It's hard to breathe in the crampness of the wooden cage that confines us. The air is putrid and the beat of metallic tracks is almost loud enough to drown out the whimpers of fear and whispered prayers of faith. There is no food, no water, only small, foul pails in two of the car's corners. My hands are sweaty from clasping onto my mother's hands, but I can't find the will to let go.
The car jerks and we all hold our breath. A baby whines in the tense silence, but the mother quickly shushes her fretful child. There is a symphony of noise outside the walls of chipped wood, melodies of shouting and chirps of fervent crying. The doors open, the chilly air kissing our dirtied faces and unprotected fingers. We're roughly filed from the car, the cries of suffering only intensifying in volume. The area is full of crying and unspoken agony. The sorrow rode the air in palpable waves and I watched the shuffling, pushing, screaming bodies with silent tears and perspiring hands. But amongst the agonizing chaos:
"Zwillinge austreten. Twins, step out! "
My mother grips my hand tighter and I cast a glance at my brother. His eyes are watery and cheeks uncomfortably red, streaked with wet trails of saline tears. Brown hair haphazardly peeks out from under his cap. Our trio waits in a dismal silence, comforted marginally by the presence of our family and lack of words. We continue to shuffle forward until we're stopped by the men in crisp uniforms and cleanly shaven faces. A man with particularly shiny boots looks between my brother and I, then to my mother.
She hesitates, but nods. A gleam appears in his eyes and my brother and I are forcibly led aside, being deftly placed with another handful of twin pairs. I catch my mother's eyes from our new position, she meets mine and my gut clenches with the foreboding feeling of tangled worries and fate. She's forced into a procession and I never get the chance to glimpse into her tear-slicked eyes again. More twins are arranged into the growing group, the younger children bawling, while the older ones watch with repressed depression.
Our arms are stained with blue ink soon after, a blue cavalcade of numbers signifying our newfound identities. When we're led to our barracks, my brother and I memorize each other's numbers through bleary eyes and pounding heads. We talk to each other until we're hushed, lulling ourselves to sleep with the knowledge of each other's presence and the melody of our numbers bustling through our heads.
We quickly come to learn of our role as Mengele Twins as we acclimate to life here. We share barracks will other male twins; some older and some younger. My brother and I yearn for the warmth of our mother's smile and the sunny days in which we played, yet hold no hope for our dreams to prosper. Mengele visits occasionally, bearing thoughtful presents and kind words. The younger children often refer to him as Uncle Mengele and some approach him willingly; I can't bring myself to do the same.
We line up every day at six in the morning for roll call. We're counted routinely, a discrepancy means a mandatory recount; They made no errors. We return inside for breakfast and if it's one of our designated days, then, my brother and I, are led to a quiet room. We're undressed and measured meticulously by Mengele or another on-site doctor. Eyelashes, hair, teeth - nothing is left unevaluated. Mengele leaves, assigning the unwanted task of giving injections to his nurses. The contents of the syringes are a mystery to us, but the blood being drawn is not. We worry that we may run out soon, especially, my brother who has gone unconscious twice.
The days drawl by, the sun continues to rise and fall, and the sinister smoke continues to curl into oblivion on the waves of cloudy seas. My brother and I continue to have injections administered to us and we still count the days till our blood store is finally completely siphoned out. Yet, a chill hung thickly in the air as we were brought to the lab to follow the daily agenda. It is not an injection day and we are not usually strapped in. I look at my brother and we know. He smiles a sad smile and I return the gesture; At least we were never alone.