Bill Meilen
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THE ARMORER

 

Did you know there are no more mentally defective people left in Germany? All gone—weeded out at birth to make a perfect world.”

“No. Perfect world? How? Impossible. How? I know a few. They’re all officers. Military lunatics.”

“Well, whatever their rank, they won’t be around any more. Nor any macaronis—unless they’re wearing a pink triangle, as the Jews wore a yellow Star of David. Not since Hitler found out about Röhm and his circle of bumboys and pederasts, and had them all put down in that Brownshirt bloodbath.”

Rudi stiffened up. “Now just a moment, my friend. You’re being very free with your mouth. What are you telling me here? Where do you get your information?”

“If I told you, son, you would not believe me.”

“Tell me, and I’ll try, Papa,” said Rudi.

So the Bohemian accordionist told him what he knew about the camps of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belsen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, and all the other subsidiary camps that had sprung up with the aid of slave labour, dotted in a great arc across Europe. The information shock was so great that Rudi had to punch the ground to relieve his anger, unable to believe he was part of any of those crimes against humanity. To imprison children! To kill people because of physical or mental defects! People like old forester Hansi, who never hurt anyone, maybe?. He just had a big head and a little body—but he was considered ‘simple-minded’. His soul was magnificent. Where is Hansi now?

At the sides of the slough, men threw off their uniforms and swept down over the narrow sand beach into the water in a laughing wave of running flesh. Some dove to swim a way underwater, some waded out and stood relieved from the heat, followed slowly by laggards who tested the water with their toe-tips first. Soon everyone was in the water except the R.S.M. and the enfilading Bren-gunners, who were set up on slight glacial till rises overlooking the beach area.

Campbell, worried about the possibility of prisoners trying to make a getaway by swimming across the slough, detailed two old-timers to walk around the water armed with Sten-guns and watch with field-glasses. Roy Campbell did not like to take chances. Having been a prisoner of the Germans himself, he knew a prisoner’s propensity for escape when odd chances presented themselves. If he had his way, the entire thing would be tighter, stiffer, harder. I’d make the bastards sweat, he told himself. And here they are disporting themselves in Canadian waters! At precisely thirty minutes they’re coming out! He looked at the gold Swiss wristwatch bought from a prisoner for five packs of Black Cat. Ahah! Time is up! Deprivation time!

Raising a whistle to his lips he blew hard, face red with heat and effort. “Out!” he bellowed, “Out-out-out-out-out! OUT! ‘Raus!”

Instantly the German N.C.O.s started herding their men out of the water, dripping and splashing each other. Within two minutes there was not a ripple on the surface, a count had been taken, and every man was drying himself, rubbing vigorously at goose-pimpled flesh, for the water had been surprisingly cold and invigorating. It was the first immersion in water they had enjoyed for more than a week, a baptism, and the laughter and banter of

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