Complete darkness. A throbbing pain ached on his forehead. His limps were numb. Slowly, awareness crept back into his mind and body. Heavy air filled his lungs and a hotness pressed down on his body. He breathed heavily. Opening his eyes he tried to take in his surroundings only to realize it was still dark. Something, no someone leaned against his body. His back perched against a cold metal wall and his body swayed harshly from side to side, bumping into bodies which surrounded him. A strange silence layed over the space and only here and then you’d hear heavy breathing and some muffled cries. The room or whatever he was trapped in moved fast. The smell of sweat and severe body odor filled his nose. Instantly, he wished to be unconscious again. He tried to remember what happened as the throbbing pain appeared again. Carefully, he moved his hand towards the bump on his head and something sticky covered his fingertips. A metallic scent filled his nostrils. Blood. In a matter of seconds his memory flashed back to what had happened.
He remembered being deported from Dachau. A soldier pushed him forward forcefully and hit him with the back of his machine gun on his forehead while he shoved him inside the metal wagon. They were moving him to Auschwitz and he instantly knew what this meant.
One tiny mistake and he was doomed for life, he thought. Sighing, he pushed the thought aside. It’s not the time to ponder about a past mistake, it had happened and he couldn’t change it. Instead, he focused on the crowd gathered with him. He almost smelled the fear and anguish that filled the air inside the wagon. The people are scared. Well, who wouldn’t be if you’d be transported to your deathbed. He felt his heart race inside . Of course he was scared to death as well, but he got good at hiding it. He couldn’t change his fate. A sob entered his ears and soft mumbling followed.
“It’s going to be alright, Anna!” He heard a mother soothing her child and emotion gripped his heart.
It wasn’t fair, not at all. All these people were sentenced to death – most of them just innocent people – just because they were different and didn’t fit into the idealism of the Fuehrer. Anger rose inside him and he balled his fists, his fingernails cutting into his flesh. Anew, the sweet metallic scent of blood filled his nose. At least, the scent was better than the one inside the wagon. Just sitting there in the dark room he tried to calm himself and he took everything in, as suddenly his stomach started to rumble. He realized it had been days since he last had something to eat and his throat was sore. Instantly, his limbs started to get numb again and he felt his exhaustion. The ache from his head gnawed at his consciousness, his stomach started to roil, he coughed from thirst and his strength faded due to lack of nutrion and because of all his injuries. Dots of black appeared in front of his inner eye and he lost the grip of reality.
Something hit him and immediately, he jolted awake. His senses rushed back to the present. Blinking rapidly, his eyes got into focus. The wagon had stopped. Running a palm over his face he noted the wet drops on his fingertips and felt his soaked body. Someone awoke him with a bucket of water. He hoped it was water. Licking his lips he tasted the natural flavor of water and his throat thanked him. Fresh air hit his lungs and he took a deep cleansing breath. The scent of wet dirt and woods filled his nose which chased away the stench of the wagon. Relishing the air for a second, he got pushed outside the wagon.
“Move!” A soldier ordered while shoving him forward. He lost his footing and fell face forward into the dirt, his bump hitting the ground and a jolt of pain surged through him.
With all his strength he tried to get up but he was too weak. He attempted to stand up but his hands gave in and plummeted back into the wet grass. Suddenly, someone grabbed him and nudged him forward with the tip of his gun.
“I said move!” Another soldier spat out and he shoved him right into the person in front of him.
Anger filled his chest and a rude remark laid on the tip of his tongue but he bit back, knowing it would only make it worse.
A memory filled his head and emotion tugged on his heart. Once, there was a time where he had respect and pride for the soldiers but know he just dispised them. There was nothing graceful about them.
Shaking away the memory he glanced back and forth, taking in the dreaded few in front of him.
The prisoners from the wagon walked in a straight line towards the gate. Here and there were some soldiers who kept us in line. In front of us, the entrance of Auschwitz towered above us. A high razor wire surrounded the camp, making an escape impossible. On top of the wire were some security posts and the guards pointed their guns at us, ready to fire immediately if someone tried to flee. He swallowed down a lump in his throat.
This was it. His last residence. Fear mixed up with sadness gripped at his heart. He started to shiver. Inside he heard someone yelling, instantly followed by a gunshot.
Everyone in front of him flinched, including him. Silence followed, only the pounding of footsteps echoed through the clouded space. He glanced upwards to the sky as a raindrop fell upon his pale skin. The weather mirrored his emotions. In the distance he heard the rumbling sound of a thunderstorm. Yup, exactly what he felt. The sounds of the footsteps crunching on the grass was almost rhythmic as suddenly there’s and arrhythmia.
He glanced back to the disturbance and instantly everything appeared to happen in slow motion.
A brave prisoner halted for a second before he charged and bolted towards the forest that surrounded the camp. Trying his chances of escape. Captivated, he slowed down his steps and stared at the brave man. He followed his every step, hoping for him to make it. His heart beat fast and he held his breath. In the distance he heard shallow shouts and some guards chased him. The escapee was a few feets ahead. Only a few more steps and he could hide in the woods. Hope started to rise. He could make it. The crowd around him came to a halt and he felt how everyone held their breath staring mesmerized. Some guards tried to made them move again, shoving them forward. They started to move again but they still couldn’t cut their eyes away. He was almost at the woods as a guard tackled him on the ground. The others surrounded them and they started to kick the prisoner, several times. A gasp filled the ground followed by a gunshot which echoed through the eerie silence. He turned his head away immediately, sadness crawled up his heart. The blaring siren came to a halt. He hadn’t even noticed the siren, he was so capivated by the scene. The guards caught up with the line, leaving the dead fellow behind. Another guard came up to him and nudged him ahead to move faster inside.
The crowd was shocked and one dared to move astray nor to speak. A dead silence hung upon them as they entered the camp. He shifted his gaze to the floor and stared at his bare feet.
Once inside, they were piled up in some sort of cage. He let his gaze wander around the scenery. The crowd he came in with was captured in a small space, which was surrounded by high razor-wired fences. On his left and right sight were the same cages as the one he was in. People, lots of people, filled the cages and there were at least nine or ten cages. In each cage were around two-hundred people. All of these people were sentenced to death. A sorrow feeling caught his heart and his strength left him. He slid down onto the floor, pressing his face against the fence. The cool feeling of metal on his cheek soothed his raging emotions. He stared at the soldiers hurrying around the camp, moving from one cement building into another. Assumingly these were the offices, residences and command central of the SS. In a matter of second, the scent of fresh food filled his nose and his stomach started to rumble again. Staring ahead he noted the canteen for the soldiers was just around the corner. Probably, there on purpose to punish them even more. He let his gaze sink into the dirt, ignoring the mouthwatering smell of food. The clouds chased away the sun and there’s barely daylight, announcing the coming nightfall.
Hours passed since their arrival and the night sank. The only thing spending brightness were floodlights which were gathered around the camp. A strange tension and an awkward silence hung in the air. Everything stood still, everyone held their breathing. He observed some soldiers storming into one of the cages and picking out some of the prisoners. A whimpering noise resounded through the air followed by sobs and screams. The soldiers led the chosen ones away from the cage and towards a cement chamber, cramming them inside. Without even looking at it he immediately knew what was going to happen. He glanced away, not wanting to see their deaths. But that didn’t matter. In a matter of minutes he heard their screams through the thick walls. He had to cover his ears to block out their screams. Grief filled his chest and a tear slipped down his cheek. He was one of them soon.
Since they had gotten here, they didn’t get something to eat nor to drink. His injuries didn’t get better at all and he had difficulties to stay conscious. In the distance a creaking sound reverberated through the air and the smell of death hit him, combined with the stench of unwashed bodies and extremities. Thankfully, his nose wasn’t working all that well, he thought. He examined his meager bodystructure looking for undiscovered injuries, noting how many pounds he had lost since his capture. Before everything happened he had had a tall, firm and strong stature, the stature of a soldier with a lot of pride, respect and joy. But now, he had none of this. Everything he ever was vanished and left was a lean, pathetic lump of garbage. He wasn’t himself anymore. As he scrutinized his body he noted a lot of bruises on his forearms. Touching his facial features he felt his sunken cheekbones and his crooked nose, which was still broken. Disappointment clung in his body, he didn’t recognize his own features anymore. He had had a handsome face with a straight nose and defined cheekbones. Not anymore, he thought. Leaning his head against the fence he closed his eyes and his fingertips touched the bump on his head. It got smaller but it still hurt as hell. The wound started to pulsate and it felt hot. Probably dirt had gotten inside and now it was inflamed. Great, that’s what he needed. The throbbing spreaded thorughout his body and his head got dizzy.
“How much of this pain can I endure?” He mumbled to himself. He didn’t know how long he could survive like this.
Closing his eyes, he longed to get to the bliss of passing out, not feeling anything. After a few heartbeat his breath evened and he drifted into sleep. An image of his family crossed his mind and he got haunted by his past in his sleep.
A scream filled his ears and he startled awake. Panting he looked around, horrified. Eyes wide opened he glanced around, looking for the source of the scream. His heart beat fast in his chest and his veins pulsated, pumping boiling blood through his body. Spotting the source, he observed the fight that took place in a cage on his left. Two captives were fighting over food. He watched them and didn’t notice the soldiers who came in to bring them some food as well. Captured by the scene in the other cage he ignored his food. Soldiers stormed into the cage and tore the fighters apart. Muffled voices drifted to his ears from the other cage as one of the guards punched the culprit and with one swift move broke his neck. He flinched and turned away immediately, his gaze landed on his own food. Disgusted he stared at it and he shoved it away, losing his appetite. Glancing around his own cage his gaze landed on a family next to him. A father with his wife and child sat next to them. The child looked starved, even more than him. He heard her speak.
“Mommy, I’m still hungry!” The little girl said, tears in her eyes and her stomach rumbled. A sad look appeared on the mothers face and she stroked her daughters hair. “I know, Gretchen! I know!” She pulled her daughter to her chest and the father sniffled.
He tore his gaze away, suppressing his own tears and it landed on his food. He reacted before his mind had the chance to rattle about the thought that hit him. Without thinking it through he grabbed his food and crawled over to the family. He hadn’t had the strength to walk over there.
“Here, take my food!” He whispered and his gaze swept around the cage hoping no one would see them.
The father hesitated as he looked at him. He probably noted how bad he looked and thought he would need it for himself. As if he didn’t know, but his heart ached for the little girl. So, he pushed the food a little farther towards them.
His pleading eyes met theirs. “It’s okay!” He mumbled and nodded towards the little girl. Hesitantly she took the food and ate hastily.
A smile appeared on his face. The father of the girl nodded gratefully and squeezed his hand ever so slightly.
“Thank you…!” He looked at him questioning, as if he wanted to know who he should thank for.
He grinned. “Thomas! My name is Thomas!” He smiled.
The father nodded. “Thank you, Thomas!”
Thomas, scuttled back to his place as suddenly the sound of the soldiers drew his attention. They ripped open the cage and stormed straight towards him.
Uh-oh, he thought. This means trouble. Swallowing down a lump in his throat he straightened himself, preparing for whatever the soldiers would do to him.
A punch jerked his face to his right and he spat out blood. The soldier continued to punch him several more times until he pulled out a knife from his belt and poked it into his abdomen, on purpose. Thomas glanced at his face and recognition hit him. With wide eyes he stared at the soldier knowing this is not just about the thing with the food it’s more than that. Twisting the knife inside his belly the soldier leaned down and breathed into his face.
“This is what happens with traitors!” The soldier growled and spat in his face. With one swift move he pulled the knife out and turned on his heels to leave.
Shock wandered around his fellow captives and they stared at him, fear written all over their eyes.
Pain surged through his body and he coughed up blood. Lots of blood. Covering his wound he tried to stop the bleeding but it wouldn’t stop. His body winced and he started to shiver. His body, one lump pain and weakness. Fear filled his chest and he couldn’t help it but tears spilled down his face. He was done with everything. With fluttering eyelids he was fighting consciousness again. But this time he couldn’t. He had no strength left. Everything went black.
His body started to shudder. A dull voice filled his ears. Blinking rapidly he tried to focus on the voice. Everything in his vision was blurry and his head spun.
“Come on! You’re not going to die on me!” Someone whispered and something cold pressed onto his wounds. He flinched in pain and suppressed the urge to scream. He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t draw attention to them. Not wanting his savior to get punished for his sins. Pressing his eyes together he tried to focus on the face which was helping him. His vision started to clear and he recognized the father of the little girl whom he’d giving his food.
“Thank goodness, you’re still alive!” The father slid down next to him and exhaled.
“Thank you!” Thomas coughed and examined his wound. It still hurt but it was bandaged, cleaned and it stopped bleeding. That was a good sign, wasn’t it?
He looked puzzled at the wound and then at Thomas. As if he was knowing what Thomas was thinking he answered.
“I’m a doctor…or was!” He explained and sadness hushed over his face. Still puzzled, Thomas looked at him, not understanding what a doctor would do inside the camp. Taking a closer look he perceived why. He was jewish. The doctor saw his look and knew what he was thinking.
“Before we got here, my family and I were a decent living family. I was a doctor and my wife Esther, was a tailor. We earned mediocre and we didn’t mean harm. One day a troop of soldiers came into our town and raided us just because they thought we were different. So, we ended up here, being sentenced for death just because of our blood.” He told and Thomas clearly heard his anger in his voice. He could understand his hatred.
“So, why are you here? You don’t look like someone who got here because of his blood!” The doctor asked and pointed to his blond, curly hair and blue eyes. Thomas glanced away immediately as guilt washed over him. He feared he would ask this question. His memory went back to the old day before he got captured. Instantly, he closed his eyes and glanced away, not standing the courage to face him. Regret filled his chest as he sighed.
“I was one of them!” He said and pointed to the soldiers. The doctor inhaled sharply and Thomas could feel that he shifted slightly away from him. He didn’t blame him. He had done some very cruel things, which he regretted. He exhaled as well, he hated that part of himself as well.
“Before I got captured I was a SS soldier. I was proud and respected, I had a family, a little sister…” He continued and his gaze landed on Gretchen, who reminded him a little of his own sister. “I was engaged to the most wonderful woman.” He said dreamily and his chest tightened with emotion for everything he had lost. He could feel the doctors cold and hateful eyes on him. Resigning, he started to speak again. “I was assigned to raid a jewish town with my troup. When we came there, my general told me to raid this house and I followed his orders. I got inside the house and found a family….” He paused swallowing down the emotion that tugged at his heart. “My order was to kill the family. I pointed my gun at them, finger on my trigger but I didn’t do it. I couldn’t. I stared at their little boy, fear being in his eyes and tears spilling down his face. I knew they were innocent, they didn’t do anything. My general came inside and pushed me to kill them. He told me ‘They are impure. They deserve to die’. He forced me to kill them and I was torn. I held my gun at my side, shaking. My mind raced in my head. And I made my decision. I pointed my gun and pulled the trigger. The bullet flew straight through my generals chest.” He exhaled and he heard the doctor took in air as well. Glancing at him he stared at him shocked in disbelief.
“I couldn’t stand working for someone who damned innocent people. Judging people by their bloods. My troup came in immediately and took me as a captive. In their eyes I was a traitor to the Fuehrer.” He pointed to his wound. “That’s why that guard stabbed me. Because I am a traitor. I knew him from my training as a soldier. We trained together and shared a room together.” Thomas explained and he didn’t know why he said it.
There was a silence between them and Thomas glanced at the doctor but he just stared at him with wide eyes. Probably, because he despised him and regretted helping him. Turning away Thomas faced the people that surrounded him. How many of these people were here because of him?, he asked himself and immediately regretted it. Tears spilled down his face as he observed the scared people who just sat there on the filthy floor and waited for their deaths. Innocent people, well most of them. He felt how his life force slimmed. He had let down his family. He had let down his wife, who probably sat at home and grieved over his absence and his decisions. He had let down all of these people, maybe even sentenced some of them to death. He disappointed the doctor who had helped him. His emotion took the overhand and he let them consume himself, poising in his physical and emotional pain.
A siren caught his attention and the people held their breaths. He knew the signal very well. It was time again. Cries filled the open space. The soldiers strode inside his cage this time and the prisoners scurried away from them hoping they wouldn’t choose them. Fear was written all over their faces. But who could blame them. They didn’t want to die. All of a sudden he wondered what’s worse being picked out to die or waiting everyday to be picked out and living in fear all day long? As he pondered on the question he noticed the soldiers had picked out Gretchen. Her father stiffened next to him, he hushed forward and pleaded with the guards but they just pushed him down punching him in his jaw. Esther sat there crying her eyes out and crawled to her injured husband. Gretchen’s eyes widened in horror and tears streamed down her cheeks. Without even realizing what he was doing Thomas struggled to his feet and tumbled over to the guard who held Gretchen. Thomas knew exactly what he had to. Straight in front of the guard he punched his old roommate in his face and knocked him on his butt. He lost his grip on Gretchen. The girl scurried to her family. Rubbing his jaw the guard got up and shot Thomas an evil glare. Straightening his posture Thomas glared right back at him, not showing any sign of fear.
“Let her go!” He said and his voice sounded through the tensioned air. “And take me instead!” The people around him gasped in shock.
A cruel grin spreaded across the guards face and he grabbed Thomas by his forearm and dragged him outside. Obviously happy he made it so easy for him.
“As you wish!” He snarled in his ear. “I have something very special for a traitor like you! You think you’re a hero. But you’re just a stupid, pathetic boy!”
Thomas glanced back at the family and gratitude washed over their faces. That’s the least thing I could do, he thought. She was spared for a period of time and able to live. Not that he could say the same about himself. Sooner or later, if he was not going to be picked out he was going to die because of his injuries anyway. So why wait instead of speeding up the unavoidable?
He made his decision.
The guard made a show off of him. He put him down in front of the cage, forced him down on his knees in the eyes of everyone and pointed his gun at him. A gunshot echoed through the silence as the bullet hit him. Thomas slumped down on his face, pain rushed through his body and blood streamed out of the wound. The guard made him suffer. The bullet didn’t kill him instantly but it would sooner or later. Paralysed he just lay there on the floor facing the expressions of the prisoners as life slowly left his body and he bled to death, painfully.