A Better Place

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
"A Better Place" is a fictional story about a Nazi officer during WWII who learns through unexpected time travel experiences that it is not hatred and the elimination of those different from oneself that makes the world a better place, but rather, it is friendship and tolerance among all people makes the world a better place.

Submitted: November 22, 2015

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Submitted: November 22, 2015

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Gunter Herrmann was born in 1920 in Potsdam, Germany as the first child of Wilhelm and Frieda Herrmann. The Herrmann family could be traced back for generations in Germany and so they were proud patriots of the Fatherland. Wilhelm had recently served in the German army during the Great War and he was lucky to have survived. He considered himself lucky once more to now have a baby boy who will carry on the Herrmann name. Wilhelm dreamed that his son would one day serve his beloved country, just as many generations of Herrmanns had done before him.


Times were difficult for the Herrmann family and for all of Germany in the 1920s. The post-war sanctions as dictated by the Treaty of Versailles were harsh. Money, work, and food were all in short supply. Gunter grew up in an environment of despair, hunger, and poverty. He listened intently as his father often ranted about the Jews, the Communists, and others he blamed for such problems.


As Gunter entered his teen years in the early 1930’s, he and his father were excited about Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party’s rise to power. Hitler’s message was music to the ears of the Herrmann family. Hitler promised to rid Germany of all who caused its misery. Wilhelm and Gunter firmly believed that under this new regime Germany would be a better place.


Gunter, along with all of his friends, eagerly enlisted in the Hitler Youth. In this program he studiously and enthusiastically learned many life lessons, such as who Germany’s enemies were and how to most effectively eliminate them. Gunter and his friends were rigorously trained in many different forms of combat. As the Hitler Youth members carried out their training routines, they gleefully sang Nazi tunes, which included lyrics about the rise of Germany and the destruction of the Jews.


Gunter was a star pupil in the Hitler Youth and soon rose into a leadership role.  He took pride in teaching the ideology to younger members, and in making them strong future combatants for their cause. 


As Gunter reached adulthood in the late 1930’s, his fanaticism to the Nazi cause was noticed by some of the leaders of the SS. It was an extremely happy day in the Herrmann family when Gunter became a member of the SS. With his head held high, he marched proudly into his family’s home in his shiny new SS uniform. 


“Gunter” said his gleaming father, “I am so very proud of you today, my son. You will be fighting for such a noble cause. You will be one of the Fatherland’s saviors. You will be ridding our homeland of its enemies. Remember, every time you rid the world of a Jew, you are making it a better place.”


As World War II broke out, Gunter’s SS unit followed the German army into Poland where Gunter would be stationed for several years. His unit was tasked with rounding up all enemies to the newly expanded German state, most notably the Jews. He was so happy to perform this vital function. How many people in this world get to do a job that they love, while making their family and their nation proud, and making the world a better place?


Gunter often thought ahead to a future with no Jews, no Communists, and no other inferior people who he believed would otherwise pollute the world’s gene pool. He thought of how he and his friends in the SS would be looked upon by the generations to come as saviors of the world. Who else gets to do such grandiose work?


One stormy evening during the summer of 1942, Gunter was assigned to foot patrol duty around the outskirts of the Warsaw Ghetto. As Gunter, with his gun at the ready, patrolled the streets just outside the ghetto, he turned a corner, and was surprised to see a Jewish boy, roughly 15 years of age, running stealthily toward him in the shadows, while clutching something underneath his shirt. “Halt” shouted Gunter with his weapon aimed at the young boy. “What are you doing outside the ghetto?” Gunter angrily demanded.


The boy was terrified and cowered to his knees. He looked up at Gunter and pleaded with his eyes for mercy, though he was too scared to say anything. Gunter repeated his question even louder and more emphatically, “Did you hear me Jew? Why aren’t you in the ghetto where you belong?” Then Gunter turned his attention to the item the Jew was trying to shield from him.  “What is in your shirt?” Gunter shouted.


There was no response from the trembling kid who bent down a bit lower and started to cry.  Gunter grabbed him by the collar and stood him up straight. A small loaf of bread then fell to the ground. “You have no right to this food! Where did you get this?”
There was still no answer from the whimpering kid. Gunter was outraged. How dare this Jew be outside the ghetto! How dare this Jew have food that didn’t belong to him! He must die for these offenses!


Gunter pointed his gun directly toward the forehead of the Jewish boy and was about to pull the trigger when suddenly there was a loud thunderous sound and a fierce bolt of lightning came crashing down from the sky. The lightning struck Gunter and knocked him out.


Gunter groggily awoke and was surprised by his surroundings. He thought back to his last recollections and realized that it was his encounter with the Jewish boy outside the ghetto. Now, as he looked around, he saw that he was in a bed in what appeared to be a hospital room, and there was a woman who he didn’t recognize standing over him.


“George. I have wonderful news” the woman happily said to him. Why is she calling me George? Gunter thought to himself. The woman then continued, “Nurse Abrams came in here a little while ago. She said that they were finally able to diagnose your illness and they will be able to treat it! You are going to be ok!”


Gunter just looked at her bewilderedly.


“Isn’t that great news George?” the woman added.


Finally Gunter asked, “Why are you calling me George?”


The woman seemed confused by this question. “That is your name, honey.  Are you feeling alright?”


“Who are you and where am I? Where is my unit? I must get back to my unit! We have important work to do!” Gunter sternly shouted back to the woman.


“Calm down George. I don’t know what you are talking about. I think all the medications you’ve been taking are messing with your head. I’ll call the nurse in.”


“Who are you and where am I?” Gunter repeated, this time with even more volume and anger than before.


Having heard the commotion, a nurse entered the room. 


“Nurse Abrams, my husband just awoke and he seems disoriented” the woman beside Gunter said.


“Husband?” Gunter shouted. “I don’t know who you are. I’ve never seen you before and you claim to be my wife? Where am I and where is my unit?”


“George, it’s me, Nancy, your wife of 6 years and the mother of our 3 year-old son. Do you not remember me?”


Nurse Abrams then calmly approached the angry patient and said, “It’s ok George. You are probably just very tired from all the tests and procedures you’ve gone through and the medications you’ve been taking. Has your wife told you the great news?”

Gunter looked at both of them with a perplexed expression on his face.


Nurse Abrams continued, “We were finally able to diagnose you. You have an extremely rare blood disorder which until recently was fatal and there was no cure. However, thank goodness for a wonderful doctor who after several years of research has discovered a cure. We are fortunate that this doctor also works in our hospital and he will be personally treating you. He will be coming in very soon to discuss the specifics of your treatment with you.”


Nurse Abrams then left the room. Gunter then realized something else that seemed strange to him. The woman saying she was his wife of six years seemed to be much older than him. Gunter tried to get up to go to a mirror he saw was in the bathroom across from his bed, but he couldn’t move due to various tubes and other objects in him.


“Stay in bed George” the woman ordered.


“I need a mirror” Gunter replied.


The woman handed him a mini mirror from her purse. Gunter looked at himself and was shocked to see he had aged considerably.


“What year is it?” he nervously asked.


“1962 honey, I’m very worried about you. Do you not remember anything?”


“1962! How can that be? Where are we?”


“We are in the hospital, in New York. I’m going to speak to the doctor when he gets here about your memory lapses.”
Just then, a doctor who looked to be in his mid-30s, entered the room with a warm smile on his face.


“Hello Mr. and Mrs. Harmon. I am Doctor Isaac Mendelbaum. I’m told that Nurse Abrams gave you the great news. I am very happy to say that we’re going to be able to treat this illness and that Mr. Harmon will make a full recovery. I am going to personally oversee the entire process.”


“Mendelbaum!” Gunter shouted. “A Jew? I would have thought that all Jews would be dead by 1962!”


Nancy was shocked and disgusted by this outrageous outburst. “George! Shut your mouth! This doctor is here to help you! Where did this ridiculous outburst come from? You’ve never made such horrible statements like that before?”


Doctor Mendelbaum looked closely at George, hesitated for a moment as he looked down at his charts, and re-gathered himself after the shocking statement from the patient. Then, with a stoic, professional tone he said, “Mr. Harmon, the first phase of your treatment will require a blood transfusion, then…”


He was interrupted by another strange comment from the patient. “How do I know that the blood you give to me will be pure?”


“What do you mean by pure blood, Mr. Harmon?”


“Pure, Aryan blood! No Jewish blood! You are Jewish, so how do I know you will not poison me with Jewish blood?”


“Mr. Harmon. We do not distinguish between Jewish or non-Jewish blood. Religion has no medical impact on human blood. I can assure you that…”


He was interrupted again, “I will not do this procedure without assurances that I will not be receiving any Jewish blood!”


“Mr. Harmon. If you do not allow us to give you a transfusion, you will die. You will die fairly soon. Without my treatment plan I estimate that you have only a few months to live.”


Nancy then spoke up, “Doctor Mendelbaum, my husband clearly isn’t himself. He didn’t remember me or where he is. I think he is just very tired. Can he have his medication so that he can get some rest tonight and then perhaps he will be thinking more clearly in the morning?”


“Yes. That is fine. I will come back in the morning, but we can’t wait much longer if we are going to be able to treat this illness in time.”


Doctor Mendelbaum left the room. Nancy then turned to her husband and said, “Honey, I don’t know where all that nonsense just came from. I assume it is not you, but rather it is the medications, that are saying those hateful words. But I need you to think rationally about this.  You are only 42 years old. You have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t you want to be around to see our son grow up?  Doesn’t he deserve to have his father in his life? You need to let this doctor treat you. It will save your life. The world will be a better place for our son and for me if you are still with us. Please do this for us!”


Gunter lied in bed and tried hard to absorb all that was transpiring around him. He didn’t understand any of it. How was he here in 1962 in a hospital in New York with an illness for which he needs a Jew to treat him? Of course he wanted to live and so if this Jewish doctor can cure him, then shouldn’t he proceed with the treatment? He was pondering such thoughts when Nurse Abrams came back in and gave him his medicine, including a sedative. Soon, Gunter was sound asleep.


Gunter awoke and found himself back on the streets of Poland, just outside the Warsaw Ghetto.  He was in his SS uniform and he had his gun at the ready. He had the weird feeling that he was reliving an evening he had already experienced. He also had odd images of a hospital room in New York in his head, but didn’t understand how or why he had such images. 


He told himself to snap out of it and focus on the task at hand, which was to catch and to kill any Jews he found outside of the ghetto. Soon he turned a corner and was surprised to see a Jewish boy, roughly 15 years of age, running stealthily toward him in the shadows, while clutching something underneath his shirt.  “Halt” shouted Gunter with his weapon aimed at the young boy.  “What are you doing outside the ghetto?” Gunter angrily demanded.


The boy was terrified and cowered to his knees. He looked up at Gunter and pleaded with his eyes for mercy, though he was too scared to say anything. Gunter repeated his question even louder and more emphatically, “Did you hear me Jew? Why aren’t you in the ghetto where you belong?” Then Gunter turned his attention to the item the Jew was trying to shield from him.  “What is in your shirt?” Gunter shouted, though somehow he seemed to already know that it was a loaf of bread.


There was no response from the terrified kid who bent down a bit lower and started to cry.  Gunter grabbed him by the collar and stood him up straight. A small loaf of bread then fell to the ground. “You have no right to this food! Where did you get this?”
There was still no answer from the whimpering kid. Gunter was outraged. How dare this Jew be outside the ghetto! How dare this Jew have food that didn’t belong to him! He must die for these offenses!


Gunter pointed his gun directly toward the forehead of the Jewish boy and pulled the trigger. He watched joyfully as this Jew who had the nerve to be on Aryan streets and to be in possession of Aryan food, fell down dead on the pavement. Gunter then thought of his father’s wise words, “every time you rid the world of a Jew, you are making it a better place.”


Just as Gunter was smiling to himself about how he had just made the world a better place, there was a loud thunderous sound and a fierce bolt of lightning came crashing down from the sky.  The lightning struck Gunter and knocked him out.


Gunter groggily awoke and was surprised to find himself back in the same New York hospital room. The same woman, who claimed to be his wife, was sitting beside his bed, only this time she was crying.


“What is the matter?” Gunter asked the woman.


“Nurse Abrams came in here with Doctor Edwards while you were asleep. They told me that they were finally able to diagnose your illness. You have a very rare and fatal blood disorder and there is no cure. They said you are dying George and may only have a few months to live.” She cried even louder as she came over to hug her husband.


“What are you talking about?” Gunter barked out while pushing the woman away. “There is a cure! Get those incompetent people back in here and tell them to get Doctor Mendelbaum! He has the cure!”


“Doctor Mendelbaum? Who is he?” Nancy asked her husband.


“He is the doctor who came in here and told me he can treat me. Tell that nurse to get Doctor Mendelbaum at once!” Gunter shouted very loudly.


Nancy did not know what her husband was talking about, but she called Nurse Abrams into the room as her husband demanded.


“Yes Mr. and Mrs. Harmon. What can I do for you?” the nurse said pleasantly as she entered the room.


Gunter then yelled at her, “You need to get Doctor Mendelbaum. Now! He knows how to treat me. Go! Now! Get him in here!”


“I’m sorry Mr. Harmon, but there is no doctor here by that name. There has never been a doctor here by that name in the 15 years I’ve worked here. I don’t know who you are talking about.”


Gunter tried to get out of bed to look for Doctor Mendelbaum, but he was restrained by various tubes and other objects in him. He angrily pounded his fists on the bed and continued yelling assertively about how they must go fetch Doctor Mendelbaum.
Nurse Abrams then administered a sedative to the agitated patient and Gunter soon fell asleep.


Gunter awoke and found himself back on the streets of Poland, just outside the Warsaw Ghetto.  He was in his SS uniform and had his gun at the ready. He once again had the weird feeling that he was reliving an evening he had already experienced, and he once again had odd images of a hospital room in New York in his head. But he still didn’t quite understand how or why he had such images. 


He told himself to snap out of it and focus on the task at hand, which was to catch and to kill any Jews he found outside of the ghetto. He approached a corner and had a strange premonition that he would soon see a Jewish boy running toward him. He cautiously turned the corner and was not surprised to see a Jewish boy, roughly 15 years of age, running stealthily toward him in the shadows, while clutching something underneath his shirt. “Halt” shouted Gunter with his weapon aimed at the young boy.  “What are you doing outside the ghetto?” Gunter angrily demanded.


The boy was terrified and cowered to his knees. He looked up at Gunter and pleaded with his eyes for mercy, though he was too scared to say anything. Gunter repeated his question even louder and more emphatically, “Did you hear me Jew? Why aren’t you in the ghetto where you belong?” Then Gunter turned his attention to the item the Jew was trying to shield from him.  “What is in your shirt?” Gunter shouted, though somehow he already knew it would be a loaf of bread.


There was no response from the terrified kid who bent down a bit lower and started to cry.  Gunter grabbed him by the collar and stood him up straight. A small loaf of bread then fell to the ground. “You have no right to this food! Where did you get this?”
There was still no answer from the whimpering kid.  Gunter was outraged.  How dare this Jew be outside the ghetto! How dare this Jew have food that didn’t belong to him! He must die for these offenses!


Gunter pointed his gun directly toward the forehead of the Jewish boy and was about to pull the trigger when he hesitated for a moment and looked closely at the boy’s face. It looked eerily familiar to him. “What is your name?” Gunter demanded.


The boy was still too scared to speak. Gunter poked the boy’s forehead with his muzzle of his gun and said, “I asked you for your name! Answer me at once!”


“I-I-Isaac Mendelbaum” the kid nervously stuttered.


“What did you say?” Gunter asked.


“Isaac Mendelbaum. My name is Isaac Mendelbaum” the boy answered.


Gunter couldn’t believe what he had heard. He moved in closer to look directly into the eyes and face of the boy. Yes, he can see it now. This boy would grow up to become the doctor who would be able to treat him years later in New York! He can see the resemblance and the name was the same. It made sense now to Gunter why he had those vivid images of the hospital room in New York in 1962. It was to save his young life in the future.


Gunter nervously looked around to make sure none of his SS friends were in the vicinity. Once he was certain that no one else was nearby he said to the kid, “Get back into the ghetto and don’t let me see you out here again.”


The shocked kid who had been sure he was about to die just a few moments ago, then ran away as quickly as he could before the SS officer changed his mind.


That evening, as Gunter lied in his bed, he pondered the strange events that had occurred both in 1942 and 1962. Did he do the right thing by letting the boy go? It was contrary to all of his teachings and beliefs which dictated that the elimination of a Jew made the world a better place.  Thus, was it a selfish act by him to let the Jew live? After all, he had chosen to do what was better for him 20 years in the future instead of what was better for the world as a whole. But, maybe it was in fact better for the world as a whole if this Jew lived so that he could find a cure to a disease that otherwise would be fatal. Gunter was contemplating these conflicting thoughts when he finally fell asleep.


Gunter awoke and was surprised to find himself in what appeared to be the backyard of someone’s house. There were a lot of people, mostly young, including a bunch of kids, all around him. It looked as if he was in the middle of some type of party.

 
He then noticed that the woman he recognized from the hospital room was standing beside him, but she looked much older. He thought that she looked to be about 80 years old. He asked her if she had a mirror in her purse, which she then provided to him. When Gunter looked in the mirror, he saw that he too looked to be about 80 years old. 


“What year is it?” he asked her.


“Are you not feeling well again George? It is 2002. Do you want to lie down inside?”


“No. I feel fine.”


“I’m worried about you. Every now and then you seem to have memory lapses. I’m going to ask Isaac to take a look at you.”


“Isaac?” Gunter pondered to himself as the woman walked away and toward an elderly man with whom she briefly spoke.
Gunter soon figured out the identity of Isaac. Isaac also looked much older, but Gunter was certain it was him. He was the boy Gunter didn’t shoot in Poland and he was the doctor who treated him in 1962. But how were they both here together in the same yard in 2002?


Isaac then walked over to Gunter and said, “George, let’s go inside the house away from everyone and talk for a few minutes.”
Before Gunter could answer, Isaac had his hand gently pressed against Gunter’s back and he led Gunter into the house. They were the only ones inside the house as the party was outdoors on this beautiful spring day. They sat down on a couch and looked out the window at the party.


“George” Isaac said, “Take a look outside. What do you see?”


“A party” Gunter simplistically answered.


“Yes. That is true. We are having a party. But take a closer look George. What do you see?” Isaac asked again.


“I don’t know. I see people, food, a birthday cake. I don’t know what you are getting at.” Gunter replied.


“Look even closer George. There are white people and black people in the yard. There are Jews, Christians, and other religions. There are people of several different nationalities. And do you know what? All of that doesn’t matter. Everyone is happy and they are enjoying their lives together as family, friends, and neighbors.”


“What are you getting at?” Gunter asked.


“I know who you are.” Isaac replied.


“What do you mean?”


“Do you think that I could ever forget the face of a person who was standing so close to me, looking at me with such hatred and evil, and was about to kill me?”


Gunter didn’t say anything.


Isaac continued, “I don’t know why you didn’t kill me that night in Poland 60 years ago. I thought for sure that I was about to be shot. Then 20 years later, I saw that same face, your face, in the hospital, as my patient. Just to be sure, when you were asleep, I checked under your arm and found your SS tattoo. I knew I would still treat you because that is the vow we all take as medical professionals. But my dilemma was whether or not I should turn you in to the authorities.  It was clear to me that you weren’t George Harmon as you claimed to be, but rather, you were a former SS criminal who somehow snuck into the country under false pretenses.”


Now it was Gunter who looked scared. Sixty years later, it seemed the tables had turned.


Isaac continued, “But, you also were the SS officer who spared my life, so, after a great deal of contemplation, I decided to spare you, as you did once for me. You let me live my life, so I did the same for you. Do you know what George?”


“What?”


“We both made the right decision. Your decision to let me live allowed me to become a doctor and one day save your life and the lives of others with the cure I discovered. My decision to not turn you in allowed you to have a 2nd child, a daughter a few years later, who grew up to be a beautiful woman who married my son, and here we are today celebrating the 5th birthday of the grandson we share and we both adore.”


Isaac continued on, “Now look around again George. Look at the happiness on the faces of all the people. Look at the great lives our children have. Look at all the friends they have. Our children didn’t look at any of the differences between them as separators when they met. They didn’t look at religion, race, or nationality as a separator in choosing all these wonderful friends in their lives. When I look at scenes such as this one in the yard, I think how if only this was a microcosm of the world as a whole. If only people everywhere were able to look past the differences between us and instead embrace the fact that we are all human beings inhabiting the same world. George, don’t you think that if everyone thought that way, the world would be a better place?”


Later that evening Gunter went to sleep and again woke up back in Poland in 1942. This time, however, he returned as a much different person. He was now a person who through miraculous time travels over the course of 60 years learned that the world wasn’t comprised of Jews or non-Jews, Germans or non-Germans, or other differences that are just cosmetic in nature. Instead we are all just human beings who share the same Earth. 


For the duration of the war, Gunter never hurt another person. In fact, he risked his own life whenever possible to sneak food to starving Jews and other prisoners, and even helped some escape. He realized now that it is the acceptance of all people no matter how similar or different to oneself, and it is acts of kindness and humanity toward others, which is what really makes the world a better place.

 


© Copyright 2018 Ken Siegel. All rights reserved.

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