It is cold, so bitter cold, on this dark, winter day in 1942. But it is no different from any other day in this Nazi concentration camp. I stand shivering in my thin rags, still in disbelief that this nightmare is happening. I am just a young boy. I should be playing with friends; I should be going to school; I should be looking forward to a future, to growing up and marrying, and having a family of my own. But those dreams are for the living, and I am no longer one of them. Instead, I am almost dead, surviving from day to day, from hour to hour, ever since I was taken from my home and brought here with tens of thousands other Jews. Will I still be alive tomorrow? Will I be taken to the gas chamber tonight?
Back and forth I walk next to the barbed wire fence, trying to keep my emaciated body warm. I am hungry, but I have been hungry for longer than I want to remember. I am always hungry. Edible food seems like a dream. Each day as more of us disappear, the happy past seems like a mere dream, and I sink deeper and deeper into despair. Suddenly, I notice a young girl walking past on the other side of the barbed wire. She stops and looks at me with sad eyes, eyes that seem to say that she understands, that she, too, cannot fathom why I am here. I want to look away, oddly ashamed for this stranger to see me like this, but I cannot tear my eyes from hers.
Then she reaches into her pocket, and pulls out a red apple. A beautiful, shiny red apple. Oh, how long has it been since I have seen one! She looks cautiously to the left and to the right, and then with a smile of triumph, quickly throws the apple over the fence. I run to pick it up, holding it in my trembling, frozen fingers. In my world of death, this apple is an expression of life, of love. I glance up in time to see the girl disappearing into the distance.
The next day, I cannot help myself-I am drawn at the same time to that spot near the fence. Am I crazy for hoping she will nete again? Of course. But in here, I cling to any tiny scrap of hope. She has given me hope and I must hold tightly to it.
And again, she netes. And again, she brings me an apple, flinging it over the fence with that same sweet smile.
This time I catch it, and hold it up for her to see. Her eyes twinkle. Does she pity me? Perhaps. I do not care, though. I am just so happy to gaze at her. And for the first time in so long, I feel my heart move with emotion.
For seven months, we meet like this. Sometimes we exchange a few words. Sometimes, just an apple. But she is feeding more than my belly, this angel from heaven. She is feeding my soul. And somehow, I know I am feeding hers as well.
One day, I hear frightening news: we are being shipped to another camp. This could mean the end for me. And it definitely means the end for me and my friend.
The next day when I greet her, my heart is breaking, and I can barely speak as I say what must be said: “Do not bring me an apple tomorrow,” I tell her. “I am being sent to another camp. We will never see each other again.” Turning before I lose all control, I run away from the fence. I cannot bear to look back. If I did, I know she would see me standing there, with tears streaming down my face.
Months pass and the nightmare continues. But the memory of this girl sustains me through the terror, the pain, the hopelessness. Over and over in my mind, I see her face, her kind eyes, I hear her gentle words, I taste those apples.
And then one day, just like that, the nightmare is over. The war has ended. Those of us who are still alive are freed. I have lost everything that was precious to me, including my family. But I still have the memory of this girl, a memory I carry in my heart and gives me the will to go on as I move to America to start a new life.
Years pass. It is 1957. I am living in New York City. A friend convinces me to go on a blind date with a lady friend of his. Reluctantly, I agree. But she is nice, this woman named Roma. And like me, she is an immigrant, so we have at least that in netmon.
“Where were you during the war?” Roma asks me gently, in that delicate way immigrants ask one another questions about those years.
“I was in a concentration camp in Germany,” I reply.
Roma gets a far away look in her eyes, as if she is remembering something painful yet sweet.
“What is it?” I ask.
“I am just thinking about something from my past, Herman,” Roma explains in a voice suddenly very soft. “You see, when I was a young girl, I lived near a concentration camp. There was a boy there, a prisoner, and for a long while, I used to visit him every day. I remember I used to bring him apples. I would throw the apple over the fence, and he would be so happy.”
Roma sighs heavily and continues. “It is hard to describe how we felt about each other-after all, we were young, and we only exchanged a few words when we could-but I can tell you, there was much love there. I assume he was killed like so many others. But I cannot bear to think that, and so I try to remember him as he was for those months we were given together.”
With my heart pounding so loudly I think it wil1 explode, I look directly at Roma and ask, “And did that boy say to you one day, ‘Do not bring me an apple tomorrow. I am being sent to another camp’?”
“Why, yes,” Roma responds, her voice trembling.
“But, Herman, how on earth could you possibly know that?”
I take her hands in mine and answer, “Because I was that young boy, Roma.”
For many moments, there is only silence. We cannot take our eyes from each other, and as the veils of time lift, we recognize the soul behind the eyes, the dear friend we once loved so much, whom we have never stopped loving, whom we have never stopped remembering.
Finally, I speak: “Look, Roma, I was separated from you once, and I don’t ever want to be separated from you again. Now, I am free, and I want to be together with you forever. Dear, will you marry me?”
I see that same twinkle in her eye that I used to see as Roma says, “Yes, I will marry you,” and we embrace, the embrace we longed to share for so many months, but barbed wire came between us. Now, nothing ever will again.