The house in front of me was a vivid shade of blue—bluer than the sky, not as dark as the ocean. The color reminded me of a blue-bird. The framed windows were a shade of forest green, and there were two small windows on each side of the matching door. The roof was old and tattered but supported the one lonesome dormer-window in the attic. The flower beds beneath the front windows were empty, but I imagine they were full of vibrant blossoms in the spring and summer. Trinkets clung to the windows from the inside where a fire illuminated an empty table covered with a freshly prepared dinner.
I wasn't standing in front of that house to admire the unique colors and decor.
I had a task.
Sven shoved his elbow into my side as he walked past me, continuing down a line of Jews who were waiting for their next order. "Charlie, kill that woman. She is out of line," Sven asserted his command with an authoritative intonation.
I tried to step forward along the uneven cobblestones from where I was standing. The sight in front of me had me frozen. Through wisps of fog, I set my focus on the middle-aged woman. With dark hair, tied in an unkempt knot at the base of her skull, and loose strands hanging in front of her eyes, she appeared forlorn while shouting for her children. She was wearing an apron, probably from the food she had just finished preparing for her family when a group of soldiers broke into her quaint blue house. "Let my children go!" The woman was trying to protect her family—her daughter and son. Sven told me to kill her because she was crying for her children, and we aren't supposed to tolerate such a disgusting display of emotion from a Jew.
Sven stopped walking when he noticed I wasn't following him. He stood, staring at me, waiting on me to fulfill his command. I still couldn't move. Rather than follow orders, I glanced back and forth between the woman's daughter, who was being pulled away by a comrade I didn't know, and then again at the distraught mother. She was reaching her arms out for her daughter, who was already so far away. At that moment, I knew the two would never reunite. The thought made me feel sick.
"Kill her," Sven shouted. "Do it now, Charlie."
I knew of the punishment I could receive for not following orders from a superior, but I couldn't move my arms, let alone, handle a weapon.
Sven's hand pressed against the lapel of my coat as he pushed me away. "Coward," he muttered, passing by me.
Sven retrieved his rifle from the left side of his belt and aimed it at the mother's head, while the other comrade had the woman bent over in shame.
I couldn't do much else but watch her daughter grieve what would be an extraordinary loss in a matter of seconds. "I love you, Mama. Please don't hurt her!" the girl shouted in a plea.
"Amelia," the woman countered. "Fight and be strong. For me."
Amelia was the girl's name.
Amelia deserved a mother to face the horrors she was about to encounter.
"Mama, no," Amelia grunted. "Please, don't leave me!" Amelia pleaded as if her mother had a say in the matter. Though we all knew, only one person had the final decision, and Sven no longer had a heart in his chest.
Amelia's words buzzed over the blasting weapon. Her mother was taken down with one bullet. To the ground, she fell. Blood pooled instantly. The smell of gun powder was potent even through the thick air.
The world went silent for me even though screams were coming from all sides. The Jews were scared, especially while watching one of their own sacrificed as an example of what disrespect earns.
I watched that woman's daughter, Amelia; the pale complexion wash through her face as she stared doe-eyed at her mother's corpse. Amelia's head shook slightly with disbelief as she was pushed within a herded line, farther and farther away from her mother's body. Amelia couldn't have been older than sixteen or seventeen, and in an instant, her world had become darker than she likely ever could have imagined it would.
My chest felt as though it was caving in. No matter how many Jews I watched meet their ending day as Amelia's mother had, the pain never lessened, and the heartache only grew stronger with the sight of every new-fallen body.
I was not meant to be a killer.
I refused to hate, no matter what I was supposed to believe.
* * *
Hello. I'm Charlie Crane.
Like many people who lived through World War II, I have spent years reminiscing about those years—the memories, decisions, losses, and gains. While I know plenty of older folk like myself who put the past behind them, I prefer to keep my past current to avoid letting anything I left behind, die.
My life has had many ups and downs, trials and tribulations, death, and destruction that have made me wonder if my birth was a mistake. Surely, I was not meant to live the way I have. Though beyond my dismay, I will carry the shadows from eradication within my heart.
I was born in a small town of Lindau within Bavaria, Germany—a place where houses and buildings replicate much of the fairytales modern parents tell their children today. Colored facades, in every hue, with gabled roofs, white-framed windows, cross-hatch decor lining the walls, stone-work adorned with deliciously pungent flowers; the world as I saw it was picturesque, and I was none the wiser that a place outside of Bavaria could look any different.
My mama and papa were Hans and Anja, a bread baker and a seamstress—both innocent and quiet.
My family didn't have a lot, but we made do to get by; always dreaming of a day when life might become more comfortable for us all. We weren't shy about our wishes and hopes, but as I became an older boy, I often wondered if we were too open about our desires. I began to think that by having enough and recognizing what we had, my family would someday have more than enough. Although, who was I to tell someone how to dream? Especially when that someone was Mama or Papa.
"He will change the world," I remember Mama saying, speaking of our country's new chancellor. "You watch, Charlie, he will make things better for us all. We will have an answer to our prayers."
There was no answer to our prayers. Hitler did not make life better for anyone. Instead, he stole everything from everyone.
"I don't like that man, Mama," I replied, speaking out of turn.
"Charlie, do not talk that way. That is pure blasphemy. Our country needs change, and Adolf Hitler will do just that. You watch, he will." With a smart tap on my cheek, Mama pointed her finger, making her point clear, which only left me with more thoughts.
I was too young to understand the complexity and meaning of a country adopting a dictator as a leader. However, it might not have mattered how old I was, because Hitler's promises blinded many of us.
History was developing every single day. Life changed quickly for all young and old, men and women. No one was safe with their thoughts and opinions because we were no longer allowed to think on our own.
Hitler's troops tried to mold us—me, but I was a strong boy and a stronger man.
I bent, but I did not break.
Adolf Hitler made laws against loving a different kind.
Then, I broke the law.
It was the best decision I have ever made.
Unspoken Words will release on October 16th, 2019.