She was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Pawiak prison, situated between Dzielna Street and Pawia Street in Warsaw, for interrogation. It’s a mighty four-storey complex in a grey world, and was built by the Tsarist authorities and completed in 1835, when this part of Poland belonged to the Tsar, and the rest of the country was shared by the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
The Warsaw ghetto now sits beside it, and the prison is mainly used for political prisoners, members of Armia Krajowa (Home Army) and other dissident factions. Many of these are either dispatched to an appropriate Concentration Camp, or executed in situ, and many thousands never leave the building.
During her time there Maya paints a water coloured picture in her cell, which is signed by eighteen other inmates. Some of them write poems and paint scenes of their life during their incarceration. Others look for solace in a lone elm tree in the centre of the dark yard, situated beside the female block, which is sometimes visited by an occasional sparrow or a yellow beaked blackbird. They often envy the little creatures their freedom, as they flap their wings and fly up into the sky, leaving the earthly problems behind them. Sometimes they look up at the stars twinkling and dancing in the endless sky, and wonder where Heaven is. It seems so distant and remote from their private hell, and it appears that God and his angels are unaware of their wretched existence. Maya is considered a threat to the establishment and transferred to Ravensbrück.
Schmidt notices a movement from the bushes about 400 metres away. He peers through his binoculars and notices the muzzle of a gun pointing in his direction.
Hans grabs a HE round (high explosive) and slams it into the breech.
“Range 400 metres –10 o’clock. Achtung! At my command – fire!”
The 88 makes a massive ear splitting smash and Tiger-Lilly rocks from the recoil like a nervous filly. The empty shell casing rumbles through the spring action mechanism of the shell-casing ejector, and clangs into the canvas bag.
Hans’s ears are ringing, but he enjoys sending greetings to the Bolshies. The Waffen are much quicker on the draw than their Marxist enemy.
He feeds his Tiger with HE and is determined to continue stuffing it until it chokes or throws up.“Achtung! At my command – fire!”
The massive thump of the discharged round almost merges with the booming slam of the sledgehammer impact.
Hans is ramming then in as quick as he can.
“Achtung! Load! Fire!”
“Achtung! Load! Fire!”
“Load! Keep firing!”
Hans is smiling to himself and frothing at the mouth. This must be better than Heaven. The buzz is turning him on and he’s getting more excited every moment. He’s ecstatic and his face is glowing with gleeful pleasure. He feels he might burst at any moment. At last he’s found his true calling. His commander is getting hoarser by the minute and he’ll have to use sign language if his condition worsens.Killing the bastards is pure enjoyment. It’s like eliminating targets at a carnival, except his new hits jump and hop around in circles like a raving group of fire breathing dancers and skippers, jigging and skipping in every direction.
Some attack each other and others tear their hair out by the roots. The frenzied scrachers and scrapers rip their nails against anything around them and bash their heads off the dark blue, inky walls of the chamber of extermination, filled with wretchedness and hopelessness. The piercing screams and screeches are fused with the endless, spine tingling shrieking, wailing and weeping, which slowly subside into a deathly silence. A ghostly stillness and calmness seems to descend like a mantle of comfort over the knotted pile of broken lives, with their stolen dreams and stolen lives. The mounds of misery are splattered with excrement, vomit, urine and bits of brain and intestines from the crushed victims. The powerful stench is joined by noxious smell of the pungent, poisonous gases.
Hans squeezes his nose together with his left hand and swallows large mouthfuls of his spirit, in order to kill the smell of the condemned and the damned. Sometimes half of a litre provides a cure and does the trick, but there are occasions when the odours cling to him and perade his insides. He’s mesmerized by some of the fixated staring eyes filled with pain, terror and shock. He believes that they’re holding secrets, which will always be locked away from him.
The Sonderkommando (Jewish, Polish and Russian inmates used by the Lublin SS) arrive and hose down the bodies and then distentangle them. They drag them outside and remove gold teeth and hair, before transporting the grizzly load to the coke-fuelled furnaces in the crematorium. The lifeless bodies melt and wrinkle as they blaze and burn. Their limbs contract and move like they’re still alive. The grotesque pageant belongs to a bizarre world that’s escaped from reality.