It was understandable that so many of the Special Squad should have turned their faces from God. Made to escort an endless parade of the naked and defenseless into gas chambers, then burn them afterward like so many bags of garbage, most found it hard to retain either their belief in a Divine Being, or conceding that, their continued respect for Him. The word guilt wasn’t strong enough, nor betrayal, nor disgust; a new vocabulary was needed to describe the forces at work on the Sonder as the days and the bodies and the tears piled up, and still the people kept coming as if they would never stop.
But as distressing as he found this erosion of their faith, Langfus was careful never to bring religion up. Seeing as how he was spared most of the obscenities heaped on them, he didn’t feel he had the right to. He didn’t shrink, however, when they broached the subject themselves, from taking a position that argued on the side of the angels.
Not long after talking to Kaminski, and upon making his way one morning to Crematorium III, he ran into the last of Sonder Squad 57B, the night shift, returning from work to Block 13. Even in the half-light of dawn, he could see the blood on their clothes.
“Well, look here,” said one of the group of half a dozen, a short, muscular boy named Menachem not yet out of his teens. Langfus recognized him from the barracks. “If it isn’t the prophet on his way to the mountaintop. How’s the view from up there, holy man? Any windows in that attic?”
The rest snickered at the sarcasm, which drew a smile from Langfus, too. “Not the part of it I work in, Menachem. Which is just as well, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes,” said the boy, “I suppose it is. So how’d you sleep last night, rabbi? Pleasant dreams, I hope.”
“No.… no dreams, thank God.”
“That’s even better, is always better. Guess I don’t have to tell you what we were up all night doing. More women and children than usual, or so it seemed, didn’t it, boys?”
To a man they nodded, their faces somber again.
“I’m so sorry, son,” Langfus said, “but what choice did you have? God will understand.”
Menachem leaned to his right and spat. “There’s that name again,” he said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “Refresh my memory, will you, rabbi? Who the hell is this God you keep bringing up?”
Langfus responded as if to a legitimate question. “The one true God of our fathers. The God of Abraham and Moses.”
“Oh…. Him,” Menachem said. “Yes, I remember Him. He went away a while back, didn’t He? For good it looks like, too. But He did leave a message, want to read it? It’s written right here.”
The boy pulled up his sleeve to reveal the five-digit tattoo.