Hans is a Flash Fiction Novel I wrote for the Writer’s High Retreat. Flash Fiction is new to me, it requires your entire story to be 1000 words or less. This original version of Hans came in at 963.
I have since written two longer versions of Hans that explore a woman’s search for her Jewish ancestors and how that search entwines with little Hans. I hope to publish them soon.
Hans raked through the ashes of number four until he was sure there were no treasures to be found and then started on number five. It was hard work but he felt himself to be one of the lucky few. He was alive and when he was fortunate to find some treasure in the ashes he would be rewarded with a slice of bread and sometimes a bowl of hot vegetable broth—and he was never cold.
But number five was clean too; no treasure for Hans today he thought and walked back to the barracks. He sat in the corner by himself, closed his eyes and pulled his knees up under his chin. It was quiet now but soon the voices would start.
“If you want to live you must become invisible to them,” his Saba had said. His grandfather was a wise man and so Hans sat in this same corner every day and when he closed his eyes he pretended he was invisible.
Sometimes the voices came close and he was afraid someone would see him and put him back to work. But the voices came and went as they did every day and he slept dreaming of his family all together again.
It was Friday; his favorite day of the week. The sun had set, the candles were lit and his father had blessed them all as they sat at the old red oak table his grandfather had made when he was still young. Hans, sitting between his big brother and younger sister had just taken his first bite of the sweet bread when the knock on the door surprised them all. He looked at his mother and saw the worry on her face as his father rose to answer the door. He got up too, he wanted to see who was visiting them at the beginning of the Sabbath, but his mother made him sit.
“Hansel! Come sit, it’s none of your business.”
But he had seen the men on the porch and one of them was the town’s mayor and the other two were policemen.
How exciting he remembered being, the Mayor coming to see his father. His mother had told him his father was an important man in town and now he knew it was true.
He tried to listen, to hear the mayor speaking but their voices were drowned out by his little sister singing. Soon his father returned to the table and the dinner continued ending with the small cakes his mother had baked, and the visit from the mayor was forgotten.
The next morning his father announced they were all going on a vacation and to pack everything they needed for a one week trip.
“How do I know what I will need Momma?”
“I’ll help you, Hans. You can bring a few of your favorite things including Oberon if you like. Your grandmother made that the day you were born.”
She walked away and he saw the tears in her eyes as she turned. Why was she crying? Personally, he was excited to be going out into the hillside, and they were taking the train.
He picked Oberon up off his pillow and looked closely at the new stitching. He had had the bear as long as he could remember and all the seams were beginning to come apart.
The train ride was not what he had expected. He had hoped to see the big white clouds of steam billowing from the engine, to feel fresh air through the open windows as the trees and the forest raced past. But there were no windows and no seats and the children had to sit on the filthy floor.
The bitter cold made him shiver and he wished they had let him keep his suitcase; he had two good coats inside it that he could have worn. But they took all the suitcases and put them in a different car. His sister sat beside him and he tried to share his father’s coat with her but it wasn’t big enough for the two of them.
He woke to silence; the room empty, and he stood and walked past the latrine room.
Where was Gustave? The sergeant always stood at the door of the latrine house. But he hadn’t seen the man in days, maybe even weeks.
He grabbed his shovel and rake and started on number one creating a pile of ash and then raked it smooth looking for anything he might trade for food. This one was clean though and he started on number two and saw the glint in the gray ash. He picked it up and saw the rainbow of colors in the sunlight. He stuffed the diamond into his pocket and looked for the gold he knew would be in the ash. He had done this so many times he knew that if there was a diamond, there would always be a drop of gold somewhere.
With the rake he spread the ash into even rows, pushing the bits of bone and teeth aside.
“What’s your name?” he heard someone ask.
He looked up and saw the girl in the doorway. She was his sister’s age, four or five he thought and tried to remember her face.
“Who are you talking too?” a woman asked.
“His name is Hans.”
He watched as an invisible hand lead the girl back outside and he listened to a man’s voice on the other side of the wall.
“These are the five crematory ovens here in this section of Dachau and they ran day and night.”