Compassion

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It was cold for April, but then again, warmth had been scarce since we'd been ripped from our homes nearly a year ago. The wind blew droplets of water that clung to my dirt-smeared face like ice. The chalky moon was full and its light cast a soft, almost welcoming glow upon the two Nazis merely yards before us. We, my wife and young daughter, had put our faith in the dozen or so other Jews scattered throughout the forest; any one of them could give us all away.

“Dummer jüdischer Abschaum, sollten sie alle getötet werden und wir würden heraus nicht hier in der Kälte sein,” the tall Nazi said. Stupid Jewish scum, they should all just be killed and we wouldn't be out here in the cold. The other nodded in agreement.
“Wir wissen, daß du dort bist. Kein Gebrauch, der dich schmutzige Ratten versteck,” the shorter one said, amused. We know you're there. No use hiding you filthy rats. I turned my head carefully to look at my family, possibly for the last time. Little Chava was asleep in Sarah’s shaking arms. Cautiously I turned the other way to face a man. He was looking at me, deranged almost. He licked his lips and spoke so softly it could have been the wind. “Freiheit,” he murmured. Freedom. “Lebn. “ Life. And then he leapt. Shouting, shooting. A woman wailed farther off. Her scream was cut off. More shooting, shouting, running, and the sound of bodies hitting the ground. It’s over, I thought. A strange stillness came upon me. I was calm because I had accepted the inevitable. Peering around the wide trunk, however, I came face to face with not an Angel of Death but two grinning Jews, proudly sitting upon their Nazi captives, who thrashed hopelessly beneath them. One of them was my cousin, Shmuel, who laughed when he saw me. Sarah looked at me and I motioned to her that it was safe to come out. Others, too, were letting their curiosity guide them into a circle around the men. The first deranged man was dead, crumpled to the side, a smile on his face. Over his body a woman was praying.

At my feet lay a discarded gun. Leaning down, I grasped its smooth, cool handle. It was such a beautiful thing, yet I knew that it had been used to kill many of my own kind. I followed as a Nazi was thrown to his feet and thrust towards a tree deeper into the forest. The women and children need not be worried with a man’s work. Shmuel held him fast behind it, out of harm’s way. I had never seen a Nazi so helpless. It should have felt empowering, but it left a strange guilt in me. I lifted the gun and steadied it on my shoulder. Every inch of my body was taut; my hand brushed the trigger, but it somehow seemed frozen to me. Looking into the whites of the man’s eyes, I knew he was going to live. I had never taken another human’s life before, and although this man had claimed many, I was not going to take his. Throwing the gun to the side, it skidded to a halt. Shmuel looked at me confused, almost disgusted. “Why would you do that?” he spat. The Nazi looked at me, and a faint smile of the deepest gratitude crossed his lips. I answered simply “Freiheit.” Freedom. “Lebn.” Life.





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