Then they came for usMature

Then they came for us

 

Spring, 1942

 

I don’t know how we had managed to survive this long, but our time was all but spent. Mia could no longer move from her bunk and I no longer had strength to help her. Soon, the Mittweida[1] would come, and this time, it would come for us.

The days before this life were all but a distant memory. All I could remember was laying in bed at night, with mein schonen engel[2] in my arms, and the day that I was taken. I will never forget the day my world was taken from me; the day I was sent to this place, and condemned to death.

 

            *                       *                       *                       *                       *

 

Autumn, 1940

I was waiting for Mia at our usual hotel room; tonight was our evening together. I heard someone at the door, and thinking it was her, I moved towards the sound. Suddenly, the door burst open, revealing three S.S. soldiers standing in its wake. “What is the meaning of this?” I demanded furiously. All at once, I found myself staring down the barrels of two S.S. guns. The third stood aside, and gestured towards the door. “Move!” he commanded. With two loaded machine guns pointed straight at me, I had no choice but to obey.

 

Down the stairs and out the front door of the hotel, there was a large truck waiting for us. Without a single word, they shoved me into the back, and slammed the tailgate shut behind me. It was dark in the back of the truck, but I could tell it was full of people. I immediately felt weak. At that moment, I knew exactly what was going on. They were transporting Jews to the work camps, and they were taking me with them.

 

I could not make sense of it. I was a rich, beautiful, pure-blooded daughter of Germany, and yet I was being treated no better than a Jewish dog. Had there been some kind of mistake? I did not belong there, huddled against the putrid, stinking bodies of the people around me. What had I done to deserve this?

 

We did not drive for long when the truck stopped, and the tailgate was lowered once more. From inside, we heard the command to move. As the last put into the truck, I was among the first to be forced out. We were at the Berlin rail station.  In front of me was a twelve carriage cattle train, large wooden boxes designed for the transportation of livestock. There were several guards posted at the doors of each cattle cart, and the one closest to us was slid open.

 

The smell from the cart was so vile; it was all I could do not to be sick; vomit, human excrement, and worst of all, the stench of death. There were dead bodies locked inside with the living.  As the door opened, the body of a young woman fell out onto the tracks. One of the guards walked towards her with his pistol drawn. The sound of gunfire shattered the silence of the night. He looked up from the corpse at his feet and jerked his head towards the open doors. “Load them”. At gunpoint, they began forcing those of us they had transported into the already over-crowded cart.

 

 I started to panic. “No, there is a mistake!” I cried. “Ich bin Deutch! Lassen sie mich gehen![3] Let me go!” The guard who had shot the woman walked over to where I was standing. He pointed to the cart with his gun. I shook my head. “You don’t understand…” His hand hit my face with the force of a hammer. He grabbed my arm and shoved me into the cart. I landed hard on the floor, while the others tried not to stand on me. “Lesbische hure![4] ” he sneered, spitting in my face as he slammed the door shut, caging us like animals.

 

I barely made it to my feet once more. I could not breathe! There was no room to move, hundreds of bodies packed tightly against one another. As I fought to stand, the guard’s words as he slammed the door shut came back to me…Lesbian whore…he knew what I was! Before tonight, my wealth and connections to the Party had kept Mia and I safe. I was able to buy the silence of anyone who suspected, blinding them to the woman in my bed at night. But if they had taken me now, even after all that, then what was to protect Mia?

 

Suddenly, a voice  broke into my thoughts. “Mama? Mama!” a child, no more than six years old, began screaming. No voice answered to comfort her. Suddenly, I understood. The woman who had fallen had been this child’s mother. She did not know, nor understand that her mama was dead. Suddenly the door to our carriage opened again, and more people were forced inside. The crush of people within the carriage became tighter and tighter, until at last the door was slammed shut and bolted once more.

 

Above the moans and cries of the other prisoners, the command came to move out. A whistle blew shrilly, and the train lurched into movement. I did not know if those imprisoned with me knew where we were going, nor did I care if they did. But I knew, and the thought terrified me…Ravensbruck.

 

*                       *                       *                       *                       *

 

I had quickly learnt the rules of survival; keep your head down, follow orders, never speak even when spoken to, and never look the guards in the eye. They were better than us, and we were never to forget it. Though these were not the official rules of the camp, they were rules that made life slightly more bearable within the camp, often meant the difference between life and death for a prisoner.

 

I also learned whom not to associate with during the daily life of the camp. We were no longer ‘people’, we were coloured triangles; green marked common criminals, while  red with the letter P branded Polish prisoners, the favoured victims of the medical experiments of the camp physicians. Lavender marked the Jehovah’s witnesses, while yellow identified the Jews. Women like Mia and myself were marked with black, along with Gypsy women and prostitutes, all of whom suffered mercilessly at the hands of the male guards who dragged us from our barracks at night for their own drunken pleasures. One thing united us…we would all soon be dead. 

 

*                       *                       *                       *                       *

 

The moment we were ordered from the train, we were forced to march the two miles from the station to the camp. I looked around me as we marched, and was surprised at the number of old women and children marching alongside me. What were they doing here? They were weak and unable to work. What good could they possibly serve? Little did I know I would soon find out.

 

Upon our arrival, we were ordered to assemble in the camp’s compound for ‘Orientation’ and to be assigned living quarters. The Aufseherin[5] walked the lines of women with lists in their hands, checking off names and assigning barracks. A woman in high rank uniform was working the row of women I was in. I would later learn her name… Oberaufseherinnen[6] Emma Zimmer.

 

I watched as she checked off the names of the women beside me, giving them a barrack number in accordance to their race or crime. I snuck a look around me, and noticed that people were being taken from the lines, elderly women, and young children. They were being sent back towards the gates, where large trucks were idling by. I was so concerned with what was happening, I did not notice that Oberaufseherinnen Zimmer had reached me.

 

“Name?” she demanded, not even looking up from the list in her hand. “Lena Strauss,” I replied turning back to face her. “Strauss, Strauss…” she murmured, searching for my name. “Ah! Eine andereschmutzigeLesben[7]!“ She spat at the ground at my feet and pointed to a building at the far end of the compound. “Sie werden dort untergebracht werden. Uniformen und Identifikationsnummern wird morgen verteilt werden. Verstehen Sie?[8]“  Without waiting for an answer, she spun on her heel and marched off, sneering in disgust at the women she passed.

 

 

We were then ordered to our bunkers, there to stay for however long we were able to survive.

 

I was astounded by what I saw the moment I walked into my bunker. It was a small building, no windows, meant to house maybe one hundred at the most. The number of faces staring back at me on that first day easily amounted to over four hundred. I did not know it then, but many that were housed with me would not survive. At the end of my first week, I would be able to name a great many of them.

 

*                              *                              *                              *                              *

 

It was on that first night I was reunited with Mia. As Fate would have it, she had been taken the day before me, and had been locked on the same train as me for an entire day before we were brought here. She had been with me the entire time, and I had not known. It was a common story among the women of Ravensbruck; if they were lucky, they would find their loved ones alive…if not; they would watch their corpses being transported to the crematorium.

 

*                              *                              *                              *                              *

 

 As I lay on my bunk that first night, wedged tightly between four other women, I heard a soft voice weeping in the dark; a voice that called my name.  I could not believe my ears! My heart leapt and sank at the sound of my beloved’s voice. I was overjoyed to know she was alive, but heartbroken that she had not escaped my fate. I hurried down from my bunk, ignoring the warning whispers of the women around me, and followed the voice of mein weinende engel[9].

 

Finding her at last, I lay down beside her and took her in my arms; just the same as before, as she wept into my chest, begging me to promise her we would survive this. I was glad for the darkness, as I could not bear to see the disappointment in her eyes as she came to realisation I could not. But the promise I did make was simple; I would do all I could to protect her, to keep her safe for as long as there was strength and breath enough left in my body.

 

*                              *                              *                              *                              *

 

Mein Gott! What kind of a monster had I been before my life here? I had once prided myself on being a pure daughter of the Fatherland, and had believed so strongly in the ideals and the power of the Reich. But now, now I saw the unveiled face of the convictions I once would have died for.

 

Winter, 1941

Mia and I saw little of each other during the day, as each of us was sent on different work detail. But when we were safe within each other’s arms, we shared with each other the stories of those who had come before us, and met their end in this dreadful place. It was after our third week that we learnt what had happened to the old women and children that had been transported with us. We were lying on our bunk; now only three to a bed, when Mia asked the woman beside us, Beta, about the children.

 

“Pray,” Beta had whispered, “that you are never put on the Mittweida!” Every woman in the barracks seemed to tremble at the word. “What is the Mittweida?” Mia asked. The entire bucker had fallen silent, listening to Beta’s horrible tale. “We hear the guards joking of the Mittweida. It is the transport used to take those who can no longer work to Uckermark[10]; the old, the sick, children…but they never make it. They are gassed to death inside the Mittweida!”

 

“And yet, they are the lucky ones!” Olga whispered. Olga and Beta were both gypsies, and had been at Ravensbruck longer than most everyone else within our bunker. They knew almost everything that went on within the camp. “What do you mean?” I asked, holding Mia tightly to me to stifle her heart-wrenching sobs. “Pity those who reach Uckermark, for they suffer more than those who are gassed. They are shut away in barracks like this one with no fresh air, no food and no water until death finally claims them.”

 

*                              *                              *                              *                              *

The silence that had followed Olga’s tale was broken only by Mia’s muffled sobs. I could not believe I had once thought that people deserved to be treated like this, just because they were different. I was ashamed to call myself German. I thought of the way they treated those like me and Mia. We were just the same as they, only our sexual appetites were of a less conventional nature. Was that really so wrong? I thought the daily treatment of women in Ravensbruck was terrible enough, little food, no medical treatment, harsh labour and brutal punishments. I had no idea what lay in store for us next…

 

*                              *                              *                              *                              *

 

Our nightly curfew had just taken effect, and the women in our bunker huddled close together, trying to keep warm under our thread-bare blankets and thin uniforms. Suddenly, our door burst open, and three drunken Blockfuhrerinnen[11] charged inside. As was expected, every woman scrambled out of bed and fell in line in front of them. The men paced before us. One stopped in front of me, then turned to Mia at my side. He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her outside.

 

I tried to pull her back from him, but the other two men grabbed me and forced me outside with them. I will never forget the scene before me.  Mia was lying on the ground in the snow with the Blockfuhrerinnen on top of her. She fought against him even as he beat her. The next thing I knew, she was screaming as he went inside her. “Wie fuhlt es sich um einen Mann in dir haben? Bin ich ein guter Fick[12]?”

 

“Lass sie in Ruhe[13]!”  I screamed, still struggling against the men that held me, forced to watch as he raped Mia in front of me. “Dumme hure[14]!” spat the man on my left, throwing me on my knees in front of him. “Warten sie,” the other said as he kicked me down onto my hands and knees. “Sie ist die Geliebte[15]!”

“Dann geht es weiter[16]!” cried the other as he tore the clothing from my body. I fought to stand but he held me down, and took me like a dog. The pain was excruciating as they took turns with us, laughing, beating us as they took us again and again. Once they were done, they just left us there, lying naked in the snow.

 

 It took all the strength I had left to get to my feet and help mia to hers. Leaning on each other for support, we stumbled back into the barracks, redressed, and lay down on our bed, trying to warm each other, trying to forget what had just happened and praying that it never would again. If we knew then that our prayers would go unanswered, we would not have bothered.

 

*                              *                              *                              *                              *

 

Spring, 1942

I don’t know how we had managed to survive this long, but our time was all but spent. We were weak; the food rations, if we got them at all were growing smaller and smaller, and almost nightly visits from the Blockfuhrerinnen robbed us of what little sleep we were able to get. Sickness and disease ran rapid through the camp, and Mia and I were not immune to its deadly effects. Mia could no longer move from her bunk and I no longer had strength to help her.

 

Now, the Mittweida comes…and it comes for us.

 

[1] Name of the truck used to transport prisoners to ‘Youth Camp’ for “rest”

[2] My beautiful angel

[3] I am German. Let me go!

[4] Lesbian whore

[5] Female Guards of the camp

[6] Chief overseer

[7] Another filthy lesbian

[8] You will be housed here. Uniforms and identification numbers will be distributed tomorrow. Do you understand?

[9] My weeping angel

[10] “Recovery” camp.

[11] Block overseers – male and female

[12] How does it feel to have a man inside of you? Am I a good fuck?

[13] Leave her alone!

[14] Stupid whore!

[15] Wait, she is the lover.

[16] Then she is next!

The End

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