Summary: "The rough texture of the cramped beds grated against her calloused, bare feet but after months of trudging through mud and silt and death-infested ground she was accustomed to it...Along with the tattooed scars upon her wrist." Angst, character death mentioned. RedXCricket if you squint.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, the setting is based on a conglomerate of facts that I've picked up over the years and are the end result of, "The Diary of Anne Frank," "The Devil's Arithmetic," and a whole bunch of WWII-based poetry from my International Culture and Literature class.
Forgive me if any details are wrong or assumed.
And yet white
Is best described by gray
Bird by stone
Love poems of old
Were descriptions of the flesh
Described this and that
For instance eyelashes
And yet red
Should be described
By gray the sun by rain
Poppies in November
Lips by night
The most tangible
Description of bread
Is a description of hunger
In it is
The damp porous core
The warm interior
Sunflowers by night
The breasts belly thighs of Cybele
Is a description of thirst
It produces a mirage
Clouds and trees move into
Is a description of love
Is a modern love poem
-Draft of a Modern Love Poem, by Tadeusz Rozewicz,
translated from Polish by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire
The air wasn't filled with warfare when they came. But rather, snow. It fell soothingly, like a pristine bandage upon the sorrows of their seasons. And despite the numbness in her limbs Rumiana felt her heart quicken.
The blanket of white muffled their footsteps, but it couldn't mask the clatter of buckles and bootstraps. Instantly her senses were set off, green eyes widening in the darkness, and with all the grace of a kicked, emaciated cat she crept over the freezing, huddled bundles that were Maria Małgorzata and Roza to the bunk below. The rough texture of the cramped beds grated against her calloused, bare feet but after months of trudging through mud and silt and death-infested ground she was accustomed to it.
Just as she had become accustomed to the frozen, packed earth that made up the building's base. And the crumbling, worm-encrusted bread they fed to the half-starved inmates.
Along with the tattooed scars upon her wrist.
Tiptoeing to the front door, she eyed the night through a crack in the boards and into the serene white beyond. Only a hint of pink encroached upon the blank canvas, as the crematories were on the other side of the barracks, making them far enough to ignore and yet close enough to shadow them all. Movement shifted against the whitened backdrop she was currently looking at, however, flickering silhouettes slipping in and out of the skeleton trees upon the border's edge.
The lights were going out upon the watchtowers.
Rumiana's heart started into a rapid pattern of flight or fight, loud only within her ears, just as her breathing had taken on a desperate cast. And rushing with silent swiftness she moved to the closest line of hard bunks, shaking the woman there, her beauty having turned to edges and barbed wire and blonde locks replaced with bareness.
"Ekaterina! Wake up!" the words were a hoarse hiss from disuse and the remnants of a bout of sickness, born in the mires of the concentration camp and worsened with sorrow's impact.
The young woman was instantly awake, alert and closemouthed, just as she had been since the execution of her betrothed just a month prior. She didn't have a smile for anyone these days, not even Astryd in her tender worrying. But she instead shouldered the burden of caring for everyone else, even Rumiana herself.
"What is it?" Ekaterina whispered in accented Polish, the Russian of her childhood sneaking in. She slid her single threadbare blanket off of her pale form, bare feet peeking out from the bottom o f her striped uniform. But one thing marred the deathly beauty—a missing toe, brought on by frostbite. They'd managed to save the rest, so it was a small price to pay for nine of her other digits.
Rumiana had paid in stripes and burns, a ratty scarlet kerchief wrapped around a particularly deep gouge on her forearm. She didn't want to think about who'd last possessed the crimson cloth, and instead held out a hand to steady her 'sister.'
"Someone's in the forest," she explained shortly in short words.
No other explanation was needed as the older woman visited the same crack in the door. Then they set to rousing the others. Emmye awoke with a jump, on edge since learning of her son's recent punishment while Maria Małgorzata and Roza quietly followed her out.
Astryd and Roksana were easy to wake, the former sleeping little and the latter plagued by nightmares, but young Gracja less so. Her long ash colored hair had long-since been sheared and the small, fuzzy plate was tucked into her arms as tightly as was humanly possible. Rumiana loathed to disturb such determined rejection of reality for dreams, but there was no time for childhood innocence now. Not when lives were possibly at stake.
Touching Gracja gently, so as not to startle her, the adolescent still gasped loudly. A cry sharp enough to be heard from outside the building, sounding as though Rumiana had just doused the girl in cold water.
Hushing, which might have otherwise occurred to silence the child, was in this situation exchanged for frozen stillness. In the deathly quiet they heard a single footstep crunch a rough meter from the locked door.
Gracja's apologies were cut off by a sharp look, and with increasing anxiety the tall, angular brunette indicated for the ill, injured and young to climb beneath the lowest bunks, hiding. The strongest and healthiest were motioned to the door, bearing the only weapons they had available—slim pieces of wood and sticks used to feed their smoky cast-iron stove.
Rumiana claimed a blanket as her own weapon, wrapping it around bony wrists. She intended to tighten the shredded drape around the invader's face, blinding them as they walked in. For she was still as tall as most men, despite the deprivation they'd lived through.
Once they were all in position the room fell silent. Eyes glittered, wide and white in the darkness should you know where to look for them, but many slammed shut as the lock on the door slowly shifted away, breathing silent prayers to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
A shadow slowly stepped forward, pale sliver of cold moonlight peering in. As Rumiana met him, ready to smother the stranger, he must have sensed something and turned, catching her raised hands in his larger ones, both of them stumbling back. Behind her Ekaterina, former artist, and Maria Małgorzata, a teacher no longer, started forward but halted abruptly as the Rumiana and her opponent buckled against one another, a puppet's ghastly parody thrown into relief. Roza and Astryd were tucked among the children, holding them while Emmye balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to spring forward should Rumiana call for help.
The scramble didn't last long as malnourishment had left her, even one of the strongest of the women, weak after a moment. And with frustration she found herself locked in his grip, pressed against the stranger's chest as metal buttons bit through her threadbare tunic to the bone underneath. She glared up into his face, goading him on, but only met a shocked expression and hands which were gentle even in their effort to control her.
"We are friends! Friends!" the man croaked harshly with a hasty shuffle, words a mangled mix of Polish and German. But there was none of the harsh command that she could have found in her captors. Instead light blue eyes, clear and honest, shone through the darkness, glinting in the moonlight which tiptoed more fully in, like a ballerina she'd once seen long ago, as a child.
The same light caressed the edges of army canvas upon shoulders and waist, grey in the night but surely green in the glare of day. Flat silver tags, cold and candid, contrasted slim golden glasses, curled around pale ears. And nearly colorless curls escaped a standard issue helmet, crossed like barbed wire but foreign in origin. Having not seen curls in months she wondered what color they really were, her mind caught in a kind of pause between moments.
And glowing strong and solid, a white band was wrapped round his upper arm, red cross a knight's banner.
Her arms went limp at the emblazoned print of red and, with a half-sob, the hands that had been about to choke moved instead to the soldier's surprised shoulders, dropping the thin blanket. He froze a moment before instinct turned the move into one of comfort.
"Shhh, shhh," the medical officer soothed as he ran bare, chapped hands over her bony back and shorn hair, "safe. Safe now."
"You're too late!" she sobbed furiously, words an anguished garble of tears and shouting as she hung onto his military-issue jacket as though it were a death shroud, "she's already gone! She's gone, and I'll never get her back!"
A sorrowful silence surrounded them as the other prisoners held back, dropping their makeshift weapons and watching numbly as he held her. In the sepulcher stillness soldiers filed in, a mix of American and British uniforms mingling. They checked the interior for any sign of resistance, then set about wrapping up the smaller, weaker ones in rough, thick blankets.
The sound of orders to come out being shouted in bad German outside left her knowing that it was all over; that the prison wardens, the criminalistic Kapos and conscienceless Schutzstaffel, were being subdued and the men were being released. Then slowly the cowed, beaten captives crept out into the moonlight, bare feet calloused against the rocky sod.
Rumiana should have been making certain that everyone got out safely. She knew it, and yet…something had broken in her and she couldn't seem to stop. Couldn't seem to let the foreign soldier go. Around them and just outside the mixed cries of muted jubilation as parents were reunited with children after months of separation—Gracja and her Ojciec, the Kapelusznik, Emmye and her Heinrich—were mingled with tears of relief, of sorrow. She knew that soon they would start counting who was missing and the weeping would start.
But Rumiana couldn't see any of it. Her mind was filled only with the moment when her hardy Romani grandmother's strong grip had become lifeless. Her intelligent eyes and wry smile stilling for the last time under the effect of typhus. They'd all lost someone, something; everything, in a way, except for their faith. And no matter how brightly painted were the coming days, they would never be the same. Not in the wake of a literal yesterday.
"In eighteen days the German army, spearheaded by tanks and dive bombers, conquered Poland. In April 1940, the Germans seized Denmark and invaded Norway. On May 10 Hitler struck in the west. Within a few days his armies had crushed neutral Holland and Belgium and were pouring into France…
To deal with the Jews of occupied Europe, the Germans created an efficient apparatus that rounded up Jews and transported them to special extermination camps, many of them in Poland. There the prisoners were worked to exhaustion before being shot or gassed.
…Millions of Non-Jews in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia and elsewhere, most of them Slavs, were also victims of the Nazis."
-Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank, Afterword
AN: This is an imagined concentration camp, created from a mix of different existing camps. I decided to tread lightly on the specifics, as just reading about them made me want to weep. Belzec, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz especially.
Rumiana—"ruddy, glowing, red, rubicund, erubes", Polish…according to Google Translate (Ruby)
Roza—"Rose", Polish (Belle)
Maria Małgorzata—Mary Margaret, Polish (Mary Margaret)
Ekaterina—"Torture", Russian (Kathryn) (Interestingly enough, Abigail apparently means, "joy of my father.")
Astryd—"Divine Strength", Norwegian (Astrid).
Roksana—"Dawn", Polish (Aurora)
Heinrich—"rules her household", German (Henry)
Emmye—"whole, universal, expansive," Polish (Emma)
Kapos—Prisoners made into prison wardens. They typically were of the criminal element, and were used in a ploy to pit prisoner against prisoner.
Schutzstaffel—Known as the "SS" they were originally Hitler's guards and then later became members of paramilitary death squads(Einsatzgruppen) controlled by Heinrich Luitpold Himmler, the man in charge of the Nazi, "Final Solution."
Typhus—Typhus outbreaks frequently took lives in many of the concentration camps, in addition to the Nazi measures. "Symptoms include severe headache, a sustained high fever, cough, rash, severe muscle pain, chills, falling blood pressure, stupor, sensitivity to light, and delirium. A rash begins on the chest about five days after the fever appears, and spreads to the trunk and extremities. A symptom common to all forms of typhus is a fever which may reach 39 °C (102°F)."—Epidemic Typhus, Wikipedia, 25 January, 2013. 9 February, 2013.
Romani—Gypsies, who have pretty much migrated to every continent sans Antarctica. I made Granny Romani in place of their werewolf nature, the clan organization being similar as based on what we've seen in OUAT.
Wikipedia states, "Elsewhere in Europe, they were subject to ethnic cleansing, abduction of their children, and forced labor…as a result, large groups of the Romani moved to the East, toward Poland, which was more tolerant, and Russia, where the Romani were treated more fairly as long as they paid the annual taxes… During World War II, the Nazis and the Ustaša embarked on a systematic genocide of the Romani, a process known in Romani as the Porajmos. Romanies were marked for extermination and sentenced to forced labor and imprisonment in concentration camps." –Romani People, Wikipedia, 31 January, 2013. 9 February, 2013.
Artists, dramatists, and scholars in Poland were persecuted during WWII for their craft, receiving much the same fate as the Jews, Romani, Slavs, et cetera. Being an artist, I made the decision to turn Kathryn into one for that reason. (I also made her Russian because Germany did invade parts of Russia during that time.) Similarly, one of the first arenas in which Jews were banned was education (both as teachers and students). Therefore I made a point of keeping Mary-Margaret as a former teacher.
Notes about Poland:
"Throughout the German occupation, many Poles – at great risk to themselves and their families – engaged in rescuing Jews from the Nazis. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the biggest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. To date, 6,135 Poles have been awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations by the State of Israel – more than any other nation." –The Holocaust in Poland, Wikipedia, 3 February, 2013. 9 February, 2013.