Dry leaves crackling under the soles of my shoes remind me of my Grandma’s story from the Holocaust. With the start of autumn, Grandma would retell her story with such passion. Here is her tale.
“I was 14 years old on that autumn morning when the Gestapo came to get my father. Being his firstborn, I always had a special connection with my father. As the Nazis made their way through our tiny apartment, they yanked drawers from chests and tossed its contents on the floor, searching for valuables. Simultaneously, they ordered our family of five to stand against our kitchen wall, lest we run to grab our valuables. Frankly, we had no valuables in the monetary sense. Dad was a meager breadwinner. He did, however, own some Judaica he had inherited from his father. But these were rendered useless by the Nazis.
As we stood by the wall on that fateful morning, we spotted dried autumn leaves on our kitchen floor. The Gestapo officers must have dragged them in on their boots.
“You see that leaf,” Dad said in a hushed whisper. “That’s a leaf in its natural state. It’s only because of chlorophyll that it looks green during spring and summer. And when its chlorophyll is gone, when it begins to fade or die, its true colors come to light. Likewise with human beings. When times are tough, when life does not offer a bed of roses, true colors come out.”
I heard Dad’s words and tried to grasp the meaning of it. At the age of 14, however, I failed to understand the depth of these words which eventually altered my outlook on life.
Dad was taken from us on that autumn day and was never heard of again.
Not much later I found myself in a labor camp with other girls my age. I had been a weak child by nature, always unable to provide physical help around the house. And now I was instructed to assist in building airplanes. I knew I could not confess my physical weakness; I’d be put to death.
Days and weeks passed and I was emaciated and spent from my job and lack of food. Sara, the girl sleeping next to me, was assigned to work that morning and I was given a few hours off from work. Sara was a ‘living corpse’. Her rib cage was visible through her translucent skin. I was convinced that one more day of work would render Sara dead.
Then I remembered Dad and the autumn leaves – that their true colors shine when fading.
I too felt like a fading autumn leaf. My true colors were becoming visible. I was desperate to spend my break from work in my so-called bed. But recollecting Dad’s words made me equally desperate to shine in those very difficult days. So I summoned the last bit of energy left in me and told Sara that I would pretend to be her and take her place at the factory. I entered the plant that morning and did her job for the day, giving Sara the opportunity to gather the minimal strength she needed to survive. “
Although Grandma is not with us anymore, when I hear the autumn leaves crunching under my shoes, I can hear her telling her story. It altered my outlook on life. When life becomes difficult, I know that I’m provided with a unique opportunity to shine in ways otherwise impossible, like a fading autumn leaf revealing its true colors.