Congratulations to Macie Stefano of E.T. Booth Middle School. She was selected as the seventh-grade winner of the Cherokee County School District’s second annual Short Story Competition.
The competition is open to all CCSD seventh- and eighth-grade students as a part of their English Language Arts studies. Each middle school submits its best entries to be considered, then a team of judges selects an overall winner from each grade.
Stefano’s winning entry, titled “Zelda’s Star,” is written as a children’s book about a Jewish girl’s escape with her brother from a Nazi concentration camp in Poland during World War II.
by Macie Stefano
Zelda groggily opened her eyes. Her mother and Jakob were standing over her bed shaking her awake. Jakob, her younger brother, was standing next to her mother crying.
“They are coming for us!” he sobbed.
“Go grab your things,” her mother sternly instructed, “Zelda, the Nazis have come! Grab clothes and your most valuable jewelry and quickly stitch the jewelry into your winter coat.”
Zelda heard German’s yelling downstairs, and then her father’s muffled voice, “Please just give us ten more minutes!”
“No! Now!” the German yelled in broken Polish.
Zelda grabbed her school bag, stuffed extra clothes in her bag, and put on her winter coat.
Zelda and her family were Jewish. About two years ago, when Zelda was in grade six of school and Jakob was in grade two, her mother had stitched yellow stars onto all their clothes.
“Why must you do this, Mama? All of the children at school now stare and point at me!” Zelda cried.
“Because if the Nazis find us without our stars on, they will throw us in jail, or one of those camps, and we will never come out,” her mother said, fear on her face and in her voice.
The Nazis pushed Zelda and her family out of their home. It was very cold outside; Zelda could see her breath in the air. Zelda looked over to Jakob and saw that he was crying.
“Don’t cry, Jakob,” Zelda’s mother soothed.
Zelda noticed there were lots of people out on the street. It was very late at night, and, ever since the Nazis had come, no one was allowed outside at night. Zelda saw all of the Jewish children she went to school with outside. All the people Zelda saw had the yellow stars on their coat.
Zelda and her family walked to the train station in the big crowd of people.
“Papa,” Zelda asked, “Do we get to ride on a train?”
“I’m afraid so,” her father said.
Zelda didn’t know why her father was upset about riding on the train. Zelda loved the train! They didn’t get to ride often after the war started, because they wanted to save the money for food. As they got closer to the train station, there were cattle cars in the station where the trains would usually be.
“Papa, those aren’t our train cars, right?” Zelda said, panic coming into her voice.
“I think they might be, Zelda. But you must not panic, me and your mother will keep you safe.”
Zelda wanted to believe her father, but deep down she knew that they probably would not be safe for a long time.
Zelda hopped into the cattle car, and was getting ready to sit down when more people poured into the car. Way more people were in the car than could fit. Zelda stood up as more and more people poured inside, she could barely see her family. She pushed people out of the way and stood next to her father. It was already starting to smell and become hot in the car.
“Get ready for the long ride,” her father said.
Zelda didn’t know how long they had been in the car. Some people had passed out from the cramped, stuffy air in the cattle car. It was very stinky from the bathroom bucket in the corner of the car. Suddenly, the car came to a halt. Was this terrible ride over? Zelda’s father looked around, she looked up and saw that one tear rolled down his cheek. Zelda had never seen her father cry.
“Promise me if we get separated, you will take care of your brother.”
“Yes, Papa,” Zelda obeyed.
When the door slid open, bright light poured into the car. The people that were still standing squinted and covered their eyes. Zelda tried to walk out but she immediately fell. Her legs wouldn’t cooperate! They were cramped from standing so long. Zelda and everyone in the car had become very malnourished.
“Come now,” her father said with panic in his voice.
“I can’t Papa! My legs won’t work!” Zelda cried.
Her father hurried over and picked her up. He carried her over and when they got out of the car, they saw Zelda’s mother and Jakob looking around panicked.
“Mama! Jakob!” Zelda cried.
Zelda’s mom and Jakob spun around and ran over. Zelda’s father put her down and told her to stretch her legs.
“We have to get the kids out of here, now!” her father whispered.
That’s when Zelda noticed the foul smell in the air. She looked over to see chimneys pumping black smoke and ash out. Zelda recoiled horrified and put her face into her father’s jacket so nobody could see her crying. She had heard rumors but didn’t think it was true until now.
“What is wrong Zelda?” her father asked.
Zelda’s mother and brother looked over. And Zelda pointed to the smoke in the air. A single tear rolled down her mother’s face. Jakob looked at his family confused because he didn’t know what had happened. Zelda’s parents looked at each other.
“Hurry up!” a German voice said, “Get into lines!”
The children and parents were being separated.
Zelda’s mother grabbed her arm and spun her around, “See that fence over there? Take Jakob, don’t let go of his hand and run as fast as you can and crawl under it.”
“What if we get caught?” Zelda asked her mother panicked.
“Just go. I hope to see you soon,” Zelda’s mother bent down to Jakob, “Jakob, I love you. Follow Zelda and don’t disobey her, okay?”
Jakob nodded and hugged his mother and father.
Zelda hugged both her parents and took Jakob’s hand.
Zelda knew the dangers of staying here. It was nearly impossible to leave now. They were surrounded by Nazi guards, and there were many watch towers with more guards waiting. The kids were now being separated from their parents. Zelda heard a mother screaming and refusing to give up her child. Then a loud bang and silence. Tears streamed down her face. Again, Jakob was confused and didn’t know what happened.
Zelda knew what could happen if they ran for the fence, but she knew what could happen if they didn’t.
Zelda looked at Jakob, “Come and run as fast as you can! Don’t let go of my hand.”
He looked at her and nodded.
Zelda counted to three, and they sprinted to the fence. Zelda didn’t dare look back. She heard bullets whizz past her head. Jakob didn’t let go of her hand until they got to the fence. There was barbed wire on top, and no cuts to crawl through. Zelda lifted the fence with all her might. She pushed Jakob under, he yelped out in pain, the fence had put a gash in his arm.
“Run!” she yelled to Jakob.
Zelda crawled under the fence. She was almost under the fence, and then her foot became stuck.
“Jakob!” she called.
He looked back and sprinted to her. He pulled her out from under the fence. They got up and ran. They had really gotten out of there! Zelda couldn’t believe it. Zelda took one glance behind her back and saw her mother and father wave. That was her last memory of them.
Zelda and Jakob ran until it was dark. They crawled under a bush and slept there for the night. When they woke in the morning the kept walking in the opposite way of the camp. They walked for hours until they came across a dirt road.
“Right or left,” Zelda asked Jakob.
It was dark when Zelda and Jakob walked onto the farm. They followed the road and taken many different paths. Zelda took Jakob by the hand and walked to the door. She gathered her courage to knock on the door.
“What if they take us back to the camp?” Jakob asked.
“We will run,” Zelda responded without looking at him.
Jakob nodded; and turned back at the door. The door opened and a young, blonde, Polish woman opened the door.
“Can I help you?” she opened the door and then looked down at Zelda and Jakob, “Oh my! Come in!”
Zelda stepped in first and looked up at the woman.
“Yes, actually. We just need a place to sleep and some food and then we will be on our way.”
“Are you two from the camp a couple of miles away?”
“Um… Yes mam.” Zelda said not yet trusting the woman.
“Come and stay as long as you like.”
“Thank you very much. I am Zelda and this is my brother Jakob.”
“Nice to meet you Zelda. I am Vanessa.”
Vanessa took the Zelda and Jakob to the kitchen, gave them a warm plate of food, gave them a bath, and put them to bed. In the morning when Zelda awoke Jakob was gone. Zelda immediately got up and ran downstairs to the kitchen. Vanessa was standing at the stove stirring a boiling pot.
“Where is Jakob? Did you take him back?” Zelda yelled at Vanessa.
“N-no. I just…,”
Just then Jakob walked around the corner and into the kitchen. Zelda ran over to him and hugged him tightly.
Zelda looked at Vanessa, “I’m sorry. My father told me to take care of Jakob and I don’t want to lose him.”
Vanessa walked over to Zelda and hugged her.
“I know how you feel. My husband and son were drafted into the Polish Army.”
“I’m sorry,” Zelda said.
Venessa sadly smiled.
Over the next few years, Zelda and Jakob became quite close with Vanessa. Zelda had just turned fifteen and Jakob had just turned eleven. Vanessa bleached their hair to make them blonde and look more Polish. She said that they were her niece and nephew who were orphaned from the war and came to live with her.
Vanessa’s son and husband had not yet returned, nor had she heard from them. It made her very sad but having Jakob and Zelda around helped through it.
Nazis often came around to inspect the farm, and when they did Zelda tried her best not to say or look at them. They brought big dogs with them to smell out any hiding prisoners. On one occasion a prisoner was found. Vanessa told Zelda to take Jakob inside and stay there with him. Zelda heard a loud bang and a scream. Vanessa came inside after the Nazis left and cried for a long time. How terrible this was! Zelda knew something must be done but she didn’t know what to do.
A couple of months later they were listening to the radio and heard that the Americans coming. Zelda couldn’t believe it! She was going to see her parents soon! One day Vanessa sat down with Zelda and Jakob and wrote in her neat, cursive handwriting to the Red Cross about Zelda and Jakob’s parents. A couple of weeks later the letters came back.
“Zelda, Jakob!” Vanessa yelled, “The Red Cross wrote back!”
Zelda and Jakob ran into the kitchen Vanessa read the letter. She looked up as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Zelda hugged Jakob and they both cried for a long time.
Later that night at dinner Vanessa looked up from her plate to Zelda and Jakob, “The Red Cross also said that you guys do have Jewish relatives in America, and they are willing to sponsor all of us on a trip to America after the war is over.”
Zelda started to laugh then cry, but not from sadness, she was ecstatic. After the news of her parents earlier she didn’t know where she was going to go when the war was over, but now she was going to live with Vanessa and her relatives in America!
The Nazis had surrendered, and Japan was the only Axis power left fighting. America had dropped the atomic bombs and Japan was going to surrender any day now. Poland was trying to rebuild itself and nobody in Zelda and Jakob’s family had survived for except their relatives in America.
A couple of weeks after Japan finally surrendered Vanessa, Jakob, and Zelda received their Visas and went on a boat to America. Zelda had never been on a boat before. There was so much food! It was delicious, during the war she always felt hungry and now she was always full. The staff was always offering her food!
The day they arrived in America they arrived in New York City and drove by car to their relative’s house in the city. Zelda was excited and nervous at the same time. Vanessa had lost both her husband and son in the war and she had become like a mother to Zelda and Jakob. She even sold her farm to get money to come to America for Zelda and Jakob.
The car drove through the busy city and turned onto a calm street. Suddenly the car stopped in front of a row of houses connected, sort of like the house Zelda lived in with her parents and Jakob before the war. Zelda was happy to leave Poland, it held to many memories of her loved ones and the terrible camps built by the Nazis.
The driver turned around, “We are here,” he said in English.
“Thank you for driving us here,” Vanessa said in English.
Zelda didn’t know Vanessa spoke English. She was excited to learn how to speak it, though, and go to school. Zelda and Jakob went up to the door while the driver helped Vanessa with their luggage.
The door opened and a nice-looking lady opened the door. Two smiling boys, that looked to be about Jakob’s age, peaked around the lady.
“Welcome Zelda and Jakob,” she said in Polish.