“Wiegala, wiegala, weier,” she began. As the children joined in, she stopped singing herself and began conducting with her hands, sweeping them in wide arcs to hold their attention.
“Wiegala, wiegala, weier,” they sang, with the German vee sound.
“The wind plays on the lyre,”
A trap door opened in the center of the ceiling. Three canisters of Zyklon B gas fell to the floor behind the children, and opened.
“Gas!” someone shouted. And the screaming began.
“Don’t worry about them! Sing louder, children,” Ilse cried out.
“It sings so sweetly in the green reeds,
the nightingale her sweet song sings,”
Ilse held her breath. She must live longer than the children. Eighty-five people behind them rushed for the door, clawing over one another, trying to get higher off the floor and away from the gas. The ones on the bottom of the pile were trampled to death before the gas could work. People clawed at the walls, trying to find the door in the dim light, leaving fingernail scratches in the concrete.
In the corner, the children sang. But their lungs were small, and filled quickly with the gas.
“Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
the moon is a bright lantern . . .”
(C)2017 Walter William Melnyk, permission to copy is not granted.
original German of Wiegala: Ilse Weber, c. 1943