EXCERPT FROM THE LONG NIGHT
“I was not a member of the work gang that was guarded by a watchman and supervisor, so as truck greaser I had considerable freedom to move about. One could walk alongside the railway lines towards the tip and would be unguarded and left to my own devices. Each day I had to walk to the engine shed, which was located in the village called Kaltwasser, and collect lubricating oil. At the same time I ran errands for the supervisor and collected bits and pieces from the forge and engine shed. I often used a track across the fields where I frequently saw a girl sitting on a large stone eagerly reading a book. She had to guard the cows grazing in an adjacent field. She also noticed me and gave me a friendly glance but I did not dare to start a conversation because we were forbidden under threat of heavy punishment, to speak to civilians.
Kaltwasser farmland early 20th century
However, one day she jumped upand with a stick in her hand she stood in my way and began speakingto me. I remained still, looked first to the right, then to the left, but there was no one in sight. With some embarrassment I stood uncertainly in front of her. As I looked up I recognised blue eyes and a pretty cheerful face smiling at me. Then she asked, “What kind of work do you do?” I replied, “I work on the motorway.” She pointed to our place of work, “Only Jews work there.” “I am also a Jew,” I answered, and pointed to the oil and soot-stained yellow star on my chest. “But you don’t look like a Jew” she said. “The people that work over there are probably criminals, they are never unguarded.”
Briefly I explained to her that these people were all Jews and not criminals, we had been seized from our homes at night and brought here for forced labour. Her smile evaporated and she looked downcast as she walked towards the field to herd the cows together. The following day I waited impatiently to collect the oil in the hope of seeing the girl again. I was not sure whether she would show me her smiling countenance once more or if she would treat me with contempt because I was a Jew. But she waved to me from afar and with a gesture invited me to approach her. I made sure I was not being observed and then walked into the field. She handed me a parcel of sliced bread and told me to enjoy it.
From the beginning, she did not think of me as a motorway worker. She was not a herdsmen, it was just her compulsory military service. Finally she consoled me that time would pass quickly and we would definitely be allowed to return home to our families. I was deeply moved by her modest gift, friendly face, kind eyes and the consolation she tendered. I thanked her and set off on my way in a daydream. This meeting gave me renewed strength. So my life was not yet completely lost.”