Here at night the gates were closed and guarded by the ghetto and Polish police. Another benefit was not having to shine your boots. There was always a Pole available to do that for you. Just like there was always someone to keep our uniforms cleaned and ready. The only thing we still had to take care of ourselves was our weapons.
We had walked around the ghetto and taken photos of the Jews living there when we first arrived but there was not much to see, plenty to smell though, and none of it pleasant. I still enjoyed my solitary walks through the quarter but the sanitary conditions were rapidly becoming unsatisfactory, and I had no desire to catch typhus. So I reluctantly let the part of my life come to an end.
I had settled into the routine of guard duty when it all changed. Later I came to understood this was standard operating procedure in the military. As soon as you become comfortable with your assignment you could count on moving or being assigned new duties.
Sarge told us at morning muster that 2nd Company from now on was going to be providing the men for guard duty. After we finished our watch we were to return to the barracks and get our gear ready. “And I don’t mean your home away from home either. I expect you to be in the barracks and I will be checking. Tomorrow morning men, our squad will be going for a ride in the country.” Lothar and Hans were excited. They felt that in being assigned guard duty they had been cheated out of a right of passage that everyone else in the battalion had already passed through. The downside was the loss of the extra money from guard duty although we heard that there was money to be made on roundups.
The next morning we fell out at the usual very dark and very early time the military always chooses to begin its activities and lined up for inspection. At the most I had expected the Company First Sergeant and our Lieutenant to greet us, maybe the Captain if he wasn’t too hung over. Instead I was surprised to see the Battalion Commander, his Adjutant, and a SD officer march out to review us.
Short barely audible groans came from some of the men standing in formation around me. Most of them had barely pulled it together that morning and they were not ready for anything approaching a real inspection. Even though we had spent the night in the barracks the alcohol had still flowed. The sour odor of beer filtered through the pores of unwashed skin emanated from almost everyone standing there. Their furtive attempts to quickly square themselves away were squashed by the glare emanating from the First Sergeant. The Lieutenant pretended not to notice. He looked a little pale himself but stood far enough away that I couldn’t get a whiff of him to see if he was suffering from the same malady that his troops were.
We snapped to attention at the command of the First Sergeant. The sound of our boots on the cobblestones echoed in the cool morning air. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the Polish kitchen help standing by the kitchen door watching us. I don’t remember exactly what the Major said although I was to hear similar speeches many more times including one by Himmler in the none to distant future. Fortunately, the Major was not as long winded as Himmler as I really needed to piss.
I am sure it sounded something like this:
“Soldiers of the Fatherland today you will perform duties as difficult in there own way as what a front line solider is asked to do. You are members of the Police and you know how important order is. Germany must be strong and destroy those who would destroy us without hesitation. You will be called upon to perform a difficult duty today. ”He continued on like this for about five minutes more. No, none of us were asked if we wanted to stay behind. I would have been amazed if we had been. It certainly did not occur to me to ask.
This was the German police after all. You were given orders, and you did your best to carry them out. Any less, and those who gave you those orders would find a way to make you wish you had. If you showed them you could competently execute those orders then you got promoted and then you got to give orders to others. Each promotion meant you climbed a little higher up the military mountain of life upon which all shit rolled down. It was all very simple and easy to understand. I liked that.