The night sparkled as the glistening full moon revolved it’s way around the earth, reaching the top of the sky. A bright and twinkly line of light shined through the single hopper window leading to the creaky floorboard where I slept. It was hard finding comfort to sleep.
My father told me to rest for a bit, while him and my mother discussed a plan. I flipped myself over, to fake my sleep, but I carefully listened to each word they spoke, hearing about half due to their quiet whispers.
It was 1943, I had just turned seven years old, and the war was getting worse, Nazis spread all throughout the west of Soviet Union. My mother cried out to my father,
“How can we do this, he is only so young, it is not the right time”;
My father fought back,
“This night, the night our brother’s escaped Egypt, G-d is by our side, do not test our Messiah”.
I flipped over, the floorboards creaking underneath me, intrigued by the sharp tone of voice that came from my father. I watched as my mother paced around, hand around her stomach, weeping. My father told me it was normal that women are emotional when they are pregnant; so it did not surprise me. I caught my father’s eyes as he waited for my mother to calm down, his glances telling me to rest.
Soon my mother woke me,
“We need to go”.
About an hour before the moon reached its full peak, each one of us slipped through the tiny window facing towards the Kuban river, and quickly my father scouted out a dark area along the river which leads out of town. Our home town, Krasnodar, Soviet Union, was a ghost town, only a few lights shining onto the streets. We followed the river for a few hours until we got to the Shapsug reserve, immediately heading south to Il’skii, southwest of Krasnodar.
The night was warm, the brisk but nice air pressed on my neck, giving me goosebumps. I felt the warmness of the air on my neck, like someone was breathing on it. It felt friendly and inviting, making me feel safe inside. This night, the night the Israelites escaped from Egypt to freedom, my father reminds me about every year.
The year before this I remember my father told me the story of Elijah; he explained why we leave our doors open to him on the eight nights of Passover, leaving him a glass of wine untouched because he will arrive one day -- unannounced -- as a messenger for the Messiah. That night, I was reminded of him; I remembered what he resembled for my religion and ancestors; it gave me strength to power through the journey.
A half hour after passing the reserve, the sounds of engines roared, multiple lights flashing into our eyes. My father tackled me to the ground as my mother quickly fell on her stomach, applying incredible pressure on the baby. We crawled over to the side near a few bushes, and heard German voices, unclear as to what they were saying.
Five minutes after the vehicles passed, my father told me to get up; my mother struggled back to her feet. We finally reached Il’skii, and made it to the safehouse just by the crack of dawn. My father knocked on the door, and we immediately got pulled inside, the owner seemed to know my father, he spoke Hebrew with a thick Soviet accent, almost impossible to understand. My father, mother and I were taken into the basement. It was filled with about three quarters of a dozen families, each family close together, some asleep, others praying. We settled, and as I watched my father doze off into a slumber, I saw my mother gaze around at the other families, anxiously tapping her feet. I watched as her hand hovered lightly over her stomach, poking and rubbing it.
The sun set, and soon all the men started praying. As the men prayed, I looked at my father as his eyes remained closed, reciting prayers of the Afikoman. I saw a twitch in his right eye, and by his stomach, he held his hands like they were glued together, each finger intertwined with one another, squeezing so hard it looked like he was trying to break something in between his palms.
Soon it became time for us to leave. A few families followed behind us, and we headed up the ladder. When the Soviet Hebrew opened the door, a giant truck with three, big, steel tanks sat outside waiting for us. As another Soviet man helped us climb up, I saw them splitting up each family; the men in one, and the children and women split up in the other two. When the man tried to separate me from my mother, I refused, so he let me stay with her.
As we entered the tank, I watched my father enter another one, and tears filled my eyes. I wondered if we were going to be split up for a long time, and a lump entered my throat, making it tough to speak. When we got in, the man gave us two things: a water bottle with luge-warm water, not even filled up a third of the bottle. He also gave us a blanket,
The driver announced. Seven of us crammed into the tank, me and three others sitting on a hump while the three others, including my mother, sat flat. The tank was filled with giant boxes of aluminum foil, each person unable to sit in any spot without their butt being poked with a box. The engine roared, and we started moving. Instantly, my nose flared up, and soon I started to feel sick. I could see a similarity in the other faces, each of us growing pale, and all of the sudden my mother fainted.
As I inhaled gasoline, I screeched at the top of my lungs, crying for help. It felt like I was screaming into a cliff where no one existed miles upon miles, because the echoes of my voice rang throughout my ears, the noises bouncing back and forth like a bouncy ball between the steel walls. It seemed like no one cared; the people in the tank did absolutely nothing, and my mother’s body rolled around, like a ragdoll, nothing I could do to help. I tried waking her up by opening her eyes, and all I could see was white, her pupils behind her eyelids. As I cried in defeat, she opened her eyes and started coughing, I reached over and held her tight; I could not let her go.
All of the sudden, the driver slammed on the brakes, sending almost everyone flying around the cauldron. Then, what sounded like German voices alarmed my mother; she took the blanket, and told everyone to huddle up, curl into a ball, and lay by our side. We did as she ordered, as she covered all six of us with the blanket. I then started to feel weight on my back, realizing she put the boxes of aluminum on our backs, and it kept getting heavier and heavier. She quickly got under the blanket, and we all lay there, huffing and puffing. What felt like hours of struggling, the evil voices carried underneath our tank. I felt as if I was going to collapse; trying to keep my legs from shaking as my back began to spasm, the boxes becoming heavier and heavier on my spine. Finally, the voices stopped, the engine roaring up again.
After what felt like thirty more minutes of driving, we slowed to a stop, the engine shutting off. We listened for the sound of danger, all we heard were the sound of footsteps, from the back of the truck. One of the locks next to us began to rattle, and we went into the same procedure again. Our lock began to rattle, and my mother dove under the blanket. We began to held our breath, and when the top opened, the Soviet’s voice from earlier carried through the tank. He announced,
We climbed up the ladder one by one, climbing up into the light coming from the truck's headlights. People climbed up from one of the cauldrons filled with joy, and the others from the other tank had melancholy written all over their face. My father came up, and when I ran over to him and hugged him tight, he barely returned it. As tears crawled down my father’s face, he whispered to my mother, and soon screeching came from the other end of the truck, an older woman’s voice echoed throughout the building, with pure terror. I rushed over to my mom; the woman knelt to the ground, weeping on her knees, while others stared at her, like she was crazy. I learned that an older man -- her husband -- died in the same cauldron as my father; his lungs collapsed from the gaseous air.
As sadness built up around us, the driver rushed us out of the building, the air fresh, brings chills to my skin. The sounds of water splashed and hit the earth, calming and exciting me. The driver pointed us down the hill, about half a mile away, where a dock and a medium-sized ship existed. I imagined our destination, Bulgaria, and how my father told us that as soon as we made it there, our journey to America was easy. Our life could finally become normal.
Each family ran together down the hill into the night. Pure happiness struck around them. Everyone began to run. Fast or slow, they ran and rolled down the hill; no cares existing. The sight of freedom lied in our eyes; the american dream. I watched everyone, as they descended down the hill, absorbing the happiness. My smile stuck to my face, air pressing against my teeth, my smile persistent. As the smile aligned across my face, I ran towards the ship, my mother at my right, my father to my left, running to freedom.
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