We dragged ourselves along the highways for a few more days, until we reached a side station where flatcars were waiting for us, the kind that you ship lumber in. It is difficult for me to say how long the terrible walk lasted. I could no longer tell the difference between day and night. There was no food, and we quenched our thirst with snow, which was plentiful. At one point, someone in the escort brought the news that the Bolsheviks were getting closer. From that time on, the tempo of our wandering speeded up. Everybody mustered the last remaining ounce of strength; none of us wanted to fall behind just when freedom seemed so close.
As usually happens in situations of this kind, news traveled from mouth to mouth, which caused wings to grow on our shoulders.
"Listen," Zenia whispered into my ear while walking, "the Russian command sent out a special company of soldiers just to liberate the transport from Auschwitz. They will be here soon."
I believed what she was saying. I did not even ask where she heard the news. I listened for the echo of shots, and I waited for freedom.
Next to me two girls were talking about something very quietly. By their sad faces you could tell that the news was not very good.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Not far from here, on the side of the road," one of them explained, "is a little forest. The machine guns are already set up there. They will take care of us quickly."
"Don't babble nonsense" I said sharply. "There are too many of us. They wouldn't have time to cover their tracks. The escorts are afraid of the Russian army. They won't do it."
But anxiety remained. It was already dark when we found ourselves standing in front of the open railway cars. They started loading us onto the flatcars, which were slippery with ice. There was a chaos of squeezing, shrieking, beating, and shooting. I became separated from my friends. Someone pushed me from be