TG Universes & Series:
WARNING: This story describes in details a concentration camp, death train ride and death camp during WWII.
It was the end of the day here in Rotterdam. I could see the Allies bombers returning to England from their raids in Germany as they flew near the city. The shells from the German cannons were exploding like blossoms of black orchards below the squadron above as it flew back to England.
Recently there were rumors that the Allies had invaded Italy and the Russians were beginning to push west. That was part of the reason that my family had hope. I was beginning to believe my immediate family would survive the constant attacks that these German occupiers and their boorish Dutch henchmen gave us.
Another reason that gave my family hope that we would survive this stupid war is that we recently received the coveted stamps on our internal passports allowing my family to live and work in this seaport city. I was allowed to be a dockworker, hauling the goods on and off the ships. It was hard work, but the Germans needed me to continue their war.
I was usually able to eat comparatively well at the docks, although as a Jew I had to eat in special places. Also, I got paid poorly because of my "race." Even if my boss wanted to pay me more, he wasn't allowed to by the German authorities.
We had finished our dinner, such as it was. We were eating nearly rotten potatoes and some bad fruit. The greengrocer that my wife, Heidi, was allowed to buy from had only bad fruit and vegetables. It was not the grocer's fault. He could only buy what he was allowed to buy from the German authorities. He was as restricted in his movements as my family and I were.
But, I was actually happy. I was beginning to look forward to making a shekeeyanu (prayer of thanksgiving) because our lives were being spared from this terrible nightmare. My little son, Isaac, noticed that I was humming.
"Is papa happy?" my four-year-old asked as I sat in an easy chair.
"Papa is very happy," I replied as I picked up my big boy and put him on my lap.
My six-year-old daughter, Rachael, joined him on my other lap. In another chair, Heidi was crocheting. Except for the fact that we were emaciated, it was a typical domestic scene, one that Heidi and I had hopes for before that madman began this stupid war.
Suddenly there was a knock on our front door. Calmly I went to it and opened it up. Four SS solders were there brandishing rifles behind their officer who was dressed impeccably in his uniform. I stood between them and my family.
"Come with us," the lieutenant said.
"We have stamps that say we can live and work here," I replied. "Heidi, get my passport, please."
She got up and went into the bedroom. A few seconds later she came back in and showed the officer my passport. It had the coveted official stamp.
"Sorry, but you must come with us," he replied after looking over the document.
"I will go peacefully," I replied.
"All of you," he calmly demanded.
Heidi gave me a look of fright. I looked calmly to her and the children, although I was just as scared as her and for them. I wish that I could calm her, but I know that when they come for you like this it could be a disaster.
"Do we need anything?" I asked.
"Just your papers. We will pack up for you," was his reply.
What could we do, but follow these hoods out the door. They took us out of the apartment, down the stairs and out the door. I noticed that the sun was setting near England that warm summer night, Britain where hopefully our rescuers would come. We had to stand there with other people while the solders checked us for weapons and other items, as if our people would be allowed to have guns. Most of us wore the yellow star, although some people wore pink triangles, and one couple each wore a brown bar. Where the Gypsies came from I don't know. Yes, I have helped the underground with information about what came on the ships. Usually I sent the information through Heidi, but I was not a regular. I was too afraid to do anything, so I never went on the raids. I would have been considered a civilian.
They did a strip search, with the men in front of the women and the women in front of the men. These "civilized" men didn't care about how they humiliated us. There was no concern for the basic modesty of the individual. They considered themselves part of the Master Race. They believed they created and were the inheritors of Western Civilization, which was as far as they were concerned, the only true civilization. But for them the rules of that civilization didn't apply to them now, because we were the Undermenchen, the sub-humans.
They put us into a truck waiting on the street. I helped Heidi and the children into the truck before followed them. Our truck had mainly women and children on it, and we had to stand to fit everyone. Other trucks passed us just as packed with people. All these trucks sped off towards the Vught Transportation Camp. It was difficult to stand the entire distance as our truck to speed around curves.
One old man never made it that far as he died on the truck. I found out later that this was just another raid on our community. As usual for these raids, there were over 1000 of us "arrested" and sent to this transfer camp. We were afraid of what would happen next. There were rumors that we would be sent east. No one had ever received any mail from anyone sent east for more than a few months.
When we got to the camp, the Germans selected us. Most of us would be going on the train in the morning. That group included my wife and children. When we found out, I hugged and kissed Heidi, and the children. We had tears as we kissed for the last time. I saw them go to one barrack, and I was sent to another one. It was the last time I ever saw my family.
Early the next morning, the SS guards woke us and mustered outside my barracks for the morning roll call. As this was happening, I saw a train loading behind me. To my disappointment, I could not see anyone in my family in the confusion.
I was put to work in the Menist industry, which was sorting the luggage that was left behind by some of the other deportees. For just over two weeks I was that rag sorter. On two occasions I found luggage belonging to friends of mine. I worried about them as much as I worried about my Heidi, Rachael, and Isaac. I feared for the fate of my friends as much as for the fate of my family.
Fifteen days after I arrived at the camp I was selected for the next train. Again early the next morning I was roused out of my bed. This time I was brought to the freight yard in the back of the station. The station was inside the camp. There were hundreds of other people milling around the freight yard. I was amazed at the confusion. The Dutch SS and their dogs handled the boarding. We were packed 40 people to a car. There was straw on the bottom of the boxcars. The straw was a waste. There was little room for us to move around in. Most of us had the yellow star that told the authorities we were Jewish. A few had pink triangles. A few from the special camp were also on the train. These people were considered hardened criminals by the authorities. Some of their crimes were being part of the resistance.
Forty to a car was tight enough that only some of us could sit or lie down. As I was one of the first in the car, I decided to be by a wall so I could lean against the wall of the car. About an hour after we entered the boxcar it lurched forward and we started to move slowly out of the station. There were women and children in my car. Many of both were crying during the trip. I consoled some as best as I could during the trip.
I believe that the top speed of this train may have been 50 kilometers an hour. However, by sunset we were in Germany and across the Rhine. I talked to some of the people briefly. After a while I gave up my spot against the wall of the boxcar. I noticed that most of the others were as scared as I was. It was the unknown that we were afraid of.
As we rode through the night I thought of Heidi and our children. When I regained a wall, I slept leaning against that wall. I didn't know were we were going, but I feared that everything wasn't right. There were rumors in Rotterdam that we were headed to a place to be killed. That didn't make sense. It would make more sense for the Nazis to have the men do the heavy and dangerous jobs such as screwing the fuses on their bombs. The women could work as seamstresses sewing the uniforms for the Nazi military or crawling in small holes that most men would consider too small. No one would purposely murder a whole population for no reason. These thoughts entered my dreams as I fell asleep against that wall.
Several times that day the train stopped for water for the engine. At these stops I heard the German solders talking to each other, but they never opened the doors to give us fresh air, nor gave us anything to eat or drink. Occasionally the plea for something was greeted with a gunshot. They left the body for the locals to burry. On the second day an old lady in our car took her last breath. The Germans didn't care that someone actually died in that boxcar. The Germans let her stay there in our car, slumped on the floor until we disembarked.
Late that afternoon our train went through a rainstorm. I stuck out my hand through some broken slats of the car to get some of the rain. I first gave some water to the children in the car. Then like the others at the walls of the boxcar I help distribute the water to the rest of the passengers. Some didn't need the water, as there were leaks in the roof of our boxcar. Many of us were drenched.
That night I felt the train go backwards. I had hopes that the Allies had destroyed a bridge or large section of rail. It would mean that ours would not be the only train delayed or rerouted by this inconvenience.
I smiled as I remembered an old English saying,
"For want of a nail a shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe a horse was lost. For want of a horse a rider was lost.
For want of a rider a kingdom was lost."
It described the last successful invasion of England. Napoleon couldn't do it, and Hitler wouldn't do it either.
After about a half a day we started to go forward again. I noticed we had to go through mountains. As we were heading east during this time, I assume that we were in the Alps. The delay in total was almost two days and a half as I noticed we were going down onto the plains again. Based on the shadows I was able to see from the boxcar I knew we were still on the north slope of the Alps. Again we were heading East towards the Russian front. On the second night the train stopped near Warsaw. I was able to see the sign in both Polish and German at the station just before we stopped. In the early morning sun the train again lurched forward.
We traveled for another day. Again we stopped for the night. This time near Lublin. We started to move again as the sun brought its morning light to this region of the world. About two hours later I smelled what seemed like burning meat. I faintly smelled that same meat when we were near Lublin. What bothered me is that I couldn't tell what kind of meat it was. It smelled like chicken fat, yet I knew it wasn't. But it was getting stronger as we slowed at a railway junction. A few minutes later we heard the doors of the boxcars open and I smelled for the first time in days what would have been fresh air if it weren't for that burning meat smell. I saw the sign at the station. It said, "Sobibor." Above the camp itself were the words, "Arbeit macht frei" – work makes you free.
"Out," a German soldier shouted at us.
It took almost fifteen minutes for us to get out of the boxcar. After getting out myself, I helped some of the others out. The only one left in the car was the dead woman.
"Get that body out!" the German guard shouted to me and another man.
We retrieved the woman who was laid out in front of the other passengers.
We were then given orders to take the woman through the gate where others would tell us what to do with the body. The guard pointed to where we should go. It was to a crematorium. As I got closer I knew what the meat was I had smelled. It was human. There were probably thousands of bodies that would have had to be burned for that smell to be so prevalent in the air.
I then knew what would happen to us. We were going to be killed. Those bastards were going to murder us simply because we were Jews. Nervously we went to the gate.
We brought the body through a gate and brought it to some ovens.
“Leave the body here,” a guard informed us. “Then get back on line.”
We did and finally we were sorted. We joined the line with the majority of the prisoners.
When we went through to the other side the guard simply told us, "It is time to take a shower," as he handed us each a bar of soap and pointed to a barn like building.
We headed to the barn like door and waited.
A young woman dressed in prison garb, came up to us and said, "Please remove your clothes here. I see you already have your bars of soap."
We were joined by boys and other men, as we got undressed. Then two men opened the doors for us. They asked us to walk in. There were shower stalls on all the walls and in rows. We were so crowded in it was difficult to walk around. I ended up at the left wall walking in the direction we entered the showers. The doors were closed behind us and locked. Glancing up I noticed the holes in the ceiling that didn't make sense.
"OH, MY G_D! THEY'RE GOING TO KILL US!" I shouted.
'What is this?' I asked myself a few seconds later. 'I must be going crazy.'
The reality of what was happening must have made me snap. It looked like a store window appearing on my wall. Then I noticed there was a door for this store right by me. I saw a little old man in what appeared to be in a blue bathrobe opened the door. I was literally pushed by the pressure of the crowd through the door as it opens. Others followed as I fell to the floor of this strange store. It took less than a minute for this store to fill with the men and boys from the shower. The old man started to close the door.
"Could you help me?" the storeowner asked.
I was still dazed, but I got up and help him push the door closed. So did the other pallbearer of the old lady. As we were doing that, I was handed a baby. It was all I could do to hold it in my arms as the old man the pallbearer finished closing the door. I looked at the baby in my arms. It was sleeping contently. I felt love for this little one who was probably going to be an orphan in a few seconds.
"We're out of here!" the old man shouts as I look up from the child.
I saw the men and boys on the other side of the door falling down dead as the shower room that I was in a few seconds ago faded from view.
"We're warping to a different reality," the old man told us.
He went behind the counter.
"Help me distribute the clothing," the old man says to my pallbearer partner.
They distributed the clothes that apparently were under that counter. I noticed that some of the clothes were for women.
"Just take it for now," said the old man. "I don't have time to explain. Please put the clothes on."
The baby in my arms started to cry.
"Here," the old man said as he handed me a nursing bra.
"What am I going to do with this?" I asked as I held it in one hand and the baby in the other.
"Put it on," he replied. "You'll know what to do."
"This is crazy!" I told him.
"The infant is hungry," he said, reassuringly.
"So, give me a bottle!"
"It doesn't work that way," he replied. "Just put on the bra."
I looked around as everyone said, "Do it!”
One woman said to me, "I think he know what he's talking about."
Where did she come from?
I wasn't happy about wearing that bra, but I handed the baby for a second to that other pallbearer. I put on the bra and tried to attach the clasps.
"Could someone help me?" I asked.
One of the other women attached the bra on the back. Someone gave me a chair to sit down on. I removed one of the flaps in the front and took my baby back. Expertly, I put its mouth on my exposed nipple. When it was finished sucking that side I let it suck my other breast. I was humming a lullaby that my mother sang to me when I was a little child. I was content. When she is finished sucking, I gently burped Deborah. Then I laid her down on my lap and change her diaper. I then gently rock her to sleep. I put Debby in her layette that was on the side of me then finished getting dressed. My dress enabled me to expose myself when my baby again would become hungry.
I started to cry. I was crying for my wife and children that died a few days ago. I was crying for my husband that was murdered because he was too far away from the store entrance just before. I was going to be in mourning for a while. I carried the memory of all of them in my heart. I swore I would remember everything about them so they could live through me. Above all, I vowed that I will tell Deborah about everyone when she became old enough so they could live through her. They MUST live through her as they now live through me.
My husband said it best. He was right when he told me that Deborah's birth and other such births would be the way we will defeat Hitler.
As I thought of that, a field started to appear in front of the store. When it was solid the old man opens the store's door. We walked out into the fresh arid air.
"Where are we?" one of the other women asked.
"You are about two kilometers east of Tell Aviv," the shop owner replied as he pointed to the town. "You can see the town over there in the distance. Jaffa is just to its South."
"Home," I said as I picked up the layette with Deborah in it.
Some of the other people kissed the ground.
I looked around and saw the "Spells R Us" sign as the store disappeared in front of us. My group walked along a road towards the city. After a while I felt tired.
"May I help you?" asked the other pallbearer. "By the way, my name is David.
"Sarah," I said as I smiled.
He carried our baby in its layette, giving me a little relief.
I saw a Union Jack curled around a pole in the direction we were walking.
This story is dedicated to all the heroes, known and unknown, great and small, in this situation and others who, in the face of collective or individual hate, did the right thing by saving someone from the crowd, or at least tried to.
The posting date is the anniversary of the Sobibor Revolt, October 14, 1943. This successful revolt resulted in the demolition of the death camp, showing no superficial sign that the camp had been there. I believe that the demolition proved that the German authorities knew what they were doing was wrong.
This story idea comes from a review by ApesMa of my story, "The Trial."
I wish to thank my editor, Norman O Johnson.
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