Africans and African Americans in the Holocaust.
NY Times Book Review
Hungry Mind Review
- Coffee House Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Read an Excerpt
Saturday, November 11, 1939
Dieter Lange came up behind me this morning while I was cleaning the house before going to the canteen. Anna had gone shopping in Munich to get some new clothes because of that weight she's lost. Instead of looking like an elephant, she looks like a baby elephant. "They almost got him!" Dieter Lange whispered, as though someone was hiding in the house. "Almost got him!"
"Got who? Who's they?"
His eyes were bright and he was all up in my face like when he's drunk and he whispers, "Wie steht es?"
How about it? "Hitler! They almost got Hitler, with a bomb in Munich, Thursday night!"
I snapped the dust out of my cloth. To me a miss was as good as a mile. I didn't know what all the fuss was about. "But who did it?"
"Some Red carpenter in Munich. They got him."
"But who else? You said they?"
"Just him, as far as I've heard. But it shows that people don't want war and they want to be rid of Hitler. So, maybe the next time they'll get him, eh? And maybe that's not too far off." He walked around the room, his hands behind his back. "You know, I'd let you go, if we got out of this mess. I'd give you the money to get back home. I really would, Cleef."
"I'd sure appreciate that," I said, but it wouldn't happen. He knew it and I knew it. White people fulla shit, especially when they run a place like Dachau. He stopped walking right in front of me and held my dusting hand. "What's the matter with you, Cleef?" He gave me a close look, as though he might find something in my face that he'd missed before. "You've been . . . nicht heir for over a month now. Are you sick?"
I looked at him. I didn't know what he was talking about. I said, "What do you mean?" He raised his arms and moved them slowly up and down like he was a bird on the wind. "You just flott machen all the time, maybe like you had some cocaine?"
I released my hand and went back to dusting. He watched me and said, "Achtsam, Cleef, bitte, Achtsam," then he went upstairs to his office.
When I finished, I shouted to him that I was going to the canteen and left. I didn't wait for him to answer.
It was another Armistice Day, ha-ha-ha, to celebrate the war to end all wars, except the one that just began. Ta-ta, da-da, de-dum. . . ."Hey, Sunshine!!"
I stopped and turned around. I'd passed through the Jourhaus gate. Sgt. Rekse, his Schaferhund straining at his leash, was shouting. I didn't know why.
"What do you do, why do you skip like a little kid? Are you nuts, Pepperidge? You want to wind up in the Hartheim wagon like those other niggers went out of here this morning?" Skipping? I was skipping? I whipped off my cap. "No, sir."
"I'll tell your mother on you!" he roared, laughing, rolling back on his heels. He rubbed my head for good luck. The shepherd he'd brought to heel snapped his head from me to Rekse and back again, its tongue hanging out. Would Rekse never forget that visit by Ruby Mae? "Get going, Pepperidge, and get those marbles out of your head. They're glass, you know, and can be broken."
I thanked him and replaced my cap and walked quickly away, up the west-side path, into the stiff, cold wind. I lowered my chin to protect my throat even though the sun was shining. But, would Pierre be gone? Would he have been one of those "niggers" on the wagon ride to Hartheim? We used to gather on this side of the camp to hear Hitler's speeches, which were broadcast over the loudspeakers hooked up across the moat on the ss side. The moat is outside the wall on this side of the camp. Now there are walls with the electric fences on the top. I could see the rooftops of the factories, hear the banging and clanging of work going on inside them, the hum and screech of machinery. I was almost never on this side, but I could wonder now at just how much the prisoners had done since I first came. Down at the end of the camp, the sun was reflecting off the glass of the new greenhouse. Oh, Pierre. A group of prisoners pulled a wagon loaded with the dead from the Reviers and the morgue. Then I was at the northwest corner where the small north road bisects the smaller west path, where the gates lead to the inferno the dead don't feel. Or if they do, they can't say so. The greenhouse stood before me; to its right was the garden, then a space where rabbits were raised, for ss Hasenpfeffer and for Luftwaffe pilots' jackets. Then the disinfection hut where Pierre worked. Above all this was the north watchtower with its sliding glass windows, its machine gun and the guard with his rifle. I stood there with my pass at the ready to show any guard, and watched the prisoners wheeling barrows of rich, black dirt from a huge pile into the greenhouse. The prisoners were all white, untouched by that soft, golden color that was Pierre's. My stomach began a slow, cold slide downward. I moved forward a few steps. Maybe the sun was shining too brightly, or the cutting wind was doing something to my eyesight. "Oh, Pierre," I whispered to myself. I looked at the pile of earth, then saw a shovel and a pair of blackened hands, disembodied parts, moving in a slow steady rhythm, filling a barrow. I walked to where I could see who the shoveler was. It was Pierre. He saw me and winked and smiled. I smiled back and felt the wind sharper on my face where it met the tears. I waved and turned away toward the 'Strasse. Why were my footsteps heavier than before? Would Pierre be in the next group to Hartheim? Would it be easier for me if he was, or even if he'd gone this morning? There would be no more "Suppose," no more worry. It would be over and done with. I felt I was walling up something inside me that no one could touch or reach from now on, that no one could hurt. Dieter Lange could be in me, but not in that place; Pierre could "Suppose" me, but never again would he be able to touch that place, because it was my sanctuary, my church, the grove where Loa Aizan, forever watchful, rested.
I skipped up the 'Strasse humming. In answer to the smiles, the circles drawn on the sides of the heads, I muttered, "Fuck you. Fuck you."
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