Clandestine Impressions

Just as the Cholas and the Mughals dominated our 7th standard history, our 9th standard history primarily had Nazi overtones. It was during then that we were given this project. Our Social Studies teacher had asked us to do something akin to what Anne Frank had. Not perish in a concentration camp but to envisage a similar situation and document it in the ‘Anne Frank way’. 

All through my vacations, I pretended that I was a free bird. As expected, one week prior to the resumption of classes, I started pretending otherwise. Working ten hours a day so as to finish the vacation homework, I had suddenly turned into a very industrious student. It was during that week that I wrote these entries. I still remember how I held a candle under the pages to give them a yellowed and charred look. Each page was filled in with an ink pen (and not a ball point one for the sake of authenticity). I even chewed off the ends of some of the pages to signify the effect of rodents over time. Then I went to our shoe shelf and unlaced one of my shoes. I used that lace to string my 'diary' pages together with two pieces of cardboard.

There! It was finally perfect now. The diary looked shabby, dirty and a hundred years old. Mission accomplished!

When I handed over my project at the end of vacations, I felt much at peace. 
A few weeks later, we got back the projects with our scores. My peace was disrupted. It was not by the number written at the end of the diary that denoted my marks, but a remark by my teacher that read as follows: 'I would like to know the source of this tale?’ I could make out pretty easily that the remark was not a positive one. She was one of my favorite teachers after all. So, I went to ask her why she was not happy with my work. To my query, she replied," I didn't think for one moment that you would straightaway copy stuff down." I stood for a moment speechless and wondering what she was talking about. Then I spent the next few minutes making her believe that it was my own work. I had no digital copy of it then as I have now and so I couldn't run a plagiarism check to ascertain the same and make her believe me. She listened skeptically at first. But she liked me as a student. So she finally cut out her previous remark and revised my score. She wrote 12/12 and I glowed with satisfaction as I read the following comment: ‘I completely underestimated your worth!’ She even took the project to our Principal to show her my work. Finally, I was at peace. Just the way Ernst finally achieved his peace in the story that follows...

April 12, 1940

I had but half-anticipated this Germany where today, in spite of being a staunch citizen and a patriot, I am in possession of rights amounting to nought. Today, Germany has been severed, severed into races. It is reigned by tyranny and atrocity. Perfidious rogues have invaded it and are slaughtering it, in fact, have been almost successful. It’s all a raging inferno as if Satan himself has cast His shadow on our Germany in the form of the Evil alive- Adolf Hitler. It must have been the most fateful and disastrous day- August 2, 1934 when at 9 a.m., President Field Marshal Von Hindenburg died in his eighty-seventh year and Hitler smashed our democracy to smithereens. A few days later, Papen brought in Colonel Oskar Von Hindenburg’s (son of President Von Hindenburg) political treatment all in Hitler’s praise as we came to know later during the plebiscite campaign.
I’m not proud to acknowledge that I had once been a member of the German Workers’ Party. We were earlier quite an unknown and insignificant party until on a wintry day of 1919, a 40-year–old personality impressed us all with his ideas, confidence and oratory skills. Hitler was given immediate admission into the now most-loathed-and-feared group, although a few members were fretting and clearly unwilling to permit the entry of Hitler, most prominent among them was Goebbels- Joseph Goebbels, who is presently the propaganda minister of Herr Hitler.
I, too, was completely thwarted by his confidence and aim (which we only partly knew), a confidence which was disturbed and baseless, all the same, extreme. During our meetings, he always talked about taking the German Worker’s Party to new heights. He renamed our party as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party- the Nazi party in short. When he began his pursuit, originally his fanaticism and his grotesque, preposterous mission which has led to Germany’s infamed havoc and cataclysm, the Nazi party did proceed and did enter true politics. 
A few weeks later, Hitler replaced the old leader of ours. There was a spot of argument, assumably. Eventually, he designed himself a new name- ‘Fuhrer’. As days progressed, I came to doubt his intentions and then his sanity. He frequently gave his rejuvenating speeches where I first caught a whiff of the long-term plans he was concocting. As I wasn’t very sure, I abstained from communicating my ideas to any other. But when the Beer Hall Putsch took place, I completely comprehended the lunatic objective lying beneath that dwarfy demeanour. He had been initially successful and had taken everyone in the pub by surprise, drawing his desired declarations from the most prominent leaders of Germany, but the tables were turned on him when during the ambush, a leader broke free and the police came bounding in. He was arrested and imprisoned for this impertinence. But he had left no stone unturned in popularizing the slogan-“No, Not down with France! Down with the November criminals- the traitors of our Fatherland!”
The Versailles Treaty of June 28, 1919 had promulgated outrageous conditions on Germany. Apart from the demand of the incredible amount of six billion pounds, demilitarization, loss of a tenth of its population, overseas colonies, thirteen percent of its territories, seventy five percent of its iron and twenty six percent of its coal to the Allies, the War Guilt Clause held Germany responsible for the First World War. In short, Germany was totally devastated. The majority held the leaders responsible for the disgrace and termed them as “November criminals”. Fear of proletarianism reigned. People were impoverished. Probably Hitler came as a savior or appeared to be one that people voted for him and entrusted the entire blame on the “November criminals”.

April 13, 1940

Yesterday, they might have secluded me entirely, but today they made me work till I could work no more, especially that guy who had given me an abominable look when they carried Dawn’s family off to a ghetto. Anyway, I resume the tale.

A few years later, when after huge arguments and hitches, Hitler’s autobiography- ‘Mein Kampf’ was published, I was convinced of his ideology and more so, afraid of it. But it seemed, Germany was blindfolded by what I do not know but it blindly supported Hitler. Actually, he too had ensured that everything be in his favour. No, he didn’t use money, power nor was he in anyway interested in the economy of the nation. He believed if power- political power is attained, then economy improvises itself.
  What he used as his weapon to attract the masses was a sort of propaganda and publicity. He fabricated a symbol of the Nazi party- a red banner with a Swastika (it was probably a sign of the Aryans…) imprinted on it. Then he innovated the Nazi salute and the ritualized rounds of applause after the speeches of the spectacle and the rallies were over. He actually devised a new style of politics- he realized the momentousness of rituals and spectacle in mass mobilization – to orchestrate the minds of the people to follow the Nazi ideology. The Nazi magazine Voelkischer Beobachter is living proof.
His clear intent- his Weltanschauung was illustrated leisurely in Mein Kampf which he wrote while in prison. Quoting directly from the volume-  “Territorial policy can’t be fulfilled in the Cameroons but today almost exclusively in Europe. But the soil of Europe was already occupied. True, but nature has not preserved this soil for the future possession of any particular nation or race. On the contrary, this soil exists for the people which possesses the force to take it. Then the law of self-preservation goes into effect and what is refused to amicable methods, it is up to the fist to take.”
Another paragraph from page 644-
“In an era when the earth is gradually being divided up among states, some of which embrace almost entire continents, we cannot speak of a world power in connection with a formation whose political mother country is limited to the absurd area of five hundred kilometres.”

No one can actually accuse him of not putting down in writing exactly the kind of Germany he intended to make if he ever came to power and the kind of world he meant to create by armed German conquest. The blueprint of the Third Reich and what’s more of the Barbaric New Order which Hitler is inflicting on conquered Europe, is set down in all its appalling crudity at great length and in detail between the covers of the revealing book.

Although Mein Kampf became a phenomenon and hardly there was a family which experienced security without a copy of it on the table, a copy was definitely presented to the bride and the groom at their wedding and nearly every schoolchild received one on graduation from whichever school, not many people deciphered its meaning. Even after the first demonstration of Hitler’s violent form during the Blood Week, only a few were reproachful and led the revolution but the SA and the SS troopers inflicted a crushing defeat on them and a second revolution was suppressed.

April 14th, 1940

Now Hitler looked for the second highest post in the country- Chancellor. Although Hindenburg initially was absolutely against making Hitler Chancellor, external factors and the immediate Chancellor compelled him to offer the highest position in the cabinet of ministers to Hitler in 1933. A few days later, fire broke out in the Reichstag. It was actually the SA but it definitely facilitated his move. The Fire Decree of 28 February, 1933 indefinitely suspended civic rights like freedom of speech, press and assembly that had been guaranteed by the Constitution. The Communists and the Socialists were ruthlessly slaughtered.
Hindenburg’s health began to fail him and as soon as he died on August 2, 1934, Hitler took over the reins.  The famous Enabling Act was passed which entrenched dictatorship in Germany.
It gave Hitler all the powers to sideline the Parliament and rule by decree. All political parties and trade unions were banned except for the Nazi party and its affiliates. The state established complete control over the economy, the media, the army and the judiciary.
I had already resigned from the party for my views were absolutely opposed to the building of concentration camps which began before Hitler’s accession of the President’s post.

April 15th, 1940

Poor No. 2000 died of exhaustion. There is an intense longing in me to give them the old one two but there is an uncanny silence. No one is prepared to stand up for the other. I just wish to get a glimpse of how you all are doing, Anna. I hope you are safe. Is boy Jason alright? But who am I asking my questions to? Lord doesn’t seem to have His word here. I heard cemeteries had been destroyed by the SS yesterday. But before the guttering candle paves the path to its own destruction, I ought to quickly note things down.
Hitler assigned the responsibility of economic recovery to the economist Hjalmar Schacht who aimed at full production and full employment through a state-funded work-creation programme. This project produced superhighways and the people’s car, the Volkswagen. In foreign policy also, Hitler acquired quick successes. He pulled out of the League of Nations in 1933, reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936 and integrated Austria and Germany in 1938 under the slogan, ‘One people, One empire and One leader.’ He then went on to wrest German-speaking Sudentenland from Czechoslovakia and gobbled up the entire country. In all of this, he had the unspoken support of England, which had considered the Versailles verdict too harsh. These quick successes at home and abroad seemed to reverse the destiny of the country.
However, Hitler did not stop here. Schacht had advised Hitler against investing hugely in rearmament as the state still ran on deficit financing. Cautious people, however, had no place in Nazi Germany. Schacht had to leave.
Nazi ideology is synonymous with Hitler’s worldview. According to this, there is no equality between people but a racial hierarchy. In this view, blond blue-eyed Nordic German Aryans are at the top while Jews are located at the lowest rung. They are regarded as an anti-race, the arch-enemies of the Aryans. All other coloured people were placed in between depending upon their external features. Hitler’s racism is borrowed from thinkers like Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. Darwin was a natural scientist who explained the creation of plants and animals through the concept of evolution and natural selection. Spencer later added the idea of survival of the fittest. But Darwin never advocated human intervention in what he thought was a purely natural process of selection. However, his ideas were used by Hitler to justify imperial rule over conquered peoples. The Nazi argument is simple: the strongest race would survive and the weak ones would perish. 
The other aspect of Nazi ideology is related to the geopolitical concept of ‘lebensraum’ or living space. He believed that new territories had to be acquired for settlement.

April 17th, 1940

I think someone suspected my writing this. So, I declined from writing yesterday. I will have to find a new hiding place for this. The beasts starved me…filthy mongrels besmirching our nation.
I now embark on my own tale and how I landed here in the Dachau concentration camp.
My withdrawal from the Nazi party did not much appeal to Hitler, perhaps because I knew too much about the concentration camps, the SA, the SS and the secret negotiations with Ludendorff, but I was adamant. I couldn’t bear the brute’s ideas of anti-Semiticism and the merciless and savage murders of millions of Jews, gypsies, blacks, Russians and Poles who were just a few of the fifty-two types of his victims.
But his hatred of Jews and his abominable character were atrocious, which is proved by the fact that he admired Julius Streicher- a famous fornicator who blackmailed the husbands of women who were his mistresses, made his fame as a blindly fanatical anti-Semite and a noted pornographer whose weekly Der Stuermer’s obscenity was nauseating.
The Enabling Act was not passed yet but I knew I was already very late. Hitler didn’t say much and fortunately for me, allowed me to leave. It was quite incredible that he let me “free”. His countenance doesn’t portray this sort of large-heartedness. But I was relieved. I got back home and told Anna, my wife, the good news. She was dead worried and agitated about all this. She had warned me not to get into any kind of mess. At least she was glad now. But there was a huge constraint. My wife’s best friend, childhood pal was Dawn- a Jew. On no account would Anna ever forsake Dawn and her family whose lives were in grave jeopardy courtesy of Adolf Hitler. When the Nuremberg Laws of Citizenship of September, 1935 came out, I was forewarned of the danger that awaited the Jews. So I advised Dawn and her family to go into hiding. But where??
Concentration camps had already been established at Dachau near Munich, Sachsenhausen near Berlin, Buchenwald near Weimar and also in Ravenbruck for women. Hitler had started sending Jews to ghettos where pathetic conditions prevailed. No traces of the basic necessities, the ghettos especially at Lodz and Warsaw, were brimming with poverty and hunger. The poor prisoners had to wear a Yellow Star of David on their breasts. I couldn’t let this happen to them. They were almost a part of us.
But before I could think of an efficient plan, the SA arrived to transfer them to a ghetto. I was simply hapless. I had neither resources nor power. My five-year-old son Jason grabbed Max’s (David’s son) hand and tried dragging him back into the lawn. Schleider, an SA official, broke them apart and glared at me. I forcibly took Jason by the hand as he clung to me, wailing like anything. 
As the freight car lurched forward and Anna, her eyes bloodshot, carried Jason back into the house, fear gripped me. They had already taken the first step to death- ‘the final solution’ as Hitler termed it. 
“I have to do something,” I thought feverishly. But there was nothing that could possibly be done. It was impossible to redeem their family without demonstrating our concern for them and who knows, Hitler might pass another law on the morrow banning even eye contact with the Jews? Well, it did happen but a few months later. As soon as I got back home, I unwillingly imposed innumerable restrictions on my family for the sake of their own safety for I was dead sure Hitler would do something dreaded of that ilk.

April 18th, 1940

Their suspicions were confounded. How I wish I could see my family! The hitch is I know the entire plan by heart. I know the secret passages and tunnels and if someone follows me, I will put them all in severe peril. It seems I will have to take the secret with me to the grave, that is, if the Nazis are merciful enough.
Amidst the dark dreary times that prevailed, I had a little luck. As I sat in a nearby pub pondering over how to safely send my family out of this dreaded criminal state and rescue Dawn and her family from the SA’s perilous clutches, a well-dressed person came and sat beside me. He was well-built and blond. His face was lined, considering his pleasant conduct and his young voice as he ordered a drink. His brows were contracted and formed a long thin line. He had an air of consternation and possibly shock about him. Suddenly, with a ringing pang of recognition and amazement, I uttered, “Kubizek!”
Yes, it was he- August Kubizek, Hitler’s childhood buddy and probably the only friend he ever had, for his fellow Nazis were merely footholds to reach his aim. Kubizek sprang from his brown study and stared hard at me. I introduced myself as an ex-Nazi.
He smiled, a smile of mingled pity and concern. He leant forward and asked me, "Do you think what he is doing is right? Isn’t it a havoc he is wreaking on Germany?”
“He considers himself the master, is the master, as a matter of fact," I said. “A callous, heartless master, for that matter.”
“Did you, by any chance, attend the Eternal Jews Exhibition in Munich?” 
I shook my head.
“Well, I did. And you wouldn’t believe it. One of the segments was- ‘Jewish dress was a warning against racial defilement.’ Then there was – ‘Usury and the fencing of goods were always their privilege.’  There was another painting depicting a grotesque imitation of a Jew (didn’t in the least resemble a Jew honestly) sitting on a tottering pile of money. Then…what was the other one…oh yes! ‘Jews differ from us in body but especially in soul.’ I don’t know what he means by all this.”
“He means war, he means being the lord, the superior. Anyway I thought you were sensible enough not to spill out your thoughts here. It’s quite unsafe.”
“This is the most popular German pub in town and it's as crowded as possible. The chances of overhearing such whispered tones are next to nothing.”
“The most atrocious thing was the burning of books. My ears fail to conceive it. It's simply unbelievable- Einstein, Wells, Freud, Mann, London..all in flames.”
“Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too (Heine).” I shrugged.
Then I suddenly had an idea.
“Where are the Jews from Munich being kept, in which concentration camp, I mean? Have you any idea?”
“Probably in Dachau.”
There was a short pause.
Then he asked, "Saw the sign ’Judenfrei’? Friend, play safe,” he warned. “Do not mess about…” 
They sat together for a while. Then Kubizek finished his drink and left.

April 19, 1940

All through the next three days and nights, I racked my brains. The next morning, I broke my resolution of never ever donning the Nazi uniform. It was a perilous job that I had decided to do. But it had to be done anyhow.
On my way, I saw Goebbels trying hard to convince people to boycott Jewish-owned businesses as a response to the anti-German “atrocity propaganda” being spread abroad by “international Jewery” as he reiterated a thousand times while the SA blocked the entrance to a Jewish-owned store. Their signs read: ‘Deutfche! B3ch Buch! Stauft nicht bei Juden!’
I turned a block and again found myself in the midst of a demonstration where the Nazi officers were forcing three Jewish businessmen to march down the block carrying signs that read: ‘Kauff nicht bei Juden. Kauff in deutschen Geschaffen!’
All around was nothing but a heinous and an inhuman atmosphere where barbarity reigned.
But my resolution was strengthened tenfold.
As I neared Dachau, I stopped abruptly. What could be the height of repugnance? The sight was much more than appalling and revolting. It sickened me. The SS were jeering and laughing uncontrollably as a poor creature with a blackened face and shaved head walked with her gown sweeping the street and a placard hanging around her nape-‘I have sullied the honour of my nation.’
Hatred rose in me such as I had never known before. I sorely wished to kill the cold-blooded sadistic SS officers sniggering at the poor woman. But I bit back the wild idea. I had a mission to accomplish.
There was just one little, minuscule improvement- my determination was fortified hundredfold now.
I reached the Dachau concentration camp. The place was indescribable. In a far corner, there was a sky-scraping pile of shoes. The place was nefarious and infernal. Extreme affliction, tribulations and agony had cadaverized the prisoners. They seemed to be living corpses. Had I unknowingly ended up in the netherworld? Execution and death would have spelled relief and redemption to them. I doubt they had ever experienced happiness.

The prisoner roll call was just about to end. There were two major hindrances to my task- to disguise myself as a Nazi and second, to find Dawn’s family.

I pricked my ears- No. 1078…1079. I noticed something peculiar. No. 1078 had a triangle badge on his chest whereas No. 1079 sported a star badge, apart from a gigantic red ‘J’ stuck to the bosoms of some people. I peered into the faces of all the prisoners for a single recognizable face.
Suddenly my heart gave a jolt as my eyes fixed on the wretched boy- Max’s face which was darkened now by a deathly pallor in place of his lively smile. I snatched him from an SA officer who tried to kick him in the shins. The officer stared but I quickly prepared an excuse that I would give him a much more painful job. He went away reluctantly as if his prey had slipped and no more would he be able to taste its blood.
I took him to a secluded place and asked him where his parents were. And how soothed I was to know that they were in the same camp but numbers 1235 and 1240! I took him to a more sequestered place which I had visited a few days back and instructed him to dig a tunnel.
As I strode towards little kids digging ditches with the tormentors sneering at them and amusing themselves, I heard no. 1198 being called out. I waited with bated breath, my heart pounding fiercely. No. 1230…1231…1232…1234 (with a triangle badge) and then yes, that was it…No. 1235. But the poor devil was wan and ashen with fear. Dawn looked as white as a ghost. As I took in her appearance, no. 1240 was announced. The same pallid and pasty complexion of Kladno Schmidt greeted me. I was filled with gloom.
But the memory of all the brutalities I had witnessed and was witnessing provided me with a steel will. I directed them to the place where their son was laboring.
“Dawn…Kladno…this is me, Ernst! Anna is at home. I have done all the arrangements. Take this,” I said, handing them a map and a plan. “And dig this tunnel while I keep guard. There’s no time. They might call you anytime.” 
I felt glad as I saw some of the colour return to Dawn’s cheeks. They were still speechless but their paleness had vanished. I continued,” You have been registered as Lippstadts. This tunnel, if prepared well, would lead to our attic. All of you will thereon be “pure-bloods” as distant cousins of Anna. Leave the country. After you have made a good part of the tunnel, get inside and I will cover it declaring you dead and when you reach the attic, cover this whole passage so that none is able to discover your means of escape.”
Kladno began,” I don’t know how to thank—“
“No, please…”
We stared at each other lovingly for a few seconds which seemed like eternity. Then a distant shout roused us and we set to work.
As I kept guard, I watched other Jews at forced labour constructing a wall. I heard the SA saying it will seal them in. Another group of people were taken off to the woods for the last time. One of the Nazis I saw, kicked a Jew and all the others doubled up with laughter.
Half an hour later, an officer came to me and said, “Ah! Now the Jewish women will be required to add Sarah and men Israel to their names on all legal documents including passports. They will realize it- the usurers!”
“And," another one dropped in. “Hitler talked about using Zyklon-B. They’d be killed in seconds.”
“Yesterday, we burnt a synagogue!” he resumed proudly.
“I think I will make them get on with their hands and knees and scrub the floor.”
“Best of Luck!”
I had kept silent all through this “humble” outburst. I waited till everyone had gone and then after an hour or so, Kladno returned. He said, “They are safe and I am going to block this. Don’t be late. We will be waiting for you.”
“Don’t take risks! Flee! I am a German. I will be safe. All the best!”
And for the last time, I smiled at him.
As soon as he disappeared, I threw in the mud and stones and what-nots to “bury them alive”, so to speak.
My work was complete. I had been successful. I heaved an enormous sigh of relief. In an hour, they will all be out of this hell and I will get back as soon as possible.
I turned, my face flushed with happiness. My relief must have shown that it made an SS ask me what had caused it.
“I just buried three Jews alive,” I lied.
“Really! Commendable work!” he exclaimed.
“Well, let’s not spare a moment. Let’s de-skin them. I will bring the weapons. We will use the bones of the swines.”
A stab of fear shot through me.
“Well well…why the hell? Why give them that fortune? Let them perish.”
But it was not to be.
As expected, when they dug it all up, they didn’t find a thing.
I could not escape. But I am glad I did an anti-Nazi act. I know I will be executed a day later.
But to be honest, I actually don’t care a darn…

I am glad I typed it out.
I can barely read the words now.

April 20th, 1940

Today, during the roll call, No. 2011 let out incomprehensible things through gritted teeth, “Just half an hour I want to live, just half an hour once the Nazi dispensation ends...”
He was probably frustrated; after all, he will be taken to the gas chamber today. The Nazis have some triangle patch identifier sort of thing. They also have specific clothes. After the roll call, I saw a Jew forced to stand without moving and when I came to the same place at midday, he was still immobile.
Forced labour is so common. I believe, it has become a habit.
But the thing of greatest surprise was Hitler himself came to visit me. That dwarf of a thing said to me, with a very pronounced sneer, “You know what happens to traitors in my country...”
I screeched, “Your country?? It’s a hell you have made of Germany! You think you will reign for a thousand years? I bet you will barely manage a few more ! You are detestable- a devil in human flesh! I am ashamed to say that I was once a member of the Nazi party.”
He stood speechless but his face betrayed his rage. He said with forced calm, “Do you know you will be killed tomorrow without anyone’s knowledge? So, better tell me their whereabouts.”
I was filled with amazing energy at this point. I could have pounced on him. I wished to trample him.
“No, I will be freed today and as for the whereabouts, rack your puny brain all you can for you will get nought out of me!” I shouted and it gave me immense satisfaction to see him furious. We looked at each other for a moment and then he walked away, that dwarf running our nation!

I won’t write how, when and where I arranged for my family and friends. If this gets discovered before I want it to, they, too, will be in jeopardy. You might be wondering why this change of ink. Well my ink was exhausted. So, my pocket knife was worked on my hands and here is the result.
My story ends here. My watch shows 12:01 am. I shall commit suicide. It is a zillion times better than being killed at the hands of the Nazis. I will keep this diary in the milk bottle next to me for posterity to discover it.

I love you my dear Anna. All this is for you and Jason, my boy, you were a light, my only source of comfort in this dingy dark place.
Wish Kladno, Dawn and Max the most beautiful future possible!
And well, how could I forget? Isn’t it 20th April?
Indeed, it is Hitler’s birthday. I bet he will celebrate it lavishly at the cost of billions of lives. Wish Adolf Hitler the most painful death possible…
Wish him Hell…

Now I am tired. My blood is shed. I go to a long sleep, a sleep of liberation…

Those carefully burnt pages-
some of a darker yellow tint than the rest.

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