Georg von Falkenwrath-1944
I realized many things about myself as I spent those seemingly endless hours in that 2 foot by 2 foot box. The air was stifling in there and my body threatened, at any moment, to spiral down into chaos. I would panic. Despite the feeling of burning bile running up into my throat from pain, hunger, embarrassment, fear and humiliation, I pressed my palms against the temples of my head and held them there in an iron grasp. It felt as though I was trying to squeeze out the throbbing which thundered around my head. It hurt, my emaciated frame clattered together as I shook with cold. My eyes started to sting, the tears swimming up drove themselves into the black and blue bruising.
My teeth chattered together, the fear blossomed further, deep seated within my bosom, that I would never see the light of day again. I wiped at my eyes furiously. They had been tearing up a lot more since I came here and I had started to worry that if the tears came so easily here would I have any left to shed when I escaped?… if I escaped? Would those tears that rose to my eyes sap the last water that my body so desperately needed from me? The instinct of pushing my wayward hair out of my face still had not left me even though it had been sheared off upon arrival. At least they had let me keep my glasses so I could see.
Everything was pounding. I cautiously put one battered hand up to my ears to feel the trickle of blood coming from the left one. It was always the left one. Ever since I was a child I have had ear problems, but now, being in the war, everything just kept getting worse. The sounds were too loud, painfully loud and as soon as they started my world would tilt. As soon as the guards here discovered that fear and that inability, they tried to break me. Any chance they could they would make noise. Noises too loud for me to handle, splitting my head with headaches. They would scream in my ears during formation, smash pans while working, and assault me by awaking me from what little sleep I could snatch with a fired blank right near my head.
But right now everything hurt. I made one mistake, my body refused to hold me up in formation this morning. As we sat there in the afternoon cold, my vision suddenly went black and before I knew it my head was on the ground. Rough hands grabbed my by my shoulders and dragged me into the main building, the ones where they would put offenders and trouble makers. The scrape of my toes against concrete instead of wood told me this. Then they gave me water. They gave me water to bring be back around, the gentle pats to the cheek lulled me in my debilitated state to a sense of false safety. I had thought myself secure, but how wrong I was.
Someone took a hold of my hand and instantly my fingers clamped around it, to me, that human touch spoke of equal mortality in this situation with reeked of utter destruction. The unwarranted feeling of repose came over me before I felt the gentle kiss of metal upon my fingernail and harsh words of disgust were muttered into my ear. I did not have time to register much more before fire seemed to sprout at the tips of my fingers as each nail was ripped from it. I tried to scream in agony but every time I did a belt was sent across my back and a harsh fist sent reeling into my temple. I do not recall what I shouted at them. It must have been horrible things, or things they did not wish to hear for, after what seemed like ages, they put me here.
Would it be ironic if the reason that God made my legs so short and my torso so stunted was so that I could find solace in places like these? They called it a standing cell for no one could really sit in it. But I could. If I did not mind splinters from the wood door digging into my shins, I could sit. I could sit and let my legs find relief from what little weight they still supported. I sat down, my legs crunched painfully to my chest as I rested my head against my knees. The crusted blood still spread across my forehead. The knees of my striped uniform turning as red as the triangle I wore upon my chest. I held my now nail-less hand close to my chest, the curled and bloodied features reminiscent of a gnarled tree.
I wondered what was happening to the others as I sat in this dark space devoid of time. Where there others who had fallen like I had? Had they suffered the same torture or had they been mindlessly killed on the spot? Had God pardoned their souls and lead them to heaven so that their near skeleton bodies would not have to endure anymore torture? I missed everyone in here, despite seeing them so beaten, so mistreated and so malnourished, I missed seeing them. The people in the camp with me were my family and I mourned and suffered with them like I would a family. They probably would be the only thing close to a family that I had when I died…if I died here.
Thinking about that caused a pain to come on me like an iron-clad fist smashed into my stomach. I shook my head and clenched my eyes closed: no, I had to hold on; the plans had been laid for an escape. The small group of four or five, which I found myself part of, had planned the most detailed escape that we possibly could with the resources and strength available. I had passed words between all of us as I was the one that could communicate with everyone involved. There was a Frenchman who was one of us. He was the one who suffered the most; he was the one who was so far from his home. Not one of them spoke French beyond me. I would whisper to him in the darkness of the barracks; broken sentences. I would move from bunk to bunk to tell him any changes. He would listen with fearful wide eyes, his hands clung to my arms as though I was his hope and life line. I would promise him he would be free soon. We just needed the right time. I needed the right time to run…
Language had also kept me alive this long. I am not a tall man, nor am I a very strong one. I should be dead, by any standards of this camp; I should have been in the ground long ago. I am not proud of what I had to do, what I am still doing, to survive. The head of our escape group needed someone for a special task and thus I was chosen to be the one to distract the Kapo from snooping around. I volunteered to teach the man English like he requested, and I can not tell you the delight on his face when I agreed to do so. I tried. I tried to just make it the language lesson, but there was no way to stop him when he said he had enough learning for one day the third lesson in. He was a very brutal Green. Everyone under his command knew that and I could do lest I wanted to be killed on the spot. God, have mercy on my soul for what I am doing with that man, that I would be so desperate as to commit such sins just to stay alive. He told me the other night that I had been mislabeled. I am unsure whether he was joking or not.
Something hard slammed into the wall of my cell. It had been the first real sound that I had heard since I was closed off but it made my heart instantly leap into my throat and threaten to come falling out of my mouth. My body jolted around by its own devices quiet painfully as I slammed my shoulders into the side of my miniscule cell. The sharp ringing that was forever in my ears was jostled. I jumped up, cutting my knees against the wall as I tried to run. Run, to run, running… I clawed at the wall, as I shouted, "Let me out!" I screamed fruitlessly into the darkness, "Please, let me out!" My voice grated against itself as I was still recovering from the bout of sickness that had befallen me just a few weeks prior. Run, I had to run, keep running…
Always running. I had always been running, even when I was out on the front I was always running from one thing or another. I ran from the fighting, I ran from the bullets, I ran between dying men trying to stop the bleeding while giving them their last rights. I ran enemies of the state and prisoners of war from safe house to safe house in their escape. Eventually someone noticed that a few of their prisoners were missing. That last family of a father, a mother and a son no older then eleven years old would forever remain seared into my mind. Their eyes, the look of utter desperation reflected in them as I had taken them into my protection after finding them in the forest those months ago. Just like I was doing here with the Frenchmen, I had promised them that I would keep them safe. I had gone so far as to swear to them that they would be unharmed. I sinned in swearing, but there was no greater bond to make to them that I would keep them safe.
I had lied.
I had promised to them that they would be safe, but they had been killed right in front of my very eyes. Someone had found out about them way out in Russia. Someone had turned them in; someone had brought the authorities to where they were hiding. Through that incident, they managed to track me as well. The horror and utter confusion had gripped me like a virus that day the Field Police had marched into the camp I resided brandishing their handcuffs and driving me to the ground like an animal. I had cried out in fear and terror as they struck me and called me names, they insulted my looks, my rank, my very religion and once they had their fill with that, the men had dragged me to the house that I had left the last family with. The building had been burning, the smoke rising miles up into the sky like a great smoke signal to God himself to look down upon them and have pity upon us. Upon all of us.
Four people had been lined up in front of the building, their hands put to their heads. The father, the mother and the two members of the elderly couple that had owned the place, the child was nowhere to be seen. As I watched the four human beings slowly succumb to the biting their lips to bloody messes and screaming for mercy until their voices grew hoarse, the faint numbness took a hold of my frame. The sickening emptiness, like a great vast void opened up within the pit of my stomach, grew and threatened to engulf me as I tried to intercede upon the four's behalf. The man in charge had me gagged so that I could not beg for their lives. He had me driven to my knees and had one of his men hold my head up so that I could watch the events that were to follow. I had tried to struggle against their grasp, but they easily overpowered me by sheer brute strength.
I was forced to watch.
They held my head up as one of the police stepped forward and put a bullet through each of the four's skull in succession. The sickening crack and wet sound made me gag as the guilt and horror at such treatment for any child of God. I had cried then as well, I had cried so much for the four who died that it almost felt as though blood instead of tears would come from my eyes. As soon as the police took the gag from my mouth, I vomited. Constantly repeating prayers in Latin within my head for them, no one deserved that, not one single person. They were people, they were not anything else, they were people.
From then I was brought here, to suffer the same fate as those creatures I so loved were the exact words of the officer. I was given a stripped uniform and had a red triangle stitched to my front by rough hands. They had battered me, and shaved my hair. They drove a needle into my arm and gave me a number: D10521. But no matter how much hurt or how much humiliation they did to my mortal body, they could not drive the memory of those haunting faces from my mind. The screams would echo within my ears, at times the screaming would drown out everything else. Though they were dead I could still hear them speaking to me as though they were still present in the area. I could not sleep at night sometimes for the throttling experience of their memory which rattled around my head.
I prayed for them. I still pray for them. No human deserved that. No human deserved to be reduced to shaking so violently in fear just before dying. No one deserved to be so humiliated that they brake down crying, their legs so weak that they could not hold them proper before being shot down like mad dogs. I prayed that they had managed to say whatever last rites they felt necessary. I prayed for them.
I prayed for the men who had killed them. I prayed that somehow, someway, they would find the light within the darkness of their actions. Somehow, I prayed, that what ever evil within their frame possessed them to point a gun at their fellow human being and pull the trigger could be driving from them like Lord Jesus drove the demons into a heard of pigs. I prayed for them for they needed it as well.
There was still no answer in the darkness after the crashing sound. Nothing, back to silence. Defeated, I curled myself back up into the cell. I tried to hug myself, rocking as best that I can to try and quell the roaring guilt and thoughts that came filing into my mind in the darkness. My breath started to hitch with emotion as I once more tried to stop the tears from falling from my eyes so as to save what little water I could. I prayed to God to help me. I prayed that he help me find some solace in this darkness and solitude. Someone, for anything, I would be happy and content to just have someone to talk to. I would even be happy to have the Kapo put his arms around me right now just so as not to be alone in this pitch black darkness that extended no further then a few square feet. Small, but enough to drown someone in.
I suddenly I felt the grip of cold, as though something had draped itself around my shoulders in a loving manner. The faint glimmer of hope crept back into my frame.
"Riddle…" I spoke the name of the spirit that had been so attached to me ever since my childhood. "Riddle… I've missed you so much…"
He had been so much more than a mere ghost, then a mere entity that haunted me. He was my guardian angel. He would protect me. I felt the cold crawl up my arm and settle onto my battered hand. He cared enough to come inspect my well being. I held my hand out in the darkness so that he could see what had happened to them. Sometimes I wished that the others in camp could see the ghosts that wandered around the premise. They might be able to offer some console to their living counter parts.
"I wish you could bring the light to me…" I sighed.
As though those words were commands, there came a rattle above my head. A gentle beam from the miniscule window on the door came splashing down onto my hand. Someone had opened my cell. There was fresh air when I inhaled. Fresh air and light…