Unlike the blitzkrieg of Warsaw, where we had lived in a sturdy apartment building, and been able to run to a bomb shelter, this time we were in a small house. Through our windows, Mama and I could see the houses around us were in flames. Mama told me we needed to get out quickly. We grabbed our sweaters and water, and hurried out of the house. Holding hands, we ran toward the farmland that began just beyond the edge of town. In the midst of the explosions, flames, and terrorized people, my biggest fear was that I might get separated from Mama. What would I do on my own in this chaos? I was even more terrified than I’d been in Warsaw because now I was older and understood the dangers. We were quickly engulfed by other terror-stricken townspeople who were also escaping their houses as fast as they could—it was like a human flood—all of us running in a frenzy away from the center of town. It seemed as if we’d been running for hours, dodging bombs, fires, and exploding buildings. During that whole time, even after we no longer could feel the heat of our burning city on our backs, we didn’t look back once. We kept our eyes focused on any possible escape routes. By the time that the sun was setting, we’d managed to run almost five kilometers, and had passed several farms. Unlike many of the other exhausted escapees who had already stopped, we continued into the wild, uninhabited fields beyond the farms. Finally, unable to go any further, we sank to the ground. Only after I’d settled into my mother’s lap, did I ask her if we really could get away from the Germans this time. Instead of answering my question, she assured me that we would all right. Again, I was skeptical, but what could any mother have said in these circumstances?
After what seemed like forever, the bombing suddenly stopped. Above us, the sun was just setting on what would otherwise have been a beautiful June day. But our once clear blue sky had been darkened by smoke and ashes. Blood red streaks of sunbeams twisted and shot through the smoke and ash-filled sky, turning it into an ironic rainbow of death. All along the horizon, for as far as we could see, the flames of other burning towns convinced us that the world was being destroyed around us. As if all sounds had been sucked out of the world, the sudden, eerie, and utter silence was almost as frightening as the ear-spitting bombing. The people around us began to stir and get up. I could hear men, women, and children crying out for help, and calling out for missing loved ones. Mama and I stood up, brushed our clothes off, hugged each other tightly, and began our walk back to town. We stepped cautiously through the smoldering ruins of Lida, trying not to look at the dead and dying. Our irritated eyes watered from the filthy air. Mama held tightly to my hand. Afraid to speak the words out loud, we could feel each other’s dread about what we would find when we got home. Would there even be a home to return to? Would Papa and my uncles be safe? Imagine the waves of mixed feelings that hit us when we turned the corner and saw that amidst the smoking, crumbled ruins of our neighborhood, one house was still standing —and it was ours! Propelled by joy and relief, we rushed forward, eager to feel the comfort and safety of home. These feelings were quickly over-shadowed, however, by grief at the sight of our dazed and weeping neighbors as they carefully searched through the remains of what had once been their homes. And then, just as suddenly, another wave of emotions flooded us with joy again when we opened our front door and saw Papa and my uncles sitting at the dining table. There was food on the table, and the room was lit by candles. It was beautiful—just like a photograph in a magazine! Can you imagine it? My beloved Papa and uncles, sitting at a food-laden table in a lovely, candle-lit dining room—in the midst of the sights, sounds, and smells of a smoldering war zone! At least that’s how I remember it. The food probably consisted of some stale bread and cold potatoes. Dust and debris had probably blown in through the broken windows. I flew into Papa’s arms and wouldn’t let go. Mama told the men what had happened to us and what we’d seen. Then, Papa told us what it had been like at the hospital during the bombardment, where he had been providing care to injured townspeople. My uncles had run away from Lida just as we had, but had been unable to find us in the chaos. While our house had sustained some damage, we would be able to clean it up. Life would go on. Before long, feeling warm, full, and safe, I fell asleep in my father’s arms, and he gently carried me to bed. All too soon, I wouldn’t even be able to remember what feeling warm and safe was.