The enormous crowd surrounding the house grew quiet as the family approached. Four armed men stood by the house. A tall Nazi looked over at the gathered family. He appeared content, as if the difficult part was already over.
And then everything sped up. A bulky Nazi grasped Lev’s wide shoulders and shoved him against the brick wall. He then came over to Masha and pushed her stiff body against the wall, just as he had done to her husband.
A slight murmur ran through the quiet crowd: “What will they do with the children?” The bulky German firmly grabbed Simon by the shoulders, pushing him hard against the wall, as he had just done to his parents.
“I’m next,” Srulik realized.
As if in a flash, everything seemed to be floating away. The earth appeared to shudder as loud, incomprehensible voices resonated in Srulik’s ears. He pushed through the crowd. People parted like strands of rye as he rushed past. Everything began to shift faster and faster. The world seemed to spin, colors blending together, shapes intermingling. Only partially aware of his surroundings, Srulik fled, his heart beating faster than it ever had.
Srulik leaped into his neighbor’s yard. He was in and out in a flash. Faster, faster, faster. Instinct took over. Srulik knew. He knew what the armed men had come for. This was not a game. He must run, if he were ever to see another day. So he ran. He ran as he had never run before. He ran as he had never thought possible.
And then, suddenly, it all stopped. It was quiet, and it was wet. With soaking shorts, Srulik found himself in the midst of thick bushes on the other side of the river. Reality slowly set in. He had run away. He had just run away from the Nazis.
Peeking through the dense bushes, Srulik could see the commotion surrounding his house. Yet, no one could see him. The thick crowd hid his parents and brother. He longed to see them.
After what seemed like several hours, the crowd finally began to part. Srulik’s eyes searched for his loved ones, but to no avail.
As day turned to dusk, Srulik did not dare to move. Not this time. Maybe if he could just be patient enough, maybe something good would happen, he thought.
He imagined himself within the walls of his house, sitting by his brother at the kitchen table. His father was explaining the bizarre events of the day, convincing them that it would never, ever happen again. His mother was singing softly, bringing them tall glasses of milk, kissing him on the forehead.
Curled up in the bushes just across the river from his home, he hoped that somehow everything would turn out all right. “These men may be gone by morning. Maybe then I can return home,” he thought.
His fears subsided just enough to let his muscles relax, and he slipped into a deep sleep.
Srulik woke up in the thick bushes, with the same joyful feeling as he had on most mornings. The world appeared beautiful. Srulik enjoyed the fresh morning air for a short moment.
Then, he remembered. The men in black uniforms. His mother, father and brother, against the brick wall. The running.
Srulik started to sit up, but thought better of it when he heard the sound of voices approaching. Fearing that he would be discovered, he stayed curled up in the bushes, trying to be as still as possible.
Three Polish women approached on the other side of the narrow river, carrying heavy, woven baskets of laundry. Taking no notice of Srulik, the two younger women spoke in wonder of the boy who had bravely escaped the Nazis.
“They searched in every house, basement and attic, to no avail!” said one of the girls.
“All were ordered to find the child, to bring him to the police or to kill him on the spot,” the other girl added.
The two young women scrubbed their laundry somberly. The oldest of the three, heavily built and with thick arms, appeared particularly unsettled. She told the two younger ones that the three Jews had been taken to the basement of the mayor’s house.
The other two leaned closer. “The mayor was ordered to provide several horse-drawn carriages,” the oldest said. The younger women put down their laundry, allowing it to float gently in the river.
“Last night, they were taken by carriage to the forest,” said the oldest slowly. “They were shot straight into a hole in the ground.”
On the other side of the river, time had stopped for Srulik. This could not be. No. No. No. NO. NO!
Nothing made any sense.
Srulik’s mind went blank as paralyzing shock took over. He could not move a muscle. He felt as if he were hovering over the river, estranged from his own body.
Bit by bit, sensation returned. By then, the three women were long gone. He looked up at the sky. It was bright and sunny, as if mocking his bottomless suffering.
Srulik desperately tried to grasp at something, anything, to make some sense of it all. But there was nothing. The gravity of the infinitely painful truth was slowly seeping in.
Hours later, Srulik was still sitting in the same spot amid the bushes. He momentarily considered going back home, but thought better of it. His eyes swelled with tears, which covered his face with their salty condolences.
This is how the Nazis solved “the Jewish problem” in the village of Nowosiolki.
At the depth of loneliness,
There is a well of tears,
And until they get there,
No one believes it’s real.
For you who have gone to a better place,
My heart is breaking up.
For you no longer here with me,
My soul is tearing apart.
Margareta Ackerman, PhD. is a granddaughter of Holocaust survivor Srulik Ackerman and author of the memoir “Running from Giants: The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Child.” She received her PhD. from the University of Waterloo, Canada, and authored over a dozen academic publications, including research on applications of traditional Jewish study methodology to the modern classroom. In addition to her academic career, Margareta is also a semi-professional singer.
Click to read an op-ed by Margaret Ackerman.