amelia, turn around and go!” she cried out. I had never heard Mama cry before then, not once in my entire life.
I cried softly to myself, begging them not to touch her. I kept saying, “No,” over and over, but none of them heard me. No one cared.
The world froze around me and a cold sweat coated my skin as that Nazi screamed a line of obscenities at Mama before pulling out his gun. I watched as he aimed it at the back of her head, and again, I prayed he was just trying to torture and scare her, but the sound of a loud click changed that thought. “Mama!” I screamed. “I love you, Mama. Please, don’t hurt her!”
“Amelia,” she sobbed, looking up at me. “Fight and be strong. For me.”
“Mama, no,” I whimpered as the blast from the gun thumped against the inside and outside of my chest. I tried to escape the hands pushing me along, but when I saw Mama fall, crumpling to the ground like a rag doll, I froze in place—I felt paralyzed. “Mama, please don't leave me!” It didn’t matter how much I begged. My voice wasn’t heard, and if it was, it was ineffective and too late.
Amelia - 1942:
The inside of my closet held the last bit of my freedom before I was torn from my home and shoved onto a dark train.
Our destination was even darker. "Women and children to the right. Men to the left," they shouted at us.
Everything was taken from me, leaving only the smoke filled air, piercing screams, and soul-burning cries.
I was slowly starved and weakened to the bone, but there was a man--a Nazi--who brought me extra food. He called himself a prisoner too, but he scared me, and I wondered if he was the enemy I should fear the most.
Emma - Current Day:
My grandmother hid her past in an old diary under her bed. The tattered, brown leather book sat there for years until she asked me to find it and read her unspoken words. Now, her stories and secrets are consuming every moment of my life.
She's dying ... and asking for a man no one in our family has ever heard of.
I never imagined a hand-written book could change my entire life, but it has. It opened my eyes to a new beginning, and I learned that love is not the unsaid word my grandmother has refused to speak. It's an action--it's longevity, taboo and sometimes forbidden. Do we fight for what's wrong, or do we spend our lives searching for what's right?
Last words were never spoken because love doesn't stop until a heart is no longer beating.
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When Shari isn't writing or designing book covers, she can usually be found cleaning toys up off the floor.
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