Fall, 1941, beyond gates which said Arbeit Macht Frei, stumbling, herded across empty railroad tracks.
The train on which we arrived, and some of us died, was behind us. The harsh voices of you-and-you-and-no!-not-you created a vast chasm, which might have been only ten feet across. Over there was a ragged row of the chosen, men and boys who might have strength beneath their fear, and a few pretty girls and women. On our side were the rest of the women, the elderly, the weak.
She made me promise I would survive, before she pushed me a step into the empty space, calling out, "Herr Leutnant!"
Some mothers have an innate sense of impending doom, although no one had mentioned the showers yet. When she called I expected the usual groveling and pleading. Instead, she told me her son would work hard. Promised on his behalf he would do all I asked.
His nervous gaze flicked up to my face and away, but I could see he would honor his mother's word. I nodded. As he walked on shaky legs across the gap I wondered whether she knew what she had just promised. I like to think she did.
This is not a romance. It's a story of the Holocaust written in 1999 after a journey that fall to Auschwitz. A trip in honor of my late partner of thirty years, who was Jewish and had never been able to go himself.
If I have written this story well, it will be difficult to read. If not...so be it.