C H R O N I C L E
T H E
R A G
D O L L
A N N O
S T E L L A E
1 9 4 3
Christmas at Auschwitz
Spearhead on the Western Front, Reich Marshal Goering’s Luftwaffe lost the winner’s edge again when he failed to knock out Britain’s last line of defense in the air, the radar-coordinated Spitfire squadrons that guarded her day and night. Losing over six hundred planes and their pilots (pilots he could not replace), he switched to less effective nighttime bombings, and even these declined. As winter set in, it was apparent that the Battle of Britain was over, and she was saved as an island base for a future Allied invasion of Shickelgruber’s domains.
As for Operation Sea Lion, when the news of the incredible disaster in Lyme Bay, Wessex, came to Shickelgruber, he threw himself on the expensive Persian rug of his Fuehrerhauptquartier train suite parked at Goddentaw-Lanz and gnawed it in a frenzy--an old habit from childhood he had used to get his way with a frightened mother but which had grown to proportions he could no longer control. Shortly after, he turned away from Britain that had thwarted him somehow and gazed like a ravening wolf toward the east, toward the stage of his next great campaign of conquest, Soviet Russia.
One quick thrust on Moscow and he thought he could seal that rival world empire’s fate forever. Then he would turn round and deal with Britain and America with his invincible armada of bomb-carrying, guided rockets, glider bombs, and monoplane missles, particularly the A-1, A-2, and the transatlantic A-10 boasting a range of 2,800 miles, which his factories could manufacture quickly and cheaply by tens of thousands without any strain on the rest of his war engine. Moreover, thanks to intelligence received from a prime Abwehr agent stationed in Britain, he had in mind to fit a transatlantic rocket with a super-bomb, a new type of explosive that would consume an entire city like New York City or Washington D.C. in a single Gotterdamerung-like blast.
That same masterspy, his chief of the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris, had assured him, would soon send plans for the super-bomb, so that manufacture of the wonderful Doomsday device could be initiated in a matter of months. Poo! Now what was "Great" Britain anyway? The Russian bear with his oil and gold and diamonds and huge slave population was the far greater prize of war, Shickelgruber decided. When he had conquered Britain, he would make it his railway toilet on a transatlantic railway he would build to his other territories in North America! His engineers would scoop up Scotland, transport it on British merchantmen, and dump it at selected points for his bridge pylons, and he would use England too if Scotland proved insufficient. As for the Scots, he’d have them off liquidated, if they didn’t die first in the hazardous project. Let the remaining English and Welsh serve as miners, to supply the coal for the "lightning" 200 mph Reich trains! That would teach them who was the superior race! Once he had the New World subdued and linked to Europe, Asia, and Africa, he would
mop up the remnants such as Australia, Indonesia, and other such places.
Shickelgruber’s Eastern blitzkreig, his “Buffalo Stampede” invasion of Soviet Russia did not catch Winter’s Grace by surprise. Even while they were finishing up with the Battle of Britain, supporting British fliers as they attacked Goering’s bombers and rockets and also doing sabotage to the top secret A-10 project, and suppressing reports on the faulty U-boats torpedo design that prevented torpedoes from striking intended targets, a prophecy came concerning a fish hook that the Lord Almighty, the A and the Z, would use to ensnare and drag the main body of the Nazi host to utter destruction.
Who or what was the fatal “fish hook”?
Safflower Hetman, a Negro washerwoman from Macon, Georgia, had just joined the war command center, taking Gabrielle van Noy’s place when she collapsed and had to be hospitalized, and her vision showed a fish hook with a man’s face and man’s legs, and potbelly, strutting in feathered cockade and
gold braided uniform across a flowery, flag-decorated stage while bands blared and people with puppet-like bodies and actions cheered. Exciting a roar from the packed square before the Medici Palace in Florence, the same where Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the statue of the the giant-slaying David, was displayed, the fish hook-man puffed and postured and harranged the riotous crowd from a high balcony and the people, who would lose their jobs if they weren’t present, screamed, “Duce! Duce!”
Who was this strange and bellicose human fish-hook? They did not have to wait very long. In November, shortly after the Battle of Britain ended, Shickelgruber’s Axis puppet-ally, Benito Mussolini, launched his invasion of Greece without notifying his master, and he was disgracefully beaten by much smaller forces of Greeks.
Shickelgruber, knowing that he could not allow the Axis league of Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Finland, and Japan to be made a laughingstock before the world, bailed out Mussolini with Operation Margarita, his full-scale invasion of the Balkans early the following spring. He succeeded in conquering Yugoslavia and Greece, but at a price: the unwanted campaign cost his Operation Barbarossa a critical six weeks. Now the operation would entend into the dreaded winter months of September through March, when month-long blizzards would roar across thousands of miles of treeless Russian plains.
The loss of vital six weeks blizzard-free time out of five months allotted were but the first of Shickelgruber’s setbacks jeopardizing Barbarossa’s chances. He hadn’t any winter clothing for this armies planned and manufactured for the millions of infantry and Panzer division men, , so they had to go without. And Bormann his most trusted adviser convinced him with well-time flattery and helpful suggestions that that certain of his commanders deserved immediate dismissal--Field Marshals Guderian and Manstein, who had grown just too powerful and were demanding to conduct Barbarossa their way instead of Shickelgruber’s. Such presumption should not be permitted! Guderian protested right to Shicelgruber’s face when he was ordered to turn away from Target Moscow and take Kiev and Leningrad first, as part of Shickelguber’s latest change of strategy spreading the armies on the Eastern Front north and south from Archangel to the Turkish border. That sealed his fate. No one disagreed with the Fuehrer to his face! No one! Manstein fell amok when he insisted on free, detached war maneuvers of his Panzer units, with no tight controls on them from army headquarters, as well as his method of giving up territories temporarily to secure a bigger advantage before counter-attacking and taking those territories back. “No, Manstein is wrong. The sacred honor of German arms is at stake! We must always hold and fight to the last man!” Shickelgruber shrieked as he signed the papers for Manstein’s dismissal at his headquarters, Werewolf, in the Ukraine.
So, in 1942-1943 Shickelgruber’s armies fought to the bitter end at Djugashvilligrad. Wintergewitter,”Winter Storm," the December 1942 counter-attack Shickelgruber ordered to rescue the encircled armies at Djugashvilligrad, failed to break through, the tanks and equipment freezing solid, forcing the men to flee on chilblained feet. “Donnerschlag,” “Thunderbolt,” the already announced break-out of Nazi troops from Djugashvilligrad became an utter rout as hundreds of thousands died, and the rest were captured, while Moscow remained free of Nazi control, with other Nazi armies tied up on its environs, blasted and frozen to death by the first blizzards of winter. From Moscow and Djugashvilligrad on, it was a disastrous retreat across thousands of miles of snowy desolation--a path Napoleon’s ruined Grand Army had trod many years before after its daring but ill-fated attempt to conquer Moscow before the onset of winter.
While these great world-changing events transpired, while the pitiful remnants of defeated Nazi armies struggled agonizingly back toward Berlin, what of life as it was actually being lived within the fortress walls Shickelgruber had built around his empire called the Third Reich--a realm of terror and slavery and darkness not seen since Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, with their stacked pyramids of human skulls?
Toward the end of December, 1943, some light-hearted souls on board singing “Ich verstehe nicht weiss dass Rosen bluhen,” “I do not understand why the roses bloom,” a long line of goods waggons left the camp at Westerbork, East Holland, and chuffed through the mostly sandy barrens toward the border with Germany. Before coming to the Rhine, the land turned to rich pastures, vegetable truck farms, hamlets with kitchen gardens, all protected by glass houses and very tidy, and, in the near distance, a town and river port with a medium-sized, spired and buttressed edifice that would pass as a fine cathedral but which, on closer inspection, showed broken windows, a fire-gutted interior and a shattered bell-tower.
At the journey’s beginning hands and heads stuck out of cracks in the waggons, and when Westerbork was out of sight the hands and heads were pulled back. But one hand appeared between the boards of a goods waggon and the wind took the fluttering white envelope and threw it back down behind the train on the tracks. Further down the line this was repeated.
As if prearranged, a young man on a bicycle was passing by, following tire tracks in the snow, and he saw the second envelope fall. He looked carefully up and down the track, left his bicycle and fetched it. Stuffing it inside his coat, he ran back to his bicycle, and a moment later was peddling down the lane away from Westerbork, the train now out of sight of him on the tracks.
The boy peddled into the nearest town, then took a turn on the main street and went through the port district--for this was a Rhine river port city--and was soon lost in the maze of canals, warehouses, cranes, railyards, and traffic. It was late afternoon, quite dark, when, half-frozen and exhausted, he pulled his bicycle up at the back door of a house, a tall, multistoried house like so many others, and after locking his bicycle up in a shed hurried into the house. He met his mother’s and sister’s stares as he sat down quickly at the kitchen table.
“Why are you so late?” his mother asked, her eyes wide and her hand holding back his toddler sister, whose pale, blotchy face looked like she had just been choking on a piece of dry bread and then crying.
“I’m all right, mother,” the boy said. He pulled out the letter and spread it on the table. “It’s this--I found it on the tracks. I--I didn’t get the butter and jelly at Tante’s. So sorry, I guess I forgot.”
His mother shook her head. “You forgot! How could you do that? What is this letter?”
The boy turned his eyes up at her pleadingly. “I really wanted to get the butter and gooseberry. But when I saw this letter fall out of the train, somehow I knew what it was, and when I got it, I was afraid someone had seen me and was going to report me, so I turned around and came right back. I took the long way around, of course, just to be sure.”
If his mother was pleased at her son’s effort to act like an adult in wartime circumstances, her face showed nothing of it. Grimly, she took the unaddressed envelope with the letter and marched into the next room, pushed aside a bookcase after removing the heavier books, then climbed a tall, narrow stairs that was more like a ladder, passing through several floors and a spring trapdoor until she reached the top, a tiny attic in the uppermost gable. Only then did she knock on a sort of cubbyhole that.answered with a set pattern of raps. When she gave the right sequence, the cubbyhole cover slid up and she was able to explain to her husband--who was in hiding to elude induction into the Nazi-controlled Dutch armed forces--that there was something he needed to see.
Handing in the letter, she went back down the stairs and attended to her duties, feeding the two
children a slice each of butterless bread and some milk and a bit of cheese, and a boiled egg sliced to make two portions. When that was done and a few other things attended to, she went up the stairs again.
“Well, what did it say?” she asked after knocking, rapping, and being rapped in turn.
Her husband’s face remained in the dark. “He picked this up off the tracks?”
“Yes, the one that runs to Westerbork. I couldn’t go on like this any longer, so I sent him to Tante’s farm, and he comes back with a letter and nothing else! What shall be done with that boy! How thoughtless! Now we’ll have to go a week without. I don’t dare send him more often than that. How dry the bread is without butter and jelly. It makes the little one choke, and I have to make her eat a lot of bread to make up for the other things she doesn’t get.”
“But this letter is--”
“Oh, I don’t care about it! I’ve got work to do downstairs. I really don’t know what I’m going to fix for you. My pantry is so low on everything! The rations for coal and food are only for me and the children, and they don’t even keep us!”
“Never mind me for the moment. A bit of porridge--that’ll be sufficient--and a few drops of milk if you have it. Without the butter, of course. But his letter, it is most interesting. It’s written to ‘Dearest P. and H. and T’ in Amsterdam. Wait a minute, and I’ll tell you what she says to them.”
The woman sighed, slumping to the side of the ladder-stairs, her hands holding on for support. Fortunately, it wasn’t freezing cold in the attic, because the heat rose up to his little nest, but it seemed breathless to her. He even had a sky-light window fixed so he would have light during the day, with a precious candle reserved for dark, clouded days. As for his other necessities, there was a nightjar, blanket and pillows, and enough books to last him through a year, which was all they hoped he would have to spend there before the Nazis were beaten and thrown out of Holland by the Allies. “All right. Tell me if you must, but I am tired. It’s been a long day with the little one. And Henke worried me terribly when he didn’t come and didn’t come. He must have been two hours late. I thought maybe--”
“Yes, but it didn’t happen. They don’t take boys that young. At least not yet. Anyway, I’ll read you the letter.”
“No, you’ll wear down the candle! We can’t be buying so many candles. People will wonder, and questions will get asked, and--”
“You worry too much.”
“You worry too little.”
“Well, I doubt that everyone at the army conscription bureau believes you actually left the country and are in New Zealand. Just taking your cousin’s name who went there doesn’t mean they won’t check far enough into it to find out we are lying.”
There was a silence in the cubbyhole, and then her husband cleared his throat. “That’s the chance we took.”
“They’ll shoot you and maybe us too if they find you here.”
There was a sharp intake of breath in the cubbyhole.
“They would have inducted me, and I couldn’t fight for them. I’m no traitor! I’m sorry I involved you. But why haven’t you gone to live with Tante Hildegroot like I directed? Even if its against the law to move without all the proper authorizations, she has a secret wine cellar to hide you whenever the authorities come. Just because she wouldn’t take me, too big a man for her cellar she says and I’d eat too much, is no reason you and the two children couldn’t do it even at this late date. No, you insisted on remaining here, with me, against my wishes.”
The woman was beginning to shed silent tears, reflecting that this Christmas they hadn’t a thing for the children’s Christmas besides two knitted sweaters she couldn’t get wool to finish. “Nonsense! I couldn’t leave you here and go and live where there was plenty. How would you eat? How could you get food? And the house would have been requisitioned by the authorities, just like they requisition all the houses people have abandoned. They would certainly have found you hiding here. That bookshelf cupboard over the entrance can’t fool anybody! They only didn’t search up here because I informed them I had a ‘touch of typhus’ and they didn’t want to be exposed a moment more than necessary to finish an inspection report. So, you see, we had to stay. There was no other way for us.”
“The letter?” he reminded her gently.
“Please get it over.”
“All right. It’s from a Jewess on the train from Westerbork. Her home is in Amsterdam, and she wrote two letters to throw out of the train at different times before the border. She’s on her way with others to Auschwitz, which must be the Polish camp we’ve heard is so terrible to her people. Westerbork is bad enough--well, anyway, she is saying in her own words how they fared at the camp, and then she goes on to describe her feelings on hearing her name called with the ones for the next shipment, and finishes with a dream she had the night before. I think the dream is most interesting. That part I will read for you. Just a moment, I’ll get the candle lit for that part. It isn’t long, I assure you.”
“If you must,” replied the war-weary wife.
A few moments later a light appeared in the dark hole. She saw her husband’s stubbled chin, the thin fingers clutching a candle to the letter. He read rapidly.
“--ah, yes, here it starts. ‘--so hard to sleep at night with the poor babies, some of whom are
pitifully ill, and all of whom are malnourished, and mothers getting out of bed and comforting children, who wake with some nightmare or other, and older people stirring to go to the latrine bucket, and all the other reasons for people to make sounds in the night. But I find myself suddenly waking to discover I had slept despite everything being so noisy, and then I sleep and wake again, and so the night goes. I am now going to write something that didn’t go in my first letter, dear friends, the planned “twin” to this one. I don’t have time to add to the other, so I hope this second letter will get through to you--but if not maybe the first will. Fate can be so strange and take such odd twists. Well, having said that, the last time I catnapped I dreamed things that I couldn’t forget when I woke. It was like I was looking down on a train winding through little snow-covered hillocks, and there was a terrific war going on all around.. Not planes and armies, but great monsters of various kinds. They were fighting over the train and the people on it, which was a strange sight because the people were packed into each goods waggon like stove wood stacked upright, only there weren’t any walls on the goods waggons to hold them in, not a single board, just the rolling wheels and undercarriages! Yet they all stood jammed together, as if there were floors beneath and enclosing walls! Equally strange: an enormous panther, green, with a red-starred crown, sprang at the train, and then a bigger red monster, which had patterned scales all over its huge thighs and wings and claws, leaped to stop the panther, but the panther was more vigorous and determined and seized the red beast by the throat and breast with its teeth and claws. The red beast, bleeding badly, tore out of the panther’s grasp, and the panther was free to devour the train’s occupants which rode completely exposed and at its mercy. By the time the red beast recovered strength and courage and renewed its attack, almost all the defenceless passengers were eaten alive. Then the red beast charged so violently at the panther that it was hurled to the ground, losing its crown, and the red beast immediately tore the panther into two bleeding pieces, leaving the head on one piece with two front legs, and the two back legs and tail on the other portion. It was horrible! The horrid green panther, though severed, continued to writhe and--’.”
The reader paused, and his wife cut in quickly, “I don’t know why you have to read me this. I don’t understand a word. The writer must have lost her wits in that awful place. Poor thing! They are so abused there--treated worse than animals, I’ve heard!”
“Yes, they are, but my impression is the writer is sane as you or me. There’s more. This will finish the letter. Please be patient. ‘--The panther was completely subdued and the scene shifted very quickly. The train’s surviving passengers took boat, the few that were left, floated over some water and landed on a shore, and there they took root, set to work and created a whole nation of thriving cities and lush farms and great factories, a powerful country that sprang up in an instant. It was marvelous to see--a miracle, for the land had been so desolate before. But just as soon as they accomplished this tremendous feat, a brown beast which looked ferocious with horns and tusk-like teeth and claws on all four feet, crawled out of a hole in the earth and attacked the cities and their people. A black beast which was horned and had terrible teeth and claws, with a long, powerful tail spiked on the end, rose up too when this happened and charged with fury at the brown beast. And the brown beast was thrown down and mastered by the black one. After that the red beast returned to the battle, but it had ten golden crowns piled on its head this time, and with it horns pushed the black beast down into submission, standing on the still thrashing tail so that it couldn’t inflict damage. Just beyond this I saw the Temple in the midst of the chief city, the Beit Yahweh, and an image of the red beast was in the Temple and--’”
The candle flickered as the woman blew.
“Wait,” her husband said, “just a little bit more please. There’s only a bit left about all the monsters being destroyed by an Unhewn Stone that fills the whole earth.”
“Sorry, this time I’m going,” she said firmly. “ I have to do your porridge, if I can make the flour stick to all the chalk and sawdust they put in it!”
“All right, darling, but you must hear the rest later. “
Shaking her head at her husband’s foolishness, the woman climbed down the stairs.
The Jews packed in the goods waggons of the train knew they crossed into the Enemy’s den when they heard nothing but German being spoken as the train stopped abruptly, pausing only for a few minutes inspection and the attaching of signs to each goods waggon. Obliged to interrupt card games to tumble out of warm guard shacks into the cold wind and snow, the inspectors swore and grumbled as they itemized and authorized the shipments. “Scrap Metal” meant Jews with valuable tradeschool or professional skills--auto and truck mechanics, machinists, chemists, doctors, nurses, cobblers and seamstresses. “Farm Equipment” meant the uneducated but able-bodied for hard labor tasks. “Fertilizer” meant political undesirables--rabbis, intellectuals, newspaper journalists, book writers, editors, former government officials, judges, lawyers, bankers, professors, and other such elements that were hazardous within the body politic of National Socialism. The last category was “Dog Food”, that is “Untermenschen”, or subhuman life and rubbish--the expectant Jewish mothers, paralytics, blind, deaf, the retarded, the ones missing an arm or leg or maybe some fingers. “Dog Food” and “Fertilizer” both signalled immediate treatment at Auschwitz, regardless of where in the caravan these waggons of the totally “Unfit” were hitched. These had no function at Auschwitz whatsoever. The others were temporarily useful, able to be worked to death.
Guards with dogs patrolled both sides of the train, then the goods waggons all gave a big lurch, and pitching back and forth they were dragged onward, ever onward, to stop after stop, inspection after inspection. All the stops pushed sick ones, their feet frost-bit and numb, to the edge, then over. Then there was the necessity of natural functions. Many had “accidents” where they stood. It was next to impossible to reach the slop bucket in the middle anyway. Most, by this time, hadn’t strength to push through all the packed bodies to reach relief. Teenaged girls suffered the most, loathe to use it surrounded by men and boys.
In Goods Waggon #140 the same topic was on everyone’s mind. What is this Polish Auschwitz they are taking us to? Why must they transport us so far? Aren’t there any closer labor camps? What use will we be at a labor camp, since we were no use to them at Westerbork? What have we done, we Dutch Jews, to deserve being taken so far from our homes and the families who cared for us? And--this question had been discussed to death with no satisfaction--why were their captors uniformed in green? Why green?
Everything about the caravan’s destination was kept an Unknown: a cavernous mouth of BLANK NOTHINGNESS that swallowed train after train of deportees. Or so it seemed. No one on the train, except guards in the rear waggon sworn to secrecy, knew anything about Auschwitz. And no Jews had ever come back to tell about it, though thousands were sent, week after week, from Westerbork and other such camps. Three days journey of unspeakable suffering and squalor--that was all the Jews knew about it. It took three days to find out what Auschwitz meant.
The second day came round somehow, and every hour there were fewer to see it. Once someone cried out, “It’s Chanakah, can you imagine that? To think we must spend it here, this way!”
The misery seemed unending, an endless darkness in the freezing rolling goods waggons.
“I see it now, what is happening to us poor Jews,” commented an old man with a tone of finality, like some renowned savant adding the last plank in his universal philosophical system.
Dark and Arctic cold in the draughty goods waggon marked #140, no one could see him, but some of those closest thought they knew him--a pensioned Jew, this simple, white-haired janitor or floor cleaner working forty years at the Beus voor Diamanthandel in Amsterdam, then retired, only to be picked up a year later by the green-uniformed men and sent to Westerbork. Just because he had come without his spectacles, he was judged blind and thrown together with the handicapped. Another stroke against him--he was obviously too old to work.
“What did you say?” grunted someone right into his elbow.
The old man turned his head only slightly toward the other man, who was half a man’s average height and judged a dwarf, therefore unsuitable for human existence.
“I said I know what is happening. It’s coming so clear now. I was so dizzy in my head the last few days, or was it weeks since they took me from my room over Bjesselsklumpfenstraat? It was in the middle of the night, you understand. I barely had time to get into my clothes. My spectacles I lost when they pushed me down the stairway for going too slow, they said. But that is not important! I don’t need to see the world outside anymore. Already I know!”
“Oh, stop, won’t you?” a shrill, older woman’s voice screamed, as if he were squeezing her ears like a hound’s to make them grow--though to reach them would have been something, for she was tall as a camel, with a turbanlike hat accentuating her height. “Why talk nonsense? We cannot sleep this way, but you make rest impossible with needless talking, talking, talking! Oh, Oh, how my bad leg aches!” Now this woman had but one leg, the other was prosthetic from the thigh on down, from a childhood accident. The limb she didn’t have was hurting her like it was being stabbed and sawn without anesthetic.
The old man was silent for a while, but the dwarf wouldn’t let him go so easily.
“Hey, tell me. What is it you know, old one?”
“No, I’m not saying a word more, if it offends the poor lady.”
Several people around the old man now grew agitated. “Never mind that screamer, ” one said.
She just croaked her last. Jerked about a bit, then I felt her go down. She was sick back at the camp--her heart, I think--and couldn’t last the trip.”
“Maybe she is only catching a little catnap down there?” someone else muttered grimly as he fingered the dice in his pocket burning a hole since the journey began. “Perhaps she will wake up, and then we’ll be in trouble again. I know her type. Disabled like that, she lived alone for years and years, a dried up apple having everything her way and taking on airs, and now all that’s gone and has made her so miserable, forced to endure low company like us, she has to make other people pay for it. I’ve had to listen to all her talk about her idiotic cats and the big mouse they caught one day under her potato shelves--she boils and eats one potato a day and it is scrubbed pink and numbered so she always knows how her provisions are holding out!--and her four flowerpots she kept at her bit of crooked window, and her grandmother’s handmade broom that was still good as new that she used every day, three times daily in fact, to sweep her kitchen, and two “ artiste studio rooms” she claimed Van Gogh and Spinoza and Erasmus slept in, Van Gogh by himself, and the two philosophers together. She also said she had an original oil by Van Gogh showing a white horse galloping away in a meadow of sunflowers--”
“Oh, stuff it, you!” a voice cut in directly at the back of the old man’s head. “We all want to hear what he’s found that’s so important. We’ve heard from her likes and you too now, and maybe he has something different, something worthwhile compared to the usual bourgeois drivel--”
Others, agreeing, hushed him down with a loud “Shusssh!” and “Listen!”
The quiet but assured, schoolmasterly voice began again.
“Well, as I was saying, things have come clear at last in my mind. My understanding is that prospects for us Jews are not going to get better.”
“What?” a voice expostulated. “Is that all you’ve got to say now that we’ve given you our full attention? As if life had been a bowl of cherries for us before!”
Several voices continued in this vein, “Ha! He says things are not going to improve! We’re a cooked goose in Herr Adolf’s pot! Can you beat that? As if we needed him to tell us what we can see plainly before our noses! Why, he must be a philosopher, even a learned doctor at the University of Leiden or Amsterdam! How very brilliant a prognosis!”
“No, “ the retired floorman continued, seemingly unfazed by the general disgust and sneering mockery his words had provoked. “Not quite all. Things will improve, after they take care of us, that is. They too will meet their end soon after they make ours. The world will see to that. We here just will not be around--”
“No!” a young married, heavily pregnant woman cried. “Don’t talk that way! We aren’t going to be hurt, not me! My husband and two boys are waiting for me at a nice place called Auschwitz. Maybe you’ll die, old man, because you’re old and weak, but don’t presume to speak for the younger generation! Now be quiet. I want to sleep if I can! I am so tired I could scream! And I am so dirty! Someone has wet on my feet. The odor! I was always so clean about myself, and now this! I can’t bear it! I am not an animal like some on this train!”
The man at the back of the old man’s head turned on her. “Oh, it’s you , sweetheart! You just can’t admit you’re like the rest of us cripples and such! You’ve got too much pride even for a Jewess! You’ll find out it really doesn’t matter as long as you’re still alive and you can spit in someone’s eye!! Now go on, old man! Say all of it! If anyone interupts him again, he will answer to me!”
“Please, help!” the young woman suddenly pleaded. “I think my baby’s coming. My waters broke!” There was a flurry of activity around her as women tried to seat her on a tiny bit of the floor mattress between people’s feet.
The criminal, ignoring the mother’s gasps and the birth in progress, repeated his threat. Most everyone in the goods waggon knew the speaker by his voice. Not a good specimen of Jew at all, from his looks and bearing. Someone rumored he was the notorious Henrik Zoom, a dyed-in-the-wool miscreant who thumbed his flattened nose at the authorities, dealing in black market contraband and other skullduggery among the port’s warehouses, while indulging in a paid throttling now and then. Whatever it was, the man looked everything that was said out of his earshot. He had lost one eye, no doubt in an shady escapade, and all the fingers except the thumb on one hand were missing, which didn’t prevent him from using it like a club.
With this malefactor to speak for him, the old man resumed. “Since you dear people insist, then I will tell you. I’ve had plenty of years to think over things, which you may not know. My job at the bourse wasn’t so taxing, that I couldn’t look carefully at all the people coming and going from all parts of the world. In a glance I learned to tell their types and professions and what I could and could not expect from any of them. The bourse was my university. Well, none of this now happening to us is a surprise to me, though it was to many of you younger ones! You expected much better from life. At least you hoped so. But I knew it would never happen! And I was right!”
“Yes, yes!” the one-eyed Cyclops of the docks cut in. “Gloat all you want! But what is the bloody point you were making? You were driving at something. I’ll pop your skull between my hands, old man, if you don’t finish what you began. I don’t like being played with. Nobody trifles with me! Not even these--” He spat. “--green frogs! They got guns and dogs and ships and planes maybe, but I’ll not go like a dumb, bleating sheep to the slaughter with the rest of you! When old Henrik decides it’s his time to go, then he’ll go. But you--”
Zoom spat again, and nobody could care by now where his spittle actually went because it soon froze.
“Now say it all, or--”
“All right,” the old man replied just as a baby, a boy, was born dead and the mother broke into sobs. “You might as well know what I know. I can’t take it with me. As I said, things will not get better. Just for now they will get very bad for us, then improve a bit after the war, and when the Jews who follow us forget all about this terrible happening, they will be caught in something far worse. They will even be voting it upon themselves, thinking it a good thing for them.”
“Worse than the Nazis?” someone burst out. “Worse than our oppressors? How can that be? He’s talking madness!”
Sound of a hand chop connecting with flesh and bone, and a sharp cry.
“Shut your dirty mouth, you little bug!” the big Zoom ordered. “We don’t have all night. Cmon, old man, keep the beans rolling!”
“Yes, it will be as I see it. Much worse than these Germans, I tell you. I know because they have developed the way to catch us, and then torture and kill us, making us go to our graves obediently like sheep, since we’re hoping, each poor sheep is hoping, that something will happen and he will escape the fate of the others if he just goes along and doesn’t stir up any fuss for his captors. Well, that’s all part of their wonderful method, don’t you see? They want us all to think that way. And so we are thinking that way, though it won’t do us a bit of good, not one bit. Anyway, that’s it!”
Zoom’s good hand and the club-hand seized the old man and began shaking and squeezing. “There’s more! You’re lying! You know more, and you’re not telling! Cough it up, or I’ll crush you like an egg now!”
“Let me go, sir!” the old man said. “All right! But let me go! I feel my bones cracking.”
Henrik Zoom’s hands released him like a powerful vise, and the old man sank with a sigh back between the others.
“The reason I can say it will be much worse for the Jews ahead is that these methods they have learned now will be remembered. People can be treated this way, reduced to the level of animals and then gotten rid of. Our enemies won’t forget that. It is a perfect science they will make of what these green soldiers have done to us. I see these future Nazis--not necessarily Germans as these are--but future pharaohs and oppressors of our people, and they will apply pressure after pressure, just as the present enemy first did to us in Holland. Bit by bit they divide us from the Hollanders, as you all know they did, and threatening our friends the Hollanders until there is scarcely any left with sufficient courage to help us. We accept it quietly, hoping each thing they do is the last. But it goes on, getting worse all the time, and we keep hoping, hoping until we are aboard the goods waggon on way to the slaughterhouse.”
“No-o-o-o-o-o!” someone wailed. “I can’t listen anymore to cruel lies. Please make him stop!”
Again, Zoom flailed out with a truncheon-hand to smash the person making the commotion. His next chop connected with somebody’s skull. It was almost a bang--the sound.
“Now go on!” One-Eyed shouted. “Nobody stops him again, if I have to garrot every last one of you and stuff you through the cracks of these walls for the frogs to use as target practice!”
“The nasty brute, he really means it!” a man groaned. “I feel like he split my skull.”
“Yes, he will kill us all like dogs and cats even before the Nazis do!” a woman cried. “I think it’s a terrible world for a baby to come into! No wonder the poor baby couldn’t live. What can God Almighty be thinking of? Or has he gone and run off from his job?”
“Well,” the old man went on after Zoom roared them down, “there isn’t much more, because there isn’t going to be much more of the world. It’s coming finally to an end, just like this train sliding into the last station, at Auschwitz. Nobody is going on from there. It is the very last stop. But I have something to say, which you have not heard. As the future Pharaoh of the Gentile World promises to protect us from our enemies if we will acknowledge his rule, our people will give in to save ourselves, they think. Finally, they are in his power completely. When that happens, he strikes. These Jews at the last may have been powerful to that point, but then they become helpless, like a baby. He is no longer afraid Jews will fight him for their lives and goods. Pharaoh is too civilized to fight openly with Jews, you see. He fixes everything with a nice treaty. He says he will protect Jews against their enemies, guarantee them peace, but doesn’t say he intends to betray them as their chief enemy. The Jews overlook him as their chief enemy because he has gained so much over them already. Too late they realize what they have given for a little peace and safety when he strikes them down and enslaves them. The world dictator then sets his own image in Jerusalem, in the Beit Yahweh which was rebuilt as it had once been in the Holy City.”
“What preposterous twaddle!” someone far on the edge, a paralytic Reformed in religion, ventured to say. “Everybody knows a revived Jewish state is utterly impossible! Since they’ve held our lands for centuries, the Arabs would never permit it! And if there ever should come a Messiah, I’ve heard rabbis all teach that Messiah will appear precisely where we are most numerous, here in Europe, which only makes sense, since there are so few Jews left in that scabby little British mandate of Palestine!”
“No, a modern Jewish state in Palestine isn’t out of the question!” a young woman said, the cultivated voice of someone university trained at a high level, but who was blinded from a student’s chemical laboratory experiment blowing up in her face. “There’s the wonderful Zionist movement going on this very minute in Switzerland, with the aim of establishing a Jewish state through the auspices of the League of Nations. The brave Dr. Theodor Herzl is determined to help us Jews achieve our glorious dream of a restored Israel! But what this man says reminds me of the dream I just had, which--”
Henrik Zoom let out an oath unsurpassed for gutter filth and savagery, Ilse fell silent, and the old man laid out the last few threads of his account. “Yes, I thought that would surprise you. Imagine, a country for the Jews, our ancient homeland ours again, and Holy Jerusalem our capital! Yet none of this surprises me! As it will go, it will go. The mighty Pharaoh of the West will command the Jews after us to worship him before his image in the Jerusalem temple! That is the beginning of the end of everything. War will come from the South, then from the North, and from the West, and finally from the East, for our land will have grown so rich it has become the center of the world’s finances, so that everyone will want to seize the wealth. The world’s armies will be gathered in the reborn country of the Jews, and will be destroyed, though not all Jews will perish with them. Hundreds of millions of Gentile soldiers will die in these wars. This is not the end for the Jews only because a great Stone according to the Covenant will fall down from heaven, and first strike the army of the world dictator and grind it to powder after he has destroyed the South’s army. When the Stone has done the same to the armies of the North and the East, it will be the end, for the world’s largest cities will dissolve in flames in a single day, destroyed by a terrible new weapon. It will be the end of human life except that the Stone falls and destroys these armies fighting over us to the death. This Stone--we the builders rejected this Stone long ago-- well, it will return as the head of the corner, the Cornerstone, to save a remnant of us. I know this Wonder Stone of our stumbling and final deliverance. Our forefathers cast him from our midst a long time ago and claimed he wasn’t the One we awaited. It was a bad mistake. Following our forefathers, in our ignorance we didn’t listen to the Christians who believed in him and spread his kingdom on earth. It doesn’t do any good to deny that we did this wicked thing. Not now. Do any of you know him? The Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the Aleph and the Tau? Or do I have to identify the true Messiah for you?”
“Sheer nonsense!” ejaculated the Reformed Jew. “I’ve heard enough.”
“I fully agree,” said a rabbi’s sister. “He sounds like a Christian apostate to me, and I’ll not listen to another word of his ranting proselytism. You know these Christians, persecuting us in the foul ghettos of Poland and Russia, all down the ages hunting us with their pogroms and stealing everything we worked hard to get. And never forget the Crusaders too, slaughtering us right along with the Arabs! And these Nazis mistreating us are all Christians, are they not? Each one has a swastika on his uniform, which is the Christian cross, you know!”
Whatever else the rabbi’s sister may have wanted to add to her litany of woes was not given a chance to be heard. It was near the end of the third day. The goods waggons slowed, lurched and slouched and screeched to a halt. Hobnailed boots marched along the goods waggons. Doors were heard slamming aside, up and down the train. Guards reached #140’s load of quailing “Livestock Food.” Unbolted, its doors rolled back with a crash. Terrified women were weeping by this time, and some men. Many sank down to among the dead heaped on the floor like half-filled , lumpy wine-skins, hoping to be passed over somehow. Was this Auschwitz? The dreaded Auschwitz? They knew they would soon find out.
“Alles! Schnell! ” a voice barked. “Schnell!” Snow flew in, and spotlights blinded long-darkened eyes. Frozen people could scarcely move as the guards cursed and struck with rifle butts to force them out of their last sanctuary and into the cold night. How cruel, how hard and bitter an experience, to arrive at night in an unknown land and not at dawn! Was that the sound of a running stream and a wind-mill’s threshing arms? No-- thousands of shuffling feet, attended by the tramping of Nazi boots.
Scrambling and staggering onto the platform, the Dutch Jews looked about astonished. A camp stretched away before blinking eyes, the compound walls around towering and covered with gleaming lights and electric wire, and tall chimneys smoking with a foul odor that spread over the entire facility. With rows and rows of barracks stretching into the distance, there had to be many hundreds of thousands, even a million people, not counting thousands of SS guards. Compared to this, Westerbork was nursery school. Even Henrik the port gangster was cowed, and his shorn head bent low between massive slumped shoulders as he trudged meekly along like the rest.
Just then, virtually unnoticed, a star overhead outshone the flaring lamps. There were few little children left alive from the ordeal. They began to babble as the light of this eastern star touched their heads and faces. “They saw the young Child and fell down and worshipped Him,” said one quoting a New Testament book, the Gospel of Matthew. Immediately a second chimed in with another Gospel, Luke: “For unto you is born...a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” “And this Man shall be the peace,” offered a third in rapid succession from Micah, continuing with Isaiah: “And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor. ” There was even a fourth starting a passage in Ecclesiastes, “For man also knoweth not his time, as the fishes that are taken in an evil net--” And a fifth sang a carol, “We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar--” while a sixth did not wait but quoted Matthew again:
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”
No one even had time to think about it, how these babes could quote and sing marvelous things
beyond a child’s ability and knowledge. No mother had coached the two year old in her arms to say, as she said now from the Psalms, “He casteth forth his ice like morsels; who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them--,” finishing with “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”
Propelled by guards and rifle butts, the Dutch Jews passed through the camp’s iron gate on which, among decorative swirls, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” was lettered. SS troops, all human feeling frozen in their eyes, every act expressing concentrated hatred and contempt, took the role of guides into the giant machine of Auschwitz. Thus, Auschwitz and her much bigger daughter, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, welcomed and swallowed the latest consignment, a thousand at a single gulp. For such, hope abandoned at the gate, it was--how could the agony be described? They had set out from Westerbork bravely, now all, except the children, were moaning with painful cramps and fear.
Yet not all continued that way to whatever Auschwitz held in store for them. All through the journey Ilse had faced the probable, premature end of her life. She badly wanted to think that young as she was her death served some purpose. After all, she could have fled Holland with offered help, but chose to stay behind and suffer with her people. Wasn’t that noble of her? Yet the moment they arrived at Auschwitz she was jolted into reality and knew for certain there was no meaning to noble acts such as
hers--she had been cruelly deceived.
Though a Jew, she saw now there was no meaning in Jewishness if this was the end of everything. It was a mockery to be a Jew and suffer such an ignoble fate. The alley dogs of Europe were treated far better. Let the others hope. She knew she was about to be shot or stabbed or something, maybe even raped, then cast into a nasty, dark hole, with no information about her death whatsoever to find its way back to civilization in Holland, to her beloved friends. What good was that? She felt she was drowning in darkness. Her mind reeling and clutching at anything that might possibly help, she turned instinctively, not to her hopeless racial identity but to religion, the very roots of her people’s long-dead or dormant faith. How quickly her mind raced and sifted through the possibilities! Reformed Judaism of the modern Jew? Chaff--blown away in an instant by the raging terror of Auschwitz. And the revered Orthodoxy of the forefathers practiced and preserved supposedly by such as the Hasidim? It too seemed an outworn creed, full of chains and shackles, petty niggling irrelevances of prescribed godly conduct, unable to reach and help her in the clutches of Auschwitz. Desperate and despairing, she cast the last line of her thought back to the old man’s words, and she also recalled her dream the night before. And the children’s sayings? How utterly amazing, spouting such things she knew they couldn’t know, unless--unless--
The wavering, thin white line, flung into the darkness, touched Something and caught! But what exactly was IT?
Struggling both to discover the meaning and also keep on her feet in the mass of fellow sheep, the blinded young chemist felt something strange and faintly warm touch her face. What? she wondered. Turning up her face up as to a kiss, the moment she did so the first scales literally dropped from her scarred eyes.
It took some twenty minutes for the Dutch Jews to tramp through the vast camp to a place where they were commanded to halt. Propelled and pushed, she found herself in a big, echoing room, ordered to undress for a late night shower.
Amazingly, she felt a peace that was beyond reasonable explanation. She felt something working in her heart, a growing certainty that she was on track to Something, a new discovery about herself and the world perhaps, bigger than the Jewish race, bigger than this all-encompassing Auschwitz--like the time before Westerbork, when unbidden thoughts told her most everything the old man from the Diamond bourse had said to them.
Shoved along into another echoing room with the others, trying to cover herself with her hands, Ilse still felt no fear, only the indignity that was to be a public shower.
The Something within her seemed to be in control Hebrew flashed into her mind. Eben massu habonim vayethah lerosh pinnah. Over and over. “The Stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” What stone? What builders? What saying was that? The old bourseman’s?
“Have I rejected You, O Unknown Stone?” she cried silently. “Who or what are you? Please tell me!”
Engrossed as she was in her thoughts, she scarcely heard a hissing sound coming from overhead. Everyone began to madly speculate all at once, then the first screams began, and a stampede away from whatever was coming in. Someone screamed, “Poison gas!” “We’re going to die!” shrieked another.
It dawned on Ilse. It's a Nazi trick! This is no bathhouse! They are gassing us in this place! We are being exterminated like rats or insects!
She shrank down where she was, covering her face instinctively with one hand. Suddenly, someone took both her hands and put them round something soft and raggedy in knitted clothing. Her fingers saw what she could not see. The button clock set at ten after ten. The pasted-on eyes. The line-mouth she sewed herself with her mother’s help when she was six years old. Trudy! How?
She had thought Trudy gone forever, that time so long ago. She was sitting on a park
bench in Tivoli, waiting for her mother to come with a chocolate and truffle and strawberry ice cream, and a tall young man had appeared as if he had just dropped down out of the air. He seemed so very, very nice she impulsively handed him her doll, only so see him not just admire it but walk away with it, vanishing into the crowds before she could run and catch him. How she had cried at the time when her mother returned. Not even an American Shirley Temple doll at her next birthday had made up for the loss. How could it? There could be no other doll the same as Trudy.
She pressed the rag doll to her face. There was even the unmistakable, childish smell of her childhood self--sugared cinnamon and oatmeal, from the many times she kissed her after breakfast. No time for her mind to question it with university trained analysis. Her hands and nose could not question it. Some unfathomably-caring and potent Love had found her in the death chamber with the greatest love imaginable. Clutching Trudy, the most precious thing on earth to her, she felt the darkness pressing upon her in its final victory over life, but now she knew she had something Greater—a Touch of Divine Love. But something was missing. Where was Trudy's sewn slipper for her right foot?
The moment she thought of it, she felt something in her hand, and it was the slipper!
The next moment fleeing Jews knocked her flat, nearly crushing her with their feet as they ran ran back and forth. The whole naked, mindless mass then came trampling her where she fell, their combined weight and bodies piling up toward the ceiling like many goods waggons derailed in a wreck, each of the dying seeking fresh air above the poison clouds.
Buried alive, Ilse and Trudy were crushed together as one of the children’s sayings at the gate went through her mind, “For unto you...”
Deadly Zyklon B, an insecticide, was in her nostrils and lungs, and she was witlessly clawing at human flesh round her when a single question flashed into her mind. “...is born a Savior...’?
Ilse, what could she say? Her hands held Trudy for dear life. “Yes!” she said to His Nativity at Auschwitz. “Yes!”
Then: “Will you reach out and give this Life, this Light, this same Love given you, to your worst enemy? Will you do it for Me when I call on you?”
Her heart surged against strangling darkness, clutching the Light and Love as her hands clutched
Trudy. “Yes!” was her last word.
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