I walked inside with my chin tucked deep into my white blouse. The heavy wooden door slammed behind me and I raised my gaze cautiously.
I was standing in the corner of a glamorous chamber. Lengthy, velvety curtains, painted with menacing swastikas, draped over the tall windows. Ominous paintings decorated the walls, and the largest, in the far end of the room, was of the Führer. An elongated table was situated in the center of the room, with over a dozen high-backed chairs surrounding it. Four men were murmuring heatedly among themselves until they noticed my presence.
"Welcome, Fräulein Pierce," an aged man in a Nazi army uniform and a faded gray crew cut rose to his feet, followed by the other three men. He motioned for me to sit in a vacant chair at the opposite head of the table.
My heels clicked on the marble floor as I made my way to the makeshift throne. I seated myself and straightened my back properly, as I was taught, while my hands folded neatly in my lap. I was anxious and nervous beyond words, but it was imperative for me to please the officials.
"Behold, gentlemen," began the senior. "The Aryan race at its finest. Beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, German. Satisfying, isn't she, Richart?" he turned to the man sitting to his left.
The man twisted his neck to me and eyed me judgmentally. His close-cropped, auburn hair shone in the dim sunlight above his cold, bleached cobalt eyes. His thin lips were clasped together over his obtrusively square chin. A hungry look began to slowly dominate his face.
The elderly man's lips raised in a cheerful sneer that was not reflected in his bitter eyes. He turned back to me. "Do you know who I am, Fräulein Pierce?"
"Herr Von Richter," I uttered hesitantly, my eyes fixed on the clenched hands in my lap.
"That's right," I heard his raspy voice reply serenely. "Aldous Von Richter, Oberstgruppenführer, or General, of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. The Nazi Party. Has a ring to it, doesn't it?"
There was a low buzz of accord from the three men. The one named Richart still had his ravenous gaze on me.
"Your father is a fine man, Fräulein Pierce," Herr Von Richter continued. "A true gentleman. It was a pleasant surprise when he so easily consented to give you away."
A traitorous lump formed in my throat as I willed my eyes not to emanate tears. It was still unknown to me why my father had decided to give me away. Did I not serve as a faithful daughter?
"Fräulein Pierce, I'd like you to meet your fiancé, Richart Eberhardt. He's a distinguished Gruppenführer, Major General, of the Nazi army."
My frightened eyes fell on my future husband. He blinked in response. "Hello, Herr Eberhardt."
"Hello, Brittany," his voice was soft yet chilling.
"Why don't you give her the ring, Richart?"
Herr Eberhardt cocked an eyebrow, then reached into the coat of his military uniform and extracted a small black case. He flicked it open with his index finger and slid it to me across the table. It came to a halt about a foot away from me, so I reached an uncertain hand and grasped it gently.
I brought it to my face and examined it carefully. It was a platinum ring with a timid diamond attached to its rigid body. I rolled it delicately in the palm of my hand, then gazed back up at the opposite end of the table.
Herr Von Richter's eyebrows were elevated in expectation. I held the promise between two anxious fingers and slipped it around the fourth digit of my left hand.
"Good, good," the elder nodded his head thoughtfully. "Then it's settled. Fräulein Pierce, or, as you soon will be named, Frau Eberhardt, your fiancé has been appointed First Commandant of a newly operational concentration camp in southern Poland. Auschwitz, one of our most glorious territories. Great things will happen in Auschwitz, I assure you."
I didn't know what a concentration camp was, but the fact that I would be moving to Poland slowly sunk into my mind. Away from my friends, away from my family, away from my life, away from everything I knew. I will be alone in the brutal hands of this harsh man in this secluded camp.
"Your train leaves at eight A.M. sharp tomorrow morning, Fräulein Pierce, so I suggest you return home and pack your belongings."
I stood up abruptly, perhaps too abruptly, and made my way out of the looming room. I was led down a shadowy hallway and back into the entrance hall. My father, hat clenched in his thick hands and beads of sweat shining on his forehead, waited for me by the grand staircase.
"Well?" he demanded rapidly.
I held out my left hand so that the ring would be clearly visible. "Thank the Führer…" he muttered in relief and swept an arm across his moist forehead.
I remained gravely silent as my father drove his BMW down the rough roads. The car slowed down as we reached our modest apartment in the center of Berlin.
"Where have you been? What's happened?" my mother dashed down the stairs to greet us in the lobby of the decrepit building.
"Brittany's to be married to a fine Nazi Major General," my father marched past her and up the stairwell.
"Brittany's…what?" her voice was fragile as her light eyes squinted in torment. She turned on her heels and hurried after him. "You can't give her away like that without telling me!"
"I had no choice," I heard him say from upstairs as I dragged my incredibly heavy feet up step by step.
"What do you mean, you had no choice?" she screeched loudly. "She's eighteen, Christof! Fresh out of secondary school, and you're sending her away forever!"
"She's an Aryan, Gretchen!" he roared. "A property of the state! Herr Von Richter asked for her, and I obliged! There was nothing to be done!"
I walked past them into my room and shut the door. The tears that had been so aching to flow down my face were finally given their solemn wish. I sat on my bed and wept miserably, hopelessly lost and petrified.
The door creaked open and the angel in my life, the shining star that kept me warm in the freezing cold, walked mournfully into the room. My little sister, Anna, curled up next to me as I put my arms around her.
"Will they take me away, too?" she whispered into my shirt.
I gazed down at her blonde hair, striking blue eyes, countless freckles. She was an Aryan, perfection in human form, just like me. She was facing the same cruel fate that I was about to experience.
"No," I lied as I kissed her hair gently. "They will never take you away."
The living room was grimly hushed as our intimate family felt itself break to incoherent pieces. Two large beige suitcases stood by the door in the first rays of sunlight. Anna's head leaned on my shoulder, her hand desperately gripping my olive-toned dress. Tremors of panic passed through me as I gaped at my home, my childhood, my memories.
A firm knock sounded on our wooden door. My father, his large belly hidden under a striped suit, twisted the doorknob and swiftly opened the door to reveal a stern Herr Eberhardt. I felt Anna's body shiver as she gawked at the ominously tall soldier.
Without speaking a word, Herr Eberhardt grabbed one suitcase in each hand and began to descend the stairs. My father motioned for me to stand up and follow him.
"NO!" Anna locked her arms around me and began to sob hysterically. My father pried her feeble grasp off of me as my mother leaned in for a quick kiss on the cheek.
I stumbled out of the apartment and, without looking back, walked down the stairs into my very own personalized hell.
Herr Eberhardt did not say a word to me during the car ride to the train station. I doubted that he was too shy to speak; he simply did not find me interesting enough to bother.
The train station stood gloomy and elevated in the early hours of the morning. As we walked to the gate, I took notice in the way people would stare at us in awe. A true Aryan couple. We were everything this country stood for.
Our train was proudly nouveau, the latest advancement in technology. We entered a confined space that contained a twin bed and a tiny bathroom.
I situated myself carefully on the bed as the train began to bounce up and down. Herr Eberhardt gazed at me, blinked, and strolled out of the room.
We were on the train for eighteen hours until we reached Kraków. I slept for about four of those hours and spent the remaining fourteen lying in bed, wide-eyed with fright. Herr Eberhardt did not return to the room until the train began to brake noisily.
The Kraków train station proved to be just as drab as the one in Berlin. The reactions of the Polish citizens to our presence, however, were entirely opposite of the ones of our people. They glanced at Herr Eberhardt's uniform with fear and quickly walked in the opposite direction, as if we were touched, infected, by some incurable disease.
We had to wait in the station for three hours until the train to Auschwitz, small, peeling, and ancient, arrived at the gate. My fiancé heaved the suitcases onto the train car and sat down in one of the vacant chairs. I took a seat in the opposite row.
This train ride, which lasted a mere two hours, was spent with quick, apprehensive peeks at a quite indifferent Herr Eberhardt.
I gazed outside of the window behind me. I could see a massive territory occupied by somber structures and surrounded by a great fence in the horizon. As we neared the gates, a sign at the entrance of Auschwitz became clearly visible: "Arbeit Macht Frei." Work sets you free.