It’s sometime in the middle of the night. Lodd and Taffy are on watch when Taffy hears footsteps heading towards the barn.
“Wake up everybody,” he whispers. “Someone’s coming!”
Instantly, everyone throws off their slumber, grabs their weapons and takes cover, aiming their weapons at the door.
There is a click at the door and the shape of a man enters the barn.
By the light of the moon, you make out the bedraggled figure of a man. He looks to be in his late-fifties, but hideously thin – little more than flesh and bones. He wears a uniform of gray and black stripes. Over his left breast is a yellow star of David patched on in yellow felt.
Blinking, his eyes adjust to the deep darkness inside the barn. He sees the glint from the metal of the guns pointing at him and then the Wehrmacht uniforms that you have put out to dry and sinks to his knees, weeping:
“!הו, אלוהים, בבקשה תציל אותי, O Boże, proszę uratuj mnie! Oh Gott, bitte rette mich! Oh God, please save me!” he cries as he falls to his knees, praying for redemption.
Terry looks on in amazement, never having seen a human being this emaciated.
“Haben Sie Angst nicht, aber seien Sie ruhig! Wie ist das Problem, Freund?” asks Taffy quietly.
The man just continues to look on in terror, not sure whether to believe Taffy or not.
“Spokojnie, stary,” Piotr whispers as quietly as Taffy. “Nie jesteśmy nazistami. Jesteśmy również zbiegów, takich jak Ty.”
The man looks a little confused now, but not quite as petrified.
“Strewth, mate, yer look bleedin’ starvin’,” Bruce says. “Let’s get yer some tucker.”
The Padre holsters his Luger and heads over to the man offering him a fistful of the berries that he picked earlier. The man takes them, still looking a little confused, but starts eating them hungrily.
“Dziękuję. Thank you,” the man says.
“No need to thank us. Just get inside and close the door before someone sees us,” Taffy says, practical as ever.
The Padre closes the door and leads the man to sit among them. The party members just watch him as he continues to eat and drinks from the Padre’s canteen.
Once the man has finished eating, Piotr starts to question him, translating as the man speaks in Polish.
“His name is Haim Goldstein,” Piotr explains. “He used to be a Professor of History at the University of Krakow until the occupation. He spent a year living in the Jewish ghetto before being transported with his family to a concentration camp called Auschwitz II-Birkenau. His family are all dead now. He managed to break away from a working party in the fields and has ran all of the way here.”
“He doesn’t know how far he ran exactly – maybe four or five miles. The concentration camp is north-east of here.”
Haim seems to be rambling on now – gibbering like a mad man.
“He tells me that this Auschwitz is Hell on Earth,” Piotr continues to translate. “He says that they were practically starved to death, as we can see from his condition.”
The Padre nods, “Well without our Red Cross Parcels, there but for the Grace of God go we.”
Haim continues to ramble. He is sobbing now. Piotr’s eyes go wide as he continues to listen to the details.
“He said that those who were kept near starvation were the lucky ones though. He says that those who were of no use for working were just slaughtered – poisoned to death with gas and then their bodies burned in ovens.”
“I find this hard to believe, sport,” Bruce says skeptically. “As we’ve seen for ourselves, the Nazis might be bastards, but at least they follow the Geneva Convention.”
“Apparently not if you are a Jew, a Gypsy or a homosexual,” Piotr replies.
“That’s funny, they didn’t treat the Sarge any different.” quips Terry quietly.
Haim is still rambling, sobbing his heart out now. Piotr does not translate for a while. He is just shaking his head, saying, “Nie, nie mogę w to uwierzyć. To nie może być prawda.”
Haim just nods and collapses into the hay. He seems totally spent.
“So what else did he say?” the others ask Piotr as one.
Piotr seems in a state of shock. “He’s not making any sense,” he says. “I think that the hardships must have driven him insane.”
“He is rambling about bizarre and evil medical experiments.”
The others are just staring at Piotr too.
“He says that the Nazi SS are practicing evil witchcraft. Their power comes from the souls of the Jews incarcerated in the camp.”
A silence falls across the barn as all try to comprehend what Piotr has just told them.
“Witchcraft? You mean like that voodoo hoodoo theys always yammerin’ about down in Harlem? Pin cushion dolls and the evil eye and all that?” asks Terry.
Piotr shrugs, obviously highly skeptical:
“Maybe Baba Yaga is also now working for the Nazis alongside the SS,” he says, obviously not believing Haim’s tale.
“Hezus Christie!" exclaims Bob. "Those f&@kin’ bastards! We need to report this. We should sneak over there and have a look. Who’s with me? Course we’ll need a good plan first. Let’s get some details on this camp from ol’ Hamish here.”
“How big is this camp?” Taffy asks Haim, speaking slowly and clearly.
“Big,” Haim replies. “Very, very big. There are three camps. Together they contain many prisoners kept alive. I would say around 30,000 in total, and that doesn’t count the thousands more coming through each day who are sent straight to the chambers of death.”
Taffy looks at the others:
“If they have a similar ratio of guards to prisoners that we had at Lamsdorf, then we’re talking two or three thousand guards. And these are no second-rate fat, old and half lame guards that we had – these are SS. The best the Germans have.”
“Of course investigating the camp is likely suicide," Bob concedes. "But who’s gonna believe us if all we have is this poor bastard’s crazy story? We’re soldiers, here to wipe the Nazi scourge from Europe.”
“I’m with you on that reconnoiter, my Canadian pally, just so’s we can get the dope on the Krauts for HQ," Terry agrees. "Dollars to donuts they’re up to no good, even if you only believe half of what this starving, whacked out Yid is sayin’.”
The fine hairs on the back of Lodd’s neck rise as goosebumps runs down his spine. He knows the deaths of him and his companions await at that sinister place. He has survived alone in the woodlands of his home for weeks on end eating the grub-paste and other bounties. He could do it again if his companions choose to do the foolish thing.
However, Lodd has thrown his lot in with these strong-hearted misfits. His new found loyalty is like an iron shackle that binds him to these desperate people and he knows, deep down, he will not abandon them. With a shrug of his massive (massively aching) shoulders he listens to the debate with a typical Soviet Fatalism.
“I’m with Taffy,” Piotr says. “We’ve just escaped from one prisoner of war camp and you want to head off and check out an even worse and bigger one because one old man has listened to too many ghost stories after lights out?”
“It’s a suicide mission.”
“What’s the size of this place?” he asks Haim.
“Around a square kilometre, perhaps.”
“Fucking huge!” Piotr exclaims in frustration. “And no doubt they’ve cut back the trees by many tens of yards in order to create a killing zone. What are we likely to see even if we stay in cover?”
“And even if we did see something, what difference does it make? Are General Sikorski and Winston Churchill going to pin medals on our chests? No, they would just consider us as seven crazy people instead of just one.”
“Piotr and Taffy do make some good points,” Bruce agrees. “Escaping alone is challenging enough.”
A silence falls across the barn.
“I think that we should just sleep on it for what little remains of the night and finalize our plans just before we leave in the morning,” The Padre finishes, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a yawn.
The others agree. It’s the middle of the night and, as such, not the best time to be making important decisions. Although no one has a watch, dawn can’t be too far away now and so Bob and The Padre take over the final watch of the night, leaving Haim and the others to sleep.
Two or three hours pass – it’s hard to tell – and dawn is starting to break. The rain has also stopped although the skies remain cloudy. Bob is just wondering whether or not to wake the others yet – after all, they want to be away before whoever is in the forester’s hut gets up – when he spies movement.
“Wake up everyone,” he hisses to the others.
They are up in an instant, reaching for their weapons.
“What is it?” Piotr asks sleepily.
“Germans,” Bob whispers, readying his Mauser as he peeps through the barn window. “Four have just entered the courtyard. Looks like two are heading for the cottage and two are coming this way.”
“I might be wrong,” the Padre says from the rear of the barn where he is keeping watch. “But I think two more have just taken up position in the trees at 11 o’clock.”
“They are only expecting a lone escaped prisoner,” said Taffy quietly. “Let them come in and then we jump them. Quietly if possible, but if we have to shoot, we shoot.”
Terry does not say anything nice about Taffy’s idea, but he nods his assent.
“Dobry,” nods Piotr to Taffy’s suggestion. “However, if we beat the Nazis, then we may have to kill some innocent Silesian farmers … witnesses.”
“Kill da witnesses? What’re you, a goomba dego? We just tell ‘em we’re Americans and they’ll be so happy to see us they’ll give us the code to Herr Hitlers personal hidey hole! You know, the Mummmenschanz! No wait, it’s the Rosencrantz! Wait…”
“That’s the Wolfsschanze Terry.” interjected Bob, shaking his head.
“Yeah. That’s it. Thanks buddy.”
“The other thing to consider is that these might not be the only ones,” Taffy adds. “There is probably a whole search line moving through the woods, so any gunfire might bring the whole nest down.”
“If they are searching carefully enough, they will spot the motorcycles. We didn’t camouflage them because we didn’t think we’d be leaving them too long.”
“Either way we need to get ready to move.”
“Piotr, is trickery possible? With our uniforms and your fluent German?”
“They’re not wearing usual Wehrmacht uniforms,” Bob interjects, carefully watching the Germans approach. “They’re wearing black; not grey.”
“Kurwa!” Piotr exclaims. “Sounds like the pierdolony SS!”
He flicks the safety off his Mauser and attaches the bayonet.
“There’s no way a Wehrmacht NCO can give orders to the SS. Looks like we are going to have to fight this one out.”