stars and brown shoes
2ND PLACE || 2018


by Claire Pilatin


I ran home from school ecstatic and happy. I got first place in my class for math, language arts, and social studies! I couldn’t wait to tell Mother, Father, little Grazka, and my older siblings—Wiktorek and Ela—that I, Wilka Ciszewski, won first place in my class!

The cold autumn air bit my face. The wind blew, rustling the piles of leaves on the street around my feet, creating little swirls everywhere. As I ran around the corner, I stopped and took in the sight around me. The air stilled, my thoughts calmed. That’s when I heard the shouting. A Nazi officer was barking commands in German to a poor man who obviously understood what he was saying.

“Put your hands up you rotten Jew or else!”

I, who was formerly too scared to move, shuddered and dashed home, weaving through alleys and backroads—even though Mother told me never to go there. I forgot about my scores and in my head was a mixture of fear and anger. The poor man might be sent to a concentration camp.

Those Nazis! I wish they would go back to Germany!

Ever since the Nazis invaded Poland they seemed to be everywhere. They are constantly arresting some poor Jew and here in Kamiensk, they patrol the streets at night. I had to switch schools because they made a law that Jews couldn’t go to the same schools as non-Jews. Children from my old school taunt at me in German. They say, Jew girl, stinking, dirty, Jew girl!

My instincts guided me down the streets to the steps of our apartment. I banged open the door, out of breath. Ela jumped when I hurtled into her.

“Ahh! Careful!”

Ela is fourteen and older than me. She loves dressing up and has many friends whom she spends most of her time with.

Wiktorek, my older brother, sauntered in and smirked at me.

“Did a Gestapo officer put on fangs and chase you down the road?”

“No Wiki,” I replied obstinately. I proceeded to tell him about my grades.

“But you’re only in fourth grade,” he teased and Ela rolled her eyes.

“I’m going to go call my friend Marta,” Ela said.

I left my belongings and skipped into the kitchen. Mother was standing in the middle there and Father was pacing across the room, discussing something in hushed tones with Mother. She noticed me.

“Wilka, how was school today?” Mother said sadly. I spurted out everything, including the part about the Nazi officer. Mother and Father exchanged glances.

“Wilka, get Ela—I’ll get Wiktorek and bring Grazka. We have something to tell you.”

I raced up the stairs and knocked on Ela’s door.

“Ela! Mother and Father want to tell us something!”

Ela mumbled something to herself and trudged down the stairs. I ran to Grazka’s room, scooped her up and carried her to mother. We all sat and father began.

“Yesterday I received a telegram. The Nazis want me and Wiktorek to wait outside at six in the morning sharp. In six days. They’ll take us to Auschwitz. That’s a labor camp.”

There was silence and then I said, “But we can’t be like the Pulaski’s or the Grocholski’s or the Donarski’s!”

We all knew about the Jews that were disappearing, getting arrested on the street, or loaded into trucks.

Father said, “We should go to America.”

Mother shook her head, “Josef we can’t go!”

“Anna we must,” said Father. “It’s for our safety!”

“No!” shouted Ela.

Everyone exploded into arguments, even baby Grazka started wailing. I shut my ears and yelled at the top of my lungs.


Everybody stopped. We decided to take a vote. Father and Wiktorek wanted America and Mother and Ela wanted Poland. I couldn’t speak. How could I l leave Poland? I knew that both sides of the vote were even. The side I chose would decide what would happen to us. I couldn’t make the choice.

“Give me until tomorrow morning,” I stammered.

We agreed.

That night I had nightmares. One after another. I was restless. I awoke at five in the morning and thought for hours. A terrible headache throbbed like I’d never felt before. I couldn’t leave Poland. Maybe we could go into hiding instead. If we attempted to get to America, we’d get captured by the Nazis. They wouldn’t let us cross the border and we’d have to find friends to help us get into Austria. Father knew some people who could help us, but we’d get shot if found. It’s expensive and we’d need to leave everything behind. I would never see grandmother or Auntie Aneta again. Here in Poland, we are safe with friends and family.

I couldn’t choose America; however, I did.

Claire is ten years old. She lives in Wisconsin with her mom, dad, two younger siblings, and a pet rabbit, Snickers. She is especially passionate about history and her favorite hobbies: reading, archery, and exploring the outdoors.