Primal Hunger – Chapter III

The process of surrender consisted of day after day of being huddled together outside Stalingrad in the zone the Germans called the Kessel, as the January storms blew through with unforgiving brutality, and waiting for the Russians to get organized.

Dieter found he was in far better shape than his fellow soldiers.  Regardless of the cost to his soul, cannibalizing his comrades had paid dividends in this lifetime.

Dieter kept a hawk’s eye out for anyone who laid down, and would discreetly as possible move in to try and kill them himself before they died so he could feed his demon.

He was successful on several occasions.  He carved meat off his victims as slyly as he could, but he didn’t really care anymore when he was actually caught in the act.  The other prisoners were so weak they couldn’t stop him if they tried.

He did get the Russians’ attention on several occasions, but was able to disappear back into the mass of huddling men.

Finally, on a clear February day, eight days after their surrender, his group was ordered to stand.  Dieter tried his best to flatten his pockets full of frozen flesh.  Under the watch of hundreds of Russian infantrymen and forty-plus APCs with mounted machine guns, the POWs were marched north out of Stalingrad.

When Dieter looked back he saw over 2,000 bodies remained lying there in the snow.

His group linked with others.  Soon, a line five men wide and six kilometers long was stumbling at a quick pace northward.  The Russians drove them relentlessly.  Those that fell were left to be kicked, beaten, and shot by their captors.  Those that tried to help overly long joined them in their fate.

The Russians changed shifts and kept marching the Germans all through the night.  The following evening—eighty kilometers later!—they reached their destination; the nearest intact rail station.

There were approximately 200 boxcars, and the prisoners were packed into them so tightly that a dead man could not collapse.  Those that couldn’t fit sat outside in the weather.

Here they stayed waiting for a locomotive to rendezvous and take them north to Beketovka Gulag, or so the grapevine said.

The wait was two days with no food or water.  Every third man was dead or dying.

Knowing he was heading for a camp, Dieter formulated a plan.  He would need barter, and he would take anything he could from anyone he could; gold teeth, spectacles, jewelry—anything of value.

After the two days the prisoners were ordered off the boxcars and marched north along the tracks.  The locomotive, it seemed, was not going to be making an appearance.

On the second day of marching the steam engine past them heading southbound.

Six days and 216 km north of the rail station the train caught up with them, and the loading was repeated.  Thousands were left behind to walk as the train finally rolled toward Beketovka Gulag.  Dieter’s guess, as he steamed away in the crammed boxcar, was that not one of those left walking would survive.  He was not far off in his estimation.

The camp was enormous; some three kilometers square and separated into eight different sectors.  It reminded Dieter of Auschwitz II, with its long dormitory-type single level structures.  Multiple barbed wire fences enclosed the perimeter and watch towers were set every 500 meters.  A single fence separated the interior sectors with gates connecting all.

There were only two entrances; one north, and one south.  The latter is where the train platform was located, and there the haggard and half-dead Axis POWs were made to disembark from the boxcars.

The floors of the box cars were covered with bloody mush, bones, and body parts.  Some of the dead or dying had managed to collapse, and had been trampled over the course of the long journey into a foul, fleshy sludge.

Dieter managed, with pantomime and his lame grasp of Russian, to volunteer to clean the boxcars.  He was assigned help, and he gathered all the meager treasures he could while laboring in his gruesome work detail.

He checked the heads he found for gold teeth, bashing them on the rails to knock the teeth out, while the other prisoners on the detail watched in horror.  Spectacles and some jewelry he found in the sickening sludge as well.  Right from the start, his plan was coming together nicely.

Dieter settled into his barracks, and immediately began putting his plan together.  He befriended a German radio specialist who spoke Russian, and offered him extra rations and protection for lessons in Russian.

Next, at all opportunities he made detailed mental notes of who had gold teeth, or anything of value, and strictly monitored their health; always on the lookout for a chance to accelerate their mortality if it could be done stealthily.

And of course, he found an excellent stash spot for his loot; lodged in a space between timbers under the latrine.

Next he needed a Russian whose greed was greater than his hatred of Germans.  No easy task.

Dieter’s many attempts to find an amiable, greedy Russian NKVD Guard cost him several broken ribs on several different occasions, a broken nose—four times!—one tooth and three others chipped, two broken fingers, and partial loss of hearing in his right ear for months.

His pain and perseverance did finally payoff, however.

It was July, and they’d been at the Beketovka camp for nearly six months, laboring 12-14 hours a day rebuilding Russia’s war-ravaged cities.  It had been raining heavily and the whole campground was mud puddles and slop.

Dieter noticed the guard overseeing their loading onto the trucks to the work site was new and quite young; maybe twenty Dieter guessed.  Had he been in the war?  He didn’t have that look to him.  Regardless of the desperation on the front, camps had to be guarded by somebody.  A rich father could get a son an assignment like this during the deadly battles that rocked Kiev, Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad.  Yes, he looked soft, Dieter thought.

On the way out, Dieter trips the Romanian in front of him so he falls and splashes in the mud, and spatters the coat of the young guard.  The Russian raises his weapon to strike the prisoner, then refrains.

Dieter swoops in and helps the Romanian up.  The man takes one look at Dieter and cowers away, such was Dieter’s reputation growing as someone to be feared.

Dieter bows to the guard, and offers his apology in feigned broken Russian.  “I sorry, Captain, for friend clumsy.  My grateful for no strike him.  He old friend.”

Dieter watches the young man’s eyes.  He finds no hateful malice in them, and so goes all-in with his gambit.  He pulls a gold-filled tooth from his pocket and offers it.

“For thanks, Captain.”

The guard leans over and looks at it, then looks around.

“Quickly, Captain, they see!”

The Russian takes it.

Dieter nods and winks.  “Much thanks.  You good man.”  He bows and hurries off to his truck.

Once inside the truck, Dieter looks back and sees an older guard, one who’d beat him on numerous occasions, talking to his junior comrade.  The younger man waves off the subject, and the other returns to his own post.

Dieter smiles.

Excellent.

Yes.  We may have one, my friend.

Dieter was a tall, strong German of unquestionable Aryan decent, and because of his overall health was able to work harder than the other prisoners.  Even in these POW heavy labor camps, hard work was rewarded with extra rations, so Dieter remained strong.

As always he continued to supplement his diet and feed his demon whenever the chance arose.  It was known now that he murdered men in the night.  The Hungarians called him “az Német vámpír”, the German Ghoul, and the Romanians called him “vanator noapte”, the Night Stalker.

Dieter’s reputation was increased by the failure of every attempt to assassinate him, be it in his sleep or otherwise.  His demon, of course, warned of every approach, and Dieter had many weapons at his disposal.

The prisoners slept four to a bed platform, and the bunks were three platforms high.  All eleven of the inmates in Dieter’s bunk fared well in his company, for he shared his rations, and granted protection for them.  So these men too looked after their keeper’s well being.

Dieter didn’t care if he was feared and hated, even by the other Germans, so long as he thrived and survived to escape this hell-hole one day.  He considered them all weak anyway for submitting like women to the whip, and not striving to find strength in their defeat.

A week after his first encounter with the new guard, Dieter had a chance to engage him out of sight of any senior personnel.

The Russian was doing an inspection of a fence repair the inmates had recently done.  He smoked a cigarette as he feigned interest in his duty.

Dieter strolls up, careful to give a wide berth, so as not to surprise the armed Russian.

The guard turns to Dieter.  He smiles.

A good indication…

Yes.

“Hello, Captain.  Good day, yes?”  Dieter gestures to the clear sky.

“Oh, I suppose it is.  Why are you out of your barracks, prisoner?”

“Ah … too fast talk for me, Captain.  Not so good Russian now.”  Dieter understood him just fine, and spoke far better Russian than he pretended.

“You are out of bar-racks.”  He points.  “Why?”

“Oh, yes … I get extra, um—how say?—walking time.”

“You received extra exercise time?”

“Yes.  That is it.  Exercise time.  I work very hard for Soviet.”

“I heard that.  You are a rare man.  Your comrades die around you, yet you seem to be no worse for your internment.”

“Sorry, Captain … I…”

“Nevermind.”

“You like tooth?”

The guard looks around.  “Don’t speak of that again.  You understand?”

“I do.  But I have more, Captain.”

“You have more?”

“Yes.  No good for me here.  Good for you.  Not me.  Food good.”  He points at the cigarette.  “Smoke good.  Gold, no good.”

The young guard stiffens.  “What are you saying, prisoner?”

Dieter grimaces showing his receding gums.  “Vegetables, Captain.  For this.”  He points showing his gums again.  “How you say?”

“Scurvy.”

“Yes!  Scurvy.  But would sell soul for smoke!”  He laughs.

You already have.

Not funny.

The Russian looks around again.  “Here.”  To Dieter’s absolute astonishment, he offers the cigarette.

God, I can smell it—taste it!  But this is where we hook him.

Dieter raises his hands.  “No, Captain.  You big trouble they know.  Any see you give smoke.  You big trouble.  Maybe no work here no more.  You family?”  He points at the Russian’s wedding ring.

The young man is stunned by Dieter’s seemingly sincere concern.  “Yes.  I have a family.”

“No good then.  Must feed wife, must feed babes.  No lose work, Captain.”

The guard smiles.  “What’s your name?”

“Dieter.”

“I’m Sergei.  You’re a good man, Dieter.  Take it.”  He offers the cigarette again.

This time Dieter takes the butt and drags deep.

Ahhhhhhhh… that’s good.  I believe we have him.

I seems so.

In no time at all Dieter and Sergei were making the trades.  Of course vegetables were needed, and tobacco was good, but that was not the goal, only the beginning.  One starts an orchard by first tilling soil, and planting seeds.

What Dieter needed was clothing, papers, and cash waiting for him outside the Gulag somewhere on his work detail so he could make his big escape.  To manage that he needed to suck the young, naive Sergei in deeper and deeper until he couldn’t refuse because of fear of being discovered, and then truly being in “big trouble”.

Dieter’s problem was that this would take collateral.  He stepped up cultivation of gold teeth to include the German prisoners.

These weren’t blatant murders.  He would identify men with gold teeth or valuables of any kind just as before, and he would pay another prisoner to keep an eye on the health of the ones in their barracks Dieter has identified.  Bonuses were gifted for any who managed to sneak feces and filth into the rations of said targets and get them ill.  It was all systematic.  Much of what he learned from Colonel Höss, the Commandant at Auschwitz, he was putting into practice here.

It was October.  Dieter did not want to be traveling in winter—he’d had enough of the cold for a lifetime—and October was a festive month for the Russians as they celebrated the revolution of the Soviets.  It would be a perfect time to make his way west.

It meant moving forward with Sergei before the Russian was 100% primed, but it was now, or risk keeping the barter lines open all the way through winter, and he didn’t know if there was enough teeth in camp for that.

Dieter knew he was being watched already, but he executed everything perfectly, and his demon helped make it happen.  The authorities may have known he was trading contraband, but they  didn’t know with whom.

Yes, it was definitely time.

His meetings with Sergei to plan or discuss necessities was always done in the back of the truck to work because a guard would ride with the prisoners to the labor detail.  Sergei would see to it that the prisoners in the back were all Dieter’s cronies who didn’t speak Russian, and that he was the guard in back along for the ride.

Dieter and his men climbed into the truck on the brisk morning of October 3rd.  Already the leaves were falling and frost formed at night.  Dieter did not want to spent another freezing winter in Russia!

Sergei gave the thumbs-up to the driver then jumps in the back across from Dieter.

“I had to scramble to work this out on short notice, Dieter.  It was risky.”

“It’s important we talk now.”  He looks hard into the young man’s eyes.  “And it’s going to get riskier, my friend.”

Dieter had been working up to this point; stating his orders lately, rather than requesting them, and pushing Sergei if he hesitated.  He had definitely maneuvered himself to the position of command and control in the business relationship, but could he command this much from Sergei?  Could he control him if the guard outright refused?

“What do you mean, “riskier”, Dieter?  I am taking too much risk already.”

“We both take risks, Sergei; you risk your position with the NKVD, and the party.  I risk my life, or banishment to Siberia.  We take risks for what we want.  What do you want, Sergei?”

“A little extra for my wife, so she’s proud, and little extra put away so…”

“Stop that talk.  Stop it!  ‘A little extra?’ Risk so much for ‘a little extra?’ No, my friend, I won’t let you do that.  You’ve risked too much not to have a lot extra!  How about enough to retire comfortably when your service is over, and not eat the sad scraps from the Party’s table in some dingy sixth floor flat with bad heating, and fouled water?  How about enough so this is the last time you ever have to do something like this in your life and you can relax, from here on out, knowing your lovely Mishka will always be proud because you did what you had to take care of your family?  How about enough to quit the NKVD and open a shop if you want?  How about that?  Is that worth the risk?”

“It’s amazing how fast you have learned Russian in the few months I’ve known you, Dieter.”

They share a laugh.

“Tell me, my friend, what is you want?” Sergei asks.

And here it comes…

“I want a packed suitcase, papers, and enough cash to get me back to Germany.”

And how does it take it?

Sergei stares at Dieter unblinking for a long moment.  He leans back.

“No, Dieter.  I can’t do that.  It wouldn’t be my employment or position in the Party at risk; it would be my freedom.  I would be right there with you on the train to Kolyma.  No.  I can’t even consider it.  Not for any amount.”

About how we expected…

Yes.  Time to twist the screws.

“I will rephrase, my friend; I need a packed suitcase, papers, and enough cash to get me back to Germany.  I need it ready, with a plan for my exfiltration, and I need it prepared by the 8th; that’s in five days, Sergei.”

“Are you giving me an…”

“For this I will give you my entire reserve of gold and jewelry that values at 160,000 rubles … approximately.”

“No, Dieter.  No!  In fact, we are done.  You hear me?  We’re finished with this entirely.  You mention this to me again and…”

“And what?”  Dieter laughs.

And the screw tightens…

“What?  You’ll tell on me?  Is that what you’ll do, Sergei?  What do you think will happen when you do?  You think you’ll be received as a hero of Beketovka Gulag and given the title, Protector of the Soviet?  No.  You will be ostracized for allowing a prisoner to manipulate you into a corner you couldn’t get out of but one of three ways; go along with his crazy plan and take the risk and win, turn yourself in for humiliation and disgrace, or kill yourself.  All could end bad, only one will end good.  Even your superiors would think you were an idiot for not making the move for 160,000 rubles.  Come on, Sergei!”

“There’s a fourth way out you failed to consider; I simply don’t do it.”

And the screw now twists all the way in…

“I won’t spend another winter in here, Sergei.  I like you, I really do.  I think you have a beautiful loving wife, and a sweet little one-year-old son; Mishka and Vitaly … what a great little family…”  He leans in close and points his finger right in Sergei’s face.  “But I will burn you down, if you pull out now.  Do you think I have not planned for this possibility since the first time I tripped that stupid, fucking Romanian and made him splash mud on you?”

He sees the reality sink into Sergei’s expression.

“That’s right. From the start I’ve planned this and played you, and I have done it all—everything!—for this fucking moment right here.  Now tell me, if that’s all true—and you know it is—how bad could I burn you if you leave me to rot in that fucking shithole?”

Sergei takes a deep breath.  His head shakes twice almost involuntarily.

Shall I tell him?

Do it.

“I’ll tell you how bad, Sergei.  You’re not the only guard I have on the take.  I already have a set of civilian clothes and some cash at the camp.  My other guard will ‘find the evidence’ and when I’m tortured, I will, under only the greatest of duress, sorrowfully betray my dear friend Sergei, who was trying to help me escape and return to Germany.  He’s even planted incriminating evidence at your residence.  Like I said; I’m not spending another winter in this fucking place.  If you leave me to face that, we’ll both be in Siberia by the end of the month, and your wife will be a disgraced widow by the end of the year, and your son will carry your legacy of shame forever.”

Sergei levels his rifle at Dieter’s head.  “You bastard!”

The men in the truck tense.

“Think!  Think, Sergei … I plan everything.  You fire.  These men kill you.  It all ends for you that way too.  So put the rifle down and think!  Why is this so hard?  One more risk and you’re rich!  Don’t be a fool!  Five days of fear and anxiety then it’s over.  Think, Sergei.”

Think he got it?

Perhaps.

I sure put the fear of Hell in him though.

If only you had.  This would be over already.

Sergei replaces the weapon on his lap and leans back.  He stares hard at Dieter the remainder of the trip to Saransk.

The crew unloads and begins work and still no word.

Midway through the day Sergei approaches Dieter.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll have it ready by the 8th.  Get me your measurements tomorrow for your clothes.  The papers I’ll work out somehow.”

Dieter smiles.  “Excellent, Sergei.  You won’t regret it, my friend.”

Sergei walks away, and returns to his position.

Woohoo!  Five days and I’m free!  Yeah!

Save the party for the evening of the 9th.

Don’t piss and my victory, Darkness.

Did you just call me, ‘Darkness’?

I did, Darkness, I did!  And I wish I could hug you right now because we’re going to make it out of here.

I will leave you to your preemptive party.

Dieter worked like a man crazed that day, all the while doing the math in his head to figure out exactly who else he was going to have to get teeth from on his last night in the Gulag.

The ride back with Sergei was silent.  Dieter was fine with that.

Let the boy get his anger out and then he can think his problem through.  He’s smart, he’ll figure it out like everything else.

That night Dieter had three tooth raids planned.  Just as he was about to get to it, the lights in the barracks came on.  Six guards marched in and, with bayonets lowered, arrested Dieter and hauled him to the detention block.

I will assume the party is cancelled.

Sergei had gone to his superior.  He declared he’d rather be a humiliated fool and disgraced, than to be a rich Russian puppet of a German war criminal.  The Commandant kept the information internalized, and praised Sergei for his courage.  Then, so there would be no suspicion from up the chain of command, the Commandant promoted Sergei for uncovering the black market ring, the escape master-plans, and identifying the camps most vicious inmate.

Dieter was tortured for three days ceaselessly until the inquisitor finally believed Dieter had made up the “other guard on the take” part of his story.

Before Dieter was healed from the many severe wounds of his torture, he was thrown semi-conscious into a boxcar with other “undesirables”, and shipped northeast to Kolyma.  Home of the most feared and isolated labor camp in Siberia; Dneprovski Gulag.

ATTENTION READERS: I REALLY WOULD LIKE TO GET FEEDBACK ON THE CHAPTER OF PRIMAL HUNGER, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT REGARDING YOUR THOUGHTS OR EMAIL WITH THE LINK PROVIDED IN THE SHARE SECTION,  chrisshawbell@gmail.com    — THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT

-Chris

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4 Comments

  1. I love the detail and imagery here!

    Reply
  2. ltdalin

     /  January 13, 2013

    I don’t really have the time to stop and comment, as I have Chapter IV to get to.

    Well done, though. This is fantastic writing, at a very high level. I remain in awe at your skill of the craft.

    Reply
  3. At least they tasted like chicken

    Reply
  4. rocco613

     /  December 2, 2012

    And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse… WW2 is such fertile ground for horror writers. It got so bad in spots that no writers have dared to explore the depths, the actual depths to which it sunk. The savagery…the utter savagery.

    Reply

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