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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
the deadly gases continued to be released he sank lower and lower, until his
failing vision gave him one last glimpse of the machine.
attached to the lower portion of the door, was a small silver plate.
It read simply, “CREATED FOR THE BETTERMENT OF MANKIND” - Abraham
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