The Dead Are Resting
Porąbka Village, Poland
“So how do you like it here so far?”
The elbow to his ribs from Georg, his new friend of just a few short weeks, startled Max from his reverie.
“I’m sorry, what?” Max asked, glancing in the direction of the young woman who had asked the question but whose name he had already entirely forgotten. Inge? Ilse? Max was silently cursing himself for not being able to remember the name of a girl with such a pretty face. Of which he also noted, there was such a great abundance here at Solahütte.
“Dagmar here was just asking how you were liking it so far,” Georg told him.
“Dagmar,” he said to himself. Where on earth had I gotten Inge and Ilse from? he thought. Sitting up from his haunches he replied, “Oh, I’m enjoying it a great deal. I find the work challenging but fulfilling, although are there typically so many transports in a given week?” He posed this question to no one in particular since Georg, Oskar, and Johannes but also the girls, the ten Helferinnen, knew and were paramount to the camp’s operations.
“Not typically,” Johannes replied rather lackadaisically, having answered the question with his eyes closed, his hands behind his head, lying back on the picnic blanket as if he were having the most delicious slumber. “But,” he continued, “it was time we dealt with the issue of the Hungarian Judenschwein once and for all.” Johannes was the most senior officer of their small contingent even if he behaved like the most juvenile of schoolboys. Max had lost count of the number of times he had seen him pinching (and trying to pinch) the bottoms of the Helferinnen even if the girls had never seemed to mind, only ever playfully swatting away Johannes’ hand from their rears.
“Hey, no more talk of work,” one of the curly haired Helferinnen whom Max had christened Christa because she reminded him of his cousin Christa, an imp of a thing, demanded. “We’re supposed to be having fun,” and with that she grabbed Johannes’ cap, which had been resting on the ground next to him and took off, leaving him with no choice but to follow in close laughing pursuit, the sound of the river’s flowing waters able to be faintly heard in the distance.
Hours later, once their small group had fully exhausted themselves against the backdrop of the picturesque setting, signs of the late summer’s setting sun nearing, they were about to turn in when Johannnes called out, “Wait, let’s get a picture of everyone,” having noticed the Kodak Vigilant Junior six-20 camera that Max had had with him all afternoon.
The group congregated together on the little footbridge, Johannes smack in the center with all the Helferinne flocking him (naturally, Max thought), Georg on the right even posing with his accordion, having played countless tunes to their group throughout the day, when all of a sudden Johannes said, “Oskar, you take the photo and Max, you stand where Oskar was.” Max started to object, not feeling he had earned the right to be in this photo when he was such a newcomer, but Johannes ignored his protestations as did Oskar, who silently but gently took the camera out of Max’s hands and went to stand where only a moment before Max had been.
Max awkwardly joined the group, inching closer when Oskar called, “Max, get closer to Liesl, you’re not on focus,” not wanting to touch, still feeling a bit shy of girls even though he was nearly 23. But almost three years spent fighting on the barbaric wastelands of the Eastern Front and then recuperating in military hospitals from wounds he had sustained in battle, well, there hadn't been a lot of opportunity for finding true love or even just heavy flirting.
“Okay,” Oskar cried out, “eins…zwei…drei…say cheese.”
The group in unison called out “cheese,” their smiles and gaiety visible on their faces, some of them laughing so hard they had tears forming in their eyes. They were so busy having such a wonderful time of themselves that none of them noticed the heavy bands of smoke that were rising above the tree lines just a short distance away.
Copyright © 2021 by Julie Tulba