Arbeit macht Frei: Work will set you free. Three famous words that greeted those the Nazis sent to Auschwitz. Three words that could not have been a bigger lie. Tomas Kaulitz is a talented young violinist reduced to playing in empty concert halls for Nazi officers. The war has stayed relatively far away until now, when the horrors of the Nazi era take him and his friends away from a ruined Magdeburg.
They ran, Tomas grabbing his guitar and forgetting all else, until the apartment building was long gone. Wilhelm tried to look back more than once but Linke shoved him forward every time, hissing at him to move, he knew too much and they would all die if he so much as thought about stopping. Tears built in Wilhelm’s fragile eyes but he ran anyway when Tomas took his hand and led him on. They followed Max. He was the strongest runner and he hardly slowed in the many minutes that they ran. Tomas knew not where they were headed. He followed blindly, his only concern Wilhelm’s safety and his own. He ignored Linke’s cold glares and biting warnings, and was all too glad when Linke fell back to help David and Jan.
David was weak and somewhat delirious, sobbing the name of someone Tomas had never heard off, crying that Timo would be waiting for them, that Timo would not be able to find them, that Timo would get caught because now the police were watching the apartment. Tomas ducked his head when he heard the loud crack that was Linke smacking David. David quieted after that, though Tomas heard his hiccupping and soft whimpering for a great deal longer.
Jan had grabbed the most items among them. Tomas wondered fleetingly why Linke was not yelling at the boy, too, for carrying so much. He glanced back, not to where they had come from, just to see Jan and Linke, and was surprised to find that Linke had taken Jan’s pack from him and was carrying it himself.
“Stop,” Max said suddenly, holding out an arm that nearly toppled Tomas and Wilhelm over when they ran into it. “They’ve lost us. We will find someplace here to spend the night.”
Tomas nodded wearily. They followed Max through an empty street. The ground was strewn with the rubble of cement buildings and the whole air stank of rotting meat and yeast. They continued walking before Max had them stop. He went to inspect what looked to be an empty shop. The display window was shattered, glass covering the sidewalk all around the store front. Max stepped over it and disappeared inside for a long time. Tomas wanted to sit badly but he did not, knowing Wilhelm was more tired than he and would surely cut himself on a piece of glass. They had little if any antibiotics and a possibly infected cut would be an unnecessary burden.
Max eventually came out, calling to Jan and Linke softly to inspect the shop. Linke glanced at David, glared at Tomas, and then went inside.
They returned moments later, telling the others to come inside. Tomas held Wilhelm’s elbow to support him as his brother stepped in daintily, glass crunching underfoot. Max was at the back of the shop, waiting, so they followed him up a back staircase. They ended up in a sort of workroom with mannequins and stacks of brown and blue cloth along the walls. There was a single window boarded up. Wilhelm walked over to it, letting go of Tomas’ hand. He touched the wood and tried to peer out.
He turned back to Tomas and shrugged, as if to say, this will do for now. Tomas sucked in a breath. A quiet thump alerted him to the fact that David and Linke had joined him, the thump coming from Jan’s pack. Linke had dropped it. David’s eyes were red. He sniffed and dried his eyes on his wrists. Linke looked at David in disgust and tossed a swatch of tan brown cloth at him.
“What the fuck did you do, Max?” Linke snarled, crossing his arms over his chest. “We had that apartment for how many months without any suspicion whatsoever and you still managed to lead them straight to us, you fool!”
Max raised an eyebrow at Linke, unconcerned by the man’s anger. Linke sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“Honestly, how did this happen?” he continued, his tone changing from anger to disappointment.
“Don’t know, Chris,” Max said. He moved towards Linke and enveloped him in a soft embrace. Linke sighed again and placed his cheek on Max’s shoulder.
“We cannot stay here long,” Linke whispered.
“Mmm,” Max said, brushing Linke’s long bangs back. “We will go looking then, tonight or tomorrow morning, after we have rested.” Linke looked up at him with an expression far softer than anything Tomas had seen from him yet. Wilhelm sat down on the floor and Tomas copied him. He frowned as he rearranged many of his suspicions about his housemates. He knew what they had told him: that they were in hiding as a result of disagreements with the Party or, rather, persecution by the Party but he had not truly taken their words in. David had seemed an obvious example…of what they were, even Tomas had been attracted to his charms. Jan, if he cleaned up a little, was also a noticeable- here Tomas stopped his thoughts. He knew what he was thinking about, he knew the word for it, too, but he simply could not make himself say the word homosexual for all that he was surrounded by five of them.
A piece of bread was dropped in his lap before Tomas noticed that Jan was kneeling before him. Jan smiled and handed him the glass bottle of water.
“We are going nowhere for a while so we should eat and drink as we can,” Jan said softly, his breathing slightly ragged from their earlier exertion. “Linke and Max will probably leave for a while and David is likely to go to sleep. We only ask that if you and Wilhelm want to talk that you keep it quiet.”
Tomas took a long swallow of water and handed the bottle to Wilhelm, who took it eagerly.
“Where are they going?” he asked, nodding to where Max still had Linke in his arms. The sight was rather unsettling to Tomas.
“Somewhere else in the shop, maybe down the stairs. Today has been a bit of an upset and they will want to talk.”
Tomas laughed. “My guess is that they want to do more than talk, the way they are looking at each other.”
“That is a possibility,” he said as he place the cork in the water bottle. Jan went to stand up and Tomas grabbed his pants leg. Jan looked down.
“Yes?” he asked.
“Hey, are you and David a, you know…?”
“That is an odd question, Tomas. It makes me wonder some things about you.” Tomas frowned. Jan’s smile grew wider. “The answer is no, however. We are only friends.”
Jan walked over to David and put the water down. Tomas could hear him chuckling for several minutes afterwards. He hoped Jan did not mention the question to David.
Gustav clutched his stomach as he dry-heaved onto the ground next to him. He heard the bark of a Russian soldier and could only glance up before he was kicked in the back of the knee. Gustav groaned, wishing there had been something to his heaving so that he could turn around and spew it on the insane soldier kicking him. But there was nothing and so Gustav dropped to the ground where the soldier continued kicking him.
Most of the men he had arrived here with were dead. Those that were not were sick enough to be dead. There was no relief from home, no army battalions coming to save them from their fate as playthings and slaves for their Russian masters. These men spoke only the coarsest German with painful whistles and growls added to the language for no reason other than to torture their prisoners’ ears.
The kicking seized eventually and Gustav stood on his hands and knees. He shoved a leg forward shakily, his body numb with hunger and exhaustion, and shoved himself forward. There would be no end to this hell tonight.
Georg scraped his bow across the E-string, creating eerie faerie-like tunes. He paused and put his instrument down to look out the window. Tomas had not returned. Georg could only imagine that his friend had abandoned him to go to Switzerland, Finland, or America even, just to get away from Georg. Somehow, Tomas had learned that Georg had been offered his place at the Philharmonic and had left him rather than try to continue their friendship after such an offer.
Georg snarled and threw his bow at the wall. He was angry but he had not the courage to ruin his precious violin, not yet.
He pressed his hand to the window, watching as the chilly outside air creating an impression around his hand. Georg pulled his hand back and blew on the window, making a larger sweep of white on the glass. He dragged a nail over the middle of it and wrote this:
Please come home. You’re my best friend.
The letters were cramped when Georg finished, the writing hardly readable as the white faded away but the words were as likely to reach Tomas from the glass as from a letter without an address to be sent to. Georg swiped his hand against the last of the white. In that instant, his message and his hope disappeared.