And then there were the stories of what her own people had done. BBC propaganda, maybe. But probably not. She knew people who knew people. Her older brother, whom she hadnt seen now since October, told her of an SS officer he had met whosupposedlyhad served inside Treblinka in 1943. When her twin, Helmut, was on a hike with his Jungvolk friends last summer, the last they would take before the drills grew serious, he told her there were rumors (implausible and offensive, in his opinion) that some of the less committed boys would share when they thought no one was listening. Rumors of what really went on in some of the camps. And, of course, there was what their English POWs had claimed was occurring, stories that Helmut would dispute as half-truths and cant spread by the Allies to further demonize the Germans. It got to the point where he threatened to tell his father on them if they uttered so much as one more syllable.
She tensed when she heard the high-pitched whistle of another shell, and saw her mother once again pull little Theo, the youngest of her children, against her. Then there was the blast. Ahead of her there was shouting, screaming. She couldnt tell whether the explosive had landed on the road or the river, whether people were wounded or merely panicked. More panicked, actually. Because certainly numbness had not completely subsumed the animal panic that coursed just below the skin and behind the bloodshot eyes of this long and plodding throng of parents and children and very old people. Only as Anna watched the nearest soldiers and Volkssturm recruits trying to prevent the line from spreading north and south into the woodshere is that panic, she thought, we are like desperate beetles scurrying from a giants bootsdid she understand. The bomb had created a great spiders web of cracks in the ice.
For a moment her father and Helmut conferred, the two of them murmuring softly into each others ears. Their army uniforms were still crisp. Then each of them walked to the front of a wagonthey were traveling with twoand her brother ordered her to come help him with the horses. After all, he muttered, they were more her horses than his. She thought he was being needlessly bossy, but she also knew that she didnt dare question him now. It seemed that their family, too, was going to leave the caravan and trek into the woods, and he was going to run ahead and find a spot along the river that looked suitable for a crossing. Beside her, beneath the blanket in the wagon filled with oats, their sole remaining POW cleared his throat.
Excerpted from Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian. Copyright © 2008 by Chris Bohjalian. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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