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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · History · #892600
Fact & Fiction. A story not told, but begged to see the light of day.
* Note *--The following short work is based largely on facts, that, to my knowledge, have never seen print.

Die Treue Ist Das Mark…

By Nickolas Allen

         A whisper.
         The flare hit the night sky in a wash of light like a burst from a photographer’s flash-pan. In a world of black and white contrasts, Josef’s head instinctively jammed nose-first into the earth, plastering his face with mud. It opened in short crisp snaps, the machine-gun chatter, about eight meters to his left—and in a moment like this, when a man’s heart is illuminated, a soldier must gird up his testicles, melt himself into the muck, and hope that someone in Heaven can hear his prayers above the sounds of men dying and bowels loosing.
         “Adolf…?” He murmured again. The flare began to die in fizzles, as Josef jerkily crawled a few more feet, trying to peer past his derelict vision. Somewhere, not far, Adolf was laying dead…or worse, horribly disfigured, across this stretch of maimed earth. Belly down, with fists full of filth, Josef slid and scrambled, making sure not to raise his voice above that of a whisper.
         One moment, Josef and Adolf were setting up their gun at close-quarters position, when the faint sting of chlorine gas came wafting on an easterly breeze. And in the next, right after Josef managed to don his issue mask, a light mortar round exploded directly in front of them—sending Josef off to one side, unconscious, while Adolf landed in a nothing-place, outside of Josef’s perception. By the time Josef awoke, the poison gas had dissipated, and thankfully, he found his limbs still had the blood to keep them moving.
         Dead or alive, it made little sense to leave Adolf in this den of decay. He began to seek out his vanished comrade.
         Shaking the dull cotton from his senses, ignoring the incessant crackle of French small arms fire, and pledging to recover Adolf, Josef pressed his lips to the medallion around his neck and pushed on. The small pendant had been a gift from his mother. A good-luck charm and a symbol of peace.
         Against a backdrop of night, a slender outline of a man’s hand silhouetted itself from under a mound of clumped debris. Faster, he crawled. Josef reached the hand and hastily began to uncover the body beneath the surface—his fingers, claw-like, pulling up chunks of refuse, while on his caked face, desperate sweat created rivulets in white.
         It was Adolf. –Unearthed and barely breathing…But merely a mock image of what Josef knew as his friend. Adolf’s face was moon-toned pale; his eyes were bloated and milky, his mouth a collapsed mine shaft, littered with soil.
         Pressing a hand on Adolf’s forehead, and tilting the head back, Josef hollowed Adolf’s mouth, giving him a place to catch a breath. It took a small blow to the chest in order to complete the work, yet Adolf finally inhaled deeply enough so that his lungs cared to suck oxygen again.
         “Mein Gott!” Adolf could barely speak—he gagged on his words.
         “Shhh, Adolf…”
         Those first sputters of waking life, when a man arrives from the brink, were etched on Adolf’s probing features—a look of incomprehension—a question mark waiting to happen.
         “Josef! Is that you? Is that you…?
         “Ja, ja…but shhh…be quiet. We are alive, the two of us—“
         “—Josef…” Adolf grabbed him by the tunic. “…Could you get the mud from my eyes; I can’t see a thing.”
         Bending double to get a closer look, Josef saw that there was nothing obstructing Adolf’s view.
         “Adolf.” Josef laughed slightly, as if it were a silly proposition. “There’s nothing over your face, my friend; in fact—“
         Before he could finish, Adolf’s hands were cupping Josef’s cheeks, pulling him forward, as if to kiss him—or to snatch his breath! Their noses almost touched; Josef tried to break free—the two of them locking eyes, but only one pair seeing. He could now make out acidic ponds in Adolf’s pupils.
         Then Adolf managed to muster all of his torment into two ghastly sounds.
         He said: “I’m blind!”

November 9th, 1938
         His eyes opened slowly, although he awoke with a start. Josef Mechlovitz, the diamond merchant, the husband of Sarah, the father of Ruth and Benjamin, had had a nightmare of years past.
         The clock on the wall read just before 11:00PM.
         Languidly—for his muscles felt stiff and bitter—he slid his legs off the bed, dropping his head in his hands, as the images in his mind began to dissolve. The edgy feeling in his body, however, wouldn’t budge; and it would be several hours before it did so.
         And that is how it went with thoughts of the war. Always with the war. It had been 20 years since he cast off the mantle of soldier and patriot; yet there were those moments (and it got better with time) where he would dream of long dead faces, and ghost-walk into a space where nothing was real. These thoughts of Adolf—it could have been worse, but that Adolf survived—the two of them, together—was at least a soothing balm to be cherished.
         With four shops: one in London, Antwerp, Paris, and here in Berlin, where diamonds were the soupe du jour: the wine for his wife, and the bread for his children, Josef was considered a prosperous man. To say that he had grown fat from his larder, however, would be a gross miscalculation, indeed.
         The son of a humble cheese monger from Munich, Herr Mechlovitz’s fortune was the end, rather than the means. He was homespun at heart.
         Now, during the slow hours, Josef shuffled with a slight limp, downstairs and into his study—a decanter of sherry pleading to be dipped from, sitting on his cherished library shelf. It was not a habit, mind you, to slip downstairs and shellac his liver; but on a night like this…a dream like that—Yes, on a night like this, he needed to sink his memory and numb his nerves.
         “I’m glad you’re here.” Josef mumbled to the lone tumbler, in the lower drawer of his desk. He ran a finger along the inside of the glass, inspecting the light dust that had collected in its bowl. Smiling for a second, he stopped.
         The glass was not the only thing amassing dust in the desk. In fact, although he knew it was there, he wished he had not spied the small wooden box that occupied the bottom of the drawer.
         Floating a hand over its lid, he drew his fingers back quickly, balling them into a fist…hesitating, that he should pluck the container out of the drawer and peek at its interior, when even honouring the box was like storing the coffin of a dead relative in the parlour.
         But, it didn’t matter. Josef promptly fished the box out, snatched the sherry from the bookshelf, and two swallows later he was gazing at the wooden receptacle again.
         With a gulp and a grimace, he opened the lid.
         Two Iron Crosses: a first and a second class, three wound badges (one of them silver), a war service medal, and a lapel pin. The pin was a veteran’s fraternity emblem: a small disc, with words curling the edge: “Die Treue Ist Das Mark Der Ehre:” Loyalty is the Mark of Honour…or, as it was understood in some circles: The Truth is in the Marrow. 1914-1918.
         A box full of dumb prizes.
         Oh, but the Iron Cross, 1st class, one of the highest honours a German soldier could receive, was the medal awarded for rescuing Adolf that night.
         He traced the corners of the decoration, flipping it with his fingers, as he began to recall, for the second time this evening, the events of that night in 1918—as if some miserable objects on this planet had enough intrinsic intellect to make you roll back and writhe in your own private wretchedness:

         He pulled. He pulled the blind man through holes; he pulled him over rough furrows, around the scattered dead, through knots of fallen foliage; he passed him above the barbed wire, and when he could tow him no longer…he pulled him some more.
         Every so often he would halt for a breather, but not for his own sake. No. A mile and a half to travel, and it was a race against the sun—to get back to their trenches before they were trapped in the open. Josef would stop to drip some water into Adolf’s withered eyes, but it was never the break he needed.
         It was done on his back, mostly, the slow tugging. With his eyes to the sky, Josef scanned the stars, and sampled the blood from his own cannibal teeth—nervously gnawing his lower lips, and clenching the straps that bound Adolf around the waist. This is how he hauled the heavier man, with Adolf between his legs, and pushing with his boots on any footing he could find. To raise himself above anything other than flatness, would have been the catcher of bullets…For the living can bury the dead, but the dead cannot lead the blind.
         “Adolf, we must rest.” He wheezed. “Do you want to rest?”
         There was no answer.
         Hurriedly, Josef moved in front of his friend, placing an ear to his chest. Good, there was still a heartbeat, and it was good, that Adolf’s breathing was strong and regular.
         “Okay…okay, then you rest. I will pull…how about that? I will pull.” Soothing Adolf’s brow with a hand that was swollen from the straps, he smiled down on his good fortune and prepared to heave again.
         However, before he could get repositioned, another cursed flare sparked up the arena.
         Josef cringed, and a few scattered shots pealed through the night—as one true aim peeled through Josef’s boot, exploding the foot.
         Silently screaming, his pain could have swallowed the War, if it were not for the shattered agony clogging his throat, and the exquisite hell that danced in his foot.
         His back arched inward; his head rocked back and forth; and he would have slipped to black if Adolf had not spoken, just the name:

         The word swayed in like a thin radio signal on a short wave band.
         “Josef…wake up…”
He stretched his toes and imagined Adolf’s face as they carried him away…
         This time Josef almost hit the floor, bounding out of the chair he was sleeping in.
         His wife was standing in the doorway of his study, hands gripping the doorposts, and wearing an expression of alarm and disorder. Her hair was disheveled from sleeping, but her mind was tattered from waking.
         “What…? What time is it Sarah?” He rubbed his eyes.
         “It’s burning outside, Josef! The whole to—“
         “—What’s burning? What are you doing awake?”
         Skating a few steps into the room, she jabbed a thin finger towards the window…
         “Berlin, Josef! It’s burning! Berlin is burning!” She screamed.
         Not too far in the distance, where the shopping district met the churches and synagogues, a devilish glow lit the sky, red and orange—turning night into bubonic blue, with gray billows topping the scene, like arsenic on a crème-puff. Some sort of commotion could be heard from the area of the fire, but it was remarkably quiet on the street.
         Sarah and Josef stood in the yard, the woman clutching the man’s nightshirt, the man wishing he was wearing his spectacles.
         A few neighbours started sauntering out of their homes, as well, gawking at the blistered sky.
         “What’s happening in the city, Josef?” Sarah was shaking.
         Ignoring her: “The children?”
         She paused for a moment not realizing what he was asking. She muttered:
         “The children… Yes, the children…they are asleep, but—“
         “—There are no sounds, Sarah. No fire police. No sirens. Nothing.”
         It was true. Although there were huge fires burning in the centre of Berlin, Josef was nevertheless worried about the absence of intervention rather than the presence of incineration.
         “Sarah…” He turned and firmly held her by the shoulders. “I want you to go inside and phone Herr Wendell, right now. Let’s see if we can find out what’s going on here…Right now, Sarah!”
         His wife scurried to the telephone, where Herr Wendell, a policeman and precious friend, would give them answers.
         Returning to the fire, Josef stood as meditative and composed as usual, although his brain was a mesh of gears grinding and clocks ticking. The sole noise that he previously heard towards the centre of town was now swelling into shouts and scampering feet. It didn’t take but a few minutes to find out what, or rather, who it was.
         Over the horizon and boiling down the street, a small mob was racing after two beleaguered men, looking like the Sanfermines being chased by bulls down the lanes of Pamplona. They ran admirably, the two men, but just past Josef’s door the horde finally consumed them, and they began to thrash the men, hurling rocks and obscenities with equal aplomb.
         Josef, fearing something far greater than murder, stepped slowly backwards, towards his home. However, before he could make it to the front door, he spied half the rabble breaking from its pack, snatching Herr Levy from his lawn, and casting him to the street.
         He slammed the door behind him, unsteady and nerve-ridden, just as one of the street-hunters put a Luger to Herr Levy’s skull and decorated the cobbles with brains.
         Sarah shrieked and dropped the telephone at the sound of the gunfire.
         “Josef! That shot!”
         “Sarah, get the children and take them to the cellar! Did you get ahold of Herr Wendell?” Josef shouted.
         “No…no, they never picked up. I—“
         “—Okay, then just wake the children and take them to the cellar. Do it!”
         The louvres that covered the parlour windows framed just enough glass for Josef to scan the street. To his right, the direction of the burning city, the neighbourhood was silent again, with only the body of Herr Levy painting a ghastly picture in the road. The rest of his neighbours were evidently as spooked as Josef. Everyone had gone inside.
         Looking left, the two hunted men were nowhere to be seen, the same with the mob. Nevertheless, there was now a much tighter circle of men in the street, knocking from door to door, and speaking with the owners of the homes. A few of the men carried rifles, and were motioning the civilians outside.
         Skimming his memory, Josef remembered that he kept a loaded Roth-Steyr pistol behind his collection of Goethe, in the library. The books fell to the floor, as Josef stuffed the gun in the waistband of his pajamas, and peeked again through the window—not knowing what he would do with the weapon, yet steeling his constitution in the event that old instincts should rise from shallow graves.
         It did not take long for a knock to come to the door…but that was good! If he were made to wait much longer, his resolve to stay composed would have been made ineffectual by baser thoughts that fester with time.
         “Herr Mechlovitz!” The voice at the door came. “Please open the door, Herr Mechlovitz. We would have words with you, bitte!
         Instantly, he recognized the voice of Herr Wendell, and Josef’s muscles relaxed on a forty-two year old frame. Herr Wendell would explain everything; he was sure of it.
         Bracketed by two young soldiers with rifles, Herr Wendell stood on Josef’s porch, appearing to be ten-times his actual age. The wrinkles on Herr Wendell’s face stood pronounced in the shimmer of evening heat, his head bowed, and his mouth turned down at the corners.
         “Die treue ist das mark...” Josef addressed Herr Wendell, his fraternal brother and comrade of war.
         “Die treue ist das mark der ehre.” Herr Wendell echoed back the fixed response.
         Now that the formalities were out of the way, Josef began to question him strongly. What was going on in the shopping district? Why was the city afire, and why was nothing being done to stop it? Why was Herr Levy laying dead in the road, and who were these people who hunted men in the streets and slaughtered them?
         “They are vandals, Herr Mechlovitz.” The policeman finally looked up to meet Josef’s worried gaze. “The whole city…the shops and businesses, they are being burned to the ground. Select places, and people—“
         “—And what of my shop? Have you checked on my shop?” Josef nearly lost control.
         Herr Wendell sighed: “Nothing is known at the moment; and that is why I was sent here…to escort you and your family to a safe place. It is simply not safe—“
         “—Escort me!…and my family?” Josef could hardly believe his ears, as a fire that rivaled Berlin’s began to spark in his stomach. “But this is my home! This is my…Wait! Herr Wendell? What in God’s name are we talking about here?”
         The policeman could only stammer as he anticipated Josef’ next question. Joseph spoke:
         “On whose command was this given, then, comrade? On whose outlandish orders?”
         Standing upright, and for the first time striking a figure of authority, Herr Wendell, leveled his gaze at Josef, and said to the point: “It is on the Chancellor’s authority, Herr Mechlovitz.”
         Again Josef was stymied. He was almost lost for words. “The Chancellor, you say? Then…well, then I will speak with the Chancellor, in person! I will have words with him and everything will be okay, before I go anywhere and—“
         “—Herr Mechlovitz. Listen. Listen to me, bitte. There will be plenty of time—“
         “No! No, I will speak to the Chancellor tomorrow, and he will explain—“
         Before Josef could continue, Herr Wendell gripped him by the elbow and led him a few steps into the vestibule—not with great force, but with enough pressure for Josef to see where this was going.
         “Josef…My old comrade, hear me now.” The policeman said softly. “If you cause a fuss it will not be good for us…it will not be good for you.” Herr Wendell darted his eyes at the young soldiers behind him, and Josef’s followed his gaze. The soldiers looked restless and a little too stupid to be of any good.
         “These baby-faces…” He continued. “These wet-noses, Josef; they know nothing of honour. They have happy fingers, and they would shoot you for not complying with official business. So, please, you will have plenty of time to correspond with the Chancellor when you arrive at your destination. It is for your own well being…and that of your family, you see. So, please. Bergen-Platz rail station, at 10:00 AM…that is all I am asking, my friend; and after that I’m sure the Chancellor…”
         …But the rest of Herr Wendell’s words were lost to Josef, as he closed his mind to what he heard as nothing but a sonorous drone of nonsense syllables—words without end…
         Josef drifted back, without even trying…

         “State your name, please.”
         Who was speaking and where was it coming from?
         “Your name please, soldier.”
         There was pain.
         Suddenly he felt something give around his ankle, and yes, there were piles of pain. There was horror heaped on hemorrhage.
         “Somebody get this man some schnapps, dammit! Your name—“
         “Josef!” The soldier suddenly cried. “My God! My name’s Josef…Private Josef Mechlovitz…And I am alive!”
         Lightning skinned through the heavens in a sudden blaze of passion.
         It was raining now, and Josef saw the large drops coming down, haloed by puffs of clouds in the dawn sky. Looking down, a medical sergeant had cut through his blood-soaked boot, and was swabbing out a clot where the bullet had entered his foot.
         The sergeant gave a cursory glance at Josef and nodded, as he stood and dropped a bail of soiled bandages to the floor of the trench. “Okay, this one is free to go, as well,” he wiped his brow, and motioned to a pair of stretcher-bearers hovering nearby. “Make sure the other one goes up by auto, do you hear?”
         Josef heard a few grumbles from the stretcher-bearers, but his mind was only on Adolf at the moment. Right beside Josef, another pair of medics were lifting Adolf and placing him on a cot.
         “Wait!” Josef begged the medics.
         Eyes sheltered by loose gauze, Adolf recognized Josef’s voice and both of them reached out, simultaneously, clasping hands and struggling to hang on through the rain and the frailty of loss. Adolf was gently smiling and Josef Mechlovitz was crying.
         “I will not see again, Josef.” Adolf laughed to himself.
         “Oh yes…Oh yes, you will see again, comrade. I promise you this.”
         “Will I? No…”
         “Yes, oh yes…I promise. I swear it. I swear it to you.” Josef said, his tears getting lost in the rain.
         Squeezing Josef’s hand once more, Adolf cast off his smile:
         “I will never forget you, Josef. Do you hear? I will never forget you, my friend.”
         Josef snapped off the six-pointed medallion that was around his neck and placed it in Adolf’s palm, just as the stretcher-bearers were taking them away. Only the tips of Josef’s fingers swished the sleeve of Adolf’s tunic, while Josef’s own words drowned in the mud and died in the trenches.
         “I will never forget you, Josef…I will never forget you, my friend…”
         “Nor I you, dear Adolf.” Josef whispered. “Nor I you…”

November 9th, 1938
         Josef Mechlovitz, the diamond merchant, the husband of Sarah, the father of Ruth and Benjamin, the war hero, silently led his family from their home of 12 years, down the street and towards the Bergen-Platz rail station, where they would board a train, on tracks that promised them anything but promises. They carried their belongings, as much as they could stuff in a few suitcases and bags, on sad shoulders…and behind them…a little red wagon, courtesy of Benjamin.
         Not the smouldering city, nor the slump in Sarah’s shoulders meant anything to Josef in light of the oath that he now bore around his neck. In the place of a once cherished medallion, from the heart of a loving mother, Josef slipped their house key on a silver chain, draped it over his head, and vowed that his family should return to their home—even he were rendered blind. For Josef’s extraordinary gift at turning words into flesh had been rewarded in an unbroken string of pledges kept…that he came back from the War intact, that Adolf had eyes to paint again, and that he honoured his father by becoming rich enough to grant him a lavish funeral. Paid in full. Yes, to Josef Mechlovitz, the guarantee of a promise was the marrow of truth.
         Now, looking back towards his home, Josef stopped and realized that he had left his box of service medals, right where he last placed it…at the bottom of a drawer, in a bed of dust.
         He smiled at his subconscious forgetfulness—something that Herr Freud would have found amusing, as well. Never mind, they left in a rush, and there were many things lacking from their meagre cargo, anyway. Besides, this was far better—better to bury the coffin now, plunge it to the grave, and forget about the whole. Being that the sum of the corpse is, and forever will be, much greater than the hole.


An estimated 15,000 German-Jewish veterans of the Great War, 1914-1918, were relocated to Nazi death camps between the years 1938-1945. Of that number, less than one hundred survived. Josef Ignatz Mechlovitz was not one of them.

January 30th 1939
“…I think that the sooner this problem is solved the better; for Europe cannot settle down until the Jewish question is cleared up…During the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance the Jewish race which only received my prophecies with laughter when I said that I would one day take over the leadership of the State, and with it that of the whole nation, and that I would then among many other things settle the Jewish problem…Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”

The Fuehrer and Chancellor of the Reich
Adolf Hitler


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