September 20, 1944
Everyone says the war's ending soon. I don't know. We dropped into the Netherlands just yesterday, but those 24 hours seemed like an entire century.
I write this letter to you in hopes that I can get this out to someone, anyone. You see, the Germans have built these things called concentration camps. We don't know the exact reasons yet, but they haul all these Jews, God rest their souls, to these camps and, well, I don't know. They kill them, I guess; we found one of those yesterday.
I remember it all so clearly. Jeremy and I were the first ones out of the plane. We were dropped above a cloud bank, so we couldn't see the ground until it was too late to maneuver around.
Jeremy saw it first: a sprawling square of gray buildings, gray everything. There were people on the ground walking in gray uniforms, and there were a bunch of gray watchtowers around, so I guess that's why Jeremy started screaming bloody murder, telling me that we were going to be killed by those Krauts down there.
I looked down and the first thing that hit me was how slow those guys in gray uniforms were walking around. They were more like shambling around. Actually, I didn't realize it until now: almost all of them were standing still. They had already spotted us and slowly moved into a circle.
Jeremy was screaming so loudly by now that I was wondering if his head was going to explode. I tried to calm him down, but most of my attention was focused on the ground below us.
At that point I could see their uniforms clearly, and I knew that the people down there weren't soldiers. They were too thin, and they wore striped shirts and pants. They were prisoners.
It was only a matter of seconds before we hit the ground, and Jeremy was trying to hug me. He was asking me to deliver something to his ma, tell his girl he loved her, and all that stuff. I kept on telling him that everything was going to be okay, that the people down there were just prisoners of war, but I was distracted by the people in the gray suits down there. They were almost in a perfect circle now, just standing. What really got to me, though, was how they looked at us: at first glance, I thought they were looking at us as if we were food. But it was the glint in their eyes, the special frown they had. It was pity.
Jeremy started crying the minute we hit the ground. I removed my gear and had to get his off, too. It hit me then that no one else dropped out from our plane. It was no use getting the heavy paratrooper gear off of Jeremy — he just kept on sobbing on the ground, saying that the Krauts got us and that he didn't sign up for this.
It was just me and the prisoners. I looked at them, and they looked back at me. None of them had any weapons, so I guess they weren't in the middle of an insurrection or anything. There weren't any Nazi corpses lying about, but there was something that I can recall very clearly: it was the smell of rotten flesh.
"Hello?" I called to them. There was no response, only expressionless faces. This gave me the creeps, so I withdrew my pistol from its holster.
"W-w-what's going on?" Jeremy whispered by my side. He had gotten up and finally accepted the fact that we were surrounded by prisoners of war. I motioned for him to stop.
Suddenly, I heard a ripping sound. I turned around and saw that a prisoner's arm had fallen off.
"What—" Jeremy had barely a second to react before there were more of those noises coming from all around us. I swore that just a minute ago I saw human faces — human bodies — looking at me. Now I was staring into the face of death. There wasn't really any other way to explain it. The wind picked up and the sky above had darkened considerably. And all the while, the question of why this was happening to the prisoners ran through my head. The answer was obvious:
We were surrounded by standing corpses.
I saw it now. The eyeballs were withered, dirty. The faces' features fell off one by one. Cheeks had holes in them, foreheads had bullet wounds. The only thing consistent thing about them were their clothes, that shade of gray. I tell you, if I ever see that shade again, I'll vomit.
Jeremy had already begun running, but we were still surrounded, and even though the prisoners' bodies were falling apart, it seemed that they were slowly closing in on us. For the first time in my life, I could see the effects of time: legs became femurs, and faces turned into skulls.
In a few seconds, piles upon piles of bone and rotting flesh lay around us. Yet, there was still one prisoner who remained. Even though his brethren had all "died," he still stood there, ever so slightly shaking back and forth. His head was fixated on the ground, but I swear he snapped it up in a quarter of a second when I aimed my pistol at him.
"Don't move!" I yelled. Jeremy was probably running for his life by now, but I wasn't about to leave with this guy on our tail. He had to be dealt with.
He stared at me, his eyelids pulled back all the way. I fired a warning shot at his feet. He merely smiled and laughed.
It was an ear-piercing sound, but he cocked his head up and laughed. I turned around and began running towards Jeremy. The laughs got worse, and I think I know why it sounded so bad: his larynx was deteriorating. There were plopping noises behind me as his limbs fell off.
I don't really remember what happened after that. Jeremy and I met up at HQ an hour apart, and even though neither of us had a map, we made our way through a forest that took a jeep four hours to get through in 30 minutes. We found our squad leader there and he told us that we were missing during roll call that morning. We told him our story and he told us about the concentration camps. Of course he didn't believe us, especially about certain parts of the story; how could a man rot in a matter of seconds? Perhaps more mysteriously: how did we end up in a place that could only be reached by paradropping out of a plane when we weren't even in a plane?
Nobody agreed to trek through the forest to find the concentration camp when we asked to go back there. Of course, in the end, Jeremy and I decided against it.
Oh, yes, there's one more thing.
Today we captured a village. I'd tell you what it's called, but I don't remember the name. We were lucky enough to surprise and capture all of the German soldiers there without a fight. We even caught a high-ranking German officer.
Our corpsman, Nate, took some German language classes when he was in University. Our squad leader told him to interrogate the officer about key defensive positions, the number of soldiers in the area, that type of thing. I realized this could be the chance to find out about something.
I told Nate to ask the officer about the concentration camps in the area. Nate took some time to describe the camps to the officer, since I doubt German classes teach you how to say "concentration camp" in German.
The officer shook his head, saying that they cleared out the camps a month ago when they retreated to Germany.
Written by 41488p