A tour of Dachau concentration camp
Our tour guide knows all this – it is embedded in him
it seems. I watch his face, when he’s asked a question.
I see his pause, as if he is checking himself for accuracy
before speaking. I notice how he wears the group’s mood.
He ploughs on. More facts, and anecdotes calmly given
outside, in bright sunlight, in accented English,
before moving us inside where we look at bunk beds
cramped spaces, hear how prisoners were starved.
On walls monochrome images imprint on my mind:
muscle wasted cachectic men, every bone showing.
Outside the gas chamber he shows us the place
for the canister of poison, the lever to pull.
He says German soldiers never saw the result
of following orders – due to delegation –
the job of shifting the dead was left to other prisoners
who unknowingly previewed their future, as they inhaled
the excess toxins. They had only six months or so.
We walk through these spaces. Empty now.
A statue at the end of the tour shows an unknown prisoner
dressed in a long coat, with hands in his pockets. We are told
this is in defiance of the rules. He is a survivor.
He is wearing shoes.
On the way home I worry for the guide, his sadness,
the burden of his responsibility.
Sarah J Bryson is a writer of poetry and prose, a nurse and a keen amateur photographer. She is interested in words, words for well-being, people and nature and the connections between these aspects of her life.