Electricity, Cruelty, A Paintbrush, and A Promise
It was our 50th anniversary. William and I met at one of the hideouts during the World War. We come from Jewish families- William’s father and my father were dairy farmers in Nazi-occupied France. Our childhood was filled with murders and oppression by the Nazis.
In 1939, our family was imprisoned and taken to a Nazi camp in eastern Auschwitz. I was six. At that point in my life, most of my time was spent hiding under the staircase or in the attic. Nazi camps were a symbol of death and despair. No man returned, or escaped the barbed wire. Uncle Josh tried escaping once. Mom told us that the wires ran with electric charge. Even a touch, as subtle as a snake; had the power to blow your brains out like a bomb. We never saw Uncle Josh again.
These electric barbed wire fences were only a small part of the horror that life at camp was. I remember when we were ten, William and I were gazing into the evening twilight. He promised me that he would get us out of this place one day. It was frightening, yet heroic.
We lived with little hope in our lives, small things were cherished and larger things like a filling meal or even an escape were anticipated too much.
One fine day, amidst the morning rush for bread and milk, I saw William walking towards me, clutching what looked like a paintbrush in his hands. He had found it outside one of the gas chambers, or as the Nazis called them; ‘Shower Chambers.’ Yes, the infamous centres of genocide and mass murder. They represented nothing less than death in there. Every evening, rags and shoes of the dead used to lie mourning their owner’s death. Somewhere within this hell, he found that ray of hope-a small, fine, wooden paintbrush. I had learnt a bit of French in my early days. The brush read ‘espérer’-the French word for ‘hope.’.
From the day we found the beautiful brush, it engraved rays of optimism amongst the children. I used to crush small flowers and mix them with water to make colours, and William would paint the stones. This brush gave us hope in the darkest of days. This signifies that the smallest of things can be cherished in the worst of times.
In 1945, we escaped the horrors of the camp, making our way through Poland. The electric wires, which could not cage us, took away our parents in the cruellest form, leaving us with the paintbrush and a promise that made us stick together in the darkest of times.
It’s 2004, William has still not broken the promise. We grew up together and raised a family in Warsaw.
I still tell my grandchildren that walking to school every morning is not that hard. Beauty is something which you have to learn about and cherish through the ages. It is found in the river you cross by, or the birds you see up above. It is hidden within the little things, waiting for you to discover, identify, and explore. It is upon you, to find it in the darkest times just like William and I did.
A proud Jew and A Holocaust Survivor.
Writer: Ashutosh Pratap Singh
Editor: Harshit Sarin