The guard shoved Pytor into the cell then slammed the door. “Wait, what happened? I want to speak with Herr Brach.” His hands gripped the bars. “Officer.”
“Schweigen, keep quiet.” The guard turned away.
“Please,” he said to the fading echo of the officer’s boots.
Pytor’s hands slid down the bars as the rest of him collapsed to the floor. He squeezed his eyes and fought to keep his composure. “I am going to die here,” he repeated to himself. A tear ran down his cheek.
“If you think like that, you might as well find a knife and end your pathetic life.”
Pytor used his sleeve to wipe his face. He stumbled to his feet. “What?”
Another prisoner had been sitting on a stool-like bench in a darken corner of the same cell. His shirtsleeves were torn. He seemed like it had been days since he shaved and even Pytor could smell the man’s unwashed body. His arms were like sticks and his hair flew in every direction.
“The name is Grossman prisoner number J-10677. Like you, I am enjoying the same wonderful hospitality of the Third Reich. Heil Hitler.”
Pytor stayed by the bars. “Your German is not very good. Where are you from?”
“You want to know where I’m from? Hmm.” His stare pierced the distance. “A Jew is from everywhere and nowhere. We have no place. We have no land and no country wants us. We are a nation of luftmenchen. We are the people of the air.”
He held up his thumb and forefinger and rubbed them together.
Pytor took a step toward Grossman. “A landsman?”
“You want to look at my schvanz to make sure? The national pastime of this piece of shit country is throwing Jews in jail. They keep track of it like a sport.”
“Mr. Grossman,” he looked around. “Ssh, they may hear you.”
Grossman got up from the stool with much effort and limped towards Pytor. “Mister, whatever trial you have is already done. The verdict is in. If death is the sentence, don’t give the bastards the satisfaction. Murdering you is not enough; they want your will, your spirit. If they succeed to take it, the Nazi’s don’t have to kill you, you’re already dead.”
Pytor heard the door between the courtroom and the jail section open. He left Grossman and hurriedly went to the front of the cell. “Herr Brach?” He stretched to be able to see the corridor. A male and female guard came into view. Between them was a woman and behind her a man he recognized as the prosecutor, Herr Schmidt.
“Step back from the bars,” Schmidt ordered.
Pytor didn’t move.
“Are you deaf?”
The female officer took a wood baton from her belt and swung it at the front of the cell. Pytor dodged the blow. They all laughed except the woman between the guards.
Schmidt turned to the woman. “Frauline, this is the man who had sex with you.” He said it more as a statement than a question.
The female guard nudged the woman forward.
“Look,” Schmidt said, “this is the man, yah?”
Her eyes were wide. There were red bruises on her face. Her hair was long and uncombed. Schmidt put his hand around the back of the woman’s neck. “We appreciate your talents accommodating are young gallant men. I am asking in the name of the fatherland.”
She turned her head slightly. “I fuck our soldiers because I have no choice, and when I become too grotesque you will dispose of me like you did Franz.”
She let out a yelp. Schmidt must have pressed harder. “Listen you fuck’n whore while you still have the privilege to breathe, this is the man.”
Pytor saw her mouth move, but there was no sound. Schmidt held onto her and motioned for the guards to enter the cell. “Maybe you’ll only recognize him by his dick.”
“I’ve seen many,” she said.
“I’m sure that’s true, but how many were circumcised?”
The guards grabbed Pytor. The female guard attacked his pants.
“Stop,” she said, “okay, this is the man.”
“He forced himself on you?” Schmidt asked.
“Yah,” and then quietly added, “just like the others.”
Pytor was left standing in the middle of the cell. He held the top of his pants tightly. “What hell is this?” He turned to where his cellmate sat. Grossman had his head back resting on the wall and mouth open. Pytor went to him.
“Grossman are you sleeping?” “How can you sleep? Did you see what they did? I never touched that girl. Are you listening?” He waited a few seconds. The man was still. He looked to see if he was breathing. “Grossman?” He grabbed his hand. It was cold. He pressed his fingers on Grossman’s wrist. There was no pulse. “My God.” He took a deep breath and stared at the body. “He’s dead.” A chill went through him. He rubbed his arms and moved a few steps away. He should have tears. A man died. Instead, he surprised himself. A smile crept over his face. The son-of-a-bitch cheated the bastards. He died on his own terms. He stood over Grossman and recited the ancient prayer and reaffirmation of faith from centuries past, “Shma Yisrael, Hear O’ Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one.”