Parczew Forest, Eastern Poland, 1945
Lieutenant Otto Diestl stared into the oldest, deepest part of the forest. This far into the dense growth of the ancient woods you could hardly believe that there was a war raging on. Against the steel gray sky, the color of dull metal, the barren trees looked like pencil sketches done by a Godlike hand.
If it were not so cold and noisy, he would have enjoyed the view.Shots rang out, but he didn't bother to look in that direction.
Damn these bothersome gypsies. Yet another imbecile must have tried to escape. This was not good.
Germany had been at war for too many years for his men to be obliged to deal with disposing of these sub-humans. Especially now, when their moral was at an all time low. All the men had thought of for days was the horror of the Allied night bombing on their beautiful city of Dresden.
He turned around and looked over the field to the deep trench they had forced the vermin to dig. Ach, shooting Jews was easier, he knew from experience. They at least stood still, while these gypsy fools sing and constantly move. Even when they are already standing on the shooting ground and can see that there is no hope left, they are still acting like animals, struggling against the inevitable. And the noise they make!
Scheiße! These gypsies and their music. Even when he had them marched into this part of the forest to force them to dig their own grave, still they sang their damned song. The melody was beginning to get under his skin, burrowing into his brain, tugging at his heart.
He glanced at the newest man just transferred into his platoon. The Reich must be getting their recruits from the bottom of the barrel. What was he, seventeen? Sixteen? The boy looked miserable, half frozen, underfed, and white with fear at what his fellow soldiers were about to do. The youngster was glassy eyed and Diestl knew the songs the vermin were singing were making him that way. He had to fight that feeling off himself.
"Filthy gypsies," he shouted, hoping to drown out the singing that pressed upon him. "Murderers! How many times must they have worked with the partisans against us? How many of our fellow soldiers have they killed to make sure that no one found their camp? But we have discovered the nest, and we shall do what the Reich has ordered!"
He waved over one of his more brutal men. He didn't look at the thug's face. "First Sergeant Oster I give you permission to do what you will with the parasites to get them to cooperate. Schnell. Go, let the other men join in."
Keeping his back to those about to be eliminated, Lieutenant Diestl took one last glance at the scenery of the pristine, virgin forest and then, as befit a German officer, he turned, bringing his full attention back to the job at hand.
The people of the caravan stood looking into at the pit that spread out in front of them. Some were still defiantly chanting that blasted melancholy song. Some of the women were not singing but were clutching their brats to their chests, sobbing, "Soske?"
Hatred filled his heart. They ask why we do this! The nerve of them. Because they are sub-humans, trying to taint the pure Germany of tomorrow with their treachery and secretive ways. That is why they deserve their fate. And a shot to the head and a quick burial was what they would get.
Most of the gypsies had fear in their eyes, all except their Vaida, their gypsy leader. He was a big, strong bull of a man, square jawed, with a mane and beard of iron gray hair. He almost looked Aryan.
Diestl snapped out of his musing and looked to his men. There was bloody work to be done and Verdammen Sie es zu Hölle, the distasteful job had now fallen to him.
How the hell did all the previous patrols miss this motley group for so many years? Now, when his men should be busy fighting the advancing enemy, protecting the glorious Reich, they were dealing with the disposal of gypsies. It was an insult to them, and to him.
"Animals," First Sergeant Oster screamed. "Filthy vermin, defilers of the German Reich!" Three of his brute friends were also cursing and pushing the people into a smaller, tighter group around the pit.
Diestl shook his head. Most of the men had no stomach for this. Only Oster and his drinking companions were enjoying themselves. He saw that he'd better hurry this nasty undertaking along.
"Schnell," he shouted, "I want to be back in town before midnight. Start."
"Bengesko niamso, cursed German," the leader of the gypsies called to him. "I curse you and all your men, your children and your children's children. The bloodline of you and all your men is now accursed."
Diestl felt compelled to look at the man and was captured by the fire in his eyes. He tried to break the connection but a powerful force was working on him. He couldn't look away.
At the edge of the group, a young gypsy man screamed "Ka jav te xenav tut!" and lunged for the nearest soldier. A blast rang out.
"I too will shit on your head!" another young man shouted. But before that one had taken a step, he was shot. His body fell into the mass grave to join the other foolish youth.
The rest of the assembly were beginning to come awake. Their song became a thing of beating blood, thickening the air, fogging his mind. A few started screaming in their strange tongue and Diestl had no idea what they were saying. Some were praying, calling fervently to whatever God they worshiped and more than one looked as if they might bolt.
Things were about to become very messy. Diestl waved to his men. "Do it now! Now!"
Shots rang out. Diestl saw the gypsy leader fall into the grave. Behind him stood a young woman, her hair was jet black and her skin a burnished copper.
Diestl felt his face drain of color. What a thing of beauty that girl was. Why hadn't he seen that one before?
Her face took on a look of horror as a blossom of red spurted from her chest. She fell then, her colorful gypsy skirt floated up around her as an angel's wings, to permit her to land softly in the trench.
Diestl watched the slaughter as more bodies fell into the ditch. Old and young, male and female, the children and the babies, all plummeted into the pit. To his eyes it looked like an obscene ballet as each body spun with the force of the bullets and then tumbled off the edge of their life to fall into the common grave.
It was mesmerizing.
Movement to his immediate right made him tear his eyes from the killing spree. The poor youngest soldier, his rifle still strapped to his back, was kneeling on the cold ground, heaving up what little he had in his stomach. Diestl noticed how the steam rose from the vomit into the frozen air.
The area was suddenly silent. The shooting had stopped. He turned to look at the place where the gypsies once stood. The pit was also steaming as the dead let loose their souls.
It was so preternaturally quiet he could almost hear the steam crackle as it spread its way out over the frigid air. Near the trench, where the bullets had first drawn blood from the bodies of the clan, he saw small rivulets of it, cooling and dripping down the edge.
A bitter wind blew up and cut through his greatcoat straight into his chest. He thought he could still hear the strains of the gypsy melody in the breeze. His breath caught as an icy chill encased him. An overwhelming urge to flee tore through his body.
"Throw some dirt into the pit and let's get out of here," he ordered as he wrapped his coat tightly around him and walked towards his transport. The desire to put more space between him and the pit filled with dead and dying gypsies urged him forward.
In his mind, the sight of that gypsy leader cursing him, standing as big as life, remained in front of his eyes. And the girl! He thought of that young beauty's body now cooling inside the pit, buried under all the other dead. Shivers racked through him.
"I need a drink," Diestl muttered to his driver as he climbed into his car. That gypsy song was still beating in his mind. He could hear it. It swelled through his brain, clouding his head. "Forget filling in the pit!" he found himself shouting to his men. "We leave now!"
Slumping in the car seat, he buried his face in the collar of his coat and nodded to his driver to get moving. The echoes of the melody and the cold were becoming unbearable for him.
As the car turned onto the small dirt road, something was calling to him to take one last glance at the mass grave. Lieutenant Otto Diestl refused to look. The thought of what he might see if he looked back made him swallow a scream of terror.
Damn the cursed gypsies and damn their gypsy curse.