Authors: J.C. Stephenson
A Murder in Auschwitz
By J. C. Stephenson
Text copyright © 2013
John Craig Stephenson
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced, shared in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for the purpose of review, without the express permission of the publisher and copyright owner.
Cover design: JC Stephenson
Table of Contents
“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”
Auschwitz, 24th July 1943
MANFRED Meyer stood in line. His eyes darted from left to right as he tried to take in as much about this place as possible without standing out. Or perhaps it was fear that kept him facing straight ahead.
He did not know where he was, but he had caught a glimpse of an old railway sign from the tiny crack in the cattle truck door that he had been forced up against for most of his long journey. It had read
This must be Poland.
Where were his wife and daughters? Meyer’s stomach ached at the thought of them.
His eyes searched the area. Meyer turned his head slowly and tried to see behind him, but all that he could see was a mirror if what lay ahead of him; a never-ending line of men. And soldiers.
There had been brandished guns, shouted commands and pushing and pulling when they had first arrived. This had been some kind of selection process; old from young, men from women.
And then a quick march to this point. The soldiers were quiet now apart from the occasional shared joke, waiting for something.
Now Manfred Meyer waited too. With all the other men, some young, some middle-aged, some much older than Meyer. But no-one very old and no children.
Where were his children? Were they standing in a line like he was? They would still be with his wife - hopefully. At least they would be together so they wouldn’t be too frightened. His stomach turned over again at the thought of them being afraid.
It was hot. And this place stank. It was a smell he had never experienced before. It had penetrated the train even before it had stopped. The stench had overpowered the dreadful smell of sweat and urine and defecation which had filled his carriage. It was much worse.
It was a mixture of all the unpleasant, unclean, unwanted smells in the world. It was a thick loathsome odour. It sat on your tongue and forced you to taste the pollution. And there was something else. Something sweet. Meyer couldn’t put his finger on what it was but it repelled him.
Meyer’s thirst taunted him. He watched a bead of sweat slowly trickle from the hairline of the man in front. It caught on a black hair on the back of the man’s neck and hung there like dew on a blade of clean, cold grass.
Then there was a shout. Orders being conveyed from one soldier to another from the front of the line. In spite of the shouts, the line of men did not move. He tried to see what was happening but it was out of sight. He stole a glance at the two SS guards nearby.
Summer clung to the battle helmets and jackboots they wore. They carried their rifles in their hands, not slung over their shoulders, and stood in their dusty field grey uniforms with full webbing as if waiting on an attack from a crack Red Army brigade. For a moment Meyer wondered if they were perhaps afraid of the huge number of men they had in the line. If everyone charged the guards they could easily overpower them.
He tried to look down the line again but his attention was taken by the drop of sweat on the back of the man in front’s neck. It still sat on the hair. It vibrated from the heartbeat of its owner as gravity attempted to drag it to its inevitable end. Meyer watched it bulge into a teardrop and then back again to its rounded shape and although it moved infinitesimally closer to the end of the hair, it still clung on for dear life.
There was further shouting and then someone up ahead was pulled from the queue. In spite of the distance, Meyer could make out that he was wearing very smart clothes, a grey suit and a flash of a white collar. The man was gesticulating at a guard and an officer. Meyer strained to hear what was being said, but the man’s voice was carried away on a sudden breeze. Dust was blown around them all and a speck got into Meyer’s eye. Instinctively, he turned away from the direction of the wind and through his watery vision saw that his SS guards had been caught unaware by this sudden flurry of granular dirt. Together, both guards and prisoners suffered from this irritation.
Once Meyer had rubbed the dirt from his eyes he once again caught sight of the smartly-dressed man, now on his knees and holding his hands together, pleading for something. But Meyer still couldn’t hear.
The officer put his hand on the guard’s shoulder and said something that was taken away on the wind, then walked around to behind the smartly dressed man and took out his pistol. The guard moved away, pointing his machine gun at the man.
The smartly-dressed man stopped talking and his arms dropped to his side. His head bowed forward and he sat back on his legs. He looked like his life had left him already.
Meyer closed his gritty eyes and waited for the noise. He could hear the dust-filled breeze pass over his ears and he could hear the voices of soldiers talking. And then he heard the crack of the gunshot.
Meyer opened his eyes and saw that the officer had already holstered his pistol and was walking away. The smartly-dressed man lay face down in the dirt. A dark pool surrounded his head. Thank God his wife and children had not had to witness this.
Maybe family units would be re-united once they had been processed. He had heard the use of this word several times since arriving. There would be a processing of prisoners, or that there was a processing procedure.
Meyer’s attention was once again taken by the back of the man’s neck. The drop of sweat had gone.
Now there was more shouting. Meyer hoped it wasn’t going to be another execution. He looked desperately up the line of men, but instead of a victim being pulled from the queue, the guards were gesturing to everyone to start moving forward.
Meyer’s two SS guards walked slowly closer to the line, keeping a watch along the queue, waiting for the forward movement of the prisoners to snake backwards to their position. Both of these men were young, no more than twenty-two years old and although they were both clean-shaven, the dirt and grime of the heat stuck to their faces like a beard.
Meyer watched with them, waiting for the man in front to step forward. He wanted to make sure that he was moving as soon as possible, not giving the guards any reason to single him out.
Then, to Meyer’s horror, the sweaty man in front collapsed. He fell straight down as if his legs had disappeared completely, until he was sitting in the dirt. Then he toppled over sideways.
Meyer stopped breathing. The line of men in front had started to walk away. He didn’t know if he should step over the collapsed man, or bend down and help him or stay where he was until the guards removed him.
Meyer looked to the two SS guards for guidance.
“MOVE!” screamed the closest guard. A tiny particle of spittle left his lips and landed on Meyer’s face. His comrade joined in the command before Meyer had had a chance to step over the collapsed man.
“MOVE!” came the command again, and the guard’s hand shot out to grab hold of Meyer’s arm.
He felt himself being pulled forward over the sweaty man’s body. He stumbled, and for a second he thought he was going to join the other man face down in the dirt, but he managed to keep his feet and, with the guard now shouting at the men behind him, Meyer walked quickly to catch up with the rest of the queue.
He snatched a look back and saw that the line of men was being forced to walk over the collapsed man’s body. It wouldn’t be long before he died, if he wasn’t dead already.
Meyer considered that in the past few minutes two men had lost their lives. He hoped that this wouldn’t be a pattern for the rest of his time here, before he was processed.
Berlin, 14th November 1929
MANFRED Meyer sat on a green leather bench in the cool, walnut-panelled hallway of the Bauer & Bauer Criminal Lawyers office on Potsdamer Platz. A trickle of sweat ran down his back in spite of the temperature.
He wore his whitest shirt with a dark tie, his good suit and shoes, and, after much deliberation, had his coat folded over his arm.
Meyer couldn’t get comfortable. He crossed his legs and sat back. Then uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. He stood up. Walked down the hall a short distance and examined one of the portraits hanging there.
It was of an elderly gentleman in a black suit with snow-white hair and a kind face with a ruddy complexion. He was seated in an office which was wood-panelled, not unlike the hallway where Meyer now stood. The oil paint had stained over the years, and Meyer felt the urge to run a wet finger over the painting to bring up the original colours.
The voice startled Meyer from his examination of the picture. He turned and saw a tall, middle-aged man half hidden by the doorway next to the bench he had been sitting on.
“Yes. Yes, I am Herr Meyer,” he replied and started to make his way towards the man.
The man stood to one side and indicated with his arm that Meyer should enter the room.
“Please come in, Herr Meyer, and take a seat. Herr Bauer will see you forthwith.”