The track was covered in smoke and steam; the air was hot and damp. His ears filled with the screech of crunching metal as engines started and wheels began to turn.
It was a dark place, bathed in gloom: people screaming and crying, frantically pushing each other, dragging heavy suitcases. Little children wailed in distress, panicked parents barely containing their own fear trying to quiet them.
In that place, the only hint of color was the enormous flag hanging from the ceiling, blood red, with a bit of black, black like death, and white like purity. That was the symbol that was printed on everything from armbands to children's toys to display the power of their great Empire, an empire built on so much destruction, despair, and injustice.
But all that was fading now, their glory was waning; their empire would end in the same way it had begun: in tears, loss, and poverty, foreign nations calling all the shots.
He climbed onto the train; usually crowds of people parted for him when they saw the armband on his coat. He loved that sense of power, of complete control... But no one paid him any mind today, for today he wasn't wearing that armband, not wanting to be recognized by the enemy. So for now he was just another one of the crowd, another faceless face that blended in so well with the rest of them.
His suitcase wasn't very heavy. Like everyone else, he was running away. But unlike them, he refused to admit it. He preferred to think of it as a tactical move, a temporary retreat. He would return, sooner or later- they had evicted the enemy from their country once before, their fearless leader could do it again. He watched the people on the quay with pity. They were wasting so much time, dragging everything they owned! How could they not see that this was but a temporary exile? They would return- the goal for now was to escape the enemy.
He found a cabin just as the train began pulling out of the station. He jerked the door open and fell into the cabin, just as the train filled with a flood of natural light, absolving the gloom of the station that had managed to penetrate the great machine.
"Entschuldigung," he said, upon noticing the girl sitting in a corner, quietly staring out the window. He turned to go.
"No, please, stay," she said in a soft voice, thickly accented. It was a muddled accent reminiscent of the East, of Poland maybe, or Ukraine, with a hint of Austrian. At once his mind flashed to images of wide, fearful eyes and bony white cadavers.
He stuffed his suitcase onto the overhead rack. It was soft to the touch, and the smell of new leather filled his nostrils. As he sat down he glanced upwards at her own bag. He felt a flash of anger towards the invader when he saw her ratty carpet bag- see what his proud people had become, how they had been demeaned, driven into poverty!
"Where are you going?" he asked politely.
She had once again turned her head towards the window, but now she focused her gaze on him. She had enormous brown eyes, like those of a cornered deer. There was a hint of sadness behind those eyes, a terrible sadness that had at one time consumed her. And yet those wide eyes, so large and innocent, seemed vaguely familiar, haunting even.
"Vienna," she said quickly.
She was very small and bony; her skin seemed stretched too tightly around her frame. Her face was only slightly rounded; it was far too angular to be natural. Her clothes hung lankly around her body. Her hair was beautiful though, a vibrant shade of gold, a sun that lit up the dark cabin.
"Do you have family there?" he asked, fearful of the quiet that settled on the room.
Her lips tightened into a thin line, and her hands clenched her skirt, as though steeling herself.
"No, but I used to live there."
"Why did you leave?" he asked, suddenly curious.
"I didn't choose to leave, I was forced to."
Her voice cut through the silence like a knife. But as soon as she had spoken tears welled up in her eyes. She looked away from him, out the window, trying to blink the tears away.
"They came for us in the middle of the night, you know," she said finally, when she had managed to compose herself. "They banged on the door until my father opened. My sister and I huddled together in my bed. We could hear our parents screaming, pleading. Then they came for us." She paused, blinking away a fresh flood of tears. "I'm so sorry; I don't even know why I'm telling you this."
"It's quite alright," he said. As always, he was fighting the sickness he felt when he thought of all the pain and suffering they underwent before finally dying. He loved the Führer- there was so much the man had done for him! Such a wonderful man was right about everything, of course he was right about the Jews. He couldn't deny that he thoroughly enjoyed feeling superior to everyone. But even an inferior race deserving of death didn't merit the sort of torture forced upon them.
He remembered his first day at the camp. Death was everywhere- in the eyes of the starved people, in the stench that the wind bore over from the gas chambers, in the corners of the barracks. He didn't mind marching them to the gas chambers, didn't mind closing the door on them and then turning on the deadly gas. But he did mind having to beat those who were too weak to keep working, having to lie to them so that they wouldn't rebel as they were led to their deaths, having to hear them pounding on the door of the gas chamber, their breath rattling in their throats, begging with the last bit of air left in them to be let out. But most of all he minded having to look into their eyes. Their eyes were deep, sunken pits that had fallen into the crevices of their gaunt faces. Those eyes were always wide with fear. But behind the fear one could see the pain, the desperation, and ultimately the loss of hope itself.
"I'm returning to Vienna to say good-bye to them," she said, her eyes watery. "Then I plan to leave for America. My papa always talked about it, in the early days of the Reich. He would put on a stern face and say that our country was going up in flames. But then he would smile and tell us about America, where everyone is free and equal."
She smiled as she spoke those words. Her face was so thin that her smile took up the better part of it. But the smile was so genuine, so sunny, that for a moment you could forget your own troubles.
"There's nothing wrong with having one race be better than another," he said quietly. "It's the way God intended things to be."
He thought of his days in elementary school, when they taught him never to think of himself as inferior. He thought of his loud and dominant father, yelling at him that no son of his would be seen buying from Jewish shops.
"God created everyone as equals, and no one can tell me otherwise," she said, her voice strong. She held her head high as she spoke, her chin jutting out. "The Führer can say whatever he likes, but he's lying. And soon enough he'll pay for it. The Americans will reach Berlin and they'll make him pay for it."
"You are a silly girl: what do you know about God's intentions? Besides, the Führer is incapable of lying. He'll send the Americans back to their lamentable country. He is the greatest man on earth."
She shook her head in negation, her eyes flashing with fury and, he thought, contempt. He heard a small voice in the back of his mind telling him to arrest her, to make her pay for her arrogance, for her treason. But if he did, then he could reveal himself as one of the Führer's men; his cover would be blown, and his escape attempt would fail. And if that we the case, then he might as well just have stayed in Dachau.
"Why do you think all the officers are running like scared rabbits?" she pressed. "They know that the end is near, that their reign is over. They don't want the Americans to hold them accountable for their crimes."
"What crimes? They were merely trying to cleanse the German race, to make it pure and clean."
There was a sharp intake of breath on her part.
"What a good little schoolboy you are, listening to everything they tell you! Why should you think for yourself, when they are providing you with answers!"
She spoke in a low voice, filled with genuine hatred and contempt. She held out her hand. The back was covered in small scars, the entirety of them forming the shape of a boot heel.
"They were marching us to work one morning. They used us as slaves, you know, to make their war machines. And they separated the men from the women. I only learned about my father's death three days after the liberation of the camp. And my mother- she died just after we got there. They sent her to the gas chamber. So my sister and I, we were the only ones left. They marched us to work every day. My sister, she had been very sick for a long time, but she'd been trying to hide it, so that they wouldn't hurt her. And one morning she just couldn't walk any longer. She fell and she couldn't get up. I kept walking, I didn't notice until I heard someone screaming, pleading. There was an officer who was pointing his gun at her, and she was trying to stand. She made such an effort! I tried to run towards her, to stop it, but-"
Her voice cracked, tears slowly poured from her eyes, cutting watery paths down her cheeks.
He didn't need to hear the rest of the story. He knew the end. He remembered it, almost as though it had happened yesterday. It had happened yesterday, in a manner of speaking- his days at the camp had passed slowly, an unending and perpetual yesterday.
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the sound of her silent tears. He hated it when they cried. Because when they cried they were no longer an inferior race, faceless and blurry. When they cried they became human again.
The apartment building was made of red brick- except that it was no longer red. Bombs had blackened the exterior of it; the windows were broken, shattered remains tempting a springtime breeze.
The inside had been converted into a temporary police station by the invader- the army had fled, and the city had fallen into chaos and disrepair. They felt compelled to restore order to the confused and panicked populace. But since the actual police station had been decimated by a bomb, they were forced to make do.
For now a couple of tables served as desks for the twenty "police officers". One typewriter was used to type up important paperwork, while the yet-to-be arrested criminals were, in theory, supposed to be handcuffed to a chair in a corner of the room, while interrogations were meant to be held on another floor entirely.
A man wearing the US military uniform walked into the room. He was young, in his early twenties, his face tanned and devoid of worry lines. But behind his gaze lurked a profound bewilderment. He sighed as he walked across the room to his unit leader, his heavy military-issue boots echoing loudly as they pounded the floor.
"What is it?" the officer demanded irritatedly, looking up from a large pile of briefs arrived that morning from Paris.
The young man sighed heavily, snatching off his cap and scratching his head.
"There's a man who just walked in off the street," the young man said reluctantly, as though still puzzling the matter out for himself.
"So? Give him directions and send him on his way," the officer snapped, waving the man away. But the latter didn't move.
"He's not here for directions, sir."
The officer tore his gaze from his papers and eyes him, as though ordering him to continue. The man sighed again.
"He walked in and confessed to being a guard at the camp of Dachau."