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PRAVIENISKES 1942

Excerpt from Kurt Schraeder's war journal to his son, "Geschichten eines alten Narren".


I'm sure you're wondering why the last of my war stories is one from 1942, since we've come all the way to the end of the war, my son. You see, that is because this is the one story I've never told you. But now that I'm leaving this to you I feel the need to tell the truth, all of it. And to tell you why, you should never visit the breezy, grassy clearings of Pravieniskes, the little lithuanian village. When you'll have read all of it, you'll understand why I've never told you this one story. If you don't believe me, all the better frankly.

It was still the time in which I was part of the 22nd division. However, being our battalion badly beaten we were stationed near this village called Pravieniskės, a bit far from Vilnius. The locals didn't seem to hate us, many welcomed us as liberators from the Soviets, so what happened there is all the more strange and still to this day I find myself wondering what the hell I witnessed.

For a few days all was quiet and calm, a much needed break from the horror of the front lines. The place was actually charming in its own fashion: little country roads split entire forests into chunks of green foliage intermitted by grassy clearings. The air was cold but the breeze was not as stinging as the damned russian winter. 3 days since I came there had passed when one night visiting the tavern to drink a beer, I met an old friend, "Oì, Kamerad!", was his usual greeting; however this time it was louder than usual since both him and I were sure not to see eachother ever again."Why hello there, Werner!" I greeted.

But this time something was different: a man in pitch black SS uniform was standing before me."I see you've made yourself quite the career...!"

"Ja, after what happened on the Dnieper I was offered a place in the Schutzstaffel! How could one deny such a honor..? But sit down Kurt I'll offer you a drink, after all we have much to talk about!" While he was excited to see me, I was more thinking how could one come back like it was nothing after he was presumed killed in action from falling in the Dnieper river.I quickly glanced around me and I noticed his comrades of the SS staring me a bit whilst talking and drinking. Finally we sit down.

"A soviet medic" he whispered "What?""He helped getting out. I never got his name""How did you get back? He didn't shoot you?""I don't know, I think we just looked in the eyes and decided it was best to live rather than killing eachother, some kind of mutual understanding, I presume. So I got back and after a bit of hospitalizing I was offered a place in the Schutzstaffel"

Now I know for a fact that he was withholding something.You see son, Werner was more of the "convinced" type at the time.Fully integrated in the party, it was self-explanatory how he could end up in the Schutzstaffel.On the other side was me, a devoted christian raised in a little prussian town, too far from the politics of great Berlin.

I think he was a good man though although you couldn't discuss of some things freely.

After some minutes of small talk I started to feel watched. I peek at the corner of my eye to find a man in SS uniform staring at me intensely. He was an officer, I could tell this much from the uniform. With each second passing the air became heavier than normal. Now it was pretty common for an SS to look down on a Wehrmacht soldier but this was taking it too far. He had a clear look of contempt as if he was staring a jew prisoner.

"Werner, your Scharführer is watching me since I got in here, what's happening?" I inquiredHe reacted like he knew exactly what was going on."Wait a moment, friend"He got up and went to the officer, and being the tavern full of bickering I could not hear a word, though they seemed to come to a consensus, judging by the officer facial expression.

"I'm sure you have questions Kurt, but let us finish our drinks first, then go outside, away from... indescreet ears"The Schutzstaffelmann seemed calm now, well as calm as a rabid dog can be after watching it's prey get out of its sight.

Anyway we finally exited that noisy place.The stars were up in the sky and they shone a reassuring light.But that night would be all but reassuring, just the start of the problems. "The camp..." My not so adroit speaker began.

Now Pravieniskės had a labour camp for captives and Jews, that was why the Schutzstaffel were there in the first place. Whether Werner had ingaged in some of the most outrageous acts of the war, I don't know and I probably never will nor I desire to know it.

You see son, this war left me little good memories and I would at least like to keep remembering a good friend as such.

"The camp what? Something's going on?" I inquired fatigued by his continuous trailing off. "Ja, there were problems at the camp, you see. I really cannot tell you more, not because my officer requires secrecy, but because you wouldn't get it anyway, no one would..."

I raised my eyebrow at this comment made in a strange thoughtfull manner as if he was thinking very carefully what to say next.

"Just understand that this place has become dangerous, and please try not to wander alone, be always at least with other two men. You really should request a transfer to somewhere else no matter where, you'll be safer than here"

I stopped walking. I stood there perplexed: how could a little village kilometres away from the frontlines, in the middle of nowhere, be more dangerous than a war theatre?

"I do not follow, Werner, why you say it is dangerous here? Partisan activity is next to none in Lithuania...""I knew you wouldn't get it"He sighed

I was starting to get unnerved and somewhat bad-tempered towards this odd secrecy of his."Look, please just follow my advise, just know that something went really wrong at the camp-"To"Ach, ja! Prisoners fled, didn't they? And you're commander doesn't want anybody to know about it because it would be a shame if the infallible SS proved not even capable of running a camp! In front of those poor Wehrmacht's idiots nonetheless!"

I expected him to reply to my jab in full, but to my surprise all I got out of him was a dry chuckle.

"I wish that was the case, Kurt. Look just get away from this place. Problems will arise very soon. People will get hurt"

After that exchange we went slowly back to normal talk and parted ways towards midnight. A week had passed and I almost forgot of that conversation. Something I regret doing.

My not so kind reminder that something was deeply wrong and that I should have requested a transfer came that same night after those seven days. I was alone at the guard post around 60 meters away from the bunker we used as base. Around the bunker a layer of barbed wire embraced the whole perimeter with only a protected entrance, in front of the guard post, around 40 meters away from me. My night guard duty was slowly proceeding with nothing interesting to do, after cleaning and polishing my rifle for the 4rth time, it was getting dull.

However all would be interrupted when a man in SS officer uniform came approaching the guard post.It was a bit dark and the electrical lamp of the guard post was not exactly shining like a beacon, so I could not see his face very well. His uniform bore the rank of Scharführer judging by the colour of it, so I knew who he was. This time though he bore a completely different look: even in the dim light, something about him was unwholesome although I couldn't really tell what.

"Guten Abend, Scharführer, what may I do for you?""Ich... will... eintreten..."

He spoke very slowly and awkwardly, like he was thinking about the meaning of every word he was saying. "Of course, Scharführer, I just need your rank and name as per usual"

"Name... Identität... Gunther Kleist" he spoke again in that weird manner something akin to being perplexed and lost at the same time.

"Perfect wait for a moment, I will be calling my superiors to confirm your visit"

"Besuch... perfekt...? Vorgesetzen...? Scheiße Jude... Ratte...?"

He muttered under his breath, I could hardly hear him, but I did hear the insult. Something so random and pronounced as if he was more thinking about it than trying to insult me.I slowly turned back to him.

"Excuse me sir?"He didn't answer, not looking at me and looking at the ground as if was more savouring what he was saying than anything else. At this point I should have noticed that something was really off. But I just hurried to the cabin and made the damn call. You don't really argue with superiors who don't like you. You just try to stay away from them or get them off of you in any way possible.

"Sir, here is SS Scharführer Gunther Kleist requesting entry"

I heard rustling on the other side of the phone. "Ach, Scheiße!" my officer barked

A frantic motion of papers and yelling could be heard again on the other side

"Now, soldier, hear me damn carefully, I need you not to tense up-" I immediately started to tense up"-and listen to what I'm about to say: there is no, I repeat there is no, SS Scharführer Gunther Kleist anymore, he disappeared two days ago and he is gone, make no mistake about it. What you have in front of you there is no man, is something you need to get the hell away from. Do not, I repeat do not talk to it especially in German, we don't want it learning our way to communicate. Step outside the guard post and retreat slowly to the base, don't try to shoot it, we will cover your ass. If shit gets bad run like your life depends on it, because it does, over."

You can imagine my face at hearing such news.I started to sweat profusely and I looked at the "man" a bit more carefully: he had made a step into better sight and now the light showed him better so I could realize what was so uncanny about him: his uniform had holes and straps all over, and his look was dirty and raw, similar to someone who got lost in the woods for over a week or so.

I stepped outside and slowly began retreating towards the base. The man, no, that horrifying excuse of a human, didn't like it though. It had other plans for me. "Kleine Ratte... Abend... Steh... Perfekt Besuch... "

It began muttering words incomprehensibly as if it was some kind of naive attempt to still convince me not to retreat or to convince me that it was human, like a young, inexperienced predator learning the ways of trickery to fool its prey.

I wasn't having any of it though and was making my way back each step more quick than the one before. Now shouts were starting to come from the base and this did not please the creature as it knew something went wrong in its plan.

When that grotesque caricature of a human saw that I knew better then having myself being taken by it, it started charging me."Kommen sie hier, bitte!" He growled in a voice now more resembling a bear's snarl than anything vaguely human.That growl was something so primordial to have any man's faith in God or science waver.

I screamed and ran the hell away fleeing towards the gate which was still 30 meters away. It was not a lot but it seemed like a marathon. I could hear the ragged breath of the thing right behind me as its heavy footsteps thundered on the soil. I could see on the other side confused men getting ready to shoot and my officer ordering them around.At 15 meters away they opened the gates to let me in. "Ratte, Ratte, scheiße Ratte! Kommen sie hier! Vorgesetzen! Perfekt!"That loathsome parody of a human being screamed and roared by now, revealing its true essence, that of a deep eldritch horror that no man, should encounter. It was faster than me, but the ground to cover was not much and by the time I reached the gates my comrades had already started to shoot.I didn't see what effect the bullets had on the thing, since I was so busy running in terror, but when I got to safety behind the bars and the barbed wire I looked back to find nothing. A few shots were fired, though I could hardly understand if they had any effect.

"You, come here!" Snarled the officer."What happened this night was nought but a bad dream, understand?"

I quickly replied affirmatively and got to my tent. Nobody would ever be placed at the guard post that night. Sometimes I found myself looking to the dark woods, dreading to find the thing still looking at me, still stalking its prey.

The next day new rules were established: nobody was to ever leave the camp alone for any reason. Things were uneventful if it wasn't for the fact that everyone kept talking about the incident: no one really understood what had happened. I for my part had difficulty saying what had occurred to the curious soldiers who asked me.

Two days later at the nearby village, civilians were packing all their belongings and getting away from the area. The few of them who spoke German only muttered something about the place becoming too cold and the once fair woods becoming unospitable for country folks to do their business or something like that. We all knew what it really was, though of course no one could talk about it, nor could really blame them for leaving.

The locals knew something, but they refused to speak. No one bothered to get more out of them. Our commander had forbidden us from speaking to them. When I asked him why he just replied that those were orders from the higher ups and he couldn't do anything about it.

Five days later and a soldier disappeared: at the usual rendezvous one guy I knew only by his visage, wasn't there. Nobody knew where he went. A search party was deployed that night and the name of "Kronecker" was resonating more and more through the woods. We were ordered to be very careful and not divide in single person parties whatever the case. At least two or three people at a time were needed.I was in the group together with two newbies. They hadn't really seen any combat yet as our unit was waiting to be replenished before heading back to the cold russian frontlines. We were scouting ahead and shouting that cursed name.

What we didn't expect was for someone to actually answer though:"Hilfe, help me, it's me! I'm stuck!".The guy was on a tree and he couldn't get off of that."Are you fucking kidding me!?"One of my companions shouted"How could you just get stuck on a tree!? If you knew how to get up there you must know how to get down!!""I-It's not the tree the problem!I had to escape a damn bear!"

"And were you planning to get us killed too?! If it's still around here we're in a hell of situation!"

Even if we shouted a while at each other, there was the common understanding to get the hell out of there and return home as soon as possible. So we got him down and marched towards the others to tell them the research was over.

On the way back my comrades kept muttering stuff under their breath. Well one of them kept doing so.

After some minutes it had become so insistent that I had to reprimand him

"Oi, stop it will you?" I turned to one of the new guys

"What? I'm not talking"

The others two turned to us."I'm not talking either, I thought it was you" Kronecker told me

The muttering clearly came from behind me and I was third in line so it couldn't be them.

"Wait let's shut up for a second everyone!"

That's when it dawned on me.

"Kronecker... brings uns um... Kronecker, Du wirst uns umbringen"

The others stopped in their tracks for a moment before realising that the voice wasn't any of us.

My blood ran cold: it was here, with us.

It had spied us, who knows how long was there. For a moment I tried to locate it in the woods desperate to get something that resembled a control of the situation. The thing that made it even more unnerving was how obvious it was that it was trying to mime humans and trick us again. It was learning quick but still it held that strange way of talking.

Just now I understand what made all of that immensely more appalling then it already was: it was doing a bad job of faking being a human, and that just added to the horror, for we knew there was something blood-chilling and nefarious in any of its attempts in replicating humanity.

"Hilfe! Ich brauche Hilfe! Bär... Hilfe! Kommt hier Ich bitte Sie!Verloren...? Tod...?"

Fortunately I already had my experience with this and I shushed everyone ordering them not to talk anymore and hurrying to the general direction of the main searching party where I hoped it wouldn't follow us.Suddenly a human shriek was heard."Fuck, fuck, fuck! He got Klaus!"I couldn't event see the thing, it was a blur and then... nothing. Completely dissolved into the vegetation. "Get out of here!"We didn't even bother to shoot we just ran. The idiot stuck on the tree got one of us killed.

Fortunately thing didn't follow us: reinforcements were already there and a few shots were fired.We told the commander what happened. He just said there was nothing we could do. The men and I were getting nervous: this guy knew something about the thing stalking the woods and couldn't tell us what was going on. We were just supposed to follow the rules to stay alive.

I decided I wouldn't have any of it. If I was to die better doing it fighting than being chased by that thing.

When I requested a transfer the commander laughed at me:

"Well, I requested all the damn regiment to be transferred! We're not staying here! We're to scout the SS camp tomorrow and then get the hell away"

"Wait what do you mean scout the SS camp?"

The commander looked at me with a pale countenance. He lit a cigarette up and got seated. Then he sighed heavily

"They... are not responding to the higher ups calls anymore. We are encharged to see what happened"

Now just two weeks had passed since I had reapproached Werner.He stopped talking to me and laughed nervously. Then he continued

"Let's see... no partisans, in fact the locals have left. Prisoners couldn't have done anything under a camp runned by the SS. And even if I hate the Staffel you can't say they're exactly a bunch prone to desertion. I think our conclusions are limited..."

He said clearly hinting at the damn thing running in the woods, faking to be human.

"Then why are we going there?"

"Well we need to show them proofs, like pictures"

he said indicating the big camera at his side. These were much bigger than the ones they make today. You had to hold it with two hands and usually a tripod of some sort was required for it to be stable.

"If we get away without anything we're dead meat, especially if the higher ups know about what happened. An entire SS battalion disappearing won't go unnoticed. We're not wasting time around though: we get in there, take documents and pictures, compile a report and get the hell out. Now go rest, we'll have to move quickly tomorrow. You're dismissed"

That night I had trouble sleeping. What had been of Werner and the others? Where the hell did that thing come from? Could it be killed? What did the locals know? But most of all: did I really want to discover it? I just wanted to get the hell away!

The next day everyone was nervous. We prepared to leave once and for all. We got all the trucks going the equipment and everything we could get and went to the SS camp.

Now this camp was much smaller than a lot of other camps. People don't realize that a concentration camp was usually the size of a small town or even larger, at least some kilometres in width. So even if it was small, it was still a big place. Anyone could hide anywhere in here.

What made the place all the more unnerving was the fact that only a small road connected it to the rest of civilization, being surrounded by those cursed woods.

Our commander decided that only a few of us would actually go there, since bringing in a whole convoy would have been an obstacle to a possible retreat.

Only the most experienced of us where to go, and to my dismay, that meant me.

The camp didn't seem anything special: barracks at the back, an excavation site at the center and the prisoners dormitories at the left of the entrance, all divided by fences and barbed wire.

What struck immediately was the fact that it was abandoned. Not a soul, not even a speck of blood or a body in sight. The place dripped with sadness and a dreary and lonesome energy, that the barbed wire only contributed to rend even more dreary.

The HQ of the camp was on the right and the first thing that we did was to check that. No one was inside and not even the sign of a fight could be seen. Whoever was here just disappeared. The commander moved to the main desk and grabbed a few papers.I could see they were classified material although I could not read them.

"Now for the pictures: we need one for every building at least and it has to be taken inside, of course, since we need to report on the state of every edifice. Don't bother standing around to describe the place: just take the damn pictures and come back"

The commander told us. He would probably write a few lies lies, anything to convince them to not send anyone in this hellhole.

For a moment it felt like we weren't soldiers but a bunch of journalists, taking pictures of the place. Everywhere was empty: the HQ, the dormitories, the excavation site... just the barracks were left.

We went inside and the first thing that struck us was the familiar stench of death.At the front you find this exact stench some hours after a battle: decomposing corpses.

"Someone's here!"

We found a soldier in a pitiful state: muttering words incomprehensibly and quaking like a leaf on a windy day. At the front he would clearly be diagnosed with shell-shock. We didn't know what it was here. Upon a closer look, I realized he was Werner. I tried speaking to him but he just wouldn't respond. But of all the questions I threw at him one seemed to get his interest, even in his half-crazed state:

"Where has the monster gone?"

He immediately pointed at a door leading to an underground ammunition depot.

Approaching it the smell only got worse. I knew I would regret it but I had to. I had to see where everyone went. I motioned the others to come with the camera and we opened the door.

What I saw was even more scarring than any battlefield scene: bits and pieces scattered around everywhere, blood covering everything and an enormous, dreadful curtain made out of human leather standing at the center of the room. The lamps were still on, showing limbs and rotting bloody corpses all around the room. They were both SS and prisoners.

This depots were very big so actually the room extended in length for a long while. That meant that you couldn't see everything.

After taking the damn picture that should have answered the question "were has an entire battalion gone?", I realized something: all the corpses were here... My face went pale at the implications.

But what made me almost go insane with fear wasn't the horrid spectacle before me, no. It was Werner voice, asking if I was alright...

coming from somewhere inside the room.

"Oi, alles gut, Kamerad?"

I immediately shut the door and closed it, blocking it with a rudimentary piece of wood that was meant to be an obstacle so that the door wouldn't move on its own.

Needless to say we all ran away scared. I exited the edifice when I realized something : Werner, the real one, was still there. I couldn't abandon him, so gathering up every ounce of courage, I went back.

He was crouched talking to himself. The goddamn door, the door that I had closed was now banging loudly. I grabbed him and with a force I didn't know I could muster, I brought him on his legs and moved him out.

I sprinted all I could and the truck was soon in sight, with my comrades shouting at me to get the hell on. Thump thump thump.Oh, I knew those damn footsteps. Without even looking I ran faster and faster, even Werner by now had began sprinting just by my solicitation.

The truck had already started going when I jumped inside it, the others grabbing Werner and getting him in. When I looked back I saw the damn thing just inches by my foot almost grasping it with its clawed hands. Everyone had begun to shoot it though and I had taken out my pistol and begun relentlessly discharging my weapon as well. The thing reeled back, roared and had begun once again its pursue, only it was too late for it: the truck was faster and thank god had accelerated enough by now.

We were safe. That's when I realized two things, my son:first the thing had tried to get us into a trap. The depot was its lair, where all its hunt trophies rested. The thing had left Werner alive specifically to lead us there... At least I don't have any other explanation as per why Werner was still breathing.

That was the last time I saw it too. He probably went into a mental hospital after that. I don't know if he has survived the war.I know that the others probably didn't: all the people I knew there were sent to the eastern front. I survived it, but if they did too, I never got the chance to talk to them again, that's for sure.

Anyway do you remember when you asked me when did I came the closest to dying? At the time I told you that you would never guess it.

Well the second thing is this: that was the time I had been closer than ever to dying. No, my son, it had not been at the siege of cold and dreary Leningrad nor at the banks of the unforgiving and spiteful Dnieper river.

We're I had come the closest to die, had been in fact at those breezy, grassy clearings of Pravieniskės, the little lithuanian village. from Kurt Schraeder's war Journal to his son, "Geschichten eines alten Narren"

I'm sure you're wondering why the last of my war stories is one from 1942, since we've come all the way to the end of the war, my son. You see, that is because this is the one story I've never told you. But now that I'm leaving this to you I feel the need to tell the truth, all of it. And to tell you why, you should never visit the breezy, grassy clearings of Pravieniskės, the little lithuanian village. When you'll have read all of it, you'll understand why I've never told you this one story.

If you don't believe me, all the better frankly.

It was still the time in which I was part of the 22nd division.

However, being our battalion badly beaten we were stationed near this village called Pravieniskės, a bit far from Vilnius. The locals didn't seem to hate us, many welcomed us as liberators from the Soviets, so what happened there is all the more strange and still to this day I find myself wondering what the hell I witnessed.

For a few days all was quiet and calm, a much needed break from the horror of the front lines.

The place was actually charming in its own fashion: little country roads split entire forests into chunks of green foliage intermitted by grassy clearings.

The air was cold but the breeze was not as stinging as the damned russian winter.

Three days since I came there had passed when one night, visiting the tavern to drink a beer, I met an old friend: "Oì, Kamerad!" was his usual greeting but this time louder than usual since both him and I were sure not to see eachother ever again.

"Why hello there, Werner!" I greeted.

If you recall from one of my first stories, I had met Werner in September 1941, when Kiev fell to us.

But this time something was different: a man in pitch black SS uniform was standing before me.

"I see you've made yourself quite the career...!"

"Ja, after what happened around the Dnieper I was offered a place in the Schutzstaffel! How could one deny such a honor..? But sit down Kurt I'll offer you a drink, after all I'm sure we have much to talk about!"

While he was excited to see me, I was more thinking how could one come back like it was nothing after he was presumed killed in action from falling in the Dnieper river.

I quickly glanced around me and I noticed his comrades of the SS staring me a bit whilst talking and drinking.

Finally we sit down.

"A soviet medic" he whispered.

"What?"

"He helped getting out. I never got his name"

"How did you get back? He didn't shoot you?"

"I don't know, I think we just looked in the eyes and decided it was best to live rather than killing eachother, some kind of mutual understanding, I presume. So I got back and after a bit of hospitalizing I was offered a place in the Schutzstaffel! Can you believe it?"

Now if you remember about Werner, you see that it wasn't hard to believe him.

You see son, Werner was more of the "convinced" type at the time.

Fully integrated in the party, with his father as one of the highest ranking bureucrats, it was self-explanatory how he could end up in the Schutzstaffel.

On the other side was me, a devoted christian raised in a little prussian town, too far from the politics of great Berlin.

I think he was a good man though, although you couldn't discuss of some things freely.

After some minutes of small talk I started to feel watched. I peek at the corner of my eye to find a man in SS uniform staring at me intensely. He was an officer, I could tell this much from the uniform. With each second passing the air became heavier than normal. Now it was pretty common for an SS to look down on a Wehrmacht soldier but this was taking it too far. He had a clear look of contempt as if he was staring one of his prisoners.

"Werner, your Scharführer is watching me since I got in here, what's happening?" I inquired.

He reacted like he knew exactly what was going on.

"Wait a moment, friend".

He got up and went to the officer, and being the tavern full of bickering I could not hear a word, though they seemed to come to a consensus, judging by the officer's facial expression.

"I'm sure you have questions Kurt, but let us finish our drinks first, then go outside, away from... indescreet ears"

The Schutzstaffelmann seemed calm now, well as calm as a rabid dog can be after watching it's prey get out of its sight.

Anyway we finally exited that noisy place.

The stars were up in the sky and they shone a reassuring light.

But that night would be all but reassuring, just the start of the problems.

"The camp..." My not so adroit speaker began.

Now Pravieniskės had a labour camp for captives and Jews, that was why the Schutzstaffel were there in the first place. Whether Werner had ingaged in some of the most outrageous acts of the war, I don't know and I probably never will nor I desire to know it.

You see son, this war left me little good memories and I would at least like to keep remembering a good friend as such.

"The camp what? Something's going on?" I inquired fatigued by his continuous trailing off.

"Ja, there were problems at the camp, you see. I really cannot tell you more, not because my officer requires secrecy, but because you wouldn't get it anyway, no one would..."

I raised my eyebrow at this comment made in a strange thoughtfull manner as if he was thinking very carefully what to say next.

"Just understand that this place has become dangerous, and please try not to wander alone, be always at least with other two men. You really should request a transfer to somewhere else no matter where, you'll be safer than here".

I stopped walking. I stood there perplexed: how could a little village kilometres away from the frontlines, in the middle of nowhere, be more dangerous than a war theatre?

"I do not follow, Werner, why you say it is dangerous here? Partisan activity is next to none in Lithuania..."

"I knew you wouldn't get it"

He sighed.

I was starting to get unnerved and somewhat bad-tempered towards this odd secrecy of his.

"Look, please just follow my advise, just know that something

went really wrong at the camp-"

"Ach, ja! Prisoners fled, didn't they? And you're commander doesn't want anybody to know about it because it would be a shame if the infallible SS proved not even capable of running a camp! In front of those poor Wehrmacht's idiots nonetheless!"

I expected him to reply to my jab in full, but to my surprise all I got out of him was a dry chuckle.

"I wish that was the case, Kurt. Look just get away from this place. Problems will arise very soon. People will get hurt"

After that exchange we went slowly back to normal talk and parted ways towards midnight.

A week had passed and I almost forgot of that conversation. Something I regret doing.

My not so kind reminder that something was deeply wrong and that I should have requested a transfer, came that same night after those seven days.

I was alone at the guard post around 60 meters away from the bunker we used as base. Around the bunker a layer of barbed wire embraced the whole perimeter with only a protected entrance, in front of the guard post, around 40 meters away from me.

Now night guard duty, or really any guard duty was usually pretty boring matter, thus no one really took it seriously.

Well not as seriously as a soldier should take orders, at least.

And my night guard duty was slowly proceeding with nothing interesting to do, and after cleaning and polishing my rifle for the fourth time, it was getting dull.

However all would be interrupted when a man in SS officer uniform came approaching the guard post.

It was a bit dark and the electrical lamp of the guard post was not exactly shining like a beacon, so I could not see his face very well. His uniform bore the rank of Scharführer judging by the colour of it, so I knew who he was. This time though he bore a completely different look: even in the dim light, something about him was unwholesome although I couldn't really tell what. But what struck me most, was that he seemed kind of lost, looking at me blankly.

"Guten Abend, Scharführer, what may I do for you?"

"Ich... will... eintreten..."

He spoke very slowly and awkwardly, like he was thinking about the meaning of every word he was saying.

"Of course, Scharführer, I just need your rank and name as per usual"

"Name... Identität... Gunther Kleist" he spoke again in that weird manner, something akin to being perplexed and lost at the same time.

"Perfect wait for a moment, I will be calling my superiors to confirm your visit"

"Besuch... perfekt...? Vorgesetzen...? Scheiße Jude... Ratte...?"

He muttered under his breath, I could hardly hear him, but I did hear the insult. Something so random and pronounced again as if he was more thinking about it than trying to insult me.

I slowly turned back to him.

"Excuse me sir?"

He didn't answer, not looking at me and looking at the ground as if was more savouring what he was saying than anything else.

At this point I should have noticed that something was really off.

But I just hurried to the cabin and made the damn call. You don't really argue with superiors who don't like you. You just try to stay away from them or get them off of you in any way possible.

"Sir, here is SS Scharführer Gunther Kleist requesting entry..."

I heard rustling on the other side of the phone.

"Ach, Scheiße!" my officer barked,

a frantic motion of papers and yelling could be heard again on the other side.

"Now, soldier, hear me damn carefully, I need you not to tense up-"

I immediately started to tense up

"-and listen to what I'm about to say: there is no, I repeat there is no, SS Scharführer Gunther Kleist anymore, he disappeared two days ago and he is gone, make no mistake about it. What you have in front of you there is no man, is something you need to get the hell away from. Do not, I repeat do not talk to it especially in German, we don't want it learning our way to communicate. Step outside the guard post and retreat slowly to the base, don't try to shoot it, we will cover your ass. If shit gets bad run like your life depends on it, because it does, over."

You can imagine my face at hearing such news.

I started to sweat profusely and I looked at the "man" a bit more carefully: he had made a step into better sight and now the light showed him better so I could realize what was so uncanny about him: his uniform had holes and straps all over, and his look was dirty and raw, similar to someone who got lost in the woods for over a week or so.

I stepped outside and slowly began retreating towards the base.

The man, no, that horrifying excuse of a human, didn't like it though. It had other plans for me.

"Kleine Ratte... Abend... Steh... Perfekt Besuch... "

It began muttering words incomprehensibly as if it was some kind of naive attempt to still convince me not to retreat or to convince me that it was human, like a young, unexperienced predator learning the ways of trickery to fool its prey.

I wasn't having any of it though and was making my way back each step more quick than the one before. By now shouts were starting to come from the base and this did not please the creature as it knew something went wrong in its plan.

When that grotesque caricature of a human saw that I knew better then having myself being taken by it, it started charging me.

"Kommen sie hier, bitte!"

He growled in a voice now more resembling a bear's snarl than anything vaguely human.

That growl was something so primordial to have any man's faith in God or science waver.

I screamed and ran the hell away

fleeing towards the gate which was still 30 meters away. It was not a lot but it seemed like a marathon.

I could hear the ragged breath of the thing right behind me as its heavy footsteps thundered on the soil. I could see on the other side confused men getting ready to shoot and my officer ordering them around.

At 15 meters away they opened the gates to let me in.

"Ratte, Ratte, scheiße Ratte! Kommen sie hier! Vorgesetzen! Perfekt!"

That loathsome parody of a human being screamed and roared by now, revealing its true essence, that of a deep eldritch horror that no man, should encounter.

It was faster than me, but the ground to cover was not much and by the time I reached the gates my comrades had already started to shoot.

I didn't see what effect the bullets had on the thing, since I was so busy running in terror, but when I got to safety behind the bars and the barbed wire I looked back to find nothing. A few shots had been fired, though I could hardly understand if they had any effect.

"You, come here!" Snarled the officer.

"What happened this night was nought but a bad dream, understand?".

I quickly replied affirmatively and got to my tent. Nobody would ever be placed at the guard post that night. Sometimes I found myself looking at the dark woods, dreading to find the thing still looking at me, still stalking its prey.

The next day new rules were established: nobody was to ever leave the camp alone for any reason. Things were uneventful if it wasn't for the fact that everyone kept talking about the incident: no one really understood what had happened.

I, for my part, had difficulty saying what had occurred to the curious soldiers who asked me.

Two days later at the nearby village, civilians were packing all their belongings and getting away from the area. The few of them who spoke German only muttered something about the place becoming too cold and the once fair woods becoming unospitable for country folks to do their business or something like that.

We all knew what it really was, though of course no one could talk about it, nor could we really blame them for leaving.

The locals knew something, but they refused to speak. No one bothered to get more out of them. Our commander had forbidden us from speaking to them.

When I asked him why he just replied that those were orders from the higher ups and he couldn't do anything about it.

Those were not the only problems though. Strange stuff had started happening: soldiers said they could literally hear the woods speak in a strange language, maybe Lithuanian. Sometimes a few words of German were muttered. Things like 'rifle', 'leaf' , 'cold' and so on.

A new rule had been introduced : we needed to speak in a voice as low as possible. It didn't take a genius to understand that whatever was in the woods was taking German lessons from us. I never understood if the new rule really helped or not.

Five days later and a soldier had disappeared: at the usual rendezvous one guy I knew only by his visage, wasn't there. Nobody knew where he went.

A search party was deployed that night and the name of "Kronecker" was resonating more and more through the woods. We were ordered to be very careful and not divide in single person parties whatever the case. At least two or three people at a time were needed.

I was in the group together with two newbies. They hadn't really seen any combat yet as our unit was waiting to be replenished before heading back to the cold russian frontlines. We were scouting ahead and shouting that cursed name.

What we didn't expect was for someone to actually answer though:

"Hilfe, help me, it's me! I'm stuck!".

The guy was on a tree and he couldn't get off of that.

"Are you fucking kidding me!?".

One of my companions shouted

"How could you just get stuck on a tree!?

If you knew how to get up there you must know how to get down!!"

"I-It's not the tree the problem!

I had to escape a damn bear!"

"And were you planning to get us killed too?! If it's still around here we're in a hell of situation!"

Even if we shouted a while at each other, there was the common understanding to get the hell out of there and return home as soon as possible. So we got him down and marched towards the others to tell them the research was over.

On the way back my comrades kept muttering stuff under their breath. Well one of them kept doing so.

After some minutes it had become so insistent that I had to reprimand him.

"Oi, stop it will you?" I turned to one of the new guys.

"What? I'm not talking".

The others two turned to us.

"I'm not talking either, I thought it was you" Kronecker told me.

The muttering clearly came from behind me and I was third in line so it couldn't be them.

"Wait, let's shut up for a second, everyone!".

That's when it dawned on me.

"Kronecker... brings uns um... Kronecker, Du wirst uns umbringen".

The others stopped in their tracks for a moment before realising that the voice wasn't any of us.

My blood ran cold: it was here, with us.

It had spied us, who knows how long was there. For a moment I tried to locate it in the woods desperate to get something that resembled a control of the situation.

The thing that made it even more unnerving was how obvious it was that it was trying to mime humans and trick us again. It was learning quick but still it held that strange way of talking.

Just now I understand what made all of that immensely more appalling then it already was: it was doing a bad job of faking being a human, and that just added to the horror, for we knew there was something blood-chilling and nefarious in any of its attempts in replicating humanity.

The grotesque thing started pleading for help:

"Hilfe! Ich brauche Hilfe! Bär... Hilfe! Kommt hier Ich bitte Sie!

Verloren...? Tod...?".

Fortunately I already had my experience with this and I shushed everyone ordering them not to talk anymore and hurrying to the general direction of the main searching party where I hoped it wouldn't follow us.

Suddenly a human shriek was heard.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck! He got Klaus!"

I couldn't event see the thing, it was a blur and then... nothing. Completely dissolved into the vegetation.

"Get out of here!"

We didn't even bother to shoot we just ran. The idiot stuck on the tree got one of us killed.

Fortunately though the thing didn't follow us: reinforcements were already there and a few shots were fired.

We told the commander what had happened. He just said there was nothing we could do.

The men and I were getting nervous: this guy knew something about the thing lurking in the woods and couldn't tell us what was going on. We were just supposed to follow the rules to stay alive.

I decided I wouldn't have any of it. If I was to die better doing it fighting than being chased by that thing.

When I requested a transfer the commander laughed at me:

"Well, I requested all the damn regiment to be transferred! You couldn't pay me to stay here with that thing outside! We're not staying here! We're to scout the SS camp tomorrow and then get the hell away".

"Wait what do you mean scout the SS camp?".

The commander looked at me with a pale countenance. He lit a cigarette up and got seated. Then he sighed heavily:

"They... are not responding to the higher ups' calls anymore. We are encharged to see what happened...".

Now just two weeks had passed since I had reapproached Werner. Being on completely different regiments and tasks and being the local village beer hall abandoned, we hand'nt seen each other at all.

The commander tapped on his desk with his fingertips and laughed nervously. Then he continued:

"Let's see... no partisans, in fact the locals have left. Prisoners couldn't have done anything under a camp runned by the SS. And even if I hate the Staffel you can't say they're exactly a bunch prone to desertion. I think our conclusions are limited..."

He said clearly hinting at the damn thing running in the woods, faking to be human.

"Then why are we going there?!".

"Well we need to show them proofs, like pictures",

he said indicating the big camera at his side. These were much bigger than the ones they make today. You had to hold it with two hands and usually a tripod of some sort was required for it to be stable.

"If we get away without anything we're dead meat, especially if the higher ups know about what happened, which of course they suspect it. An entire SS battalion disappearing won't go unnoticed, we have to bring them something and demonstrate that we did everything we could to uncover what happened, otherwise the families of the victims will have our head.

I can't do anything if high ranking members of the Party get upset with us, you know how it is...

We're not wasting time around though: we get in there, take documents and pictures, compile a report and get the hell out. Now go rest, we'll have to move quickly tomorrow. You're dismissed".

That night I had trouble sleeping. What had been of Werner and the others? Where the hell did that thing come from? Could it be killed? What did the locals know? But most of all: did I really want to discover it?

I just wanted to get the hell away!

The next day everyone was nervous. We prepared to leave once and for all. We got all the trucks going the equipment and everything we could get and went to the SS camp.

Now this camp was much smaller than a lot of other camps. People don't realize that a concentration camp was usually the size of a small town or even larger, at least some kilometres in width. So even if it was small, it was still a big place. Anyone could hide anywhere in here.

What made the place all the more unnerving was the fact that only a small road connected it to the rest of civilization, it being surrounded by those cursed woods.

Our commander decided that only a few of us would actually go there, since bringing in a whole convoy would have been an obstacle to a possible retreat.

Only the most experienced of us where to go, and to my dismay, that meant me.

The camp didn't seem anything special: barracks at the back, an excavation site at the center and the prisoners dormitories at the left of the entrance, all divided by fences and barbed wire.

What struck immediately was the fact that it was abandoned. Not a soul, not even a speck of blood or a body in sight. The place dripped with sadness and a dreary and lonesome energy, that the barbed wire only contributed to rend even more dreary.

The HQ of the camp was on the right and the first thing that we did was to check that. No one was inside and not even the sign of a fight could be seen. Whoever was here just disappeared. The commander moved to the main desk and grabbed a few papers.

I could see they were classified material although I could not read them.

"Now for the pictures: we need one for every building at least and it has to be taken inside, of course, since we need to report on the state of every edifice. Don't bother standing around to describe the place: just take the damn pictures and come back".

The commander would probably write a few lies lies, anything to convince whoever in the higher ups had to know of this fuck up, not to send anyone in this hellhole ever again.

For a moment it felt like we weren't soldiers but a bunch of journalists, taking pictures of the place. Everywhere was empty: the HQ, the dormitories, the excavation site... just the barracks were left.

We went inside and the first thing that struck us was the familiar stench of death.

At the front you find this exact stench some hours after a battle: decomposing corpses.

"Someone's here!"

We found a soldier in a pitiful state: muttering words incomprehensibly and quaking like a leaf on a windy day. At the front he would clearly be diagnosed with shell-shock. We didn't know what it was here. Upon a closer look, I realized he was Werner. I tried speaking to him but he just wouldn't respond.

However, of all the questions I threw at him one seemed to get his interest, even in his half-crazed state:

"Where has the monster gone?"

He immediately pointed at a door leading to an underground ammunition depot.

Approaching it the smell only got worse.

I knew I would regret it but I had to. I had to see where everyone went. I motioned the others to come with the camera and we opened the door.

What I saw was even more scarring than any battlefield scene: bits and pieces scattered around everywhere, blood covering everything and an enormous, dreadful sort of tent made out of human leather standing at the center of the room. The lamps were still on, showing limbs and rotting bloody corpses all around the room. They were both SS and prisoners.

This depots were very big, so actually the room extended in length for a long while. That meant that you couldn't see everything.

After taking the damn picture that should have answered the question "were has an entire battalion gone?", I realized something: if all the corpses were here... My face went pale at the implications.

But what made me almost go insane with fear wasn't the horrid spectacle before me, no.

It was Werner voice, asking if I was alright...

coming from somewhere inside the room.

"Oi, alles gut, Kamerad?"

I immediately shut the door and closed it, blocking it with a rudimentary piece of wood that was meant to be an obstacle so that the door wouldn't move on its own.

Needless to say we all ran away scared. I exited the edifice when I realized something : Werner, the real one, was still there. I couldn't abandon him, so gathering up every ounce of courage, I went back.

He was crouched talking to himself. The goddamn door, the door that I had closed was now banging loudly. I grabbed him and with a force I didn't know I could muster, I brought him on his legs and moved him out.

I sprinted all I could and the truck was soon in sight, with my comrades shouting at me to get the hell on.

Thump thump thump.

Oh, I knew those damn footsteps. Without even looking I ran faster and faster, even Werner by now had began sprinting just by my solicitation.

The truck had already started going when I jumped inside it, the others grabbing Werner and getting him in.

When I looked back I saw the damn thing just inches away from my foot almost grasping it with its clawed hands. Everyone had begun to shoot it though, and I had taken out my pistol and begun relentlessly discharging my weapon as well, not even looking. I heard the thing reeling back, roaring and had beginning once again its pursue, only it was too late for it: the truck was faster and thank god had accelerated enough by now.

We were safe. That's when I realized two things, my son:

first, the thing had tried to get us into a trap. The depot was its lair, where all its hunt trophies rested. The thing had left Werner alive specifically to lead us there... I think it got the idea from the idiot stuck on a tree .

At least I don't have any other explanation as per why Werner was still breathing.

I never saw really well the thing, only managing in my rush of adrenaline to make out a large sharp claw.

When I asked finally explanations from my commander, he told me this:

"It's something that the SS had been studying for a while. No one knows where it comes from. The locals seem to know how to keep it away, well they at least say that never being alone helps.

Although they got the hell away since the thing probably got more aggressive.

Whether is something the SS have done, I don't know. But according to the locals, things worsened significantly since the camp had been opened".

That was also last time I saw Werner. He probably went into a mental hospital after that. I don't know if he has survived the war. I never heard of him since.

I know that the others probably didn't survive: all the people I knew there were sent to the eastern front. I survived it, but if they did too, I never got the chance to talk to them again, that's for sure.

Anyway, do you remember when you asked me when did I came the closest to dying, son?

At the time I told you that you would never guess it.

Well the second thing is this: that was the time I had been closer than ever to dying.

No, my son, it had not been at the siege of cold and dreary Leningrad nor at the banks of the unforgiving and spiteful Dnieper river.

We're I had come the closest to die, had been in fact at those breezy, grassy clearings of Pravieniskes, the little lithuanian village.

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