Allies come to a prison camp
|We walked in groups of twos and three's with little to no conversation. Our rifles lay easily over our shoulders or at the ready on our arms. The men at the front of the line slowed as we followed the curve of the tracks, the rest catching up.
My eyes took in the fields opposite the road and tracks. Workers looked up, but ignored us and went back to their hoeing or weeding. I almost ran into the buddy in front of me, but stopped in time. I jockeyed around to see why everyone had stopped.
There it sat. Just as they told us in the town. They told it in whispers. "Follow the tracks, past the forest. The tracks will follow the wall. It will lead you to the entrance." The brick wall hid the evil from the town’s folk. The line of soldiered men moved closer to the gate.
A dark pall fell over us. I can’t begin to explain it. A heaviness settled over my spirit. My skin grew cold, but from the inside. There was a familiar smell in the air.
Tom, our commander, pushed the gate open. It moved easily and we followed him into the enclosed area.
A tall barbed wire topped fence ran along one side of the narrow road and train tracks bordered the other. Dark stains dotted the dirt at our feet. I’d seen them before and I shuddered. What was this place?
“Move on up guys. Be on guard.” Tom barked and we responded at attention with our guns ready for any attack. “Group one to your right, group two on to the next gate, group three search the train cars.”
I moved with group two. We walked in formation, single file to the gate. Not a sound could be heard, but the crunch of gravel under our feet. Too quiet. Harry opened the gate. I heard a noise and whirled, my finger on the trigger. A movement in the shadow, near the long barrack caught my eye.
“Harry, One O’clock,” I got the okay and moved alone toward the corner of the building. The stench hit me. The short side of the wooden building had a single door ajar. I held my gun firmly in my hands. It was a part of me, like an extension of my arm.
I heard rustling and whispers inside. They were eerie, Ghosts? There were many times I’d walked through a battle field and heard what I thought might be spirits who wandered the land.
With caution I pushed the door open with the tip of the rifle. No sound. Only a couple of windows, high along the sides of the building, let in light, I crouched inside the doorway and waited for my eyes to adjust. The smell of death in process settled in the back of my throat. It stuck to my tongue, I swallowed hard and pulled my shirt over my nose, it didn’t help.
I saw shelves built along the walls. I heard the scrabbling of rodents on the wood floor under the straw. I didn't look down. “Who's there? Come out!” I commanded and stood erect. A moan cut the silence.
Something touched my head and I jerked away; ready to shoot whatever attacked me. I looked up and a boney arm extended over the edge of the rack. A dirty sleeve hung from the appendage.
“Who are you?” I demanded. I pushed the arm with the barrel of my rifle.
Another rustle from a rack further down, “Who are you?” was repeated back to me. It couldn’t be an echo, it had to be someone.
The hand above me didn’t move. It wasn’t a ghost. I poked it again with my gun barrel, but it remained still.
“He’s dead. Been that way three days now,” A raspy voice spoke from the shadows. I turned on my heel and a creature stood in front of me.
The large skull, devoid of hair. The mouth was a hole where rotted teeth, what were left, moved when it spoke. The large eyes sunk into the cavity of the head and the skin that covered the bones looked like parchment paper.
The skeletal body wore some sort of striped shirt, but it didn’t cover much and was open to reveal an emaciated, naked form. I turned my eyes away to the far reaches of the room and took quick breaths through my mouth to fight the nausea.
A sound at the end of the end of the room interrupted my thoughts and I pointed my gun at the intruder. It was Harry, at least what I could see of him.
“You okay?” his voice rough. I tried to see him as he moved past the shelves in the dim light.
“I think so. You?” I turned my eyes back to the form in front of me. I still wasn’t sure what we were facing. Harry clicked the light switch. I’d been too busy with the creature to look for a light switch.
The overhead lights flickered and gradually lit the area with a yellow bulb. I stood in horror at the sight before me. Crawling, from what I now recognized as bunks, were human forms much like the one clinging to the post next to me.
They tried to talk but most sounds were unintelligible. I don’t know much German and even less Polish. Those that could, came from their bunks to stand in the walkway.
Anger rode hot through my veins and burst into my face. I felt hot and itchy. My finger wiggled against the trigger of the rifle and I pulled it out just in case.
“See if you can get them out into the compound. We need to see how many are here and what we can do for them.” Harry strode passed me and I heard his retching outside. The anger had over powered any nausea I'd felt.
“Can you walk?” I asked the band of skeletons. They moved, slowly scraping their feet on the straw like zombies toward the door. The one nearest me stopped.
“Are they gone?”
“The Germans? The guards? 'they gone or out there?” The voice was scratchy and the English broken.
“There are no guards and no one is in the compound. They all left here a week ago I heard. We are your rescuers.”
“We safe?” the voice asked.
“Yes, you’re safe.” I choked out and stepped aside as the creaking band of survivors made their way to the door.
I checked on the bodies that remained in the bunks. Some were dead, others barely hanging on to life. The words I heard were foreign to my ears, but the tears, boney hands that patted my cheek and arms were a universal language.
All the while, tears flowed down my cheeks. I was not alone. My fellow soldiers and I didn’t speak of it. Where we teased or joked with one another, now we were silent. The conversation was limited to directions; where to put these men who had been tormented.
That was many years ago. I came home from that place a changed man. It wasn’t the only place I was sent. There were others, but that first scene I witnessed, lives with me each day.
I put my talents to good use. I am a gentile but I work for the cause. To find and punish the men who perpetrated this horror. If I had a gun I could notch, there would be no handle left. Together with others we've rounded up these criminals and brought them to justice.
I’ve heard there are those who do not believe there was a holocaust. Just let me talk to them. Let me show them the pictures I took, I wish I could share the stench that fills my senses to this day.