Letters and Papers from Prison
AND PAPERS FROM PRISON
A young woman's visit, figurative and literal, with a man in a plastic
prison. Serious subject matter. Rogue + ensemble, movieverse.
This is about one of the more disturbing historical events of the 20th
Century. Read it anyway. When we stop telling these stories,
stop hearing them, we're in danger of repeating them. There is no
little discussion of religion in this. I'm sorry if that offends
anyone, but it can hardly be avoided, given the topic. I think it
fairly clear this isn't either propaganda or proselytizing.
and acknowledgments: In all the focus on Rogue and Logan,
I think it sometimes gets forgotten that Marie received Erik Lehnsherr's
memories, too. Now what does she do with them? This little
piece could fit into any or none of the various story threads I've created.
Remember, I follow the film novelization that suggests Scott's parents
are still alive. Thanks (as often) to Naomi for some well-placed
comments and corrections. It's handy to have an editor looking over
your shoulder. :-)
All of the death camp
events that I relate are adapted from actual memoirs of survivors. Joseph
Mengele was one of the Nazi doctors who conducted experiments on camp prisoners.
Elie Wiesel, quoted herein, became (along with Primo Levi) one of the great
"voices" of the holocaust. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer, also quoted herein,
was a famous theologian and minister, arrested for participation in resistance
activities against the Nazis. He was eventually executed on April 9, 1945
at Flossenbürg camp. He was not a Jew. Letters and Papers from
Prison is the collection of material which he wrote while incarcerated.
Like Steve Biko, Rev. Martin Luther King, Anna Mae Aquash, and Bishop Romero,
Bonhoeffer was a modern martyr.
people stand by you.
Wakantanka, micante ki eciya tanhan.
It's cold out. Standing at a fence,
fingers twined through the links, I rub metal. Cold and hard. There is
a lesson in metal. I look past the other yard, out to a field where more
arrivals are marching into Birkenau. Auschwitz Two. Right off the train.
The sky is greasy-grey as men, women, and children are herded up the road
like cattle. They don't know yet that they go to their own slaughter. At
least some of them. The weak, the old, the young. A few will be preserved,
a few who are "useful."
I spent the morning with that bloody
monster Joseph Mengele. He was trying, again, to figure out how I do what
I do. Even I don't know that. Freak. Freak-Jew. Twice-damned.
If I could only learn to control
it, I'd cut his throat with one of his own scalpels.
An hour ago, I was released to work
in the yard. Now I see the new arrivals at a distance, plodding towards
brick walls. Exhausted after days on a train, a young mother and her toddler
cannot keep up with the group and have fallen behind. Finally, the mother
lifts the child to carry her. The child's little raspberry hat bobs, a
spot of bright color against that greasy-grey sky. Ash grey. Human ash.
It begins to rain. Isolated drops hit me heavy, glisten on the skin of
my bared, bruised wrists. Grey sky and blue bruises. A reversal of the
natural. That is what this world has become.
It was raining the day I arrived
with my family, too. "God is weeping," my mother had said. Before they
dragged her away.
But the child is heavy and the woman
very tired. She stumbles. Impatient, one of the soldiers pulls the child
from her arms, tosses it away into the grass and shoves her on. At this
distance, I cannot hear the screams of mother or child except in my imagination.
The mother is dragged along with the prisoners. The child is left in the
grass. I watch her, watch the raspberry hat go around and around in circles
in the rain until finally, too tired to move further, the child falls down.
In my mind, the unheard wails of her mother echo a long time. My fingers
stroke the cool metal of the fence. I must be like the metal. Metal feels
Marie woke screaming. Kitty and Jubilee
were there instantly. "Rogue?" Kitty hit the light switch on her desk lamp.
Warm yellow drove away the grey.
Rogue took deep breaths. Her right hand was clenching Logan's dogtags.
Jubilee hugged her tightly through the safety of her nightgown. "He'll
be home, girlfriend," she said. "He told you he'd come back."
Rogue shook her head. They always
misunderstood. It wasn't Logan. Someone was knocking on the door and Kitty
answered. Mr. Summers, dressed in his New York Knicks t-shirt. The teachers
took turns. This must be his night. "Marie? Another nightmare?"
"You want to talk?"
Normally, she said 'no' and whoever
had come to check on her would go back to bed. It had become so common
in the past three weeks since the incident on the Statue of Liberty that
it was almost rote routine. She wondered why the teachers even kept coming.
She was like the little boy who cried wolf.
But this time, she nodded and stood
up. She wasn't sure why it was different tonight. Maybe just because it
was Mr. Summers, not Dr. Grey or Miss Munroe. Miss Munroe was too calm,
Dr. Grey too perfect (and Logan too infatuated with her). But despite Mr.
Summers' reputation around school as a tight-ass, and despite Logan's memories
in her head (or maybe because of Logan's memories), he didn't scare her.
So she nodded and stood up, said, "Yeah, I think I would like to talk."
She took the robe that Kitty held out to her, one of Kitty's own. Mr. Summers
stepped aside to let her exit.
"Where do you want to go?" he asked
She shrugged; he waited a moment,
then said, "Come on." And took her to the kitchen. He poured milk into
two mugs and heated them in the microwave. Then he put honey and vanilla
in them while she watched. When he brought her a mug, she said, "Thank
you," and, "That t-shirt's about to fall apart. You might should find another."
He took a chair opposite hers at
the little eat-in table in one corner of the big commercial kitchen. "That's
what Jean tells me. I've had it since college."
"You went to college?"
He laughed at her, but in a friendly
way. "Yes, I went to college. How do you think I got my teaching certificate?"
"Nobody bugged you? For, you know,
being a mutant?"
"A few did. Most didn't. Believe
it or not, the average person has better things to do with his or her time
than harass mutants." He grinned at her.
"Oh." She sipped the milk. "This
is good. Funny, ain't it, how warm milk makes you sleep?"
"Must be dim memories from infancy."
"So ?" he asked.
"You having Logan's nightmares?"
"No, dammit!" She immediately put
a hand over her mouth. "Sorry."
He seemed mostly amused. "It's okay,
Marie. I've used that word occasionally. I've used a few more colorful
ones, too, and I bet you have, as well."
That made her smile. He really was
funny. He cracked jokes in class all the time, but only about half the
students got them. Logan had thought him a wise-ass. He probably was. She
thought him funny anyway.
"They're not Logan's nightmares,"
she said now.
"Your own then?"
She just shook her head. He didn't
hurry her, let her speak in her own time. "They're Eric Lehnsherr's. Megneto."
"Oh." He seemed a bit at a loss.
He and Logan might not have hit it off, but at least they'd fought on the
"Everybody thinks it's Logan in my
head. Always Logan. That I have his nightmares. It's not that his memories
are pure as driven snow or anything." Mr. Summers grinned at that. "But
it's just What happened to him, happened to him, y'know?
It was pretty bad, but he's just one guy. Maybe there were others, too.
There probably were. But how many? Ten? Twenty? I don't mean to sound callous,
like it's all about numbers. But it was millions in Germany, y'know? Six
million or more. What Eric lived through It's a lot stronger in my
head. Weird, huh?" She hugged herself, looked off at a corner of the kitchen.
Someone needed to use a vacuum under the edge of the counter. "Maybe it's
because it didn't all happen to Erik. He had to witness it happening to
"He was in Birkenau. Auschwitz two,
they call it. There were different kinds of camps. Some were just holding
camps. Birkenau was a death camp. By the time the Nazi's fled and burned
the books, by the time the Russians came, he was so weak he couldn't stand
up. Just a skeleton with skin and lice. The Russians they didn't
even want to touch him. His best friend had died, and he was all alone.
She looked back at him, wished she
could see his eyes. "I feel sorry for him. I know why he's like he is.
I know why he tried to do what he did. I don't forgive him, but I feel
sorry for him. Do you think I'm horrible?"
"No, Marie. I don't think you're
"I'm not even sure he ain't right."
"He's not right."
"But it happened once, Mr. Summers.
Why do you think it won't happen again?"
"I don't know that it won't. Human
beings seem to have an amazing ability to butcher each other over insignificant
differences, whether it's lynching blacks, shooting Indians, beating up
gypsies, or gassing Jews. Maybe we're next. But making a pre-emptive strike
isn't the answer. And I don't believe that having a mutant gene makes me
a better man than someone who doesn't have one. We're not homo sapiens,
I hate that name."
She sipped more milk. "But nobody
cares what happens to us. I heard some guy got beat to death yesterday,
in Cincinnati, in broad daylight. Cause he was a mutant. Police didn't
come till it was too late."
Reaching out, he put his hand over
hers resting on the table, gripped hard. "And they don't necessarily hurry
when the person is a black alcoholic indigent, either. A black man is far
more likely to be stopped and questioned by police than a white man. Even
if the white man is wearing sunglasses indoors. I've seen it happen with
my own eyes. To my best friend. We were dressed exactly the same
the only difference was the color of our skin. Those are the ugly realities,
Marie. The world isn't fair and justice isn't color-blind. Or bribe-resistant,
either. That doesn't mean I'm going after cops in my spare time. There
are good cops out there. And honest people. And not all Germans were Nazis.
Some of them fought Hitler."
"But who's gonna fight for us, except
"You might be surprised. Do you assume
that this school funds itself? Or that the professor and Warren's father
can pay for it all? They're rich. They're not that rich. Most of the donors
aren't mutants, or related to mutants. Most of them aren't even wealthy.
They're just people. Like us."
"But we're not 'just people.'"
"Yes, we are." He tightened his hold
on her hand. "Look at me." She did as he said; saw herself reflected in
red: white streak against dark hair, dark eyes in a white face. "Don't
ever forget that we're people, Marie. We have a slightly different genetic
code, but we're people. We're human. Don't think of yourself as less than
non-mutants. But don't think of yourself as more, either. You have a gift
"I have a curse!"
"I could say the same thing. My fiancee
won't see my eyes on our wedding day. She'll probably never see my eyes
at all. Without these glasses, I could turn this whole mansion to rubble
in under five minutes. Mostly, I don't think of it as a curse, though.
That didn't happen overnight, but it happened. My attitude changed."
"What color are your eyes, anyway?"
Why on earth had she asked that?
It seemed to catch him by surprise, too. Then out came his quirky grin
and he went with the subject change. A body could be serious only so long.
"Light blue or dark blue?"
"Light blue, Miss Nosey. That kind
of flat blue shade."
She smiled and pulled her fingers
out of his. "Oh, my. It's a good thing you got the glasses, then,
or you'd turn a few hearts to rubble instead of the mansion."
He just laughed. "Well, if I can
ever lose the shades, I'll hide behind Jean."
She finished her milk. It was almost
cool now. He watched her. "I think I'm ready to go back to sleep," she
"Okay." And he walked her back to
her room. Outside, he took her by surprise by hugging her tight in one
arm and pulling some of her hair across her forehead to kiss her quick
through it. Brave guy. But she supposed that was why he was leader of the
"Sleep tight, don't let the bed-bugs bite, kid-o. Or the nightmares. Come
find me, if you need to talk again. You know where I live."
She grinned up at him. "I do. Thanks,
Mr. Summers. And I won't tell Jubilee what color your eyes are."
Laughing, he headed back to his own
room and the woman who couldn't see his eyes but loved him anyway.
The next day, as he walked into math
class, he passed by her spot on the end of a long table and dropped two
books in front of her. Letters and Papers from Prison by some guy
named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and a thin little book by Elie Wiesel that she
recognized from Eric's memories. Eric had known Elie Wiesel. They'd both
been teens in Auschwitz. And survived. Once, later, they'd met again. She
opened the front of the book. It was signed by Wiesel himself, and on the
other side, across from the title page, Eric had written, "To Charles.
So you can understand." She had the memories of the day he had given the
book to the professor.
After class, Mr. Summers said, "You
can return the books to Professor Xavier, when you're done with them."
. . . . The Oberkapo of the fifty-second
cable unit was a Dutchman, a giant, well over six feet. Seven hundred prisoners
worked under his orders, and they all loved him like a brother. No one
had ever received a blow at his hands, nor an insult from his lips.
He had a young boy under him,
a pipel, as they were called a child with a refined and beautiful
face, unheard of in this camp. (At Buna, the pipel were loathed;
they were often crueller than adults. I once saw one of thirteen beating
his father because the latter had not made his bed properly. The old man
was crying softly while the boy shouted: "If you don't stop crying at once
I shan't bring you any more bread. Do you understand?" But the Dutchman's
little servant was loved by all. He had the face of a sad angel.)
One day, the electric power station
at Buna was blown up. The Gestapo, summoned to the spot, suspected sabotage.
They found a trail. It eventually led to the Dutch Oberkapo. And there,
after a search, they found an important stock of arms.
The Oberkapo was arrested immediately.
He was tortured for a period of weeks, but in vain. He would not give a
single name. He was transferred to Auschwitz. We never heard of him again.
But his little servant had been
left behind in the camp in prison. Also put to torture, he too would not
speak. Then the SS sentenced him to death, with two other prisoners who
had been discovered with arms.
One day when we came back from
work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black
crows. Roll call. SS all round us, machine guns trained: the traditional
ceremony. Three victims in chains and one of them, the little servant,
the sad-eyed angel.
The SS seemed more preoccupied,
more disturbed than usual. To hang a young boy in front of thousands of
spectators was no light matter. The head of the camp read the verdict.
All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his
lips. The gallows threw its shadow over him.
This time, the Lagerkapo refused
to act as executioner. Three SS replaced him.
The three victims mounted together
onto the chairs.
The three necks were placed at
the same moment within the nooses.
"Long live liberty!" cried the
But the child was silent.
"Where is God? Where is He?" someone
behind me asked.
At a sign from the head of the
camp, the three chairs tipped over.
Total silence throughout the camp.
On the horizon, the sun was setting.
"Bare your heads!" yelled the
head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping.
"Cover your heads!"
Then the march past began. The
two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged.
But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still
alive . . . .
For more than half an hour he
stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under
our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when
I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed.
Behind me, I heard the same man
asking: "Where is God now?"
And I heard a voice within me
"Where is He? Here He is
He is hanging here on this gallows . . . ."
Elie Wiesel, from his autobiography,
Night. The book Eric had given to the professor. These particular pages
had been dog-eared: 74-76. Rogue wondered who had marked them. Eric, or
Beneath, at the chapter's end, was
written: That child wasn't a Jew. A smooth, fine hand. Different
from the one in which the dedication had been written.
The students didn't have individual
mail boxes because most of them had no need for them. Nobody was writing
them letters. Those who did get mail picked it up in the office, or had
it slipped under their doors by Miss Munroe or Mr. Summers.
Bobby Drake was one of the lucky
ones. He and Rogue and Kitty Pryde were coming back from lunch and he stopped
in his room to drop off one set of books and pick up another. There was
a letter under his door. He grinned, when he saw the writing on it.
"Parents?" Kitty asked.
"No, my friend Joe."
"He graduate from here before I came?"
"Oh, no. Joe's no mutant. He's my
next door neighbor. We grew up together." He turned the letter so they
could see the front address. "He calls me 'Iceman.'" And he grinned that
Rogue wondered what it was like,
to have a friend who wasn't a mutant but who still wrote letters?
The book Eric had given the professor
wasn't the only one annotated. Marie discovered the second book, the one
by Bonhoeffer, had been marked and written in, as well. Page 27:
I believe that God both
can and will bring good out of evil. For that purpose he needs men who
make the best use of everything. I believe God will give us all the power
we need to resist in all time of distress. But he never gives it in advance,
lest we should rely upon ourselves and not on him alone. A faith as strong
as this should allay all our fears for the future. I believe that even
our errors and mistakes are turned to good account. It is no harder for
God to cope with them than with what we imagine to be our good deeds. I
believe God is not just timeless fate, but that he waits upon and answers
sincere prayer and responsible action.
Underneath, in the hand she had
guessed to be the professor's: "All that is required for evil to succeed
is for men of good will to do nothing." If I must one day face a similar
trial, God grant me the power of which Dietrich spoke.
I recall the day Moshe died. He had
been the only one not frightened of me, not frightened by what I could
do with metal. But he had grown weak in these past weeks. He had been abused
for too long, and his once-bright spirit had faded along with the flesh
off his bones. Soon, they would come for him. He had outlived his strength
and his pretty face, and thus, his usefulness.
We learned, in Birkenau, to respect
death. To respect choice. For three days before, he gave me his bread,
told me to hide it in my bed. I did as he asked. On the third day, he embraced
me before we went out into the yard, said goodbye. The sun was shining.
It was almost pleasant.
There is a no-man's land between
the outer fence and the yard where we are permitted to go. The signs along
it read, "Halt!" This space had been used before for the same purpose to
which Moshe put it that day. He flung himself out into it, as if racing
for the fence. The soldiers in the towers above shot him.
He was free. But it left me alone.
Marked, page 221, a poem entitled
"Who Am I?":
Who am I? They often
I stepped from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which
other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know
Restless and longing and sick,
like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though
hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colours, for flowers,
for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness,
Tossing in expectation of great
Powerlessly trembling for friends
at infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at
thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell
to it all?
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow
Am I both at once? A hypocrite
And before myself a contemptibly
Or is something within me still
like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory
Who am I? They mock me, these
lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O
God, I am Thine!
And underneath: He echoes
my own questions. Do I still believe in the God of my childhood, if not
the teachings of the Friends? I think that I do. At least, I believe we
are all God's children, mutant and non-mutant. I cannot hate my brothers,
even if they hate me.
"Jubilee, do you believe in God?"
Jubilee lifted her dark head and
narrowed her eyes at Rogue. "Why you want to know?"
"I guess I do. I mean, like, who
made the universe if not God? But I ain't exactly into church."
"I believe in God," Kitty said, firmly.
"I don't know if I do," Rogue told
them. "If there's a God up there, why'd he make me like this? So nobody
can touch me?"
"I don't know," Kitty replied. "God
works in mysterious ways."
"That's a line of bullshit the preacher
gives you when he can't answer your question."
"That doesn't mean it's not true!"
Kitty seemed indignant. "I mean, God's omniscient. He sees everything in
the past and the future. You can't. He knows why you're like you are. There
must be a reason for it."
"How do you know God's a 'he'?" Jubilee
asked with a smirk. "Seems kinda dumb, when you think about it. After all,
don't the Bible say we were created in God's image? How could God create
women if God was a dude?"
"Whatever," Kitty replied.
"It's just figurative! He, she . . . Who cares? But I'm not going to call
Rogue got up and left her friends
to argue over the gender of God as she wandered the halls for a while,
wishing Logan were around. But he wasn't. Logan was chasing his tail up
in Canada. So she went down to Mr. Summer's office. He was working at his
desk, writing by hand probably grading papers. He had a CD playing.
Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Stones in the Road. She knew that whole CD
by heart, but hadn't expected it to be something Mr. Summers would listen
to. Then again, he had more CDs than he had books, and that was a lot.
He looked up. "Hi, Marie."
She sidled in, wrapped her scarf
around her hand. "You like Mary Chapin Carpenter?"
"She's a country singer."
"So? She's a great song-writer. Her
best stuff usually doesn't get air-play."
Rogue smiled. "I like the first one
on that album best. 'Why walk when you can fly?'"
He grinned back. "Me, too. You have
"I did. It's back in Mississippi.
I couldn't exactly take my CD collection with me. Kinda heavy on the road."
"I'll make you a tape."
She continued to stand there, twisting
her scarf. He watched her. Finally, she just blurted, "Do you believe in
Maybe he blinked, but of course she
couldn't tell. "Not especially."
Somehow, that wasn't what she'd expected
him to say. "But you gave me those books and the guy Bonhoeffer was a preacher.
He talks about God all the time."
"Bonhoeffer was a theologian, actually.
A very famous one. And I can agree with many of his sentiments, admire
him as a person, without sharing all his beliefs, Marie."
"So you're an atheist?"
"I'm an agnostic. I'm not convinced
there is a God. But I'm not convinced there's not one, either."
"I think that's me, too. What about
"He was raised a Quaker and still
is one, in many ways. But he can't support pacifism any more."
"And Dr. Grey? If you don't mind
my asking "
"Jean's Episcopalian. Loosely."
"Did you go to church when you were
a kid?" She knew her questions bordered on rude her mother would
be appalled but he didn't seem to mind.
"I went every Sunday. I was raised
Catholic. My parents are devout."
"What do they think of you not going
"I have no idea. My parents and I
don't talk much these days."
"Oh." She wandered over to his bookshelves,
ran her fingers over the colorful spines of books. For a math teacher,
he read a lot that wasn't math. History, anthropology, mythology, even
travel books. Lots of science stuff, of course. And novels. He must like
science fiction. He was watching her; she could feel his eyes on her back.
And maybe he wouldn't care, but it seemed fair to give him the same information
about her that she'd asked of him. "I was raised Southern Baptist. No big
surprise, coming from Mississippi. My parents weren't really into church,
though. We only went on Easter and Christmas and Mother's Day. But when
I was in high school, I joined the youth group and sang in the choir. There
was a cute guy in the choir."