Excerpt from “The Valley of the Shadow” by H. Oloff de Wet ~~End~~

“It was an indescribable sensation of bliss to be yet alive, if only for a short time, if only for just one little hour longer. Anything might happen in an hour …”


Back in my cell, evil thoughts encircled me, knowing all too well the significance of this visit to the hospital. The end of the war in sight; that was the bitterness. Ironical that I had dodged so many, so many of those sanguine afternoons down there.

Monday morning I looked down into the yard. There were the boxes, piled six high, three laterally – eighteen! I wonder on which label might be indited my name.

Before leaving my cell in the afternoon when they came to fetch me, I insisted on washing my eating-bowl and spoon and putting them where they were wont to be, knowing how loathsome it is to discover a bowl crusted with the dried relics of food of some other person. So I washed that bowl for the next to come.

They took me down into the cellar. I looked at all things as I passed and I saw all things in a new, quite different way, different from the manner in which I had seen them before.

How friendly seemed the little cell I’d left – the most charming place in all the world; the sort of place I would not have minded inhabiting for the rest of my life! I wondered why I had ever bemoaned my lot there. I could not understand how I could have even believed winter really cold; for the coldness in my heart was of a quality I had never known before.

Into one of a row of little, little, very little cells I was put. Its door had a panel of thick glass with wire in it.

“Take off your clothes,” I was ordered.

I looked at my waistcoat with its embroidered roses and smiled affectionately upon it before, with the rest of my apparel, it was taken away.

They thrust a paper shirt in at the door – a benvenute of their white paper, sleeveless. This insulting garment filled me with anger. All other emotions left me – sorrow, fear, loneliness – whatever they may have been. A cold, contemptuous rage possessed me. The mean, petty mind of my enemies!

I put the cold garment over my head and waited. By degrees my anger subsided and I was suffused with an irrevocable sympathy for those who loved me and would suffer the pain of my passing. And I think, from what I know from others, that this is always a man’s last consideration. Whatever he may be, a craven or one of fortitude, it is not about himself that his ultimate thoughts revolve, but about one or more cherished beings who he knows will support a terrible burden in their ignorance of how easy it is when the end really comes.

They came down the cells in order, taking out the doomed in rapid succession. I waited. Back came the steps, a halt, someone went back down the passage. I heard someone say –

“No, next!”

I heard the next door open; the man padded away on his bare feet.

Standing there, I felt a slight twitching of the flesh of my cheeks. I tried to keep it still. Tremors went down the back of my knees.

Suddenly – I had not heard their approach – the door opened. I made to move out.

“No,” said the warder. “Dress.”

And he thrust my clothes in to me. He was alone. He grinned at me in a half-apologetic manner. It was young Fitche; he was white as a sheet; he had told me before how he hated duty at the executions. It made him ill; he had fainted twice in the death chamber.

Before shutting the door he glanced quickly down the passage, poked his head in and whispered –

“Have no fear. A try-out. Some trick a-foot. Gestapo here. Two of them. Look out how you go. Hals und Beinbruch Kamerad!” And he slammed the door.

That last remark of sympathy and encouragement brought the tears in floods to my eyes, and I am not ashamed to say that I wept profusely as I dragged on my clothes until I was wearing again my waistcoat embroidered with roses.

It was an indescribable sensation of bliss to be yet alive, if only for a short time, if only for just one little hour longer. Anything might happen in an hour . . .


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Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

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