A very brief look at life on the block...
|My FAVORITE novel of all time is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. End YOUR story or poem with the last line from The Poisonwood Bible - bolded -
Walk forward into the light.
“Pssst. Pssst. Petr, you awake?”
I heard Andrzej from the bunk above me...12 inches away. I shushed him and whispered, “What, Andrzej?”
He whispered back, “How many today for you?”
After lights out in our block, conversation was not allowed – it was verboten. If we continued and were detected, we would be punished by lashings or a bullet in the head: sometimes right then; other times, the next day; sometimes, weeks went by.
I softly said, “I think 34 – I lost count. You?”
“It was a light day for me...only 57 today.”
Andrzej and I were from the same town, Szachi, Poland. We met one night at a bar that was friendly to “our kind.” We drank beer and introduced ourselves: Andrzej was a polka fanatic – he couldn’t get enough accordion music and the fancy dance steps; I was a Mozart fan – I loved his piano sonatas. One thing we agreed on: we toasted each other with our steins, beer was GOOD! [clink] After drinking many steins, I invited Andrzej to my flat; we shared my bed.
That was about four years ago...a different lifetime. I was a student studying physics; Andrzej was a teacher of music in a primary school. He moved in with me, and our lives went on uneventfully...until: the loud banging on our door in the middle of the night.
I opened the door and men in uniforms grabbed me; other men rushed into our bedroom and dragged Andrzej out. We were briskly pushed/walked down the stairs, along the sidewalk to the train station blocks away, where we saw many other people huddled. Andrzej and I were roughhoused into the perimeter of the crowd. We didn’t talk because we didn’t know what was happening.
He whispered, “When will this Hell end, Petr?”
“I don’t know...just be quiet, okay? Go to sleep; we can talk at mealtime.”
Andrzej and I were in Auschwitz. By luck, when our transport arrived, he and I were assigned to the same block. We gave up our clothes, our shoes, had our heads shaved and were “gifted” (as the guards called it) with black-and-white striped “uniforms” - only Andrzej and I had an upside-down pink triangle “badge” sewed on; all the others from our transport received the same stripes but they had a yellow Star of David sewed onto their clothing. Oh, and in place of our shoes, we were “gifted” with wooden clogs.
Andrzej, that day, said, “Look at us! We’re fashionable what with the pink, don’t you think, Petr?”
I “knew” what the triangle meant...and it was not fashionable. We were marked. I attempted to explain to Andrzej what the triangle signified and what it meant for us, but he didn’t believe me...he was distraught about our situation, but he thought it was temporary: “Just a few days, Petr...they’ll let us go once we explain what we do – you, a student; me, a teacher; how long will they keep us here?”
Well, it wasn’t a few days as Andrzej philosophized...it turned into days, weeks, months, and then years. But, we were better off than others. We both got assigned to “gangs” in our first week.
Each morning, after “counting” - which meant we exited the block, lined up at attention in the open space in front of the block, and a “count” was done to determine how many had died the previous day/night. After counting, we reported to our jobs. I headed east, Andrzej headed west – we always said to each other, “See you at mealtime.” “Mealtime” was a bowl of potato peel soup (no potatoes – just the peels), but it afforded us a chance to talk without whispering.
My job, when I left “counting” to the east, was canvassing the grounds, picking up corpses that had been dragged from blocks, load them onto a cart and pull/push the cart to the edge of the camp, and toss them into a ditch. Andrzej, worked at the crematorium: he pushed corpses into the ovens, then removed the ashes.
At first, our jobs were repulsive...these were human beings we were handling. But, after a time, personal feelings go cold and minds/thinking change. “If I don’t do this, I’ll be one of them; if I continue, I’ll live.” Andrzej and I had many discussions about our plights over our potato peel soup.
It got to the point, that we just accepted it as normal...we did it to exist.
But, at night, Andrzej and I couldn’t sleep. We knew it was not normal and we whispered back-and-forth struggling with our consciences. I’d have to shush him – he tended to get overly excited...and I didn’t want us to get caught. After several minutes of whispers, we said our good-nights, and tried to sleep.
One night in April, something strange occurred. Through the one small window near the door of our block, Andrzej and I noticed only blackness...usually at night, there were bright lights shining outside to detect potential escapees attempting to flee in darkness.
He and I whispered back-and-forth about the blackness and what it meant...was it a power outage? Had they (guards, matrons, cooks, foremen) left? If so, why?
“I’ll check,” whispered Andrzej as he got down from his bunk and walked toward the door. Before he got there, we were all startled to hear the roar of engines from Jeeps, and what I ascertained were tanks. Andrzej hustled back up into his bunk and said, “What’s happening, Petr?”
“I don’t know...let’s wait and see.”
The engine noises increased along with American voices. The door to our block crashed open; an American shined a flashlight in on us.
We were saved! We had been found and freed!
He surveyed our dismal quarters, and said, “Walk forward into the light."