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The High Executioner

The High Executioner

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The High Executioner

Lunghezza:
687 pagine
9 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Mar 20, 2016
ISBN:
9781310013164
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

This is a terrible personal story. This is a story from the pit of Hell with some luminous moments. The story is the echo of the "Holocaust's Screams". Even Satan stands aghast before the 'High Executioner'. He is an SS Officer, named Gunther Vielbach, sent to Russia in 1941 to perform a ghastly job. He commanded a Company whose task was to shoot Jews and Gypsies by the ten of thousands. SS Vielbach becomes increasingly tormented, and battles a demon inside himself. SS Vielbach spends time and time again trying to rationalize the crimes he has committed. He uses his memory to construct an inner-journal of what he has done. Some passages in the book describe the massacres of Jews and Gypsies as it happened: so much violence and atrocity, no details are spared.This is what happened. This is the truth. The reader comes to meet a few Jewish families before the deportation, and the life in the ghetto. There are also the few of the few who have gone into hiding into Russia's vast forest where they have joined the partisans, and the reader discovers "Luminous moments".

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Mar 20, 2016
ISBN:
9781310013164
Formato:
Libro

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The High Executioner - Saul Dharien

4:16

Chapter 1

Those were the days!

I am yours-truly, the High Executioner. It's summer of 1938, Venice, across from the Grand Canal, in the Hotel Rovieto. I'm on my honeymoon, finally, after six years of courtship. That was for her parents. Six years of sneaking around and meeting Ingrid in hidden places for a quick one. She is sitting in bed, next to me and stark naked, reading me the papers:

A fascist is a man who kills anyone who disagrees with him.

Ingrid lowers the page from the Neue Press, a labour union journal operating out of Zurich. What do you think? she asks, as I try to stay awake. We're laying in bed, on our honeymoon, cozened up in that Venetian hotel. It is August and I had just been through a heavy dinner of veal canola and Chianti red.

I don't think this newspaper has much time left, I yawned.

Ingrid tossed the paper off to one side of the bed, took a sip of cognac with her right hand and stuck the left one in my crotch.

I am goiiiiing to do something evil to you. Devilishly she climbed her tall, near perfect frame atop of me. Despite her build, she is incredibly light, like a dancer. My eyes closed and she purred into my ear: Drift off, little hog. I'll take care of the rest.

Bon appetite… I sighed as I slumbered into an erotic half-sleep.

Soviet Union,

June 27, 1941.

‘You kike-sucking fagot!!!’

Whew! I have just snapped out of a terrible nightmare.

I sit up and remember that I am on a standard military cot and a tent shelters over me. I hear tanks roll by in the distance. I know what they sound like by now; it is the morning of June twenty seven, 1941, and we are four days into our war with Russia. It is the first sleep I have had since the invasion began.

Our first target is Yaroslav, in Byelorussia, which we are to invest as soon as the Reds abandon it. Our intelligence, mostly hired locals, has been pinpointing Jewish and Tzigane concentrations throughout western Russia for the past year. Our route is already mapped to a hairpin. If we drive into a town wherein our targets have already been evacuated, or in hiding, we immediately proceed to the next town; there'll be time to catch the runaways later. It is of the utmost importance that we follow the shock of battle closely, when the civilians are at their most confused, and thus most cooperative. Yaroslav has a community of about three thousand gypsies, and if I find them there, there'll not be a single one left alive this evening.

Three thousand smelly Tziganes, our first prize!

I am all psyched and so are my men. In the weeks preceding the invasion, our officers have carefully nurtured the fierceness of the rank and file. The desire to savagery is now at fever pitch and we know exactly where to go and what to do. My troopers won't even have to think, much less feel.

I am in charge of Sonderkommando D, two hundred and fifty men. We're part of Einsazgruppe B, one thousand SS assigned to cover White Russia. Awaiting us, perhaps half a million Gypsies and three million Jews, and by this I mean those who are not expected to be evacuated in time.

Now I realize that I've been sleeping with my uniform and boots on. I spring to my feet, step out of the tent, and belch out my first orders of the day: assemble, re-check the gear, and warm up the trucks. I gulp some coffee; we are mobile and on the road within twenty minutes. It is six thirty in the morning.

Yaroslav captured last night, confirmed! says my radioman.

Where is my box of corydrane? Franz Muller, my first lieutenant, hands it to me. We share the back seat of a rather neat-looking military Mercedes. We are going to the kill in style! Corydrane is a powerful amphetamine, a standard military issue for extreme fatigue, which is not my problem. It has been decided that corydrane shall be issued to the Einsazgruppen to maintain morale. Muller is to distribute each men one tablet as soon as the civilians have been rounded up and put unto the trucks. Today, the kill site is located fifteen kilometres from Yaroslav; I find this distance quite slim. Sonderkommando A is there now, digging the trench. Tomorrow, it'll be our turn to go dig another trench elsewhere in the region. Kommando A and D work in pairs, alternating duties that cannot be performed consecutively. If I arrive at the kill site empty-handed, no problem; we can always use that trench later.

The quiet immensity of the Russian countryside. Here and there, very distant columns of dark smoke rise into the stratosphere. Any sound of far-off artillery is probably being muffled by the sound of our motors.

One hour into the drive, we encounter a motorcycled courier coming from the opposite direction. He makes a U-turn and catches up to my car, shouting that Yaroslav is indeed overrun and crowded with refugees milling about in confusion. The Gypsies have not left; they are huddled in their own neighbourhood and keep indoors. I must hurry this drive and get to these rats before they collect their senses.

On our way, I daydream about my wife Ingrid and her firm, muscular ass. I mentally undress and prop her up upon the kitchen counter. With a spoon, I spread strawberry jelly over her strawberry-blonde pubic hair and kneel down to commence desert. Before I know it, I have a tremendous hard-on, a potent urge to masturbate right in the car, spewing my discharge into sorry Muller's face. I am a sick man and I am going to have a nice day.

Shall I tell you a riddle?

There is a place, dark and putrid in smell, whence if ye near it you may hear a low grumble, a deep and languid growl, almost a drone, interspersed with sounds of heavy breathing. What is putrid in this place is the unburied past, left to rot in the recesses. What is fetid is that thick mist of depravity. And if ye enter, you may see these crevices at the bottom of which stews festering pools of mud and refuse heated by the proximity of the earth's centre. Decomposing corpses and body parts lie everywhere, each partially devoured by that hideous Thing lying in the shadows, watching you with its cold, glaring eyes, but too replete with meat to lunge at you.

Scornfully, the beast beckons you: come near, closer, sit at my feet.

And you answer: nay, I am only passing through and shall awake soon.

And the creature beckons again: stay, what thou hast seen outside that is not already here?

"What is this place?" The passer asks.’

We ride into Yaroslav at 2 P.M., which doesn't leave us much daylight for what's ahead, and head straight for a district located on the northern outskirts while I dispatch Muller to the municipal building to find the mayor if he is still there. The town has suffered little damage, a few columns of greyish smoke rise here and there and most of the houses seem abandoned. There are a few dazzled civilians on the street staring at us passing by. Our informants were so precise that we don't even have to ask directions to the gypsy 'camp', towards which we roar without halt.

It takes us fifteen minutes to get there. It looks like a separate village made up of miserable huts, with walls of dried mud and roofs made of hay. A crowd of about one thousand Tziganes is milling about, watching us coming with dumbstruck expressions. As soon as the trucks stop, my troops bolt up and out of their seats. They rush at the gypsies under the screams of the sergeants, pointing guns at the wretches and assembling them on Main Street. Meanwhile, I order a medic to start distribution of amphetamines as soon as we have rounded everyone up and holed them up onto the trucks.

The Tziganes are not being very cooperative. Though quite a few of my men speak some Russian, the folks pretend to not understand our orders and this only infuriates the troops, who now begin shoving the men and women toward the trucks while a few of their children are already screaming in panic. We cannot find anyone resembling a community leader in this crowd. They seem completely disorganized, yapping loudly amongst themselves in an indecipherable dialect. Nearly all the women past their prime look overweight, all also look dirty and dishevelled. All the children are positively filthy, barefoot, and clothed in rags.

They all glare at us with moronic hostility, gesturing wildly. Muller comes back with no mayor and I order him to mix the women and children with the men and triple the guards at the truck back-exits. Other troopers are busy scouring the camp from which they pull several hundred more gypsies. They are all loudly protesting at us but there is no serious resistance. I have the impression of being amidst a dust bath, so filthy this village and its people are. The troopers do little to conceal their personal disgust. I yell out:

That's it. Get them all onto the trucks and let's get out of here before we catch lice!!

By four thirty, we have assembled and bagged one thousand and seven hundred plus Tziganes and re-started the engines. We roar back through Yaroslav with our hoard and speed towards the killing field fifteen kilometres to the west. During the entire trip, my troops will later tell me, the gypsies' ceaseless babbling goes on uninterrupted. I myself can hear vicious arguments and cries for help from my lead car.

Sir, asks Muller, Would it be wise to impose upon the men that they force the gypsies to disrobe?

We shan't do it this time. As soon as we arrive, have all the males removed from the trucks and taken to the pit first, and as quickly as possible. I will judge from the size of the hole how many people you need to send at a time. Keep the women and children in the trucks, and if they panic at the sound of the gunfire, spray them. Keep two guards at the back of each truck during this; we should have enough people on the ground to dispatch the males.

I turn and lean forward to one of the sergeants who ride in front.

I want firmness and discipline. Fire upon anyone who tries to leap off the trucks prematurely! And tell Sgt. Ackers to again inform the men that these gypsies are likely to defend themselves and resist going into the pits. We are under-strength and must move as fast as humanly possible. Some of the men may attempt to grab our guns and shoot their way out, so I want all weapons out with the finger on the trigger!

It is five in the afternoon when we arrive at the hole, having driven at breakneck speed through a very bad road; this has induced a sense of partial paralysis in our victims, but has only served to infuriate me. A long trench fifteen feet deep, ten feet wide, and about one hundred yards in length, lies about three hundred feet from the road. The digging crew is awaiting us with machine gun posts already set up. My car screeches to a halt and I jump out to inspect the trench — it's too small!

God dammit!! I yell to no one in particular. We can only fit one hundred people in there at each pass. I charge back towards Lt. Muller who is already busy unloading the first trucks.

We're in trouble, Muller. We can only get a hundred in at a time. I'll only use the digging crew for the shoot; keep all other men by the trucks ready to fire!

Seventeen fucking trips, that's how many we have to conduct towards the trench! How long before the gypsies start to riot? I don't even want to think about it. If they all decide to scramble at once and spread out, we would lose two-thirds of them! My first elimination since Poland last year and it starts like this !!!

The medic is still busied distributing the speed to the rest of the men. I'm walking back towards the pit to inspect the angles of the machine guns; they are excellently placed, nothing will survive in that hole. The troopers are becoming tense with the oncoming effect of the speed and what is about to happen. Those at the trench are already reeling under the full impact of a corydrane high. They were unable to find locals to help them dig, so they went into overdrive, and they are extremely edgy. I sweet-talk them into maintaining their composure; this is no party or picnic they are attending today. I see one of the machine gunners already seated behind his weapon; he looks as if he is about to bite his own lips off.

Then, very suddenly, Muller's men herd about a hundred Tziganes towards us and into the pit.

Don't bother checking for valuables, they haven't got any! I bark.

One by one, they jog down into the trench. They are rather quiet now, either because they've talked themselves to death during the drive, or because the setting makes them nervous. Still, as I observe the gypsies very carefully, they do not seem to have any inkling of what is about to happen to them. This is a very important moment which shall determine how we are to conduct these operations for the remainder of the war; how is the first batch going to react?

I can definitely sense raw terror down in the hole, which is the normal state for anyone being pushed down there. My troops are even more tensed than before. Fists are clamped tight, eyes steel cold. We are all bracing ourselves. The last gypsy being pushed into the trench trips on himself and tries to double back. Muller shoves him down that hole and quickly pulls himself backwards. It has got to happen now:

Fire!!

BLAAAAM!!!!! An Ear-splitting, earth-shattering Boom! Encompasses the whole world, covering any screams in the trench or anywhere else. The trench becomes filled with dust as the gypsies collapse. They fall like a row of stacked dominoes atop one another. The trench is swept by machine guns in less than six seconds, at most.

Muller, the next group, at once! The trench is now littered with mangled, twitching corpses. Muller is herding the next batch. I take my Luger out and begin firing into whatever corpse is still moving. No sooner does the first man in the next batch reaches the trench's edge; he recoils in horror at the sight before him. He tries to turn back and Muller drops him with his pistol. That's enough to daze the other Tziganes so that they allow themselves to be shoved atop their dead comrades. Another volley of automatic fire puts an end to them.

Four emptied trucks later, most of the males are dead and Muller begins to unload the women and children by the hundred. This is the tougher part.

At this point, only the numerous children in the lot are still emitting any sounds: squeals of panic, they all sound like little piglets. My shooters are being reinforced as soon as a truck empties. We are all sweating profusely, SS and Gypsies.

In the summer dusk, the sky, clear blue all day, has now turned blood red like the earth. Most of the women, with their toddlers hanging at their necks, absolutely refuse to enter the corpse-filled trench. All available personnel are now engaged in the violent shoving and pushing of this lot into the pit. Some girls fall to the ground and refuse to budge; they are shot on the spot. Others are pried off the ground and hurled into the hole. Some of the troopers have to even go down there to force the gypsies towards the end of the trench to make room for more people. A Tzigane girl stabs one of my soldiers; the other troopers hurry out of the hole and all hell breaks loose as the civilians collapse under a hail of gunfire. The whole thing is an infuriating and exhausting affair. The least cooperative folks are rifle-whipped towards the hole. Once in there, many women start chanting what sound the like sob-drenched prayers amidst the frantic screams of their children.

Let's get this over with, for Christ's sakes!

It is eight P.M. The sun sets as my exhausted Kommando clears the hole to allow the crane in. The trench is almost two meters thick with the dead; we'll have to come back when we can and dig another hole. The stench of gunpowder is overwhelming. I allow my men a cigarette break; their faces are blank, and are covered with dust. We all reek with perspiration. Before the troops come to their senses, I order everyone back to the trucks. There'll be no pitching of tents, no hotel, no stopover; we must be in Voronej tomorrow morning. The Seventh Panzer Division which we are trailing has just radioed in an unexpected development — when they captured Voronej, they learned that the Jews there had refused to be evacuated by the Soviets, and there are now about four thousand of them waiting for us. So, we'll be sleeping while others drive.

In the back seat of my car leading the convoy at lumbering speed, along a road scattered with potholes, Muller has just gotten my permission to sleep and I pull out my logbook intended for Lt. General Nebe:

‘June 29, 1941.

Located one thousand seven hundred and fifty seven Tziganes in Yaroslav. Peoples were driven to kill site and eliminated. Trench depth was inappropriate. Some resistance on the part of the gypsies. Men handled themselves coolly. My second in command, Muller, was very active. Heading for, and due to arrive in Pinsk on the morning of the thirty: fourteen thousand Jews rumoured there.’

Putting my pen and clipboard away, I reach for a bottle of schnapps, uncork it, and, while watching the fading daylight and landscape pass me by, I take large gulps.

Chapter 2

Anna Elphraim,

District of West Byelorussia, Soviet Union,

July 5, 1941.

Put yourself in my place for a day.

I lived in a small town out in the country. I was twenty-three then and working as a nurse in the local hospital. I had a brother of twenty and a younger sister, and parents who constantly nagged at me for not being married at my age. They wanted me to be nicer to Misha, the boy next door, who happened to be the son of Mr. Important in Town. Misha is this and Misha is that, Etc. And me, I was only wondering how long they were going to go on about this Misha whom I had barely ever noticed. For the time being, all of this was the sole batch of cares that I had in the world.

Then, the war broke out and I found out that my country was being invaded. Men in uniform came to get my brother and that was the last I ever saw of him. Came dinnertime and my father began having fits. He would bellow out towards mother: If the Germans get as far as here, we've had it! Have you heard what they are doing to Jews in Poland?

No, my mother hadn't heard; besides, she thought that Dad was just working himself up because there was a fight going on, and that just got his blood boiling.

Days passed. I continued going to the hospital each morning, picking up the newspaper as I walked in the ward. The news was bad-disastrous in some places: whole Russian divisions hadn't been heard of for days. What I did not know was that the reality was even worse than what we were being told-entire armies falling back or getting annihilated where they stood. Soon, there would be nothing left standing between us and the invaders, but this we were not yet told: to prevent a panic.

More days went by; I kept reading the newspapers, like everybody else, and it was all about the war. The tone of the articles changed: more superlatives being used like 'immense', 'tremendous', 'massive', Etc. You could sense that the journalists — i.e. the Party — were getting more involved. I perceived more than a tinge of worry in their words.

I came home one night to find my parents… packing! Father told me: Go to your room and gather all your essentials into two of our packing cases. Be sure to pack in all warm clothing.

We're smack in the middle of summer, I told him. This war is going to last, he replied. And so I went upstairs to pack, not taking any of this seriously. Sorting out my books, I made sure to bag War and Peace.

One Sunday morning, I was awakened by the sound of vehicles, with motor-engines of the like I had not heard before. I sleepily peered out of my window: Tanks!! A Soviet armoured column going through our town; at least a hundred tanks followed by as many trucks plus at least five thousand infantrymen trudging their backpacks, marching down Main Street towards the East.

That evening at home, dinner was bleak. My younger sister pestered mother with questions: 'soldier this?', 'soldier that?' Dad told us that he had seen the Rabbi, only to be told that the Germans were not very far.

What follows are the entries in my personal diaries, which I rewrote immediately after the events concerning the SS and us.

Monday:

I'm working double shift at the hospital; lightly wounded men are pouring in. We all can hear the faint sound of something like grumbling thunder in the distance, west of us: it is artillery.

Tuesday:

More wounded men, and women-all uniformed are arriving in long convoys of trucks. This time around, the injuries sustained are far more serious, and some quite horrible. Doctors are busy with sawing bones: that horrific sound of the sawing reverberates throughout the hospital. As a nurse, I am not very squeamish, but other patients are terrified. Later, even more wounded arrive, in endless columns of trucks, which jam the whole town, often taking shortcuts through people's gardens and fields. At work, I can hear tempers boiling and the pitch of voices going up a few notches and decibels. We are all hurrying, sweltering, cursing to ourselves. That day never seems to end.

Wednesday:

To the sound of less distant thunder, we are trying to salvage what wounded people we can, while even more arrive every hour or so. We begin running out of serum, of morphine, of anaesthesia, of bandages. A low rumble of pained groans permeates throughout the hospital. I am already exhausted.

At dinner, while I try to stay awake long enough to swallow some food, mom and dad are arguing violently.

It can't be, says he: we have the world's largest army and resources!

Can't you see that the army doesn't want to fight? She retorts. Besides, would YOU fight for that son of a bitch? Catching his breath, my father says, Who? Stalin?

My sister is watching them in silence, frightened. Also on the night's topics is the rumour that many people have already fled town with whatever they could carry. The police tried to talk them out of it, so as to not jam the roads; but no one really prevented people from leaving. In closing, my parents begin arguing about whether we should leave or not while I stagger upstairs and collapse on my bed.

Thursday:

In the afternoon, I hear from my hospital room a great commotion outside. Looking out the window, I see a great column of Russian troops marching eastward in a ragtag fashion. They are marching away from the war, while from loudspeakers hurriedly installed unknown voices urge us to stay indoors. I also hear that the soldiers have looted some of the local stores; all of these men look dirty, tired, and grim.

I get home very late to find my parents packing in earnest, and not for show. The quarrelling has died down and both are very silent. I have stopped noticing the intermittent artillery fire still audible in the distance.

Friday:

In the morning, on my way to work, I can see still more of our soldiers marching through. It must have been tens of thousands since yesterday. At the hospital, the injured that could be moved have all disappeared: army medics came in during the night and snatched them away.

Unfazed, I go on with my labours. The day is yet another long one. It isn't until dusk that I realize that the 'thunder' is no longer audible: has the fighting stopped? The afternoon is unusually quiet. Some people are still leaving town, itching rides on military trucks. About half of all civilians and nearly all able-bodied military personnel are gone. Many of the most gravely wounded have died; I cannot even begin counting the number. They are strewn on the floors of the cafeteria, in the hallways, everywhere. A sharp stench of gangrene mixed with formaldehyde permeates the whole building.

When are we going to leave? What are Mom and Dad waiting for? Are they in some kind of stupor? The whole city, like the hospital, is out of food. There is a strange feel in the air.

Around sundown, someone tells me that the Germans are in town. I leave my post and take a walk outside to see. The first thing I notice is that the distant crashes of artillery shells have resumed: this time east of us! Instinctively, I turn my head in the opposite direction and do see soldiers wearing different uniforms from our own. They are walking on both sides of the road, keeping low. Their uniforms are dark-greenish (the Russian one is light-brown).

The new arrivals reach the outskirts of the hospital and look around, on their guards but not unduly alarmed, seeming to know that our troops have decided not to fight for my city. These men look young, dirty, and very, very tired. Some come into the hospital looking for the Service-Chief. They look strange, with their dirty green uniforms and dark boots. Most say nothing and just gaze at us impassively as they keep walking eastward across town, while many, many more of them arrive, this time walking on the road. They are streaming in by the thousands. I can hear the nearby rumblings of their tanks, which have apparently chosen to skirt the city and not enter it. A few more Germans enter the hospital, but most just keep walking on out by the eastern exit. I don't like them already; they are the enemy.

Later, a doctor I know well comes over to me, saying: Go home, Anna, and stay indoors.

I walk back to our house to find dad already in from work. We have little left to eat, and dine on it in stone cold silence. I go to bed early to resume my reading of War and Peace, while a lot of people can be heard milling about not far from my window. ‘What in hell is going to happen to us?’ I wonder aloud to myself. That night, my sleep is very troubled.

Saturday

Sabbath. A Jewish friend of the family pays us a morning visit with some news: we are all summoned to the Synagogue — all the town's Jews, and without exceptions. And so we go there with the friend after having given him some tea. The streets are deserted: not a soldier in sight.

In the Synagogue, the Mayor and the Rabbi take turns each explaining to us that we are to pack up just one suitcase per head and assemble on Main Street in the afternoon to await transports. We are being moved to a temporary holding camp pending our deportation to a large city nearby, the identity of which has not yet been given. The Synagogue is promptly cleared of people before any have time to voice complaints, and any desire to vent anger is instantly extinguished by the arrival of a long column of German trucks full of soldiers.

Some of them step down when the vehicles have stopped, and I notice that they wear different uniforms from the ones I first saw. They do not wear dark green, but hard black. And these fellows are much cleaner than their predecessors. Some of them seem drunk.

Soon, they all disembark from the vehicles to get a brief pep talk from their officers, who then dismiss them. They begin to mill about the trucks, talking and smoking cigarettes.

My parents and I are heading home. Mom is extremely upset: What in the hell is going on!!? One bag a head? We can only take one bag a head?! What about the rest of our things!!?

My father answers her, We are going to be deported to some ghetto. That's what they did with the Jews in Poland. They're going to cram us into a sewer to see who starves or catches dysentery.

Losing her composure, mom is almost screaming, Those fucking assholes!! Those facing Gothic idiots!! Why can't we take more of our belongings?

Says my father, That's because they are also robbing us. That's what they call 'working.’

We get home and begin sorting out through our suitcases for whatever essentials we might be able to stuff into four valises, one for each of us. My kid sister, who decided to pass on the meeting, is seated on her own huge suitcase, watching us haggle; she is bored out of her mind! As for me, my personal confusion and frustration is reaching boiling point. I am already in full-blown contempt for those facing Germans who get their kicks by stealing from us.

Lt. General Gedrich Naumann

Kommandant Einsazgruppe B, 1942 - 1943

Draft of a letter to an unnamed colleague. Never sent.

Produced at his trial, October 1948, Nuremberg.

‘The fact that a radical shift towards such extreme measures could at all occur, during the first month of this war, can now only be understood in the light of the general crisis which an outbreak of war usually creates. In such a situation, the modern safety valves of peacetime societies fail to operate, or else break down completely. What often follows is the worst possible scenario: lawlessness, looting, total civil chaos, roads chocked with traffic both machine and human, not to say animal, dead bodies everywhere, sanitation services inexistent — with its attendant dangers of epidemics, etc. My explanation seems trivial when you consider the scale of what is involved: but are we not banal men ourselves? I am like a bookkeeper, a technocrat, and not some daemonic being from outer space.

For us, attitudes and behaviours common to normal Western warfare had both moved from the centre to the periphery. We first waged war on our own people, in the Thirties. And then, on our immediate neighbours. Before the latter phase came to pass, the brutalities of this world war were first directed at ourselves, to inure us from the brutality. In the Twenties, the socio-economic restrictions habitually known only to those marginalized segments of the nation actually became the norm for just about every German. We were all reduced to digging into the garbage for our next meal. The privations got to be so severe that most people's very lives seemed in jeopardy. After 1933, the Party contrived to make all Germans live in a permanent social crisis: that was Hitler's strategy. What with a worldwide Depression, all the questions were soon reduced to one: what limbs should be sacrificed from the body, without actually killing it, so that the whole might still survive the ongoing Decade?

The stresses caused by the upheavals of the Twenties, while in the West they went all on a binge, became exacerbated as soon as the Nazis came to power. Dismal poverty was turned into rage, a rage badly contained and nurtured: no mob violence, no anarchy. Just plain militarism and cynical militancy. We acquired a direction with definable goals to be met at stated times. Biologically speaking, we were acting in self-defence, and any other group in the same hole would have done likewise, if they could have.

As things stood, five weeks into operation Barbarossa, we were still acting out our defence of self, which by then had become indistinguishable from our national existence. We are now surrounded by a world that is almost uniformly leagued against us. Our very existence frightens and repels. Hence, imagine not that eleven million soldiers are now fighting because they think they are wrong. And only a fool would believe that we are merely carrying out to fruition the whims of some dictator. We are doing this for ourselves. We chose Hitler because he suited us that is all. The Fascist solution to our crisis past has turned into a widespread movement, with its own dynamics and tendencies towards unrelenting expansion. An unsolved problem is being conquered when you create an even greater one to overcome.

To surmount. Under these conditions, harmless acts like slander take on radical overtones. Wariness becomes distrust. Distrust becomes overt animosity. One by one, our natural inhibitions are being dismantled, like a drunken man gained more boldness with each new rounds. As the destruction diversifies, the number of victims increases. In fact, that number must continue to increase, in line with perpetual expansion. All along, any restraints regarding the methods used continue to fall away.

The explicit cause behind this odd state of affairs? National Socialism had, in place of economic recovery, provided Germany with the impulse to rearmament financed through inflation. This runaway train soon attained a life of its own which, now even Hitler can barely control. Hence, we race forward to meet our destiny, and to hell with those who stand on the rails.’

Anna Elphraim."

It's Saturday afternoon and we, about five hundred of us, are gathered in the town square with our luggage. A Russian we have never seen before, acting as the Germans' interpreter, tells us to hand over all our valuables to the Rabbi and his assistants, for these monies will be used to finance our transportation and resettlement. We are bound for Minsk, says the man.

As for the valuables, my father, who wasn't born yesterday, has hidden most of the cash and jewellery on his person. The Levis, friends of ours, are all talking to my mother at once, for everyone is very, very agitated. I myself can feel that something is wrong. We are all upset to leave town on such a short notice — clearly a design to leave us with no time to respond.

The trucks are already there and the Germans with the black uniforms are now shoving us up and into them. They are being rather brutal, constantly belching things in their own dialect, which I do not understand. They simply want us all to get up into these trucks in one movement so that they can leave. I am hoisted aboard by two of these men. These Germans have been waiting all day for us to assemble; now they are clearly losing patience.

The Levis have already disappeared from my sight, but father has somehow managed to get us unto the same vehicle. People are shouting and children are crying. It is all very confusing and worrisome; yet, I can feel myself becoming emotionally detached from the events unfolding before my eyes. With this act of self-preservation, I drift unto a sort of stupor as if I were dreaming, being a mere spectator to these strange happenings. The engines start and we begin our ride out of the city.

As the contours of my town recede in the distance, I can hear Dad muttering to no one in particular.

"Shall I tell you what I have heard? In Poland, when they used to pack Jews in trains or trucks for deportation, they saw to it that families were never separated. It was indispensable that the men be not isolated from their relatives. Guess why?

Put a group of men in a cattle wagon for a few hours and a hierarchy will start to form. Leaders will begin to stand out and subordinates will listen. In other words, plots for resistance or escape will be hatched.

Well, put these same men in the wagon with their wives, their kids, their mothers, their girlfriends, and what shall the men do? They'll spend the whole trip reassuring their kin: No plotting. No resistance. No escape. It's a good trick."

''Dad, why were they taking Polish Jews away?''

''Just rumours concerning that, but it's easy to deduce. They're sending us to some camp to work us to death. You watch. We won't eat. We won't be able to bathe. They won't give us any blankets…''

''Shut up!!'' yells my mother towards him. I turn away and face the exit.

One hour has passed. We are racing west towards the Polish border. Despite the summer heat, the speed is making air circulate well inside our truck. My mother keeps shouting things into my ear, but I cannot hear a word of what she is saying; I merely nod my approval amid the deafening roar of the truck's engine.

Where are we being taken? I don't believe that this is the road to Minsk: to Kovno, maybe. They are going to put us all into crammed city quarters, hoping that disease and malnutrition will do a job on us. They're going to wall us in and leave us to fend for ourselves, and fight amongst ourselves for shelter and food-scraps. That is what has been happening to Polish Jews for the past year. How are we going to find food, since they have taken our money? Are we going to be put to work, salaried work? Probably, a working Jew is a good investment for them. We can sustain the logistics while they are all at the front. Fine mess I find myself in.

I am also thinking about my older brother. Is he dead, or captured? I wonder where he must be at this very moment: still at the front or caught behind the Germans lines. All I know is that… if he is still alive, we are surely moving further away from him, towards the hated West.

Suddenly, the truck swerves into a dirt road, going so bloody fast that, with each bump, we go flying from our seats. I have never seen a driver in such a hurry. People are yelling and cursing at the bumps, at the driver, at each other, at God even. In fact, what is the goddamned hurry? Have they another appointment to keep elsewhere? Why don't they just let us off if they find the transporting of us so upsetting? I turn my face towards the exit in the back; a German soldier is sitting on the ledge, hanging tight, and watching us with indifference. A machine gun rests on his lap, secured to his shoulder by a leather strap. I have never seen a machine gun from so close; it looks odd and ugly. A second soldier next to him is staring out into the passing landscape, distractedly. Both men seem to me very, very jaded by it all.

Our truck is kicking up a lot of dust and dirt behind us; yet, I can make out the front of the truck behind ours. There are two troopers next to the driver, and all three are engaged in a lively discussion. They laugh. They shout. Cracking jokes, perhaps. It dawns on me that I am not in the mood for joking, seeing that we have just been robbed of our house and perhaps our liberty. As for our other belongings, we can kiss them goodbye. There are probably other Germans still in our town, out on a rampage.

My mother leans strongly against me, and this time I hear every word she says: Listen, Anna. Dad and I think that you should try to get away as soon as… as soon as we stop somewhere, anywhere!!

Get away? What for, and where to? I ask her but she has no time to respond as our truck screeches to a halt.

The guards jump out and disappear. Another German, whom I haven't seen before, comes up and yells in bad Russian: Nature calls! Everybody out! Immediately!

As we all struggle to get out of that vehicle, I hear my mother's voice behind me, for the last time: Try to get away, but wait until they are busy on us, the old. What the hell is she trying to tell me?

As I step out into the field, I see that the whole convoy has arrived, and that many more Germans are standing there waiting for us. Not a village in sight, not even a telephone pole. The Germans start bullying us into taking all of our clothes off.

Delousing! one of them shouts.

‘Delousing? We've only been packed like sardines a few hours…’ I've no longer time to think; it is all happening too fast. The Germans are now trying to sort out all the Jews who fall within a certain age-range. Namely, anyone who is young and fit. Since I belong to that category, I am shoved towards about two dozens of my near-peers. We are all naked before these men in uniform with their guns: it's all looking more and more like a slaughterhouse. I feel humiliated and vulnerable, standing there naked trying to cover my genitals in front of these uniformed louts.

There is, not far in front of us, the very fresh dig of a long trench, about five meters wide and three meters deep, and perhaps some fifty meters long. It's quite a hole, and must have taken considerable work. By the colour of the overturned earth, I can tell that it was dug the previous night, and in a great hurry-because of the mess. Incredibly enough, neither I nor anybody else has yet made the connection between our denuded bodies and this gaping hole in the ground! I am looking behind me and all around, trying to catch a glimpse of my parents and sister. I cannot see them amidst the hundreds of us now lined up, stark naked and feeling the gentle summer breeze. The men in black push my group into the trench, still shouting to our face:

Delousing!

I am standing in the trench, and I know now what is going to happen. Just to the right of my face, I perceive a flash of intense light and heat. Then, black silence.

Chapter 3

Andrei Fenster

Early February 1944.

Ninety kilometres west of Kiev, Ukraine.

The sound of keys unlocking the shed could be heard again, for the third time since early morning.

‘Shit. What now?’ Andrei looked up as the door swung open, bathing the dirty wooden shed with the dull light of a grey morning. A Soviet guard stepped in and shouted: Private Andrei Fenster! Andrei got to his feet and walked out the shed door as the guard stepped back to let him pass. It was the first time he had been out of that shed since early yesterday morning, when the Reds while having breakfast had captured the remnant of his platoon. The prisoners had not been fed since. The flat Ukrainian farmlands sprawled in every direction, blanketed by snow and frost. It was January and bitterly cold.

Follow us, said the guard, who had four colleagues with him, each toting a machine gun. They escorted Andrei towards a farmhouse some three hundred yards away. The morning was bleak and bitter cold, with frozen mud everywhere and several columns of black smoke rising in the distance. The sound of distant artillery fire in a westerly direction told Andrei that he could forget about a German counter-offensive in the area, at least not before they shipped him to Siberia, or worst.

Andrei was a pleasant-looking sort of guy, tall and powerfully built, with a gruff face and a deceptively boorish manner that concealed genuine cunning and a fun-loving wit. One could say that Andrei was a typical street-German, one accustomed to the taverns near the docks of Hamburg, a doer — not a talker, a bearish sort of fellow — but in the lovable sense, a whore's best friend and most reliable customer, a proper country mother's worst nightmare, an irresponsible drunk and reveller who always manages to keep fit and show up to work early.

Imagining him in an immaculate Wehrmacht uniform on parade day made about as much sense as Hitler disguised as a rabbi. But, this day, Andrei's uniform had not been washed for two and a half months, and had not left his skin for that span of time. His last shave dated from the week before and his last hour of sleep antedated the past seventy-two; in short, he quite looked like his natural self.

The guard pushed him into the farmhouse and told him to take the lone chair in the middle of the room. The only other piece of furniture was an old beat-up desk at one end of the room. The guard remained standing behind the seated Andrei, while another man appeared from a door to the right and sat himself at the desk. Andrei didn't know it, but this was his first NKVD interview.

Actually, the guy across from him wasn't even from that outfit. He was SMERSH. Before him on his desk lay a very thick file. He opened it and began leafing through some of its pages. At one point he stopped, and started reading, ignoring his prisoner completely.

‘Hm… log-book Gunther Vielbach’, Lieutenant Colonel, said the man to himself silently. ‘What is this crap?’

………

I think that… all these people that we shot… when they were being rounded up in their towns or villages, they simply could not believe that such a thing was going to happen to them. In their place, I would not have believed it. And so, they wound up out in the middle of nowhere, in those Russian fields, standing naked in the trenches, staring at us or closing their eyes, and they were all in a state of deep shock. They just couldn't believe that it was all for real, and that we were going to shoot them all. We couldn't believe it either, that we were doing this. We were in a different state of shock. It seems that, in those moments of incredible intensity, we were under a sort of hypnosis. Everyone was: shooters, victims, watchers, all taking part in something otherworldly, something entirely removed from this life.

F.S

"We cannot use rationality to explain what went on during those years. Rationality implies individual thoughts and feelings, our at least, their proper appraisal. After having gone through the worst inflation anywhere, at anytime in history, Germany gladly dumped its individuality in order to elect the only people willing to pull us out of the quagmire. The fascist apparatus expected conformism. So long as we did what we were told, everything would be fine, and it usually was.

My husband was made to dig and fill up and re-dig the same trench twenty times a day. He cleaned the same toilet bowl fifty times, pushing Sisyphus' boulder up that hill to watch it roll down the other end. Absurdity is a good brainwasher: his butt was kicked five hundred times until it pained him no more. His heart became cold. His eyes became blind, and his conscience vanished for good. Stripped of everything he owned, having only his troops to cling to, he was not confronted with a curtain that hid the facts from his face. No, everything happened right in front of him, and he saw nothing. And felt nothing."

I.S

I am rather grateful that others have already seen to the task of removing any hint of logic from the minds of my men, leaving me only their most bestial instincts to channel.

G.

The author of this journal logbook, Lieutenant Vielbach, was born in Constanze, Bavaria on December 4, 1911. He studied chemistry at the University of Basel, and then enrolled for Officer's Candidate Training in Leipzig. He was admitted in the SS in 1938.

Vielbach took part in the 1939 invasion of Poland with the rank of second lieutenant. During the Battle of France the following year, he was promoted. He returned to Poland in the fall of 1940 to take part in the first operations against civilians there, commanding a mobile processing squad until May 1941, when he was re-assigned for command of K-D, E-B.

G.

Ulrike Kepler, staff-nurse in Einsatzgruppe B. Born in Hesse in 1920. Shy and retiring young redhead of unusual beauty; even the skin-blotches had their charm. With her unmanageable frizzled hair, piercing green eyes, mild manners and demure courtesy, nothing about her suggests the kind of past that she has had. And yet, this sweet, angel-faced woman has tended to the monsters, and followed them everywhere they went.

G.

………

SMERSH man had seen enough. He closed the file and looked up at his guest, with an air of grand indifference. He spoke, ''If you can help me with something, you live. If you are useless to us, you die.'' Long pause.

''Verstehen zie?''

Andrei had been sitting there for half an hour and not a word had been uttered by anyone.

Only intelligence operatives were familiar with such interviews, and so much the better since nine times out of ten, your first one was your last, which meant you would be taken directly from it to a firing squad. Andrei wasn't so naive that he didn't immediately perceive that he was about to be interrogated by a Soviet spook; what frazzled him was… what could they possibly hope to get out of a private such as himself?

''Ja." Verstehen.

You are private first class Andrei Fenster, of Company One, Sonderkommando D, SS Einsazgruppe B. Is this correct?

No, I am not an SS. I am in disciplinary battalion.

You nonetheless serve in battalion six, Sonderkommando D, Einsazgruppe B?

I do, but as a regular army private in…

Yes, I've heard you. In a disciplinary battalion. Explain to me what this means?

I was court-marshalled for striking a petty officer, found guilty, and given several options.

Several options? Since when does the Wehrmacht give its miscreants ‘options’?

They simply told me that I had a choice between Dachau and a disciplinary battalion.

They explained to you what being in a disciplinary battalion entailed, I presume. What did they say to you? And your memory had better be good.

Andrei had no illusions about the effectiveness of his defence. They had caught him in an SS outfit, and that was that. The Russians didn't bother sending captured SS to the rear; they shot them on the spot and this NKVD guy was merely prolonging the suspense for his own enjoyment. But Andrei, in an instant, decided against acting defiant, and that because something was odd… why, again, should they waste their time interviewing him when they had sergeants Streiker, Lt. Sobel, Ackers, Cp. Muller, and the prime catch — Lt.Col. Gunther Vielbach, a champion exterminator of Byelorussia?

Well… I was told that disciplinary battalion involved duties behind the front, in coordination with Gestapo and SS personnel. The job was two-fold: hunting down partisans and carrying out reprisals against the civilians.

So that's how the massacres were explained to you… you would be killing all those civilians in retaliation for partisan attacks?

Correct. Everyone knew about the policy of three hundred Soviets for every German killed by the partisans. This kind of… rationalized the very large numbers of people that we would be dealing with.

Now, when did you first set foot in Russia?

Back in June, '41. When the general invasion began. I was infantry in the 15th Army, Group Centre.

And when were you court-marshalled?

Eh… September 1942.

When did your transfer to your present unit take place?

Early summer of the same year. I was shipped to Byelorussia and sent with seven other guys to this platoon, Kommando D. We were warned that the job would be hard to stomach; but there was little choice for us. It was that or a firing squad — that's how bad things were.

Your army differs in no way from ours. We, too, have disciplinary battalions, except that we use them as cannon fodder. And you Germans use them to murder people.

I was under orders, I tell you. I had no choice.

I believe you. If it was our intent to shoot you, you'd be dead already. We have no policy for the treatment of rank-and-file, even if they are SS — unless certain men come under direct accusation of atrocities. What I have in mind for you is something altogether different. I want you to help us with something, and if you do… your stay in Siberia could be much shorter than you presently imagine. Some of our camps actually have heated barracks, and the tenants are fed regularly.

Shyz! How can I be of service?

The guards told me that you speak an excellent Russian. Are you an educated man?

Not at all. But I used to live near Poland and had a girlfriend from there. When you're fluent in Polish, it's nothing to learn Russian.

Good, that's what I need you for. Did you hear any gunshots yesterday afternoon?

Yes. They were some distance away.

Those rifle shots were for your sergeants Streiker, Sobel, and Ackers. Tomorrow, we’ll see about your lieutenant, your captain, and your major

A rather uncomfortable silence followed, as the SMERSH man tried to gouge whether his prisoner displayed fear or embarrassment. But Andrei remained ice-cool, which initially surprised, and then much pleased his captor, who continued thus:

My name is Dimitri. Captain Dimitri Strassov. You shall call me captain. Your COs kept some personal records of their activities in the Soviet Union, papers which we found in their luggage — it’s all rather scanty for my taste, but it’s the most we have. I need you to go over them with my Lieutenant, whose German is not good enough to successfully translate it all. You see, we need all this information in Russian for our records and for future war-crime trials. Among your colonel's stash, we found a thick personal logbook, with dates, place names, and some personal ones. You'll be going over this memoir and other papers with my lieutenant and help him make a comprehensive translation. That is all.

How long shall we have?

"That's the catch, mister disciplinary-battalion. I am due to send you and your comrades back to Russia in three weeks. There is a lot of material

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