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Chairman of the Judenrat

From the early days I had developed such a network the like of which had not been seen. I was drawn to the corruption in men. I was a man whose power knew no limit. When I was talked about by comrades or enemies it was in terror. There were many in the leadership which had something to fear from me though I never aspired to their heights. I didn't want to. I didn't need to. I was a man blessed by his task. To control the fate of so many. You cannot imagine. It is beyond your wildest dreams. Today my name is mentioned and people still draw back. I created a moment in history which shall never come again. Why do I have to live in this stinking mess? What am I to these people? They do not know me. When I worked for their police the people under interrogation thought that I was an American. Most think I am an eccentric old man who chooses to live out his life in a snake pit. They do not move away from me as they once did. I have changed the nature of history. This is certain. One cannot think of my country without remembering me. Yet I cannot speak or I know what will happen. They want me to shut up. To keep quiet. These insects who admonish me because I am still not ashamed of what I have done. They cannot make me forget. I remember. I remember every day. I remember every moment. I have photographs of it all in my head. When I speak a picture passes before my eyes. I can pick out this or that. I can locate where I was. Why am I here? Who will answer me? They are the men without honor. They are the men without homes. They forget. Yet I see them all line up in front of him. Worshipping him. I am a simple man but there is no place for worship in my heart. He was a tool. As a tool in changing our history he had no equal. That was all. He had made mistakes but these men were borne in mistakes.

It was 1943. I am standing in a hospital block. With a doctor. I have come to seem him over some administrative matter. An account I remember of how many Poles we could send him for medical experiments. He was going through them at a rate of knots. It seems we had only given him a few thousand and the next week he would be asking for more. I knew his experiments were valuable. I didn't have to be told a sob story to give him a few more thousand. It was simply an administrative manner. He was not looking after his records. That is a crime I am not prepared to put up with. He was an educated man. He knew how to put pen to paper. It was unforgiveable that he allowed this lapse to occur in the records. It didn't matter to me how many he took. Or how quickly they went. It t didn't interest me at all. We would have been prepared to tip the whole of Poland in his laboratory if that's what he wanted. I was seeing him because he had allowed nearly nine months to pass without making full reports for the records. How many. And from where. Ages. Sex. What particular experiments. Results of tests. Cause of death. He had slopped around the books like a Ruhr mineworker. It was shameful. I had to clear up this business before it got any worse. I was not prepared to put up with it. He had to be reprimanded. Imagine. He had been responsible for I suppose about 50,000. No. It was 60,000. Yes. I remember — 60,000. Unbelievable.

The task of fixing his records was going to be a nightmare. Others would have faked it. It was not in my nature to do so. We would have to go back over all the records. Einsatzgruppen reports. The official minutes of Judenrat meetings in the ghetto. Transports. Departures and arrivals. Absolutely incredible. A gargantuan task you can imagine. This doctor's name. Dr Otto Stahlecker. A brilliant man. A complete genius. Top in his field. Excellent work. Much valued assistance to the war effort and to future scholarship. He was assisted in his work by a large chemical company that was very interested in his research. Had set up this establishment. A job for him after the conflict certainly. All these men had an eye on work they would do after our troubles were over. One of his assistants had me wait for him in his office. Pristine on one level. It was absolutely chaotic on the other. Everything in the room seemed to be arranged by a man of stern character except there were papers in every imaginable place. Unbelievable. The room otherwise could have passed for my own except he had a framed photograph of Pope Pius on the wall with a quote neatly typed underneath it. It said of our war on the Russians that this was a war of high minded gallantry in defense of the foundations of Christian culture. But those papers. It was like a whoosh of wind had brought a mountain of papers to land in this otherwise orderly office. I was irritated by this carelessness so I went about the office picking them up and putting them into neatly ordered piles. His information was all over the place.

twins sewn together

A little folder had notes on what experiments he had carried out on a gypsy family from Belgium. From these notes he had carried out experiments on the whole family. 24 people I believe. Time of arrival. Time of death. What they died from. A most interesting report. I was reading it and he came in. Saying something to the effect that he was pleased to see I was interested in his work. I nodded assent and I introduced myself even though it was clear he knew who I was. I have to see you on certain matters I told him. They cannot wait any longer. I told him in the gravest possible terms that he had to get his house in order or I would bring a whirlwind down on him. I don't care what you do to the filthy scum I said. Just put it on paper and put that paper through the proper channels. Do this work as quickly as you are getting through them or I will descend on you like the devil. You want more don't you I said. Certainly. Yes, of course. It is of the utmost importance he said. I am a scientist. There can be no question of the transports stopping he said. I have much to be thankful for. I am happy that you have found my work important enough. Then do your paperwork I screamed at him. Do it immediately. If I had to chase people like you all over the place the real work would never get done. Am I making myself perfectly clear? It would be a most unpleasant experience for both of us if I had to return here to clear up these affairs.

He was most chastened. Offering me this and that to placate me. He wasn't at the university now I thought. He was amongst the minds of our nation. We were blessed with genius who had a sincere love for the nation in their heart. It would take us to lofty places. Of this I was sure. The pride I felt after being in that establishment. To now see these experiments ridiculed today as if they were the products of monsters makes me feel a great sadness. A sadness which makes me stronger. Let there be no doubt about that. But to watch this generation of children born after the conflict. They have turned their backs on us. Follow any tune sung by the Americans. Before I left you could watch people listening to the American military radio station. Dancing to that nigger music. Our youth dancing to the music of apes. Now you see the result of that. The republic is already having troubles at the universities. The Reds have put their foot in the door. Free to read anything they like. Run their own courses apparently. Call a professor an old Nazi — intimidate him — that'll get you through. When we burn the books it was intended that our people would rebuild their own culture. Free from the degenerate influence of the Communists and the Jews. Freud and Marx now hold sway in Berlin they tell me. The young wants to savor these decadents. My own son. Disowns his father. Belongs to some Red group who go out and ferment trouble with the immigrant workers. Incite them on to actions. He calls his father a war criminal — a mastermind of genocide. What can I do? What could I tell him? They have it so soft they would not understand. I in turn disown him. I want nothing to do with him. If he wants to spend his time destroying everything I worked my whole life for then he can to the wolves. What he finds of interest in the vermin he works with leaves me feeling only horror. I have had no contact with him for over a decade. I don't want to hear from him. He has nothing to say to me of value.

Who are my family here? Where are they? A wife who is lost to the past. A daughter who seems to be lost to the future. They are all I've got. There's no one else. There's no one in this mongrel country I can trust. I have not sought their trust either. It was apparent to me not long after I arrived that these were small people of no concern. I recognize some old faces here. If the conflict had lasted a little longer they know I would have had them strung up. These were men of no concern to me holding their idiotic meetings singing the old songs. They were never near the seat of power as I was. Why should I trust these old incompetents wrapping themselves nice and snug with the old flag. They were too frightened of me anyway. They made contact with me only when they had too. Too frightened they'd be sought. These were men strong enough to hold their pathetic meetings in each other’s living room in an alien city discussing the old days like they were some form of dinner party. They were not strong enough to help me out. I didn't want their help. They had nothing to offer me. To look at them was to become aware of what terrible mistakes we had made. No wonder the buildings of Berlin fell about our ears. With these men in our ranks how weakened we had allowed ourselves to become. We should have swept them up in the holy tide of our terror. We should not have allowed these men to degenerate into politicians. They were of no use then. There are of no use now. We allowed them into positions of power and our nation fell apart because of it. These were the men who always affected an arm length grace from the actions of my men while reaping the benefits. Too frightened. Too frightened of our organized terror. It was not the terror that put these clowns off. It was the organizations of that terror. When we went into an area to clean it up our intelligence was so perfect — so refined — we knew who we wanted and what we wanted to do with them. Not for us the madness and anarchy of the masses who always chose the wrong target. Yes it was the pure organization that unsettle these old statesmen in hiding.

Why do I talk about them? They have gone from me a long time ago. All their faces become indistinct. A mass of undistinguished men with undistinguishable faces. Why do I allow these nonentities to irritate me? I cannot remember their faces. I cannot remember their names. I know their crimes. The only face I can call up at a moment’s notice is that of Eckstein. He haunts me. Has haunted me ever since we met. He has entered my skin like some disease you can't eradicate. I should have eradicate him but that I could not do. It was not for love of the man. I loathed him as I have loathed no other. I despised everything he fought for. Still I allowed this man to live. How can you account for that? How could I let him go? I cannot account for that. He was the only one I let pass my grip. Now my hands feel stained with his presence. My blood feels contaminated by this knowledge. When the last transports left the ghetto after their suicidal uprising he was in them. This uprising by the crazy Jews. It took them to the last to realize we were not sending the rest of the tribe to heaven on earth but to a holiday in hell. It was the very last who organized their resistance.

No doubt Eckstein was behind it somewhere. I had ordered my men into the ghetto to collect the last of them for the cattle trucks. This I had not done before because I had not needed to. Their elders had always brought them. This meant we didn't have to deal with them. This time they had not listened to their elders. They fought against them. They would have rather died in the ghetto than go up in smoke. It was all the same to me. My men went in and they were fired upon from various quarters. It was complete. Unexpected. No one had expected the vermin to have guns. They fired on my men. They would steal more guns from the fallen. It all happened so quickly. My men were not prepared for this. Most of them did not come back and there were some boys there that I had known since the days when they were training. Good boys with a future ahead of them. Cut down by dirty Jews who were going to end up as flame whatever happened. We went back in with more troops and the scum kept on fighting. It was unbelievable. Who could believe it was possible? We finally turned this ghetto to rubble. How old was Warsaw? It had survive many things. It could not survive us. When we had vanquished the ghetto only a few survivors were left. Eckstein amongst them. Moving towards me. I turned my body. I looked away from him.

Kanadakommando sorting belongings of Jewish victims

Why does he haunt me? I still see his face before me. He will not let me go. He will be with me till the end of my days. I let the dog go. Didn't I? I let him flourish. His old tribe went into the sky. They will never be able to say enough Kadesh to remember them. Nothing will bring them back. Gone. But this one. I let him go. When he went to the camp I told the commanding officer that this man was very important to us in intelligence. That much was to be gained by him being kept alive. He watched his relatives and friends enter the sky as flame. He was given work in Canada. A place in that hellhole where they had to collect and pack the valuables that his race brought with them. Whatever money they had left in their dirty pockets — jewelry, clothes, spectacles, gold filling. Anything. Anything that could be turned to our use was. The clothes we sent to our soldiers in the East and our people in the bombed out cities. The rest was convertible to cash. When they went in the chambers they filled our pockets to the brim. All those who worked in Canada had something to barter. Their lives could last a little longer by working thee. They watched their brethren turn readily into cash. It got too much for some of them. Handling the valuables of those near to them sent some of them quite crazy. Well they soon joined those who had departed. No matter to us how soon they went. One day or another didn't matter to us. They were as good as gone as soon as they walked into the camp. They were lucky to have got there. Still some of them hung on to the hope that there would always be another day. Another time. Or that this night would end and it would be day forever for them. The truth was that the chambers were going every minute of the day so there was a permanent fog. You could hardly see each other. You could only see yourself. Here

Eckstein was caught in the packing store trying to throw jewelry into the sewer. Old Eckstein had staged his last rebellion. This old Jew had taken valuables that were supposed to be going to Berlin. Threw them into the sewer. He did not do this discreetly. He threw them in full view of other Jews and in full view of my men. This little man had thrown them in the shit. This little man had thrown his life away. I was rung at my office and told this story. By all means I told them give this man a beating whose pain would last forever but keep the devil alive. I told them that since he could not be trusted packing then he must be given work that would make any resistance comic. Give him work taking bodies out of the chambers and placing them in the furnaces. See if that won't make him more docile — I said. A few weeks of taking the gold fillings out the mouths of the dead will make him solemn. That'll put a stop to his arrogance. Picking the chosen ones who have torn themselves and each other to pieces. That will keep his hands busy. His lips sealed. That will turn his eyes away from the sun. The guards there call it the work of the damned. Those who do it don't do it for long. The will disappears quickly. Into air. Into smoke. When you see these men who work that detail it is not possible to look at humans in the same light again. They stare at you like figures in a painting. Their eyes still. No movement at all. Yet they do not look dazed. It's as if the day picks them up and throws from place to place. Not like machines. Like they are in a state of hypnosis. Everything has slowed down for them. Their movement has a strange grace. Like they are walking a few inches above the ground. They are not saints. They are the last of men. Men are not the same after them. A man there knows no place. He is caught somewhere between purgatory and hell on a tripwire that only they can walk.

They are the most depraved of men. I watch them going through the pockets of the dead taking everything. They kneel there on the ground with some crude instrument pulling the fillings from the teeth of the dead. They pull at it. Wrenching it like a bolt. They repeat this action over and over again. Then they drag the bodies from the room. Endless number of the chosen ones. All gone. Men. Women. Children. They drag them out through the night. They look more dead than the ones they carry. They carry them to the furnaces. One by one they are placed in fire. The flames. They all live in the same quarters just one block from the furnaces. They all sit outside the building separated from the others in the camp. These men have been rejected by every group. They are too sick to do useful work and too well to go up in smoke themselves. They were by themselves in a space the air could not fill. Yet even here. Even with these men. They created a sense of community. They thought of themselves as a community. Not an organization. They were too far gone for that. But a community. Today. Here. In this room. I close my eyes and I cannot believe I have seen such men. Eckstein and his community of helpers splitting the teeth of the dead. Dragging their bodies like oxen through the snow and mud. Placing them like pots in an oven. How they could even remember their own names. It's beyond me. It's unimaginable when you beat an animal often enough. They do not know whether they are coming or going. These men still knew where they were going. This community of shadows. Now this community does have sons and daughters who have built a home for themselves. Now this community has set its dogs upon me. I know I am being sought. A man who has chased after others knows when he is being chased. I smell them here. I can still smell them. I know how to smell out a Jew.

Christopher Barnet

Christopher Barnet

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