The Right Line

The Right Line

Auschwitz, 1942

As Ruth reluctantly joined the other children at the camp, she recalled Mamma’s screams. Papa had resisted when the soldiers had stormed in, unannounced. Ultimately, the family was separated, without as much as a goodbye to each other.

Would she ever see her parents again? If she told the soldiers she was an adult, would they let her join them?

A stern-looking officer segregated the children into two lines.

“Name?”

“Ruth Schmidt.”

“Age?”

“Eighteen.”

A lie. She was only thirteen

Ruth was tall for her age. She could pass as a short eighteen-year-old; her deception wasn’t utterly unbelievable.

Would the officer send her to her family? 

No such luck. She was dispatched to the line on the right. She observed that the young ones were assigned to the line on the left. They looked petrified and howled for their parents. 

Parents who never came.

***

At Auschwitz, life was excruciatingly hard. 

The prisoners were given minuscule portions of food. There was neither clean drinking water nor proper sanitary facilities. They were awakened at 4:30 a.m. to work in the harsh winter. Ruth’s body grew weak from the hard labour and her skin, calloused. She shivered in the cold, longing for Mamma’s warm embrace.  Some days, she wondered what happened to those younglings.

The soldiers beat prisoners without the slightest provocation. And those who dared to defy them? Instantaneous death. Unless disease and injury staked their claim first.

Was this God’s way of punishing her because she had lied? 

Ruth’s ordeal lasted for three whole years till the Soviet Troops freed Auschwitz.

It was a miracle that she had survived this long. She had barely anything left on her-no flesh, no soul, no hope. She tried locating her family, a futile search. There was not even a tombstone to find.  

Did God not love her at all?

“Ruth, is that you?”

Ruth looked up to see Ada, their old neighbour. They barely recognized each other. War had reduced them to living shadows.

“Ruth, it’s a miracle you made it! We heard horrific tales of children under eighteen being sent to the gas chambers or being subjected to terrible medical experiments at Auschwitz.”

Realization dawned upon Ruth. The line on the left had been the line of death. At thirteen, she wouldn’t have stood a chance. Her lie had allowed her to live.

Was this the sign she was looking for?

***

2005

“Goodnight, Grandma Ruth!”

She tucked in her twin grandchildren.

As Ruth climbed down the stairs, her eyes fell on her photos. She had none of Mamma or Papa but plastered on the walls, were pictures of her wedding, her children, and her grandchildren.

New memories, to overwrite the unhappiness of the past.

It had taken years for her to muster the courage to build a new life. One that was built on a lie; a lie that saved her life, one she would tell gladly again if it meant light at the end of a dark tunnel.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Inspired by true incidents, based on incidents recounted by survivors of the holocaust.

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