Jim O’Connor was born just after the
Second World War to a returning war hero and his childhood sweetheart, the girl
from a farm near the beach. He is the oldest of their five children and grew up
in a farming community on the North Coast of NSW. His secondary education was at
St John’s College, Woodlawn. He is married with three adult children.
Jim has a Rural Science degree from
Armidale University and a Veterinary Science degree from Queensland University.
He is a former Rugby Union International, having played against Fiji and the
South African Springboks.
Since graduation he has practiced on the
southern Gold Coast and in more recent years as a locum veterinarian in the UK.
This is his first novel.
a – Auschwitz
Read a sample:
The railway station had been totally deserted for some
time. Not a single locomotive lingered. However, on a siding stood 20 derelict
cattle carriages. The human excreta had been hosed out of them three days
earlier. Their dead and near-dead occupants had first been removed. The train
stood like a haunting monument to the final load of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto
that had been unloaded inside the nearby Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
A low mist curled around the desolate carriages as it
rose from the frost-covered ground only to be suppressed by a constant drizzle.
The eerie silence was punctuated by a monotonous drip-drip-drip as a bucket
filled then overflowed under a hole in the guttering. In the adjacent death camp
two men dodged the larger puddles as they sauntered around the barbed-wire
perimeter fenceline. It was a routine undertaken almost daily, partly to
maintain some fitness but more importantly to have a chat. Suddenly the younger
officer stopped. He stood motionless, staring up at the chimneys. For some time
as they strolled he was aware that this day’s walk was different but he could
not work out why. Then it hit him.
“Josef,” he called out.
Mengele had walked on ahead.
Mengele paused and turned his head towards his
colleague, then instinctively turned his gaze skywards in the direction of
“The gassings have stopped.” Sultmann nodded as he
spoke as if to add credence to his own words. His eyes flashed back to his
“Do you think it is permanent?” he quizzed.
Mengele shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe,” was all he volunteered. He could have answered
‘Yes’ if he so chose. Being a top-ranking officer, he was aware of all the High
Command’s decisions and was privy to Himmler’s latest directive, which was to
stop the gassings and destroy all evidence that the process ever existed.
“I hope so.”
“Why do you hope so, Heinrich?”
“Well, I have never particularly come to grips with the
stench from those chimneys.”
They strolled on, but Mengele was perplexed. He had
assumed the answer would have had something to do with the slackening in the
elimination rate of the Jews. He realised maybe he and his protégé were not
totally paralleled in their thought process as he had assumed. They walked on in
silence, then 50 meters and 50 puddles later Mengele stopped.
“Yes, I must agree, Heinrich, it was rather offensive.”
The younger officer nodded. He was pleased. An
agreement from Mengele was, if nothing else, an ego boost.
“But one only smelt them when the weather closed in.
Usually the wind blew it away, don’t you agree?”
He added the qualifier after a brief thoughtful pause.
Thus his agreement was as usual qualified to ensure he retained his position of
superiority. He looked at Sultmann and smiled; it was almost a contented smirk.
“I guess so.”
Sultmann was forced to accept the amendment. He stamped
the butt of his cigarette into the sodden soil and moved in the direction of his
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Josef.”
He didn’t turn to Mengele but raised his right hand in
a gesture of farewell as he sauntered off.
“Who gives a rat’s arse?” he mumbled to himself, half
hoping that somebody would hear him and ask for clarification of his statement,
but nobody did.
He was a very depressed young doctor. It was a deep
depression caused by witnessing two years of death and degradation at this
horrible place. His survival in one of humanity’s greatest stagnations was
achieved by his ability to distance himself from reality. He remained totally
indifferent to the plight of the Jews and to the fact that 16,000 humans were
being eliminated daily, right before his very eyes. His university and military
training had been thorough. He was only interested in the endless supply of
guinea pigs that was presented for his research. After all, his research was for
the advancement of the German people and the Third Reich.
As he approached the steps of his laboratory he paused
and again looked up to confirm his original sightings. His doubt was
understandable. Those four chimneys had belched their stinking effluent skywards
for as long as he had been in this God-forbidden hellhole and for a long time
before that, and now it had ceased. His spirits slowly rose. Was this the start
of better times? Could he conduct his beloved research in a more hospitable
environment as he had so often requested? Maybe he could return to his native
Germany. A weak smile partially parted his lips as he thought of going home. He
thought of his Christmas leave that was now only about eight weeks away. It
would be great to return to his beautiful Bremen and see his wonderful family
It was a family who knew little of his meteoric rise
within the ranks of the SS. He knew of his father’s silent disapproval of “that
clandestine organisation” and had no wish to fragment the family unit and so
kept his achievements largely to himself. His family did, however, remember his
graduation and the accolades smothered on him by the great Professor Otmar
Freihur von Verschuer on that memorable day which culminated in his acceptance
of the university medal. His honours thesis on twin-behavioural patterns was
encouraged and possibly over-rewarded. His critics, and there were many, claimed
he was just a von Verschuer mouthpiece and his innocence allowed him to publish
what the professor dared not. His admirers, on the other hand, claimed he was a
genius. They were more numerous and held more sway with the university council
and even to a much higher level. His university medal was the only one that had
a congratulatory telegram attached to it. The telegram was from the Fuhrer,
Sultmann allowed himself the luxury of the pleasant
thoughts. He pictured each member of his family. He could vividly see his
bedroom. It had never changed as his mother had promised, though floods of
tears, when he’d departed to do his bit for the war effort. He could see it all
– the athletic banners, the debating certificates, the blow-up of the action
shot when he struck that goal in the Bayern Munich trial game. His thought
process aligned as he recalled earlier, happier times. Then suddenly, as it
always did, his reminiscing lifeline snapped, his mind recoiled like a wound-up
spring and was back to the present. His face portrayed his brain’s alteration
and a slight frown creased his brow. His joy about the slowly approaching
Christmas break was tempered by the knowledge that his home leave would be very
short and in fact he would be back in this wretched place to see in the New Year
* * *
At 7.15 pm on 24th December, a very tired
but happy Dr Heinrich Sultmann drove the Third Reich’s dusty Mercedes into the
Ribenentroff Avenue driveway. He was later than expected because the trip from
Poland had been hell. He had left in the early hours of the morning and only
stopped to refuel. His family had been anxiously awaiting his arrival since
mid-afternoon but now, finally, he was home. Brenda, his younger sister, peered
through the curtains and, as his car pulled up, screamed with delight then raced
down the cobbled driveway and flung herself at him. At first he was stunned. Of
course he recognised her but could not believe the amazing metamorphosis that
had occurred. Two years was a long time, particularly in the physical
development of a young woman between the ages of 15 and 17. That awkward brat
who would pester him and interrupt his university studies had turned into a very
curvaceous and stunningly beautiful young woman.
“Heinrich, come and see the tree. I have brought you
the most wonderful Christmas present,” Brenda said, looking him up and down. In
spite of the long arduous journey his uniform was largely uncreased and as usual
he presented well. His tall athletic frame ensured that.
“Please tell me that you don’t have a girlfriend and
that over Christmas you will take me to all your parties. Mother has several
lined up for you to attend you know.” She babbled on, her excitement transferred
readily into dialogue irrespective of its meaning or significance.
He put his arm around her shoulder and they strolled up
the driveway. Their parents were waiting, smiling, on the porch. Both sets of
eyes welled up with tears of joy as they saw their beautiful offspring, arm in
arm approaching them. The front door was open and Heinrich could smell the dried
pine cones burning in the open fireplace. He looked up and saw the smoke
billowing from the chimney and his mind flashed back to Auschwitz.
“Daddy, Heinrich said he would take me to the New
Year’s Eve party at the university.” Brenda was testing the water.
Heinrich was hugging his mother, who was now sobbing
uncontrollably at the joy of seeing her precious son. Her make-up, put on
specifically for his homecoming, was wrecked. Her face was still beautiful. She
was what Hitler envisaged all his good breeding stock should look like. Heinrich
looked over his mother’s shoulder.
“Unfortunately, Princess, I will be back at the
hospital on New Year’s Eve.”
They knew that he was stationed in Poland but assumed
he worked in Warsaw. All his mail was directed to Warsaw, but, unbeknown to
them, SS headquarters in the Polish capital relayed it onto Auschwitz. The
secrecy of his location was partly security but he had never elaborated on his
exact location and they had never asked.
“But I am still your favourite girl, aren’t I,
Heinrich?” she asked, ogling him and pleading for an affirmative answer.
“Of course you are, Princess.” He squeezed her gently
to him. “That’s if Mum doesn’t mind the bronze medal,” he continued after a
They all laughed heartily.
“So who gets the silver one?” his father asked, having
picked up the unintentional slip up.
“Sorry, Dad. What did you say?” He realised his mistake
and was stalling for time to fend off the gaffe. “Nobody, no I’m still married
to the cause.” He hoped his lie sounded convincing but now was definitely not
the time to tell them about Pieretska.