Fritz had been a boy when the nightmare began seven years ago; he’d grown to manhood in the Nazi camps, learning, maturing, resisting the pressure to give up hope. He had foreseen this day and prepared for it. Beneath their camp uniforms he and his papa wore civilian clothing, which Fritz had obtained through his friends in the Auschwitz resistance.
The train had paused at Vienna, the city that had once been their home, then turned west, and now they were only fifteen kilometres from their destination. They were back in their homeland, and once they broke free they could pass for local workmen. It was now or never.
Fritz had been delaying the moment, worried about his father. Gustav was fifty-three years old and exhausted – it was a miracle he had survived this far. Now that it came to it, he didn’t have the strength to attempt the escape. The strength wasn’t in him any more. Yet he couldn’t deny his son the chance to live. It would be a wrenching pain to part after so many years of helping one another to survive, but he urged Fritz to go alone. Fritz begged him to come, but it was no good: ‘God protect you,’ his father said. ‘I can’t go, I’m too weak.’
Screwing up his courage and hoping for the best, Fritz launched himself into the night and the rushing, freezing air.
If Fritz didn’t make the attempt soon, it would be too late. He stood up and changed out of the hated uniform; then he embraced his papa, kissed him, and with his help climbed the slippery sidewall of the wagon
The full blast of the wind at minus thirty degrees hit him hard. He peered anxiously towards the brake houses on the adjacent wagons, occupied by armed SS guards. The moon was bright – two days from the full, rising high and laying a ghostly glow across the snowy landscape, against which any moving shape would be starkly visible. The train was thundering along at its maximum speed. Screwing up his courage and hoping for the best, Fritz launched himself into the night and the rushing, freezing air.