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The Devil’s Janitor

Cesca Dogliani

It is a warm room, comfortable enough.
Sun shines through slatted windows.
He sits at a window overlooking the garden.
It is immaculate. Its owner marred.

He sees me not when he speaks,
rather I think, images of a lifetime hence.
Memories play pictures in his mind,
his gaze, his tale, falls to history.

“After the allies came and we were freed,
my only concern was to find any who
might have survived. I found none.
No parents, no children,
brothers or sisters.
No aunts, no uncles,
cousins. No one.

“There was only me,
left to stand in anguished queues.
Left to stand with others like me,
others who had eyes like mine.
Some shouted, others stared,
all like I, had come alone.”

His gaze drifts through the garden
across the landscapes of his mind,
as he alters time before my eyes.
He sees me not when he speaks.

“It was 1944, they took us together.
My love — her hair was the softest
shade of molten honey, eyes that
engulfed all reason within me.
We should have liked to wed
come the end of the war.

“There where trains at the station,
carriages the likes of which you
might convey heads of cattle in.
We were told to bring all our belongings
as though one would think, you would be
holidaying for some time, out in the mountains.
We were hopeful, still together, for a time.
It was a short-lived flight of fancy.
Our separation was imminent, to barbed fences
armed guards, thousands and thousands like us
incarcerated by the hatred of a broken nation risen.
she to Dachau, I to Auschwitz, to haunted eyes
and hollow faces, to the stench of death en masse.

“Human nature defies human comprehension,
our lust for life, we cling to anything that
might allow us another day, even if that be
another day in hell. Another day in Auschwitz,
another day in Dachau, another day in ...
It matters not so long as it is another day alive.

“The only thing was alive. Or dead.
The dead where countless, hollow faces and
haunted eyes, emaciated, gaunt, withered and dead.
Dead, so many dead on account of their blood.
Was it not red enough, that it had to be shed in
quantities too vast for any human intellectual capacity.”

There is a flicker in his eyes as he pauses,
a haunted look, troubled and intangible
I am released from his imagery. He sees the garden,
only briefly before his recommencement.

“Some of us were given a choice, to keep our lives
so to speak, with a labour more monstrous than any
man should ever endure. The Devil’s Janitors.
Cleaning out the dead, sweeping up the dead.
Clearing tangled masses of our own kin, this,
they pledged would secure our existence.
Lust for life lies beyond human comprehension.

“They would go into the chambers expecting
cleanliness, realisation would inevitably bring chaos.
Panic would bring an end to humanity before fatality.
Civility is unknown in the face of death.
We would go in, procuring our continuance,
another day alive, another day in hell, another day ...
To clean the mass of flesh, gauged, trampled, man, woman,
child, contorted, twisted, broken, gassed, to wash the blood
that flowed to drains that should only have anticipated water.

“Each body an individual soul, every face unique
though marred by atrocity, each and every one
a lifetime away from normality, sentenced to death
by all humanity, silence killed as many as gas, as many
as hunger as many as Hitler. The blind eyes that saw
and did nothing, the principles that sacrificed in excess
of six million souls unnecessarily.”

His face streaked with tears that had etched lines into his cheeks.
Time will never cloud the images he recalls.
Human nature defies human comprehension.
The immaculate garden, fades to nothing.
“Lest we forget” Ö


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