We eventually arrived at the village and clambered out of the back of the truck. Gathered in a group we stretched and readjusted our gear, including the bane of my existence, the damn gas mask canister. Supposedly we were running behind schedule and Sergeant Hess was yelling at us to “Hustle your asses, fall in, and listen up.” He briefed us on what we were going to be doing which was create a security perimeter inside the village square. No one was to get in or out except our invited guests. The Jews would be assembling there in less than an hour along with men from the local militia who would be assisting us.
We would then escort the Jews back to where we were lagered. There they would strip, and be led in groups of ten to the antitank ditch which was about a hundred yards to the south of where we now stood and shot. “Now don’t fuck up and embarrass me” was his closing comment to us. With that he turned on his heel and began barking commands at us to form up and start marching down the road to the village.
The sun had risen and it looked to be a beautiful morning. Birds were chirping and flitting from tree to tree. All in all it was very pleasant. Poland did not look like I had expected it too. It turned out to be a very flat country or as Hans described it “Flat land, skinny pigs, and too many ugly women.” Still it was different and that difference was what I found interesting. The only thing reminding me I wasn’t on a nature hike back home was the steel helmets bobbing on the heads in front of me, and the weight of my rifle slung over my shoulder. By the time I had adjusted to the weight of my gear and gotten into the rhythm of the march we were entering the village.
It was the usual eastern Europe dung heap that I would see over and over again in the months ahead. If the morning breeze had been blowing toward us; we would have smelled it before we saw it. The air was ripe with the smell of wood smoke mingled with the smell of animals and their manure. Closer in the fragrance acquired the pungent smell of human crap lightly seasoned with rotting cabbage, and a very faint hint of the aroma of baking bread. Together they made for an olfactory assault that was unmistakably eau de Polish village.
The market square, and every town of any size had one, was dominated by the Catholic Church which occupied one entire side of the square. The rest of the square was defined by wooden buildings painted in fading white in various states of disrepair, most of which looked like residences. The largest building I on the square other than the church I was too find out later found out was the town hall. Narrow streets led off into warrens of wooden houses, each one with a leaning stone chimney from which a few faint curls of smoke arose to be caught in the morning breeze. Illuminated by the morning sun the market square was shown to be paved in dirt and animal dung.
Assembly time for the Jews was 07:30 and we were forty five minutes early. It was your standard military ‘hurry up and wait’ operation in action. This early in the war we weren’t allowed to sit around on our asses and smoke. Sergeant Hess had two men from the other squad go check inside the church and make sure Jesus, Mary, or Marx weren’t hiding in there. The church was empty, unusual in Poland, but then everyone in town knew we were coming.
We then milled about the square until the Lieutenant came over an assigned a couple of us to guard each entrance into the market square. I was posted with Dieter with whom I had stood watches with in Warsaw. We weren’t sure exactly what we were supposed to be doing but we did know a lot about standing watch. We stood at attention, one on each side of the road, until the Lieutenant wasn’t looking at us anymore and we could relax.
Dieter asked me “What you think is going to happen?” A stupid question I thought as we had just been told what was going to happen. I bit back the first reply that came to mind which was “Well Dieter, we are going to repel an attack by the 7th Soviet Infantry Division.” Instead I looked at him. He was apprehensive, maybe even a little pale. I realized then that I had never seen him strike anyone on guard duty let alone raise his voice. Such a little lamb I thought. I told him “Well, it’s like this. We are going to shoot these people at close range, rob the bodies, and then rape the livestock.” He recoiled like I had slapped him. I continued “Sarge told me you get first pick of the goats. I suggest you try a female on for a change.”