Remembering

I’m at the train station, holding my younger bruder’s hand. Something inside tells me that I will never see this valley or these mountains again. I love oma and tante, and especially mutter, but I am glad that they are not here to see this.

There is something very wrong here. We were on our way to school, but when we arrived, we found soldiers standing there. They held guns and had swastikas on their shoulders.

At first, I thought they wanted us to become soldiers like they were, but I was wrong. They separated me from my brother, and they asked me all kinds of questions. When they finished, they shoved me into the back of a truck and brought me here.

As I step down from the truck, I see that we are at the train yard. There is a crowd of people here, mostly men and boys, though some old women, too.

It is only through luck that I find my brother again. He must have seen me as I got down from the truck and fought his way through the crowd to be with me. Now we stand in a solemn-faced crowd, clutching each other’s hands and wondering what will become of us.

I am tall for my age, and through the crowd I can see two open boxcars. I am beginning to suspect that these soldiers expect us all to somehow fit ourselves inside these boxcars, but I know that that is impossible. There are too many of us, and those cars too small.

Obviously several others in the crowd also make this conclusion, and angry voices erupt, protesting the interruption of their lives. This is followed by several rapid bursts of what I believe to be gun fire, and suddenly there is silence. Then a man’s voice rings out from up ahead somewhere, ordering us to move forward.

At first there is no response, then I hear several more gun shots and the crowd at the back surges forward forcing everyone forward, too. The surge, soon turns into a slow, reluctant march, and my brother and I are carried along with the swell. There is very little noise. I hear some sniffling, a few sobs, but these are mostly from the younger boys. Since belligerence was met with violence, no one complains anymore. We merely move ahead blindly, like cattle to a slaughter.

When we reach the boxcar it is already filled with people, but the soldiers, using their guns, motion us forward. A man reaches down and grabs my brother’s hands, hoisting him up into the overcrowded car. Several other pairs of hands reach out for me, and I let myself be lifted into the car.

Finding my brother is more difficult this time. There is no room to sit, no room to move. I am squeezed in from all sides. The door slides shut, and we hear them locking it. Although it is only moments later, it seems like hours, when the car jerks forward. Toes are trod upon, and a few words exchanged, but soon it is again silent except for the sound of the train’s wheels grinding beneath us. We sway and move as one, for we have no choice.

Time loses all meaning as we stand here in this mass of bodies. Snippets of light filter through the cracks in the side of the boxcar, and even though our eyes adjust to the gloom there is nothing to see but the many faces of those wedged in here with us. I hear a few whispers, and some grunts, especially when the boxcar sways around a curve. But the fear stifles most conversation, and we each huddle within ourselves wondering where we are headed and why.

My brother whispers that he must urinate, but there is nowhere to do so. I whisper to him to hold on as best he can. I see a flash of his of tears in his eyes, but he nods and quickly turns away and stares at the back of the person in front of him. Is it minutes or hours later, when he pulls my hand and again tells me that he needs to go. I don’t know what to tell him. There is no room, there is no accommodation for this.

Finally, unable to wait any longer he wets himself, something he hasn’t done in years. Embarrassed he cries, and I comfort him as best I can. I move my arm across his shoulders letting him know that it is all right, though I wonder if anything will ever be all right ever again.

Soon, I too, must do the same, and we share our secret shame. After awhile, we realize that many have done what we have, and soon there is no shame in it. We don’t know how long we stand there, swaying and dozing. There is no night and no day. There is only the movement of the train and stifling closeness of the bodies.

The air grows fetid, and I feel faint, but there is no where to fall, so I remain standing. My brother becomes sick, and that simply adds to the rankness of the air. My asthma squeezes my chest, and my lungs refuse to fill. I am gasping for air, and there is no air. My brother whispers urgently at me, asking if I’m alright. I try to answer, but there is no air in my lungs to make words. I squeeze his hand and he gazes up at me, but the smile I try for won’t come. The world is slipping away. I can’t see my brother and I squeeze his hand harder. He says my name and I hear panic in his voice.

Suddenly a light appears, and I think “we are saved!”. I let go of my brother’s hand and I reach toward the light, and I am no longer constricted by the crowd in the boxcar. I find myself looking down at the mass of people crowded together, and I realize that I am dead. I try to call out to my brother, but he does not hear me. He does not know that I am dead…oh my god, I am dead! Who will care for Helmut? Who will watch out for my brother? With that thought, everything changes. My world becomes grayness, and I am alone.

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