[I wrote this in high school and am well aware of its problems. I’m working on a complete rewrite. But I am still fond of this version. 🙂 ]
Halfway through my senior year, as I sat in the living room doing my first U.S. Government assignment of the semester, Mr. Bismarck appeared in the middle of the room. My eyes widened.
“Now what do you want?” I cried.
“To avenge myself on you,” he said.
The blood deserted my face. I whispered, “How?”
“By taking you to a prisoner of war camp.”
“Prisoner of war? I may be a prisoner, but not of war. Wouldn’t I be a political prisoner? Before the Panama invasion, only men fought in wars.”
“Exactly. All of the prisoners are men.”
“I’ll be the first female a lot of them have seen for a while. Don’t you know what they’ll do to me?” I trembled.
“Whatever harassment, whatever violation, it’s part of my revenge. I chose this time to come back because you are seventeen and nubile, but you are too young to move away from home, according to your American laws. That makes it so much easier to find you, as you see I have done.”
“Couldn’t you just leave me alone? We had enough of your kind of sadism during World War II, without you crossing the time lines and giving us more.”
He ignored this. “I will tell the Kommandant to give you the freedom to go anywhere the other prisoners can go, rather than confining you in your safe little private barracks. He is a close friend of mine.”
“No way!” I threw my books on the couch, sprang up, and ran through the house.
I tried to open the back door, but in my haste I’d forgotten the key for the deadbolt.
Mr. Bismarck caught up with me, grabbed my arm–and pushed the button on the card.
We materialized in the Kommandantur, or Kommandant’s office. The Kommandant sat at his desk in front of us; two guards immediately flanked us. The Kommandant didn’t even jump: He must have been expecting us.
He said in German, which I understood pretty well, “So, Bismarck, this is your prisoner. She is pretty. And how old?”
“Siebzehn Jahre alt,” I said.
“Ach, so she knows German.” He smiled. “That’s dangerous. Guards, take her to her new home.”
The guards took one arm each, squeezing tightly as if I’d try to get away. Why would I? I had nowhere to go.
They led me to my barracks–empty, except for a stove and bunks lining the walls.
I hit the wall with my fist, shook my aching fingers, cried for a while, then explored the barracks.
I climbed on some of the top bunks and searched the floor, walls, ceiling and corners for cracks or holes. I found a mouse hole.
“Oh, great, now I’ll have mouse turds in here.”
My guard fetched me and led me to dinner amidst wolf whistles from other prisoners. One American didn’t whistle, but invited me to sit next to him.
“I’m the senior officer here.” He grinned. “I won’t treat you the same way these other uncivilized brutes do.” He nodded toward the men sitting near him, who laughed. “We heard you were coming, but what’re you doing here?”
“Bismarck put me in here because he hates me.”
“Still, a girl in a POW camp? The Krauts don’t even use women secretaries here! Discipline would be horrendous. You see what happens when you just walk by.”
“There’s a reason for that, but I’d rather not go into it right now. Do you speak German?”
“I’ve picked up some since I’ve been here.”
“What does sterben mean?”
“It means ‘to die.’ Why?”
“When the guards led me out of the Kommandant’s office, Bismarck told him–” I imitated him– “‘Sie muß nicht sterben,’ ‘She must not die.’ That means Bismarck doesn’t want me killed.” I no longer said “Herr Bismarck” because it seemed too respectful.
“Probably because death is an escape. Who is this Bismarck, anyway?”
“He’s a jerk who stuck me in here as revenge because I kept him from killing some Jewish friends in 1989. No, will keep.”
He dropped his spoon and choked on his food. “1989?” he said in a croak.
“Yeah. He’s a time traveler. I guess I am too, now.”
He didn’t appear to believe me, but humored me. “I suppose that would explain your hair and clothes and the way you talk.”
“I’m from 1991. That’s a pretty cool year, so far. I just wish I had my jam box with me so I could listen to some of my CDs. I’ll go crazy without my music.”
The officer and guys nearby just stared at me blankly. I realized I spoke strange words. “Your grandchildren will talk like this,” I said. They just laughed.
Unlike the other prisoners, I wasn’t supposed to work, so I had nothing to do all day.
I didn’t want to get cornered alone in my barracks while everyone was off laboring. So I walked around the camp three times a week, and spent as much time outside as possible.
The guards whistled at me a lot during the first few weeks, only stopping when an officer came by. The guards inside the gate never failed to whistle. Until one day.
Two months after my arrival, as I passed the gate, the guard on the right whistled. But the bespectacled one on the left said to him in German, “Don’t whistle at her!”
“Why not?” the other one said. “You do.”
Good, he’s finally learning some respect for women.
Every day, amidst disrespect, rough treatment and injustice, I grumbled, “You can’t beat me, Kraut Bismarck!”
As I passed the gate on my walks during the next few weeks, I noticed the Heart-Changed Guard still stared at me, but not with lust. It was more like respect and adoration.
It made me uncomfortable at first, but soon it flattered me so much that I increased the number of times I walked around the camp each week.
I hated the wolf whistles from everybody else. But from him, I loved the attention, and my curiosity kept growing. I tried to suppress the feelings that budded and grew, but I couldn’t.
One day I smiled under his gaze. I forced the smile off my face: I shouldn’t give him such obvious encouragement.
As I returned to my barracks from breakfast the next morning, the Heart-Changed Guard waved to me from behind one of the other barracks. I hesitated, but he kept waving me over.
I finally went to him. We hid behind a building, then he said in a low voice, “I know a little English, so I will with you in English speak. That way can we our conversations private keep. Yes?”
“But the prisoners can understand us.”
“Why should they care what I do? The guards cannot understand us. I do not wish to in trouble get for fraternizing with you.”
“You probably don’t have to worry about that. The Kommandant and Bismarck have probably agreed to let you guards do whatever you want with me, hoping somebody will–you know what.”
We shared a glance; he knew what I meant.
“I would never to you such a thing do. I would never you hurt.”
“Good. So what do you want to talk to me about?”
“What is your name?”
“Madge Rush, my name is Torsten Schuhmacher, and I love you.”
I squelched a desire to laugh. Such corny bluntness! “Please, it’ll never work. I can’t let it. You’re a Nazi–aren’t you?–and I’m a Christian.”
“You talk so fast. I do not understand. You say you do not love me back?”
I slowed down my speech. “‘Love’ is such a strong word. I’m fond of you, yeah, but I can’t let it be anything more than that. Even that much is too much.”
“Please, you hurt me. Can you not it in your heart find to at least allow me one kiss? or loving glances as you pass me by?”
“No.” I almost said, “I wish I could.” I did say, “The Bible says, ‘Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers.’ I believe that doesn’t just mean marriage, but dating, too.”
He looked totally confused. “Was? Ich verstehe nicht.”
I talked really slowly. “The Bible says–A Christian should not marry one who is not a Christian. I think that also applies to dating. Seeing each other. More than friends.” I sighed because he still frowned. “Lovers. Freund und Freundin. Verstehen Sie?”
“Ach! But this is the–Bible. It is not true. It is not for you to follow. You should follow the Nazis.”
“What a way to get a girl–insulting her beliefs!” I turned away.
He grabbed my arm. “No, do not go. I did not mean to be insulting. Please think over it again.”
“No. As far as I’m concerned, this whole thing is settled. I can’t love you, and that is it. Oh, one more thing. Your English word order is totally screwed up.”
I broke free and strode to my barracks without looking back. I knew if I looked I would turn back. I went in my barracks, shut the door, and wept.
That happened on a Sunday. I couldn’t face Torsten right away, so I postponed my walk until Tuesday. When I did walk again I avoided his eyes.
On Thursday I caught a glimpse of them: They weren’t fixed on me in spite, but averted in sorrow. I wanted to run to him and kiss away his pain, but fought that down.
After breakfast Friday morning, Torsten waved me over to him for another secret talk. He said,
“Why is it so bad for you to me–to love me? What is so bad about the glorious Third Reich?”
I rolled my eyes. “Everything. How blind are you? The Nazis committed–are committing some of the worst atrocities ever known to man.”
“What are atrocities?”
“Things like murdering Jews by the millions and doing unspeakably ghoulish things with the corpses. Taking away the personhood of each and every Jew you can find.”
“We are ridding us of the Jewish problem. Jews are not of the Aryan, and they only cause problems for the rest of us.”
“Snap out of it, you brainwashed victim of propaganda. Jews are human beings, not insects to be exterminated.”
“Your precious Nazis make me sick. You just wait till they’re tried in Nuremberg for their crimes against humanity. There will be a film made that shows a swastika on a roof getting blown up, and it will make me cheer every time I see it. Germany’s going to be divided into two sections so we can keep an eye on it. It’ll be that way for 45 years.”
I could tell he didn’t understand everything, but he caught the gist. “How could you know such things?” he said.
“Don’t you know who I am? I crossed Bismarck, the time-traveler, back in–forward in–1989, and he brought me here to pay for it. I helped some of your ‘non-Aryan’ Jews escape from him.”
“I have heard rumors of Herr Bismarck. He is a friend of the Kommandant. It is said he brings in strange objects to him, like–balls with–long threads in them. Wi–Wires?” He averted his eyes for a moment, then stared into mine with a stern expression. “I cannot against den Vaterland go. It is my country.”
“And I cannot against my God go. Torsten, we are such opposites. I wonder how we can even be friends.”
Torsten dropped his head, turned away, and left. I stalked away, full of indignation, my heart silent. I was glad to see him go.
We neither looked at nor spoke to each other for the next few weeks. Then one day Torsten stopped me after dinner and whispered in my ear, “Why are you so–how do you say–loyal to your God?”
“Because of what He’s done for me. He’s good and wise, and I love Him.”
“You love Him but you will not me love.”
“Not as a girl loves a guy, no. I only see pain in our future.”
Torsten glanced around and hurried me behind a barracks. He said, “I may be suspected of treason against den Führer if a German overhears me who English knows. Please do not repeat this talk to anyone.”
“I won’t.” Treason? What did he–
“Do you really think the Nazis are–are–wie sagt man–making atrocities?”
“I know they are.”
“But like you Jews? You are not a Jew.”
“Yes, I do. Jews are human beings.”
He turned away. “I should not question meinen Führer. He knows what is best.”
“No, he doesn’t. He’s not even all there. He’s crazy–Er ist verrückt.”
“Please, nicht so laut!”
“I wasn’t even loud. I think your fear is making my voice seem louder. Why are you so afraid, if you’re so sure you’re innocent of treason? Are you starting to doubt the Nazis?”
He glanced around again, bent down, and put his lips so close to my ear I could feel him tremble. He said so low I barely heard him, “Yes.”
With a grin I whispered in his ear, “Come and talk to me in my barracks any time you want to.”
Over the next couple of months, I tried to quench my feelings–though they grew more and more passionate–and keep my heart from leaping as I passed the gate.
Every once in a while, Torsten took me aside so we could talk about a variety of things, except for the war. I suppose he was pondering what I had said.
I became best friends with a sweet, Christian, twenty-year-old American named Scott Clifford. We talked all the time about music, religion, slang, fads, our homes, and whatever else we could think of to compare and contrast.
Torsten must have seen us together, because he sometimes looked downcast or stared blankly at Scott.
He shouldn’t have worried: Nothing could compete with forbidden love. Only Scott knew about Torsten, because he was the only one I could trust not to tell anyone else.
I told Scott I couldn’t stop my feelings for Torsten, no matter how hard I tried.
Scott said, “Getting involved with a guard would be far too dangerous for both of you. But maybe, as a friend, you can influence him away from the Nazis and toward God.”
I said, “Sometimes I wonder if God even hears me. What am I still doing here?”
“I don’t know. I wonder the same thing at times. But look at how you’re already influencing your–friend. One less Nazi and one more for the Kingdom, eh?”
Near the end of these months, the senior officer invited me into the barracks. Even with all those sex-starved men around me, I felt as safe with him as with my father.
They discussed an escape plan. He privately asked if I wanted to join them; I said,
“I want to, but I don’t know where I’d go. Remember, this isn’t my time. Right now my dad’s only a boy and my mom hasn’t even been born yet.”
“But if you stay here in the stalag, Bismarck may get his revenge on you sooner or later. The longer you stay, the more desperate the prisoners may get because they’re not allowed to go on leave. If you understand me.”
“But here I have clothes and food–kind of.”
“A German family might take you in. You look more waif than prisoner. Act like one, and you might be well and willingly provided for.”
“Before then I could live on berries and roots, if I have to. I hope I’d know which ones aren’t poisonous.”
“I’ll give you some pointers on survival.”
“But I could get shot! My family would never know what happened to me, and I’d die thirty years before I was born!”
Several days later, the escape still dubious, I lounged on the floor of my barracks after nightfall, praying.
(I often did this, as well as visit the chaplain to talk with him and read from his Bible and commentaries. He was pleasant, well-read and a great morale booster.)
Someone tapped on the door. I called “Herein,” thinking it futile to refuse entry: Nobody but the Kommandant could get past the guard.
A trembling Torsten entered and hastily but noiselessly shut the door.
“Torsten!” I cried. “How’d you get past the guard?”
“He is a good friend,” he said. “He is the only one who knows I love you. Do not anyone tell that I was here.”
He crept over and knelt in front of me.
“Liebchen, I do not anymore believe Hitler. I want to know for certain if he is wrong to be against the Jews. What are the Nazi atrocities?”
I told him the ones I could remember from my History and German classes. As I spoke, Torsten stared in my eyes with ever-increasing and visible horror. When I finished, he stared at the floor in silence for a moment.
Then he sprang up, turned away, and cried, “No–No, it cannot be true.”
“You say you love me,” I said. “Don’t you trust me?”
He turned back to me, shame plain on his face. “Yes–No–I do not know.”
“Do you think I could make up those things?”
“No….I do not know.” He averted his eyes.
“Will you keep on believing Hitler’s destructive, hate-filled lies, or will you believe me?”
He said “Still!” with so much force that it startled me. He rushed forward, knelt before me, and said, “You must not talk so loud. The guard is my friend, but he is also German.”
“I wasn’t that loud.”
“Still, anyway. I cannot take any chances. We should be able to speak safe if we whisper. Liebchen, tell me: Are you speaking the truth? Are these things really happening in the Konzentrationslager?”
“You mean in the concentration camps? Yes, they are.”
He snatched off his helmet and flung it onto a nearby bunk. For the first time I saw him without it:
His long-nosed face was no longer shadowed; his sky-blue eyes burned bright. His blond hair waved slightly. His face was so close to mine that I gasped.
“This uniform is a bad smell to me,” he hissed. “I am part of an army that fights for a madman and so that millions of human beings will be murdered.”
“You finally see the truth?”
“Ja. Hitler had me under a spell–I did not know all these things–No more will I be against the prisoners. I cursed them, called them names, hit them, and–put insects in their food.”
“Gross! I had no idea.”
He forced himself to say, gesturing with one hand, “My family is of Luther’s church. I should have known better. I will be better man.”
I grinned. Then he stood up.
“Ach,” he said. “Ich muß abfahren. Es wird spät.”
“It’s getting late already?” I said.
He put his helmet back on and hurried out. I kept smiling and sighing for the rest of the night.
At the next meeting, the prisoners in the escape group finalized the plan. I didn’t plan to escape with them, just watch and see if they succeeded. I wanted to have a good chance of returning home. I did say,
“There’s a guard by the gate during the afternoon who might help you. He’s sympathetic to the prisoners. Just–”
“Hang on a minute,” said an Englishman. “Which one is sympathetic?”
I described him.
“Him? He’s the worst of the lot! You should hear some of the things he says.”
My face burned. “The things he used to say. He’s not like that anymore. I’ve reversed a lot of his brainwashing.”
“Brainwashing? What is that?”
“Uh–Indoctrination with Hitler’s lies.”
“Hey, isn’t that the German chap you’ve been seen with more than once?”
My face burned even hotter. “Uh, yeah.”
“Do you two have something going on?”
“We were right, everybody, they do. That’s how she reversed his ‘brainwashing.'”
“A fellow will do anything for a dame,” said an American.
“Please, let’s leave her alone and get on with it,” the senior officer said.
They decided to have two people knock out the nearest guards while hidden by a few others; the rest would walk or stand nearby in couples or alone. They would then tell Torsten, “Machen Sie die Tür auf,” or “Open the gate.” Then the escapees would run out through the open gate and into the nearby woods. The day and time was up to the senior officer.
The next night, as I knelt in front of the mousehole begging the mouse to please stop chewing so loudly at night so I could sleep, Torsten visited me again.
“What are you doing?” he said.
I told him. “This reminds me of an old movie I saw once, King Rat, about prisoners in a World War II Japanese prison camp.”
“It’s old to me: I wasn’t even born until 1973. Anyway, they caught a couple of rats and started breeding them for meat. Not for them, of course, but they sold it to the officers without telling them what it was.”
Torsten laughed and grimaced at the same time. “That is–wie sagt man–disgusting.”
“But funny.” I stood up and turned to face him.
He came up right next to me and whispered, “Liebchen, do you think Gott will me forgive? I have gone away so far….”
My heart leaped. “Of course He will, if you truly turn away from Hitler and abusing the prisoners. He’d even forgive Hitler, if only he were to repent. God loves you, Torsten, even more than I–” I stopped.
I hadn’t meant to tip my hand like that. Torsten, encouraged, wrapped me in his arms and kissed me. I melted into it, forgetting my resolve to resist loving him.
Then he whispered, “Liebchen, I must leave before I am missed in meiner Baracke.”
The next day, as I went for a short walk with Scott–my heart too full of the memory of the night before to want to talk–the senior officer stopped us.
Scott planned to escape, so he told us both that today was the day, and the time probably in the late afternoon when the sun set. They could see, but the guards wouldn’t be able to see them so well.
I began my vigil around 4:00, Scott beside me. Making small talk, we watched the gate out of the corner of our eyes.
At about the expected time, a few prisoners quickly made Torsten the only conscious guard. They ran to him and made their demand.
He hesitated, then opened the gate far enough for them to slip out.
Scott, the other escapees, and some of the other prisoners joined them.
Guards fired on them as they rushed through the gate. One targeted Torsten.
He fell. I screamed and ran to him.
“Oh, Torsten, don’t die!” I knelt beside him and held up his head.
“The–man who me shot must have me seen open the gate,” he said.
“Don’t die! I love you too much.”
“I love you, too. You will me again see in–den Himmel.”
“But I don’t want to wait for Heaven! Where were you hit?”
“In–my chest. It is–nothing.”
“Nothing? But you’re dying!”
“Yes. It is nothing. See you–in–den Himmel, Liebchen.” He died.
Looking through my tear-clouded eyes, I closed his.
“You’ve gone to Heaven ahead of me.” I sobbed.
I couldn’t stay there. I didn’t want to find out what Germans did with the bodies of traitors. I shuddered as possibilities flashed through my mind.
At the risk of my life, I had to run.
I gently laid Torsten’s head on the ground. Blinking so the tears wouldn’t blind me, I ran out the gate.
The adrenaline rushed as I ran, fear for my life giving me extra strength as it had when I squeezed the gun out of Bismarck’s grip–a moment now seemingly years away.
I hoped the guards would not forget that I had to live.
If I can just get to the woods I’ll be safe. The trees’ll block the bullets, but they seem so far away.
Oh Torsten, Torsten, protect me! You’re not dead: You’re running beside me, shooting at my attackers every now and then.
Wishful thinking; abolish it. I’m in just as much danger as these guys ahead of me. A stray bullet could–
Scott, where are you? There you are, lying on the ground. You’re dead, you’re dead! But you’re in Heaven. With my Torsten.
I finally reached the woods, as did the senior officer and only a few of the others. We separated and kept running to keep ahead of the dogs.
We couldn’t know how many of us were yet to be captured or killed. I stopped to tear and arrange my clothes so they didn’t look so much like those of a POW.
Written January 7-14, 1943 (fancy that).