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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 13 page 08

fiction

Birkenau

by Jonathan R. Rose

"Grab his feet."

Prisoner 75 grabbed the wrists. Prisoner 22 grabbed the ankles. Together they swung the corpse from side the side and tossed it into one of the enormous ovens.

Working since the sun first peeked over the horizon, the two men tossed body after body into the ovens, staring stoically as the ovens consumed flesh, bones, and souls, leaving nothing behind but a mound of ash. At least twice a week the ash grew so high that prisoner 75 (short for 1136175) and prisoner 22 (short for 1823922) had to turn off the ovens, sweep the ash into bags and bury it in the field behind the crematorium, scorching the pasture, rendering its once grassy surface barren and dead.

"How many more are there?" asked 22.

"You know better than to ask," replied 75.

Prisoner 22 sighed and rotated his neck in an effort to alleviate the tension resting on his shoulders like two devils. He suggested taking a break, something only those tasked with corpse disposal were permitted, once a day, for five minutes maximum.

Outside, they could view the entirety of the camp. The massive compound was encased in high fences topped with coils of barbed wire and punctuated by watch tower after watch tower. Each tower was occupied by guards who spent every waking moment staring at hundreds of barracks, each one filled to the brim with people that prisoners 75 and 22 knew they would see sooner or later.

"Here comes another train," said 75.

A train came into the camp, slowly, scraping the rails that led into the center of the compound, where a group of men in identical uniforms, all cradling machine guns, stood waiting.

"That's the third one today," said 22.

The pair turned and were about to make their way back into the darkness of the crematorium, where the only light came from the hellacious flames of the ovens, when they heard gunfire erupt from around the train. They watched as several members of the large group of people herded out of the wagons sprinted desperately toward the camp's main gate. Laughing, a pack of guards fired at the fleeing group, thinning out their numbers every time a bullet struck one of them in the back or head.

Prisoner 75 shook his head. "Where do they think they're going to go? This place is in the middle of nowhere. Even if they get out of the camp, there is nothing but the little town surrounding it. And the people who live there hate us even more than the guards inside the camp do."

He focused on the bodies of those foiled in their attempt to escape, and felt his muscles ache, knowing that he and his partner would have to eventually pick them up and toss them into the ovens. He always hated when new arrivals were executed. They were much heavier than those who had been in the camp for a while. They were still filled with energy, strength, life, and hope. The bodies of the long-time residents of the camp, however, were so thoroughly drained, so crestfallen, so overworked, so desolate, so beaten, so malnourished that there was barely anything left of them once they were brought to the crematorium for disposal, making the job much easier.

<CONT...>