July 19: The bunks are three deep with thin straw mattresses. There is no space between them, you sleep head to foot, coughing, moaning, turning. You climb off the end of the bunk without the use of a ladder. The prisoners on each side of you have died and have been replaced by others. You no longer exchange names. How long before you die too? If you are still alive you help drag anyone who has died during the night to the morning formation and roll call. You stand in the cold or rain or snow.
It is a check to see be sure no one has escaped. If the numbers don’t match up, the roll call starts again. That’s why even the dead must be brought out. You are beaten at random, and you are never sure why. You don’t do anything to call attention to yourself, don’t cough, don’t groan no matter what hurts or how weak you feel. If you can’t work, you may be subject to medical experiments that usually end in death. Stand straight, act capable of work. Don’t make eye contact. Answer promptly and loudly when your name is called.
Toward the end of the war beatings grow worse and rations are cut. Food is a watery “soup” with no protein. You are starving, you don’t recognize your face or your body, you function by rote. You stomach and bowels protest. Your teeth have fallen out, your hair. You skin is covered with sores. There is no medical care. You don’t dare mention you’d like to see a doctor. Your barracks, designed for 200 now holds 2,000. It stinks, you stink. You try not to think anymore about what may have happened to you wife, your children. Are they alive? Are they better off dead? What will be left of them, or you if you survive? Bodies are burned to hide the number who have died. Later you will learn that 41,000 dead are accounted for, but the numbers that died in transports or who are not German are not counted, no gypsies, no gays. It is after all “the final solution.”
How can humans do this to each other? How different was this from recent actions in Iraq at Abu Ghraib? The Balkins? Counties in Africa?
I can’t comment today on the rest of our day. It seems so frivolous. We made Zürich and tomorrow, we will be in Troyes, France.