To Dream the Impossible Dream

By Tunnel Writer

#3 in the Background series

Eva Moses Kor

Jan 31, 1935 - July 4, 2019

To her memory, and to the memory of the millions whose voices were brutally silenced, I dedicate this story.

Catherine stood outside the apartment door. She could hear music playing softly, and a feeble voice singing along. She stood and just listened for a moment.

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable foe

To bear with unbearable sorrow

To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong

To love pure and chaste from afar

To try when your arms are too weary

To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star

No matter how hopeless, no matter how far

To fight for the right

Without question or pause

To be willing to march

Into hell for a heavenly cause…

Catherine smiled before knocking quietly on the door. To her sadness, the music was turned off.

“Who's there?” that feeble voice answered.

“It's me, Catherine Chandler.”

The door flew open and a smiling Sophie greeted her. “Come in, come in. What brings you here?”

“I hope I'm not intruding. I was just wondering…” Catherine hesitated a moment before continuing. She knew this could go in a couple directions. Sophie would either push it aside, or openly tell her story. Ever since Catherine saw her tattooed number, she knew there was a story there, and she was dying to hear it.

“Would you be willing to tell me your story? You showed me the number on your arm, and I was hoping you'd tell me about your life… before. I'd understand and respect your wishes if you didn't want to, but I'd love to hear it.” Catherine sighed. Her apology was ready in case she had just offended the older lady.

There's two types of survivors in the world. Those who are willing to show their tattoos and those that aren’t. Those that won't show their tattoo won't talk about it. I will talk about it. People should know. Especially the younger generation.”

Catherine smiled with relief.

“Please have a seat and I'll tell you. Before we begin, would you like something to drink?”

“Oh, no. I'm fine,” Catherine said as she carefully sat on the couch.

Sophie closed her eyes and allowed the memories to flood her mind.


November 9, 1938

She had just finished the last batch of cookies for the day and wiped the flour off her hands when six-year-old Itzhak ran into their family-owned bakery.

He threw his school books on the floor and ran to his mother. “Mama,” the little boy cried as he buried his face into his mother's apron and sobbed.

“Now there, son, what's wrong?”

“It's not fair, Mama. Jan and Tomas won't play with me anymore. They knocked me down and called me a dirty Jew. I told my teacher and she just congratulated the boys. Then during math she gave this arithmetic problem: If you have six Jews and you kill three, how many are left? My teacher laughed when one boy said three too many. She called on me to answer the question. I told her killing is wrong. She poured corn kernels on the floor and made me kneel in them all day. She made me roll up my pant legs even.”

His Mama looked down at his bloodied pant legs with worry.

“Mama, let's leave here. Let's go to America with Uncle Henri.”

“Shush now, darling. We can't just leave.”

“Why not, Mama? Why do we have to stay here?”

“Darling, our passports are invalid. Hitler made that decision last month. Not to worry, the bakery is bringing in money. Just hold on, things will get better,” she said as she handed him one of the fresh-baked cookies.

“Mama, I don't want to go to school anymore. Why can't I stay home?”

“Now Itzhak, you know you need an education. How do you expect to become a fine businessman like your Vater without school?”

The little boy whispered, “I'll do it for you and Papa.”

“That's a good boy, now go change out of your school clothes. Your Vater will be home after the Sabbat service this evening. We must get ready for the meal.”

Itzhak grinned and ran to his room to change.

The young boy was waiting by the window when a neighbor came knocking on the door.

“Hello, Fredrick, do come in,” his mother greeted the neighbor warmly.

Fredrick nervously looked around, moving from foot to foot. “I can't. Is Walter home yet?”

The nervousness of this neighbor was making Sarah nervous as well. “No, he's at the synagogue. Why?”

“OH, NO. That's bad. I have to warn him some way,” Fredrick muttered to himself. He paused and gave a long sympathetic look at Sarah. “Just make sure all of you stay indoors. Go upstairs to your apartment, and stay away from the windows tonight. Lock your doors.”

“Why warn him? About what? Fredrick, what's happening?”

Fredrick shook his head. “It's going to be bad. I have to go. I can't be seen here. I just wanted to warn you.”

“Warn us about what?” Sarah called after the fleeing man.

“Mama, what's going to happen?” Itzhak asked as he hugged his mother around the waist.

“I don't know, but we must stay upstairs and lock the doors.”

“What about Papa?”

“He will be fine,” she said as she hugged her son.

A few hours later, they heard a commotion on the street. The sounds of breaking glass and the cheers were just as loud as the screams of fright. Itzhak ran to the window.

“Mama, they're smashing the grocer shop window and stealing. There's a fire at the synagogue. OH, MAMA! PAPA IS THERE!”

“Itzhak, GET AWAY FROM THERE!” Sarah yelled.

The yelling on the streets was growing closer. The crashing of their own front window startled the boy and his mother. She grabbed her son and ran to the closet.

“Stay here.” From the commotion she could tell they were looting their bakery.

She tiptoed over and switched off the lights.

The red glow of fire reflected off the windows. It seemed like the whole world was on fire. She crawled to the window and looked out. Firemen were putting out flames. They're only helping the non-Jewish businesses, she thought, as she noticed that Fredrick's butcher shop was left untouched.

She saw a group of a hundred men being forced down to the ground. She noticed they were Jewish men taken from the synagogue. They lay on the ground while neighbors, friends, and civilians stomped and kicked them. Sarah frantically searched for her husband's familiar form. There were so many men, all wearing black coats.

She noticed Fredrick standing across the street. He quickly looked up at Sarah and slightly shook his head. Is that a sign Walter wasn't with these men? Was he dead, or did he just not find him? The suspense was killing her.

She felt a small warm body pressed against hers.

“Mama? Where's Papa?”

Sarah shook her head. “I don’t know.”

She was looking down at her son when she heard yelling. She peeked out the window and saw the men being led away.

“Where are they taking them, Mama? Why? Why is this happening?”

Sarah could only shake her head. She had no idea how to answer her young son's questions.

The looting, fires and rounding up of men lasted two full days. Thankfully, their bakery wasn't burned. Sarah and her son stayed in the locked apartment, afraid to even move. Three days later, a gentle knock was heard at their apartment door.

It must be Walter. Sarah smiled as she ran over and quickly unlocked the door.

It wasn't Walter standing on the other side of the door, it was Fredrick. Fredrick quickly pushed his way in and closed the door. “I'm sorry I couldn't come sooner.”

“Where's Walter? Do you know where he is?”

“I did some inquiring. I have to be careful, but I do have connections. Walter was rounded up and sent to Buchenwald. Sarah, 30,000 people were rounded up and sent there. It's impossible to contact him.”

“But he's alive?!”

Fredrick nodded. “It’s no longer safe here. You must go.”

“Go where? This is our home.”

Itzhak walked over to his mother. “Let's go to America, Mama.”

“Too late for that, lad. However, there is a Kindertransport that will be taking the first group of children to England in a couple of weeks. There are no guarantees that we can get Itzhak on the transport. It's a lottery, but we could see about getting him on it if you want. It would get him out of Germany.”

Sarah held tight to her son. “No, I can't just send my six-year-old son off alone to some other country. No. We stay together.”

Fredrick sighed. “There is another option. However, it's extremely risky and dangerous. Poland isn't occupied by Germany. It's safe, and you can be smuggled in. However, keep in mind that if you're caught, it will be a death sentence. It will also be expensive. You'll have to change your name, and get false papers.”

Sarah nodded. “How much?”

“I don't know. Probably everything you have. If you're serious, I can have a helper come over and explain the details.”

“Yes, please, Fredrick.”

Fredrick sighed and quickly walked to the door.

“Expect a visitor in the next three days. She won't tell you her name. Just listen to her and do what she says.” With that he disappeared into the night.

Three days later, a hard knock was heard on the door. Sarah was shocked to see a young girl no more than 15 push her way in. She acted nervous, sat down, and started talking fast. “If you want to leave, follow my directions exactly. Do EVERYTHING I say. Don’t speak, just listen.”

Sarah grabbed a pencil and a paper.

“Starting tomorrow, keep your son inside the house. If anyone asks about him, you are to say he’s sick, and he’s in the country with family. Next week you will go to this address, and tell the lady you're there to pick up the dresses for your niece.” The stranger handed an address to Sarah. “You will grow your son’s hair out. He will have a new name. Lena.”

“LENA? THAT’S A GIRL’S NAME!” Itzhak yelled angrily.

The stranger looked at the young boy and calmly explained, “It's the only way to keep you safe. It’s too easy to know if a boy is Jewish. If you’re a girl, no one will think twice. It's only until you get safely to your hiding spot. If your hair is still short, you'll wear bows. If anyone asks, tell them you had lice and needed to shave your hair off. People will believe that, but hopefully you won't see many people.”

The stranger then turned back to Sarah. “After you get the dresses, you will go to the butcher and ask for some beef. Your new identification papers will be wrapped in the papers. DO NOT unwrap the package until you get home.

“Get used to sleeping during the day and being up all night without using lights. On December second, you will bleach your and your son's hair in the morning and sleep all day. That night, prepare to leave without turning on lights. Pack only food and bare essentials. NO SUITCASES, only a small handbag, and maybe your son's school backpack. NOTHING ELSE. It will be cold. Wear your clothes in layers, and multiple pairs of socks.”

“Why can’t we bring suitcases?” Itzhak asked.

“Suitcases will slow you down,” she replied before going on with her instructions.

“At 10 pm on the dot, someone will be here to walk you to your next guide. You will remove your stars and walk with your guide to the city Rüdersdorf to the east. It will take you approximately three-and-a-half hours to get there. Do not run. That will draw attention. Remember, you'll be out after curfew and without your star, which is automatic death. That's why it's important not to run, or do anything to draw attention to yourselves.

“Walk as quickly as you can. Once you get to Rüdersdorf, someone will meet you and guide you to Kostrzyn. It will be at least a two-day journey. Different guides will appear and disappear during your walk. Don't be startled, and do not worry. Just keep walking, and do EXACTLY what they say.

“Once you reach Kostrzyn, you will be safe in Poland, and you'll be able to travel at a slower pace. You will be met there by a man who will greet you with a whistle. You will not speak to him, but just follow. He will start you on another three-day walk to Krakow. Again, guides will disappear and new ones appear as you walk.

“The whole trip will take seven to ten days, if the weather holds out. December isn't the most ideal time to leave. If it snows, that could be trouble. We don't want you followed. So prepare for the journey to last 20-30 days just in case you must stay put somewhere for several days. Along the way, you will stop at houses to sleep during the day. The homeowners will fill your bags with food for the journey to the next home. You may be required to sleep in barn lofts during the day.”

The stranger glanced down at their shoes. “You will want sturdy walking shoes. Boots would be best. Please, for all of our safety, do not wear shoes you can't run in. There may be times when running will be required.

“I've given you the names of the towns you'll be stopping in. If, for some reason, a guide doesn't show up, keep walking toward these towns. Don't stop and, whatever you do, don't take roads.

“You will not know any of our names. Telling our names could mean death if you're caught. I won't lie, it's a dangerous journey. Not all of us agree with Hitler. There's hundreds of us that are secretly fighting against him. For our safety and your own, we must keep everything secret.” The stranger stopped speaking.

“How much do I owe you?” Sarah finally asked.

“Take all the money you have with you. You don't pay us. It's only if it's needed. You will pay the family that takes you in. Food, clothes, and whatever else comes up,” the stranger explained. 

“What about my husband? He was rounded up and sent to Buchenwald. I'm waiting for word from him.”

“We've been trying to get close enough to see what that place is. So far, no luck. I promise you, we will keep an eye out for your husband. If he comes here, we will know. The second we see him, we will bring him to you.”

Sarah sighed with relief.

The stranger stood up to leave. “Remember to follow the directions and you'll be fine. I must go.”

“How can I thank you?” Sarah asked.

The young girl took a long sad look at Itzhak. “Promise me you will raise your son to know that not all Germans are bad, that some of us are good. Teach him not to hate. Hatred is the seed for war, but forgiveness is the seed for peace.”

The stranger left as quickly as she had arrived.

December 2, 1938

“Son, son, wake up, it's time to go.” Sarah gently shook her son.

Itzhak and Sarah quickly got up and dressed. They had practiced this drill many times over the last few weeks. They put on as many layers as they could, and then put on the new boots they had broken in. Itzhak carried a stuffed rabbit to the door and held it as he put his wool coat on.

“Oh, Itzhak, must you really bring that rabbit?” she asked as she put half the food and money in his bag.

“Mama, you know I can't sleep without Mr. Rabbit,” he whimpered as he placed his school bag on his back.

Sarah sighed as she put the rest of the food and money in her own bag and put on her own wool coat. “OK, let's see if we can make a bed for him in your bag.”

Sarah managed to squeeze the toy into his bag and fasten the straps. “There, as long as there's room, you can carry him,” she exclaimed as she put his hat and mittens on him.

She put her own hat and gloves on. With a deep breath and shaking hands, she ripped the stars off their coats. Before she could change her mind, there was a quiet knock on the door. Sarah opened the door. A man in his mid-20s was standing there. He didn't say a word, he just motioned them to follow him.

The cold of the night stung their faces and eyes. The streets were deserted except for the occasional police officer roaming the streets. The full moon was bright as they hid and checked around corners before quickly ducking behind yet another building. Sarah was afraid to breathe, thinking it would give her away. She knew once they got out of the city she'd be able to relax. Block by block and building by building, they made their way out of the city.

They kept walking. Once out of the city, a woman fell into pace with them. Their original guide waved at this woman and walked back toward the city. They walked on in silence. Sarah lost count of how many times the guides were changed. They seemed to come out of nowhere, fall into step with the current guide, then the old guide would fall back and disappear. Over and over, Sarah watched this happen. Some of the guides looked no older than 11 or 12, and some were in their 60s. The younger ones had a fast pace about them. The older ones were a bit slower. However, they all had an urgency about them.

After walking for what felt like years, they came to a house. The guide knocked on the door and left. The door flew open, and an old woman quickly ushered them in. She didn't say a word. She just motioned for them to sit at the table. She hurriedly filled two bowls with some steaming stew, and placed it before them.

Itzhak hurriedly ate the stew. The woman gently patted the boy's head. “What a beautiful girl you have,” she said, smiling.

“Thank you,” Sarah replied as she finished her meal. She ignored the dark look that crossed her son’s face.

“Come, I will show you where you sleep. You have a long journey ahead of you. You must sleep all you can now. You're a bit behind schedule. It's almost three am. You will sleep all day and tomorrow night you will leave. Not to worry, they won't leave without you.”

Three hours later, voices were heard in the front room.

“Mama, is it the Gestapo?”

Sarah listened and replied, “No. Go to sleep.”

They slept until early evening that day. Then Sarah and Itzhak quickly grabbed their bags and walked into the living area. They were surprised to see another family. A man in his 20s with a lady around the same age, maybe a year or two younger; a young ten-year-old girl was holding tight to a doll, and an older couple stared at them.

The owner of the house greeted Sarah and Itzhak warmly. “Come, eat.”

“Their clothes are odd,” Itzhak whispered to his mother.

“They're Roma, and mind your manners,” Sarah replied.

They had just sat down to eat when the little girl walked up to Itzhak. “What's your name?” she asked with her dark eyes shining.


Sarah nudged him.

“It's Lena,” he replied. He sighed. He had almost given away his real name.

“I'm Maria. That's not my real name. My real name is Angelika.”

“MARIA!” the old man yelled sternly.

“It's OK, Papa.”

The younger man jumped up and clamped his hand over the girl's mouth. “You're going to kill us all. DON'T EVER SAY YOUR REAL NAME AGAIN!” he shouted.

Tears quickly flowed down the girl's cheeks.

Sarah felt so badly for the girl. She reached over and gently hugged this little stranger. “It's all right just this once, but we must be careful,” she said, smiling at the young girl.

The girl nodded and wiped her tears away. “That's my Mama and Papa.” She nodded toward the older couple. “And that's my brother and his wife. My other two older brothers were taken away.”

“Maria,” her father sternly warned.

Maria turned back toward Itzhak. “Do you have any dolls? I was only allowed to bring one, but I'll share if you don't have one.”

Itzhak turned to his mother in shock and disgust. He turned back to Maria. “I...I've never had dolls.”

“NEVER?” Maria's black eyes widened in shock.


“You did bring your rabbit,” his mother blurted without thinking.

“Oh, wonderful! We can have a tea party.” Maria clapped her hands excitedly.

Itzhak's eyes sent daggers into his mother. If looks could kill, she would've been dead instantly.

“I'm sorry. Just play with her. It won't be too terrible. We will be leaving soon anyway,” his mother whispered.

Itzhak sighed and slowly dragged himself to his bag with a very talkative and excited Maria following close behind. He reluctantly pulled his rabbit out of his bag.

“What's its name?”

“Mr. Rabbit,” he replied.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Rabbit.” She giggled as she shook its worn paw.

They played tea party. With Maria's constant chatter and moving, he didn't have to do much of anything. His occasional pretending to drink tea and answer “Yes” when asked if he wanted more tea seemed to please Maria. She was content to take over, which was perfectly OK with Itzhak. He didn't want to play this dumb girl's game anyway.

While they were playing, their host walked over and handed Itzhak a homemade rag doll she had just finished. “Every girl needs a doll.” She smiled at Itzhak.

Itzhak looked woefully at his mother.

“What do you say, Lena?” his mother asked.

“Thank you,” he muttered.

Itzhak was relieved when a hard knock was heard.

“Come, Lena, get Mr. Rabbit and your doll in your bag,” Sarah said as the owner of the home opened the door for two young men.

“I don't want the doll,” Itzhak whispered with disdain.

“Take it anyway,” his mother harshly whispered back.

“Now remember, Maria. You must be absolutely quiet. No talking at all,” her mother told her as she helped zip up her coat then pulled on her hat and mittens.

Maria simply nodded. The talkative girl was completely silent.

“Let's go,” one of the guides said once everyone was ready.

Both families stood and just stared at each other with confusion.

“You're all going to Poland together,” one of the men replied.

Itzhak groaned. Maria will never stop talking and we will be discovered. I'll have to play dolls and tea party with her forever, he thought as he worriedly looked at Maria.

“Remember, Maria, no talking,” her brother reminded her.

Quietly, Sarah thanked her host as they walked into the cold night.

They quickly fell in step behind their two guides. Once they were out of the town and in the woods, one of the guides spoke up.

“You will have two guides until you get past the Polish border. If there is a problem, we will divide the group between us and split up. We've never taken so many at once before, so we're not sure how this will work. No matter what happens, keep walking.”

Every hour or so, their guides were replaced with two fresh guides. Sarah had a strange feeling of deja vu. The minutes melted into hours. They slept during the day and walked all night. 

On the second night, as they were walking, one guide spoke up. “We're about a three-hour walk to the border.”

The excitement ran through the group like a breeze. They were almost free.

“Mama, it's snowing,” Itzhak whispered thirty minutes later.

The gentle snow flurries gradually picked up speed. The guides looked uneasy and nervous, but kept walking. Finally, one nodded to the other and they turned toward the south.

“We are not going east,” Maria's brother whispered to his father uneasily.

The guides overheard and wanted to ease their fears. “There is a cabin a quarter mile south of here. We can stay there until the storm stops,” one guide said. The guides picked up the pace. “Hurry, it looks like it's going to be a bad blizzard.”

The snow was falling hard and fast. Itzhak had trouble keeping up with the long legs of the adults who were now hurrying as fast as they could.

“WAIT!!” a small voice yelled out. Maria had fallen in the snow.

“Get on my back,” her brother said as he squatted down for her to jump on.

One of the guides noticed little Itzhak, and walked over to him. “Get on my back, little girl.”

Itzhak was burning with humiliation at being called a girl, but he climbed onto the guide's back.

The group was able to walk much quicker now that the children were riding. In no time, they arrived at an abandoned cabin. “We can stay here. It belongs to the resistance fighters, and we smugglers are allowed to use it whenever we need,” one of the guides said as he held the door open for all of them.

It was small, with only one room, but it was neat and tidy. Stacks of wood stood by the fireplace, and cans of food were on the shelves. One of the guides quickly lit a fire. “We will stay here until it's safe to go on. Feel free to eat the food. That's what it's here for. We will buy food to restock this cabin once we get into Poland.”

Sarah couldn't ignore how one of the guides stared at her. He was the one that willingly carried Itzak. Once everyone was settled into the cozy cabin, the guide sat down next to Sarah. “I'm Misha,” he told her quietly.

Sarah gasped. Wasn't she told that the guides would remain anonymous? “Alana,” she replied.

“That's the name on your ID, but what's your REAL name?”

She hesitated. Should I tell him? Is he going to turn me in? She looked at him for a minute before whispering, “Sarah.”

“Your husband is Walter?”

“How…how do you know that?” Sarah replied in shock.

“A telegram arrived,” he said while holding out the paper.

She took the paper with shaking hands.

Walter found. Dead. Typhus.Tell Sarah.

Sarah dropped the paper and started sobbing. Misha put his arms around her and tried his best to comfort her.

“ITZHAK, WHERE ARE YOU? I NEED MY SON. ITZHAK!” Sarah shouted without thinking.

Itzhak hesitantly stood before her. “I’m here, Mama. I’m here.”

She pulled him onto her lap and cried. It wasn't until she saw everyone staring at them that she realized her mistake.

Maria walked over to them. “You're a…you're…a BOY!” Maria said, pointing. Her eyes grew larger and larger. Itzhak thought they were going to pop right out of her head.

Itzhak sighed and nodded.

Maria smiled. “You played tea party really good. But why are you pretending to be a girl?”

“It's dangerous for Jewish boys,” Sarah answered as she looked at the other adults.

Their eyes looked down, and they nodded in agreement and understanding.

“Maria, come back over here and leave that family alone. They're grieving. Don't pester,” her brother said.

They just sat in silence, listening to the harsh wind blowing.

After the third day, everyone was ready to leave, but couldn't. Even Maria was sulking and complaining about being bored.

Itzhak walked over to his bag and pulled out the rag doll that their previous host had made. He walked over and stood in front of Maria. “Here, you can keep it. I don't like dolls.”

Maria smiled.

“I'll name her Lena,” she said brightly.

Itzhak rolled his eyes and walked back to his mother. He sat next to her, leaned against her, and watched Maria happily playing with her dolls. After watching for what seemed like hours, he walked over and grabbed his rabbit. “May we play tea party with you?”

Maria laughed gleefully and set two more pretend places. “Of course you may.”

The two children played quietly together until daybreak when it was time for bed.

“That was nice of you to play tea party with Maria,” Sarah said as she handed Mr. Rabbit to her son.

“I was bored, Mama. I didn't really want to. I guess she's not so bad,” Itzhak said as he rubbed at his eyes.

“Sleep well, sweet.”

“’Night, Mama.”

Sarah kissed him goodnight, and went to sit by the fire.

Misha was already sitting there, and the Roma family was asleep. “I owe you an apology, Sarah. You shouldn't have had to find out about your husband that way. I should've broken it to you more gently.”

Sarah took a long hard look at this young man. He looked about 24, maybe 25. Not much older than herself. “It's not your fault. Besides, I prefer to know the truth, regardless how hurtful it is.”

The compassion in his eyes took her by surprise. Yes, at first he seemed rough and not someone she wanted to cross. Especially with the holster with the pistol on his hip. But the more she looked at him, the more she saw past his tough appearance. Was that a flicker of fear?

“Kostrzyn is on the border of Poland. It may be tricky getting over the border. I'm hoping crossing at night and in smaller groups will keep us safe. From there we will start heading southeast toward Krakow. In five to six days you should all be settled. What do you plan on doing when this is all over and the war is finished?” Misha asked.

“Go to America. Itzhak begged me to take him. We will go, change our names, and live happy lives.”

Misha smiled. “You want to see something?”

Sarah nodded.

Misha pulled out two sets of documents.

“My visa to America came last week. This one's mine.” His smile faded as he showed her the second one. “This is for my fiancee, Sophie. They took her. They just broke into her home and took her away.” Misha quickly wiped the lone tear off his cheek. “I don't know where she is. These came just one week too late,” he whispered as he put the documents back into his pocket.

“I'm so sorry.”

Misha shrugged and stood up. “My brother and his family already left for America. We were to follow. Maybe when this blasted war is over, we will go together,” he said to Sarah. Then he sighed and looked at her. “We need sleep if we plan on walking all night,” he said as he helped Sarah to her feet. 

“Goodnight, Misha.”

“Goodnight, Sarah.”

When the sun went down and it was dark, the guides woke the travelers. “It’s time to go. Hurry.”

Everyone scrambled to get their coats on.

Maria started crying. “I can’t leave her.” She was sobbing.

“Maria, there’s just no room in your bag for two dolls. You will have to choose one.” Her mother was frantically trying to hurry the girl along.

Itzhak quickly walked over to the crying Maria. No one could get her crying to stop.

“Maria, we just don’t have the room for her,” her brother tried to explain.

“I do. I have room,” Itzhak said as he took off his bag.

Maria smiled brightly through her shiny tear-filled eyes. She handed her doll to Itzhak. “Thank you, Itzhak, I mean Lena.” She then did something that embarrassed him to no end. She leaned over and, right there in front of everyone, kissed his cheek.

“Eeew, what’d you do that for?” he declared as he rubbed the kiss off.

Maria just giggled and skipped to the door.

Maria’s father walked over to Itzhak and put a gentle but firm grip on his shoulder. “You’re going to grow to be a very fine man someday. Your father would’ve been proud of you. Thank you for helping our Angelika.”

Itzhak smiled through the tears that filled his eyes at the blunder her father had made. “Thank you, sir.”

Two hours later, they found themselves in sight of the Polish border. The guides stopped. “We can’t all go over at the same time. We will divide into two groups.”

The guides quickly put Maria, her father and brother in one group. Maria’s mother, sister-in-law, Sarah and Itzhak in another.

The first group left. Once they got across they kept walking without stopping.

“They’re not waiting for us!” Maria’s mother exclaimed with fear.

“Not to worry, they can’t just stand there waiting. There’s a meeting place further away,” Misha answered.

“They’re free. They’re in Poland,” Sarah replied, hoping that the knowledge would calm the older lady.

“It’s our turn. Be quiet as you can.”

They hurriedly crossed the border and met up with the first group. The Roma family was relieved, and hugged and cried. “We’re free. We’re free,” they cheered.

“Come, you can’t stand here celebrating. You're going to draw attention to yourselves. We no longer have to rush,” Misha stated. Then he walked up to Sarah.

“This is where I leave you, but I will check on you from time to time. We do have a trip to America to take. That is, if you want to join Sophie and me.”

Sarah smiled. “Of course we will go to America with you. Good luck to you, Misha.”

“And to you, as well.”

Misha walked away as two new guides joined them. Sarah felt the cold wind blow through her clothes. She turned and watched Misha walk away. She knew she would miss his company.

Once they got to Krakow, they were led to a house on the outside of town. They were to all sleep in a tiny attic. One day, Itzhak asked Maria’s father, “You’re not going to tell anyone that I’m Jewish, are you?”

“Not if you don’t tell anyone that we’re Roma.” He chuckled.

Itzhak took a long look at the family they were sharing the attic with. “What’s your real name?” he asked Maria’s father.

“I guess since I know yours, it’s only fair to tell you ours. I’m Viktor Ramos, that’s my wife Theresia, my son Milo, his wife Eva, and of course you know our daughter. I am the king and when I die, Milo will become king.”

Itzhak stood with his mouth gaping. He had never met any kind of royalty before.

“When the war is over, where are you going to live?”

Mr. Ramos thought long and hard. “America. We have family that escaped to New York. We will most likely go there.”

“Wait, wait!” Catherine interrupted the story.

Sophie paused.

“Ramos…. I know that name.”

Sophie smiled. “Yes, Milo and his wife are here in New York. They have a darling grandson.”

“TONY!” Catherine interrupted in shock.

“Yes, he’s a sweet boy. We’ve kept in touch, and we’re practically family. Misha and I are like their siblings.”

“Wow, what a small world,” Catherine smiled as she prepared to hear the rest of the story.

By 1939, the Nazis had invaded Poland and we were again at the mercy of our helpers. The days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months melted into years. We had been hiding in that small attic for five years until...

October 1944

One morning a banging on the door woke up the attic residents.

“You have Jews here?” they heard men yelling downstairs.

A few seconds later, they heard boots stomping up the stairs. Fifteen-year-old Maria clung to her parents, and eleven-year-old Itzhak clung to his mother. They were all frozen in place when the attic door was flung open.

“OUT NOW!” the soldiers yelled.

They hurriedly left the house and were shoved into a covered truck.

“Where are we going, Mama?” Itzhak asked.

“I’m not sure, but stay close to me.”

The truck led them to a railroad station.


They climbed out of the truck and saw crowds of people being loaded into cattle cars.

“Mama, where are we going?” Maria asked fearfully.

They were pushed into the same cattle car. A car that was to hold 80 people was crammed with 150. No one could move; it was stifling, with the smell of body odor and bodily fluids. Babies and children were crying, adults were screaming and begging to be let out.

They weren’t sure how long they were on the train, but they felt it jerk to a stop.

“We’re at Auschwitz,” Sarah heard someone exclaim. The doors flew open and barking dogs and screaming soldiers were yelling orders.

“Men on the left, women and children to the right.”

Itzhak held onto his mother for dear life, and he saw Maria clinging to her father.

“MEN ON THE LEFT, WOMEN AND CHILDREN ON THE RIGHT!” a soldier screamed as he grabbed Maria and yanked her out of her father’s arms.

Theresia grabbed Maria and Eva and together they went to stand with Sarah and Itzhak.

Soon the line started moving. They quickly noticed the children and elderly were sent in a different direction than the younger ladies.

Sarah stopped a soldier. “Excuse me, sir. Where are the children and older people going?”

“They are going to play and plant gardens. They won’t have to work. They will be free to go to school and play.” The soldier quickly walked away.

“Maria, tell them you’re 13,” her mother said. “You’ll be treated better.”

Maria stood before the doctor.

“How old?”


He pointed to the children. Her mother was next. “How old?”


He again pointed to the children.

When it was Eva’s turn, he didn’t ask, just pointed in the opposite direction. She didn’t have time to say goodbye to her mother-in-law or her sister-in-law.

Before they knew it, Sarah and Itzhak were standing before the doctor. He looked at Itzhak and pointed toward the other children. Then he looked at Sarah and pointed to the women that were headed in the opposite direction.

“Please, let me go with my son.” Sarah wept.

The stern doctor didn’t say a word, just repeated his motion.

“Mama, come with me,” Itzhak cried.

Maria, overhearing, ran up to Itzhak. “We’ll take care of him, Sarah. We will see you soon,” she shouted as they walked away. She took Itzhak’s hand and led him to her mother.

Sarah caught a last glimpse of her son walking between Maria and her mother, holding both of their hands. “At least he’s not alone,” she thought.

The registration and processing was traumatizing in itself. First they had to remove all their clothes, then shower, get their hair shaved, then they had only seconds to find an outfit and shoes that were just in piles. She ended up with a shirt that was two sizes too big and a skirt that was a size too small. Then her shoes were two different shoes, and both right feet. Neither shoe fit well.

Then came the tattooing. A number was tattooed onto their arms. This was their new identification.

After being processed, Eva clung to Sarah as they were led to the barrack.

“Where’s Maria, Itzhak, and Mother?” she asked Sarah.

One of the women laughed a hearty laugh. She grabbed Sarah and Eva by their arms and pushed them outside. “See the fire? See the smoke? THERE, there is your mother, father, brother, sister, and all the children.”

“I refuse to believe that,” Sarah whispered to Eva. “We will survive. We WILL walk out of here arm in arm,” she told Eva.

The days dragged with four hour roll calls where they had to stand in the rain, snow, and heat. The simple eight ounce piece of bread in the morning, some dark water they called coffee, and a ladle of “soup” with hair, nails, and even glass for dinner were their only meals. If the starvation didn't kill you, then the hard labor would. Months went by until...

January 27, 1945

The sun was already up when Sarah woke up. There wasn’t the normal 4 am roll call. The camp was quiet. Too quiet. Next thing they knew, they heard people yelling, “WE'RE FREE, WE'RE FREE! THE RUSSIANS ARE HERE!”

Sarah and Eva looked at each other. “Let’s go find our families!” Eva exclaimed.

They walked as quickly as their malnourished bodies could while calling for their families. One man stopped them. “I know Milo Ramos, he’s in my barrack. I’ll go tell him.”

Milo came out and hugged Eva. He started crying.

“Milo, what’s wrong?” Eva asked.

“Papa. He died last week. He was too weak. Mama? Maria?”

Eva shook her head. “I don’t know where they are. They went with Itzhak that first day.”

“Then they’re dead, too.”

Sarah’s eyes went wide. “NO, NOT ITZHAK!”

The couple gathered next to Sarah and helped her to sit. Tears flowed as she wailed for her son. When her tears finally ended, they moved into a barrack together to plan their next steps.

“Eva and I are going back to our hometown of Bremen. We need to find out what happened to our families. With the railroads bombed, it may take months to get there. What are you planning to do, Sarah?”

“I think I’ll go back to Berlin. Perhaps Itzhak survived and will be heading home.”

Eva and Milo exchanged looks. “Come with us, Sarah; be our sister,” Eva said gently.

“I just need to find out what happened to my son. Maybe one day we will reunite in America.”

“We can’t change your mind?” Milo asked.

Sarah shook her head.

Catherine wiped the tears that were flowing down her cheeks.

“Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please,” Catherine answered, trying to get past the lump in her throat.

Sophie came back with a glass of water in record time and handed it to her.

“Thank you, Sophie.”

March 1945

Sarah finally made it back to Krakow. The house they had hidden in was now empty. She roamed the attic room they had shared. As she was coming back downstairs, a man was standing at the door.


“MISHA!” She ran to him and sobbed into his arms. “I have to find Itzhak,” she finally replied.

Misha nodded. “I will go with you.”

It took months to get back to Berlin. When they got back, they wished they hadn’t. Buildings were bombed, and some people looked at them with disgust.

“I want to find Itzhak and go to America,” Sarah answered.

Misha took a long deep breath. “Sarah, Sophie’s dead.”

Sarah stopped in her tracks. “What? How?”

“She was sent to Terblinka. I searched the Red Cross lists every day. New people show up on those lists daily. I found her best friend. She survived. She said she saw Sophie being led to the gas chambers.”

“Oh, Misha, I’m sorry.”

“Come to America with me. Let’s forget the pain and hurt that was caused here and let’s just go. We can start over.”

Sophie sighed before continuing.

“That’s how I ended up in New York. My real name is Sarah, but I changed it to Sophie. I lost my son and husband in the Holocaust. That’s my story.”

Catherine just sat there in silence. She finally noticed the tears running down her cheeks, and absentmindedly wiped them away.

I’m going to leave you with these five lessons.

1. Never, EVER give up.

2. Prevent prejudice by judging people ONLY on their actions and content of their character.

3. Forgive your worst enemy - it will heal your soul and set you free.

4. Give your parents an extra hug and kiss for us children who had or have no parents.

5. Each of us has an important part to play in repairing our world. May tikkun olam (“repairing the world” in Hebrew) begin with ME!

· Author's notes:

The following sources were used for accuracy of the timeline: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ( and The Holocaust Chronicle; A History in Words and Pictures (unabridged)

All quotes in bold Italics are quotes from Eva Moses Kor. They came either directly from the book “Surviving the Angel of Death,” told directly to me in person, or told in one of her many lectures I've listened to over the years.

Permission to use books quotes has been granted by CANDLES Holocaust and Education Center, which Eva Moses Kor founded in memory of her twin sister, Miriam.

The title was Eva's favorite song.