Looking at the food in front of me, however, feeling heat penetrate my limbs and knowing I would sleep indoors that night, I began to shed tears of self-pity. I was still too much under the sway of British brainwashing to remember that I was an American child who by rights should still be in his parents’ New York penthouse, but some memory of a loving home life ached inside me. I ate and wept. Frau Dunkelheim wrapped me into her bosom and cried as well. Her compassion for me, I knew now, was mixed up not only with memories of a former beau, but also with her unfulfilled desire for a son. In my fatigue I couldn’t probe her mind any farther.
While sitting there, rocked back and forth against her powdered breasts, I became aware that someone was watching me from through the barely cracked open kitchen door.
“Renate!” Frau Dunkelheim commanded, “Go and fill a bath.”
Small feet sprung upstairs and a door was slammed. Frau Dunkelheim released me, told me to finish my lunch, and then wearily trod upstairs herself. Strengthened by the meal, I made my way to the second floor where I could hear water running. My hostess met me in the bathroom, now steamy and cozy, took my clothing from me, and settled me down into the hot, wet wash before leaving the room.
I examined the body I hadn’t seen in its entirety for a fortnight. My feet and hands wrestled with each other in cleansing, both sets of extremities laughably large for the legs and arms that led to them. My penis bobbed in the water, an eel floating in a cluster of blond hair seaweed. Pink slashes of nipple. Hot water and soap scrubbed over my scalp. I felt a tingling all over, a restlessness, as if my skin might come loose of it moorings and wander over my muscles like honey over a bear-shaped bottle.
High on the wall above the tub was a window. I stood on the wet porcelain edge and peered out into a large, barren yard. No snow hid the dirty brown ground where many men in ragged gray clothes passed back and forth. Some pushed wheelbarrows, others toted sacks and tools. One thin youth worked a wrench over the gears of some machine. He strained to turn a rod that looked as frozen as he himself did.
A soldier stood about two meters from him, carrying a weapon at his shoulder, smoking a cigarette, and idly scanning the yard. The youth took one hand off the wrench and laid it directly on the rod. He frowned and held his breath, straining at something. At the same time I felt a tremendous spasm begin just behind my balls. It rippled up through my penis, groin and abdomen. It made my heart skip and made my throat itch fiercely, then dissipated. Whatever the youth had done seemed to have worked: the rod now gave freely under the turns of the wrench. He spun it several times, but then abandoned the task entirely. Instead he stood erect and looked up until he found my face in the window. He held a hand to shade his eyes, but otherwise did nothing to acknowledge our contact. For long moments we regarded each other this way, but then the soldier took notice. He strode toward the youth, barking and raising his weapon’s butt end as if to strike. The youth flinched, but the blow never came. Under my control, the soldier instead reached out a hand, patted the youth on the shoulder, then continued away to the right. I met the youth’s gaze when he looked up at me again. He returned to his work and I returned to my bath.
In the night I dreamt, or thought I dreamt, that someone came into the parlor where a bed had been made up for me. Whoever it was stayed only a little while and blended too well with the shadows for me to see, but the effect on me was swift and decisive nevertheless: in the morning I discovered a pool of cum had soaked my underwear, the very first time that had happened.
I was introduced to Colonel Dunkelheim. He was irritated by his wife’s impetuous charity, but had long been in the habit of giving her whatever she wanted and when she suggested I’d be a good playmate for Renate, little further argument was made.
Renate herself was only presented to me that evening. Her mother pushed her into the parlor where I was waiting, but then couldn’t pry her out from behind the credenza. She was heavily made up: white foundation covered her entire face and all of her neck that I could see above her collar. She wore dark glasses and lipstick, something I’d never seen on anyone but grown up ladies before. Her bright red hair fell about her shoulders in two braids and delicate satin gloves covered her hands.
Frau Dunkelheim left us alone. I approached Renate, but that only made her cower even more, so I returned to the book I’d been reading at the window. I felt a buzz similar to the one I’d experienced the night before while looking at the young man in the yard. Eventually Renate joined me at the table, picking up a book and pretending to read it.
“That book’s upside down,” I pointed out.
“That book’s upside down,” she repeated, using not only my exact words, but also my exact voice.
I tingled again. Turn it over, I thought at her. She complied and then laughed with delight. I smiled.
“Make me do something else!” she demanded.
For an hour or so we amused each other. I made her dance or stick her tongue out, she imitated my voice, her mother’s voice, Hitler’s voice. Finally we sat down together on the sofa over some drawing paper and charcoal pencils.
“Have you seen the boy in the yard?” she asked me while sketching out daisies and skulls.
I nodded. No explanation was required. We both knew which of the hundred or so prisoners we had in mind. “His name is Erich,” I said. “He’s a Jew from Berlin. You think he’s handsome.”
She didn’t deny the statement. “Father says Jews are dirty. We should make Erich take a bath. Then no one would know he’s a Jew and he could play with us.”
I was nearly fourteen, Renate, I guessed, about eleven. In the innocent logic of childhood, this plan made sense and I determined to see to it as soon as possible.
“Why do you wear make up?” I asked. With my pencil I’d begun a drawing of a ship on whose deck Renate, Erich, and I were playing catch.
“I was burned,” she replied nonchalantly. “I have scars.”
“No, you don’t.”
Renate shrugged, then set down her pencil and pulled off one of the gloves. Underneath it was a hand thoroughly blue. Not the slight blue of cold, but the blue of a velvet chair.
I held the hand in my own and examined it with great fascination.
“Mother doesn’t like it,” she remarked with little emotion. “I don’t go to school anymore.”
As I watched, the hand turned pink, then back to blue. I looked at Renate. She shrugged again and put the glove back on. “It does that sometimes. The way I used to look. Want to see something?”
I nodded and Renate removed her sunglasses. Underneath her eyes were a perfect amber, the color of corn mixed with tiny flakes of black and orange. They also changed as I watched. For a moment they were green, the same as mine.
Frau Dunkelheim came in with cookies and Renate quickly donned her glasses.
My time in that family certainly qualifies as the strangest in my life. Since Renate didn’t attend school, I didn’t either. Instead I began to perform small duties in the tire factory. At first I was limited to office work. There was a small administrative complex connected with our house’s back door through the stone wall by a passageway. I would file, take out garbage, sweep up. Later I was given greater freedom to enter the yard and factory. I’d deliver messages or watch the assembly line sometimes. Always my eye was drawn to Erich. He had very dark hair and large dark eyes, but his mouth was tender and rosy. He was taller than I and, I learned, about two years older. He watched me too, but cautiously.
It’s very difficult, today, to understand my complicity in what was happening just over the wall. Years later, when the full scope of the Holocaust was known, I could barely reconcile my image of myself with the boy I’d been. It seemed a dream. Was I truly there then? How is it I did so little? I do not seek forgiveness from the reader, but I think it important that you be able to picture for yourself the world I was living in.
In 1943 human life did not count for so much as it does today. I find that one of the most marvelous progressions our species has made, but it has come at great cost. In 1942, age twelve, I entered a world, Germany, based on the superiority of one race over all others, but I came from a world, America, where much the same held true. Before I got to the work camp I had never met a Jew. Not until after the war did I first speak with an African-American. As a child, as all children do, I accepted the world as it was; some people were above other people. I had been rich and waited on by servants. My father employed hundreds of workers, just as Colonel Dunkelheim seemed to. I’d heard of chain gangs in America, toiling by the side of the road. This camp seemed much the same and that, of course, was the worst horror: the normality. It is by small, inoffensive steps that a majority demonizes a minority. It had proceeded in Germany over the course of a decade. Erich himself had never known any other regime but Hitler’s. I myself would later feel the weight of society’s hostility, in more ways than one. We all must be on guard.
But back to my story. I was not a superhero then, perhaps I never was later, but I liked Erich from a distance and never let the guards strike him again. Men died in the camp regularly: disease, exhaustion, and the elements did them in, but news reports I heard on the radio said the same was happening to German soldiers in Russia, so it did not appear to me the crime that it actually was.
Erich and I began to communicate telepathically. I learned about his family, where he’d lived, his pets. He would have grown up much the same as I: his family was wealthy clothing merchants. He had servants in childhood, even a governess named Anna, just as I did, but Hitler changed all that. In small increments he’d been brought to the place where I found him, just as I’d been.
Getting him inside the house for a bath took two weeks. The Dunkelheims went for Christmas to visit relatives in Chemnitz. With my prodding Renate had practiced enough to keep her skin pink, her eyes green, for hours on end. My role in her “recovery” was not guessed at by her parents, of course, but they’d given me a toy train for the holiday just the same.
I was left in the care of one of the guards, a man named Heinz. As soon as I was alone in the house I found Heinz in the parlor and told him that I wanted to invite a guest in for tea. With some telepathic shoves, he thought that a fine idea and saw to it that Erich was brought in.
Erich was bewildered. He sat down at the formal dining room table, his cap in hand, and stared at the plates of food.
“I’ll be ill,” he said. “I’ll be ill if I eat all that.”
“Just have soup then,” I said, carefully ladling some dark broth into his bowl. It felt wonderful to play host. I had flashes of memories of great buffets and guests in my past, but couldn’t fix them into place.
We ate. His hands were strong and worn, his eyes furtive, but intelligent. “You’re different,” he said. “You can do things. I can do things too.” With a flick of his finger, the spoon he’d been using slid across the tablecloth. At his command, it came back.
We talked about his work. He’d always been strong and capable. That had kept him alive in the camps so far. No one knew what he could do with metal. If they knew, he said, they would shoot him. Or worse.
“It isn’t much anyway,” he said after the soup, “just dancing spoons and such.”
“We’ll make you stronger,” I replied. “You’ll eat more and you’ll get stronger and then you’ll be an even better worker.”
We washed the dishes, put away the food. I showed Erich around the house, holding his arm as we passed through each room. A little alcove on the third floor had been made into a bedroom of sorts and there I showed him the cot I slept on. I showed him Renate’s room.
“This is the girl?” he pointed to a photo on the wall.
I told him about Renate and her beautiful blue skin.
“I have felt her sometimes,” Erich said. “It’s like a hum. With you too. It’s like we’re brothers.” He held out a hand and I took it in mine. From there I led him into the bathroom. I began to run water and then to take off my clothing. After a moment Erich did the same. The tub was very large and deep. The faucets came in from the side, so he was at one end and I was at the other.
“Turn around,” I said. “I’ll wash your back.”
Erich complied. His shoulders were broad, but his ribcage and spine stuck out painfully with starvation. My calves lay on either side of his hips, pressed against the sides of the tub, my feet reached to his mid-thighs. I took a sponge and drizzled water down his back, then smeared his skin with the rough cake of soap. He smelled of sweat, but enticingly. It made me aware of my own scent. Under his arms were sprigs of dark hair. My own armpits were still mostly bare and I laughed at the difference. Erich smiled and pulled at the hairs while I washed them. Suds I managed to work onto his scalp didn’t stay in place because his head was shaved. As I massaged his temple, he leaned back against me.
“Talk into my mind again.”
I showed him the Dunkelheims. He thought Renate pretty. I showed him Opa Fritz and our apartment above the Konditorei. He knew the place and then took me on a mental tour of the city as he’d known it. We arrived as mental ghosts at his family home, walked up the entry stairs, and examined every room. Pictures on the wall he pointed out, fine furnishings, a grand piano. It all seemed very large.
“Because my memories are from when I was small,” he said, holding a hand out to indicate his height back then. We laughed. Where his back pressed against me, my cock had gotten hard. He felt it and jostled around against it till I pushed him away. He stood and all his youthful glory was before me: his long well-muscled legs, his low balls, the graceful heavy curve of his cock and the black bush it sprang from, taut stomach, a skinny chest on which dark and full red nipples seemed luxurious additions, like red plush seats inside a moving van. He smiled down at me, saying in his mind that he liked my looking at him. He turned around. His ass was thin, but somehow gentle. Fine dark hairs crossed it, merging downward with the hair on his legs.
With a gesture he made the hot water faucet open. Then he sat down facing me, his face sullen. “If I were stronger, I could escape perhaps.”
Escape to where? I puzzled. Now that he could eat as much as I did, could bathe and be indoors, what reason was there to leave? I wanted him to stay. I felt alone, without even my own real life to comfort me.
He gripped the back of my head and kissed my mouth. His lips were pliant, his breath tangy and raw. Our faces meshed in imitation of movie kisses we’d seen. With his other hand he encircled my cock, pushing and pulling my foreskin over the glans inside it. I came. The contractions made the inner muscles of my groin ache with new exertion. He seemed a little regretful and hustled me out of the bath. The water had gotten cold anyway. Shivering on the bathroom tile, I stood obediently while Erich toweled me dry. We put our clothes back on. Then he led me to my bed and tucked me in.
“Make it all right that I’m bringing food to the others, ja?” he asked. I promised I would. He kissed both my cheeks. In my mind I followed his descent to the kitchen where he stuffed as much bread, cheese, and meat into his pockets as he could.
With some difficulty, because of the distance, I made the guards let Erich pass unchallenged through the stone wall, across the yard, and into the barracks, safe. Then I cried underneath my arm and fell asleep.