He didn’t know why he kept looking up there. No matter how many times he checked, the time on the clock didn’t change. 6 o’clock. It always said 6 o’clock. It was a lie of course. One of many that was in place to herd the “undesirables” more easily towards the completion of the “Final Solution.” He had known about the Final Solution almost half his life. Since starting out in the Hitler Youth at the age of ten they had drilled it into him. Nine years later it was all he knew. Not only did he know it to be true but his belief in what they were doing was rooted deep. He was a soldier of the SS. One of Hitler’s brightest stars. He wore his uniform proudly even after a long day at work.
Unlike what Hitler would have the world believe though he was in fact only human and prone to fatigue. After a hot day full of cattle trains, wailing infants and emotional chaos all he wanted to do was go to his bunk and crash. The last train of the day should be here any minute. The faster he could get things moving the faster he could go to bed. He heard the forlorn whistle coming out of the grey haze of twilight as though it knew the part it played in all of this and was saddened by it somehow. Pushing that thought from his mind he put out his half smoked cigarette against the stone wall and snapped to attention. This was his job. This was his privilege. He knew his orders. As the train screeched to a stop he ran to open the rust covered iron doors. This was always the worst part for him. He straightened and took a deep breath holding it against the coming onslaught of body odor, urine, feses, and death. He wished he could also cover his eyes at the sight that never failed to greet him when the doors were first opened. If hopelessness and despair had a physical form it would be the faces of these wraths. These unwanted corpses too stubborn to die before they made it to him. He hated them for that. He had to fight down the rising bile in his throat as the smell and sounds of death assailed him. They were cargo, nothing more. He had to remember that or he’d go mad.
This cattle train seemed much like the dozens of others he’d helped unload. Mothers and children clung to each other for dear life, somehow sensing the upcoming horror that awaited them just a few miles down the road. As he mechanically began to separate the able bodied men from the infermed, and the women and children he let his mind drift to a happier time before the war. This is how he kept his head. Order, discipline, detachment, and for him personally distraction. He couldn’t look to close or they might actually look like people, not refuse like he had been told a thousand times before.
He was deep in thought reliving a picnic on the beach when out of nowhere a pair of large chocolate colored eyes swam before his vision. He blinked to refocus but the eyes stayed and brought with them a face unlike any he’d ever seen. Thick, shoulder-length chestnut colored hair framed a heart shaped face that had to be in a word, stunning. He stood for an immeasurable moment staring at her perfect but weary features. Her body was thin but still soft with curves in all the right places. He guessed that her figure would have been quite voluptuous in hardier days. The malnourishment that had taken over so many others before her had not seemed to have affected her yet. Her skin was clear and smooth and her eyes were bright even in the dim light. He felt as though he could see her very soul in their depths. He was right in his initial assessment. She was really and truly perfect. As he struggled to control his breathing and slow his rapidly beating heart his mind raced with confusion. What was going on? He had never had such a physical reaction to any girl before in all his 19 years. How could this be? He was an SS officer and she, she was a…
The realization of what he was feeling both excited and disgusted him at the same time. He did his best to quickly reign in his features before his superiors saw him. However his mind could not be reigned in. Before he had time to even think twice about what he was doing he looked at the young woman with an intensity that surprised even him and blurted out. “What is your name?” Her brown eyes blinked in confusion and surprise but she remained silent. “Do you speak German?” She slowly nodded. Relieved he tried again a bit more softly. “What is your name?” She nervously looked around very much aware that this man had not spoken to a single soul before her. She hadn’t been able to help herself. She had been watching him since the doors of the train opened. Something about him drew her in. As much as it sickened her to her core she felt a connection with this man that she knew nothing about other than he was someone she should be running from. Yet, the look he was giving her now was not frightening or threatening. It almost looked pleading. As though he were desperate. She decided she had no real reason not to tell him. He would find out anyway if he really wanted to. “Marie, Marie Borow.” Her voice was deeper than he expected but it sounded beautiful to his ears. “Marie, are you strong? Can you chop wood?” Confused by his question but knowing the answer anyways she shook her head yes. He let out an audible sigh and directed her away from the quickly emptying cattle train. “Here, get in line with the men. Keep your head down and don’t talk to anyone.” As the last people were being unloaded off of the train he followed the small line of able bodied men and one woman down the road towards the gates of Treblinka 1. He didn’t have to do this. He shouldn’t be doing this. According to his orders his job ended once the cattle train was empty, but he just wanted to stay by her side a little longer. Along with that he had a strong need to keep her safe. He gave a disgusted laugh at the irony of safety in a Nazi concentration camp. Still, he had to try. It shocked him that for the first time in the 6 months he had been here he actually felt true concern for the safety of someone who wasn’t German. Someone who in fact should be his enemy. He should hate her very existence. That was what he had been taught.That is what he believed, wasn’t it? But as he watched her the emotions that had hit him when he first saw her only grew stronger with each step he took. Through all the darkness that must have touched her world she seemed to carry a grace and a light within her that he’d never witnessed in any of the desperate prisoners he had seen before her. Even though it was muted by all the pain and filth around her she still carried within her, her own personal sun. He hadn’t realized how dark and dreary his days had become until she pulled him in and shined on his world. He noticed that he apparently wasn’t the only one who was affected by her very presence. The men in the group seemed to unconsciously speed up or slow down in order to draw closer to her. He felt a surge of jealousy course threw him so strong he momentarily lost his footing. He just couldn’t understand it. He didn’t know this woman from Eve. Yet he felt both extremely protective and possessive of her. Somewhere in the back of his mind his internal voice, the one that had been with him through all of his SS training, was screaming at him to get as far away from her as possible. While he was at it, he should spit on her for good measure. As much as he had always faithfully and meticulously listened to that inner voice he quickly shut it down mid rant.
He realized that while he had saved her from the immediate death of the gas chambers in Treblinka 2. He had no real idea how to protect her going forward. His post was at the train station unloading the cattle cars. He couldn’t just walk up to his superiors and ask for a transfer to a different post. They reassign you. You don’t ask to be moved. Not if you value your life.
As he was lost in thought a quiet voice barely above a whisper reached his ears. “Why did you save me?” Startled he looked up to see Marie standing next to him. The look she was giving him spoke volumes. Somehow she knew what he had done. The hope he had offered her. She knew that he had crossed a line that he probably hadn’t crossed before. She was grateful. Grateful and confused and she needed to know why. His shoulders tensed as he opened his mouth to speak then quickly shut it unsure of how to answer her. How do you tell a complete stranger that for some unexplained reason she is now the most important person in your world. It was ludicrous. Ludicrous but still very true. He then said the only thing he could say. “I had to. I don’t know why, I just did.” Unfathomable sadness touched her eyes as she processed each word that he spoke. “I don’t even know your name soldier.” The formal address wasn’t given with malice. It was stated as a truth. A truth that defined and surrounded their very existence. He was a soldier. She was his prisoner. His enemy. Whatever “this” was that was happening between them it could never escape the hard reality of these facts. His quiet answer brought her out of her thoughts. “Frits Lubbers.”
The exchanging of names for any other two people in the world might have passed without a second thought. But the significance of this particular exchange was life altering. Barriers and walls that a madman had spent decades building were torn down at his reply. She was not an “undesirable.” She was not refuse. She was a person. Not just any person. His person. As he stated his name to her he had the craziest desire to see her first name beside his last. It was at this thought that he knew beyond all sound logic and reason that he had found his one. The one that was meant to be his throughout all time. Right behind this realization came the unchangeable knowledge that it would never be. He had seen death and despair. More than any 19 year old should have to face. He had been drilled and broken down just to be molded into the perfect soldier. Still, never in all of that time had he come close to falling apart. He was strong, in both body and mind. Even his superiors commended him on it. However, the moment he knew he could never have her for himself sent a crack into his heart that widened into an abyss. As he walked the final 300 yards to the gates of Treblinka 1 he did the only thing he could do. He took one long step into that black abyss and fell. She stood there as the gates opened looking longingly at him as she too realized the magnitude of their encounter. As the soldier at the front of the line screamed for everyone to file through the gate she turned her head as tears filled her eyes. She walked straighter than ever before into the waiting horrors of Treblinka 1. She would most likely work herself to death within these walls. She knew though, no matter what she might face, that she would carry the hope and love that Frits gave her in her heart till the end of her days.
He knew somehow that he would forever be changed.The root of hate that the Nazi’s had planted in him at the young age of ten had suddenly and irrevocably been torn out and tossed onto the pires of bodies that the Treblinka 2 camp was famous for. As for him, he would always be falling. Falling through the abyss of his heart in the same way that he fell for her. Fast and hard. Just an hour out of a day like so many others had changed his life forever. As he walked back into the station where his post would continue for the foreseeable future he knew that beyond a doubt when the next train came in tomorrow he wouldn’t be able to look away. He would no longer see refuse or “undesirables.” He would see people. He was still a soldier of the SS though. He had no choice but to open those doors each day and separate the men from the women and children, and that’s what he did. As his punishment for all he had done to these people in the past and as a way to pay tribute to the girl he loved he tried to really look. He noticed their gaunt cheekbones, and haunted expressions. He heard them whisper frantic words of love and farewell as he separated them from each other. He didn’t just hear words he heard the meaning behind the words. The years of commitment and struggles that went with them. At times he wanted to follow these people right into Treblinka 2 and die too. He didn’t though. He memorized faces as best he could. Eye color, hair color, accents. But most importantly he asked them their names. He put as many as he could to memory. He had to remember. So one day he could tell the world of what it truly was like here.That the so called wonder race was destroying real people with real dreams. People who loved and felt pain just like he did. He wanted them to know how strong these people were even amidst such pain.. He had to make a difference no matter how small, for her. So he looked, and he listened, and he asked. Moment by moment, day by day the love that had sprung up between two very unlikely people helped one man end the cycle of hate and evil in his life.