The door closed behind him as he was shoved down into a chair. Hands tied and blindfolded, Major Vladimir Krylenko tried to sense his surroundings.
“Who is there? Who are you?” he shouted as he could smell a stale breath coming from his left.
“My name is Safina”, came a feeble voice. “My parents were taken away by the Nazis after they entered Warsaw. The Commander here said he will unite me with my parents. Who are you?”
“Can you untie me please?” requested Krylenko.
Safina got up and removed his blindfold, but did not free his hands. “If I untie you, they will kill me.”
Krylenko scanned the room. A small table, a couple of chairs, a light, only one door and no windows. A huge portrait of Adolf Hitler hung behind the table. Safina appeared pale, her clothes were tattered and she badly needed a wash. “What is this place, Safina?”
“I don’t know”, she replied. “I too was brought here blindfolded. I was told there is a war with the Russians and I will be safe here.”
“One move and you both are dead!” thundered a gruff voice from behind. Safina and Krylenko turned to see a huge burly soldier standing at the door. He was in Nazi uniform and his gun was pointed at Krylenko.
Taking a chair by the table, he continued, “I see Safina has been good to you, Major. Let me introduce myself. I am Commander Lance Schmidt of the 4th Panzer Division. I am afraid that our firing squad took care of the remaining comrades from your unit a few seconds ago. You are the only POW alive. It will be a pleasure to take you and Safina to our camp in Auschwitz. Unfortunately, we are stuck here due to a blizzard. Till it subsides, I will be happy to be your host.”
“Why I alone am alive from my unit?” asked Krylenko.
Schmidt leaned forward and looked at him straight in the eyes. “You are Major Vladimir Emanuel Krylenko – a Jew.” Krylenko’s face turned pink in horror on hearing this. How does he know my full name? I don’t even put my middle name on my ID. The silence in the room was broken by Schmidt’s wicked laughter.
“Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!” Safina covered in fear behind Krylenko as the latter sat shell-shocked.
“Major, what do you know about the Reich?” As Schmidt spoke, he got up and started walking around. “You will be surprised at the research we do on our enemy before we attack. We knew how many Jews reside in Warsaw, Minsk, Kiev and Moscow even before we opened the Eastern Front. We will overrun all of them and ensure all Jews are brought under the strict discipline of the Reich. Finally, our Führer’s dream will be fulfilled. Heil Hitler!” he exclaimed as he stood in front of the Führer’s portrait in a traditional Reich salute.
“I don’t understand. What is it with us, Jews? What have we done to you?”
“Ah! Let me explain”, Schmidt sat back in his chair and crossed his legs. “You obviously know what a rat is – yes? What does a rat do? Come on, don’t be afraid. I am sure that, in the end, you will understand the truth behind our Führer’s proclamation.”
Krylenko stuttered, “Rats … eh…spread disease.”
Schmidt frowned. Then, with a sigh, he smiled back. “Well, that is one part of it. You see, rats come to your house in search of food – yes? They find your food in your house which you have bought with your hard-earned money. Then, they bring in more rats. What happens after that? Come on, tell me.”
“They eat all the food…” replied Krylenko.
“No!” thundered Schmidt, getting up from his chair, stomping his boots on the ground so hard that Safina shook with fear. Schmidt slowly went up to Krylenko and sneered, “they lay to waste all your food, no matter whether they eat anything at all. At the end of it, none of the food can be consumed by humans once it has been ravaged by rats.”
Again, Schmidt turned back and stood by his table. Slowly he turned towards Krylenko. “They live for themselves, satisfy their own needs, never care about others and leave the place barren. So, what do we do to such rats?”
“You kill them,” replied Krylenko. He was totally at a loss to where this conversation was heading.
“Wrong again. We find them, gather them in one place, teach them how to be civilised, make them obey our commands and only if they don’t heed, do we exterminate them. What do you think? Isn’t this a nice thing to do?”
Krylenko was shocked. “You want to educate rats?”
“Well… yes, in a way. Now, just replace rats with Jews, because they are all the same. They enter your country, take away your jobs, they flourish in their businesses, buy out local competition, enrich themselves, but never, ever contribute to the society. They look only after their own kind. The lands, which we conquered are infested with Jews. The land is impoverished, but mind you, the Jews are thriving. They are wealthy, they have all the food, all the jobs. But the locals are starving, so they work under the Jews for food. So, we invade these lands, give back all jobs to locals, gather all Jews, put them in these correction camps like Auschwitz and show them the true way by which life has to be led. Once they accept that way, they will be released back to where they came from.”
Schmidt, still smiling, paused to let that sink in. Krylenko was too shocked to react. How can anyone think of Jews like that?
“Don’t look at me. Ask Safina here. Dear…” Schmidt looked at Safina. “Your father ran a newspaper business in Warsaw, right? How many Polish men & women were employed under him?”
“Forty men. But my father took good care of them. Not like what you just said.” It was obvious that Safina was seething with anger.
Schmidt had his reply ready. “If that was true, my dear, why did your father’s employees desert him the way they did, when the Wehrmacht entered Warsaw? Can you explain that?”
Safina turned her face away. Schmidt continued, “They gave him away, because your father, by the might of his money, bought over that newspaper from a local Pole and ran it to enhance his wealth. Who will want to work under an alien from another country, Safina? People want to be free and that is what the Reich stands for – a free country, strong, self-reliant and free from Jews. Heil Hitler!”
All this while, Safina, who was standing right behind Krylenko, was quietly undoing the knot on Krylenko’s wrist. The moment Schmidt turned towards his Führer’s portrait, Krylenko lurched to his feet and pounced on him. The two men rolled briefly on the floor and, as they got up, each clutching the other by his collar, Krylenko landed his forehead hard on Schmidt’s nose. As Schmidt loosened his grip to hold his bloodied nose, Krylenko, still holding Schmidt by the collar, hit his chin hard with a knee jerk. The blows stunned the burly Nazi who fell back to the ground unconscious.
Krylenko screamed across the room, “Safina, quick, help me tie him to his chair.”
Safina, visibly trembling, quickly came to her senses and tied Schmidt’s hands behind his back. “What now?” she asked.
“We need to know where we are and how many Nazis are there outside this room. We have to wake him up and get that information so that we can plan our escape. Now, get me some water in that glass over there.” He could still hear the blizzard howling outside the room, but no other sounds could be heard.
As Safina sprinkled water over his face, Schmidt came to his senses slowly. Blood was oozing from his nose and mouth which he spit out with disdain. Dazed, he looked around to see Safina and Krylenko staring at him and understood what happened.
“The Red Army has trained you well, Jew,” he sneered through his bloodied teeth. “Not always have I been taken by surprise like that. What are you waiting for? Kill me, before you end up like the others.”
“What do you mean end up like the others? Who are you referring to?” Krylenko was obviously stunned by what he heard.
“Oh, you don’t know anything, do you, Jew? Even if you escape from here, the Wehrmacht and SS will find you and take you to the camps. You will be thrown in along with hundreds of Jews where we will make your life so horrible that you will beg for death every day.”
Seeing their faces, Schmidt paused, threw his head back and laughed. “Correction camps, did I say, Jew? Once a rat enters a trap, what do you do with it, Jew? Have you ever seen a rat which has come out reformed after it was caught in a trap? No! You torture it to death. You drown it till its lungs are full of water, you put it is a gas chamber till it can struggle no more, you cut its body parts one by one for days together and then you prick it slowly, little by little, till the last breath of life escapes. That is what we do to Jews at the camps and that is what we will do to you, Jew!” and he spit more blood from his mouth at Krylenko, but he was far enough to avoid it.
A stunned silence engulfed the room. Krylenko and Safina looked at each other and then turned to Schmidt in utter disbelief. Seeing their bewildered faces, Schmidt broke into another spite of laughter. “Oh, mein Gott! Look at your faces. Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”
Safina screamed clutching her palms to her mouth. She ran up to Schmidt and started slapping him left and right. “Łajdak!!! You gave me your word that my parents are being taken care of in Auschwitz. You lied to me!”
“No. I did not lie to you,” Schmidt continued to laugh, “When I said they were being well taken care of, I really meant it. How else do you expect the Reich to take care of Jews? There is only one way they should be taken care of – yes? Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha. Oh, the Führer will be so proud.”
With a cry, Safina pushed Schmidt so hard that he fell down sideways, along with his chair. Krylenko quickly picked him up and got him in a sitting position. Schmidt, however, continued laughing.
“Enough of this nonsense!” thundered Krylenko. “Tell me, how many Nazis are there outside this room, tell me our location, or I will break every tooth of yours.”
“Outside? None!” replied Schmidt, “I was the only one guarding the two of you in this room. This is an underground cellar. I doubt if the blizzard would have left anything of the house above. Our troops were forced to take shelter in the nearby town of Golitsyno. This cursed Russian winter has stopped our progress, otherwise we would have overrun Moscow by now.”
Krylenko withdrew his fist and sat on the other chair rubbing the sides his head with both palms. Safina walked up to him, still sniffling. “What can we do now? What are you thinking?”
“I have to make contact with the Red Army. There was another contingent with tanks, who were following us before the Nazis ambushed and overpowered us. They can help us. I have to get to them somehow.”
“Where are they?” asked Safina, “How will they know we are here?
“They will be near the town of Krekshino”, replied Krylenko as he looked up to Safina. “But I have to go by myself. I cannot risk your life. If I go alone, I can easily avoid the Nazis and reach Krekshino in two hours.”
Safina went down on her knees and grabbed Krylenko’s feet. “Please take me with you. I don’t want to stay another moment with this dämon.”
Krylenko got up, turned around and started rubbing his head again with his two palms. Schmidt however, saw the change in his face.
“Scheisse! Scheisse!” screamed Schmidt. “You crazy woman! Take out your gun and shoot his legs. We need him alive!”
As Safina reached for the gun strapped to her thighs, Krylenko pounced on her and forced her against the wall. In the struggle that followed, he managed not only to take control of the gun, but also to shoot Safina point blank.
After checking for any sign of pulse, Krylenko walked up to Schmidt with the gun in hand. “Dämon, eh? Your woman forgot that the Red Army trained us in five languages before sending us to war and German was one of them. You are indeed a demon, Commander Schmidt. All you Nazis are demons and all of you will pay for the crimes committed by you in the name of war.” Saying so, he emptied the gun into Schmidt, threw the gun at Safina’s lifeless body and opened the door.
Krylenko managed to alert his tank regiment at Krekshino by next morning. With his valuable inputs, they were able to take the Nazis holed up at Golitsyno by surprise. Many say that this ambush started the decline of Nazi supremacy in the war. As the Nazis retreated in the next few years, the real depth of inhuman behaviour meted out to the Jews in concentration camps was revealed to the world.
Author’s note: – The above is a work of fiction set during January 1941 as the German Wehrmacht marched towards Moscow.
- Wehrmacht – the term used for German armed forces between 1939 – 1945
- SS – short form of Schutzstaffel who were political soldiers of the Third Reich.
- Oh mein Gott – Oh My God in German
- Łajdak – pronounced ‘whyduck’ in Polish language meaning scoundrel
- Golitsyno – Present day Krasnoznamensk – a military outpost outside Moscow.
- Krekshino – 15kms from Golitsyno and is exactly between Golitsyno and Moscow,
- Dämon – German word meaning demon.
- Scheisse – German word for ‘shit’ (cuss word)
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