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Shattered Lives

Shattered Lives

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Shattered Lives

308 pagine
4 ore
Mar 1, 2019


Shattered Lives is a story of survival and a young man's determination to keep his promises.

In August 1942, the Germans enter Wiejca, a small village in Poland, and rip fourteen-year-old Jakub Balinski and his father from their home. At Treblinka, Jakub's father becomes a forced laborer breaking rock into gravel. Even though the Germans give Jakub a uniform and call him a guard, within days he learns he is nothing more than the commandant's Polish slave boy. 

At first, Jakub refuses to cooperate, and is punished for his disobedience. The daily atrocities shred Jakub of his innocence and expose him to a level of hatred he could never imagine. One tragedy after another mold him into someone he does not want to be and Jakub questions if his survival is worth the price. Whatever choices he makes, he knows he must live with their consequences for the rest of his life. 

While Shattered Lives is a work of historical fiction, Treblinka, the largest Nazi death camp, is not. The camp was critically important to Hitler's "Final Solution to the Jewish Question." Over one million men, women, and children were taken there and ninety-seven percent died in the gas chambers within three hours of arrival. 

Mar 1, 2019

Informazioni sull'autore

Bruce Gaughran has been a writer and blogger for over twenty years. Published books include - Shattered Lives - 2074 - Brown Water Red Blood - Staff of Rhah - Trouble Trouble was adapted for the stage in 2016 by the Marshall Area Stage Company. Many of his stories and poetry have been published in magazines and newspapers including Living and Dying at the Sam's Club, Almost Perfect, A Patriot Found His Home, The Age of Innocence, Next Stop Las Vegas, A Cat’s Tale, and Will I Ever Find Some Peace. The joy comes from creating worlds, characters, plots and storylines. The fun comes from experiencing life through the eyes of the characters.

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Anteprima del libro

Shattered Lives - Bruce Gaughran


Copyright ©2017 Bruce Gaughran

All Rights Reserved

Except for the use of brief quotations in a book review, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.

SHATTERED LIVES is a work of fiction. All characters and dialogue, and all incidents with the exception of some well-known historical situations, are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical situations appear, the incident and dialogues concerning those events are fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to actual names, characters, places, events, locales, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Certain historical documents and reports were referenced as foundation material for creating the fictitious events of this work including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, JewishGen,, Holocaust Research Project, Britannica, BBC News, Jewish Virtual Library, Holocaust Encyclopedia, and Wikipedia.


SHATTERED LIVES was a collaborative effort. Thank you to all those who encouraged and supported my writing including my family and friends, and my faithful readers. A special thank you to Sandi and Nancy for their encouragement to keep writing. Thank you to the North Georgia Writers Group who patiently challenged and supported me through the creative process. Thanks to Tomi James, my editor. I would be remiss not to mention Cindy, my wonderful wife, who allows me to escape to my office for hours every day to write.

Cover Background Image:

Dedicated to the Memory of

Bill and Roberta

Your loving fingerprints continually touch our lives

Most of all, thank you for

Cindy, your beautiful daughter

She brings out the best in me


"For evil to flourish,

it only requires good men to do nothing."

Simon Wiesenthal – Survivor

"First they came for the socialists, and

I did not speak out. Then they came for

the trade unionists, and I did not speak

out. Then they came for the Jews, and

I did not speak out. Then they came for

me—and there was no one left to speak

for me."

Martin Niemöller – Survivor and German theologian

"Escape was not our goal since it was so

unrealistic. What we wanted was to

survive, to live long enough to tell the

the world what had happened."

Jack Werber – Survivor

Serve the Fatherland

August 1942

Wiejca Village, Poland

In a matter of minutes , a boy’s life can change forever.

One of Jakub Balinski’s greatest joys is working with his papa. This morning, he is in the barn helping his papa, Bolek, with the morning chores. He notices his papa standing there studying him. Even though Jakub is as tall as most men in the village, his papa is still a head taller. Other men call Bolek the bear because of his size and strength.

The deep weathered lines sculpted in his papa’s tanned face form into a grin. You are growing like a weed, boy. Soon, you’ll be as tall as me.

Jakub stands up straight and smiles. He picks up a bale of hay, throws it over his shoulder, and carries it to the horse’s stall. Tossing it onto the rock-hard dirt floor, he cuts the bindings and grabs a pitchfork.

Just as his father joins him, they hear yelling and screaming in the distance. They both look toward the front of the barn.

What’s happening, Papa?

I don’t know, son. His father grabs a pitchfork. Continue spreading the hay. I’ll be right back.

Not long after Bolek leaves, Jakub hears more yelling and screaming, and this time it is much closer. A rifle shot makes it impossible to stand there any longer. He runs to the door and peeks out. Two soldiers have his father on the ground next to their house. The men are tying his hands behind his back. When Jakub and his father make eye contact, his father shakes his head and mouths the word, No.

Jakub nods, slides the door closed, and looks around the barn for a safe place to hide. He decides on the horse’s stall at the rear of the barn. Squatting in the corner, he cannot control his shaking. Who are these men and what do they want with Papa?

When he hears Momma cry out, he can no longer hide. He runs to the door, slides it open, and rushes out of the barn straight into the arms of a heavyset man in a black military uniform.

Jakub struggles to free himself. Let me go!

Settle down, boy, or you will get hurt.

Jakub does not listen. He thrashes his arms and legs trying to hit or kick the soldier. Another man runs over to help. The two grab the boy’s arms, slam him to the ground, and one man sits on Jakub’s back. The other man stands over him chuckling. You are a handful. I will give you that.

Jakub squirms one direction and then the other, trying to break loose. Let me go.

Bring the boy here.

The two soldiers drag Jakub to a man standing in their front yard and throw him to the ground. When he tries to stand, the man steps on Jakub’s back. Jakub sees a highly polished black boot inches from his face.

If you calm down, boy, you can get up, the man above him says.

Jakub struggles to his feet and brushes the dirt from his trousers. As he wipes his hands clean on his pants, he notices they are shaking and stuffs them in his pockets. He hears his momma crying and turns to find Reneta sobbing on the front porch of their home. Anger flashes across his face as he wonders if any of these men hurt her.

What is your name, boy?

Jakub. He looks into the face of a tall, thin man in a gray uniform with SS on his collars and gold braid on the brim of his hat. The man has a thin cruel smile on his face.

Jakub what?

Jakub Balinski.

How old are you Jakub Balinski?

Fourteen, but I’ll be fifteen in November.

Jakub watches soldiers dragging several other men from their houses. They push the men up into one of the two trucks and chain them to the bench seats. He searches the faces of the men for his papa, but cannot locate him.

Jakub. His father’s voice is coming from the second truck. Chained to the bench as well, Bolek looks defeated with head down and shoulders slumped. He makes eye contact with his son and shakes his head.

Why are you taking my papa? What has he done to you?

A riding crop smacks across Jakub’s shoulder. It stings, but it only makes Jakub more determined to find out what is going on. He straightens his back, grits his teeth, and glares at the officer. Why are you taking my papa?

The riding crop slices through the air once again. Jakub sees it coming, but refuses to flinch. The crop never strikes him. When Jakub opens his eyes, the officer smiles. I like you, boy. You have some fight in you. How would you like to accompany me on a trip?

Jakub wipes some saliva from the edge of his mouth and shakes his head. No, I’m needed here. Until Papa returns, and with winter coming, someone has to tend to the animals, do the chores, and chop wood.

The officer places his hand on Jakub’s shoulders and leans in toward him. I believe you would be a good guard at our internment camp in Treblinka. If you do what I say and perform the required duties, I will take care of you and make certain your mother is taken care of. How does that sound to you?

Jakub studies the officer’s face. Even though the officer is smiling, his piercing deep blue eyes do not reflect any amusement. Something in his gut tells Jakub the man is dangerous. Thank you for the offer, but no, thank you. If you take Papa away, Momma needs me.

The officer laughs and looks around at his men. The boy thinks he has a choice. The soldiers erupt in laughter. The officer’s chin tucks in as his lips tighten and eyes darken. Now you listen, boy. You can perform guard duties serving the Fatherland, or you can be a laborer along with the rest of the men in the trucks. If you are a guard, you can watch over your father and make certain he is okay. If you are a laborer, however, it is not a desirable situation, and one potentially hazardous to your health. Either way, you are going with us today. So, what do you want to do?

Why did you ask if I want to come if I have no choice?

Jakub does not see it coming this time. He cries out from the stinging pain in his left cheek. He touches the burning skin—his fingers smear the oozing blood. Jakub wipes the blood on his trousers as he blinks away his tears.

The officer inspects his bloody riding crop before wiping it on Jakub’s vest. You have a mouth on you, boy. You had better tame it, or I will tame it for you.

Jakub turns around when he hears his momma whimpering behind him. She nods her head and whispers, Just go, Jakub. Take care of Papa. I will be fine. 

In his fourteen years, Jakub has never ventured more than a few kilometers from his village. However, with his momma’s blessings and the opportunity to be with Papa, it seems like the right thing to do.

The officer pats Jakub’s cheek with his gloved hand. Speak up, boy. We don’t have all day.

If I am a guard, will I be paid for my work?

The officer laughs. Why, of course, we are very generous. We will compensate you well for your work.

Jakub runs to his momma and wraps his arms around her. It will be all right, Momma. The man said he will take care of all of us.

Reneta takes her handkerchief, dabs at Jakub’s wound, and whispers. You take care of your papa and don’t worry about me.

Jakub yells to the officer. Then I will be a guard. He takes his momma’s hand and pats it as his papa often does when she is upset. You’ll see, Momma, everything will be just fine. I’ll send home all my money. He kisses her on the cheek and steps back. Papa and I will return home as soon as we can. I love you.

As her boy runs to the staff car, Reneta grasps her silver cross necklace, closes her eyes, and kisses it.

The Ghetto


Jakub has never ridden in a car. After the first half hour, he finds himself enjoying the trip. It is an exciting experience. The speed that it travels is thrilling. What amazes him the most is the car does not have a roof. He can sit back in the comfortable leather seat and stare at the clouds overhead. He wonders what would happen if it rains.

For a while, he even forgets his father is in one of the trucks behind him. They pass through several villages, some similar in size to his, but many are much larger. Jakub finds that some look the same, but others have many houses, more than he can count, and some have very large houses made of brick that the commandant calls buildings.

About an hour into the trip, the commandant asks, Have you heard of Warsaw, Jakub?

Yes. Father Lisiewicz, the priest at our village’s school, said it is a large village.

The commandant laughs. Yes, it is the largest village you will probably ever see. Warsaw is called a city, and we are just entering it now.

Jakub scoots forward in his seat and looks out the front windshield. It is building upon building rising to the sky. After a few minutes, he asks, Where are the houses?

Most of the people live in buildings here. It would be like having twenty, thirty, or forty houses all touching each other and stacked four, five or even six high. Jakub looks at the officer to see if he is fooling him. It is true, Jakub. Watch and you will see.

Brick buildings line the road and Jakub’s neck hurts as he looks up into the sky. Wow—I can’t wait to tell Momma about this. He points to a tall building on the left. We must look like ants from way up there.

The further they drive into Warsaw, the stranger it becomes. The car can now only move at a slow pace. People are everywhere. Some are walking while others ride in wagons, or in cars or trucks. Some push carts filled with vegetables or meats. It seems the slower they travel, the stronger the smells. At one moment, he catches a whiff of cooked sausage and his stomach lets him know he is hungry.

When the stench of garbage overwhelms him, all thoughts of eating disappear.

The commandant taps Jakub on the shoulder and then points up ahead. We are entering the Ghetto. The Jews live there.

There are brick walls and tall fences on both sides of the road. More people than Jakub has seen before stand on the other side of the fences staring out at the passing convoy. The ones not at the fence are curled up on the ground huddled next to the buildings. No one appears happy, including the children.

Everywhere Jakub looks there are German soldiers. Some sit on monster-like contraptions that are bigger than the trucks. They have metal belts where there should be wheels and long round snouts sticking out the front.

Jakub points at one. What are those things?

It is a Panzerkampfwagen—a motorized truck with armor and treads. The Panzers are the pride of the German army. No other army has a weapon that can compete with it.

What do the Panzers do?

They kill the enemy.

Jakub is uncertain who the enemy is here in Warsaw. Why are there so many soldiers here?

We are here to protect the Jews. Not everyone likes these people. We had to build fences and walls to keep them safe.

There sure are a lot of Jews.

Yes, Jakub, far too many for my liking.

Who are the Jews? I have never heard of them before.

They are people you don’t want to know. It is not important anyway, because they will not be here much longer.

Jakub turns to the man and knots his eyebrows. Where are they going?

The commandant flicks his wrist and looks away. Enough with the questions.

As they reach the heart of the Ghetto, Jakub gasps and turns his head away. The commandant grasps the back of Jakub’s neck and forces him to look. Yes, Jakub, take a good look. This is what happens to the Jews when they try to harm the good people of Warsaw.

Jakub stares wide-eyed at nine decomposing bodies hanging from the second floor of a building. What did they do?

Who knows? All that matters is they were caught and punished. He releases his grip on Jakub.

Jakub has seen enough of this city. If this is what they are like, he never wants to visit another one. He sits back in the seat, slouches down, and closes his eyes. He knows he will never forget the faces of the men hanging there. What could those people have done to deserve such a terrible punishment?

New Home


An hour after leaving Warsaw, the commandant pats a sleepy Jakub on the leg as the car exits the forest. Welcome to Treblinka. This is your new home. About a kilometer in front of them is a massive fenced compound encircled by grassland.

There are two hundred fifty hectares of hay and wheat fields surrounding the camp. We sell or trade to the locals what we do not use. The forest surrounding the fields provides fuel for our stoves and ovens. There is also a quarry to the north where we make gravel.

As the staff car passes through the main gate, Jakub snaps his head left and right, taking in the camp and its buildings. It is larger than many of the villages they drove through on the way. There are soldiers in black uniforms guarding the gate and walking the fence line.

Their car follows two horse-drawn wagons filled with timber and crushed rock. The commandant reaches over and ruffles Jakub’s brown hair. Amazing, is it not? Only Auschwitz is larger. Treblinka is actually three camps. The one in front of you is for the officers, guards and administrative staff. There is a hospital, dining hall, offices, warehouses, stables, and barracks and living quarters for the guards and German officers. We even have a train station. He whips his riding crop around and points out the left side. The camp over there is the Arbeitslager. Your father will live there with the other laborers. Most of them are Polish, Czech, and Slovenian.

Jakub studies the high fence with rolled barbwire. About fifty meters back are five long two-story wooden buildings shaped like a horseshoe. He turns to the commandant and frowns. Why does the camp have a fence around it with guards? I thought they were workers, not prisoners.

The commandant pats the boy on his shoulder. The fence and guards are for the workers’ protection. We don’t want to confuse them for Jews.

As the car crawls along through the camp, Jakub stands up and looks out the rear. The two trucks following them turn left after they enter the gate. He waves just in case his father is looking for him. What kind of work will Papa be doing?

That will depend on his capabilities. Most likely he will work in the gravel pit or in the forest cutting wood for the ovens.

He points his riding crop to the right. You cannot see it from here, but beyond the trees is another camp even larger than the Arbeitslager. It is the Vernichtungslager. It is for the Jews.

Jakub sees seven tall towers overlooking the tree-lined area. Each tower has two soldiers in it. Why do you put the Jews over there? Can’t they work?

The commandant smirks. That is a story for another day.

The car stops at a long stone one-story building with a flag flying from a tall pole next to the entrance. A soldier sprints to the car and opens the commandant’s door. As he steps out, he says, Come, you can wait outside my office until someone can show you around.

As Jakub exits the vehicle, he spins around in a circle taking in the number of buildings and all the soldiers. He hears a loud whistle and turns to face the noise. What is that noise?

The commandant stops on the steps to the building. The Treblinka train is bringing us more Jews to process.

Why do you bring Jews here if they don’t work?

The commandant clenches his jaw and glares at Jakub. He rubs the leather riding crop across Jakub’s cheek, then leans down and grasps Jakub’s arm, yanking him forward. Enough with all the questions, he snaps. You are not a boy. You are a guard protecting the interests of the Fatherland. As a guard, you will respect my rank by addressing me as SS-Obersturmführer, or Sir. When I tell you to do something, you will do it without questioning my order. If another German officer tells you to do something, you will do it. Do you understand?

Jakub gulps. He is not sure what just happened, but the expression on the man’s face frightens him.

The commandant’s nails dig into Jakub’s arms. I asked you a question, Balinski, he snarls. Do you understand?


Yes what, Balinski?

Jakub cannot look at the commandant’s face. He drops his chin to his chest and mumbles, Yes, Sir. I understand, Sir.

The commandant releases Jakub and pats him on the cheek. He straightens his back and pulls down on his jacket. Good. Then you will be fine. Now follow me.

The Truth

Jakub sits on a hard wooden bench outside the commandant’s office. He has to go to the bathroom, but is afraid to ask the guards where it is. He also wants to find his father, but does not want to make the commandant mad again. As he waits, he taps his foot on the floor to help pass the time.

A boy, a little taller than Jakub with closely cropped red hair and

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