There are times when each of us has to deal with the demons of our past.  Mine came to me as a young girl, after my father told me about the Holocaust.  His mother and father were Rumanian Jews who emigrated here in 1901, sparing them from the horror that would later befall members of their families, as well as millions of other innocent people throughout Eastern Europe beginning in the late 1930’s.  

            I began to research the information he had given me and soon found myself questioning why something like this could have happened.  One day it hit close to home.  While we were living in Miami, someone burned a swastika on our lawn.  From that day I swore I would never again allow anyone to threaten me because of my religious beliefs. 

            Although I had set my mind on fighting the bigotry and hatred that I knew still existed, the facts that my father presented to me years before, still haunted me and I began to actually dream about being there myself.  They were terrible nightmares, as you can imagine, being in a situation where you are totally helpless and afraid for your life.  Every few months I had the same dream, until the day I sat down and began to write a story based on the belief that an individual who lives their life creating misery for others will always get their just reward in the end. 



A Matter of Time

From November 1941, until January 1945, Karl Mueller maintained the rank of Major at Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II.  He had personally overseen the systematic murders of twenty thousand men, women, and children, every day for almost four years.

Like so many others of his time, he had become part of the New Order of Adolph Hitler’s Germany, and by doing so, had unknowingly condemned himself to exist in his own living hell for the rest of his life.

Unlike many of his comrades he managed to escape the Allies and made his way to New York in the early 1950's.  He kept to himself most of the time, only going out long enough to earn money to buy food and pay the rent on a one room flat in Brooklyn.  He knew there were others living in that city who had also escaped Birkenau, but he dared not seek them out.    He could hear them whispering as he passed them on the street.  They would always act as though nothing were wrong, as he walked past, but he knew.  Surely, with so many of them living nearby, someone must have recognized him.   The old men he happened to see when he did go out reminded him of those back in the camp.  His only regret was that he hadn’t had more time.  He would have rid the world of all their kind, if things had only been different.

As of late he had been having dreams.  He would wake up during the night, his bedclothes soaked with sweat.  Dreams would come to him in the form of shadowed figures.  Sometimes he would hear the screams, only to find upon awakening that they had been his own.  He couldn’t understand why he was still being tormented by events that had occurred over thirty-five years past.  He had believed in what he had done.  There was never any doubt in his mind that his actions had been the best for all concerned.  He often wondered when the world would accept that and let it be forgotten.



It was the latter part of August and the stench of the garbage that lay strewn about outside his window made him sick to his stomach.  What little air there was, he found out on the steps where he listened to the women, yelling like fishwives from their tenement windows to the steamy pavement below, only to be ignored by the insolent brats to whom they had chosen to give birth.  God, how he hated them all.

He leaned back against the concrete stoop and tried to recall his youth.  The winters had been hard, but the air was always clean and fresh.  He would have given his soul right there and then to be back in the Fatherland once again.

It was getting late in the day and he decided to walk down to the newsstand for a paper, not that there would ever be anything good to read about, but it did help to take his mind off his situation.

People were beginning to go into their apartments.  He could see some of them sitting out on their fire escapes, and he could smell the food that was being prepared for the night’s supper.  He tried not to think about that.  It had been a long time since he had enjoyed a good meal.

It was dark by the time he returned to his apartment, so he went in for the night.  Sitting down by his only window and trying his best to ignore the smell, he turned past the front page of the paper, which only added to his depression, and decided to take a look through the classified section.  He had been scanning the columns when something caught his attention.  In the last column, down toward the bottom of the page was an ad.  Not the type of ad one would usually find.

It read, “Because of the nature of this product, it still being in the experimental stage, I am offering to a select few, free of charge, the opportunity of a lifetime.  A chance to be transported anywhere in the world, in the year of your choice.  Interested parties please contact A.W. at New World Enterprises, 18th Ave & 86th St., Brooklyn.”

He reread the ad, this time aloud.  How could anyone believe such nonsense, he thought.  Surely it would not be possible to travel through time.  He shrugged the entire idea off as being completely absurd and dropped the paper onto the floor, wishing at the same time any relief from the sweltering heat.



He managed to find sleep that night, but the terror it brought with it would not permit him to rest.  Instead, he found himself running frantically through a long, dark tunnel that seemed to have no end.  In the distance he perceived a faint light, but as he ran toward it, it seemed to move further and further away.  He knew without seeing that he was being pursued, and if he didn’t make it to the light at the other end he would certainly be overtaken.

His breathing was labored, and as panic swept through him he stumbled forward onto the cold, hard surface.  He tried to rise, only to feel sudden pressure on his legs, holding him down.  He turned on his side to face his attacker but found no one there.  He could feel unseen hands clutching his legs, pulling him slowly back into the darkness.  Unable to free himself he tried to grab hold of anything along the tunnel floor, which might prevent him from being dragged, but his efforts were in vain.  In the distance he thought he heard someone calling his name.  In one last effort to survive he raised his head and cried out to them.  A cry that eventually brought him back to consciousness.

Sweat poured from his body as he sat bolt upright in his bed.  Tears began to stream down his face.  Whether they came from relief or fright he did not know. He did know that he could not endure another night like that.  He switched on the overhead light and prepared a cup of bitter, black coffee. With that in hand he sat down in his chair and waited for the morning sun to gradually penetrate the shroud of night that enveloped his world.



The following morning Karl had completely forgotten the ad in the newspaper until he noticed it laying on the floor beneath his shoes while he was getting dressed.  He wondered for a brief moment, what it would be like to actually travel through time.  It couldn’t be any worse than where he was at present, and it would cost him nothing to find out, if he decided to look into it.  He picked up the paper.  “....the opportunity of a lifetime”.  What else had he to do with his time other than sweep up in a rundown hotel for forty dollars a week?  He knew they wouldn’t miss him for one morning, and besides, he would probably go to this New World Enterprises, to find upon arriving that it was only a gimmick used for advertising purposes.  He’d lived in the city long enough to know how that worked.  Once they got you into the store they would try to sell you anything, for a price.  Maybe he would be wasting his time.  Maybe he would be better off to forget it.  He almost let it go at that, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he might be passing up the only chance he would ever have of escaping that city and fleeing from the fear of being recognized sooner or later.

He tore out the ad and took it with him. The thought of taking a bus made him uneasy, as he disliked being too close to strangers.   So he went on foot for many blocks until finally, upon turning up 86th Street, he spotted the sign that told him he was about to reach his destination.



The old brick storefront was partially boarded up.  It looked as though it had been closed for quite awhile, but when he peered in through the clouded glass he could faintly make out a figure coming toward him with arms upraised, acknowledging his presence.

He was greeted by a man of perhaps sixty-five or seventy years of age. “Good morning, good morning, come in.  Please, tell me how may I help you?” the shopkeeper said. He spoke with a definite European accent, possibly Russian, but with so many thousands of  immigrants living in New York, it was quite difficult to distinguish exactly from where the old man had originated.

Karl removed the torn piece of newsprint from his pocket and started to explain, but the old man suddenly began to laugh, interrupting him.  “Excuse me, my friend, but you see, I have not had anyone inquire about that ad since it was first printed, months ago.  I had almost given up hope on the entire idea.”

He took Karl by the arm and led him eagerly toward the rear of the shop, talking all the while.

“You would think that such an offer would bring all kinds of people to me.  My friends did not believe in my accomplishment, and I suppose no one that happened to see the ad believed it either.  Of course, I was not without doubt at the beginning, but when I actually was able to make my idea practicable I couldn’t wait to share it with the world.  So, the world has better things to do, right? But you are here and I am certain you will not soon forget this day.  I’m sorry, I have not even asked your name.”

With sudden hesitation Karl said, “Karl...Karl Mendell.”  He had almost used his real name.  Something, he reminded himself, that might prove to be very unwise indeed.  It had been such a long time since he’d had occasion to introduce himself to anyone, that he had been caught off his guard.

“Well, Mr. Mendell, tell me just where it is you would like to visit?”, the old man asked.

They had entered a back room, empty except for a large, rectangular metal tank.  Upon closer inspection Karl could see it was made up of separate panels which had been riveted together, with a small hatch on one side.

He wasn’t sure how to answer the shopkeeper.  If he told him that he wanted to return to Germany, would the old man begin asking more questions?  He decided to take the chance.

“I have been thinking lately it would be nice to return to the place where I was raised.  As you can see, I am no longer a young man and my health is not what it once was.  If I could live out the rest of my life in the peace and quiet of the country I would be most content.  There was a small village in Germany, north of the ancient walled city of Rothenberg ob der Tauber, called Offenheim.  I remember as a small boy, spending the summers there with a cousin.  We worked on a farm and spent many afternoons exploring the woods nearby.  It seems like such a long time ago.  Everything was so different then.  Yes, I would very much like to return to that place.”

The old man was silent as Karl Mueller recounted his boyhood days.  He listened with interest, only nodding now and again, at the same time thinking of his own experiences as a boy.  Somewhere between the age of sixteen and twenty-one he had given up his youth to the death camps of Auschwitz.

“You understand Mr. Mendell, that if you accept my offer, your journey will be part of a final experiment, with no guarantees as to its outcome.  If you want to continue, knowing this, then I will prepare the machine for travel.  I do not want to alarm you, but if you have any friends or relatives you would like to contact before your departure....”

“I have no one” Mueller answered, without even having to think about it.

“Very well then, if you will assist me I will begin by plotting the coordinates on the map in the control room, and feeding them into my computer.”

Mueller followed the old man through a door and into a much smaller room, the walls of which were lined with a large map of the world.  Karl noticed that all the major cities were indicated by red lights, while the smaller, less densely populated towns were designated with yellow lights. The entire room was glowing.  The old man seated himself at an electronic panel with numerous rows of dials, switches and devices that were completely unknown to Mueller.

“Please, Mr. Mendell, if you would be so kind as to point out the town of Uffenheim on the map, while I enter the other information, we can begin your journey home.

Mueller closely scanned the area of southern Germany, starting from Augsberg north to Ansbach, and finding to the northeast the small town of Uffenheim glowing yellow.  He pointed this out to the old man, who in turn proceeded to plot it on a much smaller, but identical map that appeared on the computer’s screen.

“Forty-nine point thirty-two degrees north, ten point fourteen degrees east” said the old man, muttering to himself as he punched the information into the terminal.  The long panel emitted various tones as data was entered.

As Mueller watched the old man working at the panel, he imagined himself back in the Fatherland once again.  It had been a long time.  He tried to remember the names and faces he had known. The thought of returning to his flat in order to gather up his few personal belongings entered his mind, but he decided it would be wiser to leave everything just as it was.  His personal papers confirming his true identity were carried on him at all times.  It would have been foolish to leave them where they might be discovered.  The only things he was leaving behind were another pair of shoes and a few old clothes.  Those items, he was sure, the landlady would find use for, as soon as she realized that he was not coming back.

“There is little time left, Mr. Mendell...Mr. Mendell?”

He was taken from his thoughts by the voice of the old man.  “Everything is in order, if you will please come with me.”

As they stepped out of the control room and neared the machine, Mueller could feel his heart pounding in his throat.  Whether it was from excitement or sudden fear of the unknown, he wasn’t sure.  He found himself stepping over the threshold, into the small compartment.  The interior was approximately five and a half feet in height and six feet in diameter.  In the center, bolted to the floor, stood a large black chair.  Protruding from the floor opposite were two identical metal rods which seemed to have been constructed to move forward and back by the use of hand grips.  Upon closer scrutiny Mueller was able to read a series of dates imprinted on a small panel set up in front of each control and another smaller map.  These were the only instruments in the chamber.

The shopkeeper then went on to explain exactly what would occur with each of the controls.

“If you will please take hold of the left lever, you will see that by moving it slightly forward the panel will show that you are moving into the 1900's.  The lever on your right will bring you into the exact decade of your choice.  Once you have accomplished that you must push the lever very slowly until you are at your exact destination.  Once the levers are released, they will lock into place and cannot be reset.”

Mueller practiced moving each of the levers back and forth until he felt comfortable with the controls.  His palms were beginning to sweat with anticipation.

“Are you quite certain that this is what you want?” the shopkeeper asked.  “If you have any doubts, you must tell me now, for you will be unable to return once the machine is in motion.”

Why couldn’t they just get on with it, Mueller thought.  “I know this is something I must do.  I feel that this chance will never come again.”

“Well then, Mr. Mendell, shall we begin?”  The old man smiled at him and Karl eased himself back into the comfort of the chair.  A feeling of relief settled itself deep within him.

“Before I secure the hatch I want to wish you a rewarding journey.  May you find whatever it is you are seeking.”

With those final words the old man backed out of the chamber and slid the hatch panel shut.

Within a few minutes Mueller could feel a vibration coming from the outside of the chamber.  Then a soft humming emanated from the controls, letting him know that he was about to embark on his final trip home.



As he gripped the controls he could feel his hands beginning to tremble.  He knew there was no turning back.  He wondered what he would find when he arrived.  Would he finally be able to live in peace, without the recurring nightmares that had tortured him for years?      

As his left hand guided the lever into the proper century, he felt a slight dizziness.  Being absolutely certain that the lever was locked in on the 1900's, he carefully eased his right control ever so slowly up to 10-15-20-...the dizziness again...-25-26-27-28-30-...his hand was last!  But he couldn’t stop there.  Suddenly he realized what he had to do! ...-36-37-38-39-40-42-...faster...faster...he would finish what he had set out to do so many years before...-43-44-...he held the lever in position now, feeling the adrenalin flowing as in the old days!  He’d make them pay for his nightmares!  This time he would finish the job!



Releasing the lever, he stared down at the panel.  1944.  All vibrations ceased.  He strained to hear any sounds that might be coming from outside the compartment, any sounds that would remind him of his former life.

The door gradually began to slide open, revealing a large room.  He rose from his seat, and with his hands on either side of the opening he stepped out of the machine into his world.  Perhaps his memory faded with the years.  He saw no one.  He was completely alone in the large, white room. He could not tell what area of the camp he was in because there weren’t any windows along the walls.

Then to his horror he remembered.  Why hadn’t he picked up on it?  Surely he should have distinguished that unmistakable odor, after having spent as much time as he had, tending to the things he had tended to.

Desperately he tried to get back into the machine!  His fingers clawed at the tiny crack where the hatch had slid closed only seconds before!  He knew all too well that it would be only a matter of time, as his lungs found it more difficult with every passing moment, to capture what little oxygen remained.  His eyes and throat were beginning to burn, making it impossible for him to see the door of the machine that had brought him to his final destination.

As the deadly gases continued to be released he sank lower and lower, until his failing vision gave him one last glimpse of the machine.

There, attached to the lower portion of the door, was a small silver plate.  It read simply, “CREATED FOR THE BETTERMENT OF MANKIND” - Abraham Weissman.


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