Helen shivered as she heard the footsteps coming down the stairs into the basement in which she lived. She braced herself for what was to come – a beating most likely, knowing Amon Goeth. What had she done wrong this time? No matter; she knew only too well that Amon did not need a reason to beat her. When he wanted to hurt her, he would find one, and make it up if need be.
She felt the tender welts on her back from the previous whipping, just the other day. Amon had been mad that his dinner was not ready "on time" and had given her twenty lashes with his belt. She knew he did it for his own gratification, not because she was bad or had done anything wrong, but that did not lessen the pain at all.
Amon descended the steps and entered Helen's dingy room, wrinkling his nose in disgust. She could not help but tremble as he walked towards her, circling her like a predator circles its prey. She willed herself to stare straight ahead and not show any fear, concentrating on a spot on the wall slightly to Amon's right. She forced herself to think of happier times, as if she could forget the terror for a few moments, and thus bear the pain that was sure to come. She braced herself, waiting for him to strike.
But he did not hit her. Instead he began to speak. "So, Helen," he said, in a voice that was calm, even sensitive. "So this is where you come to hide from me. I came to tell you that you really are a wonderful cook and a well-trained servant. I mean it. If you need a reference after the war, I'd be happy to give you one."
She looked straight ahead, trying not to let him know she was afraid, but wondering what would happen next. Amon was never kind to her, never said anything nice to her, just for the sake of being good. Something was up. Helen concentrated very hard on that spot on the wall.
Amon continued, "It must get lonely down here when you're listening to everyone upstairs having such a good time. Does it?"
Helen did not reply. She did not know what to say.
Amon laughed a little, but it was not a nice sort of laugh. It was the cruel laugh that Helen had learned to fear, because it usually was accompanied by a sharp slap that told her clearly that although she amused him, she was not precious enough to be treated gently and kindly.
"You can answer," Amon told her. "What's the right answer? That's what you're thinking. What does he want to hear?"
That was true. She feared answering, for it may induce another beating. She could never tell what would set Amon off, so it was usually easier – and safer – to just stay silent. It had taken time, but she had learned.
"The truth, Helen," continued Amon, "is always the right answer."
But it wasn't. Not really. What if she did tell him the truth – how much he repulsed her, how cruel and sadistic he was, how frightened she was of him, how much he hurt her? It would mean death for sure, for Amon did not take kindly to criticism. Yet, she thought, would death be so bad, really? Helen considered this carefully. Surely it would be better than the hell she was living.
Amon spoke again as if Helen had answered him, and the two of them were having a pleasant conversation. "Yes, you're right. Sometimes we're both lonely. Yes. I – I mean, I would like so much to reach out and touch you in your loneliness. What would that be like, I wonder? I mean what would be wrong with that? I realize that you're not a person in the strictest sense of the word, but . . ."
And then he stopped, not knowing where he was going with this. Helen did not trust herself to reply, and did not even have to bite back a retort that she was definitely a person "in the strictest sense of the word", as the old Helen would have years ago. A year with Amon had numbed her of all feeling coming from insults such as this.
Amon sighed and continued on, again as though Helen had replied. "No, maybe you're right about that too, you know. Maybe what's wrong, isn't us; it's this," he conceded, and rushed on. "I mean, when they compare you to – to vermin and to rodents and to lice . . ."
Helen just stared past him.
"No, you make a good point. You make a very good point," said Amon, and then Helen's heart almost stopped as he reached out and stroked her hair. She could barely contain her revulsion for this monster, and he was actually touching her, as if she were his lover!
But she was not, and they both knew it. She was just his Jewish slave, and yet, she was at his mercy. She could not say a word, for fear of being shot.
Amon continued to stroke her face. "Is this the face of a rat? Are these the eyes of a rat? Hath not a Jew eyes. I feel for you, Helen."
And then he moved his hand downwards, slowly, until he was caressing her breast. She shuddered and hoped her eyes did not reflect her fear. And as he touched her, she went somewhere else in her mind, somewhere where no one could touch her, where no one could hurt her, where no one could make her feel afraid. She was above herself, watching Amon touch an unfamiliar girl, feeling only vaguely sorry for the poor creature that had to endure this sadistic man's lust. And as he leaned forward as if to kiss her, she felt nothing. She had accepted her sufferings, and was now in a safer place.
And then, suddenly, he stopped, and Helen crashed down into her body, no longer dissociating herself. Amon chuckled softly. "No, I don't think so. You Jewish bitch. You nearly talked me into it, Helen, didn't you?"
And then all of a sudden, he raised his hand and slapped her hard across the face. The force of it made her fall backwards, and then she crumbled to the floor. Amon grabbed her arm roughly and hit her over and over again. She cried out in pain, even though she knew Amon did not like that, and it would be better for both of them if she just stayed silent. Amon would only beat her harder if he knew the extent of her pain.
He threw her to the ground once again and she cowered there for a moment, bracing herself for what would come next. He knocked over a heavy shelf on top of her as if to bury her, and slowly ascended the steps, leaving poor Helen alone in the basement, bruised and bleeding, and, at this point, unconscious. He locked the basement door and then readied himself for bed.
When Helen came to about an hour later, the first thing that hit her was the aching of her poor body. Then she realized the shelf was still on top of her. With all the strength she could muster, she pushed it off, and, dizzy and clearly out of her senses, began to fret. The basement was a mess, and she had to clean it, or else Amon would be very angry indeed, and would beat her harder. Ignoring the tenderness of her face and the fresh bruises on her arms and body, she stood up and tried to put the room back in order. All she managed to do was put the shelf back up before she collapsed onto the floor, her exhaustion finally getting the better of her.
Amon tossed and turned in his bed. He could not sleep. He kept thinking about Helen. He lusted for her, and hated her for that, but in actuality, he knew she was not the enemy. The person he truly hated was the one within. Helen, although a Jew and thus vermin, was young and pure and beautiful and kind and gentle and good, everything he was not, and did not deserve, and he knew it. It was cruel of him to do what he did to her, beat her and assign her impossible tasks which she did without a word of complaint, insult her and punish her for imagined infractions, but yet, it was easier for him to succumb to reality; that he was sadistic and abused her for no reason except his own gratification and that it was easier to hit her than admit his love for her.
He was tormented by these thoughts. How could anyone love a Jew, a cunning Jew who was not even human? If he loved her, then he was impure. No, it was not love that he felt for Helen; he just wanted, in typical Amon style, the one thing in the world that he could not have.
And yet, he knew he would not be able to sleep unless he went to her. So he did, ascending the basement steps cautiously until he reached the bottom and saw Helen lying on her cot, whimpering softly. He reached out to her and she cringed, fearing that he would hit her again. She feared him and he knew it, and it made Amon a bit sad.
Then he was overcome with the urge to do something more, something that would give him the ultimate power and satisfaction that he would never get from anything else. He could not fight this urge any longer, and did what he had been longing to do since he first set eyes on Helen Hirsch.
He could not help himself. Amon found himself giving in to desire as he slowly lifted off Helen's chemise. She recoiled, whimpering softly, knowing what was coming but wishing that something would happen – a fire, something, anything! – that would prevent him from doing this to her.
She was still pure, and that, she knew, was what attracted Amon to her. She knew this would hurt more than anything else he had ever done to her combined – even running up and down stairs until she collapsed with exhaustion would be better than this.
Please God, she prayed, although she knew God wasn't listening. He must have turned his back on her this time, or she must have done something to deserve her ill-treatment, and yet still she prayed. Please God, I'll be good forever and ever, but don't let him rape me.
Amon looked at her greedily, lust clearly visible in his eyes. She forced herself out of her body again, and she was looking down on herself again from above as she had just hours earlier. She didn't even feel disgusted as Amon undid his trousers and pulled off his pants and underwear. She felt faint sympathy for the girl he was pinning down onto her dingy cot, and felt that he was hurting her, that his grip on her wrists was too tight for comfort, and there would be bruises the next day.
The girl began to scream, and Amon covered her mouth with his hand, chuckling softly, but it was an evil laugh, not a good-humoured one at all. This was true evil for sure, and a truly good God would not let this happen to her. "Shhh," Amon intoned into the girl's ear, "no one will help you now. Scream all you like, but it's just you and me, child. It's just you and me, Helen, and you are at my mercy. It will hurt more if you scream. Now stay still."
He pushed himself into her, and it was the most agonizing pain in the world, but at the same time, Helen didn't feel it. She was numb, devoid of all feeling. And yet still she prayed. Please God, please let it end. Please God, please, please. Her family had never been particularly religious, but now she prayed with all her heart. What else could she do?
After what seemed like eternity, it was finally over. Amon extracted himself from her and went back upstairs to bed, his insatiable lust momentarily satisfied.
Helen moaned softly. She was back in her body, and the pain was immense. She had never felt anything like it ever before. And now, alone in her cold, dark room, she finally allowed herself to cry.
She wept to make up for lost time. She cried for her family, for herself, for all the beatings inflicted by Amon and this final suffering that had just occurred, and most of all, she cried for not being allowed to cry, for Amon forbade it of her.
The ache between her legs was great and when she lifted the sheets, she saw pools of blood. She pulled her chemise back on, and that was all she remembered before she passed out.
Amon found her like that the next morning, and knew he had to call a doctor, or else she would surely die, and if she died, he would lose all power over her. He had so thoroughly enjoyed last night that it only slightly bothered him that he would have to call a doctor for his maid.
He knew he had sent her to this state, but he did not feel bad. If anything, he felt more powerful, and he liked that.
He called on one of the Catholic nurses and told her to come; his maid was very ill. She came immediately, knowing that no one in their right mind refused Amon Goeth.
The nurse, whose name was Mila, followed Amon to the basement. When she saw Helen, she breathed in sharply, and then she said to Amon, "How did this happen to her?"
Mila gingerly touched the swollen bruises on Helen's cheeks and noted the red puffiness of her eyes from crying. Then she lifted up the sheet and let out a small cry at the amount of blood staining the white sheet.
Amon looked right at Mila and said, "She was bad and so I beat her, as is my right."
"And I suppose raping her is your right too?" Mila said softly.
Amon looked at the ground. He wanted to hit this nurse, hurt her badly, but he knew he could not. Helen was his only outlet, and here she lay, more dead then alive because of him.
"Don't worry," Mila said, "I won't tell. But for her, not for you."
"She is Jewish, Mila," retorted Amon angrily. "She is vermin, and deserves what she gets."
Mila did not reply. Instead she turned Helen gently over and lifted up her chemise to reveal bruises and welts in various stages of healing. Helen moaned softly.
"It's all right," Mila reassured her softly, feeling Helen cringe at the unfamiliar touch, skittishness caused from many beatings. "I won't hurt you, Helen. I'm going to help you and make you feel better."
Helen opened her eyes and looked at Mila. "Are you an angel?" she whispered softly.
Mila smiled. "No, I'm a nurse. And I'm going to help you. Don't worry."
But Helen's eyes betrayed her fear.
"Now Helen, this will sting a bit, but I'm putting antiseptic on your wounds so they don't get infected," Mila told her.
Helen nodded and braced herself. It hurt a bit, and she whimpered, but it was nothing compared to the torture of last night.
Amon snorted. Mila turned to him. "Do you want her to get better or not?"
Amon gave a curt nod.
Mila finished applying the antiseptic and bandaged up some of her other wounds. Then she turned Helen onto her back again and felt for broken bones on her stomach. She had several broken ribs, which were bandaged and set, and then with a final lingering glance at poor Helen, who had endured so much, Mila left. She had other work to do, but before departing she said to Amon, "You take good care of her, okay?"
Amon nodded tersely and murmured, barely audibly, "Okay."
When Mila was gone, he took one last look at Helen, and then went back upstairs himself. He had business to attend to.