ETWG First Chapter Book Awards: Under the Nazi Heel by Scott Bury
July 19, 2016
Under the Nazi Heel by Scott Bury is the Second Place Winner in the Nonfiction/Memoir Category of Published Books in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
For Ukrainians in 1942, the occupying Germans were not the only enemy.
Maurice Bury was drafted into the Red Army just in time to be thrown against the invading Germans in 1941. Captured and starved in a POW camp, he escaped and made his way home to western Ukraine, where the Nazi occupiers pursued a policy of starving the locals to make more “living space” for Germans.
To protect his family, Maurice joins the secret resistance. He soon finds the faces multiple threats. Maurice and his men are up against Soviet spies, the Polish Home Army and enemies even closer to home.
Experience this seldom seen phase of World War 2 through the eyes of a man who fought and survived Under the Nazi Heel.
Award-Winning First Chapter
Volhynia, Ukraine, February 1943
Wind blew the snow smooth, polishing the surface of the lake to a dull sheen under the full moon, and pushing drifts higher than a man along a rough fence that shielded the railway. Beyond the rails, more snow weighed down the boughs of close-growing fir trees and covered their trunks more than six feet high.
The moonlight made steam sparkle as a train puffed and groaned from the forest slowly along the edge of the frozen lake, the lantern mounted on its front a second moon. The engineer squinted through the small forward window, which gave only an obstructed view. Periodically, he leaned out the side window to peer at the track ahead, but he could only bear the frigid air, the wind from the train’s forward motion, and the smoke and cinders from the engine, for less than a minute before he had to come back inside.
He kept the train’s speed low and one hand on the brake lever, despite the commands of the Wehrmacht officers in the cars behind him. He knew the risks of going too fast in this country. Even though snowplows were welded to the front of the engine, snow drifts over the tracks could derail the train. And besides that, he knew men hidden under the dark boughs posed a worse threat.
Beyond the frozen lake, the forest fell back from the tracks to open fields on each side. A thin layer of snow had drifted over the fences and covered the tracks since the day-crews had cleared them. The plow on the front of the engine pushed the snow away. Still, the engineer turned a valve and slowed the train even more. “No more fuel for now,” he told the fireman behind him, without turning.
The engineer leaned out the side window again to squint forward. A shadow lay across the tracks ahead, where the forest converged again on the railroad. He blinked and peered one more time to confirm his fear. He pulled inside and put all his weight onto the brake lever. “Ring the alarm!” he shouted to the fireman.
The steel brakes screamed and threw the engineer and fireman to the front of the cabin, pressing them against the hot iron. The engineer spun valves to release pressure. Clouds of steam whistled out of a dozen places on the engine and bells rang in every car.
The train slowed but the momentum of the passenger cars pushed the engine until it rammed a barricade of trees that had been felled over the tracks where they slipped into the forest again. The logs cracked with a noise like exploding gunpowder. Some flew off the tracks, sending up tidal waves of snow when they came down again. One hit the lantern, extinguishing its yellow light. Others rolled forward on the tracks only to be caught again as the train continued, slowing. They wedged under the engine. It shuddered. Its metal voice screamed in pain. It tilted, threatening to tip over. The engine left the track, sending waves of drifted snow over the fields.
The passenger cars slammed successively into the rear of the coal car, pushing the engine farther. It dug a long trench, sending more snow into the air. Finally, the train groaned to a stop. For minutes, the scene resembled a moonlit blizzard as the disturbed snow fell a second time.
Steam hissed from the engine, the fire in its furnace rumbled, bells clamoured the length of the train, and cries and moans of the passengers echoed across the fields and lake. A door on a passenger car creaked open and clanged as it hit the bent side of the car.
The wind sighed through the boughs of the fir trees, shaking snowflakes to spiral down. Nothing else moved in the clearing or on the lake. The whistling of steam grew lower and softer. The fire in the furnace became silent.
Minutes passed. Only the steam moved from the broken engine, driven by the gentle wind.
Finally, a helmeted head poked out of the one open door and withdrew immediately. After another minute, the head reappeared and looked left and right. More steam came from his mouth. A muffled order from behind, and the soldier jumped out of the car, struggling to keep his submachine gun above the snow as he sank to his waist. Another followed him, pointing a submachine gun into the darkness beyond the moonlight.
A third soldier jumped out and struggled to move forward, toward the engine. Another soldier jumped out behind him and started to stomp down the snow under the door, to make a slightly clearer area, and then followed the third soldier forward, widening the path he had begun.
Finally, a junior officer in a peaked cap and long coat, holding a pistol in his hand, jumped into the cleared area. He lifted his gloved hands to his mouth and breathed on them in a vain attempt to warm them.
The two soldiers had nearly reached the engine by that time and they called out to the engineer in German. They heard no answer.
The officer ordered one of the men in the snow with him to clear him a path to the next car. He followed the soldier until he could bang on the side of the second passenger car with the butt of his pistol. After a few seconds, that door opened slowly and another junior officer climbed down.
Down the train, doors opened in every passenger car and soldiers and officers climbed out. Men asked “What happened? Why did the train derail? What happened to the engineer?” Officers asked “Any injuries? No? Weapons ready?” Soldiers formed a defensive line, weapons pointed into the forest or toward the lake, but they had trouble holding their rifles and machine guns over the top of the snow.
At the engine, the first two soldiers to come out of the train began to climb the ladder to the engineer’s compartment. The first soldier knocked on the door.
He was answered by a rifle shot from the forest. He arched his back and fell into the snow, knocking the man below him down.
More rifle shots came from the forest, hitting the officers first, then the soldiers with submachine guns. The Germans returned fire blindly. They could not see their attackers and their bullets went uselessly into the trees.
Fire came at the Germans from all sides. Some of the men in the snow tried to climb back into the train but they were cut down, shot in the back. The moonlight turned the blood black on the snow.
A burning torch flew out of the forest, turning end over end to land on top of the first passenger car. Made of steel, it did not burn. But more torches flew, aimed toward the open doors. Most bounced off the sides of the cars and fell into the snow, snuffed.
Then an explosion blew off the rear of the last car and the Germans knew their attackers had grenades. They tried to hide between the cars or under the snow, but one by one they fell. More explosions came from under the train, and then someone managed to pitch a grenade into one of the doors. Smoke followed the muffled bang. Within a minute the men outside could see flames, and they knew they were dead.
One soldier fired his submachine gun in controlled bursts from a hiding spot between two of the cars, but bullets found him. Before his body hit the snow, a comrade took the gun from him and fired a continuous volley into the woods until he was hit three times from different directions.
Beside him, the junior officer who had tried to warm his hands fell with a bullet in his upper thigh. Blood gushing into his long coat, he raised his pistol to his head and blew his brains out before the partisans could take him.
The whole train was ablaze by then. Soldiers jumped out through windows and doors to be killed by more bullets. Within minutes, it was over. All the men outside the train lay dead in the snow, while those in the train screamed as they burned.
Under the trees, men in black uniforms watched carefully. One man shot a German body, just to be sure he was dead, and then the insurgents stood up. In twos and threes, they got into sleighs hidden in the woods, slapped the reins and returned along the paths they had made when they had arrived, hours earlier.
The only sound was the muffled steps of their horses in the snow and the soft roar of the fire, and soon only the fire was left.
The Ukrainian Insurgent Army had begun operations against the occupying Germans.