In a tattered and torn armchair, sat a man – Casmir. His face was carved out of wrinkles; his white hair was a soft cloud; his eyes held a life-time of stories. Casmir’s hands rested against his leg, gently stroking a small and intricate object – a pocket watch. The clock face was shattered and cracks had intertwined; a spider web of glass. Yet, despite its broken form, the pocket watch was still, undeniably beautiful. It was always handled with the utmost care, however Casmir’s trembling hands fumbled and the pocket watch hurtled towards the floor. Fortunately, the carpet softened the impact and the pocket watch was unscathed. Leaning down to collect the item, Casmir’s coat sleeve rode up his forearm and revealed a nonsensical series of numbers embedded in the tissue of his skin – a tattoo.
In that moment, every detail of his memories intensified like a cacophony of sound in an amplifier. They screamed at him, demanding to be recalled. It was as if he had abandoned his withering and weathered body and was transported to another, with an utterly different life. A life in the horrendous Auschwitz Concentration Camp, 1942.
The Nazi guards towered, menacing and ferocious, over the inmates of Auschwitz, who did not dare gaze into their eyes. The scuffling of ink over parchment was the single sound echoing in the space as it was a Sunday, the only day it was permissible for prisoners to communicate with their families. Casmir glanced around helplessly, as Polish was his mother tongue and letters could only be penned in German. Finally summoning the confidence to express his wishes, he gently tapped another man’s shoulder. The man finished writing his letter and peeked up at Casmir. His eyes were soft, holding evident kind-heartedness, yet his face was gaunt and sunken. His collarbones and ribs protruded out of his body and his limbs appeared frail and fragile. ‘Excuse me, would you mind writing my letter?’ Casmir questioned quietly. The man shook his hand feebly. His fingers were brittle twigs that threatened to snap at any moment. He introduced himself as: ‘Tadeusz Lenik – and of course I’ll write your letter.’ Casmir had spent the past week constructing the letter in his mind and recited from memory the words he wished to be transcribed onto the parchment. He detailed in the letter how he desperately hoped that his family was safe and well, how he thought of them every waking hour, and how his desire to see their faces and hear their voices once again pained him more than anything that could ever happen to him in Auschwitz. By the end of the letter, Casmir’s misery had consumed him. Sorrow and grief gushed out of his eyes and tumbled to his lap. His whimpers were that of a wounded dog, yet his quivering hands grasped Tadeusz’s and pushed an object into them. It was a tiny chunk of mouldy bread, which still somehow seemed appealing. The man looked down at the food in his hand and back up at Casmir. His eyebrows knitted together and he refused to take the bread, despite his burning hunger, festering in the pit of his stomach. He smiled and said, ‘I need no payment for a simple good deed. It’s only what’s right.’ The repulsive sound of the Nazi guards’ commands boomed throughout the space and the room filled with grunts of frustration and scribbling to hurriedly finish letters. The inmates unwillingly rose from the table and filed out of the area to attend a mandatory roll call. Casmir stood silently, wiping his reddened and swollen eyes on his striped uniform. Behind him, Tadeusz hoisted himself up slowly and shakily, like an infant learning to walk. It seemed impossible for such fragile limbs to hold him up. Casmir waited as a never-ending series of names were roared at the detainees. His legs screamed at him to release them from their agony and sit down, but Casmir did not wish to be beaten maliciously by the guards. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Tadeusz swaying like a frail tree in a howling wind. Casmir reached out to steady him and felt that his skin was a bitter frost on a winter morning. He glimpsed over and was mortified to discover his skin was also of a pale, pallid and pasty appearance, like all the natural colour had been washed out. His breathing was ragged and shallow. Tadeusz’s legs buckled and he collapsed. His body was contorted, a twisted, bony heap. A scornful sneer was pasted wickedly onto the despicable face of an approaching guard. He roughly seized Tadeusz’s arm and dragged his limp, lifeless remains away. Casmir stared at the man who had been so compassionate; the man whom had asked for nothing in return; the man who acted out of the goodness of his heart, which soon after, ceased to beat. He bowed his head resignedly, and in doing so, spotted a glimmering item on the ground. He scanned his surroundings quickly, before darting down to reach the object. In his hand was a beautiful pocket watch. Despite its splintered form and the tiny sharp shards of glass clinging to the clock hands, Casmir traced the face of the precious object and flipped it over to discover the initials of its owner engraved on the back – T. L; Tadeusz Lenik. His fingers smoothly caressed the initials of the man who helped a stranger. Thoughts of Tadeusz circulated around Casmir’s mind and it dawned on him – he had to survive Auschwitz to honour Tadeusz’s legacy. He held his chin up high, a twinkle of determination in his eye.
Casmir’s creased and crinkled face formed a smile as he remembered Tadeusz, whose generosity remained prominent in his mind regardless of the years that had passed. The pocket watch held the memories of the respect and kindness its owner displayed. Day by day, it motivated Casmir to endure the suffering at Auschwitz – withstand the taunting, trauma and torture. The pocket watch inspired Casmir to persevere and uphold Tadeusz’s legacy. After all, it was only what was right.