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The Ultimate Final SolutionOn a typically efficient Tuesday in 1944, three days before Yom Kippur, the entire camp was herded aboard a train and shipped East. Undistinguished among them was Peter Koloski, a Pole, a flyer, a mild and sensitive man, but a prisoner of war and none of these anymore. What did he need with a war? His future - before the current insanity Hitler unleashed upon the world - had been bright! He had been granted a fellowship at the University of Krakow and Peter had even considered marriage after he received his advanced degree. But the tides of world tension swept such plans away with the pull of a trigger.
He had joined the war simply because he could not ignore it. Poland was taken in a neat twenty eight days and Peter almost taken with her, had he not managed to slip aboard a Finnish freighter while the Germans concentrated on a besieged Warsaw. He later joined the Free Polish Forces, not out of heroism or dedication, but to avoid drowning as a homeless number in the rising refugee flood. In the beginning, perhaps, he was sometimes filled with an earnest patriotism, and fierce outrage that all he had known and loved had been abruptly taken away from him. But that was long ago, and now - now his pain was a dull throb. It hurt too much to wonder if his father, his home, or even if the University of Krakow still existed. He knew now that he would never find out.
The windy train lurched and shuddered over a trestle, throwing Peter against the coarse wooden slats, which he automatically grabbed for support. Two withered gray hands clamped around Peter's waist. They belonged to an ancient man, a Jew from the look of him, and with the next lurch Peter spied the yellow patch on the old man's breast pocket. Yellow for cowardice, they said, in the shape of the Star of David; what the Nazi's fashioned as a "badge of shame." Still, Peter put one arm around the man to steady him, his inbred loathing and mistrust long since washed away in the cruel tide of incredible humiliation he had witnessed - and suffered - in the past twenty three months.
He hadn't known many Jews as a boy, but he was told all about them, and he certainly had read what Hitler and Himmler said about them. "Sub-human" was one of their favorite terms, and one not reserved for Jews alone; no, not now that Germany ruled half the world. The term was also applied to gypsies, homosexuals and communists. And now it was to be applied to Poles, Slavs, Russians, and anyone unlucky enough to be on the losing side.
Peter released his grip on the bearded little man, but those hazy wrinkled eyes hadn't even noticed his support, nor the bar of sunlight winking across his face, nor the stink of the ninety sweating bodies tightly packed around him. The little man's eyes were turned deep inside, many miles and many years away.
Three days. Three days cooped up in the cattle car, ravenous and parched. They were last allowed water - when? Was it sunset yesterday? Two days ago? Peter didn't know, and he gave up caring. The stench was horrible and unavoidable; it even permeated the cloths some wrapped across their mouths. Peter tried to daydream again.
He dreamed of the sun, rising with him bright and golden above the clouds, skimming rays across the fleecy slopes and forcing shadows to crouch against the far sides. He flew at half throttle directly towards the sun, staring at the molten ball through mirrored glasses. He could feel the stick vibrate lightly against his thigh. The car transformed into a shuddering cockpit. He loved to fly. He loved the solitude, the peace. The cleanliness of the white world below him, the purity of the deep blue above.
All the rambling thoughts tumbled quickly into his last flight. The streaks above him. The abrupt confusion. Messerschmidts hurling from high above, silently, from out of the sun.
"Red! Twelve o'clock high."
"I see 'em."
"Patsy, wheel right. I'll follow."
His plane then shuddered with thuds across the nose and to the left. The stick was wrenched out of Peter's loose hold. He hadn't even the chance to fire back before blue smoke engulfed him and blood rushed up to his head, as pressure like a weighty hand pressed him back against the downward scream of the plane, and panic seized him. Steady. Have to level it out. Have to get out, or be trapped in a flaming oven. Steady now.
He felt no pain anywhere, and he could still wiggle his fingers and toes. So far, so good, he wasn't hit, but the plane was finished, there was no response from the flaps. Peter somehow leveled off enough to scramble up and out of the cockpit. He fell as far as he dared before popping the chute, and still he took too long to drift into the Channel. Too much time a duck target, too much time to think.
He remembered his last thought before plunging into the dirty brine was, of all things, a recollection of the British C.O.'s briefing. With the outcome of the war pivoting on the course of the next few days, this typical British major with his cool cucumber-like detachment finished his soliloquy with, "All right fellows, let's go out and give hell to the Huns, shall we?"
Peter wasn't sure why the cliche' now struck him as so funny. He felt laughter rising from his stomach. In the hot cattle car, jostled about and dehydrated, he nearly chuckled.
So Germany won the war. He physically winced with the thought of it. Oh God, what hope was left? What thought of relief could one possibly entertain now? All these people around him, these Jews and gypsies, somehow they still trusted in their God and ultimate salvation for their people.
But there would come no savior. The pious little men who rocked to and fro, waiting for Elijah's prophecy of a messiah, would wait in vain. Their prayers swirled up the smokestacks of Birkenau and Treblinka only to cloud the sun. Rumors? Yes, he had heard the rumors. Then he saw the reality. The most hideous suspicions were true! Peter still choked back tears he thought he had long ago lost his ability to shed. And there was no one in the world to help them, anymore.
Oh, of course, Peter reasoned, in ten years America might contest the might of the Axis powers, but deep down he knew he was just holding onto a foolish dream of hope to help him fight off wretched despair. No, the Americans are realists. They won't risk sure annihilation on both their coasts. No, the American continents are in a state of siege. America will keep quiet.
The train squealed and churned as it wrestled its own inertia, won, and began a steady slow slide towards the journey end. Peter hadn't been aware of the motion while he too wrestled within himself, but the jarring action of stopping roused him. He peered through the slats and blinked his eyes in disbelief. Heads. As far as he could see, to the very horizon in the hazy distance, Peter saw a bobbing field of faces. He was looking upon an incredible mass of humanity, churning together shoulder to shoulder in a smothering crush, but certainly alive. Millions of eyes looked back as Peter and the others unloaded. Millions of frightened, questioning eyes met his own questing gaze. Peter noticed blood under the train and along the track, wretched testimony of those too compressed by the mass to avoid the train.
One thing struck Peter as odd. No clubs, no pushing, no commands --- no guards. Why was that? The train lugged off down the track, tearing screams of horror and pain along with it. There just wasn't enough room for all these people. And when the end of the train passed him, Peter was astounded to see an equally huge mass of people on the other side of the track. Millions upon millions of people, and so little sound they made. A whimper, that was all. The many faces that usually wore various masks of dull inner pain now revealed a common expression of bafflement. Where were they? Why were they here? The Ukraine, Peter guessed, but what were they supposed to do? There was no camp, no factory. Just people. Half of Europe seemed to be here, the losers of an unequal contest, caught unawares and still not understanding their fate.
Peter turned around to stare into eyes that were strangely familiar. Bert? A vague recognition crept into his mind.
"Hello, Peter," Bert sighed.
"You remember me."
"I was in the same bloody scum-pit freight car."
"Why didn't you come over?"
"What difference does it make?"
They were both silent. Both looked away. Bert must have been shot down shortly after Peter, when Britain lost the skies and England was battered into surrender. Funny, meeting him here. Such a grand talker, he was. But what's talk, anyway?
Then Peter discovered a buzzing in his ears. No, it sounded too much like a machine to be within his head. Others noticed it too.
"Hey mate," Bert flashed a toothless smile, "You got a fag and a light?" and then he laughed uproariously to his own tragic joke, and was about to speak again --
"Quiet Bert! Listen."
"A plane," someone said dully. The crowd picked it up.
"A plane. Plane! One or more? Where? A plane! Look! It's a bomber! They're going to bomb us! Oh my god! They're going to bomb us, bomb us..."
The frenzy spread through the crowd with the drift of the wind.
"Bombers!" And prayers began. But oddly enough, no one screamed, and there was nowhere to go, so the entire multitude calmly stood its ground and looked upwards as the plane loomed towards them.
"Just one plane. I don't see any others. Do you see any others? Just one. Couldn't be a bomber, could it?"
A single plane passed overhead. It released a parachute, a red and white one, so strikingly colorful compared to the usual black or green parachutes used during the war. It floated softly towards the multitude, a speck suspended underneath that could be a man, but as yet was only a black bar against the soft pink clouds.
Peter dully watched the faces surrounding him. Some lit up with joy, frantically anticipating a savior, or at least a leader, to lead them out of Pharaoh's oppression. Most were watching with great fatigue, expressionless. All but a few watched the progress of the parachute. It drifted lower and Peter recognized it; it was not man, but a capsule, undoubtedly a bomb of some sort. It drifted still lower and Peter could see it quite clearly now -
A huge fireball blossomed 200 kilometers above their heads. Instantly all was atomized as the heat and radiation of a supernova pushed outward, consuming all in its path. A cloud of dust and smoke and heat rose for miles into the sky and billowed into a huge mushroom cap.
THIS was the Nazi's final solution. This was the ultimate answer to Hitler's quest to find a "final solution" for the undesirables in his "thousand year Reich." For the Nazis were masters of three continents, and with their latest tool they could sterilize their empire of impurities and such minor irritations as criminals, deviates, POW's, the lame, the sick ...
For Germany had invented the atom bomb first. The Nazis had won the war. And to the people of captive Europe Hitler was God, and Aryans were indeed the Master Race. The atom bomb was turning out to be such a useful tool. First, the "final solution." Next, the leveling of America. In time, Japan...