General Fiction posted January 28, 2024 Chapters: -Prologue- 

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Escaping the death camp

A chapter in the book The Owl Cries

The Owl Cries Chapter 1

by Lisasview

Through the wild woods of darkness, he runs. Over mounds of soggy soil, his boots sticking in the mud like a spoon in oatmeal. Tall birch trees hide the sky, but the blinding rain and unwavering wind finds its way through and pushes his body in all directions. At times, he allows the wind's force to carry him; at other times, he must push with all his strength to go forward. Since his escape from the death camp, the rain has not stopped. Gunfire can still be heard above it, and every so often, a man's cry or, is that the cry of an owl? Desperate now to stop, to find a quiet place to lie down, he finally does and finds the rain has ended as well. For the first time, he is aware of the throbbing pain from raw open wounds on his legs. Bending over, he makes a feeble attempt to look at them and, in doing so, falls over. It is steep where he is, and he rolls over and over again down the slippery wet hill and the desired safety of the towering trees.
Pale yellow ribbons of shimmering light caress his closed eyes, and abruptly, he awakens. It is morning. The quiet is everywhere - no gunfire, no screams. The quiet worries him. He is lying in a fetal position amidst a large patch of dirt and a million weeds. His head pounds and, his stomach growls. Tilting his head slightly, he sees the trees at the top of the hill behind him; he is in an open field. For the moment, he is free, but he must move on. Pressing his fists deeply into his stomach, he tries to quell the growling noise it makes. Sometimes standing and sometimes crawling he moves further away from the hill and trees behind him. With no darkness to protect him, he is more afraid. The fear produces a metallic taste in his mouth. He looks up to the sky and says a Kaddish prayer for his deceased parents.
The house appears abandoned and is hidden behind the two huge Weeping Willow Trees, reminiscent of a storybook scene his Babushka often read to him as a small child. He sees the old house from his vantage point on the ground. It is large and grey, the once-painted blue barely visible from years of neglect. Vast gardens are now vacant lots of wet dirt covered with rocks, leaves, and weeds. For a fleeting instant, he envisions it as it might have been, filled with blooming roses and green shrubs. He imagines children laughing and singing as they play on the swings, hanging from the Willow branches. Someone has taken great pains to hide this house from the ravages of war. The windows and doors. Odd stacks of birch branches and long twigs have been neatly anchored to the sides of the house. It has been well camouflaged. War has left this old house alone.
He quietly circles the house until he reaches a cellar window. With care, he pries the boards off, one by one. He shatters the glass with a large rock. Carefully pulling the sharp shards of glass from the window frame, his heart racing, he cautiously peers inside. The room is enveloped in darkness, with only slivers of light seeping through the boarded-up windows. He goes in feet first and lands on a sturdy wooden table. Pausing for a moment, he allows his eyes to adjust to the dimness, becoming aware of the damp and musty smell that permeates the chilly room. Despite its gloominess, he finds solace in this space, as it provides a temporary sense of safety. Looking around, he can make out several cabinets and open shelving against one wall. He slides off the table and lands on the ice-cold concrete floor. His wounds are now oozing through his tattered pants, and he is in pain. The open shelving was empty, but in a cabinet, he discovers jars of fruit jam preserves and quickly opens one. Using his fingers to scoop up the delicious treat, he devours half the jar before stopping. He is freezing and searches the room for something to cover himself. Finding a heavy horse blanket in a corner, he lies down and falls asleep. What seem like minutes but are several hours, the wooden door to the cellar creaks open. He awakens at the sound and quickly moves deeper into the corner, hoping his feared - heavy breathing will not give him away. Then he sees her, a small figure in the doorway, holding a candle on a plate with one hand and a wooden stick in the other. She scans the room and sees him.
Shaking her stick wildly in the air, she yells in Polish,
"Who are you? What are you doing here? I have a weapon!"
In a weak voice, he pleads, "Please, I beg you, do not tell anyone I am here."
"Don't be ridiculous, who would I tell? We are both on the same side ."
Still in the corner, he begins to tell her the story of his capture and escape. Although, the striped pajamas tell the story of where he has been.
When his throbbing legs worsen, he passes out. She moves closer to him and, with
the flickering light from her candle sees the blood on the floor and horse blanket.
She puts down her stick and repeatedly shakes him. "Wake up...please wake up! I see you are bleeding!"
Still groggy, he replies, "Yes, I am. My legs are very painful."
"Can you walk?"
"I think so. I can try," he mumbles.
"Okay, let me help you."
Together, they move from the cellar and climb one step at a time up the short flight of the narrow staircase, and into the dimly lit kitchen. She gently guides him to a bench by the sink and begins opening drawers until she finds a pair of scissors. Quickly and carefully she removes the torn fabric from his legs.
"I have all the right things to take care of your wounds; my father is a doctor," she pauses. "I don't even know your name. Mine is Liba." 
"Mine is Jacob."
After tending to him and giving him antibiotics, she helps him to the oversized couch in the next room. She leaves him there, but within minutes she is back with her brother's clean clothes, schmaltz, a small piece of hard bread, and watered-down tea. Soon he is once again asleep, dreaming of his family, all now gone.
Jacob awakens to soft, low humming coming from the kitchen. Groaning, he tries to get up but finds he is too weak to stand.
Hearing him, she enters the room.
"Ah, I see you are awake. How do you feel?" Liba asks.
"Thank you, better."
"So, are you alone here? Where is your father? How close are we to the Polish border?" He fires off the questions rapidly.
"Slow down, slow down. Please, one question at a time," she says, smiling.
Her story begins when the war broke out. Her mother and two younger brothers were taken in the middle of the day by the Nazis and put into a truck with many of their friends. She hid in a closet behind the boxes. They resided in Trsice, a small tranquil town close to the German border. Her father and older brother worked at a nearby hospital. Upon returning home late that evening, they found her crying, still in the closet. They immediately made plans to leave for their country home, nestled deep within the forest. With only a small suitcase each and several layers of clothing, they hurried through the deserted streets of the town. Finding their way to the entrance of the Primeval Bialowieza Forest, which is between Belarus and the northeastern part of Poland.  Along the way, they met many other families who were also in hiding. It took sixteen long days to reach their country home.
She goes on to say that they could smell the burning from the Auschwitz death camp over the marshes, lakes, and hills, especially when the wind blew from the West. Auschwitz is located in the center of the forest, in the suburbs of the small town, Oswiecim, not too close to our country home.
"Immediately upon arriving at our home, we painted many of the windows black, and covered the house with boards, branches, and twigs. Hoping this would keep us safe. "Our house always has a large storage of canned food and supplies," Liba says. "However, after two years of hiding, our provisions were running low. That is why my father and brother decided to leave the safety of our home to look for food. We knew that the war had escalated because we had a shortwave radio. It has been over a month since they left, and I am worried."
After taking another sip of his now-cold tea, he began telling Liba of his capture and escape.
"We were four friends stealing food from the Nazis to give to families in towns near our homes in Belarus. The year before, my entire family and our neighbors were murdered on the street in front of our home," he says, with tears welling in his eyes.
"Early one morning, we were sleeping under an old hay wagon near a chicken farm. The tranquility of the morning was disrupted by the sudden sound of heavy boots."
'Ah, ha, so what have we here?' A heavy-set man in a thick German accent shouted, as he pulled the boys out from their hiding place.
"Two of our friends tried to run but were immediately shot."
"My best friend, Efraim and I were severely beaten and taken to Gurs, a slave labor camp, near the French-Spanish border."
"After a  few months, we were moved to Drancy, a transit camp outside of Paris, the last stop before Auschwitz.  Within days, we were transported to Auschwitz. Most of the Jews were immediately sent to the gas chambers, but because we were young and strong, we were kept as slave workers once again." Jacob explains.
"Without hesitation, we began forming a plan to escape. Others had tried but were often caught and shot. We were determined to find a way out. We heard stories about failed escape attempts and spent months gathering information, as we needed to know why previous attempts did not work. Hiding was not the issue; it was the dogs that could pick up our scent. What we needed to do was make a plan that accounted for this obstacle. I learned that by using Soviet tobacco, soaked in petrol and dried so that the dogs could not smell us. This took months to acquire. I made several concoctions, hoping that at least one would effectively mask our scent and aid in our escape."
"One ink-black night, under the cover of the shifting guard patrols, Efraim and I made our daring move. Running silently from our barrachs, across the open area to the large wood pile, we began methodically moving the wood to the sides, creating a sizable gap. With our hearts pounding, we crawled into the makeshift hiding spot, pulling the wood planks over us, using the tobacco trick, as we held our breath. We dared not talk or move as cramped as sardines in a can as we waited. Hours stretched by in agonizing suspense until, one fateful moment, the blare of the sirens shocked the eerie calm. We knew that the Commanders realized we were missing."
As we crouched there, the night seemed to press in around us, alive with tension. The distant barks of the dogs and the harsh commands of the Commander filled the air sending shivers down my spine. Just as the Commander's voice grew clearer, a sudden cry from a distance shattered the stillness: 'Come quick, we found them!'
"My heart raced with fear, but as the cry faded into the distance without any sign of discovery, relief flooded over me and Efraim. I could barely believe it - our daring plan had succeeded so far. With trembling hands, we clutched each other tightly, our silent victory a beacon of hope amidst the darkness."

A First Book Chapter contest entry



I know this is long 2,067 words... but the Committee contest rules are that it needs to be at least 2,000 words.

Emotionally, this was not an easy write for me. I spent quite a bit of time doing research and found that although I knew quite a bit about the war there were many things I did not know. Those things tore at my heart strings.
Thank you for taking the time to read my First Chapter.

Meanings of words I used.

Babushka..... Grandmother
Schmaltz...... Chicken fat


Oswiecim.......Small town in the centre of the Bialowieza Forest.
Aushweitz......Located in the centre of the Bialowieza Forest in the suburbs of Oswiecim.
KL Auschwitz-Birkenau

All over the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of terror, genocide, and the Shoah.
It was established by German in 1940, in the suburbs of Oswiecim, a Polish city that was annexed to the Third Reich by the Nazis. Its name was changed to Auschwitz, which also became the name of Konzentrationslager Auschwitz.
The direct reason for the establishment of the camp was the fact that mass arrests of Poles were increasing beyond the capacity of existing "local" prisons. The first transport of Poles reached KL Auschwitz from prison on June 14, 1940. Initially, Auschwitz was to be one more concentration camp of the type that the Nazis had been setting up since the early 1930s. It functioned in this role throughout its existence, even when, beginning in 1942, it also became the largest of the extermination centers (the final solution to the Jewish question - the Nazi plan to murder European Jews) was carried out.
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