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  • Simon Howard

ARE YOU A NAZI?

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

‘Ze conzendration?’ the woman at the tobacconist’s stall says with a huge smile when Tom asks her the way to the camp at Dachau. Well, you can’t put on a miserable face every time, can you? Not when you’re only a mile down the road. He walks in the direction she points.

For twelve years it sat there, a model camp. After a hard day’s cruelty, the guards would go and eat Bavarian cakes in a teashop on the hill. And listen to pretty music, no doubt.

It starts to drizzle as Tom arrives. He sees the nuns praying, though controversy rages over their doing so. He sees the gas chamber, and yes, it’s true – it does smell of gas, and there really aren’t any birds. And Hitler’s face has been rubbed out of all the photographs in the museum.

Only two huts remain, but they tell the story: the cramped conditions, the public shitting, the fifty lashes for a spilled drop of coffee. Apparently the paperwork tells of less efficiency than you’d expect. (Does that suggest more humanity? He doesn’t know.)

Tom thinks about his friend Rachel, an Israeli who told him once how she had no photographs of any of her closest relations. Forty of them had been murdered: her uncles were buried alive in Poland or Russia. For Rachel, they were faceless men and women, headless people she knew about only from her parents’ descriptions. Tom, on the other hand, was surrounded by relations and pictures of people whom he knew only too well.

Suddenly a tall Japanese youth appears at Tom’s side and shelters him under his umbrella: kindly and silently. It is raining more heavily now. They walk on in silence (the Japanese speaks no English). They are perfectly comfortable with one another, though shattered by their experience of the place.

Later, they leave the camp and approach a bus stop where another young man, an American, is sheltering from the rain. He and Tom make small talk for a while, and then the American says something that makes Tom’s heart stop.

‘Are you a Nazi?’ he asks.

Gulp. ‘What?’

‘Are you a Nazi?’

Dazed as he is, it takes Tom a long time to unravel what the American is really asking him. They’re speaking the same language, but not in the same way. What he’s actually saying is:

‘Are you an Aussie?’

Tom laughs, and the American looks surprised. Despite having no shared language, Tom feels closer to the silent Japanese youth than ever.

‘No, I’m not,’ he says, still laughing and wondering how much Dachau has affected the sound of his voice and his accent. He’s certainly never been mistaken for an Aussie before.

They board the bus and start the short journey back into town.

Are you a Nazi?

No, I’m not, Tom says to himself. I think I might be the exact opposite, as I understand the meaning of the word.


*****






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