by Elizabeth Stephens
There was no laughter for them in the concentration camp that New Year’s eve. They huddled together in their overcrowded bunks as the cold Artic wind howled through the night carrying with it the raucous laughter of the guards who were celebrating and toasting their Führer. As they awoke the next morning at 4:30 AM, the guards were not all present. There was an unusual stillness after the storm as David and the other laborers shuffled to go eat their meager ration of gruel and drink the bitter black liquid that faintly resembled coffee.
At first break of light David stepped outside into the biting cold air and noticed two sparrows on the camp’s high barbed wire fence. The night had left behind a fresh blanket of snow and some of the usual guards were slow to get up after the previous night’s festivities. As he trudged through the snow across the yard to his post as a pipefitter for the gas lines, he would normally steal a glance at the infamous tower which they were herded into during the air raids, but for some reason he couldn’t take his eyes off the two sparrows. Suddenly, the sparrows darted off into the clear blue morning sky and then he heard the sound. It was a familiar sound that he’d heard over 63 times before. But this winter day was somehow different.
It was like a dream. He was much further away from his post as his keepers were not doing their vicious ritual prodding. Suddenly, the camp was alive, men flying out of their bunks, pulling on their pants as the unmistakable roar of British Spitfires swooped down upon the camp. The Nazi guards shouted their customary command—“Ausländer! (foreigners) UP!” But this time, David was further from the tower they normally used as a human shield above the guard’s bomb shelter. It happened so fast, but strangely was like slow motion at the same time. Many bombs fell, though one struck the hanging rail where so many victims had been strung up over his time at the camp and left as examples. Suddenly he saw his chance as the gate and guard tower were decimated and a way of escape appeared. David didn’t hesitate, he ran–ran with all his being.
David didn’t stop running until the next morning when he saw a dead horse along the way. He was ravenously hungry and attempted to eat it raw, but without the necessary fire to cook it found it impossible to stomach. The next thing David remembers was making his way to the Alps, where he fought for the French Resistance. Soon after the allies had taken Italy, the Dictator Mussolini was shot in a firing squad by Italian partisans. David then made his way back to Torino to see if anyone else in his family had survived. Finding little to hope for, he knew then that it was time to join fellow Jews in Israel’s fight for independence.