Chelmno

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As we were promised, we were on the very small work detail at the death camp Chelmno. We were hardly there three  months, but in that time I saw Feliciano fade fast, worn raw and lifeless from the task of emptying the kill vans and burying the bodies of thousands of Jews in the mass grave sites day after day. The guards had obviously been told we were special prisoners, as we were not shot when it came time to change the people in the work groups, as they grew bored of the others. Truly, they seemed to enjoy us.

Chelmno was an execution camp-I had been forced to oversee its construction in 1941. It was used largely for Jews and political prisoners. And though we were marked with a red triangle too, it overlapped our pink ones-the only pink ones at Chelmno.

I knew as soon as my boss came into my house and he saw Feli and I, that we were to deal with the concentration camps, and-more specifically-we were to endure the treatment given to homosexuals in the concentration camps. All I could do was try to keep Feli by my side at night, and hope the guards were not going to get drunk and want to do target practice or receive favors from either of us. Because when it came down to it, they knew Feli would be more fun to harass than me-he wasn't nearly as strong as I was, and would therefore break quickly and scream, just for them to laugh at his alarm.

Once, they had been shifting bodies from the vans and had come across one Jew still alive. This in itself was not unusual-the guards only pumped the carbon monoxide for a certain length of time, so occasionally we found some people still alive when we were putting the bodies in the grave.

The difference in this time was that the guard who should have shot him instead handed his gun to Italy with an order to shoot or be shot. Italy had dropped the gun almost the instant it was handed to him though, shaking and staring at it as it lay on the ground. The guards had laughed and kicked him, sending him sprawling to the ground next to the gun with the command to pick it up, and fire. I had lunged forward with full intentions of teaching the men not to ever dare touch my Feli ever again, but a gun leveled to his sweet and innocent head stopped me in my tracks. The guard just grinned, then kicked Feliciano in the stomach again. Feli groaned, looking up at the guard in fear as he stood over him.

This time, as he reached to grab Feli to haul him to his feet and shove the gun back into his hands, I instead reached down and plucked the metal instrument from where it lay. I didn't glance at it or the Jew when I fired-this was the habit I still had from having Hitler as a boss all those years. From having to oversee hundreds of concentration camps; thousands of prisoners.

Casting the gun to the ground at the feet of the guard, I cradled Italy in my lap, letting him cry into my shoulder out of shock and fright, until we were forced to our feet and beat apart by the guards who had quickly tired of their game and instead chose to force us back to burying the bodies in the ditches  we had dug.

All I could think the rest of that day was, this was just like being back under the command of Hitler, running the camps.

I had flashbacks to horrendous times, when I had had to tear families apart, execute innocent people, destroy beautiful lives and terminate "inferior" races. And to what end: why? Because a madman had promised glory and power, and I had been terrible enough to accept him in order to get it. And once I had discovered how horrific and wrong everything was-the camps, the war, the prisoners, the invasions and the genocide-it was too late. The people were still blind to it-or, far worse, they did not care; they still believed the lies and saw such ghastly acts and revolting things as "justified"-so there was nothing I could do: orders were orders, and my boss still held the power of my country and the support of my population. And even when they began to grow uneasy, or-swiftly so-downright terrified, they backed him to protect themselves from his insanity.

Each time I handled a body, I thought back to all the ones I had created; everyone I had coldly sent to one death or another. I couldn't help but wonder if any of the faces of the corpses were ones I should recognize: if that man had looked up at me with hatred as I shoved him into an already-crowded train destined for doom; if that woman had begged for the life of her child, only to have both of them sent to a gas chamber; if that little girl had asked me once in German or Polish or Dutch why she could not keep her doll.

I knew Italy longed to know what it was that drained the color from my face and dimmed my soul-despite how eroded he was himself-but he chose to not ask and remain oblivious whenever he saw the glazed look in my eyes. Instead, he would chastely plant a bittersweet kiss upon my lips, and we would fall asleep trying to hold onto our humanity in those first horrific three months; pretending to be anywhere else, and nearly succeeding while keeping the other safe in our arms.

At least, until we would wake up to our nightmares again for another day of work.

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