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The Night of Shattered Myth
9th November, 1938
Just as our truck neared the corner of the Heidereuter Alley, the moon retired behind the clouds. Shards of glass littered the pavement. The night was filled with desperate shrieks, breaking glass, gunshots, and pleas for mercy.
Our orders: to ship these savage fools with yellow stars to extermination camps.
Our duty: to follow without question.
Our job: to kill.
The coal-black swastika on the rear of the truck showed a ghastly grin. Peace is a fool’s concept. War is the imperial truth. The synagogues heaved desperately, and thousands of Jews prayed for escape.
The orders were precise, “Execute as many children as you wish. They eat, yet can’t work.” Men and women would be sent to separate extermination-camps to be starved or tortured until death arrived as a welcome release.
As I was loading the emaciated Jewish children into the truck, I felt something tug at my shirt sleeve. Disgusted, I turned to find a bony child with hollow eyes. My duty was to kill, but something about him was familiar. And then it dawned on me. “Abbott?”
The child nodded. “I am Issao, Abbott’s son. They killed my father.” Tears welled in his eyes.
I suddenly remembered the pool we had loved as children, Abbott and I playing our reeds at the lake’s edge. Our different religions never came between us until Herr Hitler began his crazy rampage. When I was taught about the Jewish scourge, I hadn’t wanted to think about my friend. And now, looking into his son’s eyes, I was no longer a soldier. I was just a human being, an indebted friend.
I knew I was making a terrible mistake. I could almost hear the Führèr screaming, “Treason! Death!” But, the one speck of humanity that still blotted my soul rebelled. Acting on instinct, I checked to make sure the children were seated safely in back and bolted the latch. I turned the key and the truck’s engine rumbled to life. The swastika glared at me. Treachery? Death! As I sped off with the truckload of gaunt children, the moon abandoned its hideout and lit my way. Children were crying from hunger and fear and I was in disbelief. How could anyone justify the murder of innocent children?
Near the heavily guarded Berlin border, my heart began racing faster. There was no way I could pass through without getting shot. I prayed for a miracle.
As I neared the gates, the guard stopped me. “Your pass?”
“I, well…the orders were last moment. I’m shipping this scum out of Berlin. Here’s my badge.” He eyed me suspiciously. I flipped him a couple of Reichsmarks. “For bier!”
The guard saluted and, with a cry of “Heil Hitler,” opened the gates.
Driving away from Berlin, I racked my brain for connections I could use for the children’s safety, but most of the people or places I knew were far too risky. And then I remembered Paul, my childhood teacher and the kindest man I had ever known. He was my only hope. I made my way toward the familiar village from my youth.
As I reached the outskirts of town, I was comforted by the familiar sights. I drove through the village, past the solitary willow tree and my old church, and turned onto a dirt road marked by a rusty signboard advertising cheeses and fresh milk. I pulled to a stop in front of the farmhouse, got out, and knocked on the door, but when I asked for Paul, the woman shook her head.
“Please, Paul was my friend and teacher when I was a boy.”
She hesitated, wiping her sturdy hands on her apron. “Follow me,” she said, and stepped outside to lead me around the house toward the barn where a man with gray hair and rimmed glasses sat on a bench, reading. He looked up at my uniform in alarm.
“Paul,” I whispered. “Is that really you?”
“Have we met?”
“It’s Alfred. I’ve come for a refresher on formulas,” I said.
Paul flashed me a cautious smile and said, “Come sit, my friend. I had one particular formula that has stayed with me all these years.”
I sat beside him, laughing in relief as he gave my head the same sturdy knuckling I remembered from my childhood. He introduced me to his wife and began filling me in on the goings on at the farm, the cows, and children. It was if we had never been apart. But could I trust him with the children’s lives? With my life? Was it fair to ask him to risk his own life? His family and farm?
Before I could ask these questions, his wife was coming back around the house with two of the children. “There’s more, Paul.” She held their little hands tenderly, but her face reflected the horror of our situation.
Paul looked surprised as I broke into tears. “I, we, need your help. I’m sorry to ask, but they’re just children. Innocent children.”
Paul’s kindness and moral integrity was unchanged. He immediately agreed to help the children with this risky endeavor. Two of his farmhands emerged from the barn to help unload the children and get them into the house. Some were barely alive. As the children were carried inside, I again felt a tug. “Did you know my father?” asked the boy.
I lifted the bony, weightless thing into my arms and kissed his dirty forehead. “Don’t worry. They’ll take good care of you.” I couldn’t answer his question, admit what a selfish, bloodthirsty cut-throat his father had once befriended.
“It’s time you leave,” Paul said. “Your truck will attract attention.”
I nodded, as Paul’s wife took Issao’s hand.
“May God bless you! We’ll take care of them,” my friend promised.
As I hoisted myself into the truck, the sky was illuminated with a brilliant orange hue. Even if I died today, I had no regrets. For once, I had been my own Führèr.