This is a story that is based upon a true story that I have heard my whole life. My mother was friends with a man who, when he was a little boy, was on a train leaving for the concentration camp when one of the soldiers let him go. I have changed it, slightly, to explore the minds of a sympathetic soldier, after studying about the Holocaust in one of my classes.
For popular demand, I'll add the translations of the German. I tried to make the english able to substitute for those who could not understand German, but since that didn't seem to work, I'll add the translations here. Sorry for the confusion! Edited thanks to Rebekka: lauf--run
Gott, verdammt --God damn it
Weib--derogatory word for woman
Das kann arrangiert werden--that may be arranged
fotze--highly offensive word for a woman
Möge Gott mit Ihnen sein--May God be with you
Gott schütze meine Frau--God protect my wife
For popular demand, I'll add the translations of the German. I tried to make the english able to substitute for those who could not understand German, but since that didn't seem to work, I'll add the translations here. Sorry for the confusion!
Edited thanks to Rebekka:
Sometimes when he looked at his hands, all Dieter Weiss could see was blood. He had aided in the killing of thousands of innocent Jewish families, women with their eyes bright with fear, children with glazed over eyes in blissful naivety, and men with their jaws clenched from the knowledge of the unrighteousness, their faces strained from fear. His conscious was affected tremendously. He could not forget the hideous screams, the piercing shriek of the last fight for their lives – or perhaps it was from knowledge that the end had come at last, and that the victims were not ready to accept it.
After military training, Dieter was able to kill a man in one shot. He knew how to look past the begging of women in distress and to ignore the screams of torture. Nevertheless, he had been unprepared to look at the corpses and realize that at one point in time someone had loved and embraced the crumpled and bloodied body. At a point in time, those who loved her had surrounded the fat woman with her swanky complexion and curved nose from Jewish heritage. At one point, the woman had had a home, a family, and perhaps even children. If she had children, after Dieter's gun fired, they were orphans.
Perhaps the worst thing Dieter had to endure, were the scents. The smell of burning flesh is extremely recognizable; he learned he could never forget it. When the trains he guarded arrived at Auschwitz, it was simple to distinguish what time of day it was, for the incinerators were timed, and the smell polluted the grounds for miles each time they ignited. Just the scent brought back vivid memories to everyone – memories that they would have hoped to forget. Smells are powerful, telling, and important. Each one brings memories. Particular odors bring particular memories. Some are good, some are bad, but all tell tales.
Through a few months of this life, Dieter grew accustomed to the knowledge that he was destroying a perfectly able life, and tried to fill his mind with the sermons of Herr Hitler he had grown up with:
The personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew…
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: - by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord…
Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice…
It was easier if Dieter was ordered without thinking of the actions of which he was fulfilling. Still, he would look at his fellow comrades, his "brothers in arms," and cringe at their complacency. He would recoil at their shiny boots while side glancing at the rags that the Jewish wore. He would try to ignore the newly printed photographs of the soldiers that enclosed in envelopes, sent to the sweethearts of the German soldiers. He would turn a deaf ear while the Germans told jokes of the Jüdischer Abschaum, while they assaulted the defenseless "monsters," and while they drank alcohol and gorged themselves with delicacies, gawking out the windows while the starving men attacked one another at the mere sight of a slice of bread.
Dieter even, though he was ashamed to admit, participated in telling jokes of the race deemed lower. It was impossible not to, the other men would think him a sympathizer and he could be thrown into jail. He was a part of the crew that engineered the train that brought thousands of families to Auschwitz. Therefore, he assisted in the genocide of the "inferior" races. In honesty, he did not feel guilty when he transported a gypsy, homosexual, or a handicapped. He was alien to the gypsies' dark skin and unfamiliar tattoos, the woman with lines upon their wrists for a reason that Dieter could not fathom, and their golden teeth seen behind a sneer that reciprocated the German soldier's own hate. He was also appalled that so many men and women were homosexual, for Dieter was a Christian man, and he had read and believed that all homosexuals went straight to hell. How could these people justify staying upon the Earth when they did not follow the Bible?
Perhaps the people, who were so different and foreign, truly were the cause for Germany's loss of World War I, her increasing depression, and the population suffering. Dieter had seen children on the streets of his neighborhoods burning their money as a source of warmth. The bills had become undervalued. He had seen children whose legs and arms stretched over their bones; their bodies sagged low from malnutrition, while their eyes seemed three times too large for their heads, sunken in the sockets in a sinister way. He could not imagine what else but these people to be the cause of such horrors.
Dieter hoped that the bad would stop once all of the Jewish, gypsies, homosexuals, and handicaps were in the camps, but he did not realize what horrors they, as prisoners, would have to go through. He did not want them to go through such devastating times, but if it were a question on whether it would be he and his family or the so-called "lower" races, it was easy for Dieter to choose. Even though he picked the others to suffer in hopes of his own prosperity, it did not mean that Dieter wanted the other soldiers to bask in their good fortune, flaunting it to the prisoners heartlessly. Dieter had morals; he had just chosen to keep his family alive before they could be taken from him.
The soldiers had to endure the horrible visages alike the prisoners. Sometimes they had to inflict them by order of their superiors no matter if their morals rejected the idea or not. Many times Dieter yearned to say no to the commands thrown to him mercifully – to kill a small child, its mother, or father, or to separate a wife from her husband. However, if denied, Dieter would die and the imprisoned family would be destroyed no matter his protests. It was a loosing situation, genius on the account of Herr Adolfus Hitler.
Dieter would try to write to his wife, Faiga, without expressing his disgust of the whole ordeal, without scaring her by expressing his true feelings towards his "brothers." She was, after all, the only reason why he was enduring such horrors. She was who his heart belonged to, and he kept a picture of her with their infant son in his breast pocket. He would have done anything for her, and when the SS soldiers banged upon their door one eve, threatening to take them in for treason if he did not join their regiment, he agreed immediately. He had not thought of the consequences and even if he had, he would have made the same decision. He loved her. She loved him and bore him his son, accepted his surname, and gave him her heart. He was being paid, which helped her with the bills at home in Germany.
Dieter called her Edelweiss, because her white blonde hair and golden complexion reminded him of the beautiful white flowers that bordered the walls of their home. He deemed she was the most beautiful flower of all of Germany, and he counted himself lucky that she would ever love him in return, so he was happy to prove his worthiness towards her. She had begged him to reject them, to run away to Sweden, or a different neutral country, but Dieter would have none of it. Germany was his homeland, the only place he knew, the place of his birth and forefathers. How could he have abandoned her so easily?
Faiga did not share his opinion and shed many tears the night before he left, but he swore to her that he would return. She, being the strong woman that he loved, had said her farewells to him with her head held high, the babe resting upon her breast while she waved her brave husband goodbye. She knew her fate; that she would be alone for long, but she held a hope in her heart that Dieter would return to her. They both did not want for anything else but to be allowed to raise their child in a peaceful home. Dieter had promised her that dream would be attainable after he returned whether Germany was victorious or not.
If only it was as easy as he had made it seem.
His largest dilemma came one day while he road the train to the station of Warsaw, as planned. The luggage was collected after the head guard told the Jews that their luggage would be returned to them when they arrived at their new homes. Then, the prisoners boarded the cattle cars hesitantly; the guard encouraged them by saying they would be inside for but a few hours. Then, when the last Jew stepped inside, the large doors creaked shut and Dieter helped lock the doors, and the screams began, the hands of thousands pounded in vain upon each of the doors, and the cars shook from the force. Finally, the huge steam-engine took off across the tracks with smoke billowing from the freight.
Dieter joined the rest of the SS in their private chambers of the train, a lavishly decorated boxcar with foods and drinks inside the cabinets, chairs lined in leather and windows to open and ease the stuffy compartment. The wines were opened and shared, the talk was idle, and Dieter joined in after a moment. All was normal for the time being. The train ride would last five days and five nights, then they would be in Auschwitz, and the human mistakes would be handed to the work camp. It was a daily routine that they had all become accustomed. It was no longer painful for any of the soldiers to leave the Jews in the dreaded work camp where they would most likely die.
Near noon, one of the engineers hurried into the car of the SS, and the General looked up from drinking his wine with an irritable grimace.
"What?" he demanded before bringing his cigar up to his lips to take a large puff.
The engineer looked sheepish looking at all the powerful soldiers in their stark suits and spit-polished boots. "One of our boilers is malfunctioning – we'll need to stop and fix it before we continue." Right as he spoke, the wheels tightened, and the train was slowing to a stop. The General looked at his watch and cursed furiously.
"Gott, verdammt," he muttered, "We'll be late then. Send word to Auschwitz then, Franz." The said man nodded and hurried from the room. "Nothing we can do, eh?" The train stopped with a last lurch, the wheels groaning under the weight. "Let's get out and make sure none of the Jüdisch try to get out now that we've stopped."
The other men nodded, and they exited the car and then they walked up and down the long train of perhaps 50 cattle cars. If the car were noisy, the General would pound on the side and order them to quiet, and the voices would fall to a hush. Then, they came to a particularly raucous car. The General ordered the doors to open, and when the soldiers opened the doors, the Jews fell into an eerie silence, except for one young woman, who rushed forward to escape the boxcar. When she was at the front of the boxcar, she stood with a baby pressed upon her breast and she began yelling at the General in Yiddish. The General reached forward and grabbed the woman, yanking her down to the floor where she fell and nearly crushed her child underneath her own weight. The infant's cries were earsplitting.
"Give me your child, woman," the General ordered. The woman, her dark brown curly hair falling about her tan face wildly shook her head. The General slapped her and asked her to give him her child once more. The woman spit in the General's face. "Whore!" the General roared, backhanding the woman hard upon her face. Blood oozed from the woman's curved nose, and the child in her arms' cries turned into bloodcurdling screams. The woman, however, stood strong still. "I will ask once more, weib. Give me your child!"
The woman, trembling from terror stood tall, still. "You should have to kill me first." Her German words had a terrible accent, but the message was clear.
"Das kann arrangiert werden."
The woman did not say anything, but she clutched her child closer, her eyes beginning to fill with tears. Finally, when the glare between the General and she became apparent, she said softly, "The Lord will punish you for your wickedness."
The General pushed her to the side with a scoff, and said, "And you believe your 'lord' will allow you into a heaven, fotze?" He laughed bitterly.
The woman surprised them all when she spat into the General's face. The thick and yellowed saliva drooled down his cheek before the enraged man slicked it off with his hand and slapped the woman hard. A handprint formed on her cheek. With malice in his voice, the General finished her rebellion.
"Weiss… take them behind those trees and kill them both."
Then, he threatened the rest in the boxcar to share the woman's fate or remain silent and ordered the doors to close when the Jews fell to a hush. Dieter grabbed the woman by the arm and nodded to the General, and he watched as the soldiers left. However, as Dieter dragged her to the trees, Dieter could only dwell upon his predicament. The woman he was to kill reminded him of his wife.
It was not the way she looked, for this woman was dark-haired while Faiga was light haired, but the way she was holding herself. She was proud and the only thing she was afraid for was her child whom she was pressed against her breast while she sung a soft song to it in her own tongue, obviously aware that her fate was chosen by the gods and she had no way to change it. Even her voice reminded Dieter of Faiga. How could he kill her when she looked so much like his wife? The one thing he loved in the word!
When Dieter had pulled the woman behind the trees, Dieter thought of why he was to kill them there, so that their bodies would not catch underneath the train if a strong wind blew them into the tracks in a particularly heavy storm. Just the thought made his stomach turn. He thought of his own wife, back at home, defenseless, with his son.
Dieter had heard that there were Allied raids bombing the civilians like no other war, and he knew that they were close to his hometown. He wondered if his wife was well, he had not received a letter from her for a few weeks, and he became faint at the mere thought. He prayed she was still alive. He did not know what he would do if she and his son were dead.
He wondered where this woman's husband was – if he was still alive. The woman he had his grip on tightly was not protesting. She was walking in a dignified way that made Dieter's blood cool in his veins. So like Faiga. He wondered if the Russians ever were able to make it past Germany's Eastern front, if they would go to his home and rape his wife while he was away. He pushed the thought far from his mind.
"Where is your husband, woman?" Dieter asked finally, his voice brusque and as if he did not care. Oh, if only his heart were not aching so fervently!
The woman's eyes flashed to him angrily. "Go to hell."
So he was dead. Dieter could not hide his amusement at the woman's words. He turned her, and she readied herself for the worst, but Dieter raised her chin with his callused thumb. "You are not afraid of me, woman?" he asked. She glared at him.
"You are already going to kill my child and me."
She leaned her cheek against the infant's head.
It was a fair enough argument, and Dieter occupied himself with taking out his gun from its holster on his hip, and staring at it questioningly. He had to kill her. It was his job. How could he kill her while he prayed for his own wife's safety? When would the hypocrisy cease?
"What is your name?" he asked, inadvertently trying to delay the inevitable.
"To you I am nothing." Her eyes looked perplexed to him.
"You remind me of my wife." His words sounded so foreign to his own ears that he wondered why he had revealed such a secret. Still, she would have none of his words. He became rushed, and he wanted an answer fast. He slapped her cheek so hard his own hand tingled. "Woman, tell me your name or I shall kill your child first!" Her eyes fell.
"And your son's name?"
He took from his hip a clip with bills and pushed them into her free hand. Then, he raised the gun to the air and fired to the clear space above him twice. The bangs seemed to penetrate the whole world, shattering the silence in a split second. Birds fluttered away from the trees about them, cawing and twittering in fret, and Dieter's eyes were fierce. "Run," he said softly. Minka looked at him, then down at the money fold, her eyes unbelieving. The babe in her arms was silent.
"Why?" she whispered.
"Lauf," he hissed, pushing the tip of the gun into his holster, motioning for her to run as fast as she could, away from harm's hand.
When Minka did not move still, Dieter pushed her away from the train and she nodded, stunned, and began to run quickly, her hand pushing the money clip far into her pocket.
"Möge Gott mit Ihnen sein." Dieter looked at his hands and for once, he did not perceive any blood upon them. "Gott schütze meine Frau."