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Historical Fiction Sad Inspirational

Oswiecim, Poland - June 1944

Not a cloud was in the bright blue June sky, butโ€”ignoring the heatโ€”one could easily mistake the ashes falling from above for a light snow. It was not snow, however. Snow was for happier times. Times of peace, hope, and joy.


Death was falling from the sky. It covered the grass, the trees, and the walkways surrounding the stone building, tucked away in the north corner of the concentration camp. Death was in every step, every look, and every breath. One could not escape it.


Within the barbed wire fences of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the ovens raged, consuming the bodies of thousands of innocent Jews as they were unceremoniously shoveled into the fiery infernos. The already emaciated bodies shriveled, turned black, and eventually denigrated into nothing but falling ashes.ย 


Aldrich Blau stepped forward to receive yet another bodyโ€”number A3765โ€”which he swiftly inserted into the brick oven. The flesh of the unnamed Jew crackled and popped as it was cooked by the intense heat.ย 


Blau bristled. It was usually the job of the Jewish prisoners to man the ovens, but Blau had overslept and as punishment been assigned a few days inside the crematoriums. The monotonous work within the hot and rancid stone building was hard; and like any soldier, he would rather be on the front lines fighting the Americans and the British to the west or the Soviets to the east. He hated work at the camps.


As he shoved another body deep into the fireโ€”number A8790โ€”he thought of his parents in Berlin. They had profusely protested when he told them he wanted to join the army and fight for theย Fuhrer.ย They believed Hitler was a madman who would bring about the destruction of Germany as a world power.


โ€œHitler is a fool!โ€ His father had shouted at him. โ€œWe will end up worse off than we were after the Great War. He will not succeed!โ€


โ€œHow dare you denigrate theย Fuhrerย in such a way!โ€ Blau had shouted back. โ€œYou will see, father. The Third Reich will rise and bring great glory to the Fatherland.โ€ย 


Those had been his last words to his father. He had stormed out the front door of their home into a rainy dark night and never looked back. He had believed it all. Anyone who could not see that this was Germanyโ€™s destiny was a fool. Anyone who could not see that this was mankindโ€™s destiny was a fool. The Aryan race was supreme, and if it required the extermination of the โ€œlesser peopleโ€ for that to be realized, so be it.


โ€œFaster, Blau!โ€ shouted his commander, "I am hungry."


โ€œYes,ย Herrย Krantz,โ€ Blau responded quickly, another bodyโ€”number B4539โ€”being inserted into the oven.ย 


Blau didnโ€™t enjoy killing the innocent. He would much rather be going toe to toe with another countryโ€™s soldiers, rifle in hand. But the dirty jobs had to be done by someone. And by the time the Jews arrived at the ovens, they were merely a body with a number.ย 


Until they werenโ€™t.


As Blau moved to receive the last body of his shiftโ€”number A3811โ€”the manโ€™s face tripped something in the back of Blauโ€™s mind. There was something familiar about the features of this particular body. A fuzzy picture was forming of a treehouse in the backyard of his familyโ€™s Berlin homeโ€ฆ


โ€œBlau, letโ€™s go. Weโ€™re almost done with our shift,โ€ his commander said. But Blau was zoned out, deep within the grasp of this manโ€™s face and the memory banks of his own mind.ย 


Suddenly, it all clicked.ย Jacob.ย The name came rushing back along with a flood of other memories. They had been friends as children and together built the treehouse that still resided in the backyard of Blauโ€™s childhood home. They had moved away when Blau was thirteen. He didnโ€™t know their family was Jewishโ€ฆ


Blau reached down and pushed the hair away from the top right corner of Jacobโ€™s forehead. A two-inch scar ran from the beginning of his hairline and down the side of his head. The result of a fall he had taken while they were building the treehouse.ย 


โ€œOh, dear God, forgive me,โ€ Blau whispered. His head was pounding, and he could feel hot bile rising in his throat.ย 


โ€œBlau, what is wrong with you?โ€ย 


Without another word, Blau stumbled out of the crematorium and into the warm June afternoon. He collapsed in a heap onto the grass, stirring the white ashes that seemingly covered everything.ย 


And there he laid. The numberโ€”A3811โ€”pounding again and again in his head.ย He was more than a number,ย he thought.ย He was Jacob.ย 


But it was too late, and all he could do was lie there as the ashesโ€”the deathโ€”floated down around him. The ashes of the innocent. The ashes of Jacob.

* * *

Oswiecim, Poland - June 2021

The English-speaking tour guide led the group through the barracks of Auschwitz II and towards the northernmost corner of the preserved concentration camp. There, preserved for all to see, stoodย Krematorium IV and V.ย 


โ€œAnd here we have crematoriums four and five,โ€ the tour guide said to the group as they entered the stone building. Its lone feature being the tall brick chimney out of which ashes once poured.ย 


โ€œThe Nazis used the crematoriums to dispose of the bodies of the thousands of Jewish prisoners who were gassed to death. Itโ€™s estimated nearly one million Jews were killed and cremated using these very ovens.โ€ย 


The mostly American group was silent and somber as they each thought about what once took place in the very chamber in which they stood. The group parted ways for the white-haired Brooklyn native who slowly made his way to the barrier and intently peered into the ovens, as if he might catch a glimpse of a flicker of life where death had reigned supreme.


The tour guide continued to talk about how the ovens worked and Topf and Sons, the manufacturer who supplied the Nazis with the ovens. But the white-haired gentleman wasnโ€™t listening.ย How could mankind be so depraved?ย He thought to himself.ย How could the life of another man be worth so little in the eyes of a fellow human? How does one reduce a living human to simply a number worthy of death?


The tour guide led the group out of the crematorium, but the white-haired gentleman remained, staring into the ovens, lost in his thoughts and unnoticed by the rest of the group. He thought of his family, who had very likely passed through these very ovens, victims of Hitlerโ€™s hateful and deadly ideology.ย 


He pulled himself away and was about to walk out and catch up with the group when he realized he was not the only one still in the crematorium. Leaning against the far wall was a younger man, staring down at the ground.ย 


โ€œExcuse me,โ€ the white-haired gentleman said. โ€œAre you okay? We better hurry if we want to catch up.โ€


The younger man looked up, a tear forming in his right eye. โ€œYou go on. I need to stay here a little longer.โ€ย 


The older man nodded and took a step towards the door but then turned back. The young man looked so crestfallen, his shoulders slumped, and his hands clasped tightly in front of him. โ€œAre you Jewish?โ€ The older man asked.


โ€œNo,โ€ the younger man replied, shaking his head. โ€œIโ€™m German. My grandfather worked in this very room, disposing of the bodies of the Jews who had been gassed.โ€


There was a moment of silence as both men were transported back nearly eighty years. The sounds and smells of cooking flesh seemed to swirl in the airโ€”each man imagining the same event but from totally different perspectives.ย 


โ€œI donโ€™t understand how someone could do it,โ€ the younger man said, breaking the silence, โ€œhow someone could so blindly follow the edicts of a murderous madman.โ€


The white-haired gentleman walked forward and put his arm around the younger man. โ€œHate is a strong emotion, and when it takes root in someoneโ€™s heart, or in a people, or in a nation, it canโ€”no, it willโ€”lead to horrible and ghastly things.โ€ย 


โ€œI just feel so guilty knowing my grandfather was a willing instrument in the perpetration of possibly the greatest travesty in human existence.โ€ย 


โ€œHave you ever hated anyone?โ€


The young man was taken aback. โ€œExcuse me?โ€


โ€œThink back throughout all of your life. Have you ever hated anyone? Because I know I have. Sometimes for good reason and other times for stupid reasons. Itโ€™s human nature to want to hate people that hurt you or that you disagree with. Itโ€™s about recognizing the hate and getting rid of it before it metastasizes into something more than just an emotion.โ€


Neither of them said a word for nearly a full minute.ย 


โ€œMy grandfather was swept up in the resentment and hate that filled Germany following World War I. I have read his journals. When Hitler came along and proclaimed that the Jews were the cause of all of Germanyโ€™s problems, he truly believed it.โ€


โ€œBut you donโ€™t.โ€ The response was a statement, not a question.


โ€œNo, I donโ€™t. Not at all. I despise what my grandfather partook in.โ€


The white-haired man sighed. โ€œHumanity is capable of great achievements and accomplishments, but we are also capable of devastating tragedies. Itโ€™s up to you and me to banish hate from our hearts. If we donโ€™t do it individually, we will never do it as a society.โ€


The young man nodded. โ€œThank you, sir. Youโ€™ve helped me tremendously.โ€


โ€œWhatโ€™s your name, by the way?โ€ย 


โ€œBlau. Aldrich Blau. Iโ€™m actually named after my grandfather. And yours?โ€


โ€œJacob Eitan. Iโ€™m named after my father, prisoner A3811.โ€


โ€œDid he survive?โ€


โ€œUnfortunately, no,โ€ the older man responded. โ€œBut I did,โ€ he said, rolling up his sleeve to reveal a number tattooed into his right arm, A3812.


โ€œI was a boy when I was brought here. Itโ€™s a miracle I was never sent to the gas chamber myself. Maybe God had a meeting in mind between you and me.โ€


The young man smiled sadly. โ€œWould you like to get lunch? I think weโ€™ve lost our group.โ€


โ€œIโ€™d love to.โ€


The pair walked out of the crematorium and into the sunlight. Not a cloud was in the bright blue June sky, but this time there were no falling ashes.ย 


* * *

Authors Note: This story was written in memory of my Jewish ancestors, the Zaslowskyโ€™s, who were marched into the forest one night and murdered by Nazi soldiers. Rest in peace.ย 


March 17, 2021 01:20

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18 comments

Olivia June
14:23 Mar 24, 2021

Great story! I love how you linked the building to a devastating time and then to one where there is a little bit of peace and restoration beginning to form. The description words and imagery really brought the story together.

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Thanks Olivia! Iโ€™m glad you liked it. When are you going to be coming out with a new story?

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Olivia June
12:53 Mar 25, 2021

I have plans to start writing again within the next couple of weeks. :)

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Madalyn Meyers
00:14 Mar 19, 2021

I like your response to the prompt. I thought you did a really great job and seem to have a good grasp on word choice and imagery. If I had some constructive commentary, the dialogue seemed a bit unnatural, especially in the case for two men who just met. People are rarely so articulate in my experience. Keep writing! I would love to keep reading your stuff.

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Thanks for reading! I'll reexamine that part and see if I can make some changes. Thanks!

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John K Adams
23:26 Mar 18, 2021

You have a lot of heart. I hope you write much more. Well done.

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04:28 Mar 18, 2021

Antonio, this story is amazing! A very powerful story to read. It looks like you were given a few suggestions and if I read this correctly youโ€™ve done a great job putting it all together. Iโ€™m touched by the concept and I appreciate your tribute in the end. Great job, it should be a winner! Robert

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Tom .
11:41 Mar 17, 2021

Place the authors note at the end and remove the key place descriptions. You are revealing the essence of the story immediately, reveal it to the reader as they go. Just include the date it will have more power. I would even write the authors note as a personal tribute to your family. You have potentially a very powerful piece here. I have a suggestion for you. Treat it like an onion. Have the core information at the heart and slowly peel down to it. Remove nearly all the references to Nazi's and the Fuhrer. Reference them but do not name th...

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Thanks! Will definitely try to implement some of your suggestions. I "peeled the onion," so to say, in the second section by not revealing the character's names until the last paragraph. Why do you think it would be better to not name the Nazis or Auschwitz, etc until the end?

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Tom .
02:35 Mar 18, 2021

It requires a bit of restructuring but it will build tension. You can keep all the conflict. Two people arguing in 1943 can say the same words ommiting the designated titled. Some readers will guess straight away, most will pick up on it. A few will be like damn when you drop the details. Your first draft tells us everything in the first two sentences. Drip feed the reader and build the momentum. Then your pay off at the end has a greater impact. Hey it is a good piece. This is just my opinion. Please feel free to ignore any or all of it. I ...

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23:53 Mar 24, 2021

Wow, this was so heart-wrenching and bittersweet. The descriptions of murder and death, the horrible images instantly pulled me into the story. I really don't have much criticism for this except, and it's so minor, during the beginning of the tour in the white-haired gentleman's POV. I would simply say "He thought" and take out "to himself" as to himself is inferred. Other than that, this was a great piece and I like that feelings of sense of hope and optimism at the end.

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Awesome story! RIP Zaslowsky's. It's tragic what happened in WWII. I did realize you put, "Aushwitz-Birkenau". I believe its spelled Auschwitz. But great job! I also am holding on to this one line: โ€œHate is a strong emotion, and when it takes root in someoneโ€™s heart, or in a people, or in a nation, it canโ€”no, it willโ€”lead to horrible and ghastly things.โ€ This is amazing and definitely quotable. Great job, Antonio!

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This is a very rough, first draft so I will be editing it. Let me know what's good and what's bad. Tought to write for multiple reasons but I hope you enjoy it.

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