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Flossenbürg March 1945

     “A man like you must have left a beautiful woman at home… someone special waiting for you.”

Arturo peered out the snow-framed window into the darkness and saw his gaunt face reflected in the glass—his eyes still filled with the pain and confusion that had overcome him months before becoming a prisoner. The pain and confusion of heartbreak and betrayal.

     “That ‘someone’ is dead to me now.” Arturo’s thoughts quickly turned to Lilia’s smile, a smile that lit up his insides. “A wise little girl once told me, ‘Just because something looks perfect doesn’t mean it will make you happy.’ The meaning of happiness is far simpler now.” 

     Arturo cast his silent prayers out into the heavens: Mama if I could hold you in my arms again, and calm your troubled heart. Papa, to have that drink and laugh with you once more. To see my sisters at peace and thriving—see their lives filled with joy. To watch my baby brothers grow into strong men with integrity, adventurous to see the world. And my precious Liliutti, how I wish to share in these years of you blossoming into the incredible woman, I know you will become. To know you will marry a man worthy of your love, that gives you the life you so rightly deserve. Dear God, why you have put me here, punished me, I will never understand, but if you're listening at all, if you haven't forgotten me, let this unjust fate pass so that I may return home—home is where my heart lives.

     A light shone in his eyes when he looked at Pepick. “Family—my family is waiting for me.”

Pepick’s face momentarily brightened, as he began to hum a familiar tune.

     “Artu, sing the song again. I memorized the words—words I will never forget.”

In a quiet breath, Arturo began to sing, swaying his worn body slightly as his voice graced the silence. His eyes fixed on the winter sky—the stars clouded by the ashes of burnt flesh—bodies that burned into the night.

     “When we are free, we will forget our suffering. We will tell the world about all the friends we lost here in this place of horror…” His voice trailed off as a lump rose in his throat, “Pepick, you only die once. Today is not the day. Not this place.” 

     Arturo gently grabbed Pepick’s shoulders. “One day, my friend, you’ll be telling our story to your children and the world. One day, we will meet again.”

Mussons March 1945

Lilia struggled to wake herself up from a nightmare. Her internal screams paralyzed her fight to break free and drowned in tears on her pillow. 

     In her dream, she was in a stark room. The light was dimming. It was cold—she was left alone to die. No one came. No one heard her cries. No one remembered her name. 

Lilia jolted awake to the sound of Arturo’s voice, calling out to her...Piccina...he was smiling behind her lids. Maybe it was a sign he was coming home! 

     Lilia sprang out of bed. She inched down the hallway to her big brother’s room and leafed through his closet. Lilia grabbed Arturo’s pajama top—the one he’d worn the last time he was home. She crawled back under the covers and wrapped herself in his nightshirt.

     She felt safe and protected, sensing Arturo’s soothing energy everywhere—his love abounded. 

“You’re not alone,” she whispered, pulling his shirt tight.

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