Warner, Patek, and Celine

Lilianna Purcell, Guest Writer

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Warner

Lieutenant Schmidt says we are going to storm the Polish camp tonight. All of the other soldiers are loading their guns happily. They are excited. They will be doing what the Führer wants them to do.

“Those dirty Poles won’t know what hit them.” Albert makes a gun with his fingers and pretends to shoot. Albert is my only friend. Or the closest thing to one. We are the two youngest in our camp, me being seventeen and Albert being eighteen. “Aren’t you excited Warner? It’s our first invasion!”

“Yes of course I am.” Not really. Albert loved that we were ridding the earth of anyone that wasn’t German. He agreed with the Führer. He thought that we were the superior race and that everyone else wasn’t. I mean I believe that too. At least I think I do. The only thing is that I don’t like killing the Poles. Or anyone for that matter. I can’t admit that to anyone though. If I do they will call me a bad German. They will say I am disrespecting the Führer.

My father was the one that made me join the war. Since I’m only seventeen I have to enlist instead of get drafted. He said I must fight for my country like he did in WW1. My dad taught me that we were better than everyone else and anyone who wasn’t German didn’t deserve to live. He took me in the backyard and taught me how to shoot anyone that didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes.

My mother was the one that made me doubt the Führer. When my father went to work she would tell me that everyone was the same and just because someone looks different doesn’t mean that they do not deserve to live. When I asked my father if we were really all just the same, he beat me for asking such a stupid question. After that my mother stopped telling me her own thoughts and just nodded in agreement whenever my father said anything at the dinner table.

I have no idea where they are now. The last time I saw them was at the train station. I waved goodbye to them as the train pulled away taking me to a training camp for German soldiers. My mother waved back and wiped tears from her face, but my father just stood there stone faced.

At the training camp I was issued my uniform and boots. Both a couple sizes too big. I have to pull my laces really tight and tie a piece of rope around my waist. Then we got split up into smaller groups. In my group was Albert, an enthusiastic, loud boy who was constantly getting yelled at. Now we were here. Arming ourselves and getting ready to invade a Polish camp.

We ate a little bit of the stuff they call food and it was time to go. The Lieutenant led us into the woods and through the maze of trees. Just when I thought we would never reach the camp, I hear shouts in a language I don’t understand. We are here.

Immediately the acrid smell of gunpowder fills my nose as soldiers begin shooting at the Poles. They all look so afraid. I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t.

I take off back into the trees. I keep looking behind me to see if anyone noticed, but no one has. I turn at a tree and a body smacks into mine, the force knocking me to the ground. I glance up and see a man in a Polish uniform standing there. My limbs feel like jello as I scramble to my feet.

“Don’t shoot me.” The man says in broken German. “Please.”

“Why shouldn’t I shoot you?” I will my hands to stop shaking as I pull my gun out. “How do I know you won’t kill me?” I can do this. I can.

“I am not going to kill you. I’m just trying to get back to my family.” He says slowly taking a step back. I feel my face flinch at the mention of family. I wish I knew where they were. “Don’t you want to get back to your family?”

Of course I do. I would love to see my mother’s warm smile again. I nod my head and lower the gun slightly. The man reminds me of my mother in a way. They both have some sort of light in their eyes. Why should I kill this man? Just because he wears a uniform that doesn’t match mine? Just because he has a dark brown hair instead of a light blonde?

“Will you let me go?” He asks continuing to slowly back away. I lower the gun. I can’t kill him.

“Yes.” I rub my sweaty hands on my pants. “Quickly. Don’t let them see I let you go.”

“Thank you. God bless you.” He bows his head at me, then turns and runs. I decide to run back to the campsite incase he changes his mind and decides to turn around and shoot me. The sight I see when I get back there makes me want to turn right back around. There are bodies everywhere. I guess this time Schmidt decided no survivors. I’m glad I wasn’t here to see the bloodbath.

“Warner!” Albert sees me across the field and bounces over. How can he be so happy after this? “Did you get that stupid Pole? I saw you chase after him.”

“Yeah. I got him.” What Albert doesn’t know won’t kill him. If I told him I let the Pole go though it might kill me. I hope the Pole gets to see his family again. I hope I get to see my family again. I am so preoccupied thinking about my family that I almost don’t see the moon peeking through the shadows in the sky.

 

Patek

Shrapnel is flying everywhere. The sound of the bomb exploding makes my ears ring. Gunshots echo in my head. The man next to me goes down in a spray of red. I swallow hard and keep shooting. I don’t want to shoot. But I do. A bullet comes flying at me and goes straight into my chest.

I sit up gasping. My eyes quickly look down at my chest, expecting to see a blossom of red forming on my shirt, but there’s nothing. My nightmare had felt so real. Despite the freezing air, a layer of sweat covers my body.

“Nightmare?” Lieutenant Barela says from the other side of the tent. The lantern on the table in front of him illuminates a map. “I get them too.”

Barela had been in this war for a while now. The pins on his uniform that were once shiny are now dull. The exhaustion is clear on his face and I’m sure the rest of us can’t look much better.

“Yeah.”  I nod my head. “I’m going to go get some food.” I slowly get up from the ground and leave the Lieutenant to his map.

Outside of the tent gray surrounds us like a prison. It has been a while since I looked up and saw baby blue. The same beautiful color I saw in my wife’s eyes. I haven’t seen those in a while either. I hope they are okay. One of the generals said that the Germans had gotten into towns up north. He also said that Prussia and the Soviet Union weren’t far from getting in either. The plan had been to go hide at my in-laws, but I got drafted. When we found out Margo started crying. They were quiet tears. Our daughters did not cry quiet tears. They screamed and begged me not to go. Margo had to pull Estera off my leg. My heart broke a little bit that day.

A soldier taps me on the shoulder and hands me a plate with dried beef and biscuit. The dried beef is tough to chew and the biscuit is as dry as the desert, but I don’t complain. It’s not like food is easy to come by around here.

One of older soldiers tells us a story about how he met his wife on the battlefield in WW1. Soon everyone is telling stories about their families and the people waiting for them back home.

Niemcy! Niemcy!” A soldier whose name I can’t remember comes crashing into the table we are eating on. “They are here! They have invaded the camp!”

That’s when I hear the gunshots. A whole battalion of Germans have silently crept their way into our camp. They are killing men like they are flies. Some Poles have pulled out their guns and begun to fire aimlessly at the Germans.

Lieutenant Barela will have no choice but to surrender. We will all be killed, or worse, taken prisoner. They will take us to Auschwitz or Stutthof. I have heard the horrible things that happen there. I will most likely not see my family again. My Margo. My Celine, Estera, and Natia. Will the children even remember me? They are so young.

The only way to get out is to run. I could run into the trees and escape the Germans. But if I do, I’ll be considered a deserter. A quick glance around shows that most of the Poles are not that concerned about becoming deserters. They are running for their lives.

I go for it.

I grab my pack that has some food and water, which should hopefully keep me sustained for a couple days, and a small handgun. When it looks like no one is watching me I run. I am almost far enough where the camp will not be in my sights when I slam into someone, knocking them onto the ground. My heart stops when I see the uniform that indicates the person I have just bumped into is a German. His hand quickly moves to his side where a gun is tucked into his belt as he scrambles up from the ground.

“Don’t shoot me.” I say in broken German that Margo taught me. “Please.”

“Why shouldn’t I shoot you?” He pulls out the gun, but his hands are shaking. “How do I know you won’t kill me?”

“I am not going to kill you. I’m just trying to get back to my family.” I slowly take a step away from him. His face twitches at the mention at family. “Don’t you want to get back to your family?”

The soldier nods his head and lowers the gun slightly. He can’t be older than eighteen. The uniform he wears is baggy and the way he stands in his boots shows that they are a few sizes too big. His eyes are filled with fear and timidness.

“Will you let me go?” I am slowly backing away. His face shows he is conflicted, but he lowers the gun.

“Yes.” He rubs his hands on his too big pants. “ Quickly. Don’t let them see I let you go.”

“Thank you. God bless you.” I quickly turn and run, half expecting to feel and bullet in my back as soon as I do. But I don’t. I look back and the kid is gone.

I keep running until I think I am far enough to start walking and I reach a stream. In the reflection of the water I see a silver glint. Is that the- no, it can’t be. Slowly, I turn my head to the sky, and through the smoke and dirt the moon and stars are peeking through. Margo would say it is a sign. A sign that I will make it back home to my Celine, Estera and Natia. My own personal moon, stars and hope. I’ll take it.

 

Celine            

The stars are no longer visible. The smoke and dirt in the air form a blanket over the sky. A black bird sits on a tree branch. I envy it. It has the ability to fly away. To go anywhere it wants. It can get far away from this war. We can’t even leave the cabin. It’s all because of the German soldiers. I remember when Mama first told us to stay away from them. A week later we were leaving our house.  

“Why do we have to leave Mama?” Estera had been crying all day.

“Don’t cry my child.” Mama stopped shoving clothes into a bag and squatted down to Estera’s height. “We are going on an adventure. It has been too long since our last adventure.”

“Oh I love adventures!” Estera’s mood immediately lifted. “I’ll go finish packing then!” She ran off, her little feet pattering on the wooden floor.

“That isn’t true right?” I asked Mama. “We aren’t really going on an adventure?” I heard on the radio that Germany’s leader had sent troops into Poland. The leader’s name is Adolf Hitler. The reporter said the German soldiers were killing people that were Polish. People like us.

“No we are not.” Mama sighed.

“Why doesn’t Hitler like me and Tata?” Mama was German. Hitler liked her. Estera and Natia looked exactly like Mama. They both had hair so blonde it was almost white. Hitler must like them too then.

“I don’t know moje dziecko.” Mamas face looked sad. You could see all the wrinkles that have arrived since Tata left for war. Her blue eyes now not only have smile lines in the corners, but dark purple circles underneath them. We continued packing bags in silence.

 A pair of hands wrap around my waist pulling me from my memory and I am hoisted in the air.

“Celine I thought I told you to stay away from the window.” Mama places me down on the floor. She says I can’t look out the window because a soldier might see me. When I asked what would happen if  a soldier saw me, she said that was something I shouldn’t want to find out.

“Yes, but it’s just so dreadfully boring in here.” We had run out of stuff to do a while ago. After wandering around and hiding in empty buildings, Mama found a cabin in the woods. It had long since been abandoned. Mama says it was used by hunters on their camping trips. That would explain the dried blood on the floor.  

“Why don’t you play with Estera?” Mama suggests. Estera looks up from where she was playing with her doll on the floor.

“Oh! Can we please play Celly? Pretty please?” Estera sticks out her bottom lip. Her big bright blue eyes make saying no impossible. Secretly I envy Estera. She could leave this stupid cabin if she wanted to. Mama too. She was like that bird. She could be free.

“Of course I’ll play with you Este.” I sit down on the dirty cabin floor next to Estera. We play a game where she tells me a storyline and I act it out with our dolls. Tata gave us these dolls for Christmas a couple years ago. He said the dolls were sisters just like us. I miss Tata. I wish he wasn’t fighting against the Germans and was in the cabin with us.

Natia wakes up from her nap and begins to cry. I don’t know why she is crying. She can leave too. I’m the only one that can’t leave.  Mama picks her up and slowly rocks her back and forth.

Soon Mama told us to come eat a little something. A little something was bread. Hard and stale bread. It always was. Compared to what we eat now, what we used to eat would be considered a feast. Mama used to make pigos, potato pancakes, and perogies.

On special occasions we would have chrusciki. I miss the way they used to crumble in my mouth. One Christmas when Mama made them Tata dropped the whole plate on the floor. He felt so bad after that he went out and bought her a necklace. Mama wears that necklace everyday. It has a picture of Natia, Estera and me on one side and a picture of Tata on the other.  

“Mama when will the war be over?” Estera asks timidly, as if she is afraid of the answer. I’m being honest though, I am afraid of the answer too. I’m afraid that it will never be over.

“Soon. I pray that it is over soon.” Mama’s hand touches her necklace lightly. She is probably thinking of Tata. I hope he is okay.

“I’m going to pray that it is over soon too.” Estera walks over to the corner where we sleep and prays. After she’s done we play for a little bit longer.

“Alright girls time for bed.” We all curl up together in the corner where we made a pile of blankets that we found in the cabin. With our bodies pressed together we stay warm in the cold and frigid winter.

I lay staring at the ceiling until everyone breaths have slowed, indicating they have fallen asleep. I carefully lift Estera’s tiny arm from around my stomach and climb out of the pile of blankets. The floor creaks as I tiptoe across the room to the boarded up window. I do this every night, hoping to see the moon. A crack in between the boards gives me a perfect view of the outside. Through the crack I see a miracle. The moon and stars are peeking through the blanket of clouds covering the sky. It’s the perfect sign to give me a little bit of hope.

 

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Warner, Patek, and Celine