Come and see

by | May 22, 2009 | Stories | 0 comments

“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and See.” Revelations 6.1
In the last days of the War, we knew that their days were numbered. Our Guards were mainly gone, the only ones left were the older, slower ones who could not face the long marches to safer ground. They were in the main the least cruel, although some were the die-hards, the party members and the Nazis through and through.
As the last hours of the Camp ticked down, one tried to escape; he had sensed that his reign was about to end. We caught him as he tried to cut through the fence protecting the German barracks from the outside world. My fellow Prisoners made no discernible sound as they grabbed his feet and dragged him back into their world. There was a palpable hatred pouring from one man to the next, stick thin, dirty, clad in rags they heaped puny fist after puny fist into his well-fed paunch. He struggled to escape, but the sheer numbers held him down.
His once immaculate black uniform was shredded by human claws, and once the material had given way, they meted out the same punishment to his pallid flesh. He moaned and cursed in German, the only sound that broke from the crowd was the occasional mumbled prayer in any number of tongues. I was watching from the doorway, even now with the Germans in disarray we still deployed our sentinels and watchmen. A signal from the Camp Gates, a hissed warning from our sentries, and the crowd started to disperse as quickly as they had formed.
The German lay panting on the ground, his upper body was halfway through the hole he had cut into the fence, he was naked and bleeding from innumerable gashes and scratches. Even from my position, fifty or so feet away I could see that his skin was starting to bruise; ugly blue, brown welts discolouring his marble flesh. A squad of Russian soldiers appeared in the drill square, their guns held ready, uniforms splashed with mud, blood and the detritus of war. The scattered groups of inmates, in tattered stripes, parted to allow them through, as the troops passed, the prisoners began to disappear like wary rats to secret holes.
I headed for the wooden barrack block, my bare feet stirring black eddies in the filthy puddles of mud. Our block lay sixty yards from the German barracks, inside the electrified inner fence. The gate was smashed, and tendrils of barbed wire hung down around the hinges. The power had gone, at about the same time that the Germans had started to leave, we had nothing more to fear from the rusted rows of razored wire. The smell from the blocks hit me almost immediately, human waste, unwashed bodies, and the smell of cooking mingled to form a miasma that could overwhelm the senses. Pilfered food from the barracks’ stores, was cooked amongst the long-dead unburied bodies of fallen inmates, colleagues and friends. I headed for my bunk, my soaked feet leaving deep imprints in the block’s dirt floor.
There was a sudden commotion at the front door, I lent out to watch along the dead straight corridor between the bunks. A Young Russian officer stepped inside, for a moment he was silhouetted against the stark yellow light beyond the doorway, as a whole we flashed back to earlier times, when uniforms and guns were the advent of our demise.
I sensed a mass inhalation, a holding of breath en masse. The Russians were, as yet, untested, would they be as bad as the Germans ? Same shit, different day. The officer’s uniform was, unlike his troops’, freshly pressed with his insignia of rank starkly outlined on the epaulettes. From his belt hung a polished brown leather holster, it was heavy against his hip the strap was open and I could see the handle of the revolver within. The Officer was accompanied by an inmate, whose yellow brassard denoted him as the “interpreter”. The Officer shouted for the Block elder, and almost immediately a white-haired, bearded Polish Jew appeared from the gloom in the centre of the Block. I had seen him a few times, he was newer to Birkenau than many of us, having been transferred from the main Camp within the last few months. His Tattoo was a low one, and we knew he’d been here for at least four years. His survival an incredible feat.
The men in the block fell silent, like me many leant out from their bunks to watch the proceedings, those without bunks, crowded round the elder from their dirt beds in the centre of the building. We all stared intently at the young officer’s face. He was clean shaven, and blue-eyed, I could not see his hair as it was hidden beneath his uniform cap, but I could see that he had livid scars across his cheeks and neck. He was well-built, and evidently well-connected, unlike the other Soviet troops we had seen, his uniform fit him well, and he carried himself with a quietly confident air. He addressed us slowly and surely, his every word was repeated by the eager interpreter.
‘Gentlemen, I know that your ordeal has been a hard one, and I know that like your Soviet Comrades you must feel a great antipathy toward your German captors,’ he swung his head, smiling and catching the eyes of the many inmates who watched him. ‘Whatever you have suffered, whatever horrors you have seen, whomever you have lost, you must remember that this has been a War about Justice, and the triumph of right over evil. Whatever you feel for your tormentors, there is never an excuse for lawlessness, and there will never be an excuse for a return to the behaviour of the Nazis.’ His words trailed off, and the interpreter’s voice followed suit, we all waited silently for him to continue, ‘you will have seen that the German guards who remained behind, have been put to use already. We have had them burying the dead, and tending to the sick. We have already started to arrest those identified as criminals within the German and the Inmate population; these arrests will continue I promise you. Justice will be done.”
Around me my fellow prisoners mumbled and cursed, whatever the Russians had the Nazis doing, we were still knee deep in human waste, and every rainfall exposed a new shallow grave and a new risk of disease. The Russian officer raised his voice to drown out the increasing murmurs of the crowd.
‘Your new Russian Commandant is aware of your feelings, and aware of your sufferings; he gives you his promise that those responsible for your situation will pay, and that justice will be done.’
From the gloom, and the densely packed crowd within the block, there was a sudden outburst of cheers and clapping.
‘Our job will be a difficult one, we must see to it that you are fed and your wounds are tended to, we must round up the criminals and we must bury the dead; we must do all this with limited resources and while we continue to fight a war against the fascists. The Commandant knows that we can rely upon you for your cooperation, and your patience. We know that there will be no more actions, such as we experienced this morning. If you find any more fascists, hiding or trying to escape, pass them to your guards and we will ensure that they are dealt with.’
There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd, and the Block elder nodded, shaking the young Russian by the hand. The officer then wheeled about, followed swiftly by the interpreter, and left our Block for the next in line. It must have taken a good few hours for him to deliver his speech to all of the buildings in our section, and by the time he and his soldiers had returned to their encampment, the skies had darkened and the Moon was rising. Somewhere a weak light began to appear within the depths of the block, and the bodies on the ranked bunks began to stir. The elder appeared holding a makeshift oil lamp, and indicated to our row to follow him.
We rose and followed, shifting shadows, waxing and waning in the watery yellow light from the lamp. At the rear of the block, the crowd halted and began to file into place around the elder. Someone pushed aside the planks above the latrine area, and hands reached down into the pit below. The German was pulled from the pit, his bruised and naked body, streaked in filth. He was semi-conscious and trembling, muttering nonsensical prayers and unable to focus, he was dropped to the floor, and there was a monetary pause, before we fell upon him a silent, vengeful wave.


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