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Date Posted: 13:25:43 12/14/09 Mon
Subject: Some answers>>>>>
In reply to:
's message, "Hey Fel! Some comments >>>" on 17:18:48 12/10/09 Thu
>You remember the drill right? These are my own
>thoughts and opinions and you are welcome to use what
>you find useful and to toss the rest.
>Excerpt from Look Upon The Ash
>by Shauna Tevels
>Posted for critiquing purposes only and does not
>Heinrich opened the wide french doors opening out onto
>the balcony. The stench of the camp assaulted his nose
>So does he cover his nose with anything, make a
>face, gag or anything else to show how bad the stench
Good point!! He probably should do something like that, for the stench was really bad, according to him anyways.
>“Dear God, Wilhelm! What’s that awful smell?”
>“You’ll get used to it after a while. Living in such
>close proximity with them, the stench permeates
>everything.” Wilhelm put his arm around Heinrich’s
>shoulder and turned him back into the room. He grabbed
>the handle of the door and pulled it shut behind
>Who is them? Perhaps I would know if this is not
>the beginning of the chapter, and perhaps you want me
>“How can you live so close to them? Doesn’t it bother
>you to have rats and vermin living so near to good,
>Uh oh. I do believe I got it. And given your
>title, which is excellent, kinda prophetic and
>foreboding all at once, now that I understand btw, I
>immediately changed the image in my mind to one where
>they are wearing uniforms, and the walls are white
>washed with dirt smudges and I have the distinct
>impression of things running under the hand of Hitler.
> Heck, I heard the sound of their boots as they
>marched across the floor. My stomach actually churned
>So…where does that leave me as a reader. Quite
>unsettled to be honest. And these kind of stories,
>war stories I guess, do not generally appeal to me.
>But I have to admit in this case, I’ve never read one
>composed as fiction taking on the POV of a soldier on
>the ultimately losing side.
War stories don't normally appeal to me either, I go for historical fiction, yes, but not war stories in general.
>From a writers perspective, this is a time period
>where the atrocities committed are abhorrent and is of
>a subject matter that is quite…delicate to put it the
>only way I can think of. But just because something
>is unpleasant, that doesn’t mean that it should be
>ignored. The fact it’s coming from the POV of a
>soldier…whom I hope is not the typical Nazi
>stereotype…I have to applaud your effort in writing
>something that has all the potential to be very
>draining. Sentiments regarding this are still strong
>and not forgotten. This has all the potential to be
>an emotional read that will stay with the reader for a
>long time. A worthy endeavour to be sure because
>life isn’t all fluff and happy ever afters.
Writing this story has been very emotionally draining for certain scenes. The story came to me while my parents and I were on summer vacation in August. We were sitting around our campfire and Heinrich just started talking to me. And you are quite right now that I think about it, I have never read a WWII story where a Nazi soldier was the main character either. So it should be quite interesting if this book ever gets to a mainstream audience.
>Wilhelm smiled. “Of course it bothers me, little
>brother. I must make sure that all of these men and
>women are working for the good of our country. If it
>wasn’t for that I’m sure that I would have given the
>order to have them all shot down the moment that they
>step off the trains.”
>working for the good of our country? Kinda
>expresses a certain sentiment
>Heinrich grinned. He was exceptionally proud of his
>older brother the Kommandant. For years, Wilhelm was
>more of a father to Heinrich than their own father who
>spent his time managing his clothing factory and
>sleeping with all of the girls who worked at the shop.
>It was Wilhelm who taught Heinrich how to shoot a gun
>at age eleven, and it was Wilhelm who explained to him
>why the Jewish people were a growing problem. When
>Heinrich was finally old enough to join the army, when
>he turned seventeen, Wilhelm made the recommendation
>for the boy to be an SS officer. Now that Heinrich was
>nineteen, he had been transferred from service in
>Russia to his brother’s camp in Poland.
>So from this, I get that Heinrich held his brother
>in almost awe. Kinda the he can do no wrong, what he
>thinks must be right way. And now, I’m not trying to
>influence your story in any way, but my hope as a
>reader is that he’ll get over that and understand
>Wilhelm is wrong. Not a bad hook that. And even
>there it has emotion behind it, because Wilhelm is his
>brother and that means I’ll be sad about how the war
>tore the family apart.
You got it ma'am. You figured it right out. Yes Heinrich does indeed figure out that Wilhelm has been wrong about many things. But that comes a little later in the story.
>Heinrich had not seen his brother for three years.
>Phone calls and letters were all that he was able to
>do. Now that Heinrich got a good look at him under the
>lights from the numerous lamps around the room, he saw
>that Wilhelm had changed. The once jovial, friendly
>face, now showed hard lines of distrust and anger.
>Eyes that were once open and clear blue were now cold
>steel blue-grey. No laugh lines showed around his
>mouth or crinkled the skin around his eyes. His blond
>hair was thinning on the top which necessitated
>combing his hair back over his skull instead of to the
>side like Heinrich had always remembered it.
>An excellent paragraph. Not only does it
>demonstrate how Wilhelm’s duties as Kommandant are
>changing him it suggests, if I’m correct in my hope I
>mentioned, that do carry out those duties is draining
>him of his self. Responsibility is not wearing on him
>Wilhelm directed Heinrich into an arm chair, while he
>poured them both a liberal glass of wine. Wilhelm gave
>Heinrich his drink as he moved to sit on the arm of
>the chair opposite him. They sipped their wine
>companionably for a minute, before Wilhelm blew out
>his breath in a large gust, and looked Heinrich
>straight in the eyes.
>“Look, Heinrich....God! I don’t know how to say this
>without sounding like a total fool!” Wilhelm ran his
>left hand through his hair and tried again. “Heinrich,
>this place isn’t like the front lines. The people here
>aren’t trying to kill you at every step. Here we just
>watch them to make sure they are doing their jobs and
>that things run smoothly.”
>So if no one is trying to kill him, why the
>distrust and anger? I’m thinking Wilhelm doesn’t like
>what he does either. Or I’m hoping.
You know I don't really know what Wilhelm feels about his job. He doesn't talk to me too much, not about feelings anyways.
>“You can’t honestly think, Will, that I don’t know
>what the difference is? It is what they had me doing
>up there.” Heinrich stared at his brother for a long
>minute, waiting until their eyes met again. “You don’t
>know what it is like there. You can’t know what a
>relief it is to be away from all of that.”
>“Yes. Well. Don’t worry about it anymore, Heinrich.
>You are safe here and I won’t let you be transferred
>over to another front unit.” Wilhelm clapped a hand
>down on Heinrich’s shoulder and gave him a gentle
>squeeze. “ I am sure that Elsa will be happy to see
>you here. Ever since I got the telegram that you were
>coming here I have scarcely stopped telling her about
>“Are the children here, too?” Heinrich asked, looking
>forward to seeing his nephew and new niece, not to
>mention his sister-in-law.
>“Josef is with Mama and Papa and Kate is here with us
>since she still needs her mother.”
>“Of course. Can I see them now?”
>“I think Elsa took Kate outside for a walk just before
>you came. But you can see them when they come back in,
>Heinrich smiled and took a long drink of his wine. The
>chair he was sitting in felt remarkably good to him,
>after the long train, truck and car rides he had just
>gone through. He had assumed that he would have been
>given leave to visit his parents before having to
>report for duty with his brother. Instead he was told
>to report directly for duty. Perhaps he would be
>allowed to see their parents if they came for a visit
>with young Josef.
>“You look like you’re about to fall asleep right there
>in that chair.”
>“I feel like I could do just that.” Heinrich said,
>setting his glass down on the little side table next
>to his chair, and stretching his arms up over his
>head, let out a loud yawn as his shoulder joints gave
>a loud pop.
>Wilhelm laughed and set his own glass down next to
>Heinrich’s. “Come. Let me show you where you will be
>staying.” He lead Heinrich down the hall to where
>their jackets and Heinrich’s gear had been left by the
>door in the foyer. As Heinrich was gathering up his
>belongings, Wilhelm checked his pistol and put it into
>its holster before putting on his coat and hat. “You
>never know when you might need it, little brother.”
>lead s/b led
>And his checking his pistol tells me things are not as
>simple as he suggested.
>Heinrich nodded and followed out the door.
>The guards saluted and swung open the gate in the
>chain-link fence. The fence was topped with four
>layers of barbed wire. Seventeen watchtowers were
>spaced at intervals all around the camp. The sun was
>setting below the tops of the trees in the distance.
>Spotlights illuminated the muddy ground as they
>trudged through the southern end of the camp. As they
>walked, Wilhelm pointed out the tall smoke stack where
>flame, ash, and smoke were clearly visible in the
>failing light. Ash fell like snow all around them as
>they walked through.
>Very vivid descriptions! Well done. I cringe when
>I think what that ash is though…
I had an image from Stephen Spielberg's Schindler's List in my mind when I wrote this scene.
>“That is where you will be Heinrich. In charge of the
>guards at the crematorium. Some of them can be lazy
>shits if you don’t watch them like a hawk.”
>Huh? From the front lines to a position that held
>authority? At nineteen and only two years experience?
>Wilhelm strikes me as someone who doesn’t respect
>anyone very much.
Heinrich started out as a Lieutenant and then he was promoted to a captain's rank. This is all based on the U.S. system, so I'm not quite sure what it would be in different areas. My dad says that field promotions like this would be quite normal during war time. He was never in a war, but his father, my grandfather, was a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps.
So anyways, yes it was possible for Heinrich to get to a position of authority so young. And you are quite right about Wilhelm.
>They arrived at a low stone building with light
>glowing through some of the windows. Smoke furled from
>the chimney stack at the far right end of the house.
>Wilhelm knocked twice at the plain wooden door. The
>door opened to reveal the surprised faces of three men
>sitting at a table in the center of the room, playing
>cards. The man who opened the door held it open
>further and snapped a salute to his commander.
>Just surprise? I have these notions that fear even
>amongst the guards would be reasonable emotion, esp.
>with an officer of authority showing up at the door
>out of the blue. I guess the distrust aspect.
>“Heil Hitler! Herr Kommandant, we weren’t expecting
>you this evening. Please.” He gestured for Heinrich
>and Wilhelm to enter.
>“Hans. Gunter. Hermann. Friedrich. Gentlemen, I would
>like to introduce you to Hauptsturmfuhrer Heinrich von
>Keiter. He just arrived today from the Finland-Russian
>front.” Wilhelm stopped speaking briefly, to glance at
>the senior among them, Gunter. Wilhelm’s look made it
>clear. No one was to ask too many questions about the
>newcomer or to glory in the realization that the
>Kommandant’s brother was their newest bunkmate.
>“Heinrich, you’ll be on the first shift in the
>morning. I’ll show you where you’ll be stationed then.
>Gentlemen, have a pleasant evening.”
>For me, this enhances the fear I’d think they feel,
>because one look is enough to quell any questions
>and/or prevent mentioning Heinrich is the Kommandant’s
>With that the Kommandant gave a little bow to the men
>and left their company, shutting the door quietly
>“You can have the room in the back. No one’s used that
>room, that I know of. It’s probably colder than hell
>back there, but coming from where you did, it will
>feel pretty good!” Gunter said in a gruff, raspy
>voice. His blonde hair was thin, cut short against his
>scalp. Heavy bristle graced his neck, chin and cheeks.
>The bristle had large streaks of grey amongst the
>blonde. “We wear the dark grey uniforms here. You have
>a pair, yes?”
>“Yes, I’ve got mine. Thank you. I’ve had a long day
>traveling here. I’ll see you all tomorrow. Good
>night.” Heinrich turned and carried his belongings
>down the corridor on his right. He passed two open
>doors leading to rooms used by the others. The last
>door was closed. Tentatively he tried the handle. The
>door opened with a loud creak. A blast of cold air
>assaulted him immediately.
>The room, which was barely large enough to hold a bed
>and chest of drawers, had both windows opened wide.
>Heinrich hurriedly closed them both. He lit a match
>from the pack he carried in his pocket, and lit the
>small lamp on top of the chest. A cast-iron wood stove
>stood in the corner between the two windows. Looking
>at the stove, Heinrich could tell that it had not been
>used for quite some time. No soot stains covered the
>walls, nor did any come off on his hand when he
>brushed it along the grate inside. The wood basket
>next to the stove was empty. With a sigh he picked up
>the basket and went out into the hallway. He stood
>still for a moment to let his eyes readjust to the
>brighter light. As he got closer to the large central
>room where the other four men were, he could start to
>hear what they were talking about.
>Why would the windows be open in a room that is
>obviously not used?
Heinrich told me the window was open, but really, it doesn't make any sense whatsoever does it? I'll change that.
>“Don’t know why we need another one.”
>“Kommandant’s brother. Doesn’t look a thing like him.
>Same color hair. Same complexion. Hell, most of us
>have blond hair. I don’t know about those two, but I
>burn something fierce when I am outside.”
>“You’d burn in the crematorium, that’s for sure! Even
>from the other side of the room, with the doors
>“Do you need something, Heinrich?” All of the other
>conversations stopped immediately. They did not know
>how much he overheard or what his reaction might be.
>“Just need some firewood. You were right Gunter. You
>don’t mind if I call you that, right? It is just about
>as cold back there as I have been for the past year.”
>“Help yourself to the wood. We try to keep a large
>stack in here. Just break down one of the chunks into
>kindling, and you should get a good fire going.”
>Gunter paused for a moment and looked at the others.
>“We’re all of the same rank here Heinrich, so we’re
>informal when we are off duty. On duty is another
>matter. It wouldn’t be proper to show such behavior
>Hmmmmm Do they know Heinrich is in charge of the
>guards at the crematorium? What rank are the others?
>Or Heinrich for that matter?
The others are also captains, like Heinrich. They won't necessarily know where he is posted, but after a few days they do figure it out through process of elimination where he must be.
>Heinrich nodded and moved off to the wood pile by the
>fireplace. He grabbed several large chunks of wood as
>well as some smaller ones before heading back to his
>room. Once there, it took him several tries to get a
>fire started in the grate. When it finally lit and he
>carefully fed the flame with fresh wood, the room
>warmed up quickly. He opened one of the windows a
>fraction from the top to let the smoke out.
>As his head hit the pillow a few minutes later, he
>could not believe how comfortable the lumpy mattress
>and thin cotton sheets felt to his body.
>The day was cold, wet and grey. Rather fitting,
>Heinrich thought, considering the uniform he was
>wearing and the overall appearance of the camp during
>the daylight hours. There was no grass on the ground,
>only puddles of mud. Out of the leaden sky came big
>powdery flakes of snow. The snow clung wetly to the
>wool on his coat and hat.
>Here’s one of those things that give me hope.
>Considering the uniform he was wearing. Is this a
>subtle hint that all is not as acceptable to him as
>he’d like to believe?
>And I suggest a way to indicate this paragraph is a
>new day so as to help with flow
Yes indeed. He is not comfortable at all in his new setting, but he doesn't really want to admit that yet. In my Word Perfect document, I have a page break to show the beginning of a new day. I probably should have put more spaces between the paragraph here so that it would be readily apparent to you too.
>“Did you sleep well, Heinrich?”
>“Yes, I did. That mattress has to be the best thing
>I’ve felt in years.” Wilhelm laughed and clapped
>“Let’s get our day started then, hm?” Wilhelm gestured
>for Heinrich to follow him through the grounds. They
>walked together at a brisk pace. Heinrich saw a train
>pulling into the stop right outside of the main gate
>of the camp. Hundreds of people were herded out of the
>cars carrying their few belongings with them. Men and
>women were separated into two different groups. Men in
>long white coats, doctors Heinrich guessed, sorted the
>group further. Both groups went into the building that
>Wilhelm was leading him towards.
>Stomach churned again. What those people must have
>I’m also sensing something amiss here. Doctors
>Heinrich guessed. Does he not know what happens at
>the camp? Or does he believe the people on the
>trains were transported there to work for the good of
>a country whose people thought them rats and vermin?
Heinrich is very naive. He did not know exactly what went on in the camp, he assumed it was a work camp like the other camps and not a death camp.
>They reached a door in the side of the building. The
>door was unmarked and rather plain in appearance.
>Wilhelm stopped right before the door, and motioned to
>Heinrich to open it. Heinrich grasped the handle on
>the door and pushed. The door was surprisingly light,
>and it made a loud thunking sound as it hit the brick
>wall on the other side.
>Wilhelm guided Heinrich down a short corridor.
>Heinrich thought that they were at the very base of
>the chimney stack, or at least very close to it. They
>came to another door at the end of the corridor. This
>one appeared to be made of heavy iron. Heinrich
>thought he could feel intense heat radiating out from
>“Well Heinrich. This is where you will be. In there.
>The heat is too much for me, otherwise I would take
>you in myself, but you’ll understand when you get in
>there. You will be watching the Jewish scum. They load
>the bodies into the crematorium, where they burn until
>they become ashes. The bodies are all naked, but make
>sure they don’t try to take anything that anyone else
>missed on inspection.” Wilhelm mopped his brow with
>his handkerchief, and gave Heinrich a quick smile.
>“You’ll do fine. Right now we don’t have anyone
>watching them in there. You’ll quickly see how
>everything is done. Good luck.”
>So the ‘scum’ loads their own dead into the
>crematorium? Bodies, those are the dead, and the
>‘scum’ try to take things in with them or they try to
>hide things while still alive and those things are not
>found until they are dead and inspected and perhaps
>not until the ‘scum’ deal with the bodies themselves
>allowing them to possess something they shouldn’t?
>Needs to be more clear. Or I do…
Yes, Jewish prisoners were promised extra food and better conditions if they would take the job of loading the bodies into the kilns. After about a month or so, they would be sent into the gas chambers too. The Nazi's didn't want anyone around who had seen what was being done. I'll clean up that paragraph a bit to not make it so confusing.
>Wilhelm shook Heinrich’s hand, and turned to leave.
>Heinrich took a deep breath, squared his shoulders,
>and faced the imposing door in front of him.
>Okay, as a beginning of a story, I think you’ve
>started laying down the foundation for what is to
>come. The emotional tie is there for me, and I’m
>curious what you intend to do with this. But I also
>don’t hold any illusions that this is going to be
>anything like an easy read and will need to feel
>something for Heinrich in order to have that desire to
>continue. If you want to start here, at a
>concentration camp with your MC being a soldier in
>charge of the guards at the crematorium, I think
>you’re going to have to give an indication that he’s
>not all as fine and dandy with it as he let’s on right
>from the get-go. Refering to people as rats and
>vermin does not leave me with a favourable impression.
> Witnessing him guessing that men in white coats were
>doctors makes me see him as innocent of what the
>camp’s purpose is. Acknowledging that his brothers
>actions the last three years have left him changed
>also is. Does he question what horrors Wilhelm has
>seen, done, or been responsible for that sit heavy on
>his shoulders? Is Heinrich aware of any? Can he
>imagine himself doing them as well? When it’s his
>turn, could he separate the men from the women, the
>husbands from the wives, the children from their
>parents? As a reader, I cannot see myself feeling
>empathy towards a character who believes/enforces the
>teachings of Hitler. Our presumptions do have the
>potential to get in the way, so the sooner they are
>addressed the better. IMHO
>Now you mentioned this bit is in the first chapter,
>and so it is possible that this isn’t the first scene
>in your book, but it’s awful darn close. Starting
>here makes it harder for you to grab the compassion of
>the readers right off the top, true, but I also like
>the fact that you dropped me right into the business
>at hand. Let’s face it, we’ve all seen the images and
>heard some stories about what happened. We know where
>it’s going. I could be wrong, but I think your
>purpose is to show us what it was like for the other
>side, and if so, I think you need to address the issue
>and make the reader understand how those that grew up
>with Hitler’s teachings had a reason to believe them,
>and just as possible, no reason to not believe them.
>And for those who dared question? Fear, the threat of
>death to their families if they didn’t go along, etc
>would be enough of a sway for those that were not
>zealots - those too, were realities among the times.
>If you’re going to show if from the other side, you
>need to show it as it was. However unpleasant it is.
>For instance, you mentioned the stench. But I don’t
>recall any sounds. Was it a hushed silence like
>something was waiting to happen or the silence born of
>But even if I’m wrong, and it’s quite possible…the
>subject matter is a tough one. And it’s going to be
>just as tough to get me to grow fond of Heinrich. At
>least at the beginning I do not know enough about him
>to sway me either way. And seriously, if I was to
>pick up this kind of book in the first place, I’d have
>my own expectations before I turned the first page.
>That expectation isn't that wars happen because one
>side believes they are wrong. There is always a
>different perception. Human nature, now that is what
>makes a man what he is. Heinrich’s potential is what
>you give him and your reader here. Give me hope, and
>I’ll keep reading to see if he triumphs. Show me his
>carrying out his duties without qualm and/or with
>enthusiasm of a true believer in the ways of the
>regime, and it doesn’t matter what I’ve seen before.
>You’ll have lost me. And that can happen at any place
>in the book, not just at the beginning.
>If I’ve made any sense at all, and this does indeed
>take place after we see him on his way to his next
>posting, I think you need to be open with his thoughts
>as he traveled to the camp, the sights he saw and his
>reaction to them, the smells and how it affected him,
>etc. The front lines would be different than the
>rural communities he passed by. He would have been
>exposed to the happenings around the county, perhaps
>for the first time. Perhaps something could happen
>that makes him question the whys of it. For example,
>say he saw a gentle farmer shot where he stood, in
>front of wife and children, for no more reason than
>the last group of soldiers took the last of their
>food. Would he see the inhumanity behind it when the
>soldiers laughed at the wife crying over his body?
>Would they allow her to grieve or would they have rape
>on their minds? As nasty as it is to say/contemplate,
>something gruesome needs to lead off your beginning
>that shows Heinrich’s character. Would he attempt to
>stop the inevitable death or rape? Or turn a blind
>eye and deny what’s before him. When he gets to the
>camp does he question what kind of place he’s in that
>jokes about the heat of the crematorium burning his
>skin as casually as someone might mention getting
>sunburned? Or does he just think the lumpy mattress
>feels good and goes to sleep with no trepidation about
>what the next day will bring? As tired as he was,
>would any of the things he witnessed give him
>nightmares? Or did he really sleep well? For myself,
>I’d like to see something that shows what he’s made
>of, the redeeming quality he possesses, so that by the
>time he gets to the camp and stands by that imposing
>door at the end of this scene, he questions what’s
>he’s doing there and I’ll be willing to walk through
>it with him. So, yeah, I believe we need to be in his
>head if we are to want to take this journey with him.
>And for the record, I’m going with Heinrich being a
>spy, just to add a bit of intrigue. *G*
>Other than that, this was well written. And I can’t
>say how great it is to see your writing again.
Thank you so very much Esther!! Your comments have been very helpfull in getting me to see where I needed to fix up a few things. I'm currently playing around with a new opening that will show Heinrich on his way to the camp from the front lines. I will also put more of Heinrich's misgivings about his new post in the camp.
Thanks again for all of your help!!
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