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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Valley (08/10/06)

TITLE: "But, we did not know..."
By Caitlynn Lowe


The gray skies looked downward as thunder and lightening raged inside William’s heart. He angrily trudged on through the mud, not understanding why -- or how -- something like this had ever been allowed to happen. More importantly, he wanted to know how a group of people who lived right in the center of it all could be blind to it. He had come there, witnessing the horror of it with his own eyes and ears and nose. How could these people, who were within walking distance to the tragic site, dare to claim ignorance?

But then, they wouldn’t be ignorant of it anymore. He and his newfound brothers would make sure of that.

He recognized the scene before he even looked up. The cruel, cold, iron gates that he and his brothers had stormed through just days before had haunted him in his dreams ever since. He often wondered just how many people they had mocked and imprisoned before they arrived. Yet the people whom the brothers now led seemed oblivious to their grim and ominous significance. Together, they all passed through, into the Valley of Despair that so many before them had longed to escape from.

“I don’t understand it, Lord,” William prayed, “how could they not see what we, even across oceans, knew? How could they allow this pit of oppression and death come to be? And in their own backyards?! Have mercy on these wretches, God, for wretches they are, and wretches they will feel like once they are forced to confront the truth. Even more so, have mercy on the souls that were tortured and died here from their lack of concern”

At those words, the young man stopped. They had arrived at their destination. It was here that this Valley of Despair manifested itself into a physical state. Looking down into the ravine, his stomach began to turn and tears of fierce rage welled in his eyes. He made the sign of the cross, and gave a knowing glance to his brothers -- the other soldiers that had come with him -- before turning to face the crowd of Germans from the neighboring village they had brought here. The young G.I. then began to address them.

“What you are all about to witness is a small part of the greatest travesty known to mankind: the inexcusable slaughter of a race of people. Behold, the crime of your apathy; proof of the Holocaust.”

William stepped aside so that the villagers would be forced to acknowledge the destruction that had taken place here in the now liberated, but up until only recently, operating concentration camp. Screams of dismay ran throughout the crowd as they took in the sight and stench of the hundreds of dead bodies that had been ruthlessly disposed of in the pit that lay before them. The women dropped to their knees in utter agony, and the men pulled at their hair and clothing in guilt and shame.

One man turned to William, and in broken English managed to say, “But...we did not know. We did not realize it was as bad as all this.”

William’s hard eyes burned a hole straight through the other man’s, and he replied to him, “Sir, ignorance is no excuse. If you were blind to a catastrophe of this size, it is only because you chose to be. Though you may not have murdered these people with your own hands, your blind acceptance of the Nazi regime is just as responsible for the genocide that has taken place here.” The other man let out a tormented cry of anguish as he stumbled away, back towards the heap of decay that he now bore witness to.

William motioned to his brothers, calling them away. Together they all walked out of the camp, leaving the villagers behind them. In his mind, he reasoned that no more needed to be said to the villagers; they would remember this day for as long as they would all live, and as a result would be riddled with more guilt than he or any of the other accompanying soldiers could place on them. And, almost as though to prove that belief, he and his brothers continued to hear their moans and lamentations even after they had left out from the gate that had only just separated the sleeping Germans from the harsh reality of the Valley of Despair.

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A very thought provoking and well written piece. Well done.
Ruth Neilson08/22/06
As a history major I am in awe of the power and the mental images that you have presented the reader. I have seen the photographs of scenes very similar to this, and you hit everything on the head. Good job.
Brenda Craig08/22/06
Wow, powerful images and great writing combined to make an awesome piece of writing. Excellent!
Joanne Sher 08/22/06
WOW, WOW, WOW!!! This, in my opinion, is masters level writing! Your description is amazing, and the story is so vividly, hauntingly told! You sent many, many chills up my spine - not just from the subject, but from the vivid retelling you have done of it.
Marty Wellington 08/22/06
Powerful writing. Your descriptions were vivid and drew the reader right into the middle of the action. Very poignant piece. You captured the place and time with much maturity.
william price08/24/06
Excellent writing here Caitlynn!! You are a master storyteller with meaning and heart, no doubt. Congratulations on placing. God Bless.