So Far, So Good

David Kirby

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.

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