They had been rounded up and taken to the train station in Warsaw. Their only crime was being Jewish, but in 1941 in Poland that was all it took. They were piled into the train cars like so many cattle. The train stretched on forever, or so it seemed to little Ava.
Ava asked, “Why do we have to get on the train Mommy?”
“We must go where the soldiers tell us to go.”
“But why? Why can’t we just stay at home?”
Her mother, Illiana, wanted to tell her that these were evil men and that they were being sent to a work camp. She wanted to tell her that they may not survive the camp. There was so much she wanted to tell her, but she was too young.
Illiana looked at her sister Ireana and asked her, “What should I tell her? She is too young to be told the truth.” All this she said in Yiddish because she knew Ava wouldn’t understand; they only spoke Polish when Ava was around.
Ireana said, “I can’t tell you what to do; sooner or later she will have to know.”
Illiana looked at her daughter and said, “The soldiers have taken everything from our house; there is nothing to go back to. We just have to get on the train now and hope for the best.”
Ava was crying now and Illiana held her close and began to weep too, but not for herself. She would have gladly sacrificed herself so that Ava could grow up, marry and have children of her own, but this was not to be. Illiana wiped away the child’s tears as they were herded into the boxcar. There was hardly any room left by the time the last woman got on board. Illiana and Ireana had found places against one wall of the train car and Ava was in Illiana’s lap. Through some unspoken arrangement some women would stand up to allow others to sleep. They were cooped up for nearly a day before the train started moving.
There were air vents toward the top of the car that allowed the guards to send in stale loaves of black bread and water. There were also buckets that needed to be dumped through these same vents. Illiana didn’t want to think about that, it was humiliating enough to have to pee in a bucket in front of all these other women.
It was frigid in the boxcar; it was only the warmth of all the other human beings that made it bearable. The train crept down that tracks towards its final destination. Although Illiana didn’t know it at the time, the final destination was Treblinka. It consisted of two camps, the work camp and the other one that nobody ever returned from. They were headed for the second one.
It took three days to cross the fifty miles to the camp. By this time every one was filthy, weak and despondent. On the third day Illiana saw, through a crack in the slats, the work camp. They slowly rolled by it and pulled up to the other camp. There were so many women to be “processes” that it took anther day before the soldiers opened Illiana’s car. They were once again herded from place to place. Information was taken for each woman and all of her possessions. Finally they were sent to the showers. They were told to strip and go into the showers get cleaned up and that there would be warm clean clothes waiting for them on the other side.
Ireana whispered to Illiana, “I’ve heard about this place, these aren’t showers. They are going to kill us.”
Illiana replied, “Wouldn’t a quick death be preferable to anything else they could do to us?”
After running the possibilities through her mind, Ireana nodded in agreement.
Ireana looked at Ava and then back to Illiana and said,” It's time to tell her the truth.”
Illiana squatted down and looked her daughter in the eyes, “Once we get through the showers and come out on the other side, everything will be alright.”
“Do you promise Mommy?”
“I promise.”They put their clothes in a pile and walked hand in hand to the showers.