Patrick Burne was in the study of the old house. The enormity of his task had finally sunk in. The restoration work would take months to complete and more importantly tens of thousands of pounds.
He and his wife Laura had bought the house knowing that it needed a great deal of work, but they were young and positive and had high hopes of making this the sort of home where they could raise their children.
It had previously been owned by an old Jewish man who had died with no family and had made no will. After months of correspondence with the Solicitor who was looking after the old man’s estate, their offer had been accepted and they completed the sale last week.
The house was sold to them exactly as it had been when the old man had died. It was furnished with old and not very valuable furniture. It even had food still left in the cupboards. It had no central heating, needed re-wiring, double glazing and a few walls knocking down here and there.
Patrick sat himself down at the old man’s writing desk and started to rummage through the drawers. Mostly old receipts, but there was an old brown folder in the middle drawer. On the outside it had three words written on it. “The Judas Calf”
Patrick opened the folder and began to read.
My name is Joseph Weissman and I need to tell my story. I am an old man now and my time on this earth is coming to an end, but I must tell someone what happened during those terrible years.
It was a very long time ago and I was only twelve years old, but I can still remember the last day I saw my father.
The winter of 1943 was harsh. In our huts the temperature could be as low as minus twenty at night, and not get much warmer during the day. My two younger brothers slept with mother. All fully dressed and huddled together to keep warm. I slept cuddled up with father. We were allowed two blankets per family. So mother and the boys had one and father and I had the other. We were not alone in that hut. There were at least another twenty families like ours, all cramped together in a wooden hut no bigger than forty feet by twenty.
They called it Belzec.
We knew that there were two camps. The one where we and many more like us lived. Then there was the second camp. We were told that the other camp was the work camp, where things were much better. Working meant food, food meant strength and strength meant life. The two camps were connected by a tunnel, or “tube” as my father would call it. Everyday hundreds would go through the tube to the second camp to work. But they never returned. Their place in our camp would be taken up by train loads of new arrivals.
There was a man in our hut called Demetri. He was friendly with the guards. His job was to take the chosen “workers” through the tube every day . He would tell them how great life would be once on the other side in Camp two. They would follow him. He would be laughing and singing and getting them to join in. But everyday he was the only one who came back. My father hated Demetri. I never knew why back then. He seemed like such a nice man. Then one day Demetri never came back. His place was taken by another man in a hut next to ours. He did and said the same things that Demetri had said.
Then one day he came into our hut very early. It was still dark outside. He had guards with him. He told all the men to get ready as they were being chosen to work in the other camp. My mother cried as she said goodbye to father. He kissed all of us and then got in line with the other men and made his way to the tube. I was happy for him. He would be working at last and being fed and getting stronger. I was sure that soon we would all be joining him. But I never did see him again.
Because father had gone one of our blankets was taken away. So every night all four of us would cuddle together under one blanket to try to keep warm.
Two weeks later we were woken early by the guards. We were told that all the women had to leave to go to the work camp. I remember the screams. Some mothers had to be dragged away. My mother seemed to be resigned to her fate and smiled at me as she kissed us goodbye. I told her not to worry and that she would be with father and soon we would join her. She told me to look after my two younger brothers and not let any harm come to them. I told her that I would always protect them. She left and was gone.
There were now more than sixty children in our hut. I was one of the oldest. I was very popular with the other children and would always try to make them laugh and do magic tricks that father had taught me. They trusted me.
One of the guards was called Karl. He would talk to me everyday. He would tell me how great things were in the other camp and how well mother and father were doing. He told me that we would all be reunited with our parents soon. He asked me to help him organise the other children. He said because they were so young and silly he would need someone like me to lead them through the tunnel. If I helped him with this he promised extra blankets and rations for me and my brothers. I agreed. It was cold and my two brothers were hungry.
The next morning I had all the children ready early. They were all looking forward to seeing their parents again. When Karl arrived they were singing a song that I had taught them. The only two left in the hut were my two brothers. I followed Karl into the tunnel and we sung loudly, they were so excited that soon they would be back with their families.
After a very long walk in the dark and dimly lit tunnel, we arrived at the exit. There was a strange smell in the air, a sickening smell that I remembered from working for a short while in my uncle’s abattoir. In front of us were large grey buildings with no windows but with a door at each end.
Karl told me to tell the children to run as fast as they could and enter the buildings. They are shower rooms he said, they must be nice and clean when they meet their parents. I told them to run. Run as fast as they could and get themselves clean. They ran. They entered the building and the guards closed the doors. Karl took me back through the tunnel. He said I had done an excellent job and he would need me to do it again from time to time. He promised that because I was being so good my mother and father would also be given extra rations and a much better place to sleep. I was happy.
I did this job for Karl about once a week from then on. My brothers and I were well fed and given new clothes and blankets. I could never understand why some of the older boys hated me so much. I was doing them a great service.
One day I took over a hundred children through the tunnel but when I came back my two brothers had gone. Karl told me that because I was being so good he had decided to re-unite them with mother and father. I was so happy I cried. Karl said it wouldn’t be long before it was my turn.
But my turn never came. The camp closed the following year. I and three other boys were loaded onto a train and told we were going to another camp. Karl said our families were waiting there for us. We travelled for three days in a big carriage that smelt of urine and sweat. I heard a loud explosion and lots of gunfire. When the carriage door opened there was an English soldier standing there with his gun pointed at us. I thought he was going to shoot us all. Instead he gave us chocolate.
Eventually I ended up in England in a home for boys. I never knew the truth about my family until many years later and that’s when it hit me. Hit me hard. Just what I’d done. Thousands of children had followed me. But please, please believe me. I never knew.
In abbatoirs they have something called a Judas Cow. It is the cow that leads the others into the slaughter house. It is the only one that survives. It does this job day after day. I pray to my god each day. Please forgive this Judas Calf.
Patrick Burnes dropped the folder. Tears were streaming down his face. He was a Catholic. He also began to pray for The Judas calf.