Roughly translated from a strip of paper from a scrapbook of a family that lived in a Nazi concentration camp:
January 4, 1945: We are more skeletons than men: hope is basically dead in the camp (like most of my people) and we have basically given up.
not a mouse or even a bug has been seen for months. there is nothing nothing NOTHING left to eat but the couple bits of bread they give us once a day.
Jan 5: My daughter, Meredith died in Meghan’s arms this morning. The unhumans made me dig her grave. Perhaps they will have me dig my own soon. This paper may be the only thing left from me in a few days.
Jan 6: The unhumans announced today that our rations are decreasing. it’s down to a piece of bread about the size of my thumb and i think the water is drawn from the sewer. Meghan broke a rib today in a coughing fit. The blood from her coughing has decreased. Is it possible we barely have enough blood in our bodies? All of our faces are simply limp rags on brittle cheekbones.
Jan 7: More coughing. Less blood. very little food. It does no good to drink the water. less than a quarter of us left. 100 of us left out of original 500 people- If we can even be considered people anymore.
Jan 8: A man was brought into camp today. he is a large, strong man, bigger than many of the unhumans. He is dressed in rags like us but he isn’t afraid to yell at the guards. Today a boy took two pieces of bread instead of one and they started beating the boy for it. But the new man protested. He picked up a bench to throw at the guard but the guard shot him. It only hit his hand but it stopped him.
They yelled at each other and the unhuman told the large new man, “What are you doing? Do you think you’re one of them?!”
The new man said, “Do you realize what YOU ARE doing?! You have the power stop this!”
There is talk of revolt among us. My people are saying that the new man can lead them. But he insists that is not the right way. they say it is the only way. He says that we just have to hold on a little bit longer. some of them hate him for this. If we wait more we will be dead.
The new man is a little bit funny. Whenever the guards are not looking, he teases with the children. They adore him. Only he is able to make them smile anymore.
Jan 9: The new man snuck into our barrack last night. He started waking people up so he could tell them, “The allies are coming. They should be here soon. you just have to hold on a little longer.”
I yelled at him, “Why should we believe you?!” It was too loud. I was angry.
He responded by saying he was on the outside just two weeks before. This camp was his punishment for speaking against what the Nazi’s were doing. But he says he knew he needed to come tell us to hold on just a little bit longer.
I yelled at him again, “But how can we? We will all be dead in a week!” I had done it again. It was my fault. The unhumans came in. But they took the new man out instead of me.
Jan 10: This morning they punished the new man for us all to see. They wanted to make a point. They wanted to break even the strongest among us. They almost did. After they untied him he stumbled up to me, put a finger in my chest and whispered, “Would I do this if what I said weren’t true?” And he limped to the barrack.
tonight he came over to my bed. The coughing and the people moaning in their sleep was loud but the new man asked me, “What do we need in order to make your people survive a little longer?”
I simply said, “food.”
he replied, “i don’t have any of that.”
i poked the big muscle on his well fed arm and said, “It looks like you used to have plenty.” I turned over and ignored him.
After a minute I heard him whisper under his breath, “I just wish there was some way i could give it to you.” When i finally turned over he was talking to Hans. Nobody likes Hans. Hans steals children’s food. He’ll do anything for food. Why is the new man talking to Hans?
Who is this new man? Is it true what he says? Why would he do this for us? How could we hold on, even if they were coming to save us soon. My wife lays in her bed all day. She cannot speak anymore. mostly dying of thirst i think. I am strings and bones. we have all but starved to death.
Jan 11: This morning the revolt started . . . and then it died. Several of our men attacked a guard with a shovel and then suffocated him. The new man found out what they were doing. He ran to them. He was very upset and he said, “This is not the right way! We just have to wait a little bit longer!”
Then another guard found them. The new man took all the blame.
They quickly gathered everybody. We all watched as they stood him against a wall. He was looking at us when they shot him in the head. We helped bury him. Just like another one of us.
I am in my bed now. Wondering if what he said was really true. Even if someone saves us tomorrow, I don’t think my wife will make it through the night. She is barely breathing. She got a big sliver today and not a drop of blood came out. It’s not even red.
Hans just snuck out. He’s probably going to get out to go to the bathroom or get sick. He’s not supposed to do that. I must stop writing in case they see him and come in.
. . .
Hans returned a few hours ago. He brought a handful of raw meat in his hands! It was dirty and wet with blood, but i do not care. He must have found it in the guard’s kitchen. but it was not frozen or salted. Again, i do not care. I took the wettest piece and put it in my wife’s mouth. She started to move again. I took some for myself as well. Hans would not say anything except that we must eat it. then he went and came back with more until everybody had eaten some.
A spark of hope is alive. It is very late. i must sleep.
Jan 12: Today Hans wouldn’t say anything. When we asked him, he just shook his head and held back tears. I’ve seen most people cry but not Hans. And he was different today. As he cried i think i could see a deep, secret, sincere smile. When people asked him, he just shook his head and started crying again. He sat at Meghan’s side today and helped nurse her while i was working. He would never do that before. He usually sleeps during every spare moment like everybody else.
tonight he brought more meat. it was still dirty and raw but it wasn’t bad. I’m afraid to ask where it came from but all i know is that it is pure life for us. My wife woke up long enough today to tell me she had a dream.
She said she saw our daughter Meredith standing at the door of our barrack, glowing like an angel as we slept. She saw tanks and guns shooting at us all around outside but Meredith held out her hand and none of it could reach us inside. Meredith saw me stand up and go to fight the men outside but Meredith said,
“This is not the right way, Daddy. Just wait a little bit longer.”
And then my wife said the sun started to rise in the dream and she could see the light on the treetops, about to reach us. That’s all she said and she went back to sleep.
Jan 13: People seem to be improving. Some are actually laughing. It has been a long time since i have heard laughing. Hans still wouldn’t tell us where he had gotten the meat. We only knew that nothing but that meat, and now hope, was sustaining us.
Jan 14: There is a strange commotion among the guards. they are fighting amongst themselves. One of them left the camp by foot today, in front of everybody, despite his officer’s orders.
Jan 15: Last night Hans brought the last of the meat. He still would not tell where he got it. He smiles and cries more than he ever has before- it’s a good type of cry, i think. It is like Hans has come back to life. he helps everybody else. He was the most hated reject before, but something has changed in him. he is acting like a father to us. he gave my wife Meghan a long hug today and as he cried he said, “We Just have to wait a little bit longer, Meghan.”
Jan 17: WE . . . HAVE . . . BEEN . . . SET . . . FREE!
The British troops arrived and the unhumans surrendered. We were taken to the closest town, Rierhstadt and they fed us and gave us beds.
We were sitting at a restaurant in the town on the second night when i saw Hans. He was sitting by himself. But he seemed happy. I went and sat next to him.
“Where did you get the meat, Hans”
Hans looked at me but looked away. He didn’t want to cry again. He shook his head. “Sorry.”
Hans swallowed and said, “He told me not to tell anyone or else you wouldn’t eat it. He did it for us, Erich. He did it for you. He did it for Meghan,” Hans gestured to my wife, “he did it for me. He said that someone had told him that food was all we needed. And this was the only way he could give it to us- he gave us himself, Erich. He told me to dig him up and bring pieces of him to the people when he died. He said to give his body to all of us because we just had to wait a little bit longer.” Hans had to stop; he couldn’t get the lump in his throat to go away. Eventually he gave me an apologetic glance, and left the bar.
Whenever i saw Hans after that he was either sitting and gazing at the sky and thinking or helping the women carry their bags or playing with the children- yes, he was usually playing with the children.
The Romans often accused early Christianity of being a cannibalistic religion because the Christians insisted that they were eating the flesh and blood of a man. It sounds insane and disgustingly pagan, but that man, the man who they trusted with their whole hearts, told them to do it.
And we still do it today. That man died to sustain us. And his message still spreads like a whisper among the people. He is saying, “You just have to hold on a little bit longer. My kingdom is coming. Eat of me and i will sustain you. i will begin to grow into life on the inside. And it will be enough for you. Like Mana in the desert, it will be your daily bread, until i come again . . .
. . . and set you free.”