Book Jacket

 

rank 2203
word count 18202
date submitted 31.08.2010
date updated 16.04.2012
genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historic...
classification: universal
incomplete

Hope (1st Revision)

Matthew Hahn

A story of survival, hope, and horror from the period of the Holocaust.

 

In Poland, 1939, a man with shadowed eyes squeezed the trigger that killed Daniel Friedman. Not the man but the parts of him that mattered, made life worth living. It happened in a click, a scream, his name—Daniel, a shot, the silence that followed. The man he used to be, lost in a flash.

After the German invasion of Poland, Daniel is captured and sent to a concentration camp where he is positioned as a sonderkommando. He is plagued with the task of removing the clothing of the dead before placing them in a crematorium's never-ending flames.

While Daniel is confined in a concentration camp, his brother, Adam, is supplied with false information that causes him to believe his brother was murdered by the passing German army. In a fit of rage, Adam vows to seek revenge on the only two names he is given, The Vulture and Wolf.

 
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tags

wwii world war 2 holocaust concentration camp nazi

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Prologue

 

 

    My name, before they took it, was Daniel Friedman.

The Nazi took that man’s name. I don’t need to look at the digits across my wrist to know I am no longer Daniel. That man was gone before they took his name. The only thing I have in common with Daniel Friedman is that I’m Jewish. The Nazi stole my life. Everything I lived for.

Three years ago, I watched a shadow squeeze the trigger that killed Daniel Friedman. Not the man but the parts of him that mattered—made life worth living. It happened in a click, a scream, my name, a shot, the silence that followed. The man I used to be, lost in a flash.

I try to remember what I was like before all this, but it’s difficult. Time has blended. Months pass like years, minutes like days, and night never ends. There are times I wonder if I was ever Daniel. The memories I have of that man seem second hand, like watching someone else’s life. They are like waking up from a dream that is so real it takes a few seconds to adjust to reality. The dream is mine, but the events that took place never happened. I dream of a man and wake as a number.

I have tried, at points, to come to some terms with the last three years, but a question lingers inside me. A question I can’t ignore. Why? This question makes it impossible for me to move on, stay in the present—forget the past. There is no “why,” it just is.

It started in 1939.

Germany invaded Poland. I was taken from my home and forced to live inside a Jewish ghetto. I lived there for over three years. That ghetto was liquidated four months ago along with everyone I knew. Those who weren’t killed were packed into cattle cars and transferred by train to a concentration camp.

A guard divided our group into separate lines with the point of a finger. We didn’t know it, but that man was death—the power to take life in his hand. He pointed me away from the main group, the ones who would be gassed moments after. He picked me from those men, women, and children because somebody had to be there after. Somebody needed to burn the bodies. I was kept me alive because there is never a shortage of bodies to burn. If a day came when there are no more need to clean up after the dead, I will still be a Jew—a problem awaiting its solution.

I have spent months burning lifeless bodies. I am finished. The camp guards led me out of the camp and into the back of a transport truck. Its boards still smell of the trees they were stripped from. They are pieced together with precision to shield those inside from the world, block our senses.

The bench across from me is lined with camp veterans. They have seen the gas chambers. They have lived alongside death. They have seen the camp guards promise newcomers a purpose. They have seen guards promise that those who are willing to work hard will prosper. They have seen the guards promise the new arrivals a future right before they take it away. They have seen it all, and yet here they sit, inside the truck that will take them to their death.

Before being loaded into the trucks, we were told it would take us to our new work assignments. One promise. That is all it took. A sliver of hope and the guards could rest their fingers off their triggers. We were loaded into the truck without a single incident. No one put up a fight. They promised us a future so our lives would be easier to take.

I have learned there is nothing deadlier than the promise of tomorrow.

The truck’s engine hums, gears whine, our compartment moans, and exhaust leaks. Tires pull at the road. The compartment rattles and shakes everyone inside like marbles in the basket of a bicycle. The truck picks up momentum. There is no turning back. We have been on the same path for years. No matter where this truck stops, the destination is the same.

It is difficult to breath. The air is heavy—sunbaked cedar, burnt rubber, and sweat, the smell of death. Lines of sunlight the width of a needle poke into the compartment through nail-sized holes along the walls. The dust of dying men’s bodies flicker in and out of focus.

I remember myself—back when I was Daniel. I see two boys, me and my brother Adam.

 Hey Danny, guess what?

What?

Betcha didn’t know dust comes from dead people.

You’re lying.

Nope, it’s like all from dead people. People die and turn to dust. That’s why saba and savta’s house is so dusty. The older you get, the dustier. Everybody knows that. 

The memory fades back into the dust from which it came.

I close my eyes and take in a deep breath, fill my lungs with flakes of human flesh, and taste the suffering. I hold each breath like it’s my last. It is a Jew’s last breath the Nazis search for. The first thing they did was take my name away. The last thing they will take will be my dying breath, but not before I have had it. Even they can’t take that away.

I stare at the people around me. Their faces are expressionless. Perpetual loss frosts eyes like ice over streams. Ghetto liquidations stamped out smiles. Endless pain killed the significance of a frown. No facial expression can capture what we feel. Blank stares best describe what is inside—nothing. 

We entered the truck alive, but everyone inside is already dead. The only reason we weren’t all executed inside the camp is to keep the prisoners hoping. The people in this truck have been in the camp the longest, the survivors—proof that some of us will live until tomorrow. To kill us off in front of the others would take away whatever hope they have come to associate with us. The guards love hope. It is their closest ally. It makes their jobs easy. They give people hope and watch them carry it to their deaths.

All it takes is hope to forget everything one knows.   

When we are out of sight, the prisoners who knew us can choose to believe whatever they want. They can believe we weren’t driven straight to our deaths. They can choose to believe every Jews in Europe isn’t going to die at the hands of the Nazis. They can hope.

There is only one way to leave the camps—death. The majority will leave the camp with the wind, bodies reduced to ash in the crematorium. This truck’s wheels will take me outside the camp’s fences, but it all comes down to the same thing. No Jew leaves the camps alive. The new work detail the guards promised is an illusion.

Like the wind, this truck carries the dead.

The only way any Jew inside the camps doesn’t think he’ll die is if he still hopes. I can’t understand how anyone could hold onto it. But the people who search for hope seem to find it wherever they look. Those who find it don’t last long. Hope is the most dangerous thing for a Jew in Europe. Hope lies. It convinces a person to ignore the past—the history of our people’s suffering—the reoccurring hatred we’ve experienced. Hope tells those who hold it not to let it go—to do everything with it in mind. Hope becomes that person.

When all one can do is hope, facts become perception, perception becomes fact, and reality is lost.

The thousands, maybe millions of gas chamber victims fought to maintain hopeful. I have seen many enter the camps and follow every order. They are ordered to disinfect, strip off their clothing, walk hand-in-hand with their loved ones, and step into a shower of poison. They are ordered to kill themselves. They just don’t realize it. They walk to their deaths because hope tells them they still have tomorrow.

I see it on the face of every person I have placed into the crematorium’s fire—the shock that comes from realizing death a second before it becomes them. The shock is in their eyes. Their eyes take in death and their souls are released with the last breath they let out. I am convinced that souls leave a person through their mouths, since it seems no one dies without their jaw falling wide open.

I am the one exception. My soul has left me even when I clamped my lips to hold it in.

I stare at the people across from me and a man sticks out, somehow different from the otherwise indistinguishable line of bodies. His toes dip in and out of the pool that has built up around his feet. It sends small ripples away from his body. Tattooed all along his feet are reminders of rubbed raw wounds scared with time. He is a fighter. His swollen feet stand out against his empty legs and thighs. The last thing a Jew can lose is his feet. There is simply too much to carry.

    I pass over his feet and up his thighs. The concentration camp sucked in his skin. It traces his bones like the wire frame of a human piñata wrapped in layer of paper-mache. Hunger ate his body from the inside out. There is nothing human about his appearance. He is calloused and old like the crumbled bricks of a wall that refuses to fall.

To me, everyone’s eyes are the same. I can only picture empty eyes like the shadow that pulled the trigger three years ago—the day that started it all, or ended it all. It has been that way ever since. I can’t look anyone in the eyes, all I see is evil.

The man’s feet tell me a story his eyes never could. The body never lies. It can’t conceal no matter how hard it tries. This man can lie to himself easier than he can lie to me. He can fight for a life not worth living, but the fight leaves its mark. It always leaves a mark. His strength is the same as his weakness—fear.

    This man fears the end of his time in a world he believes still hides beauty. He fears never loving again. He fears never being free. He fears never holding his own children's hands—never saying "I love you". He fears the loss of seasons. The warmth of a summer wind, a magical blanket of pure snow—the majestic patchwork quilt of fall. He does not fear his actual death but what it will inevitably lead him to never experience again.

    The Nazis have the man's story—scattered for the world to see across on his feet—but they can’t take away his will to survive. They haven’t got that yet. I know our end is near, so they might never crush his will to survive until after his life is taken.

    The woman next to me shivers. Through nail-holes on the wooden frame of the vehicle, a thread of sunlight catches a tear in her eye. It sparkles like a display in a jewelry store window—beautiful—but no one can afford it. The tear captures the sun. It is pulled along a moon crescent glide around her cheek. It straightens out and hugs her lip line. It is beautiful.

The tear comes to a stop on the tip of her tongue. It takes the taste of her tears to realize she’s crying. She has not forgotten how to feel. She has not forgotten how to cry. She has forgotten there is anything else in the world besides tears. It is only when she tastes despair that she notices her pain.

It is the same for everyone in the camps.

Even after so many tears, it only takes one drop to remind her why they never stop falling.

    I can almost feel the man I used to be, the man who would have cared. The man who would have listened to the tiny whisper in my ear that encourages me to take hold of her. It tries to convince me that if I laid my arm across her back and held her, everything would be alright. I know if I could take her pain away—even for a second—she would love me.

     If she felt no pain for even the flicker of an eyelash, I would be her hero. Good could still retain a breath of existence even while drowned by evil. Her fingers are so close to mine a twitch could unite them. The man I used to be would act, but I remain still. The man I used to be believed good can conquer evil, but I know it can’t. I have seen too much. It is impossible take this woman’s pain away. Things of that sort are nothing but fantasy

I can’t stare at the neglected fingertips any longer. I could never take her pain away. That is our reality. It is a life where hope is all we have left and even that is killing us. We are trapped in a world without white horses. There are no heroes. Good never conquer evil. She is a princess without a prince to sweep her off her feet, save the day.

She is alone in her tower, a fairytale princess in a world without a single knight to set her free. There is no hope.  Hope is only for tomorrow—the day her knight arrives, ascends the tower where she is held captive, and finds nothing but the ashes of a woman he will always be one day too late to save.  

The truck stops.

Chapters

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carol jefferies wrote 517 days ago

Hi Matthew,

What a great start to 'Hope 1st Revision,' it leaves the reader eager to know how Daniel transformed into the person he now is.

I liked the small observations of herding the Jews into the railway trucks by the German guards, falsely promising them a future so they would avoid any protest.

Hope is a brilliant name for your story.

Good Luck with it,

Carol

Shelby Z. wrote 732 days ago

You capture the feel of this time completely in the dark foreboding mood of the situation.
Your POV is perfectly chosen. How could it be anything else? The words flow across the page in deep feelings and you feel a chill.
You lead so well up to your next chapter that it draws.
I like your last three paragraphs there is something about them that is leading.
I am sure though, no matter how well written, it was difficult to write this.
You are doing great!

Shelby Z./Driving Winds

P.S. Could you please take a looked at my pirate adventure Driving Winds, when you have time?

tupbup wrote 743 days ago

Chapter 1:

You show a clear talent as a story teller. 98277 strolls into the first sentence as a fully dimensional character who I could believe in and sympathise with. By choosing to reject his given name shows the reader in a few short words how prisoners were dehumanised in the eyes of the anti-semites.

You use interesting and original similes which really add to the impact of your writing as a whole. For example:

"shakes every one like marbles in the basket of a bicycle."

This is a really visual description. Using two objects associated with children and children playing to describe a poignant image of people being carted off to their death was unsettling. It disarms the reader whilst showing them something negative and really makes the imagery hit hard.

I only read your opening chapter and read ir in the full knowledge that this is an early revision and skipped over most of the awkward sentences (which were a tiny percentage). However at the end of one of the middle paragraphs:

"The last thing they will take from me is my breath. But not before I've had it. Even they can't take that away." The end of this paragraph sounded a bit repetitive. You might want to consider cutting the last sentence, I think it would have more impact.

There are other instances where ideas get repeated. Especially the one about hope. Clearly this is an important theme to your character and the people he lives alongside and provides an emotional contrast to the horrors you describe. I think with more contrast between hope and horrific truths will help to convey to the reader the importance of maintaining the self-defence mechanism.

There was a lot of description in this first chapter which is difficult for an opening. However the power with which you set the scene and the subject matter itself certainly draws the reader in. I think with more concise descriptions this opening chapter will make the rest of the book impossible to put down.

strachan gordon wrote 1016 days ago

Greetings to Minnesota from England.This is a very difficult and ambitious theme to tackle,even today when we know so much more about what went on than in the past, I was amazed to read that you are only 22!This is a\ very mature performance and very best of luck.Watchlisted.Would you be kind enough to look at the first chapter of my book ' A Buccaneer' which is set in the Caribbean in the 17th century,best wishes Strachan Gordon

Nigel Fields wrote 1079 days ago

Your approach to this is interesting. On the surface, it seems your narration is distant, but in ratcheting up the concentration, it becomes apparent to the reader how very intimate this is. I loved the line about the man anxiously dipping his toes in and out of the pool of emotion, sending small ripples away from his body. I enjoyed the first two chapters today.
When I come back to read more, I just might have Gorecki's Symphony of Sad Songs playing in the background.
Very nice work here.
Cheers!
John B Campbell
Starred well.

Marita A. Hansen wrote 1182 days ago

I have just finished reading a story on Authonomy about David and Goliath, and then I came across your book, and thought it was apt to read it ("Star of David.") I had time to read the prologue, and thought this was a very sad, but convincing portrayal of a man trying to deal with being in a concentration camp. If anything, he isn't dealing with it anymore, because as we read we understand that all hope has left him, stricken out by the bodies he had to burn for the Germans. The way I read it, with every body he'd burnt, a part of him died, along with the loss of his daughter. I liked your description of how people's souls leave them through their mouths, but with Daniel he lost his soul even with his mouth clamped shut.

The way in which the Germans treated the Jews is horrifying, the gas chambers, the total disregard of the Jewish people as humans. It is even sadder that this treatment of different nationalities continued long after WW2, and is still going on nowadays. The Yugoslavian War of last century being the most proinent in my mind as I had an uncle put in a concentration camp. Luckily, he survived it, but it still sadden me what he had to go through.

I'll stop here for now. Kind regards, Marita.

P.S. I haven't read your original version, so I can't comment on whether this is better or not, but I thought it read very nicely, and was well structured. I didn't notice any typos. Also, I thought you did a great job describing the smells in the truck as well as the old man.

Katarina66 wrote 1314 days ago

well researched, good story line and a subject which should never be forgotten. It could do with tightening up as previously suggested. The first instance I came accross was "and on I will never get back from" this would read better as and one from which I would never return. I will back the book for now, and hope yopu will return the complement.
Isabella
with each retreating wave.

Sarah King wrote 1323 days ago

This is great, thought provoking and emotive writing. We immediately sympathise with Daniel and feel his pain. You write very well indeed.

In places however, I feel you could improve it with some tightening. I'll use a couple of examples from the beginning so you can find them easily:


'I came to the realization' could be more simply writtten as 'I realized'
And ‘The nazis took it upon themselves to carry out the only solution they saw fit for someone without a purpose. Their solution is death.’
could be tightened to read, ' The nazis carried out the only solution they saw fit for someone without a purpose. That solution was death'

I have already backed this. It is quality reading. Sarah

lizjrnm wrote 1324 days ago

I am currently writing a memoir of WWII and I am in awe of your ability to write about that period of time - well researched and beautifully tole story. backed 100%

Liz
The Cheech Room
A Fine Pickle

memphisgirl wrote 1326 days ago

The maxims here drop like stones, weighty and memorable. You depict hope as a way of looking forever backward into the past, as if human nature believes in what has come before and, therefore, hopes. Your discussions of everything from death, to Hitler, to love and murder are provocative. Death is depicted as the only certainty, a faithful constant in a surreal existence. I wish I could teach parts of this manuscript alongside Wiesel's Night.

Memphisgirl
Ashes By Now

memphisgirl wrote 1326 days ago

The maxims here drop like stones, weighty and memorable. You depict hope as a way of looking forever backward into the past, as if human nature believes in what has come before and, therefore, hopes. Your discussions of everything from death, to Hitler, to love and murder are provocative. Death is depicted as the only certainty, a faithful constant in a surreal existence. I wish I could teach parts of this manuscript alongside Wiesel's Night.

Memphisgirl
Ashes By Now

PCreturned wrote 1326 days ago

This really is a harrowing and immediate piece of historical fiction. We feel Daniel's hopelessness and sorrow in the face of such vileness. Reading this is a shock to the system. I wanted to pinch my arm to remind me that, while your characters may be fictional, these things really did happen.

The writing feels polished and the subject matter well researched. I'm backing this as I think the topic is important. I wish you luck finding publication.

Pete

name falied moderation wrote 1326 days ago

Dear Matthew
backed you first and now the revision. such good work and well researched for sure...I loved your short and long pitch both really sell your book which they are meant too so CONGRATS, and love the way you write. Your ability with words to craft an orginal read is amazing. the characters have decided to take up permanent residence but i will insist they leave soom to go home. ha! I have to wonder on this site at the
creations that come from peoples heads and of course the immense talent of those like yourself to animate
such colorful characters. I truly wish I had half your talent.

BACKED BY ME FOR SURE.
Please take a moment to look, COMMENT which is important to me, and BACK my book. if not that is OK
also

The VERY best of luck to you

Denise
The Letter

andrew skaife wrote 1326 days ago

Meticulously researched, obviously (unless you were there, which I doubt given ages etc.) and beautifully written. This is a work that shines with the passion that you must have to have built it so well.

BACKED

fh wrote 1326 days ago

HOPE
Dear Matthew,
This is a riveting story. Full of beautiful writing straight from the heart. Extremely well written. Moving and passionate. Despite this being a story of truth, you would still have to have spent countless hours in research and I know how much this entails (my first book also was about WW2 in parts and I learnt an enormous amount). Well done you for giving us the chance to read this. I am happy to back this as it is so well written. - Good luck
Faith
THE ASSASSINS VILLAGE
Faith

Mchahn2990 wrote 1326 days ago

I can't thank Suzie enough for her kind words, but to avoid confusion this is not a memoir but a historical novel. The events that occur in my book are all factually correct, but the characters are all fictional.

Thanks to all who take the time to support Hope,

Matthew

SusieGulick wrote 1327 days ago

Dear Daniel, I love that you have told your story & the tragedy of it. :) When I told my story in my memoirs, I thought I was bad off (& still am), but you show me that it could be much much worse. :) Thank you for letting the world know about the holocaust from the inside. :) God bless you. :) Since I have tight optic nerves, I tend to go back to the line I had just read - if you cut your paragraphs in 2, it would have been an easier read for me. :) Your pitch drew me in to read your book & you compassionate story kept me reading. :) I have backed your book :) - you would make me so happy if you would take a moment to back my 2 memoir books. :) Thank you from the bottom of my heart. :) Love, Susie :)

This is information from authonomy (so beware of any other untrue information you may receive that is spam & not quotes of authonomy):
"When you back a book, it only improves the ranking of that book, not yours. However, the author whose book you are backing may decide to back your book also, in which case yes, your ranking would be improved"
"Every time you place a book on your bookshelf, your recommendation pushes the book up the rankings. And while that book sits on your bookshelf, your reputation as a talent spotter increases depending on how well that book performs."

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