The Weight of Warfare on Brotherhoodby Cayden Nusantoro Liu

World War 2 had been three long years on-going; a seemingly lifetime prison sentence for little Jakub, a young Polish teenage boy living and surviving on the streets. The accounts he saw over the years robbed him of his youth without the care, empathy, and attention of his parents. His unaccompanied survival upbringing, hardened by the calamities of this terrifying war, turned him to live in a fear-ridden childhood.

For most of his teenage life, Jakub lived in hiding from the occupying SS soldiers in his hometown. Jakub hid in an obscured alley in a far corner of his war-torn town for a few weeks, living off scraps and any rubbish he could find. The not-so-distant roaring sounds of the heavy SS tanks mowed down any existence of this town. Constant skirmishes of gunshots shook the alley with echoes of loud explosive noises, sounding as unbearable as the roar of a jet’s engine during takeoff.

Jakub waited in the alley for darkness to set. He dreamt of sitting in his mother’s lap, drinking warm chocolate while listening to adventure stories told by his father. He longed for his parents and missed how they always kissed him on the forehead to tuck him in each night.

Suddenly, Jakub felt a sharp tapping on his forehead. Was it still part of the dream? Groggily rubbing his eyes and staring upwards, he was stricken with shock. His body froze when he saw a teenager in a black SS soldier’s uniform and a rifle pointing straight at his head.

“Święta krowa!” Jakub thought to himself. Behind the young SS soldier, Jakub caught sight of an opening leading into the alley. “It must be one of the younger Polish boys who left the opening uncovered,” Jakub thought to himself.

“Polish or German?” the young SS soldier questioned Jakub in a thick German accent. Jakub tried to remember what was “German” in their language. He racked his brain through all the previously taught words. However, his Polish school uniform quickly gave him away.

“Polieren! Polieren!” the young SS soldier screamed in German as he caught sight of this. He raised his rifle and readied himself to fire at Jakub.

He heard a loud bang echoing throughout the alleyway. A stunned Jakub was rooted to the spot as he witnessed the execution of another innocent Polish boy just several steps away. He held back tears and silent screams, knowing that this was the norm to get used to. Jakub was quickly whisked away by a fleeing group of kids running away from the alley. He shirked at the sight of his refuge place flooded by German soldiers but glad to stay alive and fight for another day and ran as fast as he could away from this place.

Resettled in the outskirts of the town, Jakub flashed back to his favorite moment with his family before the war had broken out. The whole Nowak family sat together on an acacia wood dining table; their plates filled with a mixture of warmed rice, cooked beef, and a side of steamed vegetables. The aroma of the rich, flavorful food filled the air with delight and comfort as the campfire near the living area filled the room with a pleasant, warm heat. Then he remembered he used to play a lot of checkers with his little brother, Filip. Agile and quick thinker, Filip moved first and fast. “Jakub, it’s your turn!” Filip exclaimed. “Oh, sorry,” Jakub apologized as he moved his focus towards the checkerboard and decided on how he would make his next move.

Jakub and Filip were still young then. Although Filip was younger than him, Jakub was always shorter and timider. He paled in comparison whenever he sat next to Filip. However, mother and father played favorites on Jakub. When they bought candies from the market, they gave them to Jakub first. When they got new books, they let Jakub read first. So, Filip’s hatred for his parents and Jakub grew over time due to the biased decisions of their parents.

Jakub awoke to the crunching sounds of boots stepping on dry leaves. “Boy, wake up.” he heard as he groggily rubbed his half-closed eyes. Before him was the figure of a tall, well-built man, probably in his twenties, with a bright green uniform studded with medals. As the soldier’s right hand clasped a rifle pointed directly at Jakub’s now-facing forehead, Jakub’s eyes finally awoke as his fight-or-flight sense alarmed him. Before he could run away, the stiff sole of the boot fell onto his chest, preventing Jakub from standing up or making his escape. “Polish boy, you are coming with me.” said the German soldier, as Jakub’s face turned pale with shock and fright.

Amidst the wrestle between the soldier and Jakub, background screams of terror could be heard. Other boys struggled to escape while the soldiers poured in, capturing, and tossing them into a military van.

The metal van door slid open as the sun poured into the compact space of the van. “All you in there, get out!” A thundering voice commanded as the boys marched out of the van. Jakub squinted his eyes and before him was a torn-down building. Vines were hanging over the building like curtains, expelling an ominous presence to the teenage kids. The soldiers backed up the kids against the crumbling wall with their hands stretched over the rough surface.

“Ready! Aim!” Jakub and other kids clasped their hands together.

“Fir-!” Jakub turned around in fear as the commander’s voice was abrupted with the wave of a hand from a much younger, neater SS soldier. His camouflage uniform presented his higher status among the SS soldiers, while his medals of honor and bravery shone brighter than the commander’s. The knee-high, brown boots he was wearing dispensed the high authority, and his white gloves showed no signs of filth, despite being a high-ranked general. The young SS soldier whispered something into the commander's ear, probably an order, as the commander nodded and called out the other SS soldiers to withdraw from the execution with a wave of his hand. Jakub chewed on his lip, frightened and nervous about what was to come. Surprisngly, he caught a glimpse of a wide gash on the commander’s forehead. “It couldnt be….” Jakub thought to himself. But his thoughts were interrupted by a loud burst of noise. “Bang”

The gunshot sound could be heard from a distance, followed by the children’s terrified screams. The young commander was seen pointing his luger to the bloodstained brick wall before raising down his firearm, wearing a satisfied look on his face. As the young commander prepared to shoot again, the boy prisoner made a desperate attempt for his life and sprinted for the bushes. Unfortunately, being a commander required precise aim. So, the young commander didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and put the boy down. The young commander turned his back from the boys, and Jakub saw a spark of opportunity. Jakub darted headfirst towards the young commander with his back turned and tackled him to the ground as he proceeded to wrench the luger out of the commander’s hands. “What are you doing, you Polish scum? Get your hands off me!” the commander ordered, but that didn’t halt Jakub from forcefully taking the firearm away from the young commander’s hand. Jakub quickly stood up, with the luger in both of his trembling hands as he looked down at the young commander. Jakub realized that although he was a very young high ranking official in the German army, deep down, the commander was still a boy like Jakub and the rest of the Polish runaways. Before Jakub could interrogate the commander about the wide gash on his forehead, the commander attempted to jump on Jakub to wrestle his weapon back. Jakub closed his eyes in fright as he hurriedly pulled the trigger. “Bang!”

Night befell the land as the sun set, and the moon rose, greeting everyone still awake a silent night. Three bodies were found near an abandoned building: Two Polish runaways and one young German commander. Several boys huddled together in the corner of the building while a boy who stood out from the rest held a bloodstained luger in his callused hands. They stared at the corpses just inches away from him. Jakub dropped the luger as he backed away slowly. “What have I done? I didn’t mean to….” he quietly said to himself, tears overflowing his eyes and making a “pitter-patter” sound on the rocky floor. The several boys huddled in the corner got up and moved towards Jakub, patting on his shoulder, and then all silently escaped unnoticed. “Zaczekaj chwilę,” Jakub told the boys as he wiped the tears flowing from his eyes. Jakub kneeled and placed the gun onto the chest of the dead German commander. Jakub stood up and prepared to leave with the other Polish runaways, shedding out a final tear before escaping into the starry night.

Selected: March Short Story Contest
Published in Issue #28

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