A/N: To my readers, please note that this story is not an attempt to minimize the horror of WWII and the Holocaust, nor is it an attempt to sympathize with the Nazis in any way. I am most certainly not a Nazi or even a Nazi sympathizer; I find what they did as abominable as you do, and I believe that if the Devil ever does or did exist, then Hitler was most certainly him. This story is merely an attempt to answer the question, "What if some Nazis were reluctant about their job and had only done what they did out of fear?" It is meant to be a look at the villain rather than the victim or the hero; an attempt to show that the Holocaust and WWII affected everyone who lived through it, not just the millions targeted, persecuted, and killed. Almost all save those who agreed Hitler's rule were terrified, the Jews and other 'undesirables' because they were the targets; the other citizens against Hitler because they felt that he was too strong to rise up against. Yet, strangely enough, if they had, the Holocaust might never have become a terrible, though important, chapter in our world's History. Ultimately, all those in Germany and the countries conquered by it suffered – not just the Jews. This story is meant to reflect that, and I have tried my hardest to show this, albeit in a way that many readers may find unsettling or awkward. If you, the reader, feel uncomfortable with this story at any time, you are welcome to leave, though I urge you to stay and at least hear this tale for what it is. For it is misunderstanding that leads to fear, fear to anger, anger to hatred, and hatred to evil – and when we as human beings forget this, our entire race is asking for horrible chapters of our history to repeat themselves all over again – perhaps even worse than they had been before.
The year is 1941. Germany, once a rich empire, has fallen, and is currently in the clutches of the National Socialist party – the Nazi party – and everywhere, there is the aura of fear. No man, woman or child is safe, especially not the civilians. They who are undesired are killed, and they who would oppose this killing know all too well that if they did choose to disobey, they would find themselves facing the same terrible fate as those their leader so hated. They knew this even as the Gestapo marched the streets at midnight, slowly extracting those they saw as poison to the German empire. They knew this even as they watched their communities slowly dwindle in number as those they knew as friends, neighbors, and fellow families slowly began to disappear in the night. They knew they would die if they stopped them. And so they watched in horror and said nothing.
Some truly believed in the authority of the government. Many did, and these people all believed that soon, their lives would be so much better off without all those horrible creatures in their midst. This was the main reason why many young men joined the military – some with the army, some with the SS. These misguided young souls learned to love killing, and they served their leader well. But others – many others – did not. Those who did not often slipped up, speaking their displeasure, and they eventually found themselves captured, soon to be shipped to their terrible deaths – unless they were desirables, and sometimes even this was not enough to save them. Soon, the rebellious learned to say nothing, and the fear inside them grew. They learned to need strength, to need the empire, to need their leader to save them, and they grew meek, timid, and afraid of the world. And so, when the recruiters came to their door, they had no choice but to say yes.
This was the other reason why so many young men enlisted.
The young, uniformed man shivered in his gun tower. It was bitterly cold, as it always was, and the wind ruffled the tufts of golden hair that peeked from under his marshal's cap, setting them waving like patches of ripe wheat. It was always cold here and just as bitter, but today seemed worse somehow. It had to be at least below freezing – and that wasn't even counting the windchill.
The guard flicked his ocean blue eyes towards the roof of the guardhouse. It was true that he could go there, where it was warm and dry and not so bitter, but he was on duty right now, and to leave his post would land him in hot water.
The guard (he hated that title, his real name was Marcus and always would be) cocked his gun and looked off into the distance, staring at the arriving cattle cars as if hypnotized by them. It had been weeks since the last shipment, something about the trains being backed up on the main railway due to a crash. Most of the prisoners on it had been killed, but the drivers were perfectly fine and within weeks had gotten the train back on track.
Marcus shuddered in the wind. Those that died had been the fortunate ones.
The trains arrived, wheels squeaking and hydraulics hissing to a stop. One by one, the heavy deadbolts were lifted, and one by one, the rusty doors slid open. From each one, a million spilled, yelping, into the mud. The guards and their dogs quickly fell upon those who had not gotten to their feet fast enough. One prisoner was shaking violently, perhaps in terror, perhaps in some sort of epileptic fit, his trembling hands alternately clenching at handfuls of grey, sticky mud and spasmodically tearing at himself. He was making odd noises, what seemed at first to be whimpering or sobbing but in reality was some strange mixture of the two.
Marcus forced himself to watch.
The barrel of a gun met the sufferer's head with a terrible smack, and the man crumpled backwards to the ground. The same barrel, now pointed at the man's chest, fired only a second later.
And still Marcus watched.
The remainder of the whimpering, huddled crowd was soon split, men and boys, women and girls, and each group lead, single file, through the gaping entrance of Auschwitz.
Marcus turned to look at hit watch. It read as 12:45 in the afternoon. He would be off-duty in fifteen minutes.
Soon. Very soon.
He fingered the swastika on his armband thoughtfully, wondering, as he always did, just why he was here. He hadn't wanted this job. He hated this job, hated it with a passion that could destroy even the crematoriums here. He had wanted to be a lawyer, to defend the innocent, not destroy lives.
It mattered not now, though. Even if he wanted to return to his old dream, he couldn't. It was far too late for him to quit now. He was far too hardened to do anything else but kill. He didn't even feel fear anymore…
Yes you do, Marcus. Do not lie to yourself; you already lie enough to the world. Yes, you do…
It was midnight in Berlin, and bitterly cold outside, the wind whimpering against the shutters like a wounded wolf. Marcus sat wide awake, staring blearily at the numerous problems in his Trigonometry textbook. Only a few more and he would be finished for the night. Perhaps then, he could sleep –
An insistent knock on the door of his apartment startled him, and he looked up in confusion. Who would visit at this hour of night?
"Hello?" he called. "I am here!"
No answer came, and Marcus sat up, nervous.
"Hello?" he asked, hoping for an answer.
No response. Marcus sighed in annoyance and strode to the door, carefully opening it to peer out.
In the doorway stood two uniformed officials, their faces the perfect reflection of cool calmness. Their eyes, however, held an emotionless gleam – these were cold men, hardened by years of military work. One, a thin and bespectacled man, held a pen and a clipboard; the other seemed to be a Nazi soldier.
"Hello, young man," said the thin man, his voice betraying no hint of emotion whatsoever. "We are currently recruiting young men of about your age for military work. We ran some recent background checks on collage-aged men who live alone, and the name of one Marcus Schlager came up. You are this Schlager, I presume?"
Marcus felt his heart sink. Him? They wanted him, one of the very few people who had never been for Hitler in the first place?
He… couldn't. He would never survive it if he did – some part of himself would surely die if he joined. Besides that, he had learned from some of his more Government-supportive friends that the plan now was to exterminate all undesirables. He could never do that, never. While he wasn't exactly fond of them, he also didn't want to see them die – or worse, have to kill them himself. After all, they were human beings, even if the majority of the population – and indeed, the Government itself – did not recognize them as people.
But… he couldn't refuse. To do so would only raise more questions from them, and if he slipped up just once…
No. Not yet. He was too young to die yet. He refused to let himself rot in some filthy camp all because he made a stupid mistake. But to answer yes would go against everything he believed in – and the restriction of freedom was what the Government thrived on.
Very well. He would take the risks, however foolish his decision was. At least he had decided for himself.
"Yes, I am he."
"We thought as much," the thin man dispassionately responded as he scratched off something on his list. "You are to report to the local Military base within forty-eight hours. If you do not, we will assume that you have run away, and an alert will be issued – and if you are caught, and you will be caught, you will be sent to a federal prison camp on the basis of Conspiracy Against the State. Is that clear?"
Marcus was torn. He could run, but where would he go? Besides that, he knew of nowhere that they wouldn't go to track him down. Great Britain wasn't safe, and he hadn't the money to take a plane to America. What else could he do? It was either he went and fought for something he didn't and never had believed in, or he tried to run and perished for what he did. There was no…
There was perhaps one way out.
"Respectfully, sirs," Marcus said as he tried to swallow the growing lump in his throat, "I am still in collage, and I really must finish my education before I do any military work."
"We will explain the issue to your professors," the man said, scrawling something on his list. "You have forty-eight hours to report. Good evening."
With that, the two men left, back into the cold, howling wind from whence they arrived. With them left the last feeble remnants of Marcus' hope.
He reported the next day. He began training that evening, and he trained extensively, slowly becoming a hard, cold man. He learned to shoot a gun. He learned to kill. He learned to find pleasure in the pain and misery of both himself and others.
Yet some small part of him hated it – all of it. He hated the gun, the killing, the training, the swastika he wore. And with what very little hope he had, he prayed that he would merely be sent to the battlefield, where his newfound coolness would help him survive; or onto the streets of Berlin, where he would merely need to check permits and keep the unruly in line.
But fate did not work in his favor. After months of intense training and military protocol, Marcus learned where he would be sent. Printed on a tiny slip of paper, the news sent shockwaves through his body that nearly devastated his cold, deadened heart. Marcus was not being sent on patrol or into battle. His harsh training had been for an enlistment in the SS Guard.
And they were sending him to work at Auschwitz.
"Hey. Hey, you!
The young Jewish woman spun on her heels, dropping a loaf of bread she had been holding in her skeletal hands. She shivered with cold and terror, shudders sending spasms through her emaciated frame, and her sunken eyes stared with the wide-eyed fear of a lost child.
Marcus stepped towards the starving youth, his gun at his side and his expression cold. It was a sight he had seen many times before, so many times that it no longer stabbed at him the way it used to – the skeletal being with its eyes dull with pain, sorrow, and sheer need, trembling with fear. Fear was one of the few emotions these creatures felt. Fear and hunger and pain.
"What are you doing?" he thundered, his voice full of as much anger as he could stand to muster.
The terrified girl said nothing, her tongue and throat were too thick with terror, but her wide eyes told a tale of guilt at being caught and fear of what was to come. She, like all the others, knew very well that she would die, but the sheer closeness of her own death staring her in the face seemed far more frightening now than it ever could have seemed before.
Marcus shifted his eyes from the child to the bread lying, half-buried, in the mud. The loaf was in a terrible state, just as dirty and wretched as the young woman. He knew stealing wasn't allowed. It was inexcusable. Any prisoner who dared steal food was to be shot on sight. It was the rule, the law, the one thing he had been told since day one.
He cocked his gun and pointed it at the young woman. Her eyes widened in panic and she scrambled back a few feet, all her thought of the bread forgotten. Her eyes grew wet with tears, and her bony figure slumped to the ground, looking for all the world like a corpse that had crawled its way to the surface, shuddering and whimpering in the mud. He ignored it – he had long ago gotten used to prisoners groveling for mercy at his feet. He had to shoot her. He had to…
And yet he couldn't. He couldn't bring himself to shoot the girl. She was far too vulnerable, even for her near-adult age. Too young to be a prisoner, to witness these horrors, to suffer here. Too defenseless…
Marcus slowly lowered the gun, though his piercing eyes never left the girl's face. Calmly, he stepped towards the fallen bread and, looking around with cautious eyes to be sure that no one else was there with him, tore off a little more than half the loaf and gave it to the girl.
"Here," Marcus murmured. "Eat it. Quickly. You are not to tell a soul that I have done this for you, or your punishment will be severe. Is that clear?"
The girl nodded and ravenously devoured the bread, then ran off, disappearing almost as quickly as she had appeared. Marcus felt the barest hint of a smile cross his face, but quickly hid it, turned, and began to walk away.
No sooner had he turned a corner, an awkward shuffling noise from behind alarmed him. Marcus turned to see an older man of about thirty, though his skeletal frame and grimy appearance made him seem much older. The prisoner slowly picked up the remainder of the dirty bread and quickly began to eat.
He didn't get much further. An SS Guard turned a corner on the side adjacent to Marcus, and within seconds of spotting the bread in the prisoner's hands, the Guard had his gun trained on the prisoner. His target was dead long before he had a chance to respond.
The Guard spotted Marcus soon after, and jogged up to meet him.
Marcus did nothing.
"Good afternoon," said the Guard. "Thanks for pointing that prisoner out for me. We really need all the help we can get to keep them in line, don't we?"
Marcus nodded numbly, then turned away, fighting back tears. Dear God, he hated this job. He hated this place; it was his Hell. And his eternal punishment was to watch the prisoners suffer, while he could do nothing.
What could he do? It wasn't enough to save one for a day. To help one was a futile gesture and a fool's errand; helping all of them was even more so. He could do nothing, not really. He was just one man, one man against his job, his leader, and his entire country.
And what difference could one man possibly make?