Muffled voices fade in and out of the infinite black void. I strain to hear what’s being said, but it’s no use. I can’t make out a single word. The feeling in my body slowly begins to return, bringing with it a throbbing pain in my head and my chest. I can’t move my arms. A groan escapes my lips as I open my eyes, worsening the pain in my head.
Blurred shapes come into focus around me in the small white room. I must be in some sort of hospital. The voices have stopped, but I can now make out three people standing around my bedside. One is a nurse, with her crisp white apron and starched hat. The other two wear military uniforms, yet I don’t recognize any of the medals pinned to their chests. I try to move my arm again, and realize my wrists have been handcuffed to the side rails.
The nurse says something to me as she places a fresh damp cloth over my forehead. I can’t understand anything. She waits a moment for me to respond, cocking her head to the side. She’s very pretty, with soft brown curls and red lips. One of the men waves his arm, and she departs.
They stand on either side of me, staring down with expressionless faces. One of them says something to me in a low voice; his tone almost seems to betray the slightest bit of compassion. He says it again, a bit firmer this time. I think they’re waiting for me to respond.
“Es tut mir leid…Ich verstehe nicht.” My voice comes out barely above a whisper. My throat feels like it’s filled with gravel. I see a pitcher of water sitting on the table beside me. I nod my head towards it. “Water, bitte…”
I can’t move my arms to drink, and so the man on my left holds the cup up to my lips. They talk among themselves for a moment before leaving me alone in the room. It isn’t long before I drift back to sleep.
When I wake, I notice that the handcuffs have been removed from my wrists. They now hang freely from the bed, as if waiting to be used again. I reach for the water on the bedside table, and notice some items have been left there for me. A plate with a dry sandwich sits on the table, next to a small book. I pick up the book, scanning my eyes across the cover: Deutsch-Englisch Wörterbuch. A German-English dictionary. Those men who visited me earlier must have been speaking English.
I try to recall anything which could have brought me here, and realize in horror that my mind has become a blank slate, as though I’ve become a newborn child once again. I can’t even remember my name. My heart begins to race as I try to make sense of anything. Why was I handcuffed to the bed? Am I dangerous? The men from earlier were soldiers – probably high-ranking officers – but we don’t speak the same language. Was I a soldier too, fighting against them? What was I fighting for? They must have captured me somehow.
“Mein Gott…” I whisper to myself in a moment of sudden clarity. I’m a prisoner of war.
Almost immediately, the door to my room opens. One of the officers from before enters, along with another man dressed in a beige suit. They sit down beside me, pulling chairs from the opposite wall to the side of my bed. My fingers tighten on the book as I break out into a nervous sweat. I relax only slightly as the man in the beige suit begins speaking to me in perfect German.
“My name is Professor Schein.” He begins. “I’ve come here today as an interpreter, so that you may speak with Lieutenant Bradley. There are some questions that he would like to ask you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand.” My voice shakes slightly, betraying my uncertainty.
The two men talk softly among themselves for a moment before Professor Schein turns to me once again.
“First, what is your name?”
“I don’t know my name.”
Professor Schein relays my answer to the Lieutenant, whose face begins to turn red.
“What do you mean, you don’t know your name?”
“I don’t know my name. I don’t know anything. I can’t remember anything…” They don’t believe me. They must think I’m trying to hide something from them. I can only imagine what they’re going to do to me.
“This discussion will go much more smoothly if you’re willing to cooperate with us.”
“Please!” I beg shamelessly. “I don’t know why I’m here! I don’t know what happened; I don’t even know who I am!”
I sit quietly, tears rolling down my face as Professor Schein and Lieutenant Bradley talk among themselves. I open my dictionary, and the two men wait patiently as I piece together a few broken phrases.
“Vhere…am I? Und…” I pause, searching for another word. “Who you are?”
Lieutenant Bradley speaks, and Professor Schein translates once again.
“I am Lieutenant Bradley of the United States Army. You’re in the hospital, recovering from your injuries in battle.”
I stare at the handcuffs on the bed. “Am I a prisoner?”
“I wouldn’t say that. Those are merely a precaution, depending on how well you cooperate with us. Is that understood?”
“Good.” Lieutenant Bradley holds up a photo from the folder in his lap. “Do you recognize this man?”
The man in the photo looks angry, as though the person behind the camera were someone he was quarreling with. He wears a strange uniform with a high collar and an armband. His dark hair is parted to one side, covering half of his forehead. The most noticeable feature is his moustache, shaved except for a dark patch directly beneath his nose.
“I do not.”
“This man is the leader of Germany. He is a very bad person and has taken many lives. We need your help to stop him.”
“I don’t believe you. If our countries are at war, then you are giving me lies and propaganda.”
Professor Schein and Lieutenant Bradley turn to each other, discussing my answer. They both seemed frustrated with me. I watched in silence as Lieutenant Bradley opened the folder on his lap. It was filled almost to bursting with papers, clipped together into groups with photos sticking out from between the pages. He hands the folder over to me, and I begin looking through its contents.
I can’t read most of the documents – they had been translated into English some time ago – but I can look at the pictures. The photos are absolutely horrific, filled with death and destruction. Malnourished figures stood staring into the camera with sunken eyes, surrounded by corpses and filth. One photo is just the front of a building; it looks oddly familiar, as though I’d been there many times before. Two sets of railway tracks pass beneath an arching sign, though I can’t quite make out what it says.
“What is this?” I ask, holding up the photo.
“That is a concentration camp, where the horrors of the other photos take place. This is what your leader has done, killing millions of people after putting them through unimaginable torture.”
“Mein Gott…” Something inside me knows that the photos are real. I close the folder, handing it back to Lieutenant Bradley. I can’t shake the feeling that somehow I had been involved, following orders to the point where I had left behind my values. My stomach begins to churn.
“You are very pale. Should I call the doctor?”
“No! No…I don’t need the doctor. Tell me, please…what do you know about me already?”
My heart drops as Lieutenant Bradley reaches back into the folder. He pulls some papers from the bottom of the pile, slightly torn and stained with blood.
“These appear to have been from your journal. Unfortunately, this is all we were able to salvage. Most of it was destroyed in the explosion.”
My hands shake as I begin reading the fancy Sütterlin script. The random pages told broken and halting tales of executions in the streets and of train cars packed to bursting with people torn violently from their homes. They told of gigantic camps where thousands of people were forced to labor until their deaths. They told of brick walls and razor-lined fences, and of the guards who simply shot anyone who ventured too close.
“Perhaps once your memory has returned, you can tell us the rest of the story.”
“No!” I cry out, wincing in pain from the effort. “Please…don’t make me remember. I don’t want to remember…”
Professor Schein and Lieutenant Bradly sit quietly for a moment, watching me as I hold my head in my hands and begin to weep.
“That’s not who I want to be. Please don’t make me remember.”
The two men nod solemnly, both of them standing to depart. The door closes softly behind them, and I’m left alone in the room. I don’t know what will happen to me next. Maybe they’ll keep me locked up here. I can’t say it wouldn’t be deserved. Either way – whether I remember the things I’ve done or not – there’s no going back.