Death march (day 3) – Enduring nightmares

EXCERPT FROM THE LONG NIGHT

Death march to Gross Rosen

“I viewed the trail of death with neither fear nor excitement. When they fell back and rejected the support of those close to them, they were so apathetic that they were not even touched by the fear of death. Some of them closed their eyes, as if the world no longer had any meaning for them.

Twenty-two years¹ have passed since these events, but the memories are so clear, it is as if I had lived through them only yesterday. Often, when I am half asleep, I wake with a start. They frequently appear before me: grey, shaven figures with sightless eyes staring into the distance, waiting for a bullet to the head. I see how they sit at the roadside, the small dark hole at the temple, the thin hesitant trickle of blood. I wait for them to speak, to moan, but they sit there motionless, and then silently fall forwards.

In my memory I can still see a young comrade, who, like many others, had remained behind, but could not surrender himself to his inevitable fate. His feet could no longer carry him any further, but with a superhuman effort he dragged himself onward. Finally, his legs no longer responded to his commands. He staggered and crumbled. A cross stood about ten metres away from him by the road. The figure of Christ was suspended on it. His glance strayed towards the cross. Once again he wanted to raise himself up but his muscles failed him, so he crawled with his elbows towards the cross, dragging his body across the ground. The SS man, gun at the ready, pulled the trigger, but no shot was fired as the magazine was empty. While the SS man reloaded, the inmate made an unbelievable effort to crawl towards the cross. He stopped before the figure of Christ on the cross. A bright glow appeared to emanate from his eyes, which now appeared large and glassy. With a final effort he leapt towards the cross and embraced it with both arms. Exhausted by the effort, his face relaxed. Peacefully, and as if relieved, he let his head hang to one side. His foam-covered lips moved as if in prayer. The crucified Jesus, with outstretched arms, head bent to one side and with staring eyes looked down upon him: the half-dead inmate who at the moment of death prayed to him. I stood transfixed, mesmerised by the appearance of my young comrade, and it was as if we were connected by a moment of unbreakable unity. The crucified Jesus hung over us. At his feet the victim waited for the bullet. I stood beside him; alive, but shrouded in a veil of death. Suddenly the silence was pierced by a rifle shot.”

¹At the time the author wrote this book – 1967