My Father wrote this story , based on the very few times my Polish Grandfather talked about his time in Dachau Concentration Camp.
Both my parents love ghost stories and horror movies, so you can guess where I get my influences from. Please let me know what you think. My Dad is a brilliant writer and just doesn’t write enough. I could do with something to give him a bit more persuasion to put pen to paper in his retirement.
Dedicated to my Grandparents. Stola!
I sit and watch the sun rise over the city, sparking silver shards on the river, and
casting dancing shadows of tree tops on my walls.
Through the open window I can hear the rattle of trams as they pass down the street.
Car horns blare in a constant discordant chorus. From time to time I catch the patter
of footsteps and fragments of speech from people passing by hurrying off to their
business of the day. The cling of bottles sounds as a restaurant clears the empties
from the previous night, and a faint aroma of cooking drifts in on the breeze stirring
my curtains. I hear a hiss of water as a pavement is hosed down. Echoing in my
quiet room I hear all the sounds of a great city awakening. The great city where I live,
a place and a life so far away from where I lived not so long ago.
The morning sounds then were so very different; the sounds of people condemned
to another day on a slow agonising path of suffering and death. The shuffle of
hundreds of poorly shod feet. The coughs and the mumbles of those who had lost
reality. The angry shouts of an argument, the sounds of a scuffle; the bark of a
guard, the shot , the scream of another death. Probably welcome. Then there were
the sounds of the ‘Ghost Kommando’, the men who gathered the dead bodies from
the huts up each morning, grunting as they piled them on the cart. Then the squeak
of ungreased wheels as they pushed the cart towards the crematorium.
But it wasn’t the sounds of those days which stick strongest in the memory, it was
the stink. The rank, stupefying odour of filth, starvation, disease, dying and death. A
stink which seemed to thicken the air. Even the smoke from the chimneys couldn’t
mask it. It clung to everything, to buildings and clothes. It seemed to get into your
very skin, you became part of the stink.
Izaak and I were just 18 when they came to take us to the ghetto. Poppa, mama and
even grandma and grandad were taken. We came together, herded like cattle, struck
if we protested, shot if the protests were too strong. As we passed through familiar
streets, others joined, and we became part of a long column, heading for our new
Izaak and I were twins, born just two minutes apart. Being older meant that Izaak
was often in my shadow. He was gentle, where I was not. He was, patient and polite,
I was often hot tempered and rude. But, we made a perfect team, me with my
scheming and grand plans, Izaak with his clear concise, logical thinking to bring me
back down to earth. We were smart boys, although Izaak was probably smarter.
We had thought we were a lucky family. Poppa had a successful business , and we
were moderately prosperous We were well thought of in our small town. We were
proud Poles until the war and the Ghetto and the camps, when we became just
Jews, and then worse.
Slowly everything we had had been taken from us. Izaak and I had to leave college.
The family business was taken, our home was requisitioned and we were taken to
live in one room in a wretched rat and flea infested hovel in the Ghetto.
The shock to Momma and Poppa and their parents was almost too much. They
drifted around our new home in an daze.’ Why, why ,why’ poppa would say time and
time again. They simply couldn’t comprehend what had happened, how we were to
cope with the new life we had been given.
Winters were particularly cruel to half starved and half freezing bodies, and neither of
our grandparents survived the first one. Momma and Poppa barely survived despite
the best efforts of Izaak and me.
With the strength and resilience of young bodies, and quick minds we were able to
adapt much more easily to our much changed circumstances. Between us we
managed to find food and even money at times. Me with my assertiveness and
cunning and Izaak with his brains and charm. We made a great team? It seemed we
could almost read each others thoughts , and it was uncanny how many times we
found ourselves thinking the same things at the same time. We schemed and
planned and acted. Not always honestly, we found food and fuel. Together we kept
was was left of our family alive through the coldest and darkest days.
We would sally out each morning wrapped in our rags, stepping over sleeping, or
dying forms in corridors and on stairs. Sometimes a plea for help would come from
some heap of rags, but we had our own to see to. We had nothing to spare for
others. We lived so that our family could live, we ourselves teetering on the brink of
starvation, and the constant risk of the diseases which frequently swept through the
And so we survived in the Ghetto . We worked hard to survive. We traded when we
could. We tried hard to get what we could and more if possible. We stole when we
had to, we cheated. Izaak always hated it when I stole. Others might die he would
say, because we took from them what little the already had. ‘It’s wrong,’ he would
say. ‘It’s forbidden in the Tora.’ But I would chivvy him into being my lookout, while I
stole a watch or a ring or a potatoe. Despite his conscience, he always did as I
asked. He would distract a victim whilst I did the business; one way or another.
Then they ‘closed ‘ the Ghetto. The came and rounded us up. Those who tarried
were shot on the spot. We were marched to the railway station and forced into
stinking cattle cars. We were pushed,and kicked until each car was crammed with
bodies. The journey to the camp was a nightmare. By the time the train juddered to a
halt at the camp each car had its share of the dying and dead. The fittest jumped
from the cars, the weaker were pushed from them, the dead and the dying dragged
to the ground to be carted off to the crematorium by blank face prisoners in striped
We were lined up, men and older boys, women and children. Some younger women
were pulled from the women’s line to be led away. The rest were marched away for
‘showers’. It was the last time I saw Momma, as she left, she turned to look at me
Izaak and Poppa, her face picture of sadness.
The Ghetto was bad, but the camp was worse, far worse. In the Ghetto you had
opportunity. You had freedom of a kind. You were crowded,you risked death if you
were caught trading with people outside, or taking the food which some kind souls
would throw over the walls and fences, but you could move around. You could plot
and scheme and you had the space to carry put your plans, even in the middle of
crowded streets and buildings.
In the camp you were much more restricted, you were watched and counted, by
guards and by fellow prisoners. There was always someone ready to sell information
of some misdemeanour to the camp guards in return for some small favour. You
lived from day to day. You had to work or die. You were marched out each day to
labour in the surrounding forests, or made to dig trenches or foundations or carry out
pointless hard labour tasks designed to break body and spirit. On starvation rations,
and poorly clothed you were lucky to survive a few weeks. Poppa lasted a week. His
heart finally gave out and I am sure he was glad to go. No funeral. The creaking cart
and the crematorium for him like thousands of others.
The only goal was to survive, nothing else mattered. Izaak and I did what we could,
we did what we needed to do, legally and illegally , morally and immorally, you did it.
To eat, to preserve some strength to keep us away from the hospital, where those
who went in never came out, and the guards who spotting any weakness were quick
on the trigger and ever ready to split a skull with a rifle butt.. We did things which
even now I find difficult to think about but we carried on day by day, just scraping
We were in the camp for two years. As time went on it became harder and harder to
survive. Food became even shorter and as it became clear that the war was being
lost, the camp guards more and more unpredictable . You could be beaten to death
or shot without reason. Being in the wrong place at the wrong moment could mean
The crematorium, always busy now worked even harder. Black smoke belched from
the chimneys day and night. So busy at times that even flames were seen to shoot
from the stacks. Life began to be lived by the minute
Weeks before we were liberated, food supplies were almost none existent,
colourless soup, little more than water with tiny amounts of cabbage boiled up in it
was the order of the day. Bread became a luxury available to only a few. Despite our
animal cunning, Izaak and I grew weaker and more ill as the days passed. Better
than many thanks to our ‘activities’, we were still approaching deaths door.
Liberation came just in time for many of us. I was happy to help the American
soldiers identify those guards who had been particularly brutal, and some who
weren’t and I smiled as they were forced to their knees and shot out of hand. All
humanity had long since gone from my soul. When you are reduced to the level of an
animal, you became one. A stinking, starving, feral animal, like thousands of others
all over Europe.
And so it was over, the Ghetto, the camp, the daily struggle to survive. I found my
way through a displaced persons camp to France. I found myself in a large city, I
found a job and a small apartment not far from the river. Life was not easy, but after
the last few years it was not hard. Enough to eat and drink, a warm bed and a
pleasant environment, what more could a refugee from the camps ask for.?
A couple of years after I moved to the city, Izaak started to visit me. His visits began
after I recognised that the pain in my belly was more than the results of the poor diet
I had suffered for some years.
The doctors confirmed my worst fears. Day by day I became weaker, the pain worse.
I would often lie on my bed at night , the pain keeping me awake and that’s when
Izaak would come. He would just stand at the foot of my bed, and look at me, his big
brown eyes sad and full . He would not say anything, he just held out his hand,
asking, begging, without words.
I knew why, because that was the last thing I remember of him. Lying on his bunk,
his hand outstretched, begging me for the bread that was his as well, but which I had
eaten. In the last days of the camp, I knew that only one of us could survive. Only
the strongest survived didn’t they?, and I was stronger than Izaak, wasn’t I?
The night has drawn in, the sunset casting long shadows. My room dims in the
twilight. I see Izaak, he stands before me again. No outstretched hand this time. He
I hear the shuffle of feet, the grunt as the weight is taken up, then the squeaking of
the cart wheels. The Ghost Kommando is on its way to another appointment.