Jet is a delinquent from a wealthy Manhattan family. His favorite teacher at his exclusive school dies and is replaced by a mysterious German man. He tries to find out more about Heinrich while gri...
[Auschwitz, Poland: mid-May 1944]
Albert ground out his cigarette and moved his bishop to pin in Cohn’s rook. He smirked at the man’s scowl.
“I suspect you lied when you said you never played before,” Cohn accused.
“I’m a quick learner,” Albert explained.
“You know this has been a good day.” Cohn moved his queen across the board in an effort to threaten Albert’s queen.
“How so?” Albert asked darkly.
“We’ve lived another day. Besides, I heard from one of the nurses. The Russians are on the move.”
“I know. I used to decrypt some of their plans. They aren’t very organized, but they are determined. Especially after all the hell the Nazis put them through. Now that Russia is thawed out they can push forward for some revenge.”
“Good. I’m praying they get here quickly.”
“As if the Russians will be any better? We’d be better off with the Americans. Trust me, I’ve listened in on both sides.”
“You wear a red triangle. The Russians will kill you for sure. If they break through first, you better swap it for another badge,” Cohn said.
“Maybe Becker could trade you his. Better they think you’re a queer than a Nazi,” Gold pointed out with the utmost seriousness from his bunk as he played a game of solitaire.
Albert glanced over at Becker. The man was lying on his bunk, reading a book he had bargained for from a guard. He gave the youngster an obscene gesture and rolled over on his back.
“They’ll beat the shit out of me the same as Stoller. Nazis and Jewish homosexuals are all the same to the Russians,” Becker mumbled, turning a page.
Albert turned back to his chess match and raised an eyebrow at Cohn. His workmate snorted and shook his head. Albert had learned to communicate with Cohn wordlessly. This was the first time in the month he had been here that Albert had heard anyone refer to Becker’s unique badge; Cohn’s snort was letting Albert know he had no information.
“Another day of buying time.” Albert moved his queen in response to Cohn’s defensive maneuver with his leftover bishop. “That’s check, my friend.”
“Damn it. I swear you’re cheating,” Cohn said gruffly, but Albert now knew it for affectionate teasing. “How about another game so I can figure out how you’re doing it.”
“Fine by me, old man.” Albert was setting up the board again when the door opened. A slight prisoner with a yellow and green, star shaped badge come in. Albert recognized him as the camp snitch, Frank, that Becker and the others had a hatred for. Frank was used as a messenger for the guards and managed to grovel his way out of unpleasant task.
“What’s the gutless cowered doing in Sonderkommando territory?” Becker sneered and jumped to his feet. “Come to spy on us to get out of breaking up rocks tomorrow?”
“Shut up, Becker, and listen. Van Bogart’s back. He came with a blond woman this time and some more of those large crates. I came over because I heard that one...” Frank waved his hand at Albert, “...mentioned by the woman. What’s it worth if I tell you what she said?”
“We’ve got nothing,” Gold lied. “Besides, we wouldn’t give it to a backstabbing little weasel like you.”
“Wait a minute,” Albert said. “We’ll barter with you, but only if the information is useful to all of us. I don’t care about anything solely beneficial to myself, but if it can help the others, I want to know.”
“What do you have?”
“Vodka and cigarettes, but you know that. That’s why you’re hitting us up. Spill it quick, Frank. You know we Sonderkommandos have a short temper,” Albert said.
The man gave Albert a dirty look and held out his hand. Albert quickly gave him three packs of cigarettes and small pint of Vodka. “It’s worth more than that.”
“Take it or leave it. The war is making us all paupers,” Albert said. The rest of the Sonderkommandos created a loose threatening circle around the snitch. The man finally nodded and leaned closer to Albert.
“She begged Bogart to let her come and see you. He refused and she seemed rather upset. She was dressed in some female SS officers uniform, but there was something about her that was very strange.”
“She only goes by the code name Venus. She was an operative working for Bogart. Not much is known about her, but I’ve crossed paths with her before. She can be a very dangerous or useful woman, depending on her whim.”
“Anyway, some of the higher ups, like Issimo, found out you’re still alive. They are pushing Bogart to send all of you to the gas chamber tomorrow. Bogart wants to play with you a while longer so there may be some game he wants to play with you. That women is also advocating keeping you around, but it seems that Bogart is rather jealous of her interest in you. You’ll need to watch yourself, Stoller, or you and the rest of the gang here could end up dead.”
Frank turned and left. Gold jumped up and made sure Frank wasn’t lingering around to spy on them.
“Actually that is useful. Venus could be a big help,” Albert said with a furrowed brow.
“She must have a soft spot for you?” Cohn asked.
“You could say that. Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll find a way to talk to her tomorrow and find out what’s going on. I won’t let any of you go to the gas chamber early because of me.”
“How about talking to me tonight, Captain Stoller?” A woman’s voice called out with sternness. They all turned to the doorway where a tall, blond woman stood with two guards at her side. She was dressed in a female SS officers uniform that only added to her austere presence.
“As you wish, ma’am,” Albert said, standing. He glanced at Becker who gave him a scratch on his right ear. Albert gave a slight cough. It was Becker telling him to be careful, and Albert affirming he would.
He walked over and followed her outside the front porch area where public punishments were held. He turned to Venus; her face held an ocean of grief.
“Oh Albert, look at you. You look like one of them.” The disgust in her voice rang harsh to Albert.
“The once great SS officer is now a part of the Sonderkommandos. He finds the work wholly disgusting, but much lest revolting than the Nazis. So what is it, Venus? What have you come to see me about.”
“We used to be friends.”
“Friendships are built on trust and I never trusted you for one minute at any time Van Bogart brought you around. You’re a woman with too many secrets.”
“So was that wife of yours.”
Albert glared at her. “Quit toying with me and speak up!”
“Fine then. Bogart is planning on being harsh with you tomorrow. He went on a hunting trip and was very unsatisfied. He’s angry and full of ideas on how to punish you.”
“As if this isn’t punishment?” Albert sneered.
“There are things... dark things out there that you don’t know about. There is so much more to Van Bogart and myself than you ever knew.”
“I always had a feeling.”
“You see, Van Bogart loved you like a son. He’s very hurt that you were more loyal to that woman than him.”
“What is he planning?”
“I’m trying to talk him out of his ultimate plans for you, but he plans on coming tomorrow and sending all those pathetic creatures in there to the gas chamber.”
“No. You can’t let him. What will he want?”
“Your blood and tears,” Venus answered with a grim expression. “You have no choice, but to trust me from now on. I’ll do what I can to change his mind from his master plans. They go against certain rules.”
“Rules?” Albert asked. Venus turned on her heels and walked off into the night.
Albert kept watch all day for Van Bogart as he worked beside Cohn that day. The others were nervous, they all knew their lives were riding on whatever was brewing with Van Bogart. It wasn’t until the end of the day, after they were frisked, that they found out what was going on.
Becker lead them back to their quarters, but they all paused at seeing Van Bogart and Venus on the front porch. Albert sense the fear running through them all at the unusual sight.
“Stoller, front and center!” Bogart barked. Albert hurried to the front and met the man’s blazing eyes. “This last month, I’m sure, has been an adventure for you. What have you learned, Stoller?”
“That I would have made a fine dentist.”
Van Bogart backhanded Albert so hard he landed on the ground. Albert stood up and averted his eyes.
“I see that dry wit hasn’t been crushed yet! Fine! Becker, get up here since you’re responsible for this man’s attitude,” Van Bogart ordered. He produced a large bullwhip and started wriggling the end. A hungry, leering look came to Van Bogart’s eyes.
“No! I’m sorry, Van Bogart. Don’t do it. Please,” Albert shouted out, grabbing Becker’s wrist.
“Fine then! Come take Becker’s beating. Next time, I won’t be so generous.”
Albert took off his shirt and handed it to Becker. The man’s eyes looked too placid for Albert’s liking. He took a deep breath and went to the porch. He leaned over and gripped the rail.
“How many should I give you? One for every year you were married to the Jew or should I beat you once for every man here?” Van Bogart raised the whip and brought it down. Albert shook with the sharp pain across his back. “You bleed so well, Albert. Just like I had hoped. I can’t believe you’d fallen as far as to take this kind of beating for one of them.”
“I am one of them. You made it so,” Albert answered before another sharp welt was raised on his back. Albert let the beating happen; he fell to the ground at eight slaps of the rawhide. He laid panting on his side when Venus knelt beside him.
“You stubborn man!” she screamed and ran off to the Nazis’ quarters.
Van Bogart knelt and smirked. “There is more of that to come, Albert.”
“I will live through anything you put on me,” Albert said through gulps of air.
“I was hoping you would say that. Becker, get this trash cleaned up for tomorrow. If he gets an infection and dies, you all go to the chamber.”
Van Bogart left. Cohn and Becker picked up Albert as carefully as they could and took him to his bunk. He laid on his stomach and let them tend his welts while the others watched out of the door.
“I knew it! I just knew he would bring bad luck!”
“Shut up, Gold! He could have pressed it with the Captain and let us all die! You know we have to make do with whatever they throw at us. Even an ex-Nazi,” Becker snapped while gently dabbing on antiseptic to Albert’s back.
“Becker is right. He’s one of us now so keep your mouth shut,” Cohn said.
Cohn finally pressed some Vodka on Albert. He gulped it down as the lights were turned off. Everyone settled in their bunks. He looked over to Becker’s bunk beside his.
“Becker, I’m so sorry,” Albert whispered.
“Don’t worry about it, Stoller. Just remember how I taught you to play this game. You can’t mock them. Also remember, if you get hurt that puts us all at risk.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I promise, it won’t happen again.”
“Good,” Becker answered. Several long minutes passed.
“Can I ask you why you and the others are so determined to live?”
“We all have our reasons, Stoller.”
“I’m a mortician who’s afraid of death. I’ve always been afraid of the unknown. I had hoped that I could find some comfort by working with the dead, but it never happened. I’ve become accustomed to it like a pebble in my shoe, but I still don’t want to die. I’ll do everything I can to delay it because I still have a hope that we’ll be liberated soon. Until then, I’ll do whatever I have to, to live. I don’t care what they do to me, I’ll take it so long as they don’t send me to the gas chamber.”
“You don’t believe in God?”
“Yes, but I find myself so full of rage and bitterness that I can’t pray any longer. The need to find a way to get revenge on Issimo and they others is all that keeps me wanting to live.”
“Bitterness is a horrible way to live, Stoller. It’ll only keep you weak. You should let it go and enjoy the time you have left.”
“Enjoy? Here? Becker, you’re insane.”
“Am I? I still get an opportunity to read one more book with each day or learn something new. So what about the conditions? They let you savor those little things all the more. I never really enjoyed playing cards until I got here and I never really tasted food until I got here. This place can either destroy you or make you into something powerful. It’s what you choose.”
“I never understood people until I got here. Their beauty and cruelty astound me,” Albert said.
“Does it hurt?”
“Then you’re still alive. Even pain can be a gift.”
“I never thanked you for taking care of Hilda.”
“She was loyal to you. She could have slept around Issimo or betrayed you somehow. I never knew that kind of loyalty.”
“Is that how you end up here? Everyone knows my story, but not yours,” Albert asked.
“I was living in Holland at the time. There was a young man I hired to help clean around the funeral parlor. He was the starving artist type, only with no real talent. He was trying to avoid conscription into the army so I hid him. It wasn’t long before he was cornered and offered money if he could point out any Jews.”
“Did he mean something to you?”
It was several long minutes before Becker answered, “Yes. I had feelings for him, but I never once made any overtures towards him. He made up vicious lies about me to keep him from getting in trouble for avoiding his draft notice.”
“I can’t imagine that you don’t hate him.”
“No. He was pathetic and scared. These are harsh times that make the best men crumble. I really loved what I thought he was and I ignored his faults. Therefore, I can only blame myself for my predicament. Maybe if we get out of here, I’ll find a nice woman and get married. I wonder what being a married man would have been like.”
“Becker, you’re odd. Besides, what woman would have you?”
Becker chuckled, “That’s what my sister said to me the day before we arrived here.”
“She was sent to the chamber right away because she was lame.”
“I’m sorry. Hey, Becker, thank you for being my friend in spite of the badge I’m wearing.”
“We aren’t different. I know what it’s like to love someone you’re not supposed to. Good night, Stoller.”
[Auschwitz, Poland: end-July 1944]
“Stoller, Van Bogart is coming this way,” Gold said, shaking Albert awake. The five am bell for work hadn’t rung yet so it was still pitch black outside. He sat up as did Becker, Cohn, and the others.
Van Bogart burst in with Venus and several guards trailing behind. “Today is the day. All of you remove your clothing and go join the others at the entrance to the gas chamber.”
Albert’s heart pounded painfully in his chest as he started to remove his shirt. There was a part of him, in spite of his stress, at peace; he would get a chance to see Hilda and his child once again.
“Not you, Albert! You are the new leader of the Sonderkommandos,” Van Bogart announced.
“What! No... no... no. Let me go with them. It’s my time to go!” Albert felt startled by a hand on his elbow. He turned to see Becker’s grim face. He shook his head.
“I can’t do this. I can’t do this alone,” Albert insisted.
“Albert, listen carefully. You must do this. Take care of the new ones like I took care of you. Take everything you learned from us and don’t let it be in vain. You must live and buy time for the others that come after us,” Becker said.
“Are you afraid?”
“Not as much as I thought I would be. I only regret I won’t be able to finish reading that book under my pillow. Will you finish it for me, my friend?”
“Of course,” Albert answered. His throat tightened as Becker let go and started removing his clothing. He looked around and saw them all strip down. Albert’s mouth got dry and his eyes moist.
“Don’t take it so hard. Time just ran out. Lucky for you because I almost figured out how you were cheating me,” Cohn said, not meeting Albert’s eyes.
“I can’t do this without...” Albert started off, but stopped when Cohn gripped his wrist.
“You’ll live because that’s what we want,” Cohn insisted, still not meeting Albert’s eyes. Albert clutched Cohn’s withered hand.
“Thank you for teaching me chess,” was all Albert could manage. He turned back to Becker and grabbed his hand. “Thank you for teaching me how to live.”
“Come on! All of you except, Stoller! March!”
“Let us go, Albert,” Becker said. Albert’s hands slid off of his two friends before the guards yanked them out the door. Albert clutched Gold’s shoulder one last time before the trembling, young man was jerked out of the quarters as well. The rest of his workmates were lead out after them.
Albert sunk to his knees and caught his breath, his head dizzy from the pressure. Van Bogart grabbed Albert’s elbow and dragged him out of the quarters. His eyes were so intense, it cut through Albert’s shock.
“Get the new ones ready, Captain.”
“One day, I’ll pay you back for what you did to Hilda, my daughter, and my friends. I won’t care if I have to come back from the dead to do it.”
Van Bogart’s predatory gaze bore into Albert. “An excellent notion. After dinner we’ll have a small talk. In the mean time, get to work. Here is your new crew.”
Albert looked over at the fifteen filthy, half starved Jewish men. All of them looked haunted, but desperate. Albert squared his shoulders, remembering what Becker had urged him to do. He shrugged off Van Bogart and marched towards them.
“All right. Each of you call out your profession. I’ll assign you a station. Come on and move it. We don’t have much time. If you want to live you’ll obey every order I give without questions. Punishment is doled out to us all. If you work well, you’ll earn four extra months of life. All right, name and profession.”
They each called out the information. Albert formed them into two lines and lead them towards the inner room beside the gas chamber. He turned to them and said, “No matter what you see, show no emotion. Just work and you will not meet the same fate for now.”
The guards opened the thick iron door as Albert schooled his own raging emotions and fears. There was a part of him that imagined he was going to walk in and see Hilda’s body all over again. He lead the men in and snapped orders at them to take the bodies in the next room. He gave them each their grisly task, which they all performed with trembling hands and darting eyes.
“No, not like that. You’ll never get his teeth out,” Albert said over to the young, Jewish dentist who was struggling with the clenched jaw on a body. Albert walked up to see Cohn’s stiff, lifeless face. He hesitated for half and second and took a deep breath. “Pry open his mouth, break his jaw if you have to. After all... he can’t feel it now. He’s dead so don’t be so damn squeamish.”
He left the young dentist to his task and looked around at the others to make sure no one did anything stupid like steal. Albert murmured to himself, “After all, I’m the one that can feel all the pain now.”
“You, my friend, are quite extraordinary. I always thought so. Intelligent, tasteful, and determined. You’re everything the Fatherland wants to inhabit it’s soil. You’re everything that should be... immortal,” Van Bogart said.
Albert couldn’t see his old commander. His hands were bound to the tin roof of the porch. He tried to control his breathing from the seven lashes he had just endured. The new, young dentist had tried to steal gold fillings so Albert had taken the punishment on his behalf.
“You dogs, get inside and let this be a lesson. The next time one of you steals from us, you’ll get a bullet in the head!”
The new batch of Sonderkommandos marched inside their quarters. None of them would look at Albert, shame was written all over their body language. After the door was secured, Van Bogart walked up behind Albert; he felt the man’s breath on his neck. The odor of rotted meat was overwhelming.
“It’s time you know what real pain is, Albert.” Van Bogart shoved Albert’s head to the side. A blistering agony invade the skin under his neck and spread to his stomach. After a few minutes. Van Bogart stepped away from Albert; all he could do is slump in his restraints.
“I’ll have one of your new dogs come and clean you up for tomorrow’s adventure.”
[Auschwitz, Poland: end-October 1944]
“Word has come down. It’s tomorrow,” Venus whispered. She stood outside of the doorway, keeping her eyes sharp. Albert leaned against the door jamb, eyes on the Sonderkommandos he had lead for four months. “Van Bogart isn’t going to let you go with them either.”
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“Because you are on your way towards changing. The process is not done yet.”
“This has something to do with what he does to me on the thirty-th of each month. He beats me and then does something to my neck. What is it?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Then you’re of no use to me.”
“Not yet, but one day, Albert. I swear that he won’t get his way with you,” she said and left swiftly. Albert made his way over to his group and sat with them. They all grew quiet and looked up at him for guidance or some assurance.
“I’m sorry, but it’ll be tomorrow. There is no news of an Allied breakthrough either. Tonight is your last night.” All of them looked grim at Albert’s news. One of the older men Albert had assigned to shave hair stood up.
“If it wouldn’t offend you, Herr Stoller, I would like to pray for us all.”
“I’ll leave you...”
“I will pray for you too,” the man named Schaefer offered.
“But I’m not Jewish and I have too much hatred in my heart for God to look favorably upon me,” Albert said. He lowered his head, not wishing to look any of them in the eyes. “Besides, it looks as if Van Bogart won’t send me with you tomorrow.”
“All the more reason, Herr Stoller,” Schaefer said kindly. “Come.”
Everyone sat in a loose circle while Schaefer walked around, placing his hand over the head of each Sonderkommando. Albert listened to the Hebrew and let himself be lulled into peace. The hand of Schaefer rested on his head very last; a brief pray was whispered over him.
Albert looked up as Schaefer clapped his hands. “Now lets have something to drink and get some blissful rest.”
After the men broke up and started to drink, Albert tugged Schaefer aside and asked, “What did you pray over me?”
“That you would find what you seek even beyond death. That you would find peace and contentment one day.”
[Auschwitz, Poland: December 21,1944]
“Stoller! The Captain wants to see you,” a guard called out across the room where his third group of Sonderkommandos worked on processing bodies. The bodies were coming at an incredible speed now. Albert had to work his men almost around the clock at a grueling pace.
Albert walked over to the doorway were Van Bogart stood wrapped in a long black coat, dark glasses, and officer’s cap. Venus stood behind him; her face etched with concern. The late morning sun was glowing vermilion.
“It’s time, Stoller. You’re to be on the next batch. It’s been several month since I’ve worked on altering you. After you’ve experienced death, the real game will begin. My gun!”
Venus handed him a rifle. Van Bogart smirked. “You’re insane. Just let me go.”
“Oh you’ll go alright, but I’ll be seeing you after sunset,” Van Bogart said. He turned to the guards. “Take him to the chamber. You Sonderkommandos are not to touch Herr Stoller’s body. It is to be tossed on top of the used cremation pile on the east side of the block.”
With that, Van Bogart turned and marched off. Albert followed the guards past Venus. She looked as if she wanted to say something, but he ignored her. He analyzed his emotions, but found none; they had been drained out of him over the last eight months.
He needed no instructions from the guards as they barked out the orders for everyone to strip down and file into the gas chamber. He new what was coming next. The heat and moisture rose. It would allow the Zyklon-B to activate. He huddled with the others as a clicking noise was made.
He knew the pellets had been dropped. Panic set in and everyone climbed on one another in an effort to get higher. Albert let go and took a deep breath; his consciousness faded as people clawed and fought around him.
A searing pain inflamed Albert’s right arm. He gathered air in his lungs and screamed out. His instinct to roll and put the fire out overcame him. He rose on unsteady feet on top of a pile of mutilated bodies; he was naked and the skin on his right arm was blistered and ruined. His left hand was blue and discolored from his asphyxiation.
“He’s alive! How is that possible!” a guard shouted.
“Kill him! Shoot,” another ordered, taking out a gun to aim at Albert.
Albert leaped at the man and snapped his neck before the gun cleared the holster. He then jumped on the other guard and sunk his fingers into the man’s neck as if it were paper. The odor of blood drew his mouth down to the wound before his mind could even comprehend what he was doing.
“Albert! Stop! You need to control it and run with me! Van Bogart will be here soon to hunt you,” Venus shouted from behind him. He turned to her and began to feel more control and not as beastly.
“What has happened to me? Why am I not dead?”
“Because you are now what he is: a vampire. He turned you so that you could be hunted tonight through the winter woods. If you hope to survive, you will follow me.”
“Why should I endure this! It’s even more horrible!”
“Listen, I’m his ghoul, a servant bound to him, but it’s not what I want any more. Take me away with you where we can live free and I will tell you everything you need to know.”
“Lead me away.” Albert pulled on the clothing she held out to him. He was amazed that she held a gold chain with two wedding bands dangling from it. He'd had no idea she knew about them. He put them around his neck, tucked them in his shirt, and ran after her. “Why do you need me?”
“Because a ghoul needs a vampire to survive. You’ll know everything soon! Quick, to the left. I bribed a guard to let us go.” Venus pointed to the small hole in the gate. Albert followed her into the deep, dark, icy night.
[Berlin, Germany: mid-April 1945]
“Thank you, Venus. This was a good idea.” They both stood in a ruined building, looking down on the chaos below. “No one will be able to look for us here.”
“Oh, Albert. I think we do need to find a more stable residence. Now that you know how your body works, it’s time to leave for the countryside.”
“We’ll collect some soil in crates tonight so I can travel and move during the day. Then we’ll talk more about going to South America.”
“Why do you want to do such a stupid thing? I didn’t rescue you to chase after Issimo and his ghoul, Scar! Is revenge over you’re dead wife so important that you can’t enjoy the gifts you now possess?”
“I will not rest until Issimo, Scar, and Van Bogart are dead,” Albert fingered the wedding bands around his neck with his blistered right hand. “You have no choice, but to follow me now that you rely on my blood.”
“Wait! I sense him! Van Bogart. He’s close.” Her face looked shocked, then worried.
“Run, Venus. Hide!”
“Too late,” Van Bogart sneered. Albert turned to see the man level a rifle at him. Venus leaped against Albert, knocking him to the ground as the shot rang out.
Albert sat up and cradled Venus in his arms. The red wound on her chest was too much for a ghoul to recover from. “Why, Venus? I’ve never treated you with any trust.”
“Because... I loved you, Albert. I just wanted to be with you.” She gasped and fell into to a deep unconscious. Albert let her her body slip from his arms and stood. Van Bogart laughed and shook his head.
“She got what she deserved for betraying me. I’m satisfied with her death. That buys you one more night. We’ll start again at next dusk.”
“From now on, you’ll be the hunted one. I will chase you down and make you suffer for the pain you’ve cause me.”
“We’ll see about that. Good night, Albert.” With that Van Bogart disappeared, leaving Albert totally alone in a dark supernatural world he was still too new to find his way in. He had to find a way to survive.
He quickly surveyed Venus’ coat and found the letter he was looking for. It had the address of a French woman named Madelaine Montalia. Venus said Albert could find asylum with other vampires that would find what Van Bogart had done to be taboo. It was now his only hope for survival.
To be continued.