Two unrelated stories of child despair in times of genocide

Since July 8 the desperation of the Ghetto has increased a hundredfold. ... A particularly tragic problem are the children. I have already related how thousands whose parents had died ... were hunted and killed out like beasts. Thousands of them attempted to escape from the Ghetto but most were shot. It is known, however, that about 150 Jewish children were fortunate enough to escape and are now roaming the streets outside the Ghetto begging in the houses of Poles. I saw some of these children on numerous occasions. I shall never forget them. They look less human than little monsters, dirty ragged with eyes that will haunt one forever -- eyes of little beasts in the last anguish of death. They trust no one and expect only the worst from human beings. They slide along the walls of houses looking about in mortal fear. No one knows where they sleep. From time to time they knock at the door of a Pole and beg for something to eat. Most of them follow a similar procedure: they knock at a door and run away to a distance, ready to flee since no one can predict what kind of creature would emerge from behind the locked door. If a human face appears they do not beg but without changing their pose they almost all repeat the same words in bad Polish: "Poles are kind people. Poles do not want to see human beings die of hunger. I am dying, sir. Long live Poland."

[From Jan Karski's Warshaw Ghetto report written in the summer of 1942 ("Voice of the Unconquered", March 1943; New York Times Magazine, January 7, 2001).]

Sometime after Mother died, we heard a light tapping at the door.

"Go and see who's at the door," Ruth said.

I went to open the door and to my surprise, Cristodoula was standing there. She looked almost haunted, with dark circles under eyes that darted back and forth, constantly searching, as if watching for an inevitable blow. She stood with a stooped posture and a frightened look on her wan face. Her hand clutched at her side. I put out my arms to embrace her but she pulled away when Ruth shouted from inside the house at me.

"Who is that girl?"

"Don't tell them I'm your sister," Cristodula said. Her eyes grew larger.

"But why?" I said.

"Just don't tell them," Cristodula said.

"What do you want?" Ruth said, coming to the door.

"Please. Something to eat," Cristodula said. "I am so hungry. Could you spare something please?"

"Is this your sister?" Ruth said.

It confused me that I should not tell. I would have thought it would help my sister if the woman knew, but the frightened look in Cristodula's eyes told me to keep her secret.

"No," I said. Ruth narrowed her eyes, looking first at me, and then at Cristodula.

"She looks like your sister," she said.

"I never saw her before," I said.

"Well we have nothing right now," Ruth said to Cristodula. "Maybe one of the other neighbors can help you." Then she turned and walked back into the house.

[From Thea Halo's "Not Even My Name -- From a death march in Turkey to a new home in America, a young girl's true story of genocide and survival" (Picador, 2000), p. 168.]

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