Identity: The Holocaust Through The Eyes of Eva Heyman

Identity: The Holocaust Through The Eyes of Eva Heyman by Katie Krawcheck - Photo by Marika Campbell-Blue

Editor’s Note: Eva Heyman was a Jewish girl from Oradea, located on the border between Romania and Hungary. Eva was murdered in the Holocaust. Prior to her death, she kept a diary, which became the basis for Eva Stories on Instagram. Eva’s diary ends upon her deportation to Auschwitz. This fictionalized account of her life in Auschwitz picks up after her diary ends.

The blisters on my feet stung, carving shapes into my skin. My ears rang with the bitter tune of the jagged breathing of my inmates. My eyelids were heavy, awnings above my sunken eyes. I couldn’t tell the difference between my left and right anymore. Everything felt blurred, unreal almost. My stomach no longer cramped. It was empty, remained empty, adjusted to empty. The occasional excuse for soup never satisfied the gaping hole within my body, but I didn’t complain. I had adjusted to empty.

Empty didn’t suit my body well. My ribs were more prominent than they’d ever been before, my skin fragile and pale. But it didn’t matter what my body looked like. Blue-and-white striped pajamas masked my starvation. That’s all Auschwitz was, anyway: a mask for the brutal labor and discrimination through which we had to suffer day by day.

I arrived in Auschwitz in June of 1944. I had lived in a ghetto for a few days and a small “house” even before that. There wasn’t a single piece of furniture in the constricting box, families of different sizes packed in with us. I was only 13 at the time, born on February 13th of 1931. I was living with my grandparents in Hungary when we were shoved by the Germans into that box. Just before that, I was beginning to notice the propaganda, a teenage girl in a society full of injustice and hatred. Aware as I was, I never suspected that I would be stripped from my home and thrown into such a broken system.

Within that sorry house were several bold warnings strewn across walls. The Germans’ words stuck with us wherever we went, threatening us with death if we disobeyed any of the many rules. It was as if we were reading manuals every moment that our eyes glanced from place to place. When I’d remove the wicked pin from my dress, my grandfather would shout, “Eva Heyman! What are you doing? That star is your identity.” I’d stare at the ground. I never truly believed that a person could be identified by a single aspect. But we were then hushed by the rest of the families, occasionally receiving a small shove toward a wall from one of the angered parents. We looked up at the words on the wall. “Keep the yellow stars on at all times,” and “don’t make too much noise!” burned our vision.

I took a deep breath as I looked up at the smoke-plastered sky. The scent of the crematorium could be smelled from at least a mile away. That was where the bodies of human beings would go. That was where the aching blisters, the heavy eyelids, the empty stomachs would go. We couldn’t save our loved ones. We couldn’t hide. We didn’t have a choice. So we continued walking.

The ringing in my ears increased, the lifeless bodies beside me continuing to walk in unison. Their breathing became heavier and even more stilted. My inmates, children my age, were becoming tired very quickly. Their adolescent figures lacked energy, and at this point, lacked hope. We all continued to walk, the Germans’ screams harmonizing with the sound of the breathing.

We were scanned well, officers eyeing us from head to toe. This was a selection. Those of us who failed to keep up with the others would be chosen to be cremated. Those of us who looked thinner than we had yesterday, than the day before that would be plucked from the group and tossed aside. We’d only be a fraction of the people who’d burn that day.

Our steps became robotic now, moving our arms and shuffling our feet. Everything was mechanical. Our limbs ached, pleading for a break. But we couldn’t stop. No, we had to continue. We had to continue walking at a miserable pace, our mob of blue-and-white pajamas creating a sea of exhaustion and lost hope.

When we heard the whistle of a German officer, palpitations took over our heartbeats. We had made it. We had made it through another day of discriminatory remarks, sneered looks. We had survived another tortured walk.

The sky bled a deep purple, smoke from the crematorium contouring the air. My stomach was no longer the only thing that felt empty. It was my mind now, too. I was living for the sake of living, working for the sake of working. I was mechanical. My body, my mind, my movements, all mechanical. I was no longer Eva, a passionate and determined young girl. That was no longer my identity. I was mechanical. I was the heavy eyelids, the empty stomach, the ringing noise of my breath. I was the smell of the smoke, the propaganda, the lack of energy. I was the yellow star. And that was my identity.

Discussion Questions:
1. What’s the importance of sharing the story of someone who can’t tell their own?
2. Are there any current-day crises that strip people of their identity or force identities on them?
3. What is the significance of writing from the perspective of someone who went through trauma?
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Katie Krawcheck
Katie Krawcheck, from Charleston, SC, is a first-year Park Scholar at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. Katie is majoring in Political Science and hopes to obtain minors in Law & Justice and Creative Writing. Katie has a passion for social and civil justice, previously channeling that enthusiasm into her work with local Charleston causes and organizations, such as SheStrong, a non-profit organization that seeks to empower young women. Moving forward, Katie would like to partake in other political initiatives in the Raleigh area, such as internships with local officials and ongoing campaigns. When she isn't engaging in or geeking out over political activism, Katie enjoys spending her time with her dog, Charlie; shopping; eating good food; spending time with friends; participating in musical theater; and traveling.
Accompanying photo: “Brightly Dark” by Marika Campbell-Blue