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The Life Before
It was nearly four A.M., and the sky was just dimly lit by the rising sun. It spew light over the dying September grass as it peaked over the edge of the Earth, grasping the world in its sunlight.
Isaak, however, could not see any of this. He was locked inside of a prison, an inescapable hell in which he knew he would die. He does not hide the truth from himself; it's impossible to do so, especially in a place like this.
The concrete walls were grimy and nasty smelling, and the floor was spotted with blood from innocent prisoners who did something that the kapos were not pleased with or when the kapos wanted something to do and someone to beat.
Kapos are the German leaders of this here prison, and have the power to do what they want to you. They can beat you, execute you, or just keep you alive, which is more punishment than the previously listed. Many prisoners here wish to die instead of living another day in this man-made hell.
Isaak hadn't slept very much the previous night. He had been much too hungry and in too much pain to comprehend what sleep was anymore. His tiny, ten year-old body ached as the grown men that he shared a bed with pressed him against the other, and he wanted to cry. But he learned a long time ago that crying may get you killed.
The single blanket that they had for all five people stretched over them, leaving Isaak's father just a little unprotected from the cold that attacked them at night; the barrack, which is their large room that holds hundreds of prisoners, are not heated. Many prisoners die from hypothermia in the middle of the night.
Suddenly, there was loud booming. "WAKE UP!" several voices barked, screaming and yelling different insults at different prisoners. Isaak and his father knew that if they didn't get up immediately and run to the wash room, they would be beaten. Maybe even to death.
Tired and sickly faces all rose quickly from their beds, searching for their shoes; but perhaps somebody had stolen them. If so, it means immediate death, because prisoners cannot work without their shoes and kapos take no mercy on them.
Quickly, Isaak and his father found their shoes. They had hidden them the previous night, as they do every night, being cautious so that no other prisoners would steal them; in here, it's every man for himself. They do what they have to, to survive. Even Isaak knows that his father would steal another man's shoes to stay alive.
Everyone started on their bettenbau. From the shapeless straw mattress they have to make a perfect bed in a military manner, with blankets made up exactly over the straw mattress. Of course, this is nearly impossible to do; and the kapo knows it. The bettenbau is just a good opportunity for him to beat the prisoners.
Isaak and his bed mates all struggled with this difficult task, but they knew that there was only one way to survive this place: obey. If you obey the kapos and the SS, you are slightly safe; only slightly because they have the power to take your life at any moment, and they honestly don't care.
The SS, or the Schutzstaffel, was a group created by Adolf Hitler and soon banned from Germany because they were responsible for many of the humanity crimes that had happened. But that never stopped them or Hitler.
It was now someday in September of 1936, and Isaak was surprised by how cold the weather was for early September. But Isaak has learned never to expect anything but the worst, because you'll just end up becoming disappointed. And Isaak already has enough bad things in his life.
"Come now," Isaak's father, Judel, said gruffly to his son, tugging him quickly to the washroom. Isaak didn't complain; he knew that if he didn't hurry, that it was just another excuse for the kapo to beat him and his father.
Prisoners must wash quickly, and then quickly go for breakfast. Isaak and Judel managed to make their way to the washroom, where there were just a couple stalls with toilets and a couple sinks to match; Judel and Isaak went into the same stall, in order to save time.
They managed to both rinse their hands and faces before scurrying out of the barracks, Judel keeping a tight grip on Isaak in order not to lose his small body in the sea of men that were trying to get past them, as were they.
Kapos were screaming at the men to hurry, and even beating some that were taking too long. Isaak feared for both his and his father's life, that they would not live to see tomorrow. Judel feared this, too, but he didn't show it to his son.
Judel gripped onto Isaak's shoulders from behind, pushing him along towards the breakfast hall. They needed to get there as soon as possible so that they were not late for morning roll call; if they were, the consequences were the same as any other: death.
Before entering the breakfast hall, they had to quickly get their mess-tins, which were small cups with handles on the side in which they would get either their coffee or bread, depending on what the kapos felt like serving today.
Once they entered, it was already full of prisoners, all talking quietly to one another. Some were grieving over the recent death of a loved one that happened in the middle of the night, sobbing and crying out to the Lord for help, to take his life now.
All prisoners here are male. There's a separate camp for women, in which Isaak's mother is in. He misses her dearly, and his sister. His father tells him stories in whispers during the night about his mother and sister, but it’s very seldom. Judel doesn't like thinking about it very much, but Isaak loves to hear about his family; it's a way of keeping them close to him.
Judel and Isaak got into the line in which the prisoners were awaiting their scarce meals; once they were served, they realized what they were going to have. Coffee and margarine. The brown coffee is disgusting and bland, with absolutely no sugar or milk.
A man in front of Isaak and his father shakily held out his tin for the horrible coffee, a kapo standing next to him. There's always a kapo at the end of the line, watching you so that you can't sneak anything past the kapo behind the counter.
As the kapo behind the counter filled it for him, the kapo next to him bumped him, causing him to spill the little coffee that he had. The kapos both laughed at the man, who had a look of pure terror in his eyes.
The kapos started to curse at the man, telling him things that no human being should be called. They kicked him down for wasting the food, beating him before Isaak and Judel's very eyes. Judel wrapped an arm around Isaak's shoulders protectively.
The SS pulled the man away to continue his beating, and the kapos gave Isaak and his father their food without anything but the usual insults. Isaak and Judel walked over to the middle of the large breakfast hall, where the prisoners were standing, eating their food. Some sat on the ground, risking beatings.
"Hurry and drink," Judel said to Isaak, an urgent tone in his voice. They had to hurry so that they could get to morning roll call; the kapos beat stragglers. They are not patient with you at all.
Judel helped his son mix the margarine into his coffee, to help it taste a little less disgusting. Both Judel and Isaak knew this wouldn't work very well, but they were going to take what they could get.
They drank their coffee, making sure to savor what they could get for the morning, and then hurried outside to roll call. For morning roll call, all prisoners must be lined up in rows of ten, making it easier for all of the kapos and the SS to count them.
If a prisoner had run off in the middle of the night, all of the other prisoners would have to stand in attention until the kapos had found the prisoner and dragged him back to the camp. He would then be executed.
Judel hurried out to his spot in roll call, which was near the front. Dead bodies were lined up in the front row, because the kapos must count even the dead bodies. It would make it a lot easier to escape if someone just said you were dead. After the dead bodies are accounted for, they are sent to be cremated.
The day was terribly cold, and the cheap, uncomfortable fabric of their blue-and-white vertical striped uniforms did not protect them from the cold very well. Isaak and Judel were both afraid that they would catch colds, and that they would eventually build up.... causing death.
Judel doesn't like to think about these things, but it crossed his mind every two minutes; he hates to think about the only family that he has left dying, but he knew that it was perfectly possible, and he had taught himself to accept death.
The kapos stepped in front of the neatly lined up prisoners, all at attention. If you are not, you are beaten. The kapos started roll call, accounting for the prisoners. Every prisoner had a bald head and a striped uniform, and some even had caps to match their uniforms like Isaak's.
The roll call lasted for three hours, and, luckily, nothing had happened that would cause them to have to restart roll call. The kapos would be angry, therefore dangerous to be around. The kapos can find any reason they want to beat you, and they can even do it without reason.
Isaak and his father quickly left roll call after it was finished, running to join their work teams; the exit from the camp to the wide open space outside was heavily guarded, with the SS and kapos yelling insults at Judel and Isaak as they left.
"Work as fast as you can, boy," Judel said to Isaak under his breath, telling him this in a life or death situation; if you don't work to the kapos standards, you will be beaten, maybe to death. Isaak found himself wishing for this, not wanting to take another day.
The kapos screamed at Isaak, shoving him as he grabbed one heavy sandbag after another, running it to one point and coming back to get another, repeating the process countless times for so many countless house.
Isaak was tired. His body ached. His heart was beating wildly fast. He was coughing up phlegm. His father was digging a trench at full speed nearby, and Isaak knew that he was doing this all for his father. He knew his father too well, even with Isaak's innocent mind; he knows Judel won't be able to survive without him.
The day passed slowly, torturing Isaak and Judel. The SS and kapos decided to skip giving the prisoners lunch, so Isaak and Judel were very tired and their stomachs were growling, as was everyone else’s.
The sun was starting to set, though. Isaak continued to run the sandbags from one point to another, noticeably slowing down from hunger and exhaustion; lucky for Isaak, though, they didn't notice. Another man who had been carrying stones fainted.
The kapos, infuriated, ran over to the man and started to beat him. They kicked him, punched him, and Isaak didn't want to watch, but couldn't pull his eyes away from the terrifying scene before him. He coughed more as they beat him, yelling, "GET UP!"
He coughed. "Please," the man croaked out, not able to get up. "God, help me." The kapos screamed at the man more, who looked to be around fifty years of age. Finally, the kapos were done with their deed. The man was dead.
"YOU," the kapos shouted at Judel. He looked up at them from the trench that he had been digging. "You must bring his body back to evening roll call!" they yelled, not letting Judel respond before going off to beat and kill somebody else.
The sun was now set, and there was a last signaling whistle; it was time for evening roll call. Judel dragged the man back into the camp, Isaak following. Judel didn't want to cry in front of his son, but he had known this man; this had been Judel's older brother. But Judel did not want Isaak to know of this loss of family.
Isaak knew that there was something that Judel was holding back, but he didn't ask. He did not want to upset his father more than he already was.
As they entered, some men were being beaten and even killed, their bodies aligned in front of the lines of prisoners, who were again lined up in rows of ten. Judel laid his brother's poor, dirty body next to the others, and then pulled his son into their spot.
Evening roll call is the worst for Judel and Isaak; that's the part of the day when the kapos and the SS choose the punishments for prisoners. They have to stand there at attention even after the others had left, and they stand there until they faint. Then they are immediately executed by the SS.
Some prisoners are hung. Some are shot execution style. It all depends on what the SS and kapos feel like doing to them that day; they determine whether Isaak or his father live or die. They determine their fate.
Roll call usually lasts from five to ten hours, depending on whether or not they have to punish someone or retrieve a runaway prisoner. There were two prisoners whom would have to be executed, and were standing, looking hungry and exhausted.
Not able to help them, Judel and his son shuffled off to dinner, their bodies ready to give out on them any minute now. But Isaak wouldn't let that happen, because he knows how important staying alive is.
They got their dinner for that night, which was the usual; a handful of stale bread with less than a teaspoon of margarine and jam. They ate their food, trying to savor it but having to hurry; if they are not in their barrack at a certain time, they will most likely be killed. But isn't that the consequence for everything?
When they return to their barrack, the blockfuerher is waiting for them. The blockfuerhers wear green triangles, which mean “real criminals”. They have the right to choose whether you live or die, whether you may rest or work some more.
The blockfuerher goes through each prisoner, choosing whether or not they can go to bed or that he wants to have some "fun"—fun is making the prisoners do pointless physical activity, like jumping jacks or running in place.
"Go to sleep," the blockfuerher said to Isaak, and then made Judel run in place for ten minutes, laughing the whole time. Isaak made sure to look away from his father, because he knew that Judel wouldn't want Isaak to see him like that.
Judel lay down next to his son ten minutes later as the blockfuerher ordered some more men to do pointless and useless exercises for no reason but his own entertainment; Judel was sickened by this.
Soon enough, though, the blockfuerher was tired of the men, and left a few for dead as he left, their bodies lying on the cold, dirty cement floor like they were just more burdens for the kapos and the SS.
Everything was finally completely silent. Judel was facing his son, who had his eyes closed, so very tired. Judel stroked his son's face, slightly touching his cap. "I love you, Isaak," his father murmured under his breath. "And we'll make it through this."
The next day, Isaak was woken up earlier than his father, and pulled from the middle of them by a kapo. He was rough, and nearly dislocated Isaak's small shoulder. Isaak bit his lip to keep quiet.
Isaak estimated it was around 3 AM, but he had no idea why he was being separated from his father; he was scared, and, somewhere deep, deep inside of him, he knew that something bad was soon to come.
"Hurry, boy!" the kapo hissed at him, pulling him out of the barrack and into the yard of the camp. Four other boys that he had seen in his barrack were standing there, looking numb and slightly blue from the cold.
"Get on your knees!" the SS yelled at them, the kapos standing to the side. Isaak and the four other boys did as they were told, kneeling on the uncomfortable gravel, the rocks poking through the thin fabric of their uniforms.
Isaak was afraid. He prayed that he would live to see his father again, but he knew, no matter how much he tried to deny it, that he was going to die today. That he was going to be executed.
"Hands behind your necks!" The boys once again did what they were told, folding their hands behind their necks. Isaak didn't know whether or not he was the only one afraid of dying or not.
To comfort him, Isaak closed his eyes, imagining his father and his father's words. "Isaak, do not fear death," Judel whispered to him while they were lying in bed. "It comes to everyone. Welcome it."
So Isaak did what his father told him to do; he welcomed it.
The first gunshot; then a thump to the ground.
The second gunshot; then a thump to the ground.
Isaak knew the third gunshot was going to be his moment to die. So he took a breath, and before he knew it—
Helen gasped awake, clutching her now throbbing head. "Ow, ow, ow, ow," she cried, rocking back and forth with the major pain in her head.
As it started to sub-due, though, Helen could not stop sobbing; she did not know why she was crying, but her dream had scared her so much. But the dream kept getting less and less real as she sat in her bed.
She looked outside her window that Saturday morning of 1946, only to find that the world was completely normal in her ten year old life. But she couldn't get that dream out of her mind until that afternoon, while she was jumping rope.... She never knew how this dream would affect her.
Thirteen years later....
"Oh, I don't know, Les," Helen said, clutching onto her purse and sitting in the car. Her husband was sitting next to her, in the driver's side. They were sitting in front of a building in which a meeting was being held.
Lester looked at his wife. "Helen. You and I both know it would be best; you need to start getting some decent sleep." He was right. Helen has hardly gotten any sleep in the past couple months, because of the recurring dreams that haunt her; she was a ten year old boy in a concentration camp. But she doesn't see the possibility of her living another life in the past.
Helen took a breath and looked warily at the building. "Alright," she said softly. "I'll see you in a bit." He smiled and nodded, and she got out of the car, and headed into the building.
She soon found a room where everybody was sitting in a circle, talking. The leader of the group looked up at her. "Oh, look. Come, please, sit down." Helen sat in an empty seat, and the room grew quiet, looking at her expectantly.
"My name is Helen Maker," she said shakily. "And I believe I was reincarnated from a ten year old boy who was executed in a concentration camp. His name, I remember, from my dreams, was Isaak."
The leader smiled. "Thank you, Helen. Since you’re a first timer, would some other members like to share their stories?" She looked around.
A woman spoke up from a few chairs down. "I believe I was murdered. I have a birthmark behind my ear that looks like a gun shot, and I have dreams about being thrown into a ditch, but I don't know my killer.
A man spoke, too. "I believe I was reincarnated from suicide, because I keep having dreams in which hopelessness is spread throughout me, and I remember hanging myself. But I wasn't myself."
"I was stabbed in the chest out of self-defense, because I was a burglar back in the 1920s. I have a birthmark on my chest."
"I was at a Jewish concentration camp, too." A woman spoke softly, and Helen's eyes widened.
"I thought I was the only one," she said, unable to hold back her surprise.
"No." The woman smiled. "Helen, you're never alone. And even though we have these nightmares, it's for a reason. God wants us to do what's right. He shows us these horrible acts so that we will fight against it. So we must."
Ever since that day, Helen made it her life mission to God. She spread the word about hate crimes and how we must learn from others past mistakes, how we must all come together to work as one.
But Helen will never be able to shake the image of Isaak and his father Judel. So she can't help but wonder... what was the connection between them?