“Shards of Hope” by Alice Chusid

Alice Chusid

The soul would have no rainbow, Had the eyes no tears” –  John Vance Cheney


My name is Adam. I am sixteen and am the eldest in my family. I also lost almost everything to death and despair that had plagued us.

I live in Berlin, with my family.

Abigail, my youngest baby sister. She is two years old and I love her more than my life. She has pudgy baby cheeks and wisps of brown hair that would soon grow to be wild messy curls.

 Zelda, my ten years old sister. She has untamed brown curls that I swear will have birds nesting there someday and deep warm brown eyes that I can stare at every day. Oh, how those eyes lift my spirits when she laughs and her eyes glimmer with happiness. Zelda always reminds me of mama when she laughs.

Mama, she has brown curls as well and beautiful hazelnut brown eyes, but her eyes. Every time I stare into them I see the wisdom in them, I see knowledge beyond what I can acquire.

Papa has strong triangular jaws his chin juts out a bit giving him a strong look. He has a slight curl to his hair and his are always full of love. 

Our family owns a small book shop. We had rows of books and I love it when every day I stepped down the stairs and I smell the papery aroma of books hanging in the air, and the coffee my papa drinks. I love how I wake Zelda up every morning and see her eyes blinking sleepily at me as she smiled at me. I love how everyday mama gives Zelda and I a big hug with a kiss on our forehead before we leave for school.

We have a family ritual of listening to the radio every day after Zelda and I got back from school, the past few days we’ve heard of how Nazis have been getting more cold and heartless to us, Jews. Zelda and I never understood why. We never got an answer either. So we thought to stay quiet and kept the questions to ourselves.

We have been thinking though, mama and papa always discuss moving to America on our old mahogany table. They always do it after sending us all to bed though. I understand how they don’t want to worry us, I understand their fear that every day there is a higher chance that we receive those attacks. Every day worrying that their children will be a victim. There are words that America will be a lot safer once the chaos breaks, though I don’t know what will happen. Despite all this America doesn’t sound so bad, we even have an aunt living there! Her name is Rachel.

Today there was another discussion about America but this time, we were invited to discuss. They asked us about our thoughts and we shared opinions.

“Where are we going to live if we move?” 

“Is it safer to move?”

“Will we fit in?”

“How will we get there?” we all asked.

A lot of questions were asked.

 It ended with us deciding to discuss it tomorrow when we all have fresh minds and thoughts.

I got ready and tucked myself into bed, I stared out the window at the sky. I wonder how stars navigate themselves in this never-ending sky? I thought as I dozed off to sleep. 

CRASH! My eyes flew open, people yelling, CRASH! Glass breaking, Mama screaming, CRASH! Germans here, glass shattering, crushed by the mercilessness of cruelty. I heard heavy footsteps stumble downstairs, that must be pa! It is too dangerous to go downstairs! Abigail started crying and screaming in her cot. I gently picked her up and whispered lullabies in an attempt to comfort her, a miracle in the midst of war and fear. Zelda stumbled into the room, her face visibly relaxed when she sees the baby in my arms, “I’M GETTING PA” she yelled at me before I had time to process her words and opened my mouth to protest. She had raced down the stairs with mama pleading after her not to.

Legs weak from the shock I stumbled out, mama’s face was filled with tears, “Hold Abigail” I said placing my little sister in mama’s arms.

I leaped downstairs to see books scattered across the store, I smelled fire.

Was there still hope in life?

Death reaps life away, I am its accomplice. I am the murderer, I watch people die as I do nothing. I saw what death left behind after it’s fleeting path. Leaping door to door, tearing away loved ones. I felt it, I felt it hung in the air, heavy like curtains of sorrow. Like when you can’t breathe. Cold, like the winter. And death doesn’t spare those who can’t fend for themselves.

BANG! Gunshots, Zelda?

My eyes darted around, dust and smoke stung my eyes. The smoke poured out from the bonfire those sadistic Germans have made, burning all the books. Those soldiers are made from hatred, their eyes scream hostility and their movement shows cruelty. Zelda. Where is she? Where is papa? I stumbled through the store, my eyes darted around for Zelda. Then I saw her. In between the bookcases, there she was. Dust gathering in her brown hair. Face still like stone, pale. Death had whisked her away.

My head spun

The world spun

My life spun

This is it. First, it was my sister.

Am I next? Is mama next? Is Abigail next?

Sometimes life doesn’t exactly have a good plan for us, we could never know.

I clung to the nightgown Zelda was still wearing the same nightgown, but blood had seeped onto it. The nightgown was spotted with blood. Her face was frozen in a scream of terror but before any sound spilled, death had taken her away. Her eyes were blank, glazed and hollow. It was like staring into dust. The sparkle of laughter and life was taken from her soul, now dull. I shook her body, now cold and still like stone. I sobbed and begged God for a miracle. I begged him to give her life back. I begged that this was all a bad dream. I begged that I see the shine in her eyes again. I cried, I cried because I loved my sister so much, and wished that I was instead the one who had come down to find papa, I wished instead that I was the one killed.

Second, it was papa. Gone.

The German soldiers had taken papa, he struggled but it was no use. He wailed a tearful goodbye as he was dragged onto the truck. 

My heart ripped open, gone.

The Germans were probably heading for our neighbors, the Brenners next, I hope they don’t suffer like us.

 My heart heavy, my head hung low I trudged up the stairs. Warm tears spilled down my cheeks. Mama didn’t need explanations. She pulled me in for a hug and sobbed on my shoulders. She sobbed for other lives lost to death. She sobbed for Zelda and papa. She sobbed for me, she sobbed for us. We mourn them as our cries echo in the night.

Not only had Death taken away my family, but greed had also taken over human heart. We had to bribe those sadistic monsters into not taking us away. Not tearing our family apart even more. They had taken everything.

 Was there still hope in life?

The next day we packed, we packed clothes and small memories of our family, we packed to prepare for everything. This was it, we’re heading to America, it was enough.

I asked, aren’t we going to wait for papa? Aren’t we going to wait for him to come back? Can we at least go visit him? Where is he going? Can he come to visit us?

Instead of answering mama just sobbed and said it was impossible over and over again. 

We wrapped Zelda up in our finest sheets, surely German won’t be helping us bury her, we carried her gently up to her bedroom, it was the best we could do. I hope she is well, wherever she is.

 I regret with every word I say that I never got to tell her how much it joys me to see her every day waking up, how much it joys me to see the sun reflected in her eyes or, how much it joys me to see her smile and laugh each day we are together as a family.

Is there still hope in life?


Mama, Abigail and I stumbled through the crowds, it is buzzing with people. With tickets in hand, we jostled our way onto the ship. We were ready, ready to leave all this behind. There were rumors that thousands, THOUSANDS of synagogues had been burned and Jews were supposed to clean this mess up, the mess that destruction had left behind. The mess that we didn’t leave behind.

Destruction had made its way along to us along with death.

Fire, destruction, death, don’t you think that’s matching?

Darkness and despair had slithered through the cracks in life. It devours unsuspecting innocents, swallowing them whole into the darkness of their bottomless pit.

Life has mercy. Life has hope. Life has love.

But, Is there still hope in life? Is there still mercy?

The ship sounded signaling the departure. Death shall be left behind.

I’ve always observed, in the dead of winter trees always die, their gnarled dry, brown old trunk, dead. But in the spring when a new season starts, new life forms, green shoots sprung from the earth, leaf and flowers bloom from the plants. Birds nest there, every morning singing their simple tune. 

Hope will bloom from where there is nothing.

A new start, new life, new hope.

America was unexpected. The people talked about news and huddled together to discuss situations. The savory aroma of food wafted from the stalls of street food and smoke danced across the white scene of snow. Snowflakes fluttered softly from the gentle blue sky. People huddled together trying to stay warm. The smell reminds me of festivals and meals cooked on celebrations. Papa has a sister that lives here, but all we had was a picture. Aunt Rachel lives on 1ooth street, we had a long walk. The shops called out for customers, comics, food, scarves, coats.

As I walked off the ship, my knees buckled under me and I stumbled from weakness. I felt myself falling, when I felt a strong hand catch me and help me back up onto my feet.

“Careful son, next time look where you’re walking,” the kind man said putting a reassuring hand on my shoulder as I stuttered out a grateful thank you.

I stared up at his eyes, they were brilliant blue like the sky on a sunny afternoon and sparked when he spoke to me. He had a strong triangular jaw lines and dark wispy hair with specks of gray dotting his hairline. He had a kind look, face slightly wrinkled and worn from age. He looks almost like papa.

He patted my shoulder and gave me a warm smile, a sincere smile and tipped his hat at me as he continued on his way.

As he walked away I allowed myself a little smile, the first smile in ages. 

Yes, there is still hope in life. Yes, there are still good in this world. Yes, some things are not impossible.