The Wall (New Story)
This is a story I wrote set in WWII from the eyes of a German officer. This is done through a series of letters written in his hand.
I know it's somewhat lengthy but I've considered lengthening some of the letters or adding a few more to break up the length of time between dates. All dates though have a purpose.
Thank you if you take the time to read this.
Today is not the first I have felt the unwelcome embrace of this war and now I think I will begin addressing this journal to you, as the man I am will be more comfortable expressing the current state he is in to the kind ear of his wife. It has been nearly a week since my company was reassigned to this section of Warsaw and as their Hauptmann it is an awful direction in which I must lead them. The Polish resistance has grown unexpectedly, pushing several of our troops into retreat. I am just one of many sent to crush the fight in these people in whom I see a desire of more strength and purity than that of my own countrymen. They stand against one man’s hatred surrounded by the rubble and ash of their own homes and we must take even that from them.
This is not the war I’ve chosen to fight, meine Liebling and I fear that if you were able to come through the door to this room you would not recognize the man bent over this book as the same as your husband. I don’t believe I would recognize myself either if I could look upon me. You seem to be at a greater distance than ever before and it has been an even longer time since I’ve seen Munich, but no, I think I would not want to see our home as I suspect it is now just another pile amongst piles.
In the morning, a short few hours from now, I will take a group of my men to search many of the abandoned buildings in the northern section of the city. What we find empty, we will burn and I need the few hours of sleep the night will allow me. So I must leave you briefly and hope to return to you soon with better news but more likely with no lighter conscience.
15 Sept. 1944
This city has the magic to turn three weeks into years. In less than a month the world has begun to close in from all around us. The Americans are making fast progress and have reached the Westwall, the Russians are close but have yet to offer support for the uprising. I think it’s only a matter of time and do not know whether to celebrate or dread the moment when these two walls will meet. I do not know what I will be facing when it comes but no matter what that may be, this war must end.
I am also without words for my company who are often at conflicting points of confidence and insecurity. Most nights this is after the men who are on duty wonder the halls with their flasks and a joke turns one man sour. I find one of them, Private Werner, unsettling and if I am completely honest, it is surprising he hasn’t yet broken a heel with the rigid salute he gives me every morning as if the sound of his boots reassures him of his allegiance. He talks of Germania and the pure race as if that was the war we were still fighting. Certainly he must see some weakness in me. I try not to show clearly the disgust I feel, but I cannot fake an enthusiasm for such ideals any longer.
Tomorrow night, Werner will not be on watch and I plan to use this time to explore more of this building. It would not surprise me if it were only in my mind, but some nights while I’m lying in my bed or in the bath, I think I hear something moving above me. Possibly a mouse that has gotten between the floorboards upstairs, but if there is any spot for weakness or secrecy, I should find out why someone feels that they must be so quiet. Truly, I hope to just find the mouse.
I will think of you 'til sleep.
9 Nov. 1944
I have not forgotten you, but the events of this last month or more have kept me beyond occupied and my pen away from the page. The Polish uprising has come to an end. Die Fuehrer's inhumane empire is crumbling around us brick by brick, nation by nation...torn apart by those who are being liberated and have decided to take up arms of their own. I hear they have won Belgrade where cousin Lanzo is, if he has not already fled. There is a part of me that wishes I could to return to '38 before the war was declared and warn myself, tell myself, Listen to your wife. Listen to her and go with her across that ocean to her family in Pennsylvania. What more did I need of the army? They should not have been the last faces you looked upon, but mine, cooling your skin from the hot sweat if I had not caught the fever and gone with you. I hope you dreamt of me, Vreni, because not a morning or night since you left has passed without my forgetting where I am. For in that moment of waking or just before sleep, I imagine myself beside you and you are well, full of color, and alive.
But there is a sadder, yet more triumphant event I must tell you about. Meine Vreni, I have found my mouse. For he is no mouse at all, but a man- ein Jude. How could a single Jewish man have survived after all this time without being detected? The night after I had written you last, I waited until a few hours before dawn to search the floor above this one. Room after room, closets, doors, under beds, behind dressers, I found nothing and decided to sit quietly in the hallway. There are no lights upstairs so I ran my torch along the baseboards waiting to see something scurry past the light. It was then that I noticed the layout of the floor. There was no room above where my bath would be. I went over to the window and put my head out to see where this side of the building ended but it continued far past where the wall was. I walked over to the wall as if I would be standing at my bathroom door on the floor below and put my ear to it. I cannot tell you how long I stood there before the draft I thought I heard finally turned into a breath. Now that I know he is there, I can imagine him in the same position as I, listening with his ear directly on the other side, trying to slow his breathing into silence.
It took me quite a while, but I found a panel in the wall that bent with my weight and after a few pushes finally popped open. No more than a foot wide. I could not see much of the inside. There was a small window high on the wall that lit the doorway and not much else. I turned my light on the man in the corner. He looks younger than myself, maybe twenty-five, barely thirty if close, but his body has become so shriveled he could convince you he was twice that. I only took a step in, noticing he held a pair of scissors hidden against his leg; if I were him, I would not have hesitated.
Our talk was slow and he did not answer many of my questions, but I have learned a lot. He used to live in the ghetto and had been hiding here a couple of months before we arrived. I told him I could hear him over my bath and he said he tried to only move about when the water was running in the pipes or he figured mostly everyone to be asleep. When I asked him how he managed while we've been here he sat quiet for a long time. I told him I saw no food in the room. A soldier, he said. Then he pulled a green canteen from under his blanket. He refills this twice a week and brings me parts of his dinner. Some of the food has gone bad.
This excites me to know that one of my men has shown mercy to this poor man. He has seen the harder side of combat than any of my company and deserves every last comfort we can allow him in the world we are now a part of. As much as I wish to know the name of the German, I do not ask. I do not want to risk either of our intentions in fear that we will be exposed and the man behind the wall will be forgotten. I ask him if he has enough food for two nights and tell him I will return then. I can tell he does not trust me and can hear him quietly breathing back tears when I replace the panel.
Oh my Vreni, what can a man do in a world like this.
28 Nov. '44
I cannot tell you what were are doing here anymore. Some days I feel we do nothing but wait for the Russians to come put us out of our misery and I am sure this will be soon. More dead and wounded return each and every day with a round of uncle Stalin's bullets in their guts.
A few nights I have taken my meals with the man behind the wall to avoid my own men. I often tell him about you. He also dreams about his wife.
18 Dec. 1944
Certainly you must be getting tired of waiting to hear from me. I apologize for the length of time I leave between my writing. Most nights now allow me very little sleep and less time to send my thoughts to you.
Hitler returned to Berlin and has been there a month now. One can only hope that when Berlin finally falls it will take him with it. The men are tired. I think they are beginning to see the very narrow future which awaits us. Even Werner seems to have grown angrier, if it were possible. It hurts him to see us fail although our failure has long been in progress.
I think I have discovered which private has been seeing the man behind the wall. We have still managed not to cross paths and I am beginning to wonder if the man has told him about me. I do not write the name of the soldier I suspect in case this journal is to fall into the wrong hands, but on a few occasions I have seen him place a small portion into his pocket wrapped up in a handkerchief or paper.
I am tired, Vreni. The Russians are just at the city limits and soon I fear I will watch these walls cave in around me. Whatever was still standing is mostly gone. I hope to write to you again, meine Liebling, but it will soon be dawn and I must bring a package to the man upstairs. I do not know what will become of him. I don’t know what that means for any of us.
2 Jan. 1945
Prosit Neujahr, my darling. May I hope to see more beautiful things before the next.
16 Jan. 1945
Last night I almost fell asleep behind the wall upstairs. In case any of the men come looking for me, I must be more careful with my visits. They are getting longer and more frequent. There were many words I found hard to say but I had to prepare him, let him know where the Germans and Russians stand in the city and that if we were ever to leave or be killed, to find the Russians and tell them who he is, what he is. That will be his last and only hope for survival. I would bring him to them now if I knew we would both not get shot in trying.
He laughed for the first time when I told him I heard rumors of Hitler going into hiding in Berlin. When I asked him why he laughed at this he told me, I hide from the ideas of this one man who has to hide from the world.
25 Jan. 1945
Meine schoene Verena,
It is very early. The sun has barely risen past the edges of the city and I am writing this by the light of the burning buildings casting their warm death into the grey sky. I have warned the man behind the wall, who today I learned is called Bazyli. I have warned him and now I am warning you. I will not be back here. The Russians have almost taken Warsaw. I cannot imagine there are many Germans left. What is left of my company will be heading towards Błonie, a town not far from the city limits and will move on after we gather whatever supplies may be found there. I do not think I will see any more of this war after this day.
Please wait for me meine Liebling, I believe I will be joining you soon.