Sonderkommando

A Poem by Michael Strosahl

You already know these things.
You already know how families
were packed breathless,
lungs expanded by gloom
as they descended the cattle cars.
You already know choices are not choices
at the wrong end of a gun
and the lucky among us
were those already facing the mud.

By force volunteered
to prepare for the showers,
to clean up when all went silent,
to take carts loaded
and spill them into the pits.
We did what had to be done.
When the holes were filled,
we dug more.
When those full
we reloaded carts,
rolled them to the incinerators
took bones to the grinders.

You already know these things.
You already know how many died
for the sin of birth,
the sin of mothers and fathers,
forefathers,
Jacob, Isaac and Abraham.

But some of us were held back
from the immediacy of death
only to live every second
with its burn in our nostrils,
comforting new arrivals,
helping them into the showers,
lying to the children,
those little girls crying and naked,
telling them to stay calm,
everything would be just fine
after they wash up.

At the end, some of us survived.
At the end, some of us
walked away from hell,
from the black smoke of the furnaces,
black smoke that stained our lungs
so that all we could breathe
still reminds us.

You already know all these things.
You already know
how we wished we were dead,
how we wished our faces
were pushed lifeless into the muck,
how we wish we could forget.

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