Chapter Two

I made my way towards school just as I had done for the last couple of years. I had always enjoyed school, but today, more than ever, I needed the sanctuary that it could offer me. I was in desperate need of seeing my friends, my teachers, just any friendly face would do. Hell, even one of the bullies would be good enough right now.

Anything that would make my life appear as though it were still normal.

It was a twenty minute walk from our house to the school, and I hurried along, not wanting to be late. I had lost track of the time with the events of the morning, and although I was pretty certain I still had enough time to make it to school before classes began, I could not be sure.

At least, that was how I justified my rushing to myself. I think deep down I knew that something momentous was happening that day, but I couldn't even begin to start allowing myself to accept it. I was still hoping that my family being taken away was some sort of a mistake, even though I couldn't begin to understand how such a mistake could ever be made.

I had my head down as I scurried towards the school, not paying any attention to the people around me, more concerned with my own thoughts and feelings than I was with anything that might be going on around me. As I got closer though, I started to sense that there was something wrong.

The excited babble of hundreds of children making their way to school was missing. In my mind I could think of only two reasons for this, either it was still much earlier than I thought it was, or I really was late for school.

Looking around though, I could see that there was something seriously amiss. The area through which I was walking consisted of several shops that should surely have been opened already by now. Instead, I just saw broken windows and desolation. There was nobody around, and this began to worry me.

What had happened here?

Just the day before I had walked down this very street with my parents, had gone into some of these shops in order to get my uniform and the other things I would need for my first day of school. And now the shops looked as though they had all been victim to some crazed attack.

There was Mr Raveh's sweet-shop, with every window and door broken, and the jars of sweets upturned all over the floor. And Mr Zimmerman's tailors, in a similar state as the sweet shop, but with suits and dresses on the floor instead of sweets, obviously.

Each shop had been attacked in the same way, and I began to seriously think about events properly for the first time.

I had heard rumours of this kind of thing, but not here. In Germany, the Jewish people had been subjected to some sort of systematic abuse and slowly but surely had lost all of their rights. The right to marry non-Jews, the right to own a business, and so many other things. I had heard these rumours, but they had never bothered me.

Why should they? I was not in Germany, and nor were any of my family. I had heard my father and uncle talk sometimes at night, and although I didn't really understand what they were saying, now snatches of their conversations were coming back to me.

Things about some man called Hitler, who my father referred to as the spawn of the Devil, and about camps where Jews were being taken to work. Then I had heard my mother crying one night, just a few weeks ago.

"Why? Why did they give up the Sudetenland to that man? What now for us, for our family?"

This meant nothing to me. Even as I heard my father trying to placate my mother, to get her to calm down before she woke us kids up, I had no idea what they were talking about. I was from Czechoslovakia, and I was proud of this fact.

Just last year in school, I had learned how our country had finally gained it's independence after hundreds of years of being ruled by other people after the Great War, which had ended 6 years before I was born, although I had heard many things about the bravery and sacrifice of those people who had fought for our freedom.

I knew that I had Jewish heritage, but so did everyone else I knew. As far as I was concerned, all Czechoslovakian's were Jewish, as to the best of my knowledge I had never met anyone that was different to me or my family.

It was all too confusing for me, and so I looked forwards to getting to school, where somebody could hopefully explain everything that was going on in a way that I could understand.

After all, wasn't that what school teachers were for? To educate us and help us learn all of those things that we did not already know?

By now, I was almost at the school. Just one more corner, and I would be able to see it, that building that I was already attributing some sort of mythical redemptive powers to. Once I was at school, someone could tell me what was happening, and all of the events of the morning could be explained away in simple terms, before everything was put back to normal.

And then I walked around the corner, and had no option other than to stand and stare in complete shock at the sight that confronted me.

The school was no more. In its place was a burning, gutted, shell of a building. It was one shock to many for my young mind, in a morning of shocks. Without any idea of what my best course of action might be now, no plan of where I should go or what I should do, I went into one of the abandoned shops nearby.

I walked through to the back of the shop, and then to the stairs leading up to the family quarters above. Once there, I went into one of the bedrooms and lay down, and, with nothing else to do, I am ashamed to say that I cried myself to sleep.