So Far, So Good
The prisoners in a German work camp near Hanover got used
to the indifference and cruelty of the guards who gave them
watery soup and worked them nearly to death and were therefore
all the more heartened by the behavior of a stray dog that had
somehow gotten into the camp and who greeted the prisoners
as they returned exhausted from the forest where they spent
their days chopping wood, barking with joy and flinging himself
about as dogs do. Maybe the men enjoyed the dog’s silliness.
Maybe the dog reminded the men that the shadow of war
would pass sooner or later, that there were things beyond its reach.
In the camp at Ravensbrück, doctors performed experiments
on female prisoners to test the effect of sulfa drugs on battlefield
injuries. Healthy limbs were amputated, muscle and tissue removed
without anesthesia, and then the women were put against a wall
and shot. Before they were executed, though, the women pinched
their cheeks to put color in them and did each other’s hair.
I ask a woman at a party what they wanted, and she says,
“To be fully human for as long as they could, for every second
of the lives that remained to them.” Elie Wiesel says that
“the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite
of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith
is not heresy, it’s indifference.” Maybe the women, too, knew
the artillery would fall silent one day, the troops go home.
It’s not a matter of being pretty or feeling good about yourself.
It’s a matter of not going to your death with your hair in your face.
The guards offered them a sedative, but not all the women took it.about the author