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Authors: Paul Dowswell

The Auslander

BOOK: The Auslander
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Title Page


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40


Fact, Fiction and Sources


By the same author



To Ruth and Ilse, who escaped, and also to Hannah




August 2, 1941


Piotr Bruck shivered in the cold as he waited with twenty or so other naked boys in the long draughty corridor. He carried his clothes in an untidy bundle and hugged them close to his chest to try to keep warm. The late summer day was overcast and the rain had not let up since daybreak. He could see the goose pimples on the scrawny shoulder of the boy in front. That boy was shivering too, maybe from cold, maybe from fear. Two men in starched white coats sat at a table at the front of the line. They were giving each boy a cursory examination with strange-looking instruments. Some boys were sent to the room at the left of the table. Others were curtly dismissed to the room at the right.

Piotr and the other boys had been ordered to be silent and not look around. He willed his eyes to stay firmly fixed forward. So strong was Piotr's fear, he felt almost detached from his body. Every movement he made seemed unnatural, forced. The only thing keeping him in the here and now was a desperate ache in his bladder. Piotr knew there was no point asking for permission to use the lavatory. When the soldiers had descended on the orphanage to hustle the boys from their beds and into a waiting van, he had asked to go. But he got a sharp cuff round the ear for talking out of turn.

The soldiers had first come to the orphanage two weeks ago. They had been back several times since. Sometimes they took boys, sometimes girls. Some of the boys in Piotr's overcrowded dormitory had been glad to see them go: ‘More food for us, more room too, what's the problem?' said one. Only a few of the children came back. Those willing to tell what had happened had muttered something about being photographed and measured.

Now, just ahead in the corridor, Piotr could see several soldiers in black uniforms. The sort with lightning insignia on the collars. Some had dogs – fierce Alsatians who strained restlessly at their chain leashes. He had seen men like this before. They had come to his village during the fighting. He had seen first-hand what they were capable of.

There was another man watching them. He wore the same lightning insignia as the soldiers, but his was bold and large on the breast pocket of his white coat. He stood close to Piotr, tall and commanding, arms held behind his back, overseeing this mysterious procedure. When he turned around, Piotr noticed he carried a short leather riding whip. The man's dark hair flopped lankly over the top of his head, but it was shaved at the sides, in the German style, a good seven or eight centimetres above the ears.

Observing the boys through black-rimmed spectacles he would nod or shake his head as his eyes passed along the line. Most of the boys, Piotr noticed, were blond like him, although a few had darker hair.

The man had the self-assured air of a doctor, but what he reminded Piotr of most was a farmer, examining his pigs and wondering which would fetch the best price at the village market. He caught Piotr staring and tutted impatiently through tight, thin lips, signalling for him to look to the front with a brisk, semicircular motion of his index finger.

Now Piotr was only three rows from the table, and could hear snippets of the conversation between the two men there. ‘Why was this one brought in?' Then louder to the boy before him. ‘To the right, quick, before you feel my boot up your arse.'

Piotr edged forward. He could see the room to the right led directly to another corridor and an open door that led outside. No wonder there was such a draught. Beyond was a covered wagon where he glimpsed sullen young faces and guards with bayonets on their rifles. He felt another sharp slap to the back of his head. ‘Eyes forward!' yelled a soldier. Piotr thought he was going to wet himself, he was so terrified.

On the table was a large box file. Stencilled on it in bold black letters were the words:




Now Piotr was at the front of the queue praying hard not to be sent to the room on the right. One of the men in the starched white coats was looking directly at him. He smiled and turned to his companion who was reaching for a strange device that reminded Piotr of a pair of spindly pincers. There were several of these on the table. They looked like sinister medical instruments, but their purpose was not to extend or hold open human orifices or surgical incisions. These pincers had centimetre measurements indented along their polished steel edges.

‘We hardly need to bother,' he said to his companion. ‘He looks just like that boy in the

They set the pincers either side of his ears, taking swift measurements of his face. The man indicated he should go to the room on the left with a smile. Piotr scurried in. There, other boys were dressed and waiting. As his fear subsided, he felt foolish standing there naked, clutching his clothes. There were no soldiers here, just two nurses, one stout and maternal, the other young and petite. Piotr blushed crimson. He saw a door marked
and dashed inside.

The ache in his bladder gone, Piotr felt light-headed with relief. They had not sent him to the room on the right and the covered wagon. He was here with the nurses. There was a table with biscuits, and tumblers and a jug of water. He found a spot over by the window and hurriedly dressed. He had arrived at the orphanage with only the clothes he stood up in and these were a second set they had given him. He sometimes wondered who his grubby pullover had belonged to and hoped its previous owner had grown out of it rather than died.

Piotr looked around at the other boys here with him. He recognised several faces but there was no one here he would call a friend.

Outside in the corridor he heard the scrape of wood on polished floor. The table was being folded away. The selection was over. The last few boys quickly dressed as the older nurse clapped her hands to call everyone to attention.

‘Children,' she said in a rasping German accent, stumbling clumsily round the Polish words. ‘Very important gentleman here to talk. Who speak German?'

No one came forward.

‘Come now,' she smiled. ‘Do not be shy.'

Piotr could sense that this woman meant him no harm. He stepped forward, and addressed her in fluent German.

‘Well, you are a clever one,' she replied in German, putting a chubby arm around his shoulder. ‘Where did you learn to speak like that?'

‘My parents, miss,' said Piotr. ‘They both speak –' Then he stopped and his voice faltered. ‘They both spoke German.'

The nurse hugged him harder as he fought back tears. No one had treated him this kindly at the orphanage.

‘Now who are you, mein Junge?' she said. Between sobs he blurted out his name.

‘Pull yourself together, young Piotr,' she whispered in German. ‘The Doktor is not the most patient fellow.'

The tall, dark-haired man Piotr had seen earlier strolled into the room. He stood close to the nurse and asked her which of the boys spoke German. ‘Just give me a moment with this one,' she said. She turned back to Piotr and said gently, ‘Now dry those eyes. I want you to tell these children what the Doktor says.'

She pinched his cheek and Piotr stood nervously at the front of the room, waiting for the man to begin talking.

He spoke loudly, in short, clear sentences, allowing Piotr time to translate.

‘My name is Doktor Fischer . . . I have something very special to tell you . . . You boys have been chosen as candidates . . . for the honour of being reclaimed by the German National Community . . . You will undergo further examinations . . . to establish your racial value . . . and whether or not you are worthy of such an honour . . . Some of you will fail and be sent back to your own people.'

He paused, looking them over like a stern school – teacher.

‘Those of you who are judged to be
– of German blood – will be taken to the Fatherland . . . and found good German homes and German families.'

Piotr felt a glimmer of excitement, but as the other boys listened their eyes grew wide with shock. The room fell silent. Doktor Fischer turned on his heels and was gone. Then there was uproar – crying and angry shouting. Immediately, the Doktor sprang back into the room and cracked his whip against the door frame. Two soldiers stood behind him.

‘How dare you react with such ingratitude. You will assist my staff in this process,' he yelled and the noise subsided instantly. ‘And you will not want to be one of those left behind.'

Piotr shouted out these final remarks in Polish. He was too preoccupied trying to translate this stream of words to notice an angry boy walking purposefully towards him. The boy punched him hard on the side of the head and knocked him to the floor. ‘Traitor,' he spat, as he was dragged away by a soldier.



Piotr and the other boys were taken to an airy, spotlessly clean dormitory in the same building. They were issued with towels and soap and allowed a hot soak in a room with a row of baths and large frosted windows. There in the steamy room, Piotr felt trapped in a bubble of his own misery. His head throbbed where he had been hit and he could feel the lumpy bruise, but at least the skin had not broken. Was he right to have volunteered to translate? Surely, the other children had to know what the Doktor was going to say, and the old nurse's Polish was not good enough to tell them properly.

Anger built inside him. He had never thought of himself as entirely ‘Polish' and his parents had always felt like outsiders in Poland. He was frightened of these Germans – with their brusque manners and their occasional displays of terrifying violence. But perhaps they were right to be ‘reclaiming' him. It was certainly better than being sent back to the terrible orphanage.

Piotr's mood grew worse when, much to his embarrassment, the nurses came round and massaged a strong smelling chemical lotion into his hair. ‘It is for head lice,' said the older nurse when Piotr asked. ‘All of you from the orphanage are infested.'

Bath time over they were given clean clothes, warm milk and bread, and allowed to lounge on the beds in the dormitory. His new trousers were too short for his legs, but at least they did not carry the musty, stale smell of his old clothes.

Books and magazines had been left for them to read, although most were in German. Piotr read the German armed forces magazine
. Some of the articles were about German soldiers in France or Holland, dining in the cafés of the Champs-Elysées or going to dances with the local girls. But most of the pieces trumpeted the successes of the German army in Soviet Russia. Some of the other boys came and asked him to tell them what the articles were about. They didn't mind his skill with German now.

They were all summoned again at midday and the stout nurse addressed the boys in halting Polish, telling them that any further attacks on Piotr would be punished severely. ‘I know you worried . . .' she said. ‘But no boy, NO boy, to hit this boy Piotr who speak German and Polish.' She held up a long bamboo cane and shook it. She seemed too good-natured to carry out the threat, but she was trying her best to protect him. ‘Understand?'

Piotr hoped they would heed her words. Alongside the two nurses, there was now only one soldier to oversee them.

They waited there in the dormitory for the rest of the day, and boys were called out one by one. But this time, they returned after half an hour, at least most of them did. When the first came back, they all looked at him expectantly. ‘More measuring,' he said with a bewildered shrug.

While they waited, they were given hot food – stew and potatoes and poppy-seed bread pudding. The food was good; it was a banquet compared to the thin soups and stale bread of the orphanage. Piotr began to feel more comfortable and his mood lifted a little.

Not all the children were reassured. The boy next to Piotr had curled himself into a tight ball and was rocking to and fro. Piotr went to sit on the end of his bed. ‘I don't think we need to worry,' he said. ‘Isn't it good not to feel hungry all the time?'

‘I don't care if they feed us golabki and pierogi with golden spoons,' said the boy. ‘I don't want to go to Germany. Not with these Nazi
. . .'

Just then, the young nurse appeared at the door and called Piotr's name. She took him to a small office close to the dormitory, her hand resting lightly on his shoulder. In the room was the man in the white coat who had made the joke about him being like a boy from a Hitler Youth poster. He smiled at Piotr and beckoned him to sit. Talking in German, he explained they were going to make a record of his appearance for a scientific survey. He was not to be frightened, as he had nothing to worry about.

The man was called away by a commanding voice, leaving Piotr alone to take in his surroundings. There was a table set with the strange pincer-like instruments he had noticed earlier and other peculiar things. One was like a long pencil case that opened on a hinge at one of its narrow ends, and contained twenty eyes of various graded colours. They were so lifelike they made him shudder.

Another similar long tin box contained different swatches of hair, arranged left to right, numbered one to thirty, from fairest to darkest. Unlike the eyes, this was real hair and Piotr tried to imagine the heads it came from. The lightest must be a Finn's, he thought – no one else he was aware of had that almost white blondness. He wondered if the darkest was from a Jew – some of his Jewish friends in Poland had very dark hair. A label in dark Gothic script on the lid read:


Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology,

Human Heredity and Eugenics


There was also a white cloth pinned up against the wall, in front of which was placed a strange-looking chair with a metal neck brace and three evenly spaced wooden ridges on the seat. As Piotr wondered what this was the man returned.

He apologised for being called away – Piotr was surprised by this courtesy. The Germans he had seen in Poland had treated the people in his village, Wyszkow, with open contempt. Not that the Brucks were considered Poles. They had been ‘reclassified' as ethnic Germans soon after the invasion. But day to day, out in the streets, the German soldiers spoke to the locals as they would to dogs or farm animals.

The man smiled again. He took out a printed form from his briefcase and began to make detailed notes. Name, age, family background – all the usual questions. Then he picked up the hair and glass eyes and Piotr's blond hair, eyebrows and blue eyes were matched and categorised.

He asked Piotr to sit directly in the centre of the chair with his neck pressed tight against the cold metal neck brace. It was very uncomfortable, as the central wooden strut ran right down the cleft of his buttocks.

‘It's to make you sit up straight for your photograph,' the man laughed, ‘and not lounge about like a lazy Pole.'

Piotr didn't think that was funny, but at least he was being friendly.

The man peered into the viewfinder and took photographs of the front and both sides of Piotr's face, the harsh flash temporarily blinding him. Then he asked him to take off his clothes once more. Piotr hurriedly undressed and was alarmed to discover that he was expected to stand before the camera again for three more photographs.

‘You need some meat on those bones,' said the man. ‘They've not been feeding you enough, these Polacks. Too many Yids to provide for. Depriving good German boys like you of their proper nourishment! We'll be putting a stop to that.'

Piotr dressed, feeling shaky and flustered. Was he meant to say something back? He thought it best to hold his tongue. On a printed form, the man began to record detailed measurements of his skull and the length and width of his mouth, ears and nose. Sometimes he drew pictures of particular features, such as the shape of Piotr's ears, nostrils and eyelids, all the while making little ums, ahs and even one or two very goods of approval. He seemed particularly pleased with the measurement from Piotr's forehead to the back of his head.

‘Let's have your hands,' he said, opening a tin box with an ink-stained pad. Palm prints and fingerprints were made on further forms.

The man indicated for Piotr to return to the ordinary chair, then disappeared again, clutching the forms. He returned with Doktor Fischer.

This time the Doktor smiled at him. It was a chilly, cold-eyed smile, but Piotr supposed he was trying to be pleasant.

‘You, my friend,' said the Doktor in German, ‘are a magnificent specimen of Nordic youth. Tell me about your parents. Tell me how you came to be living out here with the Polacks.'

‘My father is . . . was . . . from Prussia,' said Piotr nervously. He didn't want to talk about his parents. It was too raw. Too painful. And he didn't know whether what he had to say would land him in trouble.

‘His family had farmed there for as long as anyone could remember,' he continued. ‘My mother's father, he was from Bavaria and he married a Polish girl.'

The man winced almost imperceptibly, but it was enough to give away his disapproval. Piotr wondered if he was telling too much of his story. But Doktor Fischer was listening intently and scribbling notes on a form. ‘Good, good,' he said. ‘Tell me everything you know.'

‘My mother was born in Poland but the family moved back to Germany during the Great War. My mother is from farming stock too. Both her brothers were killed in the war and when her parents died she inherited the family farm. My father, well neither of my parents really, wanted to go to Poland. They had both grown up in Germany, but the farm was large and with a grand manor house. So they came. I was born a year or so after they arrived.'

‘And what in heaven happened to land you in the orphanage?' said the Doktor. ‘Aren't you registered as

‘We were,' said Piotr. ‘As soon as the soldiers arrived, it was obvious by the way they spoke that my parents were Germans and not Poles. We were put on the “German People's List” at once.' He began to feel indignant. ‘I told the orphanage this and I asked them who would look after the farm, but they just waved me away.'

‘Yes,' said the Doktor, his face turning hard. ‘I shall speak to the wretched man who runs that place. I'm sure your records have been lost. We have processed two million Poles of German ancestry in the last two years. I'm not surprised you slipped through the net. Now tell me what happened to your mother and father.' He was beginning to sound irritated.

‘My parents were both killed on the night of the Soviet invasion. They were out visiting friends. It was the first night they had decided to go out and leave me alone in the house. My father said, “You're thirteen now, Piotr. We trust you. Besides, you've got Solveig – that's our collie – to look after you.”'

Piotr noticed the Doktor had stopped writing and was staring impatiently, straight at him. Clearly this was unnecessary information. He cut short his story. ‘They never came back. I was sent to the orphanage in Warsaw a week later.'

The Doktor spoke frankly.

‘Some of the soldiers want to keep you here to act as an interpreter, but I think you deserve better than that. I am going to recommend we return you to the Reich and find you a good German family eager to adopt a fine German son. I know of one, and shall contact them at once.'

‘What will happen to the farm?' Piotr asked at once.

‘Do you have brothers or sisters? Any relations?'

‘I have cousins and aunts and uncles on my mother's side, but all in Germany,' said Piotr.

‘And do you know them well?'

‘No. There was an awful family feud when my mother inherited the farm. The rest of the family stopped speaking to her. I've never met any of them.'

‘We shall have to establish who has responsibility for the farm while you are still a minor,' said the Doktor. ‘Then, when you are old enough, you will have an estate to take over.'

Piotr felt flabbergasted. All of this was too extraordinary to take in at once. Yesterday he was starving in a wretched orphanage, sleeping in a dormitory four beds deep and twenty beds long. Now he was being offered a completely new life. Piotr didn't like the Doktor's manner, but he did enjoy being told that he was something special. He began to think he would fit in in Germany. Suddenly, he couldn't wait to leave.


For a couple of weeks Piotr was the star pupil at the holding centre. Right from the start he knew he would not be staying long. The rest of them would have to undergo a long process of ‘Germanisation', learning the language and having the Slav beaten out of them. With Piotr that would not be necessary.

From the morning of their selection the boys had been forbidden to speak Polish, and some had been whipped with a belt on the buttocks, in front of the others, for continuing to talk in their own language. It would be a difficult few months for them.

‘Polish is a tongue fit only for slaves,' Doktor Fischer had announced, towards the end of that first day. ‘You are German stock – reclaimed by the National Community – and so you shall speak only German.'

The children were divided into classes according to their ability. Eager student volunteers, fresh off the train from Berlin, began to teach them the German language. Only Piotr was considered fluent enough to require no further instruction.

While the others were in their German classes, he was allowed to sit and read in the dormitory or the garden. Engrossed in
magazine, Piotr learned that the German army had conquered the eastern region of Poland taken by the Soviets in 1939, and had now occupied the Ukraine. They were already halfway to Moscow. The magazine was full of photographs of cheering peasants carrying crosses and religious icons as they welcomed the smiling soldiers that swept into their villages.

When the other children came out of classes, the younger ones would flock towards him to try out their new words. ‘Eins, Zwei, Drei . . . Vier . . . Fünf,' they would parrot, and Piotr would correct their pronunciation.

BOOK: The Auslander
2.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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