Trudie’s Goose

Devastation by Alex Garrow

“Make sure to save plenty of beads for the neck. If the goose’s neck is not strong, it cannot hold up the head,” Mama explained in the special voice she saved only for me. It had been hard for me to hold my head up high in the camp. If I looked down, I saw the lethal black boots of the frightening men that my mother called The Nazis. But if I looked up, I saw their hard faces and their hateful eyes staring back at me. How could the uniforms on those men seem so fearsome on their bodies and so sweet in Mama’s hands as she sewed them in the dim light?…

A group of ladies had come to the Displacement Camp. They smiled at me as if they could imprint me with their own life experience, which must have been more buoyant than mine. The ladies were carrying small boxes with toys for all of the little boys and girls. A tall lady with long, brown hair set one in front of me, and when I opened the red top, I found a bag of beads. Beautiful, shining, tiny little beads that made a tinkling sound when I touched them with my fingers. Many of them were green, but some were blue, and some were an earthy color, and a few were as yellow as the marguerites I had found in the field outside the Death Camp when the Americans had set us “free.” Free to be transported to this better camp where there was food and soap, but not free to go home because there was no home and nowhere to go…

The soldiers had come for Papa in the middle of the night. They always came for the men at night. Papa knew that they would come; he knew that the angry men would eventually march through our happy farmhouse door and make it sad. He knew that I would be torn from his desperate arms as he was dragged off. He knew. Maybe that is why he gave me my precious doll. The first doll I had ever had, and the last memory of Papa. Because Papa was gone. Sent to a forced labor camp, away from us forever and ever…

“What shall we make with these magnificent beads, Trudela?” Mama asked me.

“A goose, Mama,” I replied.

“A goose. Yes, we will make a goose,” said Mama as if it were obvious that these tiny little beads should become a female waterfowl. But there was no fabric to be had. So, without hesitation, Mama tore a piece of material from her own black skirt.

“Mama!” I cried seeing her torn smock, but she shushed me and showed me how to thread the needle.

“Be sure to secure each bead separately and stitch them snugly side by side,” said Mama, reminding me again that the neck must be stiff, dense with beads…

Three years after they had come for Papa, the Nazis came to take Mama and me away. They shouted at us to only take what our arms could carry. I grabbed my papa doll, sure that it was all that I would need.

I walked, holding my papa doll in one arm and mama’s shaking hand in the other. There were many of us, so I held on tighter, clutching my papa doll to my heart. Then a big, thick guard in his long black uniform grabbed her from me, my papa doll, the last thing I had of my beloved Papa. I wanted to cry out, to protest, to shout and punch and yell, but Mama silenced me strictly. The guard laughed, showing his big, ugly white teeth. And as he marched away with my doll, I could do nothing but walk on.

We walked for months. We walked until we couldn’t walk anymore, and then we kept walking. We walked with empty bellies and dry throats. Some people collapsed to the unforgiving earth. We walked until we reached Lodz and its filthy, cramped ghetto. Some of us were sent to die, and some were sent to work. We were lucky that Mama could sew.

But our luck didn’t last. One night, the Nazis stormed the Lodz ghetto and rounded us up again. This time we did not walk. We were shoved into cattle cars, packed so tightly that I could hardly breathe the cold, stale air. People were sick and their sickness made others sick. People were sad, but knew that tears would only bring them more harm. I closed my eyes and dreamed of the geese on my papa’s farm, always free to fly away.

When we arrived at the Death Camp we were told to undress. All of us, cold and naked and frightened. Again they divided us. Some of us were snatched from the herd to be killed, and some of us were allowed to live and work. Mama was sent to sew, and I was permitted to help…

“Mama, let’s use the yellow beads to sew a marguerite,” I said. “A marguerite for the goose.”

“Dear Trudie,” Mama said with tears in her tired brown eyes. “I have not seen you smile since you discovered those marguerites and picked them for me. I will teach you a special stitch, and with that stitch you will learn to make perfect petals for one perfect marguerite.” We only had enough beads for one flower, but I knew that one would be enough.

“And Mama,” I said. “We will sew the beads in the stem closely together so it can stand tall and strong and hold up the perfectly stitched yellow blossom.”

I knew that it was time to stop the river of tears held tightly within me. I knew that we would be okay. And I knew that I could hold my head high like our goose with its strong, proud neck and our flower, which would have its own defiant stem. Because I would survive.

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Maya Savin Miller is a senior at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California. Her prose and poetry have appeared in Cargoes, Up North Lit, Hadassah, Battering Ram Journal, Bluefire, Skipping Stones, and jGirls Magazine and have been recognized by Princeton University, Hollins University, Columbia College, Rider College, Scholastic, Library of Congress, Skipping Stones, Blank Theatre National Young Playwrights Festival, and The Leyla Beban Foundation. A 2019 grant from the Dragon Kim Foundation and a 2020 grant from The Pollination Project have enabled Maya to launch A Life In Tapestry, the travelling exhibition of the tapestry work of Holocaust survivor and artist Trudie Strobel.
Accompanying photo: “Devastation” by Alex Garrow