“Escaping From the Manacles” by Matej Styk

Matej Styk


He was drowning in an ocean of sorrow, disgust and hatred as he dug up another load of dirt on his work station. Suddenly, a high pitched screen erupted in the walls of the camp, swimming into his ears as if daggers were being stabbed into them. 

“What was that?” he asked under his breath careful to not be heard. 

“Another batch of innocent criminals,” murmured Menachem. “Sending them to the showers probably,” he added. 

A wave of rippling pain came from his back, realizing he stopped working. 

“ Komm Schon!” the guard roared for their slight disobedience. 

After the usual meal of soup and bread, they retired to their maggot infested, insect roamed, densely packed, foul smelling, loud rooms for the day.  

Arych was sitting on his small, simple, smelly bed when he noticed the discussion between the people of the building. 

“Of course they’re advancing on them,” mentioned Daniel, “The army is failing due to lack of resources. It’s only a matter of time before they fall.”

“Let’s hope,” said Menachem. 

                                                                                                  *   * *


They were sitting at the dining table, on the run for some months now. Mama was talking with Papa as they dined on the humble dinner. All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door, escalating in loudness. Boom…Boom …Boom. As quiet as a sly fox, Mama ordered to hide in the cupboard at the end of the room, and the lights turned off, welcoming darkness. He stared at the pepper black sky, the small specks of salt shining brightly at the land below. 

“ Is everything going to be fine?” whispered his little brother. 

“Let’s hope,” he replied quietly.

The door suddenly ripped from its hinges and banged on the wood floor. The room was suddenly filled with a dozen pairs of feet, he couldn’t make out the details of the figures, however, the fire red Swastika didn’t hide itself in the shadows.


                                                                                                   *   * *



The temperatures dropped, freezing their hope for survival. The frigid wind bit into Arych’s skin trying to penetrate through it. The soldiers didn’t take into consideration that the traumatized, tormented souls they were commanding were sick or unable to work, and those who fell of exhaustion and hypothermia would be sent to their death, like a postcard delivered to its destination. Only in this case, the destination was their grave.

Every day,  Hitler’s servants became more impatient, delivering more postcards to their location. More rumours began racing around in the camp. Arych sometimes wondered whether he was going to be freed from the rule of the Germans or let to rot on the grounds of the prison.

It was hours before dawn when the soldiers burst through the doors of the shack. Their angry shouts echoing through the walls of the open space. “Aus!” they yelled, ordering them to exit the shack. Reluctantly, they entered the oily darkness outside, shaking from the lack of clothes they were given. As Arych walked, he noticed the officials forcing others outside, marching to the entrance of Hell.  What is happening?  he thought,  why would they be leading us to the exit of the camp?  They halted to a stop, thousands of individuals stacked next to each other as if they were dominoes. “Hor mal zu!” ordered one of the officers in front of the courtyard. Arych shifted, eager to listen for instructions.

“The Soviets are advancing on Poland,” so Daniel was right!  “As a result, you pigs are going to march to Loslau and later, to the safe grounds of our majestic empire built by out mighty Reich.” 

Pandemonium broke out in the square, the alarmed screams of the wars prisoners overpowering Arych’s ears. And then it came. Boom. The crowd went silent, staring at the blood spilling from multiple men, the deep red liquid flowing through the gaps of the stone bricks on the floor while hungry insects seizing the opportunity to enjoy their feast. 


                                                                                     *  * *

The warmth from the fire flowed into their bodies as bacteria penetrating their deceased prey, disconnecting them from the ferocious, freezing, frosty winds raging outside the cottage. Arych glared at the multi colored ornaments spinning on the branches of the majestic Christmas tree. 

“Dinner is ready!” announced mother from the kitchen. As always, he rushed into the room, sitting at his usual place next to Grandpa and Grandma eager for the feast to begin. 

                                                                                      *  * *


It had been three days since they started their death march, which is what the people called it. However, the bitter cold temperatures were in no rush of increasing. Multiple have asked for clothing suitable to the weather, yet to no avail. When night time came, Arych lowered his excuse of a male body onto the usual position on the rough, rotten ground, repulsive on what’s to come the next day. Silence fell in the camp rapidly as a bullet shooting from a firearm. The blanket of white snow falling on his body, he was about to enter the world of dreaming when he heard the barely audible whisper from Menachem.

 “I’ve got a plan,” he murmured under his breath,

“What is it?” Arych replied.

                “When the temperature drops, we can escape from the march and seek sanctuary when Hitler loses.”

He continued ranting until Arych seized the temptation to close his eyes and dozed off. Arych woke up to the alarming shouts from the people around him. He immediately saw the guards pushing and pulling people out of bed, to get on with the journey as fast as possible. To avoid trouble, he jumped up from the muddy floor and hurried in line to receive orders. The guards were patrolling the line, dressed in warm and fluffy coats above their oil black uniform bearing various badges to indicate their statue in the army. “März!” roared an officer, and the party began to walk. 

Midday, after about 5 hours of walking, the old man in front of him collapsed and fainted on the moist cold ground. Arych was forced to continue, the man screamed, shouting for mercy, the last words of his life. 

The day continued,  forcing others legs to surrender under the immense pressure.

At last, they made camp in a field, close to a forest, near a village. Arych was starving, for a second considering to eat himself inside out, yet, when the food came along, it didn’t satisfy his stomach needs. The soldier swept past him, throwing him a nasty green stale bread, the odour numbing his senses for a while. A maggot roamed the rotten end of a sausage barely looking edible to eat. He ate without complaint. 

As he was eating, he looked up, aroused of what he was hearing. In an instance he saw the guards pulling and dragging a girl behind them. In the silence of camp it was as if she screamed with her whole body. Her eyes were rich with horror, her mouth rigid and open, her chalky face glistening in the dark night, her fists clenched and her knuckles blanched her nails were digging deeply into the flesh of her opponents. Arych’s face drained of blood, becoming pale like the feathers of a swan. The scream pierced through the air like shattered glass, coming in contact with everything around it. It echoed in the dark forest, nothing escaping it. Birds took flight, soaring high into the air escaping the noises reach. A serpent inside him coiled around his heart; it was bent, it was torn, it was broken, it was burnt. All the happiness drained from his body, as if soaked up by a sponge.

Within seconds, the sound died down, returning the camp to being quite as death, extinguishing the fire inside him.


                                                                                      *  * *


  They were waiting in the carts, everyone anticipating the worst. The horrible smell of the excretion corner overcoming Arych’s senses. In less than a minute, the doors slid to the side welcoming the bright rays of light illuminating their weak bodies. 

“Aus!” roared the guard.

They moved their limp figures outside on the dry sunny earth, awaiting instructions. They were ordered to join the line which was becoming longer as the inhabitants of the other carts were shuffling towards it. 

After an hour of waiting, they made their way to the front of the line, petrified as to what is to come next. The soldiers emotionless face letting no sign of grief escape it. He was ordered to go right as his brother and parents ordered left. They argued with the guard proving that they were a family, but to no avail. His dear mom and dad disappeared inside a large stone structure. I am going to see them again! he thought as he said goodbye to them. 

As he neared the corner of the square, an ear-piercing scream stopped him dead in his tracks, there was smoke coming out from the building.


                                                                                      *  * *

As the days flew by, fluttering in the snowy sky, the marching continued. The constant sound of gunshot vibrating the bare trees around them. Arych’s thoughts lingered to the horrified face of the girl, paralysed by terror, trembling like a leaf on a windy night, like a gazelle in a den of a lion. He could not take it anymore, the suffering, the torture, the misery in which they were living. Suddenly, he felt as if fuel had been pumped into his body, he felt as if he was flying high in the misty morning walking on the thin air up in the clouds. He was going to escape. He repeated it over in his mind deflecting the thoughts of negativity and despair. 

That night, on the break of dawn, when the moon descended down under the hills and the sun awakened from its deep slumber, he woke up Menachem. 

“Wake up!” he demanded.

“What is it?” he replied, still half asleep. 

“We have to escape, no matter what it takes,” he stated.

“Well what is the plan then?” Menachem replied, slightly more interested.

He explained every step of the way of the plan to freedom, which he devised the other day, while sharpening a stone on the floor; controlled by the fruits of labour freedom would provide, making sure he didn’t miss any detail. 

They spent the next several days examining guard routines and peering through the windows of the soldiers cabins and tents for any hints on how to escape. Time was running short, as their march destination was closer each day, creating a stone cold expression on most of the prisoners’ faces. The mood of those around them typing like an iceberg in the Arctic ocean, and yet, there was Arych and Menachem, warmth flowing in their bodies at the idea of swimming away from the grasp of the Nazis. 

When the sun fell under the horizon, darkness filled the sky; signifying the arrival of the glistening full moon. Arych and Menachem went through the last pieces of the puzzle and waited until the usual patrol, waiting for the yells of dismay of those who crossed the soldiers’ path to die down, silencing the camp once more. As more people fell into sleep, they made their move.

They shuffled through the darkness of the camp, avoiding direct sources of light, so they wouldn’t be detected. They leapt behind one of the soldiers tents, smelling the essence of roasted meats and herbs while outside people were dying of starvation just because religion. Out of nowhere, they saw a pair of soldiers chatting away walking in the direction of their hiding place, before they could spot them, they moved away out of sight of their foes. However, the damage was done, due to the disturbance of the quiet surrounding them, the soldiers raised their firearms, careless on when to fire. 

They ducked out of sight before the patrol saw them, terrified on the turn of events.

“We never saw them patrol!” hissed Menachem, careful not to be heard. “Why did they have to add to security the day we were going to escape?” he hastily added. 

“My guess is as good as yours, however, we must not get distracted!” demanded Arych.

They resumed creeping in the blackness of their surroundings until at last, they reached the laundry tent. 

After checking the perimeter of the compartment, seeking to reveal any unwanted entities before it was too late, they entered the tent. The acrid stench of the dirty uniforms marched up their nostrils, invading their senses and making them dizzy. They rushed to the nearest trolley of uniforms and rummaged through them, looking for their sizes. At last, both of them found the ideal outfit and stripped of their clothes, and started to pull on the wet, muddy, appaling uniforms, when out of nowhere, a soldier entered the tent. 

The man pulled out his knife, the sharp edge gleaming in the reflection of the moonlight, he charged at them as if he was a cheetah spotting its prey. At the same time the man shouted in German, “Pigs escaped!” raising the alarm for the rest of the camp. This was the end Arych thought, It is a matter of minutes before guards with guns arrive. The plan has failed.

Menachem acted first though, he threw a pile of the rotten robes at the man and they ran for it. They soon reached a side of the tent, Arych grabbed a rock from his pocket, which he sharpened what seemed long ago. He scratched and sawed through the thick fabric; the shouts were getting louder, intensifying each second, the guard were almost there, Menachem was whispering rapidly to him, the weight of the pressure nearly dropping him to the ground, until at last, the fiber ripped open welcoming the fresh night air with open arms. The breeze brushed his skin like a feather, as soft as silk. They ran as fast an eagle swooping on its prey from the tent, their legs carrying them as quick as they possibly could, nevertheless, it was not enough.

A blast sounded away near them,  the bullet turning and twisting rapidly in the air, keen to meet and introduce itself to the target; before Arych knew what was happening, it reached its destination.

It was as if all the muscles in his body were torn apart by a coalition of hungry lions, savouring the taste of his blood. It was as if he touched an electricity source, which shocked his brain and broke it apart to its last electrons. It was as if an angry gardener, annoyed with his job, rammed his shovel into Arych’s side, digging into his flesh and throwing it away like a dog searching for its favorite toy. 

Arych clutched his side and kept going, wanting the medicine of freedom. The angry shouts of the guards echoing in the night. On they went, looking behind to see them furthering the distance between them and the soldiers. Luckily, the shadows of the night and the luck was on their side. After what seemed like hours, the guards retreated, careless of the lives of their prisoners. Arych and Menachem his in an abandoned shack in the woods, listening for the sounds of their surroundings, petrified of hoots from the night owls. The soldiers retreated back to the camp, careful not lose any others. As the sun came up, the smile on Arych’s face widened as his features softened.

“We did it!” he whispered, tears streaming down his cheeks.