Title: Fragments Under Glass
Author: C. Rebecca Siegel
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1
Fragments Under Glass tells in a moving way the experiences of a young, teenage
Girl—her life before, during and after the Holocaust.
Living among corpses…a death train destined for the Elbe River…bodies covered with lice…the murder of almost all close relatives…life in the Netherlands before, during, and after the Holocaust is perceptively written by Rebecca Siegel. She not only describes her experiences, but also delves into the effects of that period in time on children, grandchildren and mainly herself. The book touches on her years in the Montessori School in the same class with Anne Frank and her survival in the same concentration camp where Anne died. Interspersed with the prose and at the end of the book are Rebecca’s poems which she wrote not long after the war and which are relative to her narrative. This book is highly recommended reading for adults as well as teens, giving a deeper understanding of that horrendous time period and its after-effects.
Slowly, the evening was getting colder and darker. During this part of the day, surroundings seemed alien, losing the proper size and shape necessary for recognition, and faded into one, ominous-looking shadow.
I concentrated on trying to get some sleep, making myself as small as possible in an attempt to fit on the narrow, slatted luggage shelf suspended over the seats of the passenger compartment. This ledge had been my wooden perch for the past week. No, it had only been six days and five nights of riding and standing still.
Ours was just one car within a train made up of cattle and passenger cars, a long, slow-moving snake containing its wretched load of about twenty-five hundred prisoners.
Time had lost all meaning. We had left the camp on April 6, and now it was April 11, but my body felt as if it had always been twisted in this strange position, contorted in an effort to fit the narrow ledge. I attempted to stretch and look down. On the wooden bench below sat my mother, quiet and unmoving, next to my brother. Eddie, just eighteen, was very ill and seemed to have a high fever. His weight had dwindled down to about eighty pounds.
Many years later I would remember this moment very clearly, standing out in my memory as the last part of a nightmare that had finally, necessarily, given way to the relief of waking.
The very last car of the train was filled with explosives, anti-aircraft artillery, and the German guards who had been with us sine we left the Bergen-Belsen camp. They were no longer yelling and cursing, and their relative silence was unusual, even though we could hear from far away the faint noises of artillery fire. We realized we were caught between two fronts: The Russians were coming from the east, while the Allies were advancing from the west. Suddenly, the German army was desperately fighting on both battle grounds but seemed unable to contain the advancing armies.
Looking out of the window, I strained to see the vast, empty grassland at my right. At my left, at the bottom of a hill, was a lake. We had been standing still here for at least two days, the last forty-eight hours of a journey which had taken us through a devastated Germany. The train was static during the day and traveled mainly during the darkness of night. German pride did not allow us to observe their bombed-out railroad stations and devastated cities in the stark light of day. As usual, the Germans had an indisputable method to their madness.
This night, though, was different from the previous ones. I remember the time as a night during which I was more petrified than ever before in my fifteen years of life. Clearly, the train with its pitiful human cargo had been doomed from the start. Our final destination was to be the bottom of the Elbe River in East Germany. However, the Russian forces had crossed the river and, with the Allies advancing from the west, we had been brought to a standstill.
The German soldiers on guard had made desperate attempts to destroy us at any cost. They had activated the explosives at the back of the train, setting them to go off in the middle of the night, thereby blowing up the train and passengers. Our night was filled with overpowering fear. We were waiting and waiting and expecting every second to be our last. Hours and minutes did not pass by, only one terrifying moment after another. We prayed silently, thought about what might happen, and reached a point where a kind of numbness set in. Then, we thought about nothing at all.
There's no more shadow I can see.
Only my thoughts I hear
The daylight slipped away from me
And suddenly there's fear.
I'm sure my life will stay this way
My reaching out in air;
No easing up, no carefree day,
No one with whom to share.
Why so much night to stumble through?
Praying, praying, relief will come;
I'm more than tired, nothing else to do
Where did the morning go?
Slowly the morning dawned. I looked around at the skeletal forms of the somewhat healthy, the sick, the dying, and the dead, and experienced a burst of euphoria at the certain knowledge I was still alive and part of the community. No German guards were to be seen any longer. They had fled, and somehow the explosives had been deactivated.
At this point, we could have just walked away, but nobody moved. Most of us were too weak to walk any distance. Besides, where would we have gone in the middle of a country whose aim for the last decade had been to wipe us off the earth? Who would help us? So, we waited while listening to explosions in the distance.
We had no food, but after almost two years of constant hunger pains, starvation had become part of our existence. Medicine was not available to relieve the pain of the open, festering sores that covered our emaciated bodies. We felt no shame. Whenever the train had stopped, we (or at least those among us who could still walk) had used the outdoors to relieve ourselves. The sick and the dying had been continually denied a gulp of fresh air. They were still lying in their own excrement and did not realize their condition.
Hours passed, and nothing meaningful happened. To me, it seemed I had always lived this way: hungry, dirty, sick, and degraded. Maybe if I had been an adult when the war broke out in 1940, if I had been in possession of a mature value system, it would have been clear to me my situation was abnormal, that these conditions were inhumane. However, I had only been ten years old in 1940, a mere child, receptive to the pervasive climate of slow, persistent degradation. Just looking at myself, I felt so very inferior. Five years had passed, and I had not grown, mentally or physically. Whatever feelings of self-worth I might have had were gone. I had become wise beyond my years in the ways of cunning, cheating death, and maintaining the ability to look into hell with a blank mind and soul.
Suddenly, in the early afternoon, we heard sounds of nearby motors. In no time, we were surrounded by strange-looking square automobiles driven by black- and white-helmeted soldiers. Those of us who could, gingerly left the train to greet our American liberators. They had stumbled upon our train by chance, and to them we must have been a pitiful sight to behold. Mother and I talked to the first soldier close to us. Not being able to vent our thankfulness any other way, we asked him for his autograph. The only paper we had left was my father's photograph. The soldier wrote "C. Meeuw, Pennsylvania." I still have this photograph. Amazingly, I recently found out one of the American soldiers who liberated us was the father of my daughter-in-law.
The Americans immediately went to work to create some order out of the chaos they discovered. The ambulatory among us were put on trucks and driven to a nearby village. Each person or family was taken to a different German house. Mother, Eddie, and I wound up as the unwanted guests of the village baker. He was ordered, and grudgingly agreed, to put the largest bedroom at our disposal. That night, we slept peacefully. Our painful bodies were supported by a soft mattress and covered by eiderdown comforters. Even the omnipresent lice did not bother our sleep.