A short story by Ariel Pakizer
A shiver ripped up her spin. So this is how it would begin. 1939. The world was torn apart in a second world war, yet the war seemed a world away. Adelle pulled her tattered shirt closer to her shoulders. Her fingers were numb with cold, her stomach growled in hunger, her throat burned with thirst; if only one of these desires were to be fulfilled. She did not know what to call what was happening to her and her people, in fact, she wasn’t sure there was a word for it.
All she knew was that her toes where starting to feel warm; though the stench of urine and the cry of soft tears caused some distraction. Adelle didn’t understand why they were crying. The tears where only going to freeze to their faces. What was there to cry about anyways? Ever Jew was going to be killed. Why should they feel like some great misfortune had befallen them?
She thought they should be saving their strength. In order to not die on arrival, they have to look strong and fit to work. From here on out, only the strong have a chance of survival. Tears are a waste of water and self-pity was a waste of time.
Adelle believed the Nazi’s might end up conquering the entire world. But she would never curve away from her religion due to fear of death. She would die for God. Besides the Nazi’s couldn’t really kill her; her soul belonged to Heaven. And it would fly up there once they killed her.
Though she did wish her feet would still feel cold. The fact they now felt warm scared her. Then again, what did her toes do for her? If she lost them, it would just ensure that the Nazi’s would kill her off quick. Dying quick may be better then working.
The smell though. That had been unbearable at first; soon her nose adjusted. Now she only smelled when someone urinated on themselves, but only for a moment. Urinated on herself had seemed so strange and grotesque at first, now she can’t image why she ever bothered to do other wise. It offered a moment of warmth only to be greeted by a bitter cold. Some of the others had contemplated drinking some; Adelle thought it was a great idea, if they had a cup. She was so thirsty she thought she may just cup her hands. If only there was enough room to bend down.
She dug her fingers into the cadaver beside her. She hadn’t known their name. They had died two hours ago. Now she tried to glen off whatever warmth she could from the body. It felt like they had been crammed in this railroad cart for days. The number of dead increased daily. She wondered if any of them would even make it to the camp alive.
Suddenly the rail car lurched forward. Adelle neck seemed to snap and the corpse beside her flung into her. Did they finally stop?
A flurry of butterflies jumped into the pit of her stomach. Could she handle what was to come? She pushed it down and steeled herself. They could torture her. Force her to work. Beat her. Rape her. Mock her. But they can’t take away her spirit; she would be sure of that.
The railcar door squealed in protest as it slid open. A harsh white light began to fill the room. It stung Adelle eyes. Some people started to scream and shiver against the farthest wall, like some form of scared animal trying to hide from the light, some just stared to exhausted to try anything else, most where dead.
Against her best efforts, her breath caught when she saw human forms materialize, shadows with a bright light hiding their features. Someone might have perceived them as avenging angels, these shadows enshrouded in light. But Adelle knew they had no intention of saving her; they where the bringers of death; Nazi soldiers.
The shadows stepped out of the light and into the railcar. Adelle eyes instantly froze on the swastika patch sowed onto the uniforms. “Line them up.” A rough voice said. Suddenly a rough hand wrapped around her arm and yanked her forward. She felt as if her arm might rip out of it socket. It pulled her out of the railcar and she nearly fell on the step down.
The hand flung her into the end of a line. She looked down it and blinked against the harsh light of the sun. Everyone in the line had wild hair, dirty flesh, skinny as bones and a faint smell of urine. A man wearing an officering uniform walked down the line and nodded his head at the elderly. Every time he did a soldier would pull them out of the line. “These poor old souls,” The officer said with a malicious grin, “They smell horrible. Take them to the showers. There are useless.”
Adelle gasped. The showers. Expect these showers didn’t give spray out water. According to the rumors, she heard they spread out a poisons gas.
Suddenly she felt someone strip her tattered cloths off. The cold enveloped her body instantly; she suddenly felt the cold snow under her bare feet. She gritted her teeth. This was hardly the worst to come. She could feel the soldier’s eyes leering at her. But that didn’t matter; he was nothing more then an animal. Besides, what was he leering at? Skin and bones, dirty skin and bones.
Another soldier walked up to her, his eyes where a soft blue and his hair a fair blonde, he bore an apologetic smile on his face. “Here,” he said holding out a stripped prison uniform.
Adelle quickly put it on. Keeping her faced steeled.
“Sorry,” he said, “I know the patch is flattering.”
Her narrowed her eyes and looked down. On her uniform was a bright yellow star. She frowned “The Star of David?”
“Yeah, well, it’s suppose to be mocking the Star of David, marking you out as a Jew.”
She stuck her chin out, “I’ll wear it with pride.” She expected him to laugh or slap her, but when nothing happened she glanced up. He was staring at her with the oddest expression on his face; respect.
Suddenly her stomach turned and growled in protest of not eating for the past few days. He broke into a grin and she laughed. Confusion filled her head. She thought all Nazis where evil. She thought they all hated Jews. Yet here she was laughing with one.
The thought passed as another soldier walked up. “This one works in the kitchen.” He said in a gruff voice.
The first soldier she saw, the one who leered at her, suddenly shoved her back. “Move it,” he snapped, “I’m taking you home.”
Home. Adelle thought, her mind racing. She thought the only escape from these camps was death. Her heart sank as she was pushed into a pile of women of every age. Home; as in the place where they are going to be ‘living’.
The room was dark. Adelle could hear the hissing and squeaking of rats. There were bunkers that lined the room. The structure had four beds on it, some women were already in the beds. Survivors, or the strongest people at the camp.
She was shoved down onto a small second level bunk. It had straw for bedding and rodents for company. She could barely stand between her bunk and the next bunk they were so close together. Several women in the room were weeping. She thought tears were such a waste.
“Role call.” A voice called and all the women instantly ran outside and formed a line. Adelle quickly followed suit. The line was long. She stood there for hours. Her feet even colder than before roll was called.
Each inmate had a number; it was sown on underneath her star. Adelle guessed this was to take their identity away, but she felt as if it gave her one. She may not have a name but she had a number. A name was just a means of identification, something for people to recognize one by. No one got to pick their name. A number was no different.
Besides, God knew her. Her family knew her. Her friends knew her. No matter how far they were or where they are, they knew her. That was enough.
As roll call continued her knees began to shake. She hadn’t been able to sit in what seemed like ages. She was so tired but she was guessing rest was no were in site.
Suddenly, she noticed that fair haired soldier standing in the distance. He was smoking a cigar with another soldier. Both of them proudly bore the swastika symbol on their forearm. He looked her way. For a second she could have sworn their eyes met. She pushed the thought away. That was crazy.
Finally roll call was over. Adelle was assigned a job in the kitchen. Perhaps the worst one. She had to prepare the food for the soldiers. It smelled and looked so good but she dare not even lick her fingers. She hoped she would be serving prisoners tomorrow.
Lunch was a watery looking spoon full of soup. It appeared to have potato peals in it. She remembered skinning some potatoes for mashed potatoes for the soldiers. Little did she know she was making her own meal. It looked disgusting but tasted like heaven. She hadn’t had anything to eat in forever.
After lunch she started making diner for the soldiers. She was serving out the mash potatoes when that fair-haired soldier came into view. He smiled at her, “Hello,” He said, “I’d like some.”
She just eyed him for a moment then quickly dropped some on his plate. He opened his mouth but then looked behind him and saw the other soldiers waiting. He quickly shut it.
She wondered if he was going to thank her. He was a strange one. He didn’t act like the rest. She pushed the thought away.
Dinner for her was disappointing. Just a piece of bread. When she finally got to sleep her stomach was growling. She thought about killing the rats in her cot and cooking them in the kitchen. But she decided against it. They may have a disease.
Then again, what did she care if she died?
Just as soon as she fell asleep, she was woken up. Or it seemed. Yet when she stood outside for roll call the sun was just starting to break through the trees. The entire camp was placed in a wood. Huge barbwire fences surrounded her, promising no hope of escape.
Days passed by, or was it weeks, did it even matter? Adelle started finding ways to shower. As she walked to the kitchen she would walk under the water that dripped from the roof. She had to be careful though. They would only give her one pair of shoes. If she lost a shoe that was just too bad.
She kept her eye out for that fair-haired soldier. He whispered thank you to her once. It had, for some strange reason, made her heart skip a beat.
She was exhausted, but she couldn’t sleep. Her stomach kept her awake. It was growling. Eventually she gave up and tip toed outside. She carefully looked for a guard but didn’t see one. What was the worst they could do anyways? Kill her?
She sprinted over to some brown grass and ripped out a fistful. Better then nothing she thought to herself. Her heart was pounding in her ears. Even though the worst was death, the idea still shot adrenaline through her blood. She shoved the grass into her mouth like some kind of crazed animal.
No. She told herself, not an animal. She would not let them reduce her to that. It was a survival tactic. She was hungry, but she was human. She grabbed another handful but ate it in smaller bits.
“You know,” A voice said behind her,
Terror ripped up through her body and she swirled around and prepared to swing at the guard, even though that would only get her in worse trouble. She would go out with a fight.
“Hey, easy now,” The voice said.
She instantly relaxed. It was just that fair-haired soldier, for some reason, she didn’t think he would hurt her.
“I was just going to tell you I could always give you some food.” He said with a lopsided smile.
She blinked at him. “W-what?” She stammered,
“I said I would always give you some food.” He repeated
“But, I’m a Jew.” She said dumbly as if it explained everything.
He laughed, “And I’m a Nazi. But that doesn’t mean I hate you.”
“But Nazi’s hate Jews.”
“Most yes, but some of us are just soldiers following orders.”
“Oh, I never thought about it like that.” She said, slightly embarrassed.
“And I never thought a Jew would be proud to wear that star. It was meant to derogatory.”
She stuck her chin out, “Its not.”
He smiled, “It’s going to take more then that to break you, huh? You’re a fighter.”
She smiled, “I guess I am, though I’m not sure what it is I’m fighting for. I know I’ll never leave this camp.”
“Humanity.” He said softly,
“I…I guess your right. How did you know?”
“Because I’m fighting for the same thing, I don’t want to become like them. I don’t want to be an animal.”
She looked deep into his soft eyes. “You’re not like them.”
“Pleasure to finally meet you,”
“You as well.”
He smiled. “So? Are you interested?”
Her eyes flung open in surprise; he was forward.
His eye’s opened in embarrassment, his cheeks tinting with color, clearly showing on his pale face. “I mean in food, I mean, are you interested in me getting you food. You know, since they don’t give you guys much to eat here. And I just thought, well, since you are eating grass and all-I mean, that came out wrong, um-food; would you like me to get you some? When, when I can.”
It was her turn to smile. “Yes,” She said softly, “I would love food. But I want to know; why me? Why not help someone else?”
“Because,” He ran his finger over her yellow star, “You’re proud to wear this, you’re eating grass to survive; you’re a fighter. I want to help you win.”
She looked down at his hand, “Thanks,” She said while brushed the back of his hand with her fingertips. She felt his eyes go to her face, and she looked up at him.
“You’d better get back to bed,” He whispered,
She nodded her head, “Yeah, but when will I see you again?”
“Soon, I promise.”
She smiled. “Ok. Good night Reiner.” She broke away and quickly dash back to her barrack. She tiptoed into bed and force her eyes closed, though her heart was racing.
The next few days she started finding food in the most random little places. She was careful not to eat too much. If she put on weight people, more pointedly Nazi soldiers, would start to ask why. But she couldn’t help but be disappointed. For some reason, she wanted to see him. She was happy for the food, but she wanted to talk to him again. He made her feel human; he made her feel alive.
She knew it was stupid to feel that way but, for some reason, she had hoped he felt something too. It was a crazy thought, and even crazier desire. Yet still, she needed something to think about, something to brood about, something to feel about; it helped.
She was walking among the barracks going to bed for the night when an arm suddenly seized her and pulled her into the shadows. Her heart caught in her throat when she realized screaming would be useless. No one here would help her.
“It’s ok,” A soft voice said, “I didn’t mean to scare you like that. Its just well, I had to make it look convincing, incase anyone saw.”
She looked up into that fair face she had wanted to see for so long and didn’t say a word.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been able to see you. I’ve really wanted to though. I hope you’ve been getting the food.”
She nodded her head slightly and he smiled.
“Good, well, sorry, ah, you seem tired. I really didn’t mean to scare you. I should have been more careful. I will be next time. I mean, did you even want to see me?” He frowned suddenly, “Should there be a next time?”
She leaned up and softly pressed her lips against his. It was a rash move, but she wanted to do it so badly. He wrapped his arms around her and she could feel the muscle underneath them. A love between them was so forbidden, but it didn’t matter at the moment. She had tried to fight it, but she couldn’t. She knew the moment they talked. What was the point in fighting it?
She was going to die anyways, and he might be the one to kill her, in fact, she was starting to hope it would be.
They started seeing each other more often. She couldn’t help it. She wanted to see him all the time. She wished she had meant him sooner. No one made her laugh more; no one had ever understood her better. It was the dumbest thing she had probably ever done, but it felt like one of the easiest. One night they were lying side by side, watching the stars peak through the trees. The air was cold, but spring was around the corner. Adelle could taste it in the air. She decided to break the comfortable silence with the one question looming over their heads like a storm cloud, “Reiner, what happens when we are found out?”
He sighed and propped himself up on one elbow and stared at her, “We die.” He said simply, “Maybe this war will end before that has to happen.”
She frowned at him, “Come now, we are fighters not dreamers.” She looked back towards the stars, “The moment I entered this camp I knew I would never leave. I’m going to die here, but I’m ok with that. Just because I’m going to die doesn’t mean you have to go with me. I don’t want us to be found out. I don’t want you to die.”
“Well, maybe they won’t kill me. I could always lie and say I was just using you, but see; I’d rather just die. Adelle,” He said softly and she flicked her eyes to his face, “I can’t image life without you. I’d rather die by your side.”
“Don’t say that!” She shouted in a whisper, “We are fighters remember? One of us is going to get out of here alive; it’s going to be you. It has to be you.”
“No, Adelle, these past few months, I’ve never felt more alive. You made me feel that way. I can’t lose you.”
Adelle pushed herself up and let out a sigh and looked straight ahead. Her eyes not seeing a barbwire fence but the rolling fields of Germany, of what was her home. “Look around, Reiner. Barbwire fences surround us. I can’t eat all the food you leave me in fear of gaining weight. I’m a Jew in a concentration camp. I’m going to die here.” She pointed at the yellow star on her uniform, “See this? This marks me as a dead woman. I’m proud to wear it. I’ll die for it. But you don’t need you dying for me. Please Reiner.” She looked him deep in his eyes and said one simple command, the hardest one of all. “Live.”
His chin trembled and he rested his hand on hers. “Oh Adelle,”
She could feel her throat burning. She closed her eyes and rested her head against his chest. All she heard was the sound of her named whispered over and over.
Seeing leaves on the trees filled Adelle with life, though all around her was death. She wondered if the world outside of this camp even existed. Did people know what was going here? A scary question; did they care? She was filled with life, but her thoughts rested on death. Death was all around her. Death was becoming her. She was sure; soon, death would find her. Death would be a release. She would have given up a while ago, but Reiner kept her going. Without him, death would have already found her. Starvation would have killed her, misery maybe. Without Reiner she wouldn’t be feeling alive.
Adelle couldn’t sleep and the dawn had come. Suddenly a sergeant burst through the door a fan of soldiers stood behind them. “There, there, there, there,” He started pointing a different girls, “And there.” He said, his finger pointed at her. Her heart caught in her throat. A soldier grabbed her by the arm and yanked her outside with the others. Some were screaming, others crying, others just following dumbly as if they didn’t care anymore.
“No!” Adelle cried when he saw Reiner trapped in the grasp of two Nazi soldiers. Her mind raced but it couldn’t keep up with her heart.
“Oh yes,” The sergeant said, “You are going to die. You two are sick. You,” He said and squeezed his fingers around her chin, “Are an undesirable. This little relationship is sick and disgusting. You are both going to die for it. You are both going to hell!” He grabbed her by her shoulders and shook her so hard she thought her head would snap off. “Get them to the ditches!” he screamed.
Adelle couldn’t see. She was lost in a swarm of older people. She felt her foot being stepped on and fingers wrapped around her arm. She was only dimly aware of those. All she knew was that she and Reiner where going to die.
“Adelle!” She heard above the mass confusion
“Reiner!” She called back to him. A hand found hers; it was his. Tears welled up in her eyes, “Oh Reiner,” She whispered.
“Don’t be afraid Adelle. It’s only death.” He whispered to her. “I found you in a concentration camp; I can find you in heaven. I love you.”
“I love you too.” She said, crying for the first time since she came to this camp.
They started ripping off everyone cloths, and Adelle wrapped her arms around Reiner, “Goodbye.” She whispered to him.
“Get in line!” The sergeant screamed while another pulled away her outfit.
She grabbed Reiner hand has fear ran through her body causing her to shiver. She heard a gun fire and the person at the end of the line fell into the ditch, joining a pile of bodies.
“Don’t worry Adelle, it’s like you always said. This is the worst they can do to us. I will find you heaven; look for me?”
“I’ll look forever.”
“In heaven, that is what we will have.”
Another shot. Another body down.
Another shot. Another dead.
“I will see you in a few minutes.” He said as the person next to him was shot
“We will dance inside those pearly gates.” Adelle said with tears burning up her throat.
Suddenly his hand went limp and he fell back. “Reiner!” She screamed when a sudden pain in her chest sent her falling among the dead bodies. She felt his dying arms wrap around her as another body fell in front of her. She closed her eyes and accepted her fate.
“Lets hope,” she said quietly to Reiner, though his arms were cold around her, “When the world finds us they never forget and never let this kind of torture happen again.” She whispered, her vision going black.
“Never again,” He whispered back before death took her.
After the Holocaust a promise of never again allowed genocide happen was made.
Never Again: a promise that has Never been Kept.