Friday, March 21, 2014

The Barber Of Soldau

Towards the end of the war he'd earned the nickname “The Barber Of Soldau”, due to the practice of hair removal at the Soldau concentration camp.

Throughout his trial in Nuremburg, the newspaper headlines would make great creative use of this moniker, of which even he took a twisted enjoyment in reading.  If the truth be told, he’d grown quite fond of his new name - The Barber - as he felt it alluded to some of his better qualities – namely his precise nature and adherence to personal hygiene.  And with the benefit of hindsight, he knew his reputation could have spawned a name much uglier.    For if his son were to live the rest of his life to only be known as the son of The Barber Of Soldau in hushed tones – well, it really wouldn't be so bad, all things considered.

With an irony not lost on him, he'd once considered this line of profession as a youth in Wolfsberg, Austria.  But as was the case with so many like him, the outbreak of war put stop to these and any other aspirations.  For the war would bestow it's own ambition on him – one for exacting death.

Contrary to his prosecution, he never saw himself as having much of a proactive involvement in the Nazi party during his tenure at Soldau.  As his defense would put it – his role was one of administrative duties.  Guilty of being a good soldier, it was often said.  Or as he himself would put it – “I was a numbers man”, a suitably detached response which - albeit not without an element of truth - did not fair well with his own defense.

And with this, he found himself back in the Polish town of DziaƂdowo on an unseasonably hot September day.   Stood beneath the shadow of an acacia tree,  to his left a dusty road leading to village of Rybno and to his right, the iron gates of the Soldau that he'd grown to know so well.  Beneath his shackled ankles a wooden stool and in front of him; 5 guards busying themselves in the formalities of what was to be his own execution.

The noose around his neck hung limply as it awaited the afternoons main event, the noose no less an instrument of death than the men before him, or the tree above.  His death was simply the full stop in a chain of events he could not control, this much he knew.  As the stool got kicked away from beneath him, this thought would stay with him as he hung rigid.  His body absorbing the energy of a lifetimes misfortune.  For the short while he was still able to see, he saw the branches of the acacia tree.  Such a beautiful tree, he thought.

Tobias Prior