“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” — Proverbs 10:9

Ostrołęka, Poland: 1955

Tok! Scuff! Tok! Scuff!

An old man rapped his walking stick on the cobblestone path, navigating his way to the St. Anthony of Padua Church. Crowned with an elegant but worn brass falcon cane topper, his black walking stick looked one-of-a-kind.

The wind blew over the thick patches of silver hair that surrounded his balding head. The petrichor from the previous night’s rain drifted off the cobbles, along with the clack and flap of pigeons seeking their next meal.

Tok! Scuff! Tok! Scuff!

A scrawny cat stalked slowly through the shadows from where the birds had just taken flight, her feline eyes bright, each movement calculated, contained.

The sounds of life echoed in the distance; people waking up, starting their days, sellers opening their shops. Over on the right, a dog barked, only to be stilled by its owner. But for Yinon, the sounds were muted; his focus was on his destination.

As the sunlight illuminated the pastel red exterior of the 17th-century church building, he stroked his free-flowing beard, his pupils taking in the glow of the brickwork.

Eventually, Yinon reached the door of the church, slow and steady. His nose twitched in anticipation of the incense that filled the air. The dry scent ascended from the manifold candles burning on the candelabra in the vestibule near the door of the church.

He placed his hand on the large, ring-shaped door handle, pausing briefly before twisting and pulling it open. The wrought iron was rough in his aged hand.

Yinon stepped into the cool, still air and gently closed the door behind him. The near-silent boom of the heavy oak reverberated around the space, not disturbing, not distracting, simply a sound expected, familiar, known. The sound silenced the world outside.

He took measured steps down the aisle, towards the huge crucifix at the centre. Beams of sunlight danced through the dust particles and the fumes of incense in the air. The smoke hung heavy, as if a visitor would have to weave around it. He glided along, passing through each illuminated strobe. The walls exuded an aura of divinity, which drifted over the wooden pews.

A priest, younger than Yinon, sat in the frontmost pew, his head lowered. His slender fingers rolled each bead as he prayed, reciting the Rosary. Precise movements, practised and perfected. On finishing his prayer, he rose and made the Sign of the Cross before turning to leave.

Yinon greeted the thirty-something priest, “Szczęść Boże, ojcze.

The priest reciprocated with a courteous smile. A cross hung from his neck, dangling over his black cassock.

Yinon darted his eyes around. They were the only ones inside the church. “It seems like not many people are in today.”

“Unfortunately, that is the bitter truth.” The priest hung his head. “Ever since the communists came to power, they have been wearing down the faith of the people. Most parishioners have already lapsed. Our country has been torn apart by the Reds.”

“Do not forget the Nazis, too,” Yinon added.

The priest nodded, a glint in his eye.

“I must ask you this.” Yinon stepped closer, taking a careful look at the priest. Despite being 60, his eyesight was razor-sharp. “You remind me of someone I know. By any chance, are you from Tarnów?”

“Indeed.” A wide smile played on the priest’s face.

“You are Mikołaj’s son, right?”

Tak, I am Janusz. How did you know?”

“No wonder. You take after your father.” Yinon adjusted his spectacles. “We go back a long way. I even visited him two years before he died.”

“Oh, I do not remember seeing you before. Perhaps it is because I was hardly at home.”

“Where were you then?” Yinon furrowed his brows. “I mean, what were you doing before you became a priest?”

“I…” Janusz paused for a brief moment and folded his arms. “I was working at my uncle’s farm.”

“That is good…yes, that is very good.” Yinon nodded, agreeing with himself. “So, where was the farm?”

“Err… at Oświęcim.” Janusz broke eye contact. He felt it was high time to change the topic. “You must join me for lunch.” He pulled out his pocket watch and glanced at it. “The food over here is great. Delicious pork kielbasas are waiting for us.”

Nie, ojcze. I am not hungry.” Yinon shrugged.

“That is disappointing!” Janusz rolled his eyes. “But remember, the next time we meet, I will not take no for an answer.”

“I do not think there will be a next time.” Yinon smirked, certain of his words.

“Ah, I cannot let you go away like that.” Janusz nudged him. “You are my Tato’s friend, after all.”

“You know what?” Yinon rubbed his palms. “I would like to ask you a question. A riddle, to be precise.”

“Sounds interesting. Go on.”

“Which is the one thing that haunts a man the most?”

“A ghost?” Janusz made a wild guess.

Yinon shook his head.

“A monster? A wolf?”

Wrong answers, yet again.

“Or worse, a communist?” Janusz cackled.

“The answer…” Yinon pointed his callused finger at Janusz, “lies within you.”

Seeing Janusz scratch his head, he continued. “It is our own past. Nothing can haunt us more than that. No matter how much we try to run away from it, it clings on to us like a shadow.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Forever.”

“Well, I guess it is best for you to leave the philosophy to us priests.” Janusz forced a smile on his face.

“You have a beautiful smile, ojcze,” Yinon complimented, “It reminds me of my dear son.”

He ensconced himself into a pew and placed his chin on his brass falcon cane topper. “Yaakov.” His eyes spoke of longing as he reminisced. “He was around your age. A cheerful, handsome young man.”

“Oh! That…” Janusz bit his lip. “That is an interesting name. Is he also at Tarnów?”

Yinon fought back tears. Grief surged through his heart. Without bothering to reply, he decided it was time to do what he had come here for.

Janusz’s eyes widened as Yinon folded up his sleeve. The priest trembled, knowing what might be exposed.

The sunlight cast an eerie glow on Yinon’s tattoo, revealing the numbers “A-15510.” His grey eyes locked on Janusz in a death stare. The fury radiating from him was evident, and his anguish spoke volumes of the six million souls lost. Beaten. Starved. Raped. Tortured. Murdered. Worked to death.

His lips curved into a sinister smile, exposing his missing tooth.

Janusz stepped back. A chill ran down his spine. “Did your son d-di…” His pale face flushed. “Did he die in Auschwitz? Is that why you are here?”

“I am not here only for my son. I am here to avenge the blood of the many sons and daughters who died in Auschwitz…” Yinon’s eyes reddened as he uttered more names in a raspy voice. “Bełżec…Chełmno…Majdanek…Sobibór…Treblinka.”

“But I was just an attendant.” Janusz squirmed. “All I did was open and close the door…”

“To the gas chamber.” Yinon jutted his chin.

“I was only heeding instructions from my superiors.”

“Bzzz-zzz. Bzzz-zzz. Bzzz-zzz.” Yinon mimicked the buzzing of bees.

Beads of sweat formed on Janusz’s forehead.

Yinon fumed, “You Nazis were like bees. Be it the one-testicled bastard in the Führerhauptquartier or his lackeys doing odd jobs in the concentration camps, all of you worked together in unison, infected by the same venomous ideology. Even the smallest gears in the machine mattered to make it function.”

Janusz buried his face in his palms. “I was in my twenties back then—young, stupid, agnostic, and brainwashed by my compatriots. I had no choice.” He gulped, trying to conceal his guilt. “Do not hold me accountable for who I was.”

“You will be held accountable.” A vein throbbed in Yinon’s neck. “Once a Nazi, always a Nazi.”

“So what?” Janusz looked up, desperate for mercy. “Even Herr Schindler was a Nazi. Just because I was previously a Nazi, it does not mean I cannot change my ways.”

“Janusz, I knew Oskar Schindler.” Yinon clenched his jaw. “I have met Oskar Schindler. Oskar Schindler was a friend of ours. Janusz, you are no Oskar Schindler.”

“You are guilty.” He slammed his walking stick onto the stone floor with a loud crack. The echo reverberated, as if six million disenfranchised souls were screaming in outrage. “The others dissented and rebelled. You could have done that, too, but no; you sold your soul.”

“I am a changed man now. I swear.” Janusz fell to his knees and clasped his hands. “I became a priest to balance my past wrongs and seek atonement from above. Christ has absolved me of all my sins and transgressions.”

“A Jew who lived more than 1,900 years ago, might have forgiven you. But the Jews who are living now have NOT,” Yinon bellowed in pain, his voice booming through the aisle of the church. “We will never forget, never forgive, and never cease to fight back.”

He flicked his thumb over a well-concealed release mechanism and felt the shaft separate from the grip just below the handle of his walking stick.

A long, thin blade revealed itself. Yinon slid one foot back into the well-practised stance of a man with a lifetime’s worth of experience in fencing.

Janusz was cornered like a scorpion. The shrill voices of the countless inmates screaming their last Shema in the gas chambers of Auschwitz echoed in his mind.

Yinon directed the sword towards the right of Janusz’s sternum, sinking it between the fifth and sixth ribs with calculated precision.

Janusz looked down, his mouth agape. His time had come.

The sunlight reflected on Yinon’s razor-sharp blade, displaying the satisfying crimson dripping from it. “Now, you will know,” he thundered as yet another trickle of blood followed the fullers of his sword, “that there is a God in Israel.”

Warm rivulets of blood streamed down Janusz’s cassock. Seconds later, he fell to the floor with a thud. His lifeless face was exposed to the church’s ribbed vault.

Yinon ran his fingers over Janusz’s eyes, closing them forever. He then wiped his sword on the cassock and sheathed it into his walking stick. He pulled out a small note from his pocket. It had the names and details of five Nazis printed in Hebrew. The first four names were crossed out.

He took a pencil and struck the final name off the list.

Janusz Mikołaj

The note was signed with a name Yinon recognised—an old friend and a fellow freelance Nazi hunter.


Now that his prey was lying in a pool of blood, Yinon tightened his grip on the brass falcon and made his way outdoors.

Tok! Scuff! Tok! Scuff!

The candles on the candelabra in the vestibule flickered. He set the note ablaze over the bright orange flame. The embers of the ashes flew up, taking the years of agony inflicted upon Yinon with them. He watched the charred remains dissipate into the wind. They were gone. He was free.