I’ve been on vacation for a few days now, but I’ve spent most of it in a motel. I arrived at this small, but quaint motel Sunday night. It’s in Downey, CA, which is only 13 miles away from LA.
That night I didn’t do anything, I quickly unpacked and fell asleep. On Monday, I took a bus out to LA, did some sightseeing, shopping, and spent the rest of the day surfing at Zuma beach. I got back to the hotel around midnight. I wasn’t really tired, so I decided to inspect my room. A flat screen was on top of a small table with a single drawer. I opened the drawer and saw three DVDs. They were all blank except for a handwritten “1,” “2,” “3” drawn on each disc.
I was curious as hell. I grabbed the disc labeled “1” and popped it into the DVD player. The screen was black for a few seconds until the video began. A very old man sat in a recliner smoking a cigar. It took me a minute to realize that it was the hotel room. Off screen, a man’s voice spoke up.
“Okay, so we have three hours, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.”
The old man smiled and said, “No problem.” His voice was very hoarse.
“So you were 18 when you joined the service?”
The old man rubbed his tired looking eyes and fixed the collar on his sweater.
“Yes. I remember the date that I shipped out. January 12th, 1942. I had left college the December before, and now…I was on my way to Britain to fight a war I didn’t really understand.”
“When was the first time you first saw combat?”
I opened the cooler next to my bed and grabbed a coke as the old man answered.
“I believe that was in mid-February. My battalion had gone to Vanves to give French troops support. We were hiding out in this little bakery…the owners had been killed and we were using it as a mini base. Fifteen American soldiers and five French soldiers all shacked up in this place. Well, a few German troops stumbled upon us and attacked. They killed our BO, we took all but one of theirs out. Werner was the only one to escape…” The old man trailed off.
The interviewer quickly spoke up.
“How did you know the name of the soldier?”
The old man’s face changed from a look of remembrance to one of rage. I was now on the edge of the bed as he responded.
“Werner Brau was an animal. Pure goddamn evil.”
“So I assume that this wasn’t the last time you encountered Mr. Brau. Could you tell us about the next time you encountered him?”
The old man took a big puff of his cigar.
“A few weeks later, my battalion regrouped in Lyon. We got a new BO and a little break. I grew close with another guy in my battalion, Henry. He was the first black friend I ever had.”
The interviewer was about to speak up, probably to ask about “racial boundaries,” but the old man interrupted him.
“But I’m not here to talk about progressive shit. We only got about a weeks rest before a group of 20 German soldiers ambushed us in the hotel we were using as a camp. During the fight I noticed Werner bossing around a few of the soldiers, he didn’t have that type of authority before. But that wasn’t the odd part. I saw all of this as I looked in a crack only eight inches wide on the second floor of the hotel. Werner looked up, and this wasn’t by chance, his eyes met mine.” The old man began to tremble. “He probably could have sent a few bullets my way, but instead he just kept staring as he raised his hand. He did the “handgun” signal right at the crack, and pulled his index finger back.”
The old man kept trying to continue, but he threw his cigar into the ashtray sitting next to him and announced that he needed a break. That first DVD ended abruptly right then.
I lay back on the bed shocked and intrigued. I wanted to watch the second one right then and there, but I needed to rest, so I forced myself to shut everything off and fell asleep.
Yesterday morning, I woke abruptly at 5 AM in a cold sweat. I had had a dream about the fights the old man had described. I also dreamt about Werner just as the old man described him. A blonde buzz cut, a scar that led from his dimple to bottom lip, his nearly pure black eyes.
I debated on popping in the second DVD, but I had a schedule. I left the motel and took a bus to hollywood. I did tourist crap the whole entire day. The only payoff was seeing Common at a local restaurant! I scurried back to the hotel around 5 PM. As soon as I got back into my room, I turned off all the lights and popped in the second DVD. The old man was sipping a glass of ice water, the interviewer spoke.
“I’m sorry about that Gerald. Are you good to continue?”
The old man nodded. “Did you know how the Jews were being treated at the time by the Nazis?”
Gerald sat his water next to the ashtray and sat forward.
“I had heard stories about what was going on, but I didn’t really see it until the beginning of that March. My battalion was in Niort at a makeshift base with a large group of British soldiers. We were all messing around. I made another best friend there, his name was Danny. I loved that limey bastard. Danny, Henry, and I were all tight pals. But that changed at the very end of March.”
Gerald stopped for a second and looked sad.
“Eight American soldiers and six British. Henry, Danny, and I were part of that group. We were sweeping outside our base when we got ambushed. I immediately realized that these weren’t the Wehrmacht that we were used to fighting, this was the SS.”
Gerald began to slur his words as he recounted the first part of the battle, I’m not sure exactly what he said, but what I gathered was that eight of the 14 soldiers that Gerald was with were kidnapped right on the battlefield and dragged into a large “troop transport truck.” Danny was one of them. Gerald kept trying to get to the truck, but the SS soldiers held them back.
“That’s when I saw that bastard again. Werner, decked out in a fancy outfit covered in blood. He exited the truck holding a soldier by the back of his neck. It took me a second to realize that he had Danny. Werner pushed Danny to the ground and yelled up at the sky in a language I didn’t understand. It sure as hell wasn’t German. Time seemed to slow down. In one hand he had a gun pointed at Danny’s head, and in the other, he was holding two rulers taped together.”
Then, the interviewer rudely interrupted Gerald.
“Just for the people at home, Nazis believed that they could tell if someone was Jewish by the measurements of their head.”
Gerald looked furious. He ignored what the interviewer said.
“And that’s when Werner shot Danny in the back of the head.” Gerald began tearing up pretty bad.
“Then…Werner stared right at me as he reached into the truck…and dragged Henry out.”
Gerald broke down into tears. Then, all of a sudden, a voice I hadn’t heard before came from behind the camera. It was a woman’s voice.
“The rest of the troops from the camp were able to drive them off, now get that damn camera off of my father.”
That’s when the video shut off. Holy shit that was heavy. I looked at the clock and saw that it was 8:30. I had a lot of things planned for today, so I fell asleep pretty early.
At 1:15 in the morning I awoke to a strange feeling. It felt like someone was pushing on my chest. I sat up really quick and didn’t see anyone, well, until I looked in the corner. In the corner sat the recliner from the video. I could see a figure sitting in the chair.
“Graben zu tief,” was repeated five times in a low whisper.
I looked closer and saw two glowing circles completely white on the outside and nearly black on the inside. I jumped out of bed, and immediately turned around to face the recliner. The figure was gone.
I slept again until 8 AM. I was supposed to get up at 7 to head to Universal, but I needed to watch the third video.
I didn’t even eat breakfast when I popped in the third and final DVD. I was happy when I saw the video was 2 hours and 14 minutes long. To preface this, I will say, the first two hours were filled with Gerald talking about getting stationed in Egypt and Paris. He told a lot of cool stories, but they weren’t really relevant to the story I’m trying to tell.
Finally, at the start of the last 14 minutes, the interviewer asked, “I’m sorry to bring this up again, but did you ever hear about Werner Brau or hear from him again?”
Gerald sat forward in the chair and grabbed for his back pocket.
“Yes, actually, 10 years ago.” Gerald pulled out a newspaper. He fixed his glasses and opened the newspaper.
“This is in German, so I’ll read it to you: April 13th, 1996. Suspected serial killer spotted in Auschwitz museum. A woman visiting the former concentration camp reported to the police that she spotted someone that looked like the main suspect in the killing of four interracial couples in Berlin. This nameless man is on the run, so if you see someone who matches this depiction, call the police immediately.”
Gerald had a very solemn look on his face as he turned the paper towards the camera. The drawing of the suspect was in the middle of the page.
My jaw literally dropped open when I saw it, the sketch was of a perfect match for Gerald’s description of Werner Brau, from 1942…
The video, at this point, turned to static for 10 minutes before shutting off on its own.
For some reason, I felt like it was time to end the trip. I checked out of the motel and got on a plane back to New York at 12:15. I just got back home about 25 minutes ago. Gerald, if you’re out there, please know that I believe you.