This was a short story I once made for class a few years ago. The idea for the story was inspired by my Grandfather, but creative liberties were definitely taken.
Canteen in hand, a middle aged man with premature gray, sat down with his fellow soldiers in their makeshift camp. No fire though. They can't afford the consequences of a signal behind enemy lines. He takes a sip of water, and nothing more. They aren't living on rations like the Allies, but he's not going to risk a day without water. He takes a glance around at the disorderly state of things. They had just crossed the Rhine only an hour before, and were at last securing their first base in Germany. His fellow soldiers are "action ready" men, but they're also loud, and none of them are familiar with the German West. Tommy, a boy from Georgia, is the loudest of them all. He gets up, and our aging soldier prepares for another one of Tommy's stories.
"The way I see it," Tommy pauses for a moment."I think we ought know who everyone is by now. You know? We gotta' know who we might die for right," he says as he walks around with gesturing hands."You're the newest recruit. Maybe we ought start with you."
The soldier knew Tommy was talking to him, but he was a bit uneasy. Tommy was maybe half his age, but hiss father was ex-military, and he found himself landed a rank above. It was likely he already knew who this soldier "was," and so the soldier figured it best to give his raking officer an answer.
"My name is Arvy," Arvy said as he looked up to Tommy from his seated position.
"Where are you from?"
"Aahhh..." Tommy turned away with an obvious look of internal struggle. He liked to put on a show. "A name like that. Sounds German."
It wasn't, but he wasn't wrong. He chose it because it had reminded him of everything he left behind. Arvy was a French name, and it was the closest to a German name one could hope for if they happened to be looking for that sort of thing. He was brought out of his thoughts when Tommy's hand touched his shoulder.
"What do you think of this war," Tommy asked with a serious tone.
Arvy felt the atmosphere change around him. It was tense, but it wasn't hostile. He felt justified that he didn't have a reason to fear them. He was their soldier, and friend, and so he looked Tommy in the eyes.
"I hate the Nazis. I'll do whatever it takes to bring them down," He said with the gravest expression, like a mirror of his darkest emotions.
Tommy stared at him with a stern expression for a moment before allowing a small smile grace his features.
"That's good enough for me," he exclaimed. "I think we'll call you, The German!"
Arvy smiled back at him and felt at ease. He had been named, and he had been accepted. Arvy took a good look at his canteen as Tommy continued around the camp, deciding on names for everyone. Etchings of the American flag were present, and feelings of pride spread through him like a tornado through a valley, and yet it didn't make him happy. He couldn't be happy when surrounded by trees he only wished he hadn't seen before. He couldn't be happy knowing that he was an enemy to his past.
It had been late June when Arvy's family had called him inside their home in Dusseldorf. He had been running through the autumnal trees, enjoying his childish curiosity for nature, and had looked at his parents with disappointment at their command. When he drudged inside he hadn't stopped to look around and notice the lack of belongings in their home. He didn't even question why they were getting in the car, or where they were going. It wasn't until they arrived at the airport that he realized he had missed all the clues. He was young then, and so he wonders from time to time whether or not he would have said anything had he realized it in the first place. In looking back he often feels a sense of longing for his long lost home.
It had been the last memories of his home in Germany, but it wasn't the last time he'd hear of it. When he came of age, he went off to college, and as part of an international outreach program, he began to exchange scholarly letters with a professor who lived in Dusseldorf. They never talked about the country, but it had been nice to hear a Germanic tongue, and they often had plenty to talk about in relation to common interests. They both had found a hobby in trees, though their respective career fields had been in engineering. They never spoke of political views though, and Arvy wondered if that would have created a rift between them. He had heard stories of how different their countries were politically, but he hadn't ever felt the need, or want, to bring personal beliefs into their friendly conversations. Of course, he had lost contact with the professor after a while anyway, and such was the end of all his ties to the old country.
At least, he had thought it would have been the end. Now, here he was, looking at the autumnal trees in person once again. It was so different from his memory, and he had stopped on several occasions after crossing the Rhine to take it all in. He allowed his mind to wander to the professor, and wondered if he had survived the war. It wasn't a pleasant thought, and he decided to let it fade to the back of his mind. He took another sip of his canteen as a boy sat down to his right. This soldier had been proclaimed a man at the age of 18, but he had been appropriately deemed "The Kid," based on size, by Tommy moments ago, and so the age had amounted to little as far as status went.
"Hey, you're The German, right? I guess ya' heard my name too? Anyway, are ya' really a German? I don't want ta' pry, but why did ya' come? Was it a draft, because I heard that those that didn't volunteer were drafted," The Kid would have continued, but he was cut short by Tommy.
"Kid! You sure aren't deaf are you boy? You heard what he said earlier and that's that. Leave him alone won't you," He asked. It was more of a command though, and the Kid backed down.
Arvy had been curious by the boy's sudden interest though and followed him as he got up to leave.
"I don't mean to pry, but why are you interested in my past? I didn't cross enemy lines with you just to kill you, and I can swear by that. If that's what you're wanting." Arvy stated. He held out his canteen in order to offer the Kid a drink.
"Uh, no thanks," He says as he holds up his hands in a declining nature. "Nah, I didn't mean to accuse you or anything. It's just. I'm Jewish. I don't look it too much, but my family is German too, and it's a bit weird ya' know? I noticed you had a bible in your tent the other day, like the others. I was just curious as to why you'd join this war if you were German, but you weren't Jewish. I promise I didn't mean a thing by it."
The Kid's honesty surprised him. Arvy wouldn't say it, but the Kid was officially the first Jew Arvy had come to meet, and it didn't seem to change anything within him.
"I guess I never thought of it. We're at war. I'm not a Nazi, and the very thought of what they've turned my past into makes my blood run cold. You don't have to worry Kid. We're a team as long as we've got the same goal right?"
Arvy didn't actually get to say that last sentence. Before he could utter the word team, the Kid was on the ground before him, and his ears were ringing.
Arvy didn't have long to respond, and so he quickly dashed for cover. The others had already begun to fire back upon the enemy, and so Arvy made a run for a weapon. He quickly found an M1; perfect for a quick response. He didn't have time to check for ammo, but it wasn't likely to be empty, and so he took ground between a few of the tents. He waited for just a moment, though everything seemed to slow. When the tree leaves betrayed his enemy's position, he took aim. There was only one shadow, and Arvy counted himself lucky. As soon as he saw the color of his enemy's uniform, he fired a single shot. It was almost flawless as the bullet landed the target onto the ground. Arvy waited still, not wanting to risk a mistake. He didn't budge, and he didn't think for what seemed like twenty, or so, minutes. He heard his teammates declare the all clear, and he began to rise slowly from his position. He let go of a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and his shaking hands became apparent to him as well. He began to think about all that had just occurred.
"The Kid," Arvy breathed out as the situation began to take full circle.
Arvy rushed to where the Kid had fallen. Tommy was kneeling beside their fallen teammate as he arrived, and his expression spoke volumes. The Kid was gone. Arvy just stood there for a moment as he silently mourned his loss. He hadn't seen death so close before, and the experience hadn't sunk in quite fully yet. When the moment ended he turned away, walking back to where his enemy had fallen. He took a look at the body lying on the ground in front of him, and before taking a look at the man who had become his first kill, he let out a tear for all that had been lost that day. He lost a teammate, and he lost a small part of himself. He didn't know what it was exactly, but he felt empty because of it.
Arvy knelt down before the freshly dead that he had sent to Death's door. The smoke and sweat made the man's face hard to see from a standing position. Upon removing the man's helmet, Arvy jumped back in anguish. This face was far too familiar. Arvy fell the the ground and looked up to the trees. His thoughts had hidden themselves once again, unable to take the sight in. At long last, he looked at the man. His German companion's eyes seemed to look straight back at him. Those elderly eyes. The eyes of a learned man. The eyes of a man he once called friend in a letter. His friend of common interest. He looked him over, and took a look at the man's swastika. He looked at the professor's hands. One held a rifle, and the other was holding onto some of the autumnal leaves.
"Damn you. Damn you for not telling me everything, and for me not asking. Damn you for making me miss you! Why did I have to miss you," Arvy exclaims. His cries seemed to escalate at first, but they ended in a barely audible whisper.
Arvy didn't see justice in what he had done. He didn't see survival, and he definitely didn't see patriotism. He saw murder. He lost himself in the reality of it all, and begun to believe he'd be unable to recover. As his mind continued through its guilt, footsteps slowly made themselves closer.
"Hey, German. We've contacted base. We've been informed that the small group of men that attacked us were from a concentration camp called Breitenau. Another platoon ran into them as well, but didn't pursue them after the initial confrontation. The German Axis seems to be fleeing, and so we've been ordered to head out toward Breitenau, while the other platoon heads for a camp called Hinzert," Tommy explained. His tone had never been more serious, and his words had never been so clear.
Arvy felt the seriousness of their new orders, as this would be the first camp his platoon would see. They had heard plenty about them before, but to experience it would likely affect them all. He was thankful to Tommy for his profound leadership skills, and began to see that he shouldn't have doubted Tommy before, based on his love for talking. Arvy rose from his seated position, and took one last glance at his victim before walking off to join his team.
The platoon packed up and began to head out immediately. Throughout the journey, Arvy felt a heavy weight, and wondered if the others felt it too. He was diminishing inside, and saw his very identity begin to fade to black, and he couldn't shake the feeling that it was lost for good. He was doomed to become some monster, and a murderer to his homeland. As they carried on, Arvy grabbed am autumnal leaf from the ground, and proceeded to place it in his uniform before continuing on.
It took until morning to reach the camp. There was smoke all over, and no one could see very far past the gates. However, they could certainly smell the putrid stench in the air. They marched on with their weapons ready for an ambush. However, upon entering the camp, they received no such attack. Arvy looked at the sight before him, but couldn't make out anything living. There were bodies everywhere. Some were burning, while others had bullet wounds. His team split up, and as he went down his selected path he saw nothing but fallen victims. He stopped in front of a small structure that resembled a hut of sorts. He walked up and opened the door. He took a look inside, and received a sight of true despair. There were a few "survivors" crouching before him. They were so thin, and the fear in their eyes was making him tremble. As his hands fumbled, he grabbed all of the rations he had and held it out to them. He spoke out in what German he remembered, and asked that they trust him. They wouldn't respond, and his heart began to tell him that he could never go back to being German. Not now.
Arvy looked at them in desperation, and at long last, a realization came to him. He could no longer return to being German, but he had long since been an American. He grabbed his canteen from his coat, and brushed the dirt off of the depiction of the American flag.
"You don't have to fear me," he stated in a whisper as he handed the canteen out to them.
One of the older ones walked up to him and slowly took the canteen. He took a very small sip, and waited for a moment while the others watched. When the moment passed, he handed the canteen to a younger victim, and smiled. The others slowly walked over to Arvy, and he at last felt his emptiness begin to fill, though a small portion remained bound to nothing. He called out for his team, and they called for backup. They continued to pass out what rations they had to all of the found survivors, and waited for transport.
Several days later they were sitting together at base. Some of the victims didn't make it to the medical wards, but the majority survived. Arvy was sitting next to Tommy, staring at his canteen.
"The German. It's no longer appropriate," Arvy stated without glancing at Tommy.
"Is that so? Well, ya' know, those victims are German too," was all Tommy said in response. It was all that needed to be said.
Those words rang through Arvy's head, and he nearly broke right there. A few tears escaped before he stood to leave. He walked to the door of their occupied tent, and paused for a moment.
"I'll see ya' around German," Tommy said while leaning back on the bench they had been sitting on.
Tommy's words hadn't angered him. They hadn't even upset him. He left the tent, and stood in the night air. He wiped the escaped tears away with two fingers, and a small smile graced him. He couldn't escape who he was after all, and with the last bit of emptiness within him beginning to fill back up, he was thankful for it.