by Andrew J. Müller
It had been only a week or so since he had first arrived at the Camp that he had met Rachel. He had arrived by train, at night, and he wasn't really sure where the Camp was, he presumed it was somewhere in Poland, as there were many Poles here, but he also knew that translocation was a favourite ploy, intended to subdue the prisoners and make them feel isolated. Rachel had been in the Camp nearly a month. She had been taken from the Ghetto of Kazimierz in Krakow along with her parents, and one of her two brothers. The other brother had evaded capture, at least up until then, only God knew whether he was at liberty still.
He was from the Balkans, and spoke no Polish, she didn't speak his language, and so they conversed in Yiddish, risking severe punishment. She had probably once been very beautiful, her eyes were big, round and brown, although now carried with them a weight of sorrow which he was only just beginning to understand. Her hair, she told him, had been blonde although it was, of course, gone now, like everyone's - another way to subdue the prisoners and submerge their individuality. It made it easier for the guards, instead of being men, women and children they were just judaische, like cattle or rats, swarming and dirty - sub-human, to use the official terminology.
Which was probably why Mikel's relationship with Rachel was not approved of by the Commandant of the Camp. What had begun as a brief, nodding friendship in the all too short hours outside, which were relished whatever the weather, blossomed slowly into a deep sharing. They were forbidden to touch beyond brief contact, and so their relationship was by necessity purely platonic, but nevertheless Mikel and Rachel fell in love in a more real and urgent sense than either had encountered before.
It was Mikel who helped Rachel deal with the absence of her family from one exercise break one day. They both knew where her parents and brother had gone, but neither cared to speak it. Who needed to speak it when it was known? It was when this happened that Mikel finally realised that he wasn't going to leave this place, and so he began to record what had happened on any scraps of paper he could purloin, and began to store it under a loose section of floor in the dormitory hut where he slept. Perhaps in time people would come and find it and know what had truly happened, or perhaps the Germans would find it and his efforts would be in vain. It was all he could do, it kept him sane.
Some nights he would sit awake and feel the seven figure number tattooed onto his arm, or run his hands across his shaven scalp and a cold feeling would creep across him. How many? Just how many had been here since the Germans had started removing his people from their homes. It had been happening unchecked for four years now. The British had been driven from France and no one else seemed to want to interfere or stand up to the might of the Germans. Mikel thought of his relatives in New York. They had told him so much about America - but where were the Americans now?
In the weeks after her family had been killed Rachel began to loose weight even more quickly than was the general rule. After only two weeks she began to look like an animated skeleton, her collar bones were showing through the skin at her neck, her arms and legs like matchsticks, barely able to support her. Their love intensified, they both knew that one way or another Rachel would soon be dead. Mikel had expected her to die of starvation, he had not expect that one day, during exercise, a troop of Camp guards would line everyone up and randomly pick people from the line and take them - blatantly - away to the gas chambers; the three big, grey concrete buildings euphemistically termed as 'showers' which stood by the woods at the back of the Camp.
Rachel had been selected.
Mikel cried out when she was taken from his side, and was immediately knocked to the ground by a blow from a rifle butt. Rachel uttered something in Polish, which he didn't understand, and then in Yiddish - "Make them remember me" she had said. Mikel lay on the ground and watched as Rachel and many others were taken straight away to the Chambers. His last glimpse of her was as she went inside. When the doors closed Mikel began to recite the Lord's Prayer in Yiddish, earning himself another smack from a rifle butt, despite the blood running into his mouth he continued to the end.
No one was prepared for what then happened. The doors were re-opened and the Guards began to remove bodies and heap them up outside. The watching men, women and children turned away. But some were forced to look, literally by Guards holding their heads and eyes open, as the heap was set alight and black oily smoke billowed up into the cold air. Mikel was relieved in a sickened way that he had not seen Rachel come back out of the Chamber.
In the dormitory that night nobody slept.
Two days later another 'round up' took place and another fifty people were gassed and burnt in front of the Camp. This time they took not just Jews, but Poles, Slavs, Blacks and Gays. News began to circulate that the Germans were in a hurry because they were losing the War. The Americans had joined the British and landed in France, the Russians were advancing from the east. Mikel began to record greater detail in his ad hoc diary, taking names, ranks, details, numbers. He tried to reflect the horror and the numb acceptance, the routine of death and sickness that descended on them, one which outstripped the terror which had crossed Europe in the last few bleak years.
A month after his precious Rachel had been killed like vermin, Mikel learned that the Americans had arrived in Paris, surely now they would not have to wait long for it to end. Two days after that another line up was called, and this time Mikel was taken to the 'shower'.
Within a few months the British liberated Belsen and found the starved, dehumanised survivors of the worst crime ever committed against mankind. Thomas Watkins, a 23 year old fusilier from Pontypridd, discovered Mikel's scribbled notes in their hidey-hole under the floor of the dormitory and, on returning to Britain a few months later, told the planet about Mikel and Rachel and the terror that the world should never forget.
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