Auschwitz Concentration Camp
December 7th, 1940
Imagine standing at an endless funeral procession.
There is the fallen, there is gloom, there is sadness, there is a great abyss before you. Subconsciously you understand that people die and move on, that death is just the end of the first circle of life and the beginning of the second. You know this, and yet you still cry, because subconsciously you know that you too are going to one day suffer the same fate. Subconsciously, human beings are expert practitioners of narcissism. We value life and consider death a dreadful thought. We cannot grasp the idea of leaving our physical flesh. It's just too impossible, too ludicrous and profane to think about.
Now, imagine standing at that endless funeral procession again. The Reaper is the pallbearer. If you lived well like most of us have, and have been accused falsely like all of us have then suddenly leaving the physical and entering the eternal metaphysical-physical doesn't sound like a crazy, ludicrous or profane idea at all. It actually sounds wonderful.
This place is ironically the greatest Christian paradoxical structure in the world: the only way to live is to die.
Death doesn't understand his primary function. To send people away not to eternal sorrow, but eternal happiness. So why then is Death seen as a dreadful Reaper, when he is simply the threshold in which to pass into?
Then again, I realize my position. I am not passing through the threshold or on the other side. Rather, I am in the damming trial and tribulation of my soul.
The hope of this place, someone told me, is knowing that at least you'll die with an audience that gives you a standing ovation after the performance.
If I were to give a speech to this audience, I would say:
You eradicate a people who have done no evil. I am sent to execution by a misinformed populace of evil who believe the second coming is at hand. If he, this Hitler, is the Savior of the World, tell me what joy, what humanity, what understanding has he brought you? He has deceived you into committing murder, mass genocide, all for the glory. The glory of what? The country? The world? God? The country, if they understood, would be ashamed of this. The world, if they witnessed it, would revolt against it. As for what God believes, I am not at liberty to say, but if Caesar could not kill Him, what makes you think you can kill us without divine reprimands and intervention?
The Germans are a prime example of Caesarian mind control, and we, the Jews, have always been the same.
A door opens. Blinding sunlight enters, exposing our so called wickedness to the world. A man with keys walks toward the cell across from me. His hooves clash against the stone, his retched smile covers his face from one end to the other. He whistles Mussorgsky, indicating that he is the Beelzebub of the situation.
"37912, time to go for a walk."
He turns the key, the lock echoes a death knoll. Prisoner number 37912, the one I call Illich-Svitych, an old man of eight-seven from Konstantinovsk, a town near the River Don, walked out from his prison. Haggard and lame, Mister Illich-Svitych had the appearance of Hugo's recluse. Mangled hair, typhus skin, gray eyes, and a smile of naiveté- a sign of his mental deficiency. He wasn't born with it, retardation, it was developed by the de-socialization, dehumanization, and humiliation that this place causes.
He looks toward me with the same smile. He is brutishly escorted out, showing no fear, giving praise to God for his life and his entry. To him, death is the sweet release, the necessary escape.
The door closes, the light leaves. The rain goes steady now. Illich-Svitych's footsteps are heard. He takes his place along the wall, the marksman walks center stage, says his dialogue, raises and fires. The bullet hits the concrete.
Illich-Svitych is free.
The wind blows from the south, the marksman exits, the curtain closes, the door reopens.
The hoofed man enters again, looks to me and says:
"You knew him?"
"Not formally no, why?" I ask him.
"Because he looked at you as if he knew you." A pause. "Did he?"
"Know me?" I ask, "no, well, most likely he knew of my formal life."
"Honestly," I say to him, "I can't remember, I've been in here so long."
He told me that I used to be a source of pestilence. That I was the reason for this massacre, but he didn't phrase it exactly like that. He said it in a glorifying way, as if my suffering were contributing to the great of the nation.
"What nation?" I ask him. "The nation of slavery?"
The nation of perfection was his answer. He left telling me that I should suspect fifty-seven lashings and fifty-seven minutes on the poles, as if that were going to help contribute to the great of the nation.
I stole this pen and pad from a semi-benevolent officer in the Munich train station. I say semi-benevolent because he was too blind to know that I even did it. I'm surprised that they didn't confiscate it in the searches, I guess they thought I was harmless, that, or was going to die soon anyway so they didn't think anything of it.
This morning I received those fifty-seven lashes and minutes on the pole. I hung by a small coat hook like a slaughtered cadaver. But if I were one of those, then the man next to me, was a worm eaten skeleton. He had been sentenced to one-hundred and fifty eight lashings and eight hours- the longest sentence I've heard of. His cries of mercy must have reached the stars, because two hours later it rained and two hours later he died. I was there when he was dying, in his last moments he said:
Ich war schon einmal ein freier Mann, schrieb Bücher und Schuhe geflickt.
The loose translation:
I was once a free man, who wrote books and mended shoes.
"This is our crucifixion." He said, this time in English.
"No," I replied, "it is our grieving station."
I was taken down.
My sides ache, my ribs are bruised, and my chest burns. As I walk painfully back to my cell, my neighbor, prison number 092042, Kacper Bosko, a man of twenty-eight from Warsaw, beat his hand against the wall.
"Hey Rabbi, did you know that man, the one they whipped?"
"No." I answered.
"Sure looks like you did. I know, I watched you from my window here."
I scoffed, shook my head and sighed. "Stop lying to yourself, you didn't see anything, the windows are too high."
"Yeah, you're right, sorry for that."
"No need to apologize in hell." I answered.
A brief silence.
Mister Dominik Gottschalk, the jailer and Great Sentinel of the Block, begins to make his rounds.
"Good morning," he says, walking slowly looking into each cell into the hearts of broken men.
"As you all know, Mister Valery Popov, or 193105, was whipped this morning for questioning an officer. Because of his lack of understanding you will all be forced to work the yard for seven hours every day until you die. Is that understood?"
He exits and when darkness takes over, the accusations begin.
"Nice going Valery, you sick bastard, now I'll be slaving for the rest of my fucking life!" Julius Harmon, a Jew from Berlin said.
"Hey, it wasn't his fault, at least he had the guts to do something." Kacper said.
"Thank you moi droog," I answered, "I'll remember this later."
"No problem Rabbi."
"Why do you call me that?"
"Because you used to be one." Kacper replies.
I laugh a little. "Funny, you think a man would remember his previous occupation."
"Wars and hell can do that to you." Kacper said. "Anyway, I used to be a watchmaker."
"The man who was with me wrote books and mended shoes." I said.
We talked for about two hours before Dominik came around again keeping us quiet and for us to stay that way if we ever want to eat again.
Meals are degrading scraps and when it comes we are reduced to animality. Pacing, slurping, chewing, tearing, shredding. Primal instinct. I am one of the tame ones. Julius and even Mister Bosko go to extreme lengths to get what they want, for it is presented to us in a pail, much like how circus animals are fed. We have come to figure out that the more animalistic we behave, the more scraps we are given, but they decrease in desirability so no one dares to make a fool of themselves unless they are absolutely desperate.
'You you're only making it worse." I said to Kacper, who was doing his perception of a Bengal Tiger. "Soon they'll be throwing shit at you."
"I don't care." Kacper said, "it's substance."
Five minutes pass and they leave, just like always, and just like always I ended up with nothing.
"I have a bone if you want to split it." Kacper said, reaching his hand out and moving it over to the best of his ability.
"No, you go on ahead." I answered.
"You haven't had any food for three days," said prison number 053106, Ermenegilde Favre, or simply Ermen, a French Jew from Marseilles who visited his German relatives at the wrong time of the year. "Eat something Valery."
"I wish I could." I said, "But it's not like they give a sufficient supper."
"Still, at breakfast, you must fight for something. If you won't then I will and give it to you." Ermen said.
"You're a brave man Ermen," I said, "possibly the bravest in here."
The Frenchman smiled. "I'm glad to hear that, because I'm going to be tested in the morning."
Tested. The most devastating word you could hear in this place.
That night, I prayed for his strength, faith, and survival.
If you are 'to be tested' it means one of two things, a physical examination or you become a test subject. The most likely case scenario is the later. I've never been a witness, but someone described it to me like this:
Look in the mirror for a moment. See yourself, smile and wave. You're happy with the way you look and you, for the most part, generally look the same. Now, rip your skin off. Tear off every patch of hair, pluck every eyebrow, nose hair and carve the word 'Toten' on your brain, leaving the knife there. Remove your eyes and devour them, and then if you're still breathing, squeeze your jugular until it bursts. Then, reinsert your skin. That's human experimentation.
But I don't need hyperboles and metaphors in order to comprehend the horror. Two hours after lunch, Ermen was cut in half and sewn together with another man who was apparently his brother. He was connected to this man for five seconds before passing. Prison number 053106, Ermenegilde Favre, 1917-1942. A Frenchman. Occupation unknown, marital status unknown, place in history- a decent man.-Valery Popov, Prisoner No. 193105