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A Short Story about Nazi Germany

Updated on June 18, 2012


Each year at the school where I teach, we spend time studying the Holocaust. I believe it contains the most important lesson we teach in the three years they spend with us. I wrote this piece in the hopes of helping to make the cold realities of this human tragedy more poignant for my students by placing it in a context that would make them think twice: a boy, just about their age, is forced to make an impossible choice...


Orin looked down at his friend’s black shoe, shining in the dust. There he saw his distorted reflection looking back at him, trying—straining—not to cry. He wanted to look up and see the smiling face of his friend; he wanted to look up in the hopes that his friend would see him: see the memories of long-night camp outs and sneaking glances at the girls and listening to records of forbidden jazz. All of this danced behind Orin’s eyes, making him dizzy, and he wondered if he would see them dancing as furiously behind the eyes of his friend—if he could just find the strength to look up, but he could not; he was afraid. Perhaps the madness that was claiming the world had claimed Henry, too.


Orin shut his eyes tight, like a clenched fist, and waited. A single hot tear pushed through the grip of his closed eyes and fell down on Henry’s polished left shoe. Henry noticed. He had been watching all of this as if through the veil of a dream. To be standing here with the barrel of his pistol pointing down at the head of his friend was unreal. It had to be a dream. A nightmare.

But the relentless reality of the situation hammered on his mind, and silenced the voice within him that screamed, “Wake up. Wake up!” Behind him, the laughter of the soldiers, the older ones who had knowingly brought him this particular boy, would not let him forget where he stood and what he must, for the sake of his own life, do.

A propaganda poster from the World War II era.
A propaganda poster from the World War II era. | Source

The laughter rang through the alleyway and surrounded them all, shaming Orin, who knew, of course, that he should not be ashamed, but that did not matter. He was ashamed of his body, withered, torn, and ragged before his friend. And he was ashamed of the laughter; ashamed that he must count himself a member of a species that would delight in such a thing as this. But his shame fed his anger, and his anger gave him strength. He pried open his eyes, with tears flowing freely now, and forced them up to the eyes of his friend.

Henry’s eyes twitched as they widened with fear and looked down to Orin and the anger he knew he would find there. For a moment time ceased to move, and in that moment Henry did find anger there, but the anger was not for him.

The jovial laughter stopped, and a sharp voice spit, “Tun Sie es. Tun Sie es jetzt, Jungen!” No, thought Henry, I won’t. I won’t do it. Shaking now, body and soul, Henry’s jaw dropped ever so slightly as he realized what was set in Orin’s eyes: permission. One way lay death for both of them. The other way lay life for Henry. What else could Orin do? When he had looked up, Orin had fully expected to find the eyes of Henry gone; replaced by the angry, stoic eyes of the demon—the same demon that had possessed the hearts and minds of so many people around him and begun to turn the world upside down. Instead, he saw Henry—good old Henry. So Orin looked at him and smiled. He knew Henry would understand.

As Orin closed his eyes, he was surprised to find a song floating through his head—a Louis Armstrong tune that he and Henry had sung together as children:

Say, don't you know it? You don't know how, don't be blue, someone wi...


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