Max was a pretty little boy with blond hair and blue eyes. Not the classic example of one whose nationality was Jewish, but enough "tainted blood" running through his veins to ensure transportation to Auschwitz.
Ayan had begged to be allowed to keep her child with her, but Max had been hustled away. It had taken hours of consoling from the other women to allay even a tiny portion of her fears. Finally, she had fallen into a fitful sleep, but her dreams were plagued by visions of Max being brutally abused or even tortured.
Several days later, Max appeared in the compound holding the hand of the camp commandant. He was dressed in a smart, white uniform, complete with gold epaulets, blue sash, and a small peaked cap. His eyes found the face of his mother and he smiled happily.
"He walks in the shadow of an angel," Rebeccah murmured to Ayan, whose tears streamed at the sight of her son. Nonetheless, Ayan was comforted by the fact that Max had been taken under the wing of the camp commandant. Surely that meant something. Perhaps her boy would survive, even if she herself did not. Each day, Ayan drew courage from the knowledge she could at least get a glimpse of her baby. She had little else to live for.
Like those around her, Ayan became haggard and sickly, but Max thrived, remaining the robust and vigorous little boy he had been before Auschwitz. Ayan began to hope that Rebeccah had been right when she spoke of the shadow of a sheltering angel.
Before long, Max became a tiny replica of his benefactor. He emulated the goose-step in his highly-polished jackboots and saluted the swastika flying over the bleak huts. Ayan was appalled at the behavior, but a part of her rejoiced...Max looked so healthy.
It was difficult to watch the commandant sweep Max into his arms and display him proudly, like the boy were his own flesh and blood. Rebeccah often had to restrain Ayan from trying to claim the child, reminding her that any such action would be folly and could do no possible good. Sometimes, it took all the strength Rebeccah could summon, such as it was, to hold onto that skeletal wrist.
The morning came when Max no longer searched the rows of emaciated women for his mother and Ayan believed her heart would break. His blue eyes now regarded each one of them the same...with a cold and haughty stare, standing, arms crossed on his chest like the commandant, indifferent to the cruel discipline dispensed for no reason.
In early August of 1944, Ayan awoke with a putrid odor in her nostrils and the butt of a rifle in her distended stomach. Stumbling to her feet, she was directed to remove the few filthy rags she was wearing. As she discarded her clothes, Ayan felt the last of her humanity slip away. She had been stripped of pride, honor and dignity...modesty seemed trifling in comparison.
Together with the others in the hut, Ayan was jostled outside and herded toward one end of the compound. Smoke plumed in the air and Ayan realized from where the stench had originated...and the cause. Frantic, she searched for Max, with gigantic eyes sunken in a face that was already a skull, but he was not to be found. She clung weakly to Rebeccah as they shuffled forward and thanked God that Max had been spared.
In his quarters, the camp commandant deleted names from a list. He paused at "Maxwell Samuel Rubin," then obliterated it with a thick, black stroke. He glanced at the peaked cap and neatly folded small white uniform. The hero worship had been enjoyable, and it had amused him the way the boy had imitated his every move...like a small shadow of himself...but, no matter how engaging the package, he had been nothing but Jew vermin and Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death, was an expert exterminator.