Belzec

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After enduring Chelmno, we showed up at Belzec. We were told Hitler was so sorry that he couldn't get us to it back in March for its Grand Reopening - as we had missed it by almost a month precisely - but, he explained, the killing center had been packed with guests. I could almost hear the horrifying laugh that he had reverberating in my head.

As in Chelmno, Italia and I were part of the Sonderkommandos, and therefore again, we worked with the killing center. Unlike Chelmno though, Belzec had true gas chambers versus killing cars, allowing it to be more "effective". Otherwise, they were the same-same gassings, same mass graves-and I was several years beyond being impressed by the Nazi numbers the camps produced regarding killing efficiency. As I had spent days reflecting on at Chelmno, I had learned long ago that the Jew was not my enemy, but rather a part of my people; but instead of stopping my boss then and there, I was still regretting every second of not doing so here and now.

Yet we worked, the same as before - though this time no one offered Italy the choice of shoot, or be shot. Instead, we worked tirelessly all day, slept fitfully all night, performed the morning run to deem if we were still fit - luckily, some people were always slower, so Italy falling behind and me hanging back with him never seemed to be the worst thing - and then we worked all day again. Slowly, I stopped waking up to receive a (albeit, small) but still ever-present (though drained) smile from Italy. No, instead I began to wake up to a face lying next to me on the bunk that held the zombie-like glow the camps gave you, with empty eyes, hollow cheeks, and a tormented soul. God, I knew that brutal trick so well, had seen it on countless other victims when I ran the camps, had seen it even in my own face returning from work.

But then, I had always had a wonderfully bright and cheerful Italian to shake me away from the pain of the day, and to hold me if I ever woke from the nightmares at night. He had never asked why or what, and I never wanted him to even catch a glimpse to know, and yet here we were. Stuck in one of my nightmares come alive. Every night, Feliciano was just one of hundreds of people who could not sleep soundly in such a place as this, instead crying out or screaming even. And it was now me that held him from his nightmares, and me that had to maintain optimism, and me who had to keep him going on like everything was alright.

And I was beginning to fear I may never see him smile ever again.

It wasn't long after we arrived that the inevitable happened. I tripped in front of one of the guards, stumbling over the feet of the body I was dragging. The guards took this as an invite to beat me while I was inactive, and there was little I could do to avoid their swift kicks and jabs, as I attempted to regain my footing despite the assault. However, they saw little fun in that, and would sweep my feet out from under me before I could walk off again - for people who were supposed to be making me work, they cared little if I missed a few minutes at the expense of their fun.

 Eventually, I stopped trying and instead laid there while they lashed out at me repeatedly, waiting for some sort of satisfactory response I did not give them.

At least, not until a little copper-haired Italian attached himself defensively to my side. Already, he was weeping hysterically over the abuse being dealt to me, seemingly not even pausing to breathe amid his desperate cries - up until a guard kicked him in the stomach and Feliciano lost all his breath and ability to generate sound in that one moment. They laughed, and kicked him once more, chuckling at his face twisting slightly and his eyes squinting closed, about to do it again.

Promptly, I switched our positions, shifting petite Feli under me so that the men could no longer manage to harm him. This produced the effect that was to be expected: assuming I was trying to get off on him right in front of them, in the middle of the camp  - for that is how grotesque the homosexual really was - they only invigorated their efforts to cripple one of us, until at last their ears were met with a resounding crack, and they ceased for just a moment to watch as Veneziano yet again panicked, calling out my name as I tried to feel if the rib had punctured anything when it broke under the connection with the steel-toed boot that had fractured it.

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