I stood in the middle of this calm, cold room, as if I was alone and everything was so quite despite the thunder of steps surrounding me. They were white noise, muffled, but the names that were embedded in black and in red screamed at me. My hands shook and my eyes stung. I was that little girl again in a dress torn at the edges with bleeding knees and clenched fists.
After a while, I dared to look away and turned to the floor. I craved the silence, a total silence. Muffled noise would change my mind, halting me back and forcing my head up as the voices raged louder. I started shuffling little by little, trying not to touch any other strangers here and trying not to procure anymore angry voices. Like I had always done before. It was for the best.
It was rather humorous that there was a time where I loved sounds – from music, to laughter, and to the tiniest pitter-patter of the rain on our rooftop. I would watch my father, in his long coat and hat, fade away to the distance. Then after, I would run with giddiness to his gramophone, select my favourite Bach concerto, and the play it in loops. I would play it until my ears was ringing but my heart would be so elated that I did not care much when my father scolded me silly afterwards. And it did not matter when my mother reprimanded me for missing my lunch so I can hear the raindrops dropping on the ground. My world had been so musical, and so charming, and so innocent.
Despite my weary bones and the rasp of my breaths, I hauled myself up the stairs grabbing onto the rails with every strength that I could muster on my frail fingers. There were no more names and the screams lessened. There were also no strangers. I was alone and I could not remember the time when I had been so grateful.
Suddenly, a laugh. High-pitched and twinkling away like the music of the stars playing in the sky. It ricocheted at all sides. It was something that I thought I would never hear again, not in the rest of my lifetime. It was the sound when my sisters and I played for the very last time, the sound of me when I was drawing something particularly funny; and the sound of my family at dinnertime. I searched for the sound again, a certain lightness enveloping my chest.
There! Another laugh! I held onto the white walls as I chased, my steps echoing harshly upon the floor. After a few steps, I was starting to laugh again. It came out grating and a little desperate but I became that tiny girl with bright blue eyes and a pink dress again, skipping with my Bär through a field of poppies. I felt alive and in an open space where I only mattered.
The laughter kept on evading me as if it were in a maze and I kept on walking to dead ends and cliffs. I maintained my hope and I reached out my hand. I was determined to catch that laughter no matter what it took.
I turned to a corner and entered a room that was not so black, red, and white as before. The high-pitched laughter faded. But I kept my optimism. My own laughs and chuckles were weak and out of breath, and my eyes were glassy but filled with warmth. Like these paintings and drawings that surrounded me, a menagerie of dark and bright but all honest. All the laughter that I hear now were my own.
I scanned my eyes over the paintings. There was a song over my own broken laughter that was sung so sweetly by my mother. I was that little girl on my best nightgown and blonde curls rested by my chubby cheeks.
“Guten Abend, gute Nacht,
mit Rosen bedacht…”
My hand roved over the glass. I could see my reflection. I was still laughing with my thin, dry lips and water in my tiny, bloodshot eyes.
This drawing depicted fields of pure, green grass, and a rainbow by the hills, and farmers with their pitchforks. He was the boy in the middle with a large suitcase, following his parents.
“…mit Näglein besteckt…”
This girl was in the end table of her group. Their heads bowed down, scribbling on their papers. They were hard workers and would grow up to be, destined to be successful.
“…schlupf′ unter die Deck!
A study of colours was next and this young one had a keen eye for the perfect rainbow. He painted them in bold strokes. This young boy was certain and not so easily swayed.
“Morgen früh, wenn Gott will,
…wirst du wieder geweckt…”
I chuckled louder and my dry lips became moist. My eyes, blurry as they were, take in each and every piece that was in the room, a series of photographs that would be forever exhibited. A set of colourful snails that collected when still a toddler, and a study of animals for a would-be naturalist. There was a dark and foreboding streets, but the sun was painted bright yellow in the grey sky.
“Morgen früh, wenn Gott will…”
A field of flowers in all of the colours, a paradise that many could only dream of. And a little happiness could be found in the butterfly drawn with black paint. Then, there was a train with trailing black smoke entering a gate into the unknown for many.
“…wirst du wieder geweckt…”
I let out a laugh in the middle of this room and it rang back at me. So was my reflection, mocking my wrinkly skin and my puffy eyes at all sides. But I continued to laugh and laugh until I fell onto my knees and curled into a ball. My hands shook and my chest trembled.
Tomorrow morning, if God willed it, I maybe cursed wake up once again.
The song was Brahms’ lullaby, a version of the German lullaby “Wiegenlied.” The end sentence was also partly the literal translation of a line in the lullaby which is,
“Tomorrow morning, if God wills,
you will wake once again.”
That one alone sent shivers down my spine especially of the context of what I wrote above.
The story was a short one with just under a thousand words but I hoped that it made a huge impact. The place was Pinkas Synagogue in the Jewish Quarters, Prague. In all the places I have been in Prague, there was no place that stayed in my mind more than the synagogue and the exhibition of the children’s artwork in Terezin ghetto. For those people planning to go to Prague, I would definitely recommend you to visit the Jewish Quarters and the Pinkas Synagogue. It might be harrowing but the children deserved to be remembered in these paintings and drawings.