Holocaust Remembrance Day: Czelawa Kwoka, Auschwitz 1942

You will know her story--the beating, the lip, her mother, how Wilhelm Brasse was able to bring her to us.

I wanted to keep her story going. 

Lotto woke up on a cot in Mrs. Dye’s kitchen. He tried to move is head, it felt full of water and like a bruise. Mrs. Dye turned from the woodstove. She had small eyes in a big face and Lotto had never seen her without an apron on. Her hand on his forehead felt rough, his skin hurt, his teeth hurt.                 

“Another day,” Mrs. Dye said, when her husband walked in the kitchen. He was as narrow as his wife was wide, his work clothes always looked dusty and his skin was the color of hay. He communicated mostly with nods and small sounds, the boys would go in the store and what they needed would already be on the counter, the bags of sandwiches, fishing line, a roll of bandages and some red disinfectant that smelled like iron the time Nick cut his foot at the lake.

Lotto had thought it was Mrs. Dye who made the sandwiches, but it was Mr. Dye who came to the cot and asked Lotto if he had an appetite. Lotto shook his head. Mr. Dye placed a milk bottle of water on the floor by the cot. Lotto did not know if he drank any of it, only that when he woke up a later, Mr. and Mrs. Dye were gone, and there was a plate of crackers and two magazines on the floor. One magazine was about fishing; the other was called Look. The paper in the Look magazine was shiny is a way that made it look old. Lotto thought it must be old, the ads were funny, like one for Buick cars where there was a drawing of a family and they were all whistling, the whistles floating off into music notes, Lotto could read them, Henry had taught him the C and the F and the G.                

The pages in the magazine were smoothed, like they had been touched a lot of times, especially this one page where Lotto saw a picture of a girl, or three pictures of her. They were strange pictures. She looked like she was hurt. Her hair was not like the pictures of other girls in the magazine, flipped-up at the ends. This girl’s hair was cut off, not like when Mrs. Dye or Henry buzzed their hair short, more like chopped off with scissors. It wasn’t even at all. But then Lotto was not looking at her hair, he was looking at her mouth, it was closed in a way that made it look like she was holding it closed, maybe to make it not tremble, or like she was mad, or maybe scared. The picture on the left made Lotto scared. The girl was holding her head against what looked like the head end of a nail. She was really not happy in this picture. The picture on the right was a lot happier; she had big scarf spun around her head and she looking up and away, as if she were watching some birds fly overhead, she looked as if she might be able to hear them singing.

The middle photo made the least sense. The girl was wearing a rough striped jacket big enough for a man, and it was dirty, and Lotto was not sure it was even a jacket, it looked more like a piece of rug with one button and safety pins holding it together. The girl’s name was on a sign next to the picture, K.L. Auschwitz. He wondered what her first name was. He wondered how she got her chapped lips, or maybe it was a split lip. That was bad. She looked like she had maybe been crying. Lotto smoothed the paper beside her photos; he rubbed the pages between his thumb and fingers and wondered why someone would take a picture of her like this.

Lotto would spend one more night in the kitchen. He would learn later that Henry and Nick had carried him downstairs the night before because he had been yelling in his sleep, that his skin had been on fire. Mr. Dye sat in a straight-back chair next to the cot. He ate an apple as Lotto finished some soup. The Look magazine was still on the bed. Lotto looked again at the girl and asked Mr. Dye what he thought her first name was, and why they took a picture of her.

 “Oh for god’s sake,” said Mrs. Dye, coming to the cot and grabbing the magazine from Lotto’s hand so fast the cover ripped half off. She walked over to the woodstove.

 “Klara,” said Mr. Dye. It was the first time Lotto could remember hearing Mr. Dye say anything. Mr. Dye crossed the room to his wife. He took the magazine from her. He sat back down in the chair and held it in his hands.

Part of a series of stories about four parentless boys living in a room above the Dye store