The torture and cruelty excited SS Commander Heinrich Werner. It filled him with power and pride. It felt like nothing he’d ever felt before. A superiority above others—others who weren’t worthy of consuming the same air the elite breathe— the Aryans. The extinction of a filthy Jewish race would benefit the existence of the fittest, smartest, most politically driven people in all of Germany, and the world. One of the many sadistic goals imposed by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime.
Heinrich Werner had accepted his position without hesitation. To serve the Fuhrer was the highest recognition any Aryan could be asked to do. And so, he became SS Commander of the small town of Dwory, just outside the borders of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Werner’s duties were simple. Control the Jewish population—as he saw fit. Use them as a labor force and deport those who were weak or sick for extermination. But as the war between Hitler and the Allies dragged on, it became obvious to Werner more prisoners had been sent for extermination than could be used for labor. How could a transit camp be built without able-bodied workers? Food was scarce for prisoners. Yet they needed food to labor over the course of their fourteen-hour days.
A hard knock on his door snapped him back to reality. “Commander Werner, ten prisoners refuse to work cutting the trees for lumber,” said the young Nazi soldier.
Werner sat behind the decorative wooden desk he’d confiscated from one of the high-ranking Jewish council members of the village.
“Shoot them. Get ten more dirty Jews to replace them. What is the problem?” he asked in an irritated voice as he sat back against the tall chair.
“Commander, I…I put them and their families on the train for Auschwitz for extermination,” said the officer.
Werner’s top lip curled as he smiled. It was so easy to hate. “Why are you bothering me if you handled the situation?” he shouted. The veins in his thick neck bulged.
The young Nazi soldier stood at attention. “I wasn’t sure…if it was the correct action to take,” he said in a low voice.
Werner smacked his palm on top of the desk. “Stop wasting my time! Heil Hitler!” he yelled as his arm stretched up toward the ceiling.
“Heil Hitler!” shouted back the Nazi soldier. He then turned on his heel and marched out of the SS Commander’s office.
Heinrich Werner sighed, then got up and walked over to the large window that faced Auschwitz. In the distance, smoke and ash spewed from the tall brick chimneys. It filled the air with gray snow. Down below in the muddied street, several German soldiers brushed the ash off their uniforms. The thought of grimy Jew remains touching his clothes nauseated him.
Werner was anxious for Hitler to succeed. Exterminating those not born of the Aryan people could only enable the Fuhrer’s cause and ultimate goal—dominance of a pure race.
As days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years, the raging war dragged on and on. Werner had heard from his superiors that Germany was losing the war, especially since the Americans had joined forces with Britain. Hitler’s control and ideals of world domination began to slip—right through the hands of the Fuhrer and Germany’s people.
Werner felt trapped. All his effort and energy had been focused on extermination and domination. What would it mean if Hitler’s ideology failed? What would happen to the German people? The Nazis? His life, along with the lives of many, many others, would be over.
Suddenly, he heard the rapid succession of gunfire, followed by shouts from his soldiers. Werner rushed to the window. Chaos. Villagers and soldiers running. Where were his men going?
The SS Commander rushed down the stairs and out the front door. People and soldiers scattered like cattle. Without hesitation, he grabbed a soldier’s arm as he tried to flee.
“I am Commander Werner. Why did you leave your post?” he shouted in German at the shaking Nazi.
“The Americans…they’re here to liberate the Jews,” he cried in German while wrenching his arm away from his superior. “They are shooting Nazis on sight.” And with that said, the terrified soldier ran, slipping and falling in the dirt.
A second later, a shot flew past the SS Commander, hitting the soldier in his neck as he tried to get back up on his feet. Instantly, the wounded man crumpled back to the ground. But this time, he wouldn’t be getting back up.
Immediately, Werner crouched down, retrieving his Luger from its holster. He could see a wave of American soldiers rushing into the village, dropping his men like flies. His lips and chin trembled as he froze, rooted to the spot.
“Hey, Sarge…look at this kraut! He’s squatting like he’s taking a dump,” said the American G.I., with a chuckle.
Several Allied soldiers surrounded Werner, who dropped his gun.
“Ich gebe auf (I give up)!” he shouted. “Ich gebe auf!” repeated Werner over and over, with his hands high in the air.
Sergeant Andrew Whitter strolled up to the SS Commander. His rugged appearance and six-foot-tall stature hovered above the barely five-foot-six Werner. Whitter noticed the emblems on the Nazi’s uniform, signifying his command.
“Sprechen sie English?” (Do you speak English?) asked Whitter as he lit up a cigarette.
Heinrich Werner understood English well. In fact, he was well-versed in several languages. It had been one of his strong suits.
“Ja…speak English,” replied Werner. Sweat lined his brow and his leg muscles tightened as a ridiculous thought filled his head: Escape.
Sergeant Whitter could read the German’s mind. He watched as the prisoner’s eyes darted about, looking for a way out.
“Don’t even think about trying anything stupid, like…” Whitter didn’t bother to finish. Werner knew the enemy would shoot him dead without blinking an eye.
“You must take me…prisoner. Give me food and water. Give me a bed,” stated Werner in broken English, still with his hands in the air.
The American men chuckled. Werner shifted. His breathing increased.
“Is that so, Commander? Is that what you did for the people of Dwory? Gave them food? Water? And a nice, comfortable bed to sleep in? Or did you torture them? Starve them? Send them to their deaths?” stated the sergeant.
A scowl covered Whitter’s unshaven face. He took another quick hit off his cigarette, then tossed it to the ground.
Werner shivered inside his uniform. Whitter noticed immediately.
“How about removing your coat, Commander? Let’s see how much you like the weather.”
Werner didn’t move. “It is…it is cold,” he stuttered.
Two of the soldiers roughly grabbed Werner’s arms. Instinctively, he tried to pull away.
“Weg von mir (Get off me)!” yelled the SS Commander.
The men laughed.
“Get off you?” repeated Whitter in English. “I told you to take your jacket off—now!”
He clenched his teeth and took a step forward toward the frightened German. His right hand formed a fist as his other hand gripped his M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle. He didn’t have time to play silly games with this Nazi. His orders were to secure the village and remand the Germans as prisoners. If they tried to escape, shoot them.
Werner quickly unbuttoned his brown Nazi party jacket. He knew Whitter was a tough man and wouldn’t think twice about shooting him where he stood. One of the attending American soldiers snatched it from Werner’s hands and proceeded to tear off the swastika armband, then dropped it to the ground.
“Nazi pigs,” he muttered, then spit on it.
Whitter lit up another cigarette and watched as the SS Commander’s face glared at his men.
“Okay, enough fun for now. Let’s get moving. I need you men to sweep the village and make sure there aren’t any more krauts hiding. And as for you, Commander, start walking.”
One of the soldiers shoved Heinrich Werner with the butt of his gun.
As they marched closer to Auschwitz, the evening sky grew dark, and the air was once more filled with ash. A last-ditch effort by the remaining Nazis to try and exterminate what was left of the Jewish race.
Werner slowed his pace. The gray flakes fell lightly to the ground, but as they touched the face of the SS Nazi Commander, his skin burned as if on fire. Even with his long-sleeved shirt, he could feel the heat on his arms and chest.
“Meine Haut brennt (My skin burns)! Meine Haut brennt!” screamed Werner, tearing at his face and clothes as if he was consumed with fire.
Suddenly, his terrified mind swirled with the haunting faces of the many Jewish people he’d sent to their deaths. Screams of agony and the voices of little children begging for their lives echoed inside his mind. Thin, bony fingers shred his skin.
“Aufhoren (Stop)! Aufhoren! Nicht mehr (No more)! Nicht mehr! ” shouted Werner.
“Hey, Sarge! The kraut is yelling his skin is on fire! Can you beat that?” yelled the American soldier walking next to Werner.
Whitter jogged to the front, where Werner was struggling to remove his clothes.
“Commander!” yelled Whitter.
By now, Werner had dropped to the ground and was rolling in a mud puddle on the dirt road. His cries rose above the march of the soldiers.
“Get him on his feet. Crazy Nazi,” said the sergeant.
“Yes, sir,” replied the soldier.
But it would take three men to battle with the terrified SS Commander. After several minutes of struggling with the Nazi, Sergeant Whitter had had enough and punched the crazed German in the face, knocking him out cold.
“Geez. We should have left him behind with the other prisoners,” muttered Whitter as he rubbed his sore hand.
“Why didn’t we, Sarge? Now we have to drag this kraut,” said the young soldier.
“He’s SS. They’re going to try him for crimes against humanity. Seems like an open-and-shut case to me. But he’ll have his day in court. He’ll pay for what he did—he’ll pay with his life,” explained the sergeant.
It wasn’t until the American troops reached the gates of Auschwitz that the two soldiers dragging Heinrich Werner glanced down at his listless, gray-covered body. The two men dropped him just inside the barbed wire fence.
“Sarge! I think the kraut is dead. He looks like he’s got a real bad sunburn,” said the thinner of the two men.
Whitter lit a cigarette. He stared down at the lifeless body. His compassion for the enemy went only so far.
The falling ash had stopped. The gas furnaces remained silent—now and forever. The atrocities committed by Hitler and his Nazi government were incomprehensible. Millions of Jewish people had been annihilated, to the point of near extinction.
“Why is his face so badly burned, Sarge? And his shirt…his shirt looks like someone tried to rip it to pieces,” asked another soldier.
Whitter tossed the butt of his cigarette on the ground. He waited a moment before he spoke.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the kind of justice delivered by a higher power. SS Commander Heinrich Werner sent thousands of innocent people to be burned in a furnace. Only right he should face the same fate,” said Whitter.
As his men slowly made their way through the hideous camp of torture and death, he struggled to comprehend the extreme magnitude of evil imposed on a race of people who did absolutely nothing to initiate such a horrendous outcome.
When the soldiers had finally secured the death camp, Sergeant Andrew Whitter stood alone near one of the barbed wire fences. He tried desperately to wrap his mind around the unwarranted horrific deaths and the total destruction of humanity. And as the night sky finally opened up into a spiritual light, he allowed himself to weep for all the tortured souls that had been lost to the haloed heavens above.