“It’s not your blanket,” the older boy with blue eyes and chubby cheeks screams at me as he rips the soiled and worn stitched piece of comfort from my hands.
“I’m cold, give it back,” I beg.
Chubby cheeks quickly steps over a girl who is lying down with her eyes shut before scrambling around two other children huddled together. He is across the car before I can even get up.
Getting up is hard. My legs are stiff. I’ve been sitting on my knees in the straw of this flatcar for a long time. I cannot stand up, or I will bump other kids.
There are a lot of kids with me. I thought it would be fun to take the train, but I’m not having fun. Everyone is so mean. The man at the train station yelled at us to “STAY INSIDE!”
Someone took my shoes last night when I was sleeping. Chubby cheeks just took my blanket.
A small label with my name and the word HANOVER, where I am to get off, is pinned to my shirt so I will not lose it. The metal rubs my skin and makes my shoulder cold.
My hands are cold.
The snow is falling on me.
I don’t understand why they did not put us inside the train. Don’t they know it’s snowing?
I try lifting my legs to put my hands under them, but they are so hard to move.
I miss my mommy.
She put me on the train two days ago.
“Why can’t you come with me?” I asked.
“Be brave. Aunt Hedda will take care of you. . . until I. . . arrive.” Mommy mumbled as she wiped tears and ash from her eyes. The artillery was very close to the train station. Every few minutes an explosion took place somewhere nearby. We were very scared.
We had run to the train station, Mommy holding my hand, mixed with a crowd of people from our neighborhood when the artillery hit our houses. Mommy’s dress was torn and singed.
We waited at the train station for a long time. Trains came and went during that time, but we could not get past the other people to get on.
After a long wait, an announcement was made that a set of flatcars were coming.
“JUST CHILDREN, NO ADULTS!”
I don’t understand why Mommy could not come.
No one’s mommy came.
The flatcars were quickly attached to the end of an overcrowded train covered with people hanging off of the sides and on the roof. A man pushed me away from Mommy and tossed me onto one of the flatcars. When I turned around, I could not see Mommy.
As we pulled out of the station, I looked for her, but could not find her in the crowd. I waved wildly, hoping that she might see me, but the hundreds of other kids were doing the same thing. There were so many adults, so many kids, and so much commotion.
Late last night, our flatcars disconnected from the train. We rolled for a long time as the train went away. Several kids woke up while we were rolling. Some of the bigger boys cheered as the train disappeared up the track.
Other kids sat, like I did, wondering where it was going without us.
After a while the flatcars stopped rolling. We have been sitting in the same spot since then.
Why isn’t anyone coming to get us? I wish Daddy were here. He would give me a big warm hug and rub my cold hands and feet.
I’ve not seen Daddy for over a year. He looked so handsome in his uniform as he climbed the stairs for his train.
Is Daddy at Aunt Hedda’s house? Daddy will be at Aunt Hedda’s house. And Mommy will be there. And we will be warm.
The last time I went to Aunt Hedda’s house was two years ago, when I was four. She lives far away from us, near Hanover. Mommy told me that she and Daddy moved to Insterburg before I was born.
I wish they had not moved. I would not have to take this train ride. I would already be in Hanover with Daddy and Mommy.
The snow is falling heavier now.
Last February, I made a snowman in front of our house. Now I am turning into a snowman.
I am so cold.
I wish Mommy were here.
“We should go find help,” one of the older boys says to no one in particular.
Another of the older boys looks around at the forest we are in, asking, “Where would we go?”
I look up the line. The last town I remember passing was far away. The train had been moving for some time between that town and when our flatcar detached.
Where are we? Daddy would know where we are.
It has been a long time since I finished the stale bread, cheese, and juice Mommy had packed for me. I don’t think she expected the train to take this long to get to Hanover.
My legs are numb. Ice is beginning to form on my legs. I cannot straighten them.
Why can’t I straighten my legs?
“I can’t straighten my legs!” I yell out.
The girl who is lying down with her eyes shut next to me has ice forming over her cheeks. She will not move out of the way so I can move my legs.
No one heard me. Where is Mommy? She would warm me up.
My stomach growls at the same time that my head falls forward for an instant. I jerk it back up, keeping myself awake.
Closing my eyes again, I can see Mommy and Daddy standing next to a fire at Aunt Hedda’s house.
The fire is so warm.
I run to Daddy, who scoops me up into his big arms. My arms and legs are warm. Mommy gives me a kiss and hugs me from around Daddy’s arms.
Don’t ever put me on a train again!
“We promise we won’t.”
Flatcars carrying 142 children were separated from a train evacuating German civilians from the advancing Soviet Army in the winter of 1945. The train that they were attached to did not stop, potentially not realizing that it had lost such precious cargo or perhaps not wanting to take the chance of being attacked by aircraft if it stopped. No one knew the children were left there. They were discovered several days later. All 142 children had frozen to death.