War Orphans

6 years ago, I wrote a Facebook status asking people to tell me how they had met me. And to lie. A friend of mine, Sam, gave me the best answer possible:

1961, a boy brothel in Thailand. I had a tip on the Nazis who’d been in command of the camp where I lost my family. It didn’t pan out and afterward you bought me a drink and got the whole story. But you never never mentioned why you were in that particular brothel, or where you got all those diamonds. I’m still curious.

I felt inspired to write this story. I turned this into my creative writing class, inspiring my teacher to tell the class that our works needed to be serious and to try and curtail genre fiction.

6 years later, it seems fitting to share this with the world again (slightly fixed).


I met Abigail at a time in my life when friends were few and far between. The circumstances of our first meeting have long been something secret, a knowing look passed between two old women. Being old and female allows me a great deal of freedom, at least to smile at things that amuse me. This was not always the case.

Once, I was not quite so carefree. Once, I was a war orphan, on a road towards retribution. It was during these years that I met Abigail.

My trail of vengeance started in the summer of 1946 in the farm country outside of Nürnberg, but by the late 1950’s I had found myself in Thailand. It was a vibrant and bustling place, quite unlike my aunts home in Germany and I have always found it difficult to put into words. Women enticed me to purchase carpets and cloth in bright colors, and men offered brass trinkets. I knew I would seem an oddity, a young Jewish woman, alone, walking the streets in trousers. It wasn’t quite unheard of at the time, but it certainly turned a few heads. My aunt had tried to insist that I stay in Germany and take up typing so that I could find a job in the city. She didn’t understand that my heart ached for retribution, and that I had long since given up hopes for a normal life. My hands had, by this point, been soaked in the blood of many Nazi’s and their sympathizers, but my soul was not yet clean. My vengeance was incomplete.

My parents Stars of David clinked in time with my steps. Magen David. That was what my mother had called them when she had given them to me, right after we had been sent to the camps from the ghetto. I don’t know how she saved them, but she and my father wore them until the week they died. They were made for them by a travelling Ethiopian, and I still carry them to this day. They are the only things I have left.

I know the men who killed them. Their names are etched into my memory, a part of me to this day. Hans Schroeder. Pasha Mueller. Friedrich Neumann. Karl Keller. They had been guards at the camp where I had been held. A misty fall morning they dragged my parents behind one of the out buildings, their yellow stars bright against the stark concrete. My mother was bald, thin from the ghetto and now the camps. My father reached to hold her hand. They were shot. I remember that day, that moment, more clearly than any day before it and I have remembered it every day after. Three weeks later the camp was liberated and I found my way to the countryside outside of Nürnberg and the home of my aunt.

I was twelve and full of rage, shaped by a war I had no part in and by men I had never harmed. War orphans, they called us. We were casualties, damaged goods, prisoners to our own grief. Without purpose. But I found my purpose in the summer of 1946 when my cousins and I discovered a former guard living a town over. They found their retribution in beating him to death. I found my purpose in helping them. I knew, washing my hands of that mans blood, burning my clothes behind the barn, that I would find the men who killed my parents. I would find them, and I would kill them.

My past has been covered in the bodies of the men I’ve killed. Germans once, countrymen of mine. But they chose their path, and I chose mine. It was the execution of Heinrich Schroedinger that helped propel me forward. He had thought he could get away living his life as a former sympathizer, and take up a job as a file clerk in Nürnberg, after the trials. My cousins and I had already cleared the countryside of his kind, but Schroedinger was my kill. No one was looking for him. No one, except for me. Heinrich was a file clerk, but he also held the key to my vengeance — the location of the men who killed my parents. I knew their names, and with the assistance of an iron headed cane, I knew their locations. Even though he was a diminutive man, Heinrich did not give over information easily. It didn’t matter. Eight years of roaming the countryside with my cousins had irrevocably changed me.

By 1958, the woman I had become barely resembled the girl my parents had called Anna. I wore men’s clothing and military boots. I still wore my hair long like my mother did, but now I could hold my own in a fight. I walked the streets of Bangkok with a gun and a sense of divine retribution. I don’t know if my parents believed in angels, but for them I had become one — I would be their avenging angel. I would make sure their killers were met with justice.

It was Heinrich who told me they were staying in Thailand. Many of the Nazi’s had found their way abroad, to try and hide from the past to someday regroup. Previously, I had searched for my targets in Brazil, but Heinrich was sure they were in Thailand. Apparently Karl Keller had a fondness for young boys that did not end at the platonic, and Bangkok was the place to go for such perversions. The other three were supposedly with Keller still.

It was not as difficult as I would’ve expected to find a boy brothel in Thailand. Those kinds of things were not kept secret from travelers, though the concierge balked a little at my gender when I asked about them. I laid down more money and he made the call. Twenty minutes later, I met Pak. He was about twelve, thin, and wearing a grown mans tweed jacket. He spoke rapid fire English with a heavy accent and a great deal of enthusiasm. He chartered us a rickshaw and we rode out of town and towards the villages.

To call them villages is perhaps to give them too much credit. They were a collection of ramshackle sheds held together with corrugated metal and hope. Or desperation. There were young boys and girls milling about and a couple of adults, mostly men with bare chests and lewd grins.

I realize now, having had daughters and granddaughters of my own, that I put myself in a dangerous situation. I was a young woman, traveling alone. I could’ve been kidnapped. I could’ve been raped. But maybe they saw my gun or they realized the knife at my hip was not for show, because no one acted untoward to me.

Pak followed me, staying a pace behind as if he were a well trained dog. He acted as my translator.

“Do you know a many named Karl Keller?“ I asked. “Have you seen a large man with a scar down his cheek? Do you know Karl Keller? He is German, like me.” The men were close-lipped.

A woman approached, bare-foot and with a toddler on her hip. Her gaze was fixed on Pak. She didn’t look at me when she spoke.

“She said that she knows Karl Keller.” Pak translated, “Says he used to come around all the time. To her brothel. But he killed one of her boys. He is a mean drunk. That is why the men won’t talk to you.” Pak shook his head at what she said next, but the woman insisted he continue. “She says that she can see the blood on your hands. She knows it’s a holy thing. She’s telling you where Karl Keller is because she wants you to kill him. And she knows you will.” The woman had pointed us to the largest house in the village, a nameless structure surrounded by tin sheds. I turned to thank her, but she had already left, her steady pace leading her away from the brothels.

The air inside the brothel itself was thick with humidity and smoke, a combination of cigarettes and imported opium. Along the walls were narrow benches, sticky to the touch. The light from the center of the room left the corners in shadows. The room held a constant deep red haze.

I found myself a seat along one of the narrow benches. It was midday, but the brothel basked in a constant stream of customers; old men with safari style vests, their white bellies ripening in the Thai sun. I looked at their faces. Karl Keller was not there.

I felt then a presence at my side. I turned, and there she was. Aside from her and I, there were no other Western women in the brothel, whose main customers were American men. She was red-headed, with a thick band of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her eyes were bright and lively, and accompanied a crooked smile. She was in a square necked black dress. I remember this above most other details of the day because the dress was so incongruous with our setting.

“Hi. My name is Abigail.” She smiled and shook my hand, a hand I hadn’t realized I had offered. “Here for business or pleasure?”

I had stared, but Abigail took little notice, instead getting the attention of one of the boys there, and speaking rapid fire Thai, she had sent him off in the other direction.

“Well?” Her eyes were turned back to me. “What brings you to a place like this?”

“Business.”

“Fascinating. As am I.” She motioned to the briefcase at her feet, a briefcase I hadn’t noticed before. It was black and leather and shone weakly in the red light. “You’re Jewish, right?”

I had wanted to be offended. Was she judging my dark hair, the long hair that my mother had so cherished? Did I look Jewish? But I noticed then that she was looking at my parents necklaces, twining together against my chest.

“Yeah.”

“I was sorry to hear about what happened to your people. Under the Nazi’s.” She smiled then before she settled back and lit a cigarette. “People do terrible things when they’re in a position of power. The people who do things like that? They don’t deserve to live.”

The boy returned then with two lukewarm beers, the bottles slick. We drank them in near silence.

I don’t remember how long I sat there, looking at each face that entered before a man came in to sit next to Abigail. He was thin, Han Chinese in a well-made suit. I attempted to ignore their interactions, until she opened up her briefcase. Inside was a small velvet bag, which she carefully opened inside the briefcase. The red light did not diminish the brightness of the diamonds within.

Karl Keller entered the brothel not a moment later.

I would like to say that I elegantly assassinated the man I had been after for many years, that I made him remember the names of my parents before he died. I would like to say that it was a ruthless and efficient murder and that the whole encounter was exactly what I had desired for so long. But these things, though they are my desires, are not the kinds of things that really happen. Not in a Thai boy brothel and not when you have a loaded gun.

Under my jacket I had been secreting a large black hand gun, my most prized possession behind the iron headed cane and my parents Magen David’s. The barrel was worn, but it fired true. I struck Karl Keller in his left shoulder, and right after that shot, the brothel erupted into chaos. A man swore in Chinese, and I turned to my left in time to see Abigail level her own gun at her buyer and fire. The thin silver barrel exploded in light and sound, and the man fell dead.

Boys rushed around underfoot, but I made my way carefully to Karl Keller, who was still lying on the floor at the entrance way of the brothel. He looked around wildly before his eyes connected with mine. But he did not recognize me. If I hadn’t pointed my gun into his face, he wouldn’t have noticed me from any other dark haired Western woman on the street. But it didn’t matter then if he recognized me. I knew him. I had seen him kill my parents. I had seen him lead others into the gas chambers, to shoot a man on the side of the road because he wasn’t moving fast enough. I knew Karl Keller as he was; a monster. And I killed that monster.

There was another shot, and I felt a searing heat in my side. I looked down and blood began to pour through my fingers, thick and red. I had been shot.

Across the now empty brothel was Pasha Mueller. He was an attractive man, his angular face taking in the lines of his proud Russian father and his German mother. But he was also a sadist, perfectly suited for the camps. In the faint red glow of the brothel I could see his gun leveled at me, a sneer across his strong features. He was going to kill me. I knew, at that moment, I was going to die in a Thai boy brothel, killed by one of the men who killed my parents.

“Now, now. It isn’t nice to point guns at ladies.” Abigail said before shooting Pasha in the throat. Standing in the doorway of the brothel, her briefcase at her side and her gun pointed straight where Pasha had been, she looked like nothing less than a silver screen heroine.

She came and knelt at my side, pulling up my shirt to look at the open wound.

“Here now, why don’t we get that fixed up, and then you and I can have a drink and you can tell me all about why you’re in Thailand killing Nazi’s. Sound alright to you?” She helped me stand up, looking unconcerned about how my blood was getting on her dress. “Now where is that boy I saw with you earlier?”

I nearly died that week, and Abigail nursed me back to health. I don’t know why she did that, but I will always be thankful for her. She helped me immigrate to the United States the next year, and came along with me when I found Friedrich Neumann living in Morocco. But that is a different story for a different time.

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