by Sarah J. Sloat
Our guide was Herr Pallmann, who was a boy of seven at the time the war ended. He seemed a sympathetic person—wounded, forthcoming, but deficient in the department of facial expression. He talked about the Nazis and their German shepherds and the sadists manning the camp. At Buchenwald, the Nazis took fifteen to twenty women from another camp to make a brothel for the prisoners, he said, and I thought, whoa, even the most abused will look for someone to enslave, and they showed a clip from the time of the camp’s liberation in which a non-German prisoner bewailed that they “treated me like a Jew,” and I thought, whoa, still using that brand of fabric softener, and there was an inscription on the wall from Elie Wiesel about the disbelief in the faces of the American liberators, the incoming innocents, that made me feel briefly happy to be American, glad my children could feel themselves excluded from an evil circle, and then I thought, whoa, don’t take it so easy, not everything but certainly much is a question of circumstance, as Herr Pallmann went on to list all the routes to death.
The pall in Herr Pallmann’s name, which was his real name, was only a coincidence. He was an unremarkable man who benefitted from the hindsight history affords, like most of us.
Sarah J. Sloat lives in Frankfurt, Germany, a stone’s throw from Schopenhauer’s grave. Her poems and prose have appeared in Lunch Review, RHINO and Beloit Poetry Journal. Sarah’s chapbook of poems on typefaces and texts, Inksuite, is available from Dancing Girl Press, which will also publish Heiress to a Small Ruin in 2015.