That's Only in Holocaust Stories

My first thought, upon waking up, was of the carcass-utilization factories.


These were the German Kadaververwertungsanstalt, an urban legend of the First World War--the Kaiser converting his own dead soldiers into glycerine for the war effort. People believed this, passed on the stories until it was debunked. No truth to it. 


Twenty-five years later, when the death camp rumors began, people remembered. The similarities were "too striking to be overlooked," according to The Christian Century.


So to reiterate: History is written by the victors. The "Holocaust," in reality the expulsion of Jews from Europe, was exaggerated in order to gain the world's sympathy. The Jews wanted to create their own state, after all. Those who confessed at Nuremberg did so under torture, concentration camp inmates died of typhus and starvation caused by Allied bombings, and the claim of six million deaths is far exaggerated.


Now about what I saw before I woke up. I'm confident enough now to commit it to writing. After only a day! Reeling in the immediate aftermath, senses lost, I was desperate to forget it. But a good, refreshing sleep and thorough analysis make a difference. I feel I've got a handle on it now, like I'm its master. (And remember, the Kadaververwertungsanstalt.)


Committing every detail to writing--in my own hand--will be the final nail in its coffin. 


###


This would never have been an issue at all, if not for recent events. Seven years ago, an Australian housewife named Anna Coons claimed to have "jolted back--just jolted." That's how she described it. To a different era and place, a suburban neighborhood she did not recognize. The streets, the shops, the oversized cars with round headlights, all looked mid Twentieth Century. One striking detail, she said; the signs were in French, and passersby spoke the same language. 


For about twenty minutes she wandered the streets, dazed, thinking this couldn't be happening, she'd lost her mind. Every so often she pinched herself on the arm. She avoided touching anything, the buildings, parked cars, trees or passersby, for she was afraid this might confirm its reality. Then, just as abruptly, she experienced the same "jolt" and found herself back at home as if nothing had happened.


Now it's notable that she withdrew her claim later on. As frighteningly real as it seemed, she said, it obviously had to be a particularly intense hallucination. Doctors examined her, but found nothing definite.


Other accounts followed, however, from people on almost every continent. Currently, they average two or three a year. All went to unfamiliar places where different languages were spoken. None traveled further back than a century. (One man in Russia gave an extensive, colorful account of King Arthur's time, but he was an inmate in a mental hospital.) Claimants range from a Japanese admiral to a physicist in California, a Swedish businessman, a Kenyan bar owner, a sweatshop employee in Indonesia. All stayed in the past for less than thirty minutes before their sudden return. 


Just as many sane, normal people believed they saw UFO's, or even that they'd been taken up into them--


But no more preamble. I've gone on too long, and it could be my subconscious' way of avoiding the memory. No, I'll attack it head-on.


My own "experience" took me back to Auschwitz-Birkenau.


###


The very fact that I landed in this particular place and time, itself dispels the illusion. Consider: The town of Oświęcim, after all, dates back to the 11th Century--nearly ten centuries. The world knows it only by the five most infamous years of its existence, and this ended almost eighty years ago. What are the chances of landing within that specific period, completely at random?


Not only that, the continent of Europe spans 10,180,000 square kilometers. It touches the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic to the west and the Mediterranean to the south, and is home to 743,000,000 people in forty-four countries.


What are the odds, then, of landing in this one specific speck of Europe--to say nothing of the world--at that particular time?


Immediately after my experience, when I doubted my sanity, I looked up these facts and recited them to myself. Defending myself with reason till my thoughts stabilized. Now I can write with a steady hand.


While it happened in the late afternoon, it's also true that I sometimes nap on the sofa after supper, around six in the evening. This coincides with the time. Had Marjorie been home, she could have erased all doubts, but such is life sometimes. She had gone out for shopping and dinner with friends, and I was alone in the house with my .45 automatic hanging in its shoulder holster in our bedroom closet. Carrying firearms in the army, I never purchased one for myself until our house was broken into three years ago. 

I had just finished washing the dishes and was changing into my gray slacks and blue shirt, thinking to walk to a bar. I don't recall strapping on my .45 or putting on my suit jacket over it. 


All at once, everything changed. There was no thunderclap, no violence, but the earth was whisked away in an instant and just as quickly replaced by another--same sky, same gravity, but all else different. Such was the suddenness and seamlessness of it, that I wasn't even put off balance by the ground changing under my feet. 


One instant I was standing in my living room, hearing the hum of the refrigerator from the kitchen; the next I was packed into a jostling crowd in some dark place, instantly aware of unwashed bodies, sweat, but mostly the confinement--the crush of what felt like a thousand people mashed against me. 


I broke into a sweat. My chest tightened, I struggled to breathe and my mind screamed let me out!


At the age of seven, playing hide and seek with my cousins, I climbed into a kitchen cupboard and accidentally locked myself in. I yelled, I cried, I pounded on the door until my mother released me. It couldn't have been more than two minutes, but it felt like hours. I won't ride elevators; even when I worked on the ninth floor, I always climbed the stairs. Even locking the bathroom door behind myself is difficult.


Though I didn't realize it at the time, I joined the Army after high school to master my fears, including that one. I met with limited success--I could never force myself into a tank, for example--and got out after the Gulf War. Now Marjorie and I live in a spacious house with no walk-in closets. The last social gathering I attended was her family reunion last year in Zanesville, Ohio. I stayed in the backyard with the whole sky above me and only a few people about. I tried venturing into the kitchen to get a beer from the refrigerator, but too many people were in there talking. I retreated back outside, tried again after a while, found the same crowd. After the third try I gave up. 


And that was a kitchen; this was like a cattle car. My left side was pressed against a plastered wall, and humanity crushed me everywhere else. What was worse, the room's windows--two of them between me and the far wall--were bricked up. 


It was my good luck, however, to stand within reach of the door. I grasped for the knob, slippery with sweat, but could not find it. Muscles tense, I gasped for breath, and I'm sure my eyes were bulging out. My heart hammered against my ribs. My mind reeled, this could not be happening, all while the panic erupted inside me: LET ME OUT!


Then I noticed something else. Every unwashed, smelly body packed in there with me--the elderly man to my right rubbing shoulders with me, the girl of perhaps twenty with stringy hair in front of me--not a one wore so much as a stitch. I was the only person dressed.


What in the name of God is this place?


A shaft of light caught my attention. I looked, sweat trickling down my brow and stinging my eyes, and saw a hatch opening high in the wall to my left. It gave me a better look at some of the other captives, the unshaven men and the haunted, frightened eyes of all, even the youngest children aged with worry. I also glimpsed, in the door, a peephole.


More light; a second hatch must have opened behind me. By now I was losing my hold on reality, the double blow of this impossible change and the cattle car, the hysteria finally burst out of my mouth in a high-pitched scream that sounded strange to me even then. 


At that moment something like white sand poured through the hatches, onto the heads of the inmates beneath. I caught a whiff of sharp almonds and it stopped my cry, even as the others began screaming around me. 


Everyone rioted, shoved and drove me back. Those closest to the door pounded on it. The killing odor mingled with the bodies and sweat. My life flashed before my eyes, my boyhood, my wedding and family life. Most of all--I remember this very clearly--I wouldn't walk my daughters down the aisle. This so dominated my thoughts that for a moment I forgot my terror, forgot the question of whether the poison would kill me first or the sheer panic of being trapped. I kept thinking: Even murderers get a trial and due process. Even murderers.


There were times in my army service, like the fight for Khafji in 1991, when I thought I was frightened. And I was free to move and able to fight, not imprisoned with captives who weren't even allowed clothes. Was this it, then? Would I never see Marjorie again, or Kerry or Darlene, our house in Inglewood with the garden I spent so many pleasant hours tending? 


The door rang under pounding fists. Captives screamed in my ears, the girl in front of me gripping her head. My panic swelled again, but a new thought stopped it cold: My .45. 


Did I have it with me? I patted over myself, found it, yanked it from its holster. Perhaps I should have shot myself and took the quick way out. I regret that I didn't; it surely would have woken me up and confirmed it was all a dream. But I had no thought of that. I wanted whoever was trying to murder us. 


I'd toured the Auschwitz parent camp once with Marjorie, and I began to suspect now where I'd landed. Something from my research returned unbidden, how prussic acid paralyzes the lungs, its effect so "sudden and so powerful" that symptoms of suffocation never even appear--or so the camp commandant, Rudolf Hoess, said in his confession before hanging.


Reflexes lunged me forward, thrusting aside the man between me and the door. There was the peephole. I jammed my pistol to it. I squeezed the trigger.


Though the glass must have been thick, the shot did not backfire. I held my breath, grimacing, my lungs panging for air. Then--to my astonishment--the door opened inwards, pushing the crowd back, light spilling in. 


My first sight was a satisfying one: a man in a gray German uniform on the ground, clutching his stomach and wincing. Others swarmed at me, brandishing truncheons and whips, holding their sleeves over their faces. 


It was an unwise move. The crowd streamed out behind me, rushing the soldiers and bowling them over. In a heartbeat they vanished under the stampede, still holding their weapons. Perhaps they thought most of us would have died by this time, and the rest too weak to be much of a threat. 


(Had this all actually occurred, I would wonder for the rest of my life who opened that door and why. Maybe an overzealous guard? Or a low-ranking, unwise man seeking a promotion, or who simply wanted to show his bravery by overpowering an armed inmate?)


I saw now where we had been imprisoned: not a facility, but a cottage of red bricks. It had a field to itself and looked nothing like a jail, certainly not like a gas chamber. As if to make up for this, two wooden barracks had been built beside it. 


Two more soldiers stood on ladders against the cottage wall, interrupted in their task of pouring poison down the hatches from canisters. One man dropped his canister and it hit the ground, too many of the granules scattering; those nearby backpedaled away from it.


The yard was a riot by this time. Some of the freed inmates staggered or doubled over, wheezing for breath. Others fell or simply lay down, buried their faces in their folded arms and went still. 


I gulped for air, pistol in my sweating hand, expecting to be shot but not at all concerned about this. I noticed only the men in uniform running toward us with handguns and rifles. Like everyone, I'd seen them in countless pictures and films, but I regarded them differently now. These were not soldiers, but serial killers in uniforms. 


I roared and charged pistol-first. 


One guard menaced an elderly woman, raising his truncheon. She was bent over and coughing uncontrollably. I leaped between them, shielding her with my own body, and fired at his face. 


Blood burst from his nose and he toppled forward, fell and lay twitching, club still in his grip. In Kuwait I shot at least two Iraqi soldiers, from a much greater distance, and it always bothered me afterward. Were they family men, with wives and children? But for this German I'd killed point-blank, I felt not a twitch. 


I glanced around, one hand on the woman's shoulder, swinging my .45 to the left, right, everywhere I saw a uniform, squeezing the trigger, gun jumping in my hand, cartridges flying. Strangely I felt alive, even elated, in a way I hadn't felt since Marjorie agreed to marry me, and when Kerry and Darlene were born. It wasn't until my left leg buckled and I tumbled to the grass, that I saw the blood on my slacks and realized I'd been shot. 


And then I woke up. 


I lay in a heap on my living room floor, sweating in my slacks and jacket, my pistol now threatening the flatscreen television in the corner. Before I could stop myself I'd shot it, the bang deafening in the living room, the bullet drilling a neat hole in the screen with cracks spider webbing instantly around it. 


Thus the episode ended. 


###


After writing my account, I went to get a coffee. Then I read the entry back. I'm pleased to see my confidence didn't flag; on the contrary, it increased the more I wrote. It's fortunate that this dream struck during my older years, when I was prepared and versed in the facts. 


I've researched camp revolts. The manner of my own attempted execution, at the little red house outside Birkenau the Germans called Bunker One, would indicate the camp's earlier days, for people maintain that until spring 1943, this and Bunker Two were the means of the supposed gassings. Also, nowhere have I found an account of anyone using a firearm to escape execution.


Something else I didn't think of until afterward, is the amount of time I've spent lately arguing on forums and social media about this subject--whether the executions were real, how much Hitler knew, the role of Zionism. This has kept my mind on it more than usual when, in truth, I really don't dwell on it that much. 


And above all, there's the fact that I just happened to land in this place, at this time. Again, what are the odds? 


Now, the matter of my shot leg. Some moments after I awoke, I realized it was leaking blood and throbbing. In my wild delusion I'd wounded myself as well as my TV. Marjorie came home and rushed me to the hospital, where they x-rayed it and told me I was fortunate--no arteries, no veins, which I had guessed from the small amount of blood. Fortunately, I hadn't hit my kneecap or any bones.


I made a mistake, though, in telling Marjorie the story. I'd forgotten how fond she is of talking, and I cringed as she proclaimed it all to the doctors. They listened, and one even got visibly excited. They wanted to extract the slug and analyze it, see if it matched my .45. 


Or would they find something altogether different? Perhaps one that matched a carbine issued to the SS, no longer made today?


No need, I told them. It was my own bullet. Were this whole "backjolt" business real, there have been seven years to prove it. No one ever has, just as no one's ever proven alien abductions. And any kind of surgery, regardless of the reason, is risky. 


So the bullet remains.


###


I meant to end the story here. But I just got a call from the doctor.


It's true that people can live normal lives with slugs inside them. One man took an accidental blast of buckshot in his back, pellets embedded there, and lived on normally. But the doctor had just seen a man with nausea, abdominal pain, and a reduced red blood cell count. There was fourteen times the normal amount of lead in his system. It turned out he'd carried a slug in his elbow for six years, and his elbow's movement over that time softened it and began releasing lead into his bloodstream. Since I'm also always moving my knee, the doctor expressed concerns. He recommended surgery.


But they would want to analyze the slug...


Well, maybe I should let them. I'm still thinking about it. As to lead poisoning, I even have a private joke with myself, that I can know international Jewry wasn't behind this at least.


So I'll consider the matter closed. It could well make a Twilight Zone episode: had I died in the gassing, there would now be a memorial in the field where Bunker One used to stand, listing all of the victims, and my name would appear on it. 



But of course, that's only in stories.


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