Just started reading this sobering account. Only fourteen pages in and I'm already close to tears over the cruelty and folly of human beings.
I told the old man about the ghetto in Lodz where the cesspool cleaners had whistled Beethoven as they worked and where close to one hundred thousand people had been murdered or died of starvation. I told him how the train would arrive from Polish villages bringing men with bloody heads and women wrapped in shawls, and how, once the trains were gone, the women undid their wraps and pulled out their babies, some of them dead by suffocation but a few still alive, saved from German bayonets. I told him how, a few months later, the SS would arrive and throw those same babies into trucks and cart them off to the gas chambers. I talked about the public executions, about hangings where the bodies were left on the gallows for weeks while we walked by, about the carloads of bloody clothing that we tore into strips and wove into mats for German tanks so that the soldiers could keep their feet warm. How, when the battlefront had come into earshot of our camp, a German colonel bedecked with gold braid had arrived, assembled all of us, and proclaimed: "We have to evacuate the ghetto now but do not be afraid. I give you my word of honor as a German officer that no harm will come to you. You will be well cared for..." and how, one week later, those who had survived the transport in sealed cattle cars walked through the gates of the electrified wire fence, straight into the black smoke of Auschwitz.
I saw myself as we knelt for a whole day and night, our knees scraped raw against the sandy ground, propping up the girls who fainted because we knew that whoever collapsed would never get up again. That was the time one of the girls had tried to escape. All of Auschwitz had to kneel until they captured her and when they did, they called a roll call, broke her arms and legs while we watched and only then dragged her off to the gas.
But I did not say much about Auschwitz. Human speech can only express what the mind can hold. You cannot describe hammer blows that crush your brain. Instead, I gave the old man a detailed account of the kind of life we led in the camp from which we arrived every morning in his brickyard. I also told him that there had been girls with us who arrived directly from home and that a few dozen of them were pregnant. One evening they had all been summoned to the main barracks and we never saw them again. The following morning, a special detail was ordered to clean puddles of blood from the barracks floor.
I do not remember what else I told him. I only know that he did not say a word for as long as I spoke and, when I heard the shouting of orders outside that meant we were returning to camp and got up to leave, he remained sitting, hunched into himself, his head in his palms.
That man lived in Nazi Germany and had daily contact with a concentration camp and its inmates, yet he knew nothing. I am quite sure he did not. He had simply thought that we were convicts, sentenced by a regular court of law for proven crimes."