N.B: This story is not intended to insult anyone. All characters, and fictional stories and writers are figments of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to characters, stories and writers actually on Fictionpress is purely coincidental.
Jakob gave a cough as he pushed a large box aside. "Mein Gott," he swore, sitting down on an old sea chest. "What did the old idiot keep up here?"
"Things his old idiots left behind, I suppose," his twin sister, Hilda, replied. "And now these things shall go into our own attic – or at least mine, knowing you and your sentiments on clutter around the house – until the day our grandchildren call us old idiots and have to take these things into their keeping."
Jakob chuckled. He took out the roll of newspaper he had in his back pocket and started reading. Hilda wanted to tell him that it was yesterday's edition, but kept quiet. Jakob was a third-year History major at the Humboldt University of Berlin; he was supposed to like old things… Which was odd, considering that, when their parents died, Jakob threw out or sold many antiques in their attic.
Hilda opened a rosewood box and, finding that it was rather empty, began filling it with some of the loose items that lay around the attic: empty tins that used to contain English mints, a toy car made of metal, a doll with gnarly blond hair… She heard Jakob turn a page.
"Come and help me!" she exclaimed, unable to keep the amusement out of her voice. He looked like an old man sitting there, reading his newspaper. "Move your bottom!"
"Why?" asked Jakob, smiling cheekily over his paper. "It's all going to your attic, anyway."
She laughed and playfully threw something at him. It was heavier and larger than she had expected, and it knocked against Jakob's leg loudly. He let out a yelp of shock and pain.
"Hilda!" he protested, rubbing his knee.
"Sorry," she muttered, scooting over on her knees and picking up the projectile. It was nothing like she had seen before.
First, it was an oval shape with two semi-rectangular buttons placed side-by-side on one end. A long, black wire extended from it, ending in a rectangular piece of material with another metallic rectangle extending from it. She didn't know how to describe it, really.
"What's this?" she asked.
"Pass it over here," Jakob said, still rubbing his knee. It didn't hurt anymore, but he wasn't about to let Hilda forget about it.
Hilda handed it to her brother, who turned it over and over in his hands. It wasn't like anything he had seen before. He clicked the buttons repeatedly, but nothing happened.
"What is it?" asked Hilda.
"Nothing." Jakob dropped it carelessly. It made a cracking noise when it landed on the wooden floor, although it didn't break. "Probably something American."
Hilda continued packing. A red embroidered shawl covered something square-ish. Hilda pulled it off and started to fold the shawl when she saw what it had been covering.
It looked like a television set, only the material framing the glass screen was a green-grey and made of the same stuff that oval thing was. A small, round button sat at the bottom-right corner of the television-like machine.
"Jakob," Hilda called over her shoulder.
"What is it this time?" Impatiently, Jakob folded the newspaper and went to where his sister knelt on the ground. Then he saw the television-like thing as well. "Gott, what else did the old idiot keep?"
"It's probably from the same set of things that that oval thing was," said Hilda. She turned around and saw the oval thing lying forlornly next to the chest Jakob was sitting on. She wanted to go get it, but Jakob had reached out and pressed the small button.
It made a crackling noise, which made them fear it would explode, but nothing happened. Then, just as Jakob was ready to return to his newspaper, the screen flickered, and the black emptiness was replaced with a white light.
"What…?" they both murmured.
"Nothing like any television set I've seen before," Jakob said.
Black words appeared on the screen. It was in English. Jakob turned to his sister, who began to translate haltingly.
"Those who cannot... remember the… past are… condemned to repeat it," she said in German.
The words disappeared, and new ones replaced them.
"But those who… know and do… not try… are equally condemned."
"That did not make any sense," said Jakob.
"I think," Hilda said slowly, "that those who do not know their history will repeat it, but those who can see or know what is coming and do not try to prevent it are as equally condemned as those who repeat it."
"Well," said Jakob with a smile, "I know my history."
The screen flickered, and then a new image appeared. There was a maroon (or was it brown?) bar at the top of the screen with the words – let the words flow. Several subheadings in blue appeared, heralding everything from "Action" to "Young Adult".
"Translate," urged Jakob.
Hilda started to translate random sections, but then a little arrow appeared on the screen. It flew around the Fictionpress screen before settling over Historical. There was a clicking noise before the screen changed again.
Now, there were numbers and underlined words in blue.
"There are stories on this thing, I think," said Hilda, her eyes flying around the screen. "Look… One of Many by… Blue eyed girl nine seven zero ex."
"What a name," muttered Jakob. "Why are we wasting our time on this?" He reached out to press the button which had started this whole nonsense, but Hilda grabbed his hand.
"Wait, read the summary." She began translating: "'I was a normal girl, growing up in Berlin. I had a life. Then they took it away from me. One shot. Please review!'"
"Who's they? Did they shoot her?" Jakob was intrigued now. He liked mysteries. He often read the crime section of newspapers over and over.
As if hearing Jakob's question, the little arrow appeared again and clicked One of Many. The screen changed. Now, there were paragraphs. Hilda was right – it was a story. She began translating for her brother's benefit.
"A column of smoke rises endlessly from the chimney. The smell of burning flesh and ash – the smell of death – is in the air… We did nothing wrong. Our only crime was being born a Jew… What have we done to deserve this? Who made them our judges? Who made them our executors – the Germans…?"
Jakob and Hilda could feel their blood freezing in their veins as she continued reading. In the story, people – Jews – were being herded into cattle cars like animals, were being sent to gas chambers like condemned criminals, where being buried in mass graves like paupers…
Although there was a lump in her throat and tears of disbelief and rage in her eyes, Hilda finished translating the last paragraph: "I don't have much time now. I am on the way to the gas chamber. March, march, march. The Germans are shouting at us. The pale spring sunshine gleams on their guns… I am nothing to them, nothing but a number. When I am dead, they will throw me into a grave filled with other numbers – not people – like me. The Fuhrer, the Fuhrer's to blame."
After the steady rhythm of her voice, the attic felt as silent as a tomb.
Hilda broke the silence with a whisper.
"No… We could not do that. Not us. Not our own people." Her voice rose with anger. "Is this… blue eyed girl saying that we are all murderers? That we blindly followed a murderer that would convince us – people like you and me! – to kill people, to commit genocide in cold blood? What have the Jews ever done to us? For God's sake, my boyfriend is half-Jewish!"
She broke down into tears. Jakob gathered her into his arms.
"This is nothing," said Jakob. "This…" He shook his head.
"But it is something," said Hilda. "And that proverb before this story…" She shook her head. She wanted to scream, to tear her clothes in grief like they used to do in the Bible.
Jakob grasped his sister firmly and looked her in the eye.
"You listen to me, Hilda," he said sternly. "This is propaganda of the Allies, written by some fairy American or British writer trying to hide under a pseudonym. It cannot and will not happen, do you understand? This is a figment of someone's imagination."
He released her, reached over and pressed the button. The story – Hilda wasn't so sure if it was a story now – remained for a few moments, as if stubbornly reminding them of its presence. Then, it flickered off.
"There," Jakob said. "Now we forget it."
He kissed her forehead and stood up.
"Let's go home, Hilda," he said. "I can get a junk dealer in here tomorrow to get rid of all these things. We don't have to face that screen again. That's a good plan, ja?"
"Ja," Hilda murmured.
"Come on." Jakob started to make his way out of the attic. When he did not hear Hilda's footsteps coming after him, he shouted over his shoulder, "Hilda!" His sister was an emotional, sentimental person. He could see that the story had affected her deeply, and he did not want her getting too shaken from that rubbish story. That boyfriend of hers, Thomas, must have been implanting such sentimental feelings for the Jews in her. Suddenly, Jakob was filled with that annoyance that he sometimes heard in his friend Adolf's voice when he mentioned Hilda. Adolf, he knew, was firmly anti-Semitic and a leader of that new political party… What was it called? Jakob couldn't quite remember.
"I'm coming," Hilda called back. Turning around, she quickly picked up the oval object Jakob had thrown aside before. She shoved it into her coat pocket and proceeded to move down the stairs. She could not help, however, turning back one last time to look at the screen. It was emitting that crackling noise it made when they had first turned it on. It reminded Hilda of tinder catching fire.