Cohen’s Resurrection

By on Sep 21, 2020 in Fiction

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Montevideo harbor, 1950s

The address read 615 Calle de Ignacio. To the casual eye, it was rather unremarkable; just an old dilapidated brick building, entrenched among seedy waterfront bars and makeshift warehouses which lined the Montevideo ship yards.

For the last several years the building had served as a hotel to the disenfranchised: the outcasts and those whose pasts were forever sealed within the confines of this dwelling. After W.W. II, these “tenants,” many of whom came from Europe, poured into various South American countries, leaving behind them their nightmarish histories, be they the victim or the pursued. 

*  *  *

The gentle knock on the door proved initially to be a blessing to the old man. Darkened images from his fitful slumber vanished gradually with each succinct rap. Rising unsteadily from his couch, Cohen shuffled towards the door, becoming more aggravated with the continued knocking. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

The rapping continued, apparently unconvinced of the old man’s intentions. Ach, what can be such an emergency? he thought. He unlatched the chain and opened the door just enough where he could take sight of whomever was disturbing him.

“Senor Cohen?” the voice asked in broken Spanish. 

“Yes.” Wearily, he assessed the man outside the hall. Standing well over six-feet tall, and possessing the build of a decathlete, the man sported closely-cropped blonde hair and a full beard. Cohen sensed that he was younger than he appeared, perhaps in his mid-thirties. Furthermore, the man seemed vaguely familiar to him.

“Professor Theodore Cohen?” 

Stunned by the question and the man’s knowledge of his one-time profession, Cohen drew open the door. “Young man, I haven’t been called professor in years. How did you know I…”

“I really need to talk to you, Professor.” The bearded man’s forehead glistened with perspiration as he clutched his watchman’s cap nervously. “If you’ll just let me in for a few minutes, I’ll explain.”

Cohen hesitated, his memory feebly analyzing ancient data that he sensed was not good. I’ve seen this man before, but where? Continuing to pore over the man’s face in search of an answer left him exasperated. Perhaps talking to the man could offer some clarity. 

“All right, young man, you may come in. You have three minutes to explain yourself.”

The bearded man nodded, but before entering, gleaned a momentary look down the hallway. Brushing gently past Cohen into the foyer, he surveyed the professor’s tiny living room, filled with countless books lining two full sides of the room. Cohen motioned for him to sit, pulling up a wicker chair that had been leaning against one of the bookshelves.

“Um… very nice apartment you have here.”

The old man snorted derisively. “Either your eyesight is failing you, or you have lived your whole life in the slums. You won’t find dwellings anywhere in Montevideo that are as bad, believe me.” He walked over to the window and threw open the curtains. Presented in front of the men lay the sight of Montevideo’s industrial waterfront, affectionately known as Mancha Negro, Black Stain. Here, among the oil-laden docks and brackish waters, walked prostitutes, pimps, ruffians, and dock workers. And it was here that people like Professor Cohen had come to renew their existence, as dreary as it might be.

“How long have you lived here?”

“Two years now.” He drew a deep breath. “I came here from Heidelberg, Germany. But the war… I… my wife and son… ” Cohen moved to the couch, where he continued. “We were sent to a concentration camp in Dachau. I survived, but my family did not.”

Acutely aware that the bearded blonde was asking all the questions, Cohen looked up at him, decreeing in his native German tongue, “And I’m assuming from your accent and the way you’re speaking Spanish, that you also are from my home country, am I not correct, Herr…”

“Seidel, Erick Seidel,” came the almost imperceptible voice.

“Seidel… Seidel…” mulling that name over and over in his head. I knew of a Seidel. He was…

Like a bolt of lightning rattling through his brain, the memories came back all too vividly. Now, sitting across from him was a vision he had attempted to repress for nearly three years.

“You!” screamed the old man, leaping to his feet. “First Lieutenant Seidel, officer in charge of billets C and D and…”

Seidel cut him off. “Professor, you must know… you had to have known that I was the one who did all I could to keep you and your family alive. I, as a junior officer, took great risks, making inquiries as to your wife’s status and informing you as often as I could. Getting information from the women’s sector was very difficult. And with your son… I tried to keep the two of you together… but because of his… condition…”

“Enough!” roared Cohen, becoming near faint in all the excitement. “Yes, you did, indeed, keep me informed of my family, Lieutenant. All the way up to the time they were taken to the ovens! And… if I recall correctly, you took particular interest in giving me the sordid details of their last hours.”

“Not true, not true!” cried Seidel, also rising from his chair. “I only wanted you to know of their feelings for you. I had it on good authority that those last few moments while they were being… taken away, both your wife and son were temporarily reunited. Remember, Herr Cohen, the message I received from Sergeant Kittering? Your wife’s last words? ‘We love you and will meet you in a better place.’ Please, Professor, think, think!”

Cohen stood silent, desperately attempting to decipher the sincerity of Seidel’s words. At seventy-two, he was no longer a young man, and anger, which had fed him and kept him alive since his liberation from Dachau, had begun to eat away at his health. With this in mind, Cohen asked as calmly as he could, “Tell me now, Seidel, why are you here?”

Seidel turned away from Cohen, his back facing the professor, his broad shoulders hunched forward. “I… I have a son, ten years old,” he sighed. “He’s… not right… mentally.” The blonde man turned again to face Cohen, his eyes filled with tears. “You know well of our country’s early policies regarding mental deficients during the war. And with the way Hans looked… well, it would have been only a matter of time before someone informed on us. My wife, Marta, took him to the countryside to stay with her sister right after she gave birth to him.”

Unaware of his ebbing anger, Cohen queried, “And where is he now?”

“He’s with… wait one minute, please,” he replied, holding up an index finger. Seidel went to the door and opened it, peering down the hallway. “Come, come, boy.”

Settling into the doorframe next to his father stood Hans, his face mute and expressionless. This was the classic mongoloid countenance, all too familiar to the professor. Hans, blonde like his father but short and stocky, stared back at Cohen, his mouth slightly agape, his tongue resting languidly on his lower lip. 

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J.D. Chaney is a retired teacher, published novelist and short-story writer. Some magazines Chaney has written for include: Aquila, Western Digest, Good Old Days, Kaleidoscope, Looking Back, Storyteller, Coal People, Sobering Times, and Western and Eastern Treasures. Chaney is married and has a daughter and, when not writing, can be found traveling, running and watching San Francisco football and baseball teams.