“April is the cruellest month…” whispered in my mind, recalling a poem by T. S. Elliot.
I am Lieutenant Murray Cohen. I am with the 89th Infantry Division. We were moving wth the 4th Armored Division. On the night of April third, 1945 we were in the Thuringia Forest of Germany.
I lit two cigarettes. One for me. One for my dead friend Allen.
A few days ago my squad had assaulted a machine gun emplacement. It was impossible. So I split my squad and we tried a five-prong attack. I was the only one who survived. Our commander leaned into my face and loudly commended me, saying dozens more would have been killed. He shook my slumped shoulder.
They assembled for me another squad out of other survivors.
Sergeant Dale approached me as I alternately smoked both cigarettes that night. He joked, “Won’t all that smoke give-away our position?”
I said, “Not like those shits you take.”
Sergeant Dale chuckled and he asked,”So what is this mysterious objective tomorrow?”
I answered truthfully, “A bunker of some kind. They don’t know if they’re going to test some new super bomb or if it’s just a big new command center.”
Sergeant Dale mused, “Super bomb? Great.”
I reminded him, “You haven’t heard anything.”
Sergeant Dale said, “Sure. OK, Goodnight, Irene. Hey, it’s Passover isn’t it?”
I answered, “Tomorrow.”
In the sunrise of the coming first night of Passover we moved onward searching out our objective. It wasn’t long until we saw smoke rising from behind a hill.
I said to my squad which was spread around me, “Put on your dancin’ shoes,” and we stalked toward the smoke.
We came upon the walled compound deeply hidden in the hillside from which the smoke was rising. The watchtowers were unmanned.
Sergeant Dale asked me, “Was it bombed? Why would they allow smoke like that?”
I observed through my binoculars, “The gate is ajar.”
Sergeant Dale asked, “A trap?”
I said, “We’re going in,” and one by one we covered each other as we entered through that gate.
I cannot make you comprehend today how we had no concept for what we found. We were the first Americans to liberate a Nazi concentration camp: Ohrdruf.
There were decaying corpses lying everywhere and there were erect corpses with open eyes shuffling toward us, staring as if they could not comprehend our presence.
I approached the ghastly source of the smoke. It was a railroad pallet piled with charred remains of people. Tar had been poured on them and set on fire. But fire would not consume the evil.
Sergeant Dale alerted me, “Murray.”
I turned and saw a woman in a Nazi uniform coming towards me, holding erect an emaciated young girl who had blood all over the side of her head and face. The blood had soaked the side of the Nazi woman.
The woman spoke and gestured to herself and the young girl, saying something, explaining, pleading though I couldn’t understand her as I raised my rifle.
“Bitte. Arzt! Arzt! Ich bin Aufseherin Hirth. Gabriella. Dieses Mädchen ist Aliza. Ich kam zurück, um zu helfen. Als die anderen sagten, das Lager aufzugeben, schoßen sie jeden, dass sie konnten. Ich verließ die anderen Wächter, um zurückzukehren, um zu helfen.”
[“Please. Doctor! Doctor! I am Supervisor Hirth. Gabriella. This girl is Aliza. I came back to help. When the others said to abandon the camp they shot everyone that they could. I deserted the other guards to return to help.”]
Sergeant Dale ran to them. He pulled the injured young girl away from the Nazi. The young girl bleated and reached back for the woman.
I aimed my rifle at the Nazi woman. I became the Angel of Death.
The woman withered to her fate.
I glanced at the blood of the young girl upon the woman’s side. I heard the bleating of the young girl.
Then my eyes were opened. Understanding descended upon me in tears.
I retracted my rifle barrel toward heaven and Death silently passed over that woman.