Blind Light. Brittany Weinstock

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1 1 Blind Light Brittany Weinstock

2 2 To anyone else at any other time, a teenaged girl in a library wouldn t seem unusual. But I am not a normal teenaged girl. I am Tzipporah Laznikowicz, a fifteen-year old Jewish girl living in Poland under Nazi occupation. And I am living in the library. The Nazis took Warsaw in September The following year, my family and I were pushed into a ghetto. Two years later, people began to be deported to concentration camps. It meant certain death. Soon, they came for us. Nazi soldiers burst into our home, but I was able to escape out the back door. I ran to the first building I could see the library. I have been here for many months now and have not been noticed. During the day, I hide in an old storage room on the third level, a decrepit, forgotten crevice no one knows about. It has a hole where I can see out and observe everything. At night, I do two things: steal food and collect books. I gather them from every shelf I can find. Books are the only things that have kept me company these long, lonely months. They have become my life and offer a world away from the harshness and the hatred of the Nazis. Tonight, I want new books to read. I look out of the hole. Watching. Waiting. Biding my time until it seems no one is here.

3 3 Now is the time. Quickly and stealthily, I run to a bookshelf. I reach up on the shelf, my fingers just barely grasping the title I want. I pull it down, feeling its satisfying weight in my hands and blowing off dust from the spine. I run my finger over the worn title, etched in gold lettering. Suddenly, I hear the squeak of a wheelchair rolling across the creaky wooden floors. Two male voices come out of the silence. German. An icy chill of fear runs through my veins. Quickly, I jump behind a bookshelf. The men are wearing Nazi uniforms. A young man is pushing an older, weary-looking man. The older man s pale blue eyes stare straight ahead, looking strangely cold and lifeless. He s blind, I realize. The men converse. Why did you bring me here, Franz? the older man asks, his voice resentful and gravelly. To a library, of all places! What good are books to me? Even if that explosion didn t leave me blind and unable to walk, I still wouldn t have wanted to come here. I never much cared to read. I ve always had more important things to do. Here, Colonel, Franz says. I m sure you can find someone to sit with you. I ve got to report for duty. I ll be back. To my horror, the wheelchair is pushed in my direction. I duck down as far as I can. I hear Franz s retreating footsteps. The Colonel sighs. A hand reaches into where I am hiding, its fingers grasping my hair. Surprised, I yelp out in pain.

4 4 The old man gasps. Who s there? he demands. Having no other choice, I emerge. I m sorry, sir, I stammer in German. I was looking for a book, and What s your name? I think quickly. Katarina. The old man s eyes are like cold, pale, wandering marbles moving around his sockets. I shiver and swallow. I see, says the Colonel. Fräulein, as you probably heard, my attendant so rudely left me just now. Since I am forced to stay here until he comes back could you sit with me? I nod, surprised. Me? If he knew I was a Jew if he could see me, he would become filled with hatred and send me away to a concentration camp. But he can t. Until Franz comes back, I m safe. I have a book. Would you like me to read it to you? I hate books, the old man says. They are pointless to me. But I have been given no other choice. So, sit, Katarina. Read. I sit on the floor in front of him. With trembling but determined hands, I open the cover. The old man sits back in his chair, hands laced together in preparation. I begin to read.

5 5 The story intrigues me. I make my voice rise and fall with every emotion, trying to put in some feeling. He looks bored and uninterested. Inside, I am terrified. If this man finds out who I am, I m finished. I have to keep reading. My life depends upon it. Then I get to a part I am half paying mind to, something about a daughter. The man raises up a hand to stop me. I had a daughter once. His voice is soft and tender. He is silent, tension laid thick in the air. I look up at him, my finger poised on the page. She she died. He does not say anymore. I bite my lip. My parents died, too, I speak. They were killed. The man nods slowly. He doesn t ask any questions. He doesn t call in reinforcements to take me away. He merely nods. Sympathetic. A sigh of relief is released within me. A man who lost his sight long before his vision, blinded by lies, prejudice, and hatred, still has the capacity, however small, to feel. Like me.

6 6 From that moment on, he seems much more interested in the story. The book I read to him becomes a part of both of us as the characters allow us a glimpse of their lives and their story. That s how all books are. They give us the opportunity to live lives as different people, seeing who they are. Books broaden horizons. Books bring people together of all kinds. When the story ends, we ll have to go back to reality. He ll go back to focusing on a German victory in the war. I ll go back to hiding. But for now, we have this. It is something so human, something that touches my heart and shows me what it means to be alive. Finally, I finish. The old man s unseeing eyes penetrate nothing, staring into empty space. His face, however, shows the impact the book had on him. He breathes out a sigh of contentment mixed with sentimentality and longing. Thank you, he speaks at last. That was wonderful. Books are so much more than words on a page, I say. Books are the connection we have with the world. That s why I love them so much. Yes, the Colonel replies. Just then, Franz appears at the top of the stairs. His cold eyes look directly into mine with startling realization.

7 7 He recognizes me, I think, a sickening pit of dread growing in my stomach. He knows who I am. Is that you, Franz? the Colonel asks. I found the most wonderful girl to read to me. Do you know who that girl is? Franz asks, his voice a tone of icy hatred. No, the Colonel replies. Who? With a swift motion, Franz comes over and seizes me by the arm. This is the escaped Jewish girl from the ghetto. What? the Colonel asks, horrified. No it can t be. It is, Franz replies bluntly. She can join her parents fate at Auschwitz. One less Jewish scum. The human connection we had been experiencing these past few hours has been shattered. But then, something unexpected happens. Let her go, the Colonel says. Franz is stunned and silent. Do as I say! That s an order! Franz, shocked, lets go of me. I stare at the Colonel, openmouthed. Leave! he tells me. Get away, and don t come back. Get out! Yes, sir, I reply in disbelief. I turn to go, but he stops me again. His unseeing eyes are filled with tears as he grabs my arm. Go, he commands, his voice emotional with something almost like gratitude.

8 8 I take one last look at the man who saved my life. Then I run down the stairs, out the back door of the library, down the alleyway, heading anywhere, just far away from here. He saved my life. All because of a book that showed what it means to have compassion. I know not what will happen to me next. I know not if I will survive until the end of this war. The chance is small. But from within this library that gave me sanctuary, I set someone free. This Nazi who thought he walked free in Germany needed to be set free in a much deeper way than I ever did. Because of my love of books, I have a perspective on people and places unknown to those who don t share that same love. As for the Nazi, I believe this night gave him the key to unlock an undiscovered perspective on the world. Books have the power to change and save lives. I make my way down the empty city streets, hidden in the shadows, onwards towards my unknown destiny, but given a new sense that it is I who am truly free.

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