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“Hello?” I called into my house after opening and closing the door behind me. It had been one of my usual uneventful days at work, and I had been looking forward to seeing my wife and children, but something didn’t seem right. Usually, my children would have ran towards the door as I was opening it, and I would have smelled the wonderful aromas of my wife’s cooking, but nothing of the sort was happening today. I walked further into my house and turned left into the kitchen, where things looked like they had been left mid-making, such as uncooked bread left on the counter. To further my worry, I saw a note left by the stove, written, or more like scribbled, in my wife’s handwriting:
Susan has warned us of the coming of the German army.
The word is that we will be forced to labor,
But I have a strong feeling, my husband, that it is more than that.
Susan refused to tell me all of it, only that she overheard the mayor
talk to a man in uniform.
She told me of horrid people, coming to do horrid things.
Susan is hysterical, so I am taking her and the children to the secret place.
Remember that we are safe there, but do not come after us.
I beg of you, for they are already in town, not to follow.They are watching everyone, now burn this for the safety of our children.
I stared at this is and read it again, vainly hoping for the rereading to change the meaning. When it didn’t, I mindlessly started a fire burning in the fireplace, and threw the note into the flames when they were at their fullest strength. Looking back on my memories, there were men in uniform walking our streets, but I had paid no attention, like an ignorant man wanting to get to better things, which I was. I sat down and watched the flames burn the note as I thought of the seriousness of what had just happened. My wife and children had just escaped the grasp of the German by going to their relatives in a faraway place, which is all I knew about it. She had always called it the secret place, but had never told me where it was, and I never worried or pressured her into telling me, so even if I did want to follow her I wouldn’t be able to. She had also told me of a fate I had no way of escaping, an unknown fate. There suddenly was a pounding on my door, I reluctantly got up and looked through the peephole to see a man in uniform making the racket. I promptly opened the door after seeing this. He looked at me, and started to nod with a slight smile on his face. He then gestured his buddies over and asked, “Where is the rest of your family?” It took all my will not to look worried, but I managed to come up with a smart reply, “Due to marriage troubles, my wife and children have left me… She took them out of her anger a couple of nights ago.” The man looked a little irritated by this news, but with his reply came another smile, “I am terribly sorry, Mister?”
“Well Mr. Wielgo, I’m afraid you will have to come with us.” He then pulled out a gun from his jacket and gestured me to follow his buddies. I followed, trying not to stare at the gun and watch where I was going, which was to the train tracks with other men that they had taken, along with woman and children. When we arrived they started to shout at us to get in a cattle car. I was directed towards an almost full one, which I ran to, as was instructed by the men. The door was then shut, and I started looking at the people around me, seeing if my wife or children were aboard. They were not for what little I could see, and I hoped they weren’t on any; I hoped this even more for the next passing days, for the conditions were inhuman.
We were given no food or water, and we literally had to stand in our own waste. The days and nights were filled with the moans from the dying, the hungry, and the thirsty. I lost track of day and night, but I would assume it was maybe three days. We stopped every once in awhile to pick up new prisoners, but I was only scared for my wife and children. What if they were going through this? What if they were starving or thirsty? Dying even? It plagued me night and day, obsessing my thoughts.
Next to me was a woman with her baby, after about two days in the cattle car the baby had died, for the woman was not producing milk enough to feed the baby. The woman screamed and moaned for her loss, every single one of them piercing our minds. Her husband tried to sooth her but she had gone hysterical with grief. When the baby had started to decay, another man grabbed the tiny thing and passed to others until the baby was thrown out the window. The woman then stared in shock at him and the others who cooperated, she sobbed without tears into her husband’s chest. Who comforted her as much as he could. She eventually calmed down, but was forever silent the rest of the journey, but not much was left.
What felt like only hours after her calming down, the door was opened. We were counted and then herded towards a place with a sign that said “Birkenau.” I heard whispers of people wondering what the place was. Whatever it was, it smelled of death because if death could smell, this is what it smelled like. Suddenly, a man in uniform yelled a command, “Men to the left! Women to the right!” I saw the woman who had had the baby eyes immediately widen, she looked at her husband with a pained expression, he kissed her on the forehead and gently directed her to the right. I could see he was on the verge of tears as he watched his wife, but I believe he kept himself together to be strong for her, for she was looking back as she went until he was out of view. “Form ranks of five!” they again commanded us, and we obeyed. I ended up in the same rank as the man who had been separated from his wife. “What’s your name?” I asked him. “Benedykt…” He mumbled, but with more confidence said, “What is your name?” to which I replied, “Edmund.” We shook hands, and waited silently in our ranks. We then started to follow the others in marching towards another man in uniform. This particular man had a baton and was directing people to the left and right with it. Benedykt, being in front of me, went first. “Your age?” Asked the man in uniform,
“Twenty-three.” He answered devoid of emotion,
“In good health?” He again asked, squinting his eyes behind his monocle.
“Farmer,” He finished, and the baton was waved to the left.
“Your age?” He repeated to me.
“In good health?”
“Accountant.” I answered, but the man didn’t immediately wave his baton to the left, at first he started to inspect me with his eyes: He looked at me up and down my somewhat built body, and then with a smile waved me to the left. I ran and caught up with Benedykt, who looked behind and managed a smile at me, which I returned, but the smiles were quickly extinguished, for ahead we were witnessing a horror of the holocaust.
I saw many tears escape from Benedykt’s eyes, as he watched small children and babies being poured by a nearby truck into a ditch of flames. We looked even further ahead and saw a larger one for adults, which we were headed for, but I saw a smile on Benedykt’s face. He is happy that his wife is safe, I thought to myself, only a prisoner and would not face the horrible death of the flames, but his smile was again torn from his face as we were ordered to the barracks. “My wife… Was to the right…” He whispered to me, his anguish showing through his eyes. “My Cecylia …” He began to cry repeatedly into his hands. I just stared at him, for nothing I could do would help this man, nothing. I then started to lead him to the barracks, for he was blinded with his tears and could not have done it himself. When we arrived, there were people using sticks and things to strike others; however, these were not people of the recent load of the Polish, such as I was, and these exact people shouted commands at us. “Get undressed! Strip! Lose the clothes! Now! Keep your belt and shoes only!” These orders rang in our brains as they repeated them over and over again, striking us with their sticks to make us go faster, as if we were freight animals and they wanted us to carry our load with efficiency. We were all naked, but nobody seemed to care as we shook in the cold, what we had already endured had been worse, or it just seemed that way, for we were already detaching ourselves from reality; this was just too much to bear. Some men in uniform began to search the room, grabbing all the strong looking men; among the grabbed were Benedykt and I. We looked at one another with furrowed eyebrows, wondering whether or not this was a good thing. We were brought to a barber, where they shaved all the hairs on our bodies, and the next things were a blur. After they had told us to start running, I had just run without thought. They commanded us to immerse ourselves in disinfectant, and take showers, I obeyed them mindlessly, but through my mask, I saw Benedykt do these things with a pained face, as if he had realized something terrible, something that was going to happen.
I was awoken from my dream of nothingness from Benedykt’s voice, it was pained but urgent, “Do you have new shoes? They are requesting them…” I shook my head, “Neither of use have new shoes…” He mumbled to the man in uniform who had escorted us here, the man then struck Benedykt, who fell towards me and I caught him, he looked infuriated. “What do you call me?” He shouted in our faces, to which we promptly replied, “Sir.” He struck both of us this time, “Remember that! You foolish good-for-nothings!” By now, both of us decided that this was not a good thing to be chosen as, we were then lead towards a room with clothing inside, which were ordered to put on. After in our new garb, a man who appeared in his forties walked toward us. “Hello men! I will be your instructor and supervisor today! One for a day, the other for most of your time here! Or if you are lucky, maybe you will also be a supervisor!” He bellowed with a smile on his face, but I could see that he had something to hide behind that smile, and I could tell Benedykt could too, for his eyebrows were furrowed at the man. The men in uniform left us to be lead by the man to an immense building, what seemed to be the back of it. “We will wait here until given the signal…” The man said with a smile, but just as before, you could tell there was an immense sadness behind it.
Benedykt and I looked at one another, I could sense he was worried about what was in the building, his face showed it: his eyebrows were furrowed, mouth in a small frown, eyes darting from place to place. Benedykt’s eyes suddenly opened wide, and I, being curious, looked in the direction in which is surprise was coming from: a man in uniform was giving some sort of signal to the supervisor. “Alright, Men!” Shouted the instructor after talking to the man in uniform, “your job is to take the things in this building to the other building with the smoking coming out of it! All who refuse will be shot!” He then pointed to the gun the man in uniform had, “Is this clear?”
“Yes, Sir!” We all shouted, and then the supervisor grabbed Benedykt and I by the shoulder, he beckoned us to help him open the door, we complied.
A horrid screeching noise came as we pushed, along with a horrible site. The naked bodies of women, children, and the elderly were collapsed on top of one another, all of them dead. I looked away, tears falling from my eyes for many reasons. I thought about how many innocent were dead, I thought about whether or not my wife and children were dead or currently dying, but for the most part, I thought about what Benedykt would be going through because there was no doubt that his wife was here, and from what I could tell, he was a smart man and probably would know, but he was pushing by the front of the door and wasn’t on the side like me, so he hadn’t seen it yet. The door was closed and Benedykt had backed up to see what was behind it, the look on his face being one of utter despair. He had begun to collapse and I ran over to catch him from falling onto the ground. He was sobbing into his hands and refused to let me help him up, but I went behind him and pulled him up from under his arms, and dragged him into the building, where he tore himself away from my grasp running: he had spotted his wife. When he got there he just stopped and screamed and moaned for his loss on his knees, but a gunshot ended it all: the man in uniform had got him in the back of the head. He fell dead onto his wife’s body, his scream and the sound that ended his life still ringing in my ears.
After Benedykt’s death, we were shouted at to move all the bodies to the crematory. I will never forget that I had to carry him to the cursed building, his head half blown off. I had worked quickly without thought as to get it over with, but that had done me no good at all, for after a few days of this they made me a supervisor myself instead of being killed like the rest of the picked men from my load, I accepted only because I wanted to know the fate of my wife and children, even if it cost my love for myself and I what I had done in my life, which it did. Day after day of the cursed morning when I accepted the job, I lead men to their dead mothers, fathers, spouses, and children. I never did learn the fate of my wife and children, even sitting here writing this do I wonder their fate, which I hope was not one I supervised.
To end off this tragic short story, I have to say, I regret many things, but nothing as much as helping Hitler’s cause. Despite the fact I hated doing it, I still did it, I didn’t refuse, which I should have, but I knowingly helped. I will never forgive myself because I live on today, whilst there are others who were more brave and much more honorable who would have refused the offer of living and betraying human kind. I should have never been given that cursed chance, which will burden my mind forever. I shall also never forgive myself for keeping quiet the world’s most horrid deed, one that destroyed the lives of many. Lastly, I want to say that it has brought up many memories to write this, many painful things, but I will forgive myself for that, for it brought you a story, a tragic story, that must be realized for the horror it is.