(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
Come in. Excuse me if I don’t get
up – I am a very old man now, and my legs are no longer what they used to be.
Tell me, why do you want to talk
to me, young man? I’ve been wondering this ever since you called earlier this
evening, wanting to talk to me. I am, as I said, very old now, and I’d like to
know what I could say that could possibly interest someone as young as
Then again, you mentioned
something on the phone – something that happened a very long time in the past,
so long ago that I wonder how you ever got to hear of it. And also, I wonder
how it could possibly interest anyone in this day and age.
No, no, I don’t mind telling you
at all. After all, it’s an interesting story in many ways, and almost nobody
knows a thing about it. And I’m sure I’m the only person still alive who has
any real knowledge of what happened then. After all, I had what you might call
a ringside view.
Excuse me just a moment. I need
to take my medicines. It’s a dratted routine of old age, young man – we live
from pill to pill, as it were.
Recording me? I might have
worried about that once upon a time, young man – but I’m too old to worry about
these things now. Go ahead and record me, if you want. I don’t mind.
don’t know if you’ve heard of Dr Hans-Joachim Müller. He’s not much remembered
now – but back in those days he was rather well-known in certain circles,
almost as famous as Dr Sigmund Rascher, in fact.
Ah, I saw you blink at that name.
You must have heard of Sigmund Rascher and his medical experiments, have you
not? You probably know all about how he froze men alive almost to the point of
death and used naked women to revive them, and how he exploded Gypsies in
decompression chambers, and so on. Every student of that era knows Sigmund
No, I never actually met Dr
Rascher, but I knew Dr Müller. I knew Dr Müller very well, far better than I
wished to. I saw him, face to face, virtually every day for almost three years.
Back in 1941, you see, I was an
inmate at the concentration camp at Altkirche. Dr Müller had at that time just
taken over as the chief medical officer of the Altkirche complex of camps –
there were three, the camp for male inmates, a smaller one for females, and a
third camp they set up later for Russian prisoners of war – and there were
three doctors for all of them. Actually, of course, the doctors weren’t really
concerned with healing anyone, or else just think about it – three doctors for
some forty thousand inmates. Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?
One day, a few weeks after I’d
been arrested, all the inmates of the male camp had been lined up on the Appel
ground, where they took roll-call in the morning and evening, because we’d been
told a new doctor had taken over and he wanted to "look us over". Of course we
knew what that meant – he would be doing selections for extermination – and we
all tried to look our strongest. How one looked was literally a matter of life
and death back in those days, young man.
So, that hot August morning,
under a cloudless blue sky, we had all stood in line and waited to see who
would live and who would die, watching the SS guards out of the corners of our
eyes and trying not to draw any attention to ourselves.
A small man had come out of the
camp commandant’s office and strolled past us, looking us over casually. He
wore a short white coat, unbuttoned, over his SS uniform, and as he walked he
took off his cap and wiped his sweating head and face. He was in his
mid-forties and balding, with a wispy moustache and ears that stuck out. It was
my first sight of Untersturmführer SS Dr Hans-Joachim Müller.
He stopped right in front of me –
there I was, right in the centre of the front rank – and looked me up and down.
I told him.
"And what work did you do…before
you came here?"
"I was a pathologist, Herr
Müller had nodded. "Good." He
looked me over again, and smiled suddenly. Over the years, I got to know that
smile. "You will report to my office after evening roll call. I need a clinical
assistant. Or don’t you want the job?"
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