It was Saturday afternoon when I switched on the television. I turned the knob to change the channel and watched as black smoke billowed from a train. I sat down on the floor in front of the TV. The train stopped. Soldiers opened the doors and forced walking corpses out of the train. The ground around them was covered in snow. Their breath made a fog in the icy air. Their legs were like toothpicks with big round kneecaps in the center, the skin tight over the bones of their legs and ribs.
They’re naked. Not only is that embarrassing, but it’s freezing cold.
The soldiers, dressed in full uniforms and long coats, prodded the prisoners forward using guns and German Shepherds.
What did they do that was so terrible that they deserved this?
The narrator spoke flatly, adding a layer of confusion. “It is difficult to determine whether one was male or female because they were so malnourished that their sex organs shrank.”
How could that happen?
“Others sat down in the train, and were frozen to the seat, causing skin to rip when they stood up.”
How could anyone be so mean to do this?
A close-up of one man’s face showed his skin tight against his cheeks and the bones protruded. He opened his mouth and many teeth were missing. The eyes of the prisoners did not show anger or even fear, but a determination to keep living.
Why did they want to live so much?
The scene changed to bald children in black-and-white striped prison uniforms huddled together behind barbed wire. They shivered from the cold and their eyes were full of fear. Some had tears in their eyes.
What did these kids do wrong that they were in jail?
The narrator continued. “The prisoners were told they were going to have a shower, but they were led to the gas chamber instead. They were pushed inside and the door was closed and locked behind them. Gas was fed into the chamber until they suffocated.”
Gas? I drew a long breath, and held it. I imagined not being able to breathe.
“Their bodies were then burned in the ovens.” Black smoke billowed from an old brick building. Skinny men pushed dead bodies into ovens with large flames.
Burned? They burned people in ovens?
I squinted and my hands began to shake.
“Others were buried in mass graves.” I saw a huge pile of naked bodies. They had been thrown like a heap of garbage into a large hole in the ground.
That’s so awful. They didn’t even treat them like people.
My father walked into the living room. “What are you watching?” he asked, as he crooked his neck to look at the television.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “It looks awful.”
“Oh, that’s the Holocaust. The Jews were put in concentration camps during World War II.”
“They deserved it.” I froze in place as I tried to understand. “The Jews were buying up all of Germany, and didn’t leave anything for the regular German people. The Germans were poor because of them. The Jews took everything. They deserved to die.”
“But what about the kids?”
“Kids grow up to be just as bad as their parents. The Jews are greedy and selfish people. We don’t need any more of them. I’ll see you later. I have to go into town to pick up some car parts.”
My father walked out of the room as I watched women having their heads shaved. They cried. Their hair was saved in a large pile, as were shoes, jewelry, clothes, and gold fillings from teeth. My stomach tightened and my head ached.
They don’t even treat them like people. They just take everything from them.
Then I saw an army, marching down the street. It was a strange kind of marching almost like a dance. Large masses of people surrounded them, filling the streets. The crowd cheered and saluted as they passed by. People waved small flags.
A man with a mustache spoke to the crowd in German. He gestured with his arms as he spoke, and he seemed very angry. The people cheered. He spoke again, shouting and lifting his head. All the people yelled, “Hail Hitler!”
Who is this man? Why is he so famous? What is he saying? I wish I understood German.
The crowd filled up the whole intersection of the streets. Then I noticed the large banners that were hanging on the buildings.
The symbol on the banners was the same one that was in the back step of our house.
Is that what my father meant when he said it was “a symbol of German power, and our victory over the Jews”? That’s the first thing our friends see when they come to visit. My stomach dropped.
My friends must think I’m crazy.