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Down in the Dirt, v148
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Another Unmarked Grave

Jed Herne

    You wake to the sound of a German officer thumping on the door of your one-room shack.
    You and your parents don’t have time to pack. The office doesn’t tell you where you’re going: he just drags you out into the freezing street. Rain spits down overhead.
    Father tries to ask something, but the officer prods him in the back with his baton and tells him to get moving.
    Worried and anxious, you wonder if you’re going to be alright.
    You are led down the road to the town square. The houses, small and decrepit where you live, grow bigger and newer. The rain increases in force.
    The streets are as empty as a graveyard. When you see someone, they dart away, keeping their head down. Your unease grows.
    The rain changes from a gentle patter to a growing roar. It beats down overhead, turning the street to mud.
    You reach the muddy town center.
    Outside the Mayor’s three-storied house are dozens of people, crying and wailing as they are loaded into German trucks.
    The trucks are old and plain. Sagging tarpaulins stretch over decrepit wooden frames like shrouds, forming a semi-enclosed space on the vehicle’s back tray. The truck’s tires are crusted with mud and only one has both mirrors intact.
    But what unsettles you most is the fact that the people being loaded into the trucks have the Star of David on their chest.
    They are all Jewish, like you.
    The officers load you and your parents onto a truck. You try to keep your eyes on the muddy ground and not look at the soldiers. Your parents have told you people have done bad things to Jews in the past. You have to avoid attention, or they could happen again.
    As you stare at all the terrified Jews, you can’t help thinking you’re in the middle of another one of those bad things.
    The rain reaches a new level of ferocity. It beats down on the tarpaulin above like the sticks of a drummer.
    The truck rumbles away. The town recedes into the distance, leaving you behind.

    The truck becomes your world for the next few hours. The rain is so thick and dense that you can’t even see the vehicle behind you.
    You talk to your friends, trying to find out what’s happening. They don’t know anything more than you and the drum of rain on the tarpaulin means you have to shout to be heard.
    After an age, the truck pulls into a train station.
    A long, old train that looks like an animal carrier crouches on the rails. A pockmarked concrete platform lies next to it.
    There are hundreds of red-eyed and weeping people at the station, all bearing the Star of David on their chest. The SS are loading them onto the carriages.
    You and your parents join onto the end of a line, squinting to keep the rain out of your eyes. You keep your head down and trudge between tall German soldiers towards the train. They kick you, call you names and even spit on you. You try to shield your head with your arms, but you are powerless to stop them.
    You are weak. Insignificant. Helpless.
    You and your parents climb into a decrepit wooden carriage, bruised and shaken.
    The windowless carriage is clad with wood; old and rotten.
    More people file in behind you, making it too crowded to sit. You are pressed up against the wall. You would cry if your warm, comforting parents weren’t next to you.
    The doors slam shut and darkness envelopes the carriage. The train roll out of the station. People cry, but the drumming of the rain drowns them out.

    After hours of darkness, the train screeches to a stop. You’ve arrived.
    The carriage doors are thrown open. Cold grey light rushes in, followed by the shouts of German soldiers.
    You get out and follow the line of people in front of you, trudging towards a clump of brown buildings. The rain makes every step hard as it pummels you into the muddy ground.
    SS officers stand on either side. They are even worse than the ones at the station.
    You and your parents reach the camp’s entrance with spittle running down your bruised faces.
    A gate swallows you as you are driven forward. Above it are three large, wrought iron words: Arbeit macht frei. Work makes you free. You haven’t worked out what that means yet, but you can already tell it won’t be anything good.
    They lead you between tall, brown-bricked buildings. All the Jews in the camp are dressed in striped pajamas and are so thin their ribs are practically piercing their skin. You swallow and move closer to your parents.
    You arrive in a large, wet courtyard. Hundreds of Jews are already there, divided into different groups.
    The women and the men.
    The young and the old.
    The strong and the weak.
    Your parents turn to you and tell you they love you. There are tears in their eyes. You hug them, eyes closed but tears still running out and mingling with the rain.
    You want that moment to last forever, but before your heart has beat even a handful of tiny, precious times, you are wrenched away.
    You scream and wail, desperately reaching for them. The officers pull you back, laughing. More officers drag your parents away. They raise their hands in a silent goodbye, and tears stream down their cheeks.
    You are thrown into the midst of a group of children.
    The rain’s pounding is oddly muted. The world is bleak and grey, and your parents have been stolen from you.
    A baton rams into you, and an office shouts a command to follow the other children. You follow.
    You don’t know how long you walk for. It could be hours. It could be minutes. All you see is the muddy ground. All you feel is the rain, beating down harder than ever, like little bullets dropping from the sky.
    You bump into someone and stop. You are in a wooden building, long, low and dark. Mangy beds line the walls and light trickles in through thin windows.
    The door slams shut.
    You slump onto a bed. You stare at a crumpled ball of newspaper, oblivious to the cries of the other children.

    It is an hour, or perhaps an eternity, before an officer opens the door and yells for you to come and see your parents.
    But first, he says with a hint of a leer, you must take a shower.

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