A CERTAIN NIGHT AT AUSCHWITZ


Chapter One

The report of this alleged incident was smuggled out of the camp before the vast majority of all records were destroyed just before the Russians reached it in early 1945.  Of two of the known participants, Colonel Karl Bremner, always strongly denied it, even tried to scoff at it, implying it was all nonsense, but it was noted that he always looked away when doing so, looking very uneasy and introspective.  The other, Sgt. Fritz Muller was killed in action not long before the war ended.  His surviving comrades said that he always had a haunted look and drank heavily when he would often say to anyone who would listen “I think that we have done very bad things, do you think we can ever be forgiven?”  Then he would sit on his own drinking even more.  The other soldiers did not know Muller very well, only that he was a former SS man who had been transferred to their standard Wehrmacht army division and that he kept to himself.  He never discussed what exactly he had done, they never asked.

In 1943 the largest and most infamous death camp of all, Auschwitz, was performing at its highest capacity.  In hut 22 the prisoners were about to settle down in the two tiered wooden bunks with the pitiful scrap of a blanket that barely covered them or kept them warm enough even though it was only September and the bitterly cold winter nights had not as yet arrived.

The light was fading and a few people spoke very quietly amongst each other.  They mostly talked of happy memories from their former lives before the mad regime had taken over, of parents, wives (it was a male only hut) and children, girlfriends of the younger single men, and the vague hope that somehow the lunacy would come to an end in time to save them although not even the most optimistic of them held out any real hope of being saved.  Through the “grapevine”, those Jewish inmates who were forced to empty the ovens of bodies and so had some contact with the guards, they had heard that the Allies did not yet believe the rumours of the Nazi death camps which were now functioning in various locations.

The men attempted to find some scarce comfort in their bunks, to grab a little sleep interspersed with the fear of the morrow and ever present hunger pains.  A few continued to murmur to each other, some to themselves.  It was about 9.30 pm or a little later when Abe Cohen heard what he thought was an old Jewish tune that he remembered from long ago.  He opened his eyes and listened intently.  Yes, it was music, that old tune, playing quietly but certainly audibly and there was soft, shaded lighting.  What did this mean, was this some new form of psychological torture, was not their life, no not a LIFE, their existence bad enough?

He gently shook the man in the next bunk, ‘Hymie, are you awake can you hear the music?’

His friend started and half sat up.  Other figures were also stirring.  ‘Yes Abe, I hear it, where is it coming from, it sounds as if it is in here?’

People were starting to sit up, to look around.  More and more of them awoke and started asking each other what was happening but in low voices of course, constant fear of beatings, deprivation and death had made everyone continually frightened of immediate harsh retribution for any perceived contravention of anything but timid obedience.

In front of the main entrance door into the hut was an open space before the row of bunks commenced, perhaps fifteen metres wide by ten metres deep and this was suddenly enveloped in a somewhat stronger light and a figure was standing in the middle of the space, a long table was situated on the right hand side of the hut near the wall whereas the entrance door was on the extreme left hand side.  The music continued but very quietly.  Everyone stopped talking and looked at the figure which appeared to be that of a man of indeterminate age possibly between 35 and 45 years, dressed in a one piece robe and who was holding out both arms from his sides palms upwards not straight ahead but pointing out from each side as religious Ministers are seen to do when welcoming the congregation in a Church.  There was not a sound in the hut, everyone was waiting for something to happen, some explanation for this extraordinary situation.

‘Good evening my friends please relax and be assured that no harm will come to you tonight.  We are going to have a little party, no doubt you would care for some refreshments, something to eat and drink,’ the visitor said and gestured to the long table on his left which now was bathed in the soft light and laden with various cold snacks and drinks, even some alcoholic.  No one moved although every single man in the hut was hungry.

‘You think perhaps that this is some awful trick played upon you by the people who put you here, some subtle form of additional torture?  No, let me assure you that it isn’t.  I am here to provide you with a crumb of comfort during a terrible time in the world, a period of time that will end in due course however the workings of the Almighty are of course unfathomable to human understanding.  Yet here I am and here you are and I repeat, come on and enjoy some refreshments.’  He again waved an arm towards the table.

Hesitantly one or two folks took a few steps towards the table, never taking their eyes off the central figure who had an understanding, slight smile.  ‘That’s right come along, there is more than enough for everyone,’ he encouraged.

The men who reached the table first picked up various sandwiches and pies and sniffed cautiously.

The mysterious figure smiled broadly, ‘It’s perfectly alright,’ he said, ‘It isn’t poisoned, in fact it is probably the best food that you have ever tasted.’

One prisoner and then another started eating the food, sipping the drinks, then, nodding their heads in appreciation they started eating in earnest.  Seeing this, the remaining men flocked forwards.

Daniel Stein, sandwich in hand, approached their benefactor saying, ‘Thank you very much but who are you and what is going to happen to us?  Why do our prayers remain unanswered, why won’t God help us!?’

He saw the man’s (well, what seemed to be a man) expression change into one of pity for a split second before reverting to a benevolent smile and he replied, ‘I have more to tell you shortly.  The hut across the way in the women and children’s section, the nearest one, are there not some of the wives and families of the men in this hut living there?  Is that so?’

‘Yes, but how do you know that?’  Daniel stepped back, suddenly fearful, did this person work for the Nazis after all?

The man reached out a hand and touched Daniel’s arm in reassurance, it had a remarkably calming effect on the prisoner.

‘Don’t worry, everything I say or offer is the truth believe me.  If I said I would arrange for your families to visit you what would you say?’

Daniel looked into the man’s grey eyes, wise eyes that seemed to look right into his mind.

‘I would say that we could scarcely ask for anything more wonderful except freedom for us all from this Hell, but surely it is not possible.’

‘More impossible than music, food and drink in the middle of the night?’ the man gently chided.

Daniel was silent, hoping against hope that this stranger could actually make this happen, how he and the other married men longed to see their wives and children, so near but to never to be seen was strangely worse than if they had been located hundreds of miles away rather than just a hundred metres or so.

Suddenly the man addressed the throng gathered around the table, with a smile he said, ‘I have been speaking to Daniel and he tells me that there are some people that you would love to see again, so here they are.’

As he finished speaking the large entrance door on the man’s right slowly opened and women, some holding their children’s hands, started to slowly file in filled with obvious trepidation.  One of the first was Daniel’s own wife and with a cry of ‘Ruth, my darling Ruth,’ he rushed over to embrace her.  The couple clung to each other as did other couples and those with children were almost besides themselves with joy.  When the men eventually tore themselves away from their loved ones it was only to lead them to the table whose extensive stock of food and drink seemed hardly to have diminished at all.  Soon all were eating, drinking and, seemingly impossible only an hour previously, there was actually some laughter.  Their Host continued to stand in the same central position of the space at the front of the hut looking on and smiling.

Suddenly the door burst open and guards rushed in, fanning out in a “V” formation, six on one side of the figure in the familiar black SS uniform complete with boots, and six guards on the other side.  All of the soldiers held their Schmeisser sub machine guns at waist height, ready.

‘What is going on here, why are you out of your bunks, what are the women and children doing here?’  The commandant, Colonel Bremner’s harsh tones rang out as every prisoner stopped what they were doing and shrunk away from the table as if in an attempt to return near their bunks.  Husbands instinctively placed a protective arm around their wives and children.

Bremner saw the table for the first time, his anger increased.  ‘Who provided this table and provisions?  Answer me NOW or I will have half of you shot immediately,’ he shouted, his voice rising to a crescendo.

Chapter Two

Daniel noticed that the music had stopped.  There was silence in the hut as if everyone was waiting for something to happen.

The visitor spoke.  ‘I am responsible for everything Colonel Bremner,’ his voice was even and well modulated, neither too quiet nor too loud.  Bremner seemed to notice him for the first time.

‘Who are you, what is your name and number, how did you get here, answer me quickly now?’

‘My name is not important only the fact that I am here is.  It is very hard to believe Colonel but you and I have something in common, just the one thing.  You do the bidding of the most powerful person in your Country, I do the bidding of the most powerful, full stop, or as the Americans would say, period.’

The Colonel scrutinised the figure intently then, coming to a decision said, ‘What nonsense is he babbling, we will take him for interrogation, discover the facts and who has been assisting him.  You two,’ he motioned to a couple of the guards nearest to the visitor, ‘seize his arms and bring him.’

The two men immediately stepped forward towards the visitor who was standing motionless about five metres away from them, Sgt. Muller was one of the two men.  They had only taken one step each when they stopped abruptly, unmoving as if frozen, their limbs and even their expressions seemingly transfixed.

‘I said seize him,’ shouted Bremner, ‘What is the matter with you?’

Neither man moved or even blinked.

‘You other men get hold of him,’ Bremner ordered the rest of the soldiers who all took a step forward and then stopped, just as their colleagues had.  Not one of them spoke or even twitched.

‘Are you refusing to obey orders?’ screamed the Colonel, walking to the nearest soldier and peering at his face which was completely impassive and did not move a muscle.

‘They can hear and see but they cannot move Colonel,’ said the intended victim.

Bremner swivelled to look at him, ‘I do not know what is going on here but let’s see you work your magic tricks on bullets,’ he said, pulling out his Luger pistol from its holster on his belt.  ‘I am not going to kill you, not yet any way, I have many questions to ask you but a bullet or two in your arms and legs should loosen your tongue.’

He extended his arm in class shooting style, taking careful aim at the visitor and pulled the trigger.  Nothing happened, he tried again, nothing happened.

‘Your gun won’t work Colonel and even if it did it would not matter, have another try,’ said the visitor.

Bremner pointed the gun again and pulled the trigger, this time it did fire and the noise was quite loud in the confined space.  Bremner stared at the man who was still standing there unharmed, he knew he could not possibly have missed at so short a range.  He tried again, with the same result.

Suddenly he realised that he too could not move, he could hear and see but his limbs would not obey him, even his outstretched arm and hand holding the pistol remained in that position.  He tried to speak but couldn’t.  Bremner was in his late thirties and had a face that mirrored his nature, thin and cruel, and he had eagerly taken on board the doctrines of the “master race” and what “had to be done”.  He had enjoyed the confidence building power that authority had given him but now, as this stranger started walking towards him he felt something that he could not remember since his childhood, fear, maybe some terrible retribution for his crimes, something that he had never considered before.

Chapter Three

The visitor came and stood right in front of him, his face less than twelve inches away, he was a little taller than Bremner and his grey, fathomless eyes looked down into the Colonel’s and seemed to be looking right through them into the back of the SS man’s head.

He leaned even closer to Bremner and spoke very quietly into the man’s ear, no one else could hear what he said.

‘Listen to me very carefully Colonel, your life and even your very soul depends upon what you decide.  I will release yourself and your men momentarily, you are to leave and return to your quarters until tomorrow’s normal routine commences.  Do not attempt any trouble here or return with reinforcements, it would do you no good and I would take more drastic action which would result in casualties on your side.  These poor folks here,’ he gestured to the prisoners who had remained silent and awestruck by the recent events as they had unfolded, ‘I know that you intend to escort them to the “shower blocks” tomorrow, yes I know what the euphemism stands for, I don’t intend to prevent you from doing that although I could however, I insist that there be no harsh treatment in doing so, instruct the guards to maintain the illusion to the end and to even be comparatively courteous, am I understood?  Nod your head if you agree, I will allow that.’

Bremner felt his neck muscles returning and slowly nodded his head.

The stranger continued, ‘Colonel, if a man is truly sorry for his sins he can still find forgiveness even for actions such as yours, remember that.  Alternatively, if he is truly evil he may look forward to the appropriate reward, let me give you a glimpse of that fate.’

Suddenly and for a fraction of a second only Bremner appeared to be engulfed in flames from his feet to just above his head, then it was over.  Feelings started to return to his limbs and he noticed that the soldiers too were beginning to stir.

‘Return your gun to its holster and leave now and remember what I told you, you are at the crossroads of your existence,’ said the stranger.

Bremner put the Luger away and, turning to the soldiers who appeared to have got their faculties back, said in a strained voice, ‘Return to the barracks NOW.’

The men needed no encouragement in obeying the order and marched out of the door rapidly followed by Bremner who cast a nervous backwards glance at the figure, who was still holding a central position in the space at the front of the hut, watching him.

After they had left all of the prisoners started talking all at once amongst one another but no one moved any nearer the visitor.  He watched them for a few moments and then spoke, they all stopped talking and everyone listened.

‘My friends,’ he began, ‘you must have many questions however I intend to explain everything to you over the next hour or so, in the meantime I would like you to simply relax and enjoy each other’s company and the refreshments on the table.  No one will be returning to bother you rest assured.  Go along, get some food and drink and then we will have a chat, there’s plenty for everyone,’ he waved an arm towards the table, the contents of which still did not seem depleted in any way despite a considerable number of people having already taken something.

The people eagerly went along with their benefactor’s suggestion and headed back towards the table, loading up their plates for a welcome feast.  None could quite remember the last time that they had not been hungry.  There was general excitement in the air and even some tentative smiles, especially from the children.  Daniel, along with a couple of other men cautiously approached the visitor and said, ‘Sir, may we ask who you are and why you are here?  Please understand that we are so grateful we can never thank you enough but as I am sure that you must understand, this is all incredibly unreal, to see our loved ones, to eat and drink proper food, to see our oppressors humbled and sent away, it all seems impossible, it’s like a dream.’

The man smiled and said, ‘Well it can’t be impossible can it, you have seen it happen with your own eyes!  As I said a moment ago, I will explain shortly, when everyone has had their fill.’

‘That is another thing,’ added Daniel, ‘we have been taking food and drink from the table for a while but it does not seem much emptier.’

‘Daniel, Daniel,’ the visitor moved nearer and placed his hand on Daniel’s shoulder, ‘If the Good Lord could feed 5000 with just 5 loaves and 2 fishes I am sure that keeping that table stocked doesn’t present a problem,’ he smiled.

Daniel gasped, ‘Does that mean that you are….?’ his voiced trailed off.

The visitor smiled and broke in before Daniel finished his question, ‘No, no, I am not Him however I do act on His behalf, now go and help yourself from the table again and I will address everyone in a few moments time.’

Daniel and the other two men did as they were bid.

After half an hour or so everyone had finished eating and their provider beckoned them around him in a semi circle.

‘Do you feel a little better everyone?’ he enquired, to be answered by a chorus of yes’s and nods from the gathered assembly.

‘Right,’ he continued, ‘I am now going to tell you certain things which you will no doubt find very disturbing but I promise you that, in the end, you will all be together and perfectly happy, that is all that matters really would you not agree?’

Everyone nodded and murmured ‘yes.’

‘During this terrible persecution,’ he continued, ‘many people’s faith has been severely tested, even staunchly religious folks.  Why would God allow this to happen to us they ask themselves?  Well God gave people free will and exercising that free will decides their ultimate fate when this life is over.  If God interfered in all aspects of life in this world then that would contradict his own rules, He would be influencing peoples’ actions and subsequently their free will and so it would not be a fair test of their true character.  My visit here tonight will not have any massive pivotal effect on matters but it will act as a reminder to your people that they certainly have not been forgotten and also as a warning to Nazi individuals of the fate that awaits them if they continue down this path.  If, when I finish telling you what I must tell you, you think that God is being most unfair, then although I will understand why you think that I would advise you to realise that only He sees the really big picture, the complete picture, reality.  So, I have some good news and what you will no doubt consider bad news for you but if you stop and think then really, there is only good news.’

The people had been absolutely silent whilst the visitor had been speaking, utterly enthralled, there was not a sound, not even from the children.

‘Tomorrow morning the guards will collect you all and take you to the “showers” where you will all be gassed, everyone will die.’

As could be expected this awful prophecy was met with gasps of anguish and dismay from the listeners.  There were cries of ‘No,’ ‘Please no,’ and ‘I thought you came to help us, save us please if not us then at least our children,’ were typical of the pleas forthcoming.

The speaker held up both hands and when quiet returned he said, ‘I have helped you, I have given you a night back together with your loved ones and now I am going to give you the good news.  By this time tomorrow your time on earth will be over and you will be with your families in the afterlife, with no more worries and no more cares.  You have witnessed tonight that nothing and no one can stand against the Lord and you will be with Him soon.  Don’t worry, there will be no pain, no torture, I will make sure of that, you will simply go to sleep secure in the knowledge of a wonderful new life soon.  Perhaps you have heard the saying, ‘Death is only the beginning,’ well so it is.  Now it is time for me to leave you but I will see you all again soon I promise you.’  With that he spread his arms as in a blessing and slowly faded from view.

Chapter Four

At first there was silence in the hut and then people started talking, seeming confident but at the same time unsure of things.  It could not have been a mass hallucination.  Abe and Hymie chatted quietly, ‘You know,’ said Abe, ‘the table is still there and speaking of the table why don’t we go and have another drink, it’s a shame to waste it and anyway, according to the Angel which is what I am sure he was, these will be our last drinks at least in this world.’

‘I couldn’t agree with you more,’ replied Hymie and the two men made their way over to the table and helped themselves to a couple of generous measures, noticing that the stocks on the table were at last starting to be reduced.

The people talked quietly in little groups and eventually dozed off, those with families went to sleep with their arms around each other and it had to be said that although they had been given the grim news about their forthcoming demise, they enjoyed their best sleep since their arrival at that terrible place.

The next morning around 9 am it was a cautious, almost respectful Sgt. Muller who opened the door and entered, looking around carefully, presumably for the stranger.  When he had ascertained that the man was not there he announced in reasonable tones as opposed to the usual harsh orders, ‘You are to be escorted to the showers after which you will be provided with clean clothing.  Follow me, as a concession families may stay together.’

The prisoners shuffled out of the hut into the daylight between the lines of soldiers on each side of the door.  The soldiers faces told nothing but there was no haranguing of any sort as they made their way to the entrance of “the showers”.  The prisoners at least had the comfort of knowing with utter certainty of eventual happiness to come.

Abe was one of the last people to reach their final destination and he turned and looked into the eyes of Sgt. Muller who was standing ready to supervise two soldiers who were about to close and lock the heavy steel door.  Abe caught his eye and the Sergeant quickly looked down, averting Abe’s gaze.  ‘Auf wiedersehen Sergeant,’ said Abe quietly, ‘I am sure you will remember us, and many others like us.’  He then turned and followed his friends into the huge tiled room where instructions had been given to undress.  On the roof the Zyklon B gas canisters were prepared.

Chapter Five

It was November 1945 and former SS Colonel Bremner was cautiously optimistic.  So far his identity of Wilhelm Strasmer, former office clerk, was holding up.  It was an alias painstakingly created when it became obvious that Germany was losing the war.  It was amazing how unrecognisable one looked if you shaved your head and grew a moustache.  Now all he had to do was to be discharged from this second and hopefully last British detention centre where he had managed to answer all questions safely so far.  The firm that he had supposedly worked for had been obligingly flattened by the RAF bombers and all records destroyed as had his former “home address”.

All being well just one more night of solitary confinement before being placed with the general prisoners and shortly afterwards release, and then he would eventually make his way to South America where he would start a new life with fellow former comrades.  He would fool the stupid English!  These and other thoughts ran through his head as he was escorted back to his cell after his latest and hopefully final interrogation which had gone well, Mein Gott, they had even given him cigarettes, the stupid fools.

The guard opened his cell door and nodded, closing it after him.  Bremner was surprised to see another man sitting inside, it was normally solitary whilst they checked you out, perhaps they were running out of space.  The man stood and smiling, gave that familiar raised arm salute, ‘Heil,’ force of habit Bremner supposed.  He nodded but remained cautious, suspecting a trap.  The man came closer, he was about Bremner’s age, he whispered in his ear, ‘Don’t be concerned Colonel, I am SS too, former Oberleutnant Gruber, I served with Willy Braun in Treblinka solving the vermin problem there, he spoke of you, you and your wife Helga, you both holidayed with him and his wife in Vienna in ’37 I am correct?  Also I acted as his aide at the conference that you attended regarding the Final Solution in 1941 you may recall, the one that Heydrich chaired.’

Bremner was startled.  ‘Forgive me I think that you are mistaking me for someone else, I know no one of that name.’

‘Come now Colonel,’ continued Gruber quietly, ‘I understand your caution however there are no microphones in here, the stupid English have not installed any, how can I convince you that I am a friend?’

‘If you knew Braun, how old was his son Gerde?’

‘Ah,’ smiled the newcomer, ‘he didn’t have a son but he did have a daughter Heidi, let me see, she would be about ten years old now, satisfied?’ Gruber smiled.

‘And what colour was his wife’s hair?’ Bemner enquired.

‘A true daughter of the Fatherland, a natural blonde, shoulder length I recall.’

Bremner gave a thin smile and extended his hand, ‘You can’t be too careful. ”Indeed not,’ agreed Gruber, ‘tell me Colonel, now that the war is over have you changed your views at all, I understand that many of our Countrymen have now decided that our policies were not only wrong but that they were in fact evil.  What is your view?  If you had your time over again would you change anything?’

Bremner’s answer was immediate.  ‘Never, not one thing would I change.  Our beloved Fuhrer was the only man strong enough to pursue the correct policies, the only man who had the vision to see how the world should really be governed, to get rid of the people who cause all the problems, the undesirables, the leeches.’  The familiar doctrine echoed out and for a few moments Bremner looked focused again, his face animated with the beliefs that had been ingrained within him and which he had accepted so willingly.

‘So you have not changed at all then,’ said Gruber still speaking quietly but earnestly, ‘and you still honestly believe what you did was right, tell me, would you do it again and do you have no regrets?’

‘Every single thing I would do again, I have no regrets, none whatsoever, my only regret is that we never got the opportunity to finish the task that we were meant to.  But tell me, why are you asking me this, surely you are not one of those pathetic types that are now ringing their hands in apparent contrition and apologising for their actions?’

Gruber came up close to Bremner, very close indeed, and stood looking intently into the Colonel’s face.

‘I told you once that you would get a chance for salvation, I didn’t think for one moment that you would change and I was right.’

Before Bremner’s incredulous stare Gruber’s face began to change, Bremner stepped backwards, pointing a hand at the figure that had been Gruber a moment ago.

‘It’s you,’ he exclaimed, ‘You, the stranger from that night in the camp in ’43.  What has happened to Gruber, what are you doing here, who the Hell are you?’  Bremner’s voice grew louder as surprise and panic set in.

‘Speaking of Hell I gave you a brief glimpse of your possible fate that night however you  have chosen to ignore it, so be it.  We won’t meet again, goodbye Colonel Bremner, late of the SS, go and meet your friend Gruber’  He stepped forward and lightly tapped Bremner on the shoulder and then simply faded away.

Bremner staggered backwards and collapsed on his bunk and started to scream.  The guards arrived quickly and on opening the cell door they found Bremner near death.  He managed to ask if the other man had gone, of course there was no other man, these cells were for single occupancy only, the guards put it down to delirium.  He seemed to be in extremis and just before he passed away he clutched at one of the guards and muttered just two words which were coherent – “Burning, Burning”.

 

THE END