I don’t even know where I am.
There’s a girl in the room next to me and she knows how to use Morse Code. We send each other messages by tapping on the wall.
“Where are we?” I asked her when I first realized we could talk.
She just said that we were in France somewhere. But that’s not a whole lot of help.
I don’t know what day it is. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It could have been a year since I got here for all I can tell. I don’t even know what the weather is like. They have cranked up the heating in my room on purpose, and it’s so hot in here that my fingers are slipping on this pen because they’re covered in sweat.
I think I’m lucky though. The girl in the room next to me is freezing to death.
I think this place is an old abandoned hotel in some town somewhere that I’ve never heard of. I know it’s a hotel because I got a quick look at it when they brought me inside. Also, my room looks like a bedroom that hasn’t been used in a long time.
“They” are the Gestapo, of course. I think there are about ten or so other prisoners besides me being kept in this house. Mostly all I see of them is their feet as they are taken past my door. There is a crack underneath the door that is wide enough to see under, so I spend a lot of my time lying flat on my stomach to watch the floor of the hallway outside. Occasionally I recognize a pair of shoes.
Unfortunately the officer who is in charge of me knows that I like to lie there, and once or twice he has opened the door into my face. My nose might be broken.
Now I am sitting against the wall farthest from the door. I can hear everything in the house more or less clearly, so it will be easy to put this notebook away if I hear the officer coming.
When I got here, they took away everything but my clothes, which means I no longer have a watch. If I did, I might know what day it is and what time of day. I don’t know exactly why they took it away, but the officer told to me that it was because they didn’t want me to hurt myself with it (as if I could stab myself with a watch). They want me alive for now. Well, actually, they only want me alive as long as I can provide them with the information they want.
I will not tell them
I will not I will not I will not I will not I will not I will not
They call me “laddie.” I don’t know why. Maybe it makes them feel big. I have not told them my name so everyone calls me “the Resistance laddie”—even the other prisoners, who have also not told anyone their names. We don’t talk to each other much, but there’s a mutual feeling of friendship.
The first thing they did to try and get me to talk was to hold my head in a bucket of ice-water until I passed out. After three or four repetitions of this, I still hadn’t told them who I was, and they seemed to realize that maybe doing the same thing over and over wasn’t going to get anyone anywhere.
There’s a room down the hall that they use for “interrogations.” It’s bare and I think it used to be another bedroom, when this place was still being used as a house. After the ice-water treatment, they carry me back and I wake up on the floor of my room, freezing cold, even though the temperature in my room is enough to make a camel sweat.
I can’t figure out whether they want to freeze me or burn me to death. One will win out eventually.
I can ot writ t day. Burn fing rs
That last thing I wrote was the result of a new method of “interrogation.” All they’ve asked me so far is who I am. This new method involves holding a lit match to my fingers and asking me the same two questions over and over and over and over and over and over
What is your name? Who are you?
When I first got here I pretended that I couldn’t understand their terrible French. Now they know when I’m lying and it’s no good anymore.
It’s probably been at least three days since they burned my fingers (although of course I really have no idea). There are blisters everywhere. They allowed me a roll of bandages to wrap my hands in, and since then the burns have healed nicely.
I like the ice-water treatment better. I’m afraid of not being able to write if they keep this new method up for much longer.
They have two objectives: to get the information they want from me, and to drive me crazy. They’re more likely to succeed with the second one at this rate. The fact that I haven’t had anyone to talk to besides the girl in the room next to me for weeks (I don’t know—months?) alone is enough to drive me crazy. This notebook is the only thing that keeps me calm most of the time.
I lost my temper. I am so stupid.
Never lose your temper with a German officer!
They were burning my fingers again, on my left hand, and my other hand they had handcuffed to the back of the chair I was sitting in. They kept asking me who I was. I have heard nothing but that question for the last—(day? week? month?)—and hearing it makes me feel worse than feeling the heat under my finger.
I was kneeling on the ashy floor, the grit of the texture digging through the fabric of my trousers and into the skin of my knees. Cigarette smoke filled the room. They never allowed a window to be open, and the sick smell of the room was months old.
One of the three officers—the one in charge of me—dragged me up by the sleeve of my jacket from where I was seated on the floor, and sat me down in the rickety wooden chair (the one real piece of furniture in that room). In the process, he managed to scrape his burning cigarette across my cheek. It left a burn mark from my mouth to my ear. He leaned himself against the wall next to me, sticking the cigarette between his teeth.
I couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do. None of them said anything for a solid two minutes. Then, as if the world had suddenly turned upside down, he took out a pack of cigarettes and held it out to me.
I looked at the pack, then up at his face. He was toying with me.
I ripped the pack out of his hands and tore it in half before he could grab it back. Then I flung the two pieces onto the floor and ground them into the gravelly floor with the sole of my shoe. Meanwhile the other two officers stood by silently and with perfect stony faces.
He took out another pack from his pocket, lit a new cigarette, and flicked the old one at me. It landed on my leg, where it smoldered a hole in my trousers.
“I suppose you don’t smoke,” he said, flipping open a lighter and touching the flame to the end of the new cigarette.
I have never smoked, but I didn’t tell them so.
I got fed up and screamed at them that my name was Hitler. I swore in French, and tried to swear in German, and even though I don’t think they knew completely what I was saying, they understood the Hitler part.
“Ich bin Adolf Hitler! Ich bin dein Führer!”
The rope around my ankles prevented me from walking, so I grabbed onto the arm of one of the officers as he rushed together me back in the chair. He was easily more than half a foot taller than me. I tore at that red band around his arm with the stupid black spider—the same one that hangs above the town hall at home. And above all the town halls in France and Germany and Belgium and Poland and probably England and America, too, by now. . .
“Ich bin Adolf Hitler! Ich bin dein Führer!”
I don’t care what happens. It doesn’t matter what they do, I’m going to die one way or another. It might as well be sooner rather than later.
The trouble with these people is that they’re not the least bit stupid.
I cannot walk. They haven’t given up. They never will.
Yesterday they came into my room and knocked out my legs with a rubber bludgeon. I don’t know if they are broken or just bruised. Does it matter?
I am one of their most valuable prisoners—a fast that I take great pride in. That means that they can do whatever they want with me. They have no intention whatsoever of letting any of us prisoners go free, and so when they either get the information they want from me or decide that I won’t be any use to them anymore, they will shoot me.
Either way, I don’t have very long. I’m going to die without giving anything away.
That’s why I don’t care what they do to me. In the end, everything with be gone.
The girl in the cell next to me sent me a message when I woke up: “I-M-S-O-R-R-Y. I-H-E-A-R-D.”
“I-T-S-O-K-A-Y,” I tapped back.
What a funny thing for me to say. But what could I do? Nothing either of us said could change anything.
There was a long pause, and then came the message: “W-H-E-R-E-D-O-Y-O-U-L-I-V-E?”
I hesitated. I had never met this girl, never seen her face, only heard her voice muffled through the wall when the officers came to take her away every day. For all I know, this person tapping could be one of those officers.
After listening intently for a few seconds to make sure no one was out in the hallway, I lowered my mouth to the wall and whispered, “Are you there?”
A few seconds. Then, “Yes, I’m here.”
It was a girl’s voice, a soft whisper that would have been lost in the hum of the heater if I hadn’t been listening for it.
I told her where I lived. I told her about my family, and the ways things were in my town before the war. I wish I could write it all down here. I almost feel like if I think about home enough, maybe I’ll actually be there again.
The girl told me about herself, too. I’ve been to her hometown before, years ago.
It’s funny to think that every single prisoner in this place has a home somewhere.
Even the Nazis.
A note to you darn SS officers who are going to find this and read it after I die: Are you happy? Did you get what you wanted? Are you proud of yourselves for throwing away people’s lives?
I sure hope you are, because it would be an awful shame if any of you felt even a spark of guilt in those ice-cold hearts of yours.
I’m sick. I have been coughing nonstop for the last two days or so.
Has the interrogation stopped? No. Of course is hasn’t.
Maybe they think that now I’ll give in more easily now. THEY ARE WRONG.
They have resorted back to the ice-water treatments, plus verbal threats. Among these threats are the prospect of electric shock, caused by attaching wires to my hands and feet. I’ve seen it done to other prisoners. (How do they think of these things?!)
What if I lie to them? It wouldn’t be hard to do. I could make up some story about who I am. Or I could give them a false code and they wouldn’t have to know anything.
They’ll shoot my anyway no matter what information I give them. What’s the point of wasting energy trying to think up some story?
They have given up asking who I am and what my name is and have moved on by trying to pry out codes and information from Britain or the United States. I don’t know why they think I’m going to tell them. I haven’t so far so why should I now?
It’s so cold in h
I had to stop writing on that last bit because one of the officers came rattling the doorknob to my room just then and I had to hide this notebook under the boards of the windowsill before he came in.
“Laddie,” he said to me. His accent was very bad. “Gut morning.”
Yes, he really had the nerve to wish me a good morning. It probably wasn’t even the morning; it could have been midnight, for all I knew.
“Laddie,” he said again, “enjoying the sunshine of your cell?”
The mockery is harder to put of with than the torture in this place.
He brought me into the Interrogation Room again
A conversation over a bucket of ice water. . .
SS officer: (win terrible French) Where did you come from? Where do you live?
SS: What is your name?
(He takes my collar and plunges my face into the water.)
SS: where are you from?
(A quick side note: how do they expect me to talk about where I came from when my face is submerged in ice-cold water?)
(He yanks me up and lets me dangle from his hands so that only the tips of my toes are dragging on the floor. My hair is sopping and stuck to my face. Water streams down from the ends into my collar and onto the floor.)
(He throws a gush of words at me that are mostly German curses. I won’t bother to write them down because I don’t know exactly what they mean in French.)
I am sick of this.
I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it I am sick of it
But I won’t tell them a single word of what they want or a single scrap of code. They’ll have to shoot me eventually because I won’t be any use to them before long.
I hope they shoot me. I don’t like to think about the other ways they kill people. One of the more unpleasant ones is poisoning them by injecting a syringe of kerosene into their blood. I hope they don’t have any kerosene left over to use on me.
“N-E-E-D-F-O-O-D?” came the message from the girl today.
I didn’t know what she meant. Food was always good, but we got so little of it.
“W-H-A-T?” I asked.
The heating vent was on the back wall of my room, about two feet square, and attached to the wall by four screws. I crawled over to it and peered in to the murky blackness of the duct. After a moment, a soft shuffling sound issued out from the vent, as if a large mouse was scurrying around.
The handle of a tiny screwdriver appeared through one of the cracks. I took it silently, and began to unscrew the vent from the wall. One at a time I placed the screws carefully on the floor, listening for any sound coming from the hallway. None came.
When the vent was off and a gaping hole remained in the wall, two hands reached up from the darkness, groping around for a hold on the edge of the hole. A girl emerged slowly, scraping her forearms on the metal grating and tearing her skirt.
She is the girl in the room next to mine—thin, grime-stained, bloody. Her hair is long and brown and dusted in soot. She wears a drab dress that I think used to be blue, but now it’s faded to a gray. Her face looks gray, too, but that may be just from the grease and shadows. Her lips are tinged blue with cold, and her fingers tremble ever so slightly.
She is carrying a piece of salt pork.
I haven’t seen any kind of soon besides bread and watery glue-soup since however long ago it was that I came here. I haven’t seen a good piece of meat since much longer ago than that. Without a word, she handed it all to me.
I wondered: Did she steal it? How did she get the screwdriver? How did she know she could crawl through the duct?
But I didn’t care enough to ask her. I ate the salt port in twenty seconds flat, not bothering to chew each mouthful.
She told me her name. She said that she’s been here for four months, and that she keeps track of what day it is by making scratches on her wall.
“What day is it?” I asked her.
It is June 2, 1944. I have been here for two whole months.
The girl is the first glimpse of the real world that I have had for such a long time.
Something is going on. It’s hard to describe, but I know it’s real. There’s been a change in the atmosphere of this place.
The officers seem twice as frantic for information. I hear scurrying footsteps in the hallways throughout the day and night, and the whole building is noisier than it ever was before. There’s more talking between officers, more whispers between them in the Interrogation Room, more desperate energy.
Something has changed.
Something has changed.
Something has changed.
WHAT IS GOING ON
The girl came again today. She also knows that something has changed.
“We might not have to wait for much longer,” she said. “The Allies might be here.”
“Here in France?”
She says the date is June 8. Has the invasion come?
I can’t believe I’m writing this. I really can’t.
I won’t bother pinching myself because 1) I have enough bruises and cuts already and 2) I’m having a nice time anyway, and I don’t want to end it even if I am imagining everything.
I am sitting in the sunshine in a hay wagon outside a tiny little cottage somewhere in the French countryside. Everywhere things smell like spring and flowers and fresh dirt and nice, cheerful things. The sky is so blindingly blue and the sun so glaring that I have to wear sunglasses so keep my eyes from being damaged. All those weeks in prison took a toll.
I still can’t believe I’m here.
The Invasion Has Come!
The family that the cottage belongs to works for the French Resistance, and we just arrived here half an hour ago from another “safe house” closer to Paris. “We” meaning the group of men who found us at the hotel, three other people help prisoner there, the girl, and me.
Marguerite is her name. The girl.
I bathed today for the first time in months. The dirt just kept coming off into the water. I had to empty the bathtub twice before I got clean.
I want to stay in the house forever. It seems like the only safe place anywhere in the world.
I’m starting home tomorrow. Some of the Normandy coast is still controlled by Germans, but the Allies took the beaches and many of the little villages along the shore. We’re traveling from house to house until we find a secure road to take back home.
Someday I’m going to think of the words to describe this. Then I’ll write a book. Right now, I can’t think of anything to say.
My name is Renné.