Photo Credit: Harvey Rachlin
Harvey Rachlin

My life as a boy was carefree and innocent until the Nazis stormed into town. They never actually set foot in the tranquil Philadelphia suburb where I lived but made their appearance in a heart-wrenching documentary I saw at Hebrew school.

The images of Jews who looked like living skeletons with lifeless gazes and pretzel-twisted bones shook me terribly. The stick-thin Jewish carcasses piled high on top of each other like chicken bones in makeshift graves made me nauseous. I cried silently in the dark beside my classmates before the credits rolled. I cried silently in the dark and felt my life would never be the same again. I cried and cried, and with my blood heating up like a smoldering furnace and my heart pounding heavily, I vowed revenge.


As a boy there wasn’t much I could do, so I had to take out my frustration in the only way I knew how: revenge fantasies. When I went to bed at night I imagined how I would show those subhuman butchers the price to be paid for evil. There were two favorites I frequently used to lull myself to sleep.

In my first revenge fantasy I rode into a concentration camp in the back of a 1920s-style car. Dressed as an old Jewish man, I was protected by a force field around me. I feebly got out of the car, and, bent over and holding myself up with a cane, hobbled over a few steps before I was confronted by a gaggle of menacing guards.

“Can you help a sick old Jewish man?” I asked in a barely audible whisper.

The guards laughed and mumbled something in incomprehensible German and then one smacked me with his rifle butt. I fell to the ground and lay there for a few moments before slowly rising to my feet.

“Please don’t hurt a sick old Jewish man,” I pleaded.

The guard thrashed me over and over again. Amazed that I was able to survive this vicious assault, some of the other SS guards opened fire on me and I fell, apparently dead, to the ground. Though bullets rained down on me, they could not kill me, and I got up again and in a loud voice summoned all the guards in the camp. Once they were all facing me, I made an announcement:

“If you have compassion for Jews and don’t want to kill them, step over here and I will save your lives.” I pointed to the side. “If you don’t and are willing to pay the consequences by dying, step over there.”

No one went over to the life-saving area.

“Is there even one among you who has a fiber of human decency?” I asked. “This will be the last chance I give you. If you have compassion for Jews and don’t want to harm them I urge you in the strongest possible terms to stand up for what is right and step to the side. Last chance.”

No one moved, so I used my special powers to sweep them all into the back of a truck that drove off and emptied them into a concrete room in which they were all squeezed tightly together. A seemingly endless of amount of time went by as the guards wondered what kind of fate I had in store for them. And then, ever so slowly, the walls of the room began to compress, relentlessly closing in on the trapped Nazis.

In my second revenge fantasy, it was April 1945. I was part of a special squad that raided Hitler’s bunker. Just as Hitler was about to pull the trigger on a gun to his head, I whipped it out of his hand and my squad-mates tackled him. To turn him over to the authorities for a trial and swift execution would be almost as criminal as the unspeakable atrocities he’d perpetrated. We faked his death and hid him in a secret building.

Hitler was now ours, and the world was none the wiser. We would take our revenge by testing how much pain we could inflict on him without actually killing him. There were doctors at our side to make sure he wouldn’t die prematurely. We would take him to the brink with unbearable torture, only to revive him, give him just enough nourishment to sustain him, and then begin a new, even more painful round of torture.

At night we would put him to sleep in a coffin filled to the brim with snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and rodents in pitch-black darkness with just a small hole to breathe, always making sure he wouldn’t get off easily by dying.

I’ve seen television footage and read newspaper stories of people who’ve had friends or family members murdered and they say they’ve come to forgive their loved ones’ killers.

I like to think of myself as a compassionate and gentle person. But for what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Holocaust, for the six million – six million! – innocent Jews they slaughtered, including innumerable babies and children, I cannot forgive.

As a teenager I wanted revenge. Now, as an adult, I want justice.

Before the last remaining Nazis die off peacefully.


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Harvey Rachlin, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series “History’s Lost and Found.” He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.