The Night of Broken Glass
The night was unusually still. A feeling of anticipation crept through the ranks, and I was faintly aware of all the men around me, shuffling with excitement and nervousness. The November gusts were bone chilling, the air was as thick as paste, yet not even this nor the feeling of foreboding could deter us from our objective. Shivers flooded up and down my spine, and I forgot what I was doing just standing in the bleary, damp camp.
Without notice, a whistle pierced the night. The shrill, high pitched note reverberated off the barracks' walls, the only sound signifying the poor people's impending doom. A murmur of life sprang through the ranks of men, and we all began our unwavering march onwards towards the city. Our hauptsturmführer was to lead us directly into the heart of Berlin.
The sure-footed steps of my SS unit clapped through the streets, with a wave of superiority emanating throughout the narrow roads. I tried to reassure myself that I was going to be fine, that nothing would befall myself, that it was only a job. Personal feelings were subdued as I repeated over and over: it's only a job.
Soon, after several turns and being forced to march faster, we came to our destination. It was a predominately Jewish community, with it's own synagogue standing proudly at the far end of the block. It's only a job, I thought again, shoving any humane thoughts out of my mind. It's just a job.
My obersturmführer jogged over to me as we broke ranks and split into our squads. He told me to have my squad and I "secure" the house second on the left. Clicking my heels and saluting, he nodded quickly in response and I turned away. A faint feeling of sickness filled my abdomen, and bile rose in my throat, but quickly receeded. It's only a job. I broke my squads into two groups, one for each of the two doors at the front of the house. I wonder how they feel about this, looking at my squad members. All were grinning eagerly.
How is this right? How is it right that we must choose others' fates so painfully? People whom we don't know, people we do know, people who have nothing left but their innocence. How is it right that we get to undertake in the destruction of the livelihood of so many, yet they have no say in the outcome?
The hinges of tens of doors groaned and snapped as they were kicked or battered inwards. Almost simultaneously, glass shattered into millions of tiny pieces as soldaten threw bricks and rocks through the stores owned by people of Jewish descent. I ran past the oberschütze who had kicked down the door for half my men, and ran for the stairs, leading my men to the night of horrible fate- fate decided by us, yet not for us.
My body lined with sweat, I begin to take the stairs. Sweat began to pour into my eyes, my heart pounded, and red flashed across my stinging eyes. I was halfway up the stairs when time seemed to blur. Thirteen horrible steps, each taunting me to run faster to that horrible fate I was destined to act out. I came to the top of the flight. Thirteen is not a lucky number, and time came back to normal.
Instincts told me to turn left, so I did what my gut feeling told me to do. I barreled down the tiny corridor, thundering past doors left and right. I halted to a stop at the last door on the right and ripped through the doorway, like a man possessed by every horrible demon imaginable.
My sight having been blurred, I search along the wall for a lamp table. Having found it in the corner, I fumbled with the switch for a few seconds, then finally got the bulb to flicker to life.
As my eyes adjusted to the new source of bright light, I jumped backwards into the wall, for I had found myself staring straight into the eyes of a man not so much younger than myself, his green eyes vivacious and dancing with life. They searched my uniform, and after having glanced at my SS collar patch were immediately filled with hatred- and respectable fear. But his eyes also had an inquisitive look on it, one that seemed very familiar, as if asking why? Why me? Why have you chosen MY fate, when it is up to God to decide that?
Only a few seconds passed, but it felt like an hour. I searched his eyes more deeply and found feelings of compassion, of charisma, of honesty. I saw into his soul and felt horrified at what I knew I must now do. I had to, I reminded myself: it's only a job.
My rifle whipped through the air, as if on a pendulum. It hit the young man hard and solid on the side of his head, with a dull crack reporting the blow. My head suddenly burst into pain and remorse.
I saw my mother in the kitchen, preparing a wonderful meal for my family.
My head grew hotter.
I saw my father sitting in the study, reading the newspaper solemnly.
Searing hot liquid ran down my throat as I bit into my tongue.
I saw my neighbor, a Jew who happened to be the Rabbi at the local synagogue in my neighborhood.
Pain tore at my eyes, threatening to rip them out.
I saw the Rabbi's daughter walking next to me, smiling, laughing, holding my hand as the sun set in the distant mountains.
I released my pent up anger, howling with rage and frustration I was sure would never be matched by a man, and began to bludgeon the young Jewish man on the chest and sides with the butt of my rifle.
Why? Why must all this be done?
One of his ribs cracked under a swift blow underneath his right breast.
I can't do this, I WON'T do this, I just don't understand.
His shoulder ripped out of it's socket as he tried rolling away and a blow landed solidly under his armpit.
I have lived with these people all my life, I have shared pain and memories with these people... I have loved these people without so much as a whisper of hesitation.
Blood spattered on my uniform and skin as I redirected my blows towards his face. The rich red liquid poured from his mouth freely, for his jaw had been fractured so badly that bone jutted out underneath his cheek. He was still miraculously alive, his chest breathing shallowly and with obvious hesitation and effort, which was expected when most your ribs are shattered into so many fragments.
I crouched low next to his body, the bile rising back into my mouth, but this time I could not hold it. Shuffling to one of the corners of the rooms, I heaved as the contents of my stomach sickly spewed onto the floor.
I then remembered that I was not the only one. I turned my attention to the surrounding area, and heard the screams of women, the shouts of men, and the wails of children. All of them innocent, all of them helpless.
I looked at the window and saw flames shooting out into the midnight sky from a Jewish grocery store. Two Jews ran out of the inferno, a husband and a wife, both burned badly. I saw three fellow SS troops run over to them, a schütze, an oberschütze, and their commanding unterscharführer. Instead of helping them, or at least stopping the pain quickly by ending their lives, they all began to barrage them with heavy blows from their rifles. Sickened, I turned my attention to the room- the room of dreadful fate.
The room was bare, with a cot in one corner and the lamp table in the opposite one. No items adorned the walls except for a blue Star of David above the bed. The floor had no carpeting, just wide, dark floorboards. Blood ran along the crevices naturally created when placing the floorboards, and that's when I remembered the defeated man lying flat on the floor.
I crept towards him and looked at him. The breathing had stopped. I checked his pulse and found no sign. I looked into his eyes, searching for the same vibrant eyes I had just gazed into but two minutes ago. There was no sign of his soul remaining in his eyes, for they were dull and blank. They now only spoke one word: Why?
It was only a job, I thought, head throbbing, It was only a job.
Memories blurred past my weeping eyes, memories of brighter times, memories of dramatic times, memories of love, and memories of hate. All I heard was the shattering of fragile, innocent glass. Then, rather peacefully, everything went pitch black.
As black as the night of broken glass.