Junkyard Photo (Door)

by TerryWalstrom 8 Replies latest jw friends

  • TerryWalstrom


    "You again! I see where you were shooting and what did I tell you? Don't bother lying!"

    The heavyset man could have been a bulldog or a gargoyle. Hard on the eyes and offensive, he jabbed accusingly at the young man with his craggy finger.

    Karl hefted his camera bag and shouldered the bulky tripod, trudging toward the junkyard owner.

    "Sorry--I've been looking for interesting textures all morning...right where you told me...there's only junk and--"

    "This is a junkyard! Are you feeble? Now get out."

    Karl lifted the burden from his shoulder, laying the Nikon ever so gently on the gravel road which ran along the fence.

    "I tell you straight out--I've won awards for my pictures. I'm not just any idiot student whose parents spent a fortune on a hobby."

    The old man stood planted without blinking; saying nothing.

    Karl kept going. What could it hurt?

    "My pictures hang in galleries. I have a gifted eye. I will credit your...your...establishment, I promise."

    "Gustav Schmidt's Junkyard?" The proprietor growled. "A prize-winning photo?"

    Karl felt his heart leap. He thought, "Ego! I've got him!"

    The young man took two steps closer and reached into his khaki jacket. Schmidt's eyes narrowed when he caught sight of the brochure.

    "See. Herr Schmidt, 1st Prize, blue ribbon, one-man show. These are mine. My work sells well and important people...influentials purchase the images. That's why I'm here. I have this commission for Volkswagen regional headquarters. The image must have industrial texture but it cannot be a mere 'object d'art' sort of image."

    "Volkswagen? I don't understand. Go to a car lot, not a junkyard."

    Karl wiped sweat from his grimy brow and heaved a long breath.

    "I'm sorry--I didn't properly explain. The entrance hall needs an image which is not product-specific. It must be highly evocative and mysterious to capture the eye--yet allowing each person's imagination to elicit a personal reaction."

    "Humpf!" Schmidt snorted dismissively. "Nonsense!"

    The tall, gangly photographer turned slightly and swept his arm in a half circle, indicating the vast hoard of castoff litter, rusted parts, bent pipes, and strewn wreckage.

    "Just a minute ago, I found exactly what I was looking for. An old sliding door with scratches. I caught the light just so. It means nothing and yet evokes a strong feeling to my eyes. I bracketed my shots moving the stop as I snapped. I'm sure it is perfect."

    Gustav Schmidt frowned and shook his head menacingly. Yet he said nothing.

    "As I said, I shall make certain your establishment is credited as the location."

    Schmidt sneered and his eyes reddened suddenly. "You'll do nothing of the kind! I shall take you to court if you mention me at all--you understand? Get out of here and don't come back!"

    Karl snatched up his bag and tripod and nodded. He had what he needed. To hell with the old fool.


    Some months later, Schmidt entered the great foyer to the Volkswagen Regional Headquarters. The architecture was magnificent. The old man shuffled laboriously toward the mural on the far side where a billboard sized photo was installed next to a billowing fountain.

    Yes. Just as he had known. Schmidt pulled off his tattered cap and threw it violently on the polished marble floor of the vestibule.

    "Ignorant asses!" The old man shouted and heads turned his direction. A man in uniform strode over and whispered something in Schmidt's ear. The two of them walked off together.

    In the following week, money changed hands. Attorneys conferenced. Newspaper journalists were bribed.

    The enormous photo was removed in the dead of night.

    Hardly a soul noticed.


    When the matter finally settled, Karl the photographer worked up the courage to return to Gustav Schmidt's Junkyard.

    The old man wrinkled his nose as though he were about to spit--but thought the better of it.

    "I'm sorry Herr Schmidt. I thought you ought to know. I've installed that offending piece elsewhere. I donated it. No money changed hands. I thought you would be happy to hear there is proper attribution. A plaque beneath the framed art clarifies everything."
    The young man's head hung slightly, like a scolded mongrel.

    Herr Schmidt raised an eyebrow and nodded quietly.

    He spoke as though he were in a holy place in careful, emotive words.

    "Ferdinand Porsche knew what he was doing. Volkswagen is an abomination. That family is famous...rich...they've gone unpunished. You have no idea..."

    The low voice trailed off like the echo of a wounded animal in a distant cave.

    Karl nodded.

    "I do know. Now, I do. Something about that old steel door spoke to my soul. Nothing accidental about it. Things happen for a reason--I believe."

    Schmidt flushed crimson as he half-turned and confronted the young man.

    "You're damned right. Things happen because men make them happen. I lost my family there. Those scratches--the fingernails of innocent Jews clawing at the only door as Xylon gas filled the chamber. I told you to stay away from the fenced area. You didn't listen. Now get the hell out of my sight."


    Weeks later, Schmidt fumbled with his spectacles, placing them on his nose as he squinted at the plaque under the enormous photo of the steel door.

    "Auschwitz Gas Chamber Door."


  • MissFit

    Terry: there are no words... i am in tears.

    Thank you.

  • under the radar
    under the radar

    Thanks for another moving story, Terry. You have a true talent for drawing your reader in.

    Not to pick nits, but I believe the fumigant of choice was Xyklon B, originally developed as a commercial insecticide. It came in pellet form, shipped in air-tight cans. The SS soldier would go on top of the gas chamber, which was configured to make the victims think it was a community shower, take the cover off the shaft coming up from the chamber, and pour the pellets in. They would turn into poison gas almost immediately upon contact with the air. The soldier, of course, was careful to wear a gas mask when pouring in the pellets. Safety first, you know.

  • stillin

    Touchy stuff. I was right there.

  • tiki


  • TerryWalstrom

    Thank you.
    It has been many years since I watched the Documentary SHOAH.
    It has remained with me. (Except for the detail about the gas.) Much obliged.

  • MissFit

    Thank you Terry. I was going to ask where you got your inspiration. I was blind sided by the ending. Very powerful.

  • Tallon

    Thank you for posting. You have a talent for drawing in the reader.

  • TerryWalstrom

    I got the idea for the story by stumbling upon the photo.
    My reaction (there was no caption) was one of technical interest in the 'artistic quality' of the photo. Purely dispassionate and esthetic consideration--AT FIRST.
    I read a paragraph UNDER the photo, however...and was suddenly struck by the words
    Auschwitz interior door to "shower house" gas chamber!
    Then and there--I had to write something which framed the situation.

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