*Present day; Flint, Michigan*
“Hannah Belkin?” the young nurse said. “You have a visitor.”
“A visitor?” Hannah said, obviously surprised. She wasn’t expecting anyone. The nurse escorted a young man into her room.
“Hello, Ms. Belkin,” the man said, shaking the old lady’s hand. “My name is Thomas Rodgers. I’m a college student from The University of Michigan.” The man paused to let that sink in before he spoke up again.
“I’ve been researching the Jewish Holocaust for a research paper, and I stumbled upon the book, ‘Broken Heart’ you published many years ago. I was wanting an inside scoop on what happened and was wondering if you would be able to fill me in on the events leading up to your life in the concentration camp?” The man stopped and looked at Hannah hopefully. After a moment, when Hannah didn’t speak up he said, “Well, Miss. Belkin, do you remember that day well enough to tell me anything?”
He looked at her pleadingly. The last thing Hannah wanted to do was think about her tragic past. She had tried long ago to forget it, to move on with her life. When she realized that she could not escape from her memories, that it was simply unavoidable, she wrote them down in book she later published.
The man looked at her waiting for an answer. “Ms. Belkin?” he said meekly. She looked up at him. In her eyes the young man could see many years filled with pain and sorrow. She took a deep breath and stated quietly,
“Oh…I remember that day as if it were yesterday,” A look of pain flashed across her face. Her eyes filled with tears as she leaned back in her chair and tilted her head back. The tragedy happened around seventy-five years ago, but every reminder re-opened the old ragged wound that after all these years had not yet managed to heal. Memories would come back in a storm of emotions, flooding her heart with more sadness than she could bear. She closed her eyes in remembrance. Silence filled the room for over a minute. Just when the man thought she wasn’t going to say anything, she spoke up in such a whisper that her voice was barely audible, and began the long, painful story….
*1939, Bremerhaven, Germany, 11p.m.*
Hannah’s quiet home was suddenly disrupted by the alarming sounds coming from outside. Hanna now awake, jumped out of bed and ran to the window. She was a tough ten year old but even she wasn’t prepared for the horrific sight that greeted her. Her once peaceful street was filled with Nazi soldiers. In her big brown eyes you could see the reflection of the burning houses. Her ears were filled with the desperate screams for help. Fear took control of her body and glued her feet to the floor and eyes to the window. She couldn’t help but stare. She soaked it all in, every graphic detail.
She tried to scream but nothing came out. Right then, her father ran in, and pried her away from her front row seat of the Jewish holocaust. Mr. and Mrs. Belkin each grabbed a daughter and headed to the basement where they had a hidden cellar that led to the backyard. They moved the crates over and opened the cellar. Hanna was lowered down first followed by her only sibling, Sarah. The girls managed to get in just seconds before they heard the dreadful pounding coming from the front door. “Get in fast. I’ll distract them!” Hannah heard her father yell anxiously at her mother.
“No, I’m not leaving you!” Hanna’s mother cried. Right then, the door was knocked down. Mrs. Belkin hastily shoved the heavy wooden door over the opening as best as she could, leaving just a small crack. The Nazis filled the house. They tore apart every room searching for people until they reached the basement. Hannah and Sarah stood up on their tip toes and peered through the small crack. They saw their mother clinging desperately to her father as about ten Nazis made their way down the stairs.
“I know more people are here! Where are they?” One of the officers yelled.
“It’s just us!” Mr. Belkin said pleadingly. The officer grabbed Hannah’s father by the collar.
“Don’t you lie to me!” he yelled, as he slapped him across the face. “Take him away!”
Two of the men grabbed Mr. Belkin by the shoulders and dragged him around the corner. You could hear the screams and cries coming from Mr. Belkin but the beating didn’t stop.
The men came back and threw the limp Mr. Belkin to the ground. Mrs. Belkin ran over to her husband. She lifted his head onto her lap and stroked her fingers threw his blood-soaked hair. He raised his arm and grabbed his wife’s hand, holding it in his. “I love you,” He managed to choke out.
“This is your last chance to tell us where they are!” One of the soldiers screamed. When neither Mr. nor Mrs. Belkin gave any answer, the young officer raised his gun and shot them.
Hannah’s parents fell lifeless to the ground, their hands still entwined. It took everything in Hannah not to scream out in pain. She wanted nothing more than to have another chance to run over to her parents and tell them that she loved them. But she couldn’t. Her legs collapsed and she fell to the ground hugging her little sister. Silent tears ran down both girls cheeks. Hannah had no intention of moving. She laid there crying for what seemed like hours as the Nazis searched the house. She heard one of them say,
“Just light it up. If there is someone alive in here they won’t be for long.” A few minutes later she started smelling smoke. Sarah was coughing uncontrollably then suddenly stopped. As Hannah was moving to check on her sister, a beam from the ceiling collapsed, inches away from the girls.
“Sarah we need to go!” she said. When Sarah didn’t move Hannah started shaking her. “Sarah, we’re going to die. Come on!” she pleaded. When it was clear that Sarah was passed out and wasn’t going to wake up, Hannah grabbed her arms and dragged her over to the ladder that led to the hatch outside. Hannah tried picking Sarah up and taking her up the ladder with her, but her ten year-old frame couldn’t carry her younger sister and go up the ladder at the same time. The flames were now in the cellar. Hannah climbed out of the cellar and ran behind the houses into the alley, trying to find someone that could help her save her Sarah. To her surprise the only people that were to be seen in the alley were Nazi soldiers. She looked at them in horror. She started backing up, hoping that they hadn’t noticed her. When she was at least thirty feet away from the nearest one, she turned and sprinted back to her burning house. When she finally got there she looked down the hatch but the flames had overtaken the cellar and fire was all that could be seen.
“Sarahhhhhh!” she sobbed. Right then, a man grabbed the back of her shirt and yanked her up. Hannah looked at him through her tears and recognized him as one of the soldiers in the alley. As she stared up into his eyes she thought she noticed a hint of sympathy, then in a flash it was gone. “Let’s go,” he ordered in a harsh voice. The young guard led Hannah by the back of her shirt pushing her and shoving her the whole way. Once in the street the soldier grabbed Hannah with both hands and threw her onto the back of a truck along with at least thirty other Jews. And then they were off, driving into the night to a place so treacherous very few made it out alive.
*Present day; Flint, Michigan*
Hannah looked at him, tears in her eyes as she said, “And well, you know the rest.” Thomas stared wide-eyed. The story he had just heard was worse than he had imagined. “Wow, um whoa,” he said clearly flustered. His brain was a jumbled mess. “Thank you very much. I really appreciate you taking the time to tell me,” he finally managed to spit out. Ms. Belkin stood up and started walking away with the help of her walker. “Wait, Ms. Belkin,” the man said. Hannah turned around and looked at him not knowing what to expect. “I’m so terribly sorry.” She simply nodded her head and walked away. The young man stayed seated at the couch for a moment longer. He couldn’t get over the story he had just heard. The fact that one person could go through so much pain was unbelievable to him. He got off the couch and escorted himself out of the nursing home. On his ride home he couldn’t get Hanna’s story out of his head. When he heard what Hannah went through something changed in him, something clicked. He knew now that he needed to change. And he was determined to do so.