Authors: Rick Jones
THE VATICAN KNIGHTS
© 2012 Rick Jones. All rights
This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or
are used fictitiously and should not be construed as real. Any resemblance to
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The Vatican Knights
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Table of Contents
Fifteen Years Ago
Cohen’s grandmother was confined to Auschwitz, the sky always rained ashes.
At the peak of the camp’s
existence, 20,000 Jews were summarily executed on a daily basis and burned in
the ovens, a tragedy that was memorialized by the photos lining the walls,
galleries and glass cases of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
People milled noiselessly about,
zigzagging across the hall from one display case to another, regaled by Iron
Crosses and German Lugers. Beneath recessed lighting hung German and Hebrew
banners, as well as framed paintings that the Nazi regime had appropriated from
At the end of a corridor, Shari walked along a memorial wall lined with numerous black-and-white photos, studying
each one carefully.
And then she found it, a grainy
black-and-white print of detainees standing together wearing garments draped
over limbs no larger than broomsticks. The despair on their faces was obvious,
the wallow-eyed sadness speaking volumes.
With the tips of her fingers Shari traced the image of a young woman who stood with her chin raised in defiance. The
points of her shoulders, her cheeks, the paleness of her flesh and the death
rings surrounding her eyes all bore testament to her will and courage in the
face of adversity. It was the photo of Shari’s grandmother.
Immediately she felt the sting of
tears, her grief and pity mixed with overwhelming pride.
She moved slowly along the cases,
examining every photo and imagining the atrocities behind them. In one picture
she noted lifeless bodies hanging from the gallows. Shari remembered her
grandmother saying that the bodies would swing there for days, as a reminder to
Jews within the camp of their impending fate.
To be a person of Jewish faith,
her grandmother told her, was a fate that assured death and never a reprieve.
Even at this moment, within her
mind, Shari could hear the slight accent of her grandmother’s voice, the sweet
clip of her tone. The way she spoke, with the courage and pride of making it
through one of the blackest moments of history, was in itself a demonstration
of the old woman’s fortitude.
When Shari was too young to
understand the palpability of her grandmother’s suffering, but on the cusp of
learning, her grandmother showed her the stenciled numerals on her left
forearm. Viewing the numbers from one side read 100681, but when the forearm
was viewed from the opposite side, the numbers became inverted, reading 189001.
Same tattoo but different numbers. Her grandmother always referred to these as
the magic numbers.
smiled. In her mind’s eye she could see her grandmother
smiling back, amused at the astonishment on Shari’s young face as the numbers
changed before her eyes.
And then Shari’s smile faded, the
corners of her lips withering into a straight line. The woman who was so brave
and cavalier about her struggles in Auschwitz died of heart failure a week ago
in a D.C. hospital, at the age of seventy-nine. Shari missed her deeply.
Moving along the displays, Shari observed more photographs, including pictures of charred and broken bones from the
ovens filling deep trenches between the residential quarters—another constant
reminder to the Jews of their imminent fate.
How her grandmother was able to
maintain her sanity was beyond Shari’s comprehension. How could anybody live
under the mantle of an Auschwitz sky, wondering on a daily basis if her ashes
would one day rain down and cover the landscape with a horrible grayness?
She could not even begin to fathom
the terror of not knowing.
Through the museum’s photos, Shari witnessed a chronology of events that reminded her that even though she was a Jew in
a land of tolerance, her country, too, was not entirely without its prejudices.
She recalled her grandmother’s words from two years before, when Shari turned sweet sixteen.
“You’re a young woman now,” she
told her. “Old enough to understand the things a young woman should know. So
what I’m about to give you, my littlest one, is the most wonderful gift of all.
The gift of insight and wisdom.” It was then that her grandmother leaned closer
and beckoned her to join her in close counsel, as if what she was about to say
could only be passed on in whispers. “I’m one of Jewish faith,” she added, “as
you are. But I was proud and refused to give up. To be a Jew in Auschwitz was certain death. But if you fight from here,” she said, placing an open hand
over her heart, “if you’re truly proud of who and what you are, then you will
survive. But never forget this one thing: there are terrible people out there
willing to destroy you simply because evil has its place. If you want evil to
take hold, then stand back and do nothing. But if you want to make a difference,
then fight, so that all can live in the light. Does this make any sense what
I’m telling you?”
could remember giving her a quizzical look. So her
grandmother held her forearm out, the ink of the magic numbers having faded to
an olive green color.
“Because I was a Jew, I was given
this mark—even though I was a good girl who never hurt anybody. My parents,
your great-grand parents, were good people who never received a mark, because
they were told to go to “the left,” which, in Auschwitz, meant a quick death in
the gas chambers. I never saw them again.” She smiled—the creases of her face
many—but the lines so warm and beautiful, the lines of a person who truly loved
She then reached for Shari’s hand and embraced it with a maternal gentleness. “There is goodness in you,” she
told her. “I can feel it. It’s people like you who can make a difference in the
lives of all, whether they be that of Jewish faith or not. These marks on my
arm are a constant reminder of good people who turned a blind eye and did
nothing to help me or others when life was at its darkest. And because of it
many people died unnecessarily, because evil was allowed to succeed. But in
you, my littlest one, is a fire so bright I can see it in your eyes. You want
to do good for those who can’t protect themselves, yes?”
At that moment Shari realized that
she did, though her newfound zeal may have been motivated as much by a desire
to please her grandmother as by a determination to protect the powerless. This
was a new feeling for her, since she was, after all, only sixteen, and her
greatest concerns hitherto had involved boys.
Her grandmother’s smile widened.
“Not to worry,” she said. “Just remember that when the time comes there will be
obstacles. But don’t give up. Determination and perseverance will get you there
all the time. I was determined to survive Auschwitz. And I did. Now it’s your
turn to make sure what happened to me never happens to anyone else ever again.”
lifted her grandmother’s forearm and turned it over, then
traced her fingers softly over the washed-out tattoo. “No one should have
suffered like you, Grandmama. And I’ll make sure no one ever will.”
Her grandmother maintained an even
often wondered if her Grandmother believed her promises
were merely the offhand remarks of a sixteen-year-old girl, telling an old
woman what she wanted to hear, or if she believed Shari had true conviction.
But Shari could not have been more sincere, since her love for her grandmother
trumped everything at that moment, even if she was sixteen and preoccupied with
boys. Good people like her grandmother deserved better.
“This is my gift to you, my dear.
Sometimes the best presents don’t come in a box, but as a lesson. So take it
and use it well.”
had never forgotten the lesson taught to her by her
grandmother on her sixteenth birthday.
Now, two years later, at eighteen
years of age, Shari had been accepted into Georgetown University on a full
scholarship. Less into boys and more career-minded, Shari was working toward
her pledge to never let atrocities happen to “those who could not help
themselves” by enrolling in Criminal Justice courses, with an eye on greater
To her right Shari noticed three
teenagers, roughly her own age, dressed in black, with matching black lipstick
and fingernail polish, their hair raven with dye and their ghostly faces
powdered. They chattered noisily, excitedly referring to the photographs with
adjectives such as “sweet,” “awesome,” and “cool,” words that bit her deeply.
And Shari had to wonder. If they
were subjected to the same tortures and suffering as those in the photos, would
they still think it was sweet, awesome and cool?
She thought not.
Moving along and leaving her
unenlightened peers behind, Shari thought about her grandmother and the way she
carried herself courageously through the remainder of her life. By surviving Auschwitz, her lineage continued. Her grandmother gave birth to three children, who
extended the line further with seven grandchildren, Shari being the youngest.
Without her grandmother’s will to continue on in one of history’s most
notorious travesties, none of them would be alive today.
Thank you, Grandmama.
stood over a glass case with her reflection staring back.
She was attractive, with an errant lock of hair curling over her brow like an
inverted question mark, just to the left of her widow’s peak. And her eyes, a
dazzling copper brown that shined with the luster of newly minted pennies,
gazed back with something inquisitive about them.
Why was there such
fanaticism in the world to warrant the murder of over six million Jews?
In Shari’s mind it seemed all too tragic that mankind had not matured enough to see its own
Sighing, she looked beyond her
reflection and saw the Nazi flag resting within the case. The red and white
colors were crisp and clean as if new, and the swastika stared back at her as
the symbol of intolerance.
“Because you’re one of Jewish
faith,” her grandmother told her, “you’ll always be persecuted. But never forget
who you are and always be proud, because one day you will be reminded of what
you are, and you’ll need to fight back to survive. Never forget that, my
“I won’t, Grandmama.”
smiled delicately, a small curvature of the lips in remembrance
of a remarkable woman. Coming to the Holocaust Museum was not only an homage to
her grandmother, but also a reminder to Shari of what her grandmother instilled
in her—to be proud and bold and never forget where you came from, or those who
didn’t make it. But more importantly, always remain strong in the face of
adversity, which is inevitable.
“Remember, my littlest one. There
will come a time. Believe me.”
In a country where religion was a
constitutionally protected freedom, Shari doubted that being Jewish would cause
any marginalization of any kind. But she couldn’t quite dismiss it either.
If it became an issue, then it
would be one more obstacle to conquer in order to champion the cause for many,
she considered. She knew she would always persevere, because persevering was a
part of her grandmother; therefore, a part of her, genetic or otherwise.
Walking along the cases from one
display to another, Shari spent most of the day reflecting on the courageous
people who survived the camps, and praying for those who didn’t.