MEMENTO MORI

Young Man: Let me tell, you about Mathausen and see if you can remember a little of what went

on there. 

 

Old Man: Alright. But I cannot remember it at all and I am sure Manfred was at the factory in

Berlin.

 

Young Man: We struggled with those damn back-carriers endlessly. Someone made reference to

us being like Tyrolean peasants, but they were not part of some pastoral scene believe me. Those

fucking things broke our backs in more than one way, first of course the sheer weight was indescribable

but because they were constructed of wooden planks there was no arc in their construction

to follow the shape of a man’s spine. (Old man feels a pain in his back) The middle of your

spine felt the weight with no physical contact to soften the blow. Those leather straps too with

weeks and months of mud were rock hard and cut into our shoulders terribly. You couldn’t even

choose to take a smaller stone as if the SS or Kapos saw you they would, after the trial of the

steps and the steep climb, persuade fellow prisoners to push you over the edge of the cliff to your

death.

 

Old Man: That sounds horrific. I still cannot remember Mathausen. What came after sticks in my

mind more. I suppose I simply may have chosen to remember one of these experiences rather

than both. Tell me about the steps?

 

Young Man: The steps were cut out of the clay and the rock and had wooden planks to support

their construction. This made those fucking steps lethal slippery death traps in themselves, never

mind having to haul large pieces of granite up and sometimes down them.

 

Old Man: Why would you bring the stones back down to the quarry bed? That’s stupid having just

carried them up to waiting trucks.

 

Young Man: The SS were bastards like that. They used to taunt us with these crazy demands just

because they could. That is how they broke the spirits of most of us there. Can you imagine having

made a supreme effort to get a block of stone up the steps perhaps for the tenth time that day and

then as you got to the top for the last time and could feel the end of the working day upon you, they

would send you down and of course get you to bring that fucking granite block back up again.

 

Old Man: Funny I just do not remember that.

 

Young Man: How can that be?

 

Old Man: I suppose it may be to do with the change that came towards the end of that experience,

when you left me I mean, when the cells died off again. Perhaps that leaving allowed me to divest

some hideous memories.

 

Young Man: What the fuck are you talking about?

 

Old Man: Well there is the theory that all our cells renew themselves at seven to ten year intervals

and I know for me, that major life cycles have occurred roughly every seven years.

 

Young Man: That is mad.

 

Old Man: Is it?

 

Young Man: That would mean I am non-existent. I cannot believe that.

 

Old Man: It would explain how at a terrifying time in our shared life we have different memories

because we were and are fundamentally different people.

 

Young Man: Funny but I cannot remember personal and experiential memories beyond my death

just after the war at Mathausen. I died in there just after liberation.

 

Old Man: No! You died in 1944. This was the end of the 4th cycle and that was the year I was

moved.

Young Man: Oh I see what you are saying now. Maybe because when all our cells from seven

years back died, in 1944. I was no longer able to experience your, sorry our life, afterwards, but

simply was able just to witness things from afar, becoming a kind of ghost.

 

Old Man: Mathausen was before I was moved away to another place. Surely you must remember

Neuengamme? At least as a witness.

 

Young Man: Where?

 

Old Man: Neuengamme Camp, the clay pit. The brickworks. The river banks. A torment.

 

Young Man: I was never there! Never heard of it even.

 

Old Man: That must have been the time then.

 

Young Man: Time for what?

 

Old Man: As I said before when you left me! When our accumulated cells of the last seven years

finally died off and I was transmuted into a new entity, not at least the me that you see now.

 

Young Man: This is stupid. No I was there at the end of the war. I remember the liberation.

 

Old Man: You can’t! Your withdrawal must be what you remember as a kind of liberation. No I was

obviously moved after Mathausen I remember that now, the immense relief I felt. 

I didn’t miss those back breaking stones I can tell you. Your war ended sometime during your

time at Mathausen, that’s when you lost me. That must be it.

 

Young Man: Lost you?

 

Old Man: As we have said when the cells that were you finally died off.

 

Young Man: Oh I see (looking dejected and betrayed)

 

Old Man: Neuengamme was a hell hole. I never since have I seen so much mud mixed with blood.

I was spared the the hard work and the beatings as my task there was clerical. had developed

skills in office work in the factory in Berlin. I was transferred because I had this experience and

also in supplies. I was crucial to keep the camp’s work going.

 

Young Man: You came up in the world, you reached new heights without me.

 

Old Man: Don’t be bitter.

 

Young Man: I am not bitter more like pissed off. I could have done with a break from Mathausen’s

worst excesses.

 

Old Man: The guards at Neuengamme were always ready to beat the prisoners. They worked

them from morning to night, regardless of whether it was raining, hot, or freezing, sometimes

enough to be frostbitten. They were all forced to work 10 to 12 hours a day, without enough food

and hardly any clothing.

 

Young Man:You did alright though.

 

Old Man: I was very lucky I have to say, all thanks to an SS man at my previous place which must

have been Mathausen. I was my block Kapo’s bitch but an SS man there desired me too and was

prepared to do whatever it took to get me. This was a massive risk for him and even more so for

me.

 

Young Man: So you did have some courage back then.

 

Old Man: He got me out because by chance he discovered that my old lover the Kapo was stealing

from the SS kitchens or so it seemed. A serious crime. So the Kapo had to give me up if he

wanted to live. The relationship with the SS man didn’t last long though, in a sense it was doomed

for all concerned. Another Kapo threatened to betray the SS man and I was removed before it all

blew up and reached the ears of the Kommandant. He must have had something really serious on

the officer, I never heard of another SS man being so publicly denounced. He was sent to the

Eastern Front. I never heard of him afterwards.

 

Young Man: I am seeing you in a new light.

©Simon O'Corra. 2019

Memento Mori. Painting by John TarantolaArtist Name
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Memento Mori