Through the navy-tinged skylights Johan could see the darkness gradually fading. He had finally ceased to experience fear and was overcome by an overwhelming feeling of weariness. Nevertheless, rich ecstasy had at last triumphed over the harsh years of agony. He took a deep breath and smiled. THE BOY Changed was the boy who was forced only two years ago from the little Polish village of Koszalin. His once boisterous adolescent body, overflowing with an indignant energy had been gradually replaced by a mere bag of bones, without muscle or fat, and contained only in a thin layer of gaunt skin.
Johan’s soft black hair had been shaved off to expose his naked scalp the first day he arrived at Auschwitz, and had since refused to grow back. His fine grey eyes had lost their mixture of innocence and gentleness, and his delicate mouth, with its expressive versatility, had hardened like the black hearts of the German officers who imprisoned him. Johan drifted about as though he was in a constant trance, and upon first impressions, one would have thought him to be sleepwalking. He had no friends or close acquaintances, and made no corrections when people would label him as arrogant or a misfit.
Johan was visibly a black sheep amid a flock of pure white. He took part in the life of the labour camp – in the strenuous physical work given to every branded Jew – only just often enough as to be conspicuous neither by his absence nor by his presence. People left him alone. And that was all that he wanted. For three years they had been inseparable – always near each other, for the suffering, for the brutal blows, for the miserable rations of soup, for support. Three years from camp to camp, from selection to selection, they had faithfully stuck together, had shared the prospect of death lingering over their heads.
And then one day, as if by cruel chance, fate separated them. THE SELECTION Hordes of frenetic men from all over the place swelled into great crowds and fled back and forth between the lines. The sadistic selection races were under way. Johan had seen his father losing ground, limping through the thick snow, falling back to the rear of the column. He had seen him. They had all seen him. Yet, he, Johan had obliviously continued to run out in front, letting the distance between them grow greater.
Not only was it difficult for Johan’s father to keep up with this frenzied hustle, it was impossible not to notice the fixed stares he was receiving from the selection officer on the sideline. The German guard, with an assassin’s face, had already made his decision. When Johan had completed his selection run and turned around to search for his father, he was ashamed by what he saw. The tired eyes, veiled with despair, and that face, damp with tears and small remnants of frost. His father had quite simply given up on life and Johan had shown no sign of grief, no feeling of remorse, no last words of encouragement.
He had inadvertently turned into a creature of human shape but stunted humanity. They had whispered later that night amongst themselves that Johan had sought this separation in order to rid himself of his father, his burden; the frail old man was an encumbrance which could lessen his own chances of survival. Now that Johan’s father had succumbed to the hellish flames of the incinerator, he was without a family and seemingly without a soul. His limbs, numb with cold, despite the incessant labour, his throat parched, famished, breathless, on he went. What Johan kept living for was mystery to even himself. THE PLAN
Today was the day. Light came through the cracked window, trickling morning all over the ominous room. As usual, Johan slept the sleep of the restless, the sleep of taunted memories, of cold, unspoken misery, of bitter winter. But most of all, intoxicated with sadness, he slept the morose sleep of broken youth. However, he was not to sleep for much longer. Roused by the harsh sounds of the monotonous bell, Johan rose from his tattered bunk only to find his forehead bathed in cold sweat. Another morning. He had survived to see another day of destitution, another fleeting sunrise, another forgotten death.
Over the dreary prison quarters the clear sky shone pale azure with the vast orb that was the sun, concealed and out of sight. Johan wandered outside and joined the long cue to receive his daily breakfast ration of tasteless, watered-down, black coffee. He looked awful. His nails where like talons, and the skin on his arms and legs, where the rags failed to cover his body, was peeling off in shreds. All around him, the prisoners were noticeably more exhausted and edgy. Johan sipped his bland coffee, staring ahead at two anxious men who were in deep conversation. ‘…