Hansel and Gretel by Alek Javier

Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Alek Javier's rather odd modernisation of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, set in a World War II concentration camp.

The whistle of an approaching train emanated through the silence of the yard. As the train slowed to a halt, the cars opened. The poor souls who emerged dazed and confused from the train cars were greeted by shouts of German, rifle butts, and the sight of an old, rusty sign bearing the words: "Belzec Concentration Camp". Observing from a distance, a young, blonde woman called to one of the guards. The man snapped to attention.

"Yes Mrs. Fleischer?"

The woman pointed out two huddled children trying vainly to hide in the dark corner of one of the cattle cars.

"Bring them to me."

The guard nodded, and issued the order. A large, burly man grabbed the two children, kicking and screaming, and brought them before the woman. The woman looked at the children with curiosity. She turned to a man carrying a packet of papers.

"These children do not look like Jews. They're Aryan."

The guard scratched his head and fumbled through his papers.

"They are mixed Jews Mrs. Fleischer. Their father was a German and the mother was a Jew."

The woman nodded, and turned to the children. They were visibly shaken, their eyes moist and full of fear.

The woman smiled kindly, "Do not fear children. I am Helga Fleischer, the commandant of Belzec. You need not cry you are safe here."

The guards snickered, but fell silent when Helga gave them a cold death stare. The two children's eyes lightened up at the sight of the beautiful woman before them.

Helga smiled again, "That's better. May I ask what your names are?"

The children were silent for a moment, but the boy stepped forward, offering his hand. "I am Hansel. This is my sister Gretel."

The woman took his hand and shook it playfully.

"Ah I see, hello Hansel and Gretel. You can call me Helga."

She nodded to one of the guards, who then opened the main building doors. Helga gently led Hansel and Gretel inside.

"Come now, you must be hungry."

They walked through the door, beneath a giant Nazi banner bearing the evil swastika. Behind them, the remaining passengers of the train were herded off in two directions. One group headed to work, and one group headed for the smokestacks.

Inside was a hall with a long table. Spread out on top was a grand feast, and Helga beckoned for Hansel and Gretel to sit down and help themselves. The children at first eyed the food warily, but dove in after a few cautious bites. Gretel noticed that Helga was just sitting there and stopped.

"Aren't you going to eat too Helga?"

Helga smiled sweetly. "No, I'm afraid I'm very picky about my food. I'll eat later."

She squeezed Gretel's cheeks and licked her chops.

"Yes, I'll have a grand feast of my own later!"

Gretel shrugged and continued to eat. The feast was so large that both Hansel and Gretel could not finish it in one sitting. Helga assured them that there would be even more food the following day and led the children to their rooms, which were filled with toys, snacks, and books. For the next two weeks, Helga continued the routine, waiting for the children to wake in the morning, giving them three hearty meals, and them retiring them to their rooms to play by noon. Both children began to grow fat and plump, and Helga's insatiable yearning to feast grew stronger and stronger by the day. But she remained calm and restrained herself, knowing that the longer she waited, the bigger her feast would become.

Finally, four weeks after she began her routine, she decided that the time, or in this case each child, was ripe. She ordered all her soldiers out the building and made it clear that disturbing her at any time throughout the entire day would be punishable by death. She eagerly skipped to the room where Hansel and Gretel were still fast asleep. Violently kicking in the door, Helga began to beat the terrified children around the room, laughing hysterically as she did. She took out a gun and poked Hansel.

"Oh yes! So chunky! You will make for a delicious meal."

She turned to Gretel and hit her forehead with the butt of her Luger, knocking her out cold. She grabbed the screaming Hansel and threw open the doors of the mess hall kitchen. She then chained the boy to metal bars and began to prepare her meal by chopping up spices and vegetables. Hansel struggled against the chain, pleading to Helga to let him go, but Helga ignored him, and instead hummed and whistled like a psychopath. Eventually, Hansel gave up his yelling and cried, praying for a miracle.

Outside the camp, a long, black Mercedes and two large trucks drove in. A suited man emerged from the Mercedes approached the nearest guard. Both men exchanged the common Nazi salute before speaking.

"What is the meaning of this visit sir?"

The man took of his hat and wiped some sweat off of his forehead.

"The front is advancing very quickly. Within a few days, the Russians will have reached Poland. General Stiglitz has ordered part of all camp military personnel to be absorbed into local units. Where is your commandant?"

The guard shifted uneasily, "I'm afraid she is unavailable."

The man blinked. "Oh really? Where is she?"

The guards eyes darted towards the building. "She's in there. But she can't be disturbed." The man snorted.

"Nonsense, let me in."

The guard held his ground. "I can't sir."

The soldiers in the trucks dismounted and approached, their weapons out.

"I'm not giving you a choice." The guard sighed and stood aside and opened the door. The suited man smiled. "I thought so."

Gretel awoke from her blackout to hear approaching footsteps. She put her face to the bars on her door and yelled for help. Soon, a face filled the window.

"Mr. Goitz, there's a little girl here."

The suited man had the door kicked open and looked quizzically at Gretel.

"What are you doing locked in that room?"

Gretel poured out her story in a rush of words. The man and the soldiers were taken aback.

"Are you lying to us, girl? We are not too fond of jokes."

One of the men leveled his sub-machine gun at Gretel's face. Gretel gulped.

"I swear by my life. Helga is still in the building, and she may have already eaten my brother Hansel!"

With that, she burst into tears. Goitz grabbed Gretel and shook her.

"We have no time for this! Show me where she is!"

Gretel sniffed and led them to the locked door of the kitchen. Helga's insane laughter could be heard inside. The soldiers exchanged confused glances, then kicked the door down. Inside, the men were shocked to see Helga pulling Hansel towards a giant vat of boiling soup.

Everyone in the room stopped.

"What in God's name are you doing?" the suited man asked.

Helga pulled out her Luger and shot the man, turning his head into a ball of red confetti. She turned the gun and shot off several more rounds in the soldiers' direction. Some of them dived for cover while the others returned fire, turning the kitchen into a hall of ash and sparks. Helga took Hansel and ran outside into the camp, where the prisoners were being lined up for inspection. Ignoring the confused shouts of both the German guards and the concentration camp prisoners, Helga ran through their ranks into the furnace room, where the dead were cremated. The pursuing guards fired into the crowd of prisoners, with little to no regard for their lives, and rushed into the furnace room. Helga turned and killed two of the guards, but heard a click as she pulled again. She was out of ammo. The guards didn't hesitate and opened fire. Her shrieks filled the air as she fell to the ground. To everyone's horror, she stood back up, but not as the vibrant, young woman who had fallen. Instead, in her place was a gray, old, and wrinkled hag.

"And so you see the truth."

She looked around, ignoring the shocked stares, and fixed her eyes on Gretel.

"Yes! There is still a chance!"

She lunged at Gretel and opened her mouth to gnaw away her flesh, as Hansel ran over to a dead guard and picked up his shotgun. Heaving under the weight of the weapon, Hansel swung the gun like a baseball bat directly into Helga's skull. She fell in front of the furnace, and looked up to see Hansel pointing a gun in her face.

"You don't understand... I just want to be youn..."

Hansel fired the shotgun, sending the old witch flying into the furnace. Ignoring her sickening howls, the guards slammed the furnace shut, and after several seconds, only the roar of the flames remained. Two weeks later, the Russian Army would sweep through Eastern Poland, liberating Belzec and freeing Hansel and Gretel, who would eventually move together to America...


  1. this is a unique take on the fairytale. for me the style of writing draws you into the story and it is very entertaining.
    surprisingly so!

    michael mccarthy

  2. Very interesting and fun take on the original! All the while a nice little reminder of it doesn't always take a witch to dream up evil thoughts.

  3. Loved it. What a great spin on a golden oldie!

  4. This reminds me of Fractured Fairy Tales.

  5. I can see this get adapted into a novel. Like the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, except the complete opposite. You're taking a fairy tale and bringing it to a more realistic setting.

    5 stars!

  6. A very creative adaptation. It truly felt like an action packed adventure for me; the writing was simple yet descriptive, it was a pleasure to read!

    Ziyad Hayatli

  7. Mrs. Fleischer, no less... An excellent idea for the retelling of Hansel and Gretel. It was not very clear why the newly arrived men would be so inclined to help Gretel -- they must have been accustomed and quite indifferent to seeing worse things than a girl crying for help in the camp's commandant place. Punctuation signs seemed conspicuously missing from some parts of the dialogue:You need not cry you are safe here.Or: Aren't you going to eat too Helga? But anyway, a great idea for a story. Quite an unforgettable read.

  8. Interesting juxtaposition of an old and revered fairy tale with the persecution of Jews during WWII. Starvation was rife in the concentration camps of Poland, as it was during the terrible famine in 14th century Europe, upon which the story is based. This tale illustrates the omnipresence of disaster and evil throughout the ages. Quite excellent, Alek.