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An Afternoon Out
by Andrew Lee-Hart



Laughing at Auschwitz


A dozen of them arrived at the small country inn; men and women in uniforms, they were mostly in their early twenties, although a couple of the men looked older, and they all had the look of death about them, as if it had become part of their very beings, and yet despite this they were merry, laughing and pushing each other like hysterical school children. They had not even sat down when they started shouting for drinks, speaking commandingly in German, with the arrogance of conquerors, accustomed to getting what they wanted and quickly.


Maja heard them as she checked on Andre, who was grunting happily, “tcch, tcch” she said caressingly, and stroked his harsh skin. She sighed and washed her face under the outside tap before she walked round to the front of the inn, where Krysta was in the small kitchen watching the arrivals through the grimy window.

“How was the pig?”

“Without a care in the world.”

“He is getting fat that one” Krysta said, “he will soon be ready for slaughtering.”


The Germans started shouting for service again, “there goes our quiet afternoon.” Maja muttered crossly.

“What else were we going to do?” asked Krysta, “better getting serving.”

Maja gave her a look; she was not sure why Krysta was in charge; they were both virtually the same age, and Maja had actually been working at the inn longer. Just because Krysta had lived and worked in Warsaw she felt she could lord it over the rest of them, as if they were ignorant peasants.


The men and women from the camp were sat around three tables in front of the inn; it was a cold Spring, and Maja wondered why they did not come inside where they had a fire going, but if they had done so the four local men from the village sitting in the corner would have made their excuses and gone, perhaps they were showing tact, or more likely, the small inn could not contain their exuberance.


Maja felt a hand linger over her bottom as she stood by the group waiting for their orders, she felt disgust and wanted to punch the young soldier who was pawing her, but instead she briskly moved aside and gave him a look. She often got such attention from customers, but being touched by someone from the camp was far worse, and for the briefest moments, she remembered the caresses of Josef, who had been so kind and loving, and whose memory continually crept upon her without warning, day and night.


Was it only three years ago she and Josef had taken off for a fortnight?  He had been studying to be an architect in Krakow, but had come back home to see his family, and more importantly to spend some time with Maja. They had cycled throughout the countryside, sleeping in inns or on a couple of occasions in the fields, it had been the summer then and she remembered the smell of their sweat and the feel of the cool water as they bathed in clear lakes and woke in each other’s arms. Oh Josef, her beautiful boy, he had been taken away by soldiers with his parents and two sisters, and now she served drink and food to his murderers.


“Beer all round” said the oldest looking man; a short person with greasy hair parted in the middle. Maja sniffed; she noticed the strange and unpleasant smell coming from the group, something vaguely familiar, possibly it was their thick uniforms or something in their diet; she smiled at them vaguely, feeling sick.

“And girl” another of the men shouted, “something to eat hey, maybe sausage and bread.”

She nodded, expressionless, and they turned from her, although the tall, blond soldier who had touched her gave her a wink as she left.


Maja and Krysta cut sausage and sliced bread.

“That tall man with blonde hair isn’t bad” giggled Krysta.

“He already has his hands full.” Said Maja, who could still feel his fat, sweaty hands upon her bottom.

“He gave me a look earlier.” And Krysta carried on cutting bread.

“How can you even imagine it after what they are doing to our country?”


The four old men left quickly, one of them spat in the direction of the Germans as he left the inn, but they affected not to notice.

“They are only people like the rest of us, we may as well have fun whilst they are here.”

Maja glared at Krysta, there were already rumours about her and another man from the camp, Maja hoped it wasn’t true; how could you bear to give yourself to such people?  Even Krysta, who pretended to be so worldly, surely must have some loyalty to Poland, her poor country, who once again was under the boot of an invader. Maja watched her as she calmly prepared food, tall and still attractive, but undernourished and tired; she wondered if Krysta had a lover in Warsaw, who she pined for in the quiet of the night.


The young people stayed for the rest of the afternoon; eating and drinking, and becoming more and more raucous, and each time Maja went to serve them, the tall blond man would try to touch her, and when she skirted his advances, he would look at her with surprise, his eyes insolent and lustful.

“I could not touch someone like that” said Maja later, “horrible things go on at that place.”

Krysta laughed; “I don’t care. I don’t suppose it is as bad as people say… and anyway the Jews….” And then she remembered and muttered an embarrassed apology. Tears starting in her eyes, Maja glared at her and went to collect more glasses. 


The camp was not far away from the village, it had appeared suddenly over a couple of weeks, and then the soldiers came, large and noisy, but when alone or drunk they often appeared ashamed and lost. And now day and night, the villagers would hear the trains arriving, and occasionally the moans of the people inside the carriages, when Maja heard them she wondered if Josef and his family were inside one of the carriages, hungry and thirsty as they prepared to meet whatever monster lurked in those buildings.


One of the men had a harmonium and was playing some kind of dance, and when Maja came out, her admirer stood up and came towards her.

“Come and dance with me.”

She shook her head and tried to avoid him, but he was too quick, and he held her, and for a moment they swayed in time to the waltz. He squeezed her tight, and she felt the buttons of his tunic hard against her breast, and then he bent down to her and she felt his lips on her mouth, and she gagged as there was that smell again, sickly and nauseating, stronger than even the taste of beer and sausage. Revolted, she pushed him away, and freed herself, and there was laughter from the group, whilst behind her she could feel the eyes of Krysta, jealously glaring at her.


“You can serve them” she said to Krysta as she walked back into the kitchen with glasses, “I have had enough.”

But it was getting dark now, and they were putting on their jackets and standing up. The two young women watched from the window as they walked away, arms around each other, shouting and singing, a brave new race, full of confidence and ruthlessness.

“They haven’t even tipped us” Krysta told her, “if you hadn’t been so cross we might have got something.”

“I didn’t see the blond one go.”

Krysta shrugged “probably just having a piss.”


Later Maja walked around the back and into the shed to feed Andre. He was snuffling about looking for food, and Maja, stroked him before throwing him some acorns from the basket, and lazily he got to his feet and started munching. She breathed in the smell of the sty; ripe but somehow pure compared to the smell of death from the soldiers, she sighed, and watched the ever-hungry Andre devouring his food.


And then she heard it, a deep snoring close by, she looked around the dark shed and soon found him; the German was lying in a corner, his mouth open and his long blond hair streaked with something vile. She stood there regarding him for a moment, large and scruffy, his trousers wet at the crotch, he seemed helpless, and for a moment she wondered if he had a mother somewhere in Germany, a little sister and perhaps a lover. But she could not humanise him and she put away such thoughts.


A unconscious survival instinct must have activated within the man at her feet, and he tried to raise his hands to protect himself, but it was too late as she already had the spade in her hand and it was going down hard into his face….


She heard something behind her and there stood Krysta.

“I wondered if you were okay,” she said, and then she saw the body and gasped slightly.

“What have you done?” she asked, but Maja was silent, staring at nothing, “come on we cannot leave him like that.”

 Without a further word the two young women stripped the body and burnt the uniform before doing what they had to do with the body.  As they left, they heard Andre crunching on his supper, and grunting with pleasure.

“Won’t they miss him?” Maja asked, imagining the angry German voices, banging at doors and the sound of screams and gunfire.

Krysta nodded, “We need to leave tonight, head towards the East. My brother knows some people perhaps he can help us.”

Maja was scared, “thank you and I am sorry.”

“It is okay, but hurry, we have very little time.”


Hand in hand Maja and Krysta walked swiftly back to the village in the dark, planning their journey to the East.  Behind them, the large building stood dark and cold, whilst from it came the murmuring of thousands of voices; babies and adults, men and women, the good and the bad; the sound dispersed over the lakes and hills like mist, where a young couple had once been happy and in love.



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