Damien Graves here!
I haven’t yet set up a blog of my own, but as this is “Disturbed Graves” I figure I fit here as well as anywhere. While this is my mother’s blog, I will be doing the occasional guest blog, sharing writing exercises I have completed and every now and again a short story.
Below is a writing exercise I did in my Holocaust course, where we were meant to become a person being sent on their way to the death camps of Auschwitz. My professor was very pleased with the result of my exercise, so I wanted to share it. Now, while I am studying the Holocaust and WWII, I am by no means claiming to be anywhere near an expert, so if I got details wrong, I apologize.
For your consideration,
The smell that hit us when they opened the doors of the cattle train was a physical presence—the tang of soured bleach, old death, and defecation. Like a maw of some great beast gaping in the darkness, its perfumed promise of sorrow swallowed us up as we were herded as livestock into its unkind gloom.
I settled myself as well as I could in the corner of the car, propped against a water bucket. The available space was eaten up quickly by body after body forced into the car, packed like maggots in a wound, with scarcely a breath of distance between us. Men with overgrown and unkempt beards, women with tangled hair and fussy children, all scattered the interior of the train car now. They are people. I am people. Yet here we are, huddled for warmth in a box made for animals to the slaughter. I prayed the train would stop, the doors would open up, and we’d be released somewhere warm and dry, somewhere we could begin anew. Somewhere that hope still lived. Somewhere the children these women held might have a chance to smile again.
But I knew of the rumors. I knew where we were going. I knew where we were going and what was to come, and still I prayed. I prayed to God, as I always had done, to protect us, to help me see it through. I prayed to God even though it seemed so long since God had listened to any of us. God wasn’t in this place anymore. He seemed to have turned his back, shut his eyes, or perhaps just grown so weary of the human capacity for greed and cruelty that instead of sending flood or fire he’d decided to let us be the device of our own destruction. Would the war leave any who knew his name, to praise it, to raise it up with a hallelujah, or to curse it for his apparent cold indifference?
Would any of us on this train even make it to our stop? Its wheels rolled on and on for an eternity, and even in the ceaseless night within our car I could see most of us were but fading ghosts of ourselves. Fathers’ brows furrowed with worry for their children, daughters whimpered about the cold, mothers struggled to keep everyone together and put on the bravest faces of all of us to calm the little ones. Would I die when those wheels came to a halt? Or was I going to be put back to work, like in the ghettos? Was it selfish to think of what was to come for me when so many hollowed out and terrified faces surrounded me? Was it wrong to think of my own fate when looking into the eyes of a cold and hungry child who had not yet begun to live? Probably, but my fear was beyond my control now.
The train’s wheels slowed, screeched against the rails, and eventually those doors opened once more. The SS greeted us, harbingers of doom in snappy black uniforms. A larger officer stepped in front of me, his boots shining. He grabbed my shoulder and shook me hard before pushing me toward the exit. I landed awkwardly on my feet and shuffled aimlessly for a moment, and then the officers began barking orders. They divided us up, left and right, pushing people into different lines. I was urged to the right; I wasn't sure why they divided us up this way, many women and young children found themselves going left, older men, graying in hair were also sent to the left. We were ushered toward a gate with a sign that declared “
And now I have to ask myself, who am I? I’d been reduced to a man in stripes with a star pinned to his chest, my identity corrupted into something horrible, into something to be ashamed of. At least I was not alone. None of the men here looked as they had when we arrived, but rather the army of once unkempt men now resembled shaven rats. My father crosses my mind then; he’d always had long hair and a beard. Would I even recognize him if he were in the room with me now? Would he recognize me? I hope that he is not here, that he is never here, or any place such as this. I wouldn't want him to see me this way, and as much as I wanted to see him and Mom again, never, ever, here. What was is now gone, and I could not look to the past for comfort. All that was left was God’s will, and an uncertain future, however long it might last. I would face it as bravely as a man with no other option could be expected to. “Hineni…” I whisper. Hineni.