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Arazi, Rachel    email


Elza's story IN ENGLISH

for Elza's story in Hebrew  here                                                                                                                                                              for Elza's Photos  here       

Stench of decayed hay, emaciated looking skeleton like women shaving, pushing, yelling, trying to find space so they can lay their exposed undernourished bodies for a while.  Pure white falling snow covers the small houses in the village that have seen years of war.  Silhouettes of soldiers pass by, shaking in the freezing cold.

Elza closes her tired eyes and cuddles herself into the rough wool blanket that surrounds her thin, tortured figure.  Using the last of her strength, she crawls to the dark corner of the barn.  “I cannot take it any more.  Whatever will be, will be.”  Her tired eyes adjust to the darkness and nervously, she starts to study her surroundings.  An old wood ladder leading to a loft catches her attention.  “I have to try,” she says to herself.  Cold sweat covers her frail body.  She feels her heart pounding in her temple, beating so fast it feels like it will burst.  She squats down and very quietly crawls to the wooden ladder.  Step by step, very quickly and while holding her breath, she ascends, terrified of hearing the terrible, “Halt!”  At the last rung her foot slips and she falls, landing in the bed of dry hay.  She lies there without moving, holding her breath.  Did anyone see her?  What if they catch her?  The worst that can happen, she tells herself is that her miserable life will end with a gun shot.  It will put an end to her suffering, and if they do it outside, her red blood will stain the white snow.  

Someone touches her arm.  “Are you trying to escape too?”  The light of the pale moon reveals a very thin woman, her shaved head glowing in the darkness.  Around her neck hangs a pair of children’s shoes, shoelaces tied together, stained with blood.  “I know they’re going to come for us.” She whispers.  “And soon.  They’ll tell all the women to line up outside, naked, with no shoes.  They’ll make them stand there for hours, as they count them and notice that two are missing…”  

The women try and rest until the first rays of the sun sneak into the barn on a very cold morning.  The sounds of shells flying and exploding fill the barn.  The smell of gunfire and smoke follow.  

“This is the prettiest music I’ve ever heard.”  Elza said.  “It means the Russians are near.  This is the music of freedom.”  She says with a tiny smile.  A screeching sound of the old barn gate scares them both half to death.  Instinctively, they flatten their bodies closer to the ground, and watch as the gates scrape open.  A young looking farmer walks in and surveys the barn, mumbling something about the mess.  “I’m so hungry and thirsty, I’m going to ask him for food and water,” Elza whispers.  “Are you out of your mind?”  Whispers her new friend, terrified.  “He’ll surrender us to the Germans!”  

Elza strains to prop her body up and in a small voice whispers in German, “Sir?  Can we please have some food and water?  We’re so hungry.”  The farmer, startled, looks around trying to locate where the voice is coming from.  His face red, he asks angrily, “Who are you?  What the hell are you doing in my barn?  Did you escape from the prisoners that came through here last night?  Get out of my barn!”  He shouts, “or I’ll call the Germans!”  Silence.  “Do you know what will happen to me and my family if they find you in my barn?  They’ll not only finish you off, they’ll kill my family!  So get out!”  He starts to leave and pauses at the gate.  “When I come back you’d better be gone!”  He leaves.  

The sound of the artillery gets closer.  It sounds like the Russians are outside the barn.  The sound of tanks rolling through the village create a muffled roar.  Shells flying through the night light up the sky in reds and oranges.  Time passes and the gate of the barn opens.  It’s the farmer, visibly shaken.  “We’re leaving.” He said.  “The Russians are here.  We have to leave.  I came to tell you that you can go in the house and take what you need.”  He looks around quickly and disappears through the gate.  

Among the flames and smoke, the two of them walk from the barn to the home, pitiful looking, dirty, shriveled up little women.  They enter the house, a house of strangers.  Tears pour from Elza’s eyes as she tastes from a glass of milk, still left on the table from the family’s unfinished breakfast.  Her hands feel the warmth of the bread, just out of the oven.  Her eyes take in the butter and the cheese.  She can’t believe her eyes.  The front door of the house opens suddenly.  Startled, Elza backs up, knocking against the wooden kitchen table.  A huge Cossack soldier fills the doorway.  Dirty and smelling of war, he looks at the two women, hungry with lust.  He walks toward Elza as she moves away from him.  They play a slow-motion game of the hunter and the hunted.  The farther she moves away, the closer he gets to her, until his hands or on her frail shoulders.  She tries to beat him back, but to no avail.  

The door opens again and a tall, thin officer walks through, his broad chest covered in medals.  Immediately grasping the situation, he reprimands the Cossack.  The Cossack lets go of Elza, salutes his commanding officer and leaves through the open front door. 

With a kind and soft look, the officer walks to Elza and guides her to the bench next to the table, where the other woman has been watching the scene, frozen.  Elza sits on the bench on the side close to the fire-place.  The officer wipes her tears with his glove and hands her a glass of milk.  Still frightened and shivering, she doesn’t move.  The officer removes his coat and wraps it around her shoulders.  Finally feeling safer, she looks at him with gratitude.  He looks at both women with a warm smile and says, “I will make sure that you are safe.  No harm will come to you.”  And then he whispered even softer, “Eich been Oyechet Ha Yeed.”  I am Jewish.