The Badge

My grandfather once told me the story of a man. A man I see everyday but do not understand. He is mean to everyone, acts like nothing matters. The man is from another time, a time he can not forget. When the world had no respect for humanity. Where there were those who wanted to rule the world. Make it clean for their kind, rid it of the filth. The jewish, gypsy's, homosexuals, or disabled they were garbage to them. In their perfect world there would be no place for them.

My grandfather told the man's story. How he was powerless to stop his family from dying. He ate crumbs and rats. He hid in the body piles a pulse among corpses. When the GI's came he emerged from the death pile breathing but not really alive. He walked out of the camp but his heart and soul stayed behind. He struggled to survive, a mostly starved young man alone in a cruel post war Germany. Eating what he had to, doing things no one should ever have to, just to survive. Seeing things no one should ever see. This man killed others, did what he had to to survive, and never was the same again. He trusted no one. When he grew up he fought in the Arab wars, the perfect soldier. He was decorated for bravery. Awards mean nothing to him. He only did what he knew, kill or be killed.

I listened to my grandfather tell the tale. To the man a human life is nothing. He spent two years in a camp that washed clean his soul of feeling. I understand life in the camp was tough but why do people treat him so special now? People give him things for free, they hold doors for him to walk in to buildings first, they act like he is so special. Lots of people lived in the camps why treat this man different? I went to the house to get ready for bed still trying to rationalize the special treatment for such a man. I play some Playstation before I fall into a deep sleep. I wake to one of the worst smells I have ever smelled, to cries, to moans of betrayal, and pain, I wake to the world of the holocaust.

As my eyes focus I realize I am on a bunk staring up at the urine stain wood of the bed above me. Too afraid to turn my head I move my eyes to the right. The sightless eyes of death look upon me, the person to my right had not survived the night, he is a lucky one. Rolling my eyes to the left the man beside me sleeps on. How did I get here? What the hell happened to me?

I try to shake myself awake, pinching my skin which over night has turned a sickly gray and is stretched tight over my bones. The pain is intolerable, never in my life have I been so very hungry. I try to move to scoot to the edge of the bed. My bones are grinding, rubbing against one another, no tissue to keep them from touching. I hear someone, someone is coming. They grab my feet and yank me from the cot. I fall to the dirt ground the impact breaks my left shoulder. I attempt to cry out but I cannot make much of a sound. They kick me as I struggle to stand. All around me the others on the cots are torn from slumber, stumbling to their feet or crumpling to the ground unable to stand. We are marched outside ever step nauseating, it is so bitterly cold and my shoes are retched excuses for protection from the elements.

On what was once the lawn we are lined up for role call. I wear a badge, it identifies me as a man I do not know. How did I get here, why oh why am I here? How can anyone go through this? Oh god please, I have to wake up now please.

I did not wake. I am marched off to help with the piles. The mounds of corpses. Hundreds upon hundreds of naked corpses. As I approached the first, I see a face staring out not with the death stare, with terror. The man. Oh my god I am in the camp with my grandfathers friend. He is just a small boy hiding among the rotting piles of humanity. Even though he is a child I know it to be him, the look in his eyes today, I see on this child's face. I understand, let me wake, he went through hell, I understand why he acts the way he does, please let me wake.

We walk on, we go to a brick building. The guards open the doors we are sent in, inside the dead are stacked in a pyramid a hundred bodies. They want us to drag the bodies to the corpse hills. With my shoulder hanging useless at my side, I cannot drag the dead. The guards pull me aside, respite I think. They take me around the building to a line of people. I stand in this line for hours, freezing in the cold wind, no coat or hat. The line begins to move forward we are checked off as we pass the SS guards. Some of the guards spit on us as we move by.

Inside other guards wait for our arrival, they make us remove our clothing, our shoes. A hundred breathing skin covered skeletons are forced into a shower room. Warm water is sprayed down on us, oh thank god heat, a warm shower it feels so good. The happiness at being warm for the first time in a very long time, does not last. Naked, we are marched into a room. Oh hell, I have been in this room, it was full of bodies, I could not carry them, now I am to become one of them. Panic sets in, I am a boy trapped in a man's body, I am not even supposed to be here. The door slams shut behind us very little light filters into the room. From above we hear foot steps on the roof. The people are milling about terror on everyones faces. No one knows what is to happen next. There are trap doors in the blue stained ceilings the doors open and pills are dropped. As they fall the gas begins to fill the room. My lungs stop working when the gas hits. I gasp for air I feel like a fish thrown up on the bank of a pond. I cannot breathe, everyone is scrambling one over the other trying to reach air. All attempts to breathe are futile. I am stepping on faces, children, I hear the bones of the bodies break as I clammer for air.

My eyes fly open and I am on my feet. I run to the window in my bedroom at home, verily slowing enough to open it, I stick my head out the window, gasping for air, the morning sun in my face. I look about at the familiar sights of my neighborhood in Jerusalem. The undeniable joy to be in my house, safe was incredible. I take one more deep breath before leaving the window for the comfort of my room. I am not even going to complain about making my bed today it will be a pleasure. I walk over to the bed and shake out my blankets, I toss my pillow to the floor beside the bed. A badge falls free from my pillow. I am frozen, my eyes widen as I focus on the badge. It is the badge from my dream, the still unfamiliar name of the man I was in the dream printed on the front of it. I bend over and pick up the badge, I bite it, smell it, the smell of the camp faint on the badge. I put the badge in my dresser, unable to explain how it got into my bed.

I took over the family market booth when I grew up. I never recovered from the dream that night. It was something that stayed with me for the rest of my life. Whenever I would start to think it was not real all I had to do was feel around my neck. I wear the badge now under my clothes, the smell of the camp still holds faintly to it. A constant reminder of a time no one should ever forget. I plan to tell the story of the badge, and the dream to my children one day and to pass it along to them so they never forget.

When you live through the waste of humanity of a Nazi Concentration camp by hiding among the dead your views of the world are bound to change. Whatever it takes to stay alive, is not too high of a cost for a man like my grandfathers friend. Kill or be killed was the way he was taught. He was a surviver, he lived in hell and managed to walk out of the camps, 5.8 million other people did not get to have the same ending. Some of those souls formed the pile that hid the small boy from the prying eyes of the Nazi guards.