For those interested, I've copied the prologue to my story-in-progress, titled The Way that Leads to Death, below. Yes, yes, it's about people unfavored by the government, in hiding. Old obsessions die hard :). Well, actually it's more about those connected with the government searching out those who are unfavored by the government, in hiding. *shrugs*
I find the history of the Nazis to be very interesting, albeit depressing. Many people don't realize that the Nazis did not just target the Jews, but many other groups as well. Definitely not a bright spot in the history of my German ancestors :(. I highly suggest Cindy Martinusen's books on the Holocaust for some really good historical fiction on the subject. She wrote Winter Passing, Blue Night, and North of Tomorrow. Anyway, on to my prologue:
The Way that Leads to Death
There is a way that seems right to a man,
But in the end it leads to death.- Proverbs 16:25
“Guilty!” The judge’s words rang in Karl’s ears. The sentence echoed through his mind, as if everyone in the courtroom were chanting the words: “Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty! Karl is guilty! Karl is guilty!” The voices in his head jeered like young children in a schoolyard, though these voices were not from Karl’s childhood. These were the victims of the Nazi holocaust – Karl’s victims.
Karl saw faces before him. Ghosts of the past. They had troubled him for years; they never left his mind. He woke up in a cold sweat almost every night. They haunted his nights, and they haunted his days. As Karl walked down the street, the face of a small girl would remind him of a young girl from his past; emaciated and racked with disease, she never knew the joys of growing up, of marrying, having children. Because of Karl. A young boy in the marketplace would remind Karl of a Jewish youth he had shoved into a gas chamber, never again to see the light of day. Because of Karl. An aged man outside Karl’s cell window would remind him of the scores of elderly he had mercilessly shot in the head, their bodies thrown into a mass grave. No headstone would mark their final resting place. Because of Karl.
He remained stone-faced after the judge’s announcement, though the jeering continued in his head, and the images filled his mind. The verdict was no surprise; the evidence against him had been overwhelming. The Nazis were obsessed with meticulously accurate records, an obsession that had led to the convictions of many in the party, Karl among them. Karl had known he would be convicted.
“The court finds Karl Altschuler guilty on count three and count four: war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is sentenced to death by hanging.” As the judge’s gavel dropped, the ancient city tower chimed the hour. Twelve long tolls. The tower seemed to be tolling Karl’s death sentence as he was led from the courtroom.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. . .
As a bailiff approached, Karl stood up and calmly allowed himself to be led from the courtroom. Early death was almost a blessing; he would not have to grow old, conscious that he had deprived so many others of the same right. He had long ago decided to calmly accept his own doom. Unlike many of his comrades, he had not resisted capture after the war, nor had he attempted to take his own life. His guilt weighed heavy on him, and he knew he deserved his fate. Unlike my victims. Karl would allow the scales of Justice to measure his crimes and deal him his due. He had never considered suicide. Suicide was an escape for cowards who were not willing to face their own guilt. Karl was ready for justice to be served.
Glancing back, Karl caught the glance of the young Jewish man in the front row of the courtroom. Was that . . . could it be pity in his eyes? The glimpse was brief, as the heavy wooden door of the courtroom banged shut. Surely I am mistaken, Karl thought, as he was led back to his cell. Only twenty four hours before, this same man had testified against Karl, providing vivid details of Karl’s actions as the director of a Nazi concentration camp. His crucial testimony had sealed Karl’s conviction. If this Jewish man had been looking for revenge, he had certainly exacted it. The court proceedings had allowed him a chance to avenge himself and his family. He had dealt a blow to Karl, and his aim had been true; justice would be served. Yet just now, with Karl safely convicted, David had looked far from accusatory.
Why did I think his name? Karl struggled with his own thoughts, trying to regain proper control. He has no name. He is simply one of millions like him. As an inferior race, the Jews do not deserve names. A farmer does not name his beef cattle before he slaughters them. Why should the Jews be treated any differently? Karl reminded himself of the Nazi ideal: total dominance of the Aryan race and extermination of the Jews.
Yet as the door to Karl’s cell clanged behind him, the mental picture he carried of prisoner #55412 was replaced with the image of David Abram, the young Jewish boy who had been Karl’s loyal childhood friend. Karl could not stop the flood of memories. David had always been there for him growing up, even when everyone else had left him.
Karl recalled a time when his world had been crumbling around him, and he could not, or would not, turn to his family – or God – for comfort. The bitter memories surged within him as he relived the lowest time in his life. David had been there for him. He had found Karl at their old trysting spot by the creek - he had known exactly where to go - and he had just sat there with Karl for hours, not speaking a word. He had known exactly what Karl had needed. Faithful, dependable David.
Karl struggled, trying to regain composure. David is a Jew, a member of the most inferior race on earth. He is a Christ-killer. He is a threat to the Aryan race. . .
Like an old memory, the words of his mentor came flooding back to him. The Jews are not fit to live. They are lower than slime. They deserve to die. Karl knew the words well; they had been hammered into his brain until he lived and breathed them. When he had entered the Hitler Youth he had been molded into the idyllic Aryan man. He had been told what to act, think, and feel. Karl had poured his heart and soul into the Nazi ideal, and for a time it had seemed to bring fulfillment to Karl’s otherwise empty existence. The Nazi movement had given Karl a purpose and had helped him to forget his past. It was better than remembering; that brought only pain.
Karl played the words of his mentor over and over in his mind, willing himself to believe in them again. He tried to recite the Hitler Youth handbook: the pledges, the statement of purpose. Yet these words seemed meaningless now. The Nazi regime had fallen, and Karl was to be executed for his role in the Nazi party. Karl had lost, and David had won. Growing up, Karl had usually triumphed in their good-natured contests but now, when it mattered most, he was left with no emergency plan. The outcome of their final game had been decided.
Later that night, as Karl sat alone in the dark of his cheerless prison cell, he heard the strains of a traditional German lullaby wafting up from the street. Someone was playing the gentle tune on a violin. The melody seemed strangely out of place in Karl’s dreary surroundings. He shivered from loneliness as a wave of nostalgia swept over him. As a young child, his mother would hum the lullaby to Karl until he fell asleep.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
I'll give to you a sheep.
And it shall have a bell of gold
For you to play with and to hold.
Sleep, baby, sleep. . .
Although the tune outside ended, the lullaby continued in Karl’s head. Even now, years later, the traditional melody still reminded him of his mother. My dear mother. No lullaby would reach her now.
Leaning back on the hard prison cot, Karl closed his eyes, losing himself in yesteryear. He was no longer a convicted Nazi; once again he was the sweet innocent child of his boyhood. His childhood memories began playing over and over in his mind, like a motion picture. There he was picking flowers for his mother in the back field of the family farm, taking long walks through the woods with his father, fishing with David. His angelic younger sister came into view, her golden curls bobbing as she ran to meet him. He reached down to pick Greta up and swung her around and around in his arms. . .
The images faded and Karl was once again alone in the dark, cold cell of the Nuremberg prison. He was thoroughly shaken. What happened to the innocent youth, the carefree lad I once was? At what point in time did I change? How does a little boy turn into a war criminal, a murderer?
Karl began sobbing uncontrollably. Eventually he drifted into a deep sleep, but tonight his dreams were different. Instead of the gaunt faces that usually haunted his dreams, he saw before him the faces of his loved ones now separated from him, some by death, and others by Karl’s own hunger for power and fulfillment. Mother, Father, little Greta, and David.