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13th September 2014
"How did this even happen?" The question was asked by the teenage boy at the hospital bed's head end, who held a kind of tray full of instruments, which neither of the other two people at the bed seemed to be interested in.
"I repeat: my workhorse went mad and trampled me!" The man, a farmer, was lying on the bed with a broken leg, and, telling from his voice's tone, was slightly annoyed by the question.
The boy put the tray at the sill, and, dissatisfied with the answer, started again, "Yes, but how did your- "
"Henryk, silence!" hissed one of the two people leaning over the farmer, a man in his forties. "Mr Nowak needs his rest and we need our concentration."
The boy, Henryk, rose his index finger, managing to speak, "But- "
This time, it was the woman, Henryk's mother, leaning over the farmer's body who shushed him. As his parents closely examined the broken leg and prepared an operation to fix the broken bone and the tissue around it, Henryk muttered under his breath, cursing violently. With folded arms, he turned away from his parents for the next dozens of minutes. After almost an hour, he had calmed himself, or rather, he had run out of matters to nag about silently, and thus decided to resume his previously assigned activity of handing his parents instruments when they required them, but instead his efforts of turning back to face them again only lead to a glance over his shoulder, which was cut short by his disgust, his fear for blood - his parents had had to cut open the - now narcotised - farmer's leg. He shuddered and looked at the clock that hung above the room's door. Four thirty-nine a.m. was what he could read off it, thinking, Four thirty-nine a.m., September 1st, 1939... doesn't seem like I'll get all too much sleep before school starts again...
Then, however, he heard a sound he had never heard before, or at least not from the direction he now heard it. The sound of engines, more than two dozen of them, was coming from the west, but not just the west - it were aeroplanes Henryk could hear. The clock's minute hand moved to forty. His eyes widened upon the realisation, and also did it make him jump on the sill, carelessly kicking the tray full of chirurgic instruments aside so he could open the window.
"Henryk, have you gone mad? Get down here- ", his father called out as his mother began sewing the cut again. However, both of Henryk's parents too picked up the sound as it came closer, also in terms of altitude. Fear now creeping into him, Hernyk's father finished the sentence, baffled. " -immediately."
The planes all aimed for the hospital, nose-diving. They released their deadly load shortly before ascending again, explosions lit up the else still relatively dark sky, as well as the streets and the buildings, striking everything that opposed them without discrimination. Parts of the roof came crushing down, the following bombs also striking the hospital's top floor. Without thinking all too much about his actions, Henryk's father took both his son and his wife by their hands and hurried out of the room just before a beam of the roof broke through the ceiling, smashing the still narcotised farmer. Breaking through the door, the family of three ran through corridors as nurses, doctors and also patients too hurried to get out of the building.
Down the stairs, they all bolted, as more and more of the building came crushing down. Finally having reached the ground floor, the family's father went to the next window and opened it, letting his wife and son climb through, before following them, as everyone in the entire hospital tried to escape the bombs and the rubble. Once outside, the three ran to their car that was parked right before the hospital, and sat in it. Bombs detonated all around the town's centre, fires breaking out wherever they landed, bathing the town in an eerily warm light, hours before the sun's eventual rise. The car's engine started, and without even looking, the father drove backwards to turn around, and after quickly changing gears and driving away, a piece of rubble hitting the spot they had been only a second earlier.
The car quickly accelerated in the empty streets, only headed one way - out of Wieluń. Looking backwards, Henryk noticed a single plane dispatching from its squadron, of which two now were bombing the town, to pursue their car. The dive bomber opened fire, the bullets striking the ground at either side of the car, before the aeroplane slightly altered its course. The father seemed to attempt to outrun the plane, but also seemed to forget the car lacked any gears after the fifth. Being the only one to reach in time, Henryk climbed to his father's position, and quickly changed the gears, to the first one, while at once also turning around. The car quickly decelerated and had evaded the bullets, but not the bomb that followed. Once again changing the gears, Henryk drove the car into a nearby alley, before he climbed back to his seat, leaving control of the vehicle to his father again. Out of the alley, the father drove the car, only to almost drive it right into a pile of rubble.
"God dammit! " shouted the father, driving the car backwards through the alley as fast as the gears would allow it, only barely escaping a collapsing wall. Bombs exploded all around, fire spreading wherever they did what they were built for. The aeroplanes that had dropped them now seemingly fled the scene, as the father stopped the car. "Well, the road to Warsaw is blocked... The only way we can take now leads- "
" –to the German border." concluded Henryk, staring forward with eyes widened in fear. The father nodded, just as the mother decided to go outside to help however she could with whatever she could, ushering dozens of people out of their houses before they finally caught fire. The sun slowly rose above the horizon, but the columns of smoke that began forming, little to no sunlight could penetrate, leaving it to the fires to provide light. The father sighed, before hurrying to assist his wife covering his mouth with a part of the suit he wore. Henryk stayed in the car and decided to get some sleep, which came out to be rather uneasy, him twisting around and sweating in his sleep. However, he kept sleeping until the sun had risen up high into the sky, when his parents had returned to the car and drove again. Judging from the sun's position, it was sometime around noon.
"Come on... we need to get out of here, fast!" the father begged his car as once again, the high pitched whine from the engines of the infamous Stukas could be heard approaching. The car wouldn't start. "Oh you useless piece of shit!"
In the moment he had finished his swearing, the car's engine roared up and almost instantly, the father drove the car westwards, towards the German border. Stuka dive bombers could already be seen approaching the town, however, the father wouldn't let them die in a simple bomb raid. The car raced through the streets filled with rubble, regardless of potential damages to the vehicle. With each second, they neared the avenue that was all that separated Wieluń from the German Reich, with each second they neared their eventual doom. The Stuka pilots seemed to have been ordered to bomb Wieluń, and nothing else, as they simply passed over the car when it was in plain sight. Leaving the town they had called their home behind, the family of three only had one goal for now – to get out of the warzone. That, however, was to remain a dream – a squad of Wehrmacht soldiers marched on the avenue eastwards, making a collision between them and the car inevitable.
"Stehen bleiben!" screamed one of the soldiers, seemingly the highest-ranking one amongst them, positioning himself in the road's centre, and aiming his rifle, "Stop!"
The father narrowed his eyes and smirked as he even, if still possible, accelerated. The other soldiers of the squad took positions around the sergeant in the road's midst, also threateningly aiming their rifles. The car raced on and on nonetheless, and so, the squad, minus their sergeant, parted, taking positions behind the trees lining the road. The sergeant became nervous but refused to step aside and let them pass. He trembled heavily but still managed to aim right at the father's head. The car had less than a hundred metres' distance to cover between it and the sergeant, when the latter couldn't contain his nervousness anymore, and he pulled the trigger partly unintentionally. The bullet struck the father right into the chest, a few centimetres to the centre's left, right into the heart. The sergeant, however, had reacted too late and inevitably was smashed against the fast car, crushing several of his bones, injuring him fatally. The father did all he still could to stop the car before he ceased all actions altogether. Slowly, the car came to stand still before the squad of Wehrmacht soldiers could catch up. Each and every of them had a look of shock and anger on their faces, and without a second thought, one of them raised his rifle's muzzle to point right at Henryk's mother.
"Aussteigen! Sofort!" shouted the soldier, "Get out! Immediately!"
"Wieso sollten wir?" inquired Henryk's mother with teary eyes, not being able to hide her Polish accent, "Why should we?"
"Ihr habt unseren Feldwebel überfahren! Wir haben allen Grund, euch gefangen zu nehmen oder gar hinzurichten!", continued the soldier his shouting, being joined by his comrades. "You ran over our sergeant! We have every reason to take you prisoner or to even execute you!"
The mother thought about what to say, but then decided to act. She opened the car door and stepped outside. The soldiers wanted to take her by her arms to lead her away, but she had other plans. She pulled out a scalpel out of her sleeve and took the soldier, who had aimed at her all the time, pressing the scalpel against his throat just barely enough not to cut him. "Ihr habt die Wahl! Lasst uns gehen oder er stirbt!" screamed she, which made the soldiers flinch, "You have the choice! Let us go or he dies!"
While all his comrades lowered their rifles as not to provoke the woman, one of the soldiers, one who showed nervousness, kept his rifle in aiming position, aiming at the woman's head. "Hören Sie sofort auf mit dem Scheiß und lassen sie ihn gehen! Wenn Sie ihn gehen lassen, lassen wir euch gehen!" he spoke clearly, "Stop this shit immediately and let him go! If you let him go, we will let you go!"
All Henryk could do was to hide. His mother had created a situation that would only be resolved by her letting go of the soldier, which didn't seem to be happening all too soon. The soldier aiming at her was terribly nervous, and trembled heavily, yet managed to still aim at her head steadily. His comrades encircled her. "Was soll das überhaupt bezwecken? Der Feldwebel ist tot, egal ob wir sie erschießen oder nicht. Und selbst wenn, was sollen wir dann mit ihrem Sohn da machen?" one of them attempted to whisper, yet spoke aloud, "What's the meaning of this, anyway? The sergeant is dead, whether we shoot her or not. And even if, what shall we do with her son, then?"
The soldier aiming at her, the insignia on his grey uniform denoting him as a corporal, shushed the comrade of his, and, accidentally, as he turned his head towards him, pressed his rifle and his right index finger towards each other closely enough for the trigger to be pulled. The shot disrupted the silence and took everyone, even the shooter himself, by surprise. The scalpel dropped as the body of Henryk's mother dropped to the ground, lifeless, the rifle bullet having left a hideous gash in the back of her head, where it had left it again. The soldier she had held found himself freed and, after picking up his rifle, joined his comrades, who all slowly went to the car, to search it and to get Henryk out of there. All but the corporal, that was. He still stood there, frozen by the shock, barely comprehending what he just had done. "Ich hab' eine unschuldige Zivilistin erschossen... ", he muttered in disbelief, "I shot an innocent civilian... "
"Eine fast unschuldige Zivilistin, Herr Korporal." corrected him one of his soldiers as he pulled out Henryk, who was even more shocked than the corporal was, for he had seen it all up-close. "An almost innocent civilian, corporal."
The young lad Henryk was couldn't do much, he saw. Both his parents had died at the hands of German Wehrmacht soldiers, all in a matter of minutes. The very same military had laid waste to his home town, and was about to take him captive, he knew. "Fuck all of you Germans!" he muttered under his breath, hoping that none of the soldiers would understand his dialectal Polish.
"Was nun? Wir können ihn nicht einfach frei herumrennen lassen, oder? Was sollen wir mit ihm machen?" inquired the soldier who held Henryk by his arms, "Now what? We can't simply let him run around, free, can we? What shall we do with him?"
The corporal had recovered from the shock enough to lower his rifle and walk towards the boy whose mother he just had shot, even if only accidentally. He looked at him and began to consider various options, before he cleared his throat. "Wir könnten ihn einfach in ein KZ, ähm, entsorgen... " he spoke with a trace of dread in his voice, "We could simply put him into a concentration camp... "
"Wir könnten, und das wäre ehrlich gesagt auch die einfachste Möglichkeit.", agreed one of the soldiers, his voice containing a certain spite, "We could, and, frankly, that'd also be the easiest option."
"Nein. Ein einfaches Gefängnis sollte genügen." decided the corporal, who still inspected Henryk, "No. A simple prison should be enough." He then stepped back a metre to address Henryk. "Sprichst du Deutsch?", he asked him, "Do you speak German?"
Henryk, whose eyes slowly began tearing up, nodded. "Ja, Herr Korporal." he then added, "Yes, corporal."
"Wunderbar. Dann sollte es kein Problem darstellen, ihn für ein oder zwei Jahre in ein Gefängnis zu stecken, für... sagen wir Diebstahl." The corporal feigned excitement as he presented his idea. "Wonderful. Then it should be no problem to get him into prison for a year or two, for... let's say theft."
As no one raised his voice to protest, the soldiers began to march Henryk back to where they had come from, westwards, towards the German border that soon wouldn't be anymore.
"Henryk Piotrowski..." spoke the inmate of his, unable to hide his accent. "Heinrich Peter... Peterson. No, that doesn't... it simply doesn't sound right. You wouldn't last an hour in an undercover mission, with that name at least."
Henryk looked across to the inmate of his. He was older and wore a slightly ragged Polish Army uniform, yet his accent didn't sound to be from a Polish dialect. Looking at the slightly bearded and relatively long-haired man, he couldn't help but ponder about his background.
"Where are you from, anyway?" asked Henryk, unable to contain his wondering and seeking a conversation. "It's just... your accent seems- "
"I'm from Vilnius. Er, I mean, Wilna, to you Poles." replied the former soldier. "I'm Lithuanian."
Henryk laughed nervously at that. He glanced around in the cell he shared with the Lithuanian, and, after briefly inspecting the greyish walls, the single, small barred window and the heavy locked door made from solid steel and wood, decided it was safe to talk with him about what information he just had shared with Henryk. "So... tell me, what is a Lithuanian like you doing in the Armia Krajowa?"
"The Lithuanian resistance organisations don't have enough power to actually do something, and being a Polish citizen – though of Lithuanian ethnicity – and a former soldier, well... explained?" The former soldier smiled slightly. "And what am I doing here, you may ask, right? Well... I fought and stole my way westwards, only to be caught stealing bread then, somewhere in the Warthegau. You know, around Poznań. Oh well, my German saved me that day. From a worse fate, I mean... "
As the soldier trailed off, Henryk remembered it was the soldier's last day in prison, and afterwards, he would find a way to get Henryk out, given the latter would then join the relatively recently-founded Armia Krajowa, the Polish Home Army. The soldier whose name he would learn in a few hours after practically spending almost a year in the same cell with him would soon leave him alone to rot. Or to freeze, in this time of the year, Henryk found.
"Hauptmann Danielius Urbonas!" barked a voice belonging to a German Wehrmacht captain at the door as he stood there, hammering against the door while unlocking it. "Captain Danielius Urbonas!" He continued striking the door before finally unlocking the heavy door, after which the former soldier across Henryk had already risen to his feet and stood tall. The German captain drew his pistol, a Walther P38, and aimed it at Henryk should he dare to move. "Die Entlassung wartet auf Sie, Hauptmann." spoke the captain with his rough voice, waving the pistol around a bit. "Release awaits you, captain."
" ...natürlich, Herr Hauptmann." Danielius's forehead began filling with sweat droplets as he started trembling, slightly at first, then heavily increasing in intensity. His nervousness was obvious as the German inspecting him pondered what to do next. "...of course, captain." was what he had said, in an attempt to hide his nervousness, which, however, only increased.
"Da," spoke the German captain, softly, "Here," but then continuing in a shout as he slapped Danielius hard across the face, "EINE KLEINE ERINNERUNG!" The force of the impact sent Danielius to the floor and the shout, "A SMALL SOUVENIR!", had made Henryk's ears ring.
Quickly, the Lithuanian got to his feet again. "Haben Sie vielen Dank, Herr Hauptmann." spoke the former soldier with feigned servility and friendliness, "Thank you very much, captain."
The captain nodded, and led the Lithuanian out, as he loaded his pistol. Just before his soldiers could close the door to the cell, Henryk hurried towards it and out of it, only to see the Wehrmacht captain aiming his pistol at Danielius's head. Henryk was, in a way, sad enough about his imminent release – after all, he had been the closest to a friend he had had in the past year – but his murder he wouldn't allow, too much would it pain him, too much would it fit into his life with many losses. The soldier who had attempted closing the door got to feel Henryk's firm conviction in form of the Pole's fist in his face, in a punch into which the rampaging prisoner put all his strength and weight. Two cracks sounded due to it, one from the soldier's nose which cracked or broke due to the punch, and one from the ground, in which fissures formed as Henryk punched.
The three soldiers accompanying the captain who seemed to wait for the right moment to shoot the Lithuanian all turned around, as well as the captain, and aimed the rifles. Too late they did that, however, for in an instant, Henryk Piotrowski was upon them. In blind rage, he punched right and left as fast as he could. Blinded by rage, he was, but that didn't keep him from feeling something deep inside, a power awakening, a power the three soldiers and the captain came to know all too well in these seconds. With each punch, a chunk of earth shot forth to follow the path of the punch, with greater strength and velocity, than the fist that led it. The first chunk hit a soldier right into the temples, which took him out, the second then crushed a soldier's jaw, leaving a gaping hole in his face, while the third one pressed the soldier's head against the wall, crushing the helmet as well as the skull beneath. Finally, Henryk turned to the captain, who now was more nervous than ever – his hands shook enough so he would miss Henryk with his pistol, which he now aimed at the Pole rather than at the Lithuanian who had turned to flee, even though the rampaging prisoner stood two metres before him.
"Ein... ein... ein... ein B-Bä-Bändiger! Er... ist ein... Bändiger!" stammered the captain as Henryk took his steps towards him, "A... a... a... a b-be-bender! He... is a... bender!" Once there, Henryk assumed a broad stance and extended both his arms forward, his hands tight fists. The concrete around obeyed his bender's command, and rushed forward towards the captain, and struck him hard into the chest, completely crushing the ribcage. The blood as well as shreds of organs sprayed in the corridor as Danielius escaped through a window. Knowing his mission to be accomplished, Henryk managed a smile and was about to go after the Lithuanian, but then, all of sudden, a rifle's butt struck the back of his head. He fell, and ever so slowly, his senses vanished.
"Was in Herrgotsnamen war das?" asked a soldier who held his nose, for it was bleeding heavily, "What in god's name was this?"
"Bändigen, es ist... naja... " attempted a second soldier to explain, "Bending, it's... well... "
"Bändiger... solche braucht doch Doktor Mengele immer, nicht?" asked the first one rhetorically, "Benders... Doctor Mengele needs these all the time, doesn't he?"
Without a further word, the second soldier began dragging Henryk away as his senses faded. The last thing Henryk knew was that he was doomed to enter the closest mankind had come to creating hell on earth – Auschwitz.
Running. That was all they could afford. Running, even though their months in the enormous extermination camp had worn them out. Running, through the night all around them, running, with stopping meaning to lose all. Three, they were. Henryk, another inmate, and a man the Armia Krajowa had sent to infiltrate Auschwitz. He was going to take them out, Henryk was sure of it. There was no turning back, no waiting, no giving in, nay, not now. The barracks around them were wooden all the same, only these they now passed belonged to soldiers – German Wehrmacht soldiers. As silently and fast as possible, they set one foot after another into the mud, on and on, trusting in their streak of luck, trusting it would get them over the last fence of barbed wire that separated them from their freedom. In his rush of hope, of a certain feeling of freedom, of the immense pressure weighing on them, Henryk forgot his scars. None of these scars had he earned in his two previous perilous encounters with German soldiers.
All of them had he got on the operation table, on the operation table which most who got on it wouldn't survive. Henryk could count himself amongst the lucky ones to survive the treatment he had received from Doctor Mengele, or so he had once thought. By now, he knew far better – it was an almost endless torture to die at Mengele's hands, and hell on earth to survive to see more of it. Especially benders such as Henryk were in danger to be experimented on – from the Führerhauptquartier to the lowliest soldier, almost everyone who knew of the benders' existence believed them to be the wonder weapon to win the war, the tool for achieving the Endsieg. Doktor Mengele was a man of science – of the science of how to torture people most effectively, and still making it seem like some actual scientific observances would be made. Several deep cuts in Henryk's arms, cuts that would never fully heal, were some of proof for that.
The tissue near his shoulder, or rather, the lack of it on a certain point, was another, and the hunger he had to endure the most obvious one. But it was not what Mengele had cut through and out that had the greatest and lasting effect, it was the injections. Dozens of circular red remnants of injuries dotted his arms, legs and upper body, all witnesses to what Mengele had done. Injecting blood of another blood type was one thing, with that the body could cope to some extent, but certainly not with petrol, even if only a few millilitres, in the blood. Even weeks after it, Henryk felt sick, but there was no time for it, for all he now could do was running.
The last fence of barbed wire separating them from their freedom was in sight, but, much to Henryk's dismay, also a German soldier, who stood in a lamp's light, fidgeting ever so slightly, and cleaning his rifle, or his fingernails, that much Henryk couldn't fathom. His two comrades nonetheless kept running. Trusting in him, they were, or so Henryk thought. They trusted in an earthbender with absolutely no training, which Henryk found either very brave, or simply bold. A few more metres, and they were at the fence. Every few metres, ugly lamps cast their light on the ground, and every few hundred metres, a watchtower rose. The soldier finished what he had been doing – biting his fingernails, apparently – and walked on, into the direction of their merry band of escapees. They exchanged nervous glances, not daring to talk, but it was too late. The soldier aimed his rifle at them, and they were close to surrendering, but then, Henryk recalled a speech he had once heard of.
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender." he spoke in his broken English, staring into the rifle's muzzle defiantly. The soldier seemed to understand the English well enough, but didn't pull the trigger. He even lowered the rifle.
"Ich darf das nicht tun, also erfährt niemand etwas davon, verstanden?" The soldier whispered, glancing around to make sure no one was listening or watching. "I must not do this, so nobody hears a word of it, understood?"
The three escapees exchanged glances, and Henryk nodded, translating it to his comrades, who then too nodded.
"Gut. Ich helf' euch über den Zaun und feuere dann das Magazin leer. Bis dahin müsst ihr weg sein, alles klar?" The soldier almost immediately got into position by a fence post, but also had his rifle ready at his side. "Very well then. I help you to cross the fence and then shoot the magazine empty. Till then you have to be far away, all clear?"
Again, Henryk had to translate the soldier's words, and his comrades agreed. Wordlessly, the officer of the Armia Krajowa reached up to the fence post and pulled himself up, but waited with jumping down at the other side until the other inmate had reached up to aid him pulling himself up. The procedure then was repeated by Henryk and the inmate, and then they were free. Even these few seconds would've been worth dying for after the past months, but still having an instinct of survival, Henryk and his comrades ran for their dear lives. A first shot rang through the night as they made for the woods that were some hundreds of metres away. The shot hit the ground near Henryk's heel.
After a few seconds, another rang and shot right through their midst. First bushes began appearing by the time the third shot was fired, which then struck one of these plants. By the time of the fourth shot, the first trees were there, ready to give cover. The bullet got stuck in a tree's trunk, right next to the Captain's – the soldier the Armia Krajowa had sent was a captain – head. The fifth shot was fired when the three were in the woods, and it utterly and completely missed them. Then came a dozen shots more, all fired at once. The Captain looked around, scanning the trees' bases before walking to one of them, where he swept aside a few leaves, lifted a piece of rags, and handed each of them a sub-machine gun, type MP40. The Captain himself took binoculars and took a quick look at where the German soldier had stood, and, before lowering the binoculars and lighting a cigarette, only muttered, "Bloody bunch of bastards... "
Sweating heavily, Henryk awoke in his bed. Had it not been for the shots fired and the screams shouted in the dead of night, he would've dreamt onwards of what he had gone through just some months past. He lifted the blanket and walked towards the window. He was in Warsaw, in his own flat. He wanted to open the window, but realised he would stumble in the dark, and so he lit a petroleum lamp, and opened the window. On the horizon, beyond the houses on the street's other side, the skies burnt. His mouth dropped, and his eyes widened as he saw a squad or two of German soldiers running on the streets, driving in their half-tracks and armoured cars, all headed for the eerie orange glow. One of them stopped, shouting something to him he didn't even bother to try to understand. Yet, somehow, Henryk had a feeling he shouldn't open his window, and so he closed it again. He went to his wardrobe, opened it, shoved his few jackets and coats aside and opened the secret compartment he had built in, just to look at his sub-machine gun in it, that, and to read the slogan he had written on the wall behind it - Polonia semper invicta est - Poland is forever undefeated.
No, he thought, smirking somewhat. Not yet. The time is not ripe.
The room was dark, the only light in it coming from the lamp swinging overhead, which spread little light. The chair right beneath it was occupied by a man in a black suit with a black bowler. In fact, he was dressed all in black but for the little yellow star sewn to the chest area of his suit. It was all that was needed for him to be jailed at will, to be deported to some extermination camp, to be shot at sight even, in these days. It marked him as a Jew, and, like all too often in history, the times were hard for Jews. Across him stood one man, too dressed in black, only he wore a uniform and a peaked cap instead of a suit, and that silver elements were present in his uniform, most notably the skull and bones on his cap, and the double s-runes on his collar patch, which denoted him as an SS-officer, a so-called Standartenführer-SS, the equivalent to what else was called Oberst in German, colonel in English. He held his pistol, but not with the muzzle pointing forward, but with the handle first.
"Also, ich frage Sie noch einmal, Herr Rosenberg... Wo ist Ihre Tochter?" spoke he, shaking his pistol threateningly, "Alright, I'll ask you once more, Mr Rosenberg... Where is your daughter?"
"Sie kennen die Antwort. Bringen wir's hinter uns." Mr Rosenberg's German was perfect, and had it not been for the yellow star, he would've passed for a German in an instant. Even though he feigned submission, it was submission to his impending death rather than to the SS-officer. "You know the answer. Just get it over with."
Narrowing his eyes, the soldier obeyed. He struck the Jew into the jaw with the pistol's butt, and thus made him spit out blood and two teeth once more. "Ich möchte Sie nur einmal davon in Kenntnis setzen, dass meine Einheit Ihre gesamte Familie in Gewahrsam haben, außer ihre Tochter. Wenn Sie meine Fragen nicht zufriedenstellend beantworten, sterben sie... " As little as he liked the job, he was a soldier, and soldiers simply didn't question their orders, especially if coming from their highest superior – Reichsführer-SS Himmler himself had ordered him, Standartenführer-SS Kruckenberg, to get all the benders of Warsaw, and he was not going to let a single one escape. That would've been failure. "I just want to know that my unit has your entire family in custody, except for your daughter. If you don't answer my questions satisfactorily, they die... "
Mr Rosenberg answered with silence. Calmly, knowing his fate and yet not flinching, he sat there, with cracked lips, a broken nose, and blood running down his chin. But his mouth would remain shut, even though it pained him to breathe through his broken nose. He stared into Wilhelm Kruckenberg's eyes which threateningly bore themselves into his, but he wouldn't betray anything, especially not fear or his daughter's location. Lil' Tanya... , he thought, ...please forgive me...
"HERRGOTT VERDAMMT NOCHEINMAL! Sie sind nicht einmal an den verdammten Stuhl gefesselt, Sie könnten mich jederzeit töten, aber nein!" Wilhelm Kruckenberg shook his head and screamed in frustration, "God dammit! You're not even bound to the damn chair, you could kill me any time, but no!" He went to the man he interrogated and studied his face. If Germans had the will of these allegedly inferior Jews, we'd be in Moscow by now! he thought, shaking his head. Or not. He's not doing anything, that's the problem! He wanted to shout on, but calmed down and loaded his pistol, a Walther P38, and aimed directly between Mr Rosenberg's eyes.
"Möge der Herrgott Gnade mit Ihnen haben, Herr Kruckenberg." spoke Mr Rosenberg suddenly. "May God have mercy with you, Mr Kruckenberg." He was a faithful man, but had let his children go their own ways. The Rosenbergs were an old and proud family of benders and Jews. Fire was their element and had been it since the days of the Temple's destruction in 71 A.D., it was said, and had haunted them ever since. All his hopes were on his daughter Tatiana, or in short, Tanya, for her to carry on the way, to survive. Not to fight, but to survive peacefully, for whenever Jews fought in Europe, they lost all. Mr Rosenberg himself realised it a few days past when the Warsaw Ghetto was won back by the Germans. Lil' Tanya... Tatiana... be strong. Please... be strong. were his thoughts before Kruckenberg pulled the trigger.
The shot rang through the small room, and immediately afterwards, the steel door opened, and two of Kruckenberg's soldiers dragged the body outside. He himself went out of the room, through the hallway and up the stairs, into his own quarters. There, in his luxurious sleeping room, he had built up a small shrine for himself. He tossed away the cap and took off the uniform's jacket before he knelt before the cross. He skipped most of his usual procedure and got right down to business.
"Vergib mir, Herrgott, denn ich habe gesündigt. Ich habe einen unschuldigen Mann erschossen." He half prayed, half confessed. He was very religious, especially after what he had seen in his first war, in the trenches near Ypres. "Forgive me, God, for I have sinned. I have shot an innocent man." He continued in his thoughts and mumbles afterwards, before he closed. "Herrgott, gib unseren Truppen die Stärke und den Mut die sie brauchen, den Endsieg zu erringen, und gib unserer Führu- " he prayed, silently hoping for something different. "God, give our troops the strength and courage they need to win the Ensieg, and give our leade- " He stopped there, continuing only in thoughts, And, please, be wise and give our leaders the wisdom they so direly need.
The knock on his door came suddenly. He shot up and put on both jacket and cap again, before answering the door. "Herr Standartenführer!" it came from beyond the door, at which a soldier of Kruckenberg's knocked.
"Was gibt's?" asked he as he opened the door so violently it almost made the soldier, who had leaned to the door in his exhaustion, lose his balance, "What is it?"
"Ein Telegramm! Die Gestapo und Abwehr haben den neuen Avatar aufgespürt!" He shouted almost excitedly, waving the piece of paper into his superior's face. "A telegram! The Gestapo and Abwehr have found the new Avatar!"
"Wer ist er?" Kruckenberg would've made plans to root out bender communities in the General Gouvernment in the time he used for this conversation. "Who is he?"
"Sie, Herr Standartenführer. Er ist eine sie. Sie ist Tatiana Rosenberg, sechzehn Jahre alt. Laut diverser Dokumente aus dem Ghetto ist sie der Avatar, Herr der vier- " The soldier explained, but got cut off by Kruckenberg. "She, Standartenführer, sir. He is a she. She's Tatiana Rosenberg, sixteen years old. According to various documents from the Ghetto, she's the Avatar, master of the four- "
"Elemente, ja, ich weiß. Wir brauchen sie nur noch finden." Despite all his experiences, he was a soldier, and as such, he had to do his duty, and now, it was hunting the Avatar. "Elements, yes, I know. We just need to find her."
There was no turning back, nor was there advancing. There was no hiding and no staying in the open field. Whether way she would choose, German soldiers would await her. She hated them all. And with them came fire. She hated that as well, the fire. If there was anything she truly hated and feared, it was fire. It was her family's element and curse, and right now, she hated herself most of all, for not being able to escape the Ghetto, for which her parents and her two brothers had sacrificed themselves. They had come to their home in the dead of night, the SS, and left the Rosenbergs little time and less possibilities to escape. Only she, Tanya, could make it. Dressed in her nightgown and a thick coat, she had run out of the house while her family held up the SS-soldiers. And only she would fail now. Hiding alone as a young woman in a dark alleyway while perverted German soldiers massacred and raped and burnt was not the best idea. With her knowledge of German, she could've passed for a German woman, had it not been for the damned yellow star sewn to her coat. She tried to cut it out, rip it out, do anything to get it off, but it wouldn't work.
She was afraid, more than she had ever been, more than ever. Neither the German attack around four years past nor the encirclement of Warsaw in the same year had frightened her this much, but now, after the Ghetto's uprising was pretty much over, she thought she had found hell on earth. She wanted to hide behind whatever was on the alley's end, but once she bumped against it with her back, she thought otherwise. The German soldier spun around, and caught a glance of her, and was about to strike her with his rifle's butt. Tanya had always been fast with her reflexes, but if there was anything she hated, it was violence.
Nonetheless, she struck forward with all her might, and produced two mighty streams of flames that not only scorched the soldier's face and lungs, but also detonated the rounds in his rifle's magazine, and thus scorched and severed his hand as well. Herself having a tinnitus, Tanya was certain her attack had been heard, and rushed the alleyway further down, before she found a German lorry standing on the other side, and turned around.
"Tatiana Rosenberg?" The two men had appeared out of thin air, it seemed, and certainly were no German soldiers. Even so, Tanya inched back, nodding briefly to signal their assumption being correct. "Good. Come with us."
Instead of obeying the two men, who seemed queerly normal in these surroundings, Tanya inched back further, warning them, "Don't come too near! I'll- I'll- I'll burn- burn you!"
The two men nodded at each other, and approached the girl from two sides, slowly getting closer. If still possible, Tanya got more nervous, and started to panic, mere split seconds before one of the men gagged her with socks, and the second one quickly bound her hands and feet. Moving quickly, one searched for something particular on the ground, while the second had drawn a revolver and guarded Tanya.
Suddenly, one of the men lifted a manhole cover and urged the second one to come, himself drawing a pistol. Tanya's guard took her around her waist and hauled her over his shoulder to climb down the ladder into the sewers. The second one followed and closed the manhole cover again, as to prevent anyone from following all too quickly. Once they were down in the sewers, Tanya was untied and allowed to walk herself and unbound. The two men suddenly sported armlets of two colours, white and red, with a combination of a "P" and an anchor on in black on it. Armia Krajowa men, Tanya realised, just before she glimpsed several rats running around. She began to tremble even more and suddenly became aware of just how unhealthy and filthy a place the sewers were. As the rats became more and more, she began to panic. There was nothing she hated more than rats – except perhaps fire and Germans, and violence. She truly panicked, and she knew that when she did that, no matter how irrational the fear, little would last against her ferocious flames, as much as she hated them. Suddenly, a question arose, even though she still panicked.
"Why, just why... " began she as the men began lighting torches, for else the darkness would've enveloped them. "...did the Armia Krajowa find it necessary to save me? Me out of all?"
Minutes passed before an answer. Minutes in which they passed and were passed by many dozens of rats, making Tanya more nervous than she would've thought was possible. Every step became an endeavour, and having to wait for an answer for minutes didn't make it easier.
"Because... " answered the one who now walked behind her and had guarded her, "...you're the Axis' only hope for victory. We're not going to let you fall into their hands."
"Why am I the Axis' only hope? I'm just one firebender, and they've got thousands of my kind!" Tanya was beginning to let out her nervousness in her talking.
"Because the Red Army is retaking territory and the Allies have defeated Rommel in North Africa." stated the one before her, "And as to that, you're just one firebender indeed. And just one airbender as well. And just one waterbender, too, and just one earthbender."
"No, impossible, that would make me... " Tanya thought back to what her father had taught her, to the tales of the greatest warrior and mediator there's ever been. "It's impossible! There hasn't been an- an- an Avatar for hundreds of years!"
"But at last, there is one now." replied the one in front of her, which the one behind her continued, "And we're making sure the new Avatar is not going to fall into the wrong hands. Neither Allies nor Axis may get their hands on you!"
Tanya was utterly confused now, although her being the Avatar answered some questions in regards to why she was the one to be saved. Still mainly, she was confused. "Why neither Allies nor Axis? Why me?"
Suddenly, the man in front of her stopped and turned around to face her. "Listen, we can't answer every question now. We're going to get you somewhere safe, and we're going to protect you, is that clear?"
Somewhat downcast, Tanya nodded. As he was about to turn around, she was quick to answer one more question. "Say, sir, what's your name?"
"Captain Danielius Urbonas." The man then resumed wading forward, and so did the man behind Tanya. Even though her coat and her nightgown both were soaking wet and filthy, and her fiery red hair was streaked with grime, she too decided to hurry through the watery filth. Soon, she would be safe, and for safety, one may hurry, she decided.
Notes & Trivia
- The Armia Krajowa, or the Home Army in English was the largest resistance group during the second world war, numbering anywhere from 200,000 to 600,000 fighters at its height in 1944.
For the collective works of the author, go here.