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We were told to line up in the back row next to two men. I held you next to me with one hand. On my left stood Juljan. His face was drawn and pale. I knew he still had his gun. Next to him, Leon stood with his head bowed, his lips moving as if in prayer. Next to you stood two men in civilian clothes. They were staring at us. I gave them a quick look. They both bowed their heads as if to acknowledge us. I stared back at them wondering who they were. They both wore dirty clothes, and their hats were pulled down over their foreheads. I could not place them, but they kept looking at you, then at me, casting quick smiles.

Suddenly, I noticed a commotion in the first row. A burly bullnecked German officer pulled out a man in civilian clothes from the row, struck him in the shoulders with his pistol, and dragged the poor man by the scruff of the neck to the back of the building. What followed curdled my blood. I could hear loud pleas, then screams, and then a single shot. The German emerged with the pistol in his hand and stood looking at the prisoners. I began to tremble with fear. Tears ran down my cheeks, and I sobbed openly. Then I heard a voice—a child’s voice. I looked down at you through my tears. You were staring up at me. You repeated, “Don’t cry, Mommy. I’ll protect you.” I saw your lips move and heard your words. I can’t describe now the emotions I felt then hearing you speak. I began to uncontrollably laugh. I laughed with joy, and I laughed at the absurdity of our situation. I laughed so loud that the prisoners started to look behind them. The burly German stepped down from the porch and walked right up to me.

“What’s so funny?” he bellowed in German.

I wiped my tears with the back of my trembling hand.

“Sir, my son has just said that he will protect me,” I said to him in German.
He looked down at you, and you stared back at him. He stood there with the pistol in his hand. I began to scream internally, “Andrzej, stop staring, stop staring!” But I could not produce an audible sound. I thought he was going to shoot you on the spot. After what appeared to be an eternity, you bowed your head and looked at the ground.

“Where did you learn to speak good German?”

“At school.”

He stood there looking at me and then at you. His face began to turn beet red.

“Rouse, rouse!” he screamed at us, pointing to the gate.

“But my family?”

“Who’s your family?”

I pointed to Juljan and Leon and, for some unknown impulse, to the two men next to me.

“Rouse, rouse all of you!” he screamed, waving his pistol and stomping his foot.
The two strangers stood there aghast. They did not understand what was happening. I turned to them and said in Polish, “Follow us quickly.” We walked to the gate. The startled guard opened it for us, and we filed out. We looked to where we left our horse and wagon, but they were gone. It was too dangerous to try to retrieve them.

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