Issue Thirty-Five - Winter 2020

The Bench at Birkenau

By Andrew Alexander

I was lucky. I had enough rags wrapped around my toes that the frost ceased to grasp me with terror. The shed was sixty feet long and eighteen feet wide and its only entry was a door-less seven-foot-wide opening.

The long wood-framed room had been built from a plan that had been designed for horses. Now, it was barren of most animals and housed in its center a long concrete pad that stood nineteen inches high and ran the length of the building.

The rough concrete was four feet wide and held fifty holes, in two rows of twenty-five.

I could sneak to the building on an unlit night by following the smell of human shit and piss. My first time I couldn’t flex my anus, those muscles there. My first time I wondered what could be worse, worse than squatting with forty-nine other, mostly naked, men, to squirt watery shit that was common to most of us. I was lucky, I had two halves of different shirts across parts of my shoulders.

It was freezing cold and I was cold and even fractured memories of summertime heat didn’t bring comfort; only visions of clouds of black flies and mosquitoes bathe in humidity. I tried to remember the feel of toilet paper and the thrill of running water but those seemed to exist only in some long-distorted fantasy.

The healthier, stronger men would grunt as they passed solids. Some, I noticed, would tell jokes. Newbies, upon arrival here, would gag and dry vomit and some of us would laugh about that, knowing that in three or four days the smell wouldn’t bother them anymore.

Copyright 2020 Alexander