The Real Injustice

July 31, 2008
By Natalie Coogan, Littleton, CO

5:30a.m.: The jarring ring sounded more like a thousand jackhammers than an alarm clock. All around the 10 by 8 foot room a maroon Santa Fe dawn flooded in, casting my barrack bunk as a skeletal silhouette. My worldly possessions sat spilling off a cheap fold out table two feet away.

I flipped through the 1945 calendar in the hall outside my door which had the words Nazi movie night written in the box marked the 14th, tonight. The movies had been passed as mandatory for every Prisoner of War camp in the U.S. by the War Department in order to educate Germans about the holocaust going on. Everyone was forced to go, and I was glad. To me, all Germans were the same: Nazis, or too weak to stand up against the injustice of their country.

6:00 a.m.: I started up the shower which only drizzled half heartedly and had temperature mood swings. Wet and moody myself, I headed down to the mess hall to grab an apple and some toast. Once inside, I saw why someone might call it a ‘mess’ hall. German prisoners of war were everywhere, sloshing milk down their faces, or dropping dime sized chunks of lord knows what into their laps, their beady eyes flashing across the room to where the Americans stood. “Just yesterday a German named Georg escaped from a camp in New Hampshire,” I overheard a guard say. He chuckled obscenely. “Didn’t make it far, that fellow. He tried to hitch hike outta there, and caught a ride with the local police chief himself.”

I was surprised prisoners ever tried to escape camp. They were treated well because of the ‘Geneva Convention,’ which stated that all prisoners of war are to be treated humanely. The people who made the Convention thought Germany could be persuaded to surrender if they realized what a nice country we are, and how humanely we treat their people. I think it’s all ridiculous. If I was encamped over in Germany, they would just starve, torture, or kill me, like they did to the new guards who joined the POW camp here in Santa Fe recently. Apparently, they came from a POW camp in Germany that starved and marched them all the way from Belgium to Germany. When I looked over at the new guards who had been abused by the Germans, they were laughing and joking with the prisoners. It seemed odd.

Across the room was the director of the mess hall, Mr. Hoffman. He was laughing too, but embarrassingly hard, with Peter Czyba, my least favorite of all the Germans. Peter seemed to get the idea that Mr. Hoffman might be his friend. He was decorating a cake as he did day after day, as if that stupid cake was a masterpiece. It didn’t even look good for so much time and effort, and I wished they would put him to real work.

7:30 a.m.: Peter stood up and translated for Mr. Hoffman to German for all of the prisoners eating breakfast. He was giving them orders for the day. They all stood up and lined up across the room. A quarter walked out, and I watched them slouch across the grounds to another building for “re-education,” the second best thing to movie night. In the re-education program the Germans got “de-Nazified” and were taught about the democratic way of life, the constitution of the United States, American family life, and the world of today and Germany. Out a window on the other end of the mess hall several pickup trucks pulled up, and most of the remaining Germans piled in them to go to work, usually in fields, or to cut lumber. I didn’t know who would want Nazis and cowards working for them, but apparently someone did. I suppose it was the government.

7:00 p.m. Late that night, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the movie on Nazis. When I walked by, I heard a few small cries and sobs escape someone’s lips from inside, which rekindled my fury about the outrageous injustice in Germany! I realized I’d been to the mess hall twice that day, but I went once more for a quiet place to think. No one would be there at this time of day. Inside were looming shadows, and a flickering fluorescent light. A fat fly buzzed by my face. Peter was still there, and he perked up when he saw me.

“You’re a Nazi,” I screamed. “Look what you and you’re kind did to Germany. Have you even been to see one of the movies? Or do you not care about the injustice taking place?!”

There was a long silence.

“I baked you a cake,” He said. He handed it to me, and then left.

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