Death in the Gas Chamber

Madan Mani Dixit

“HITLER’S GAS CHAMBER! Look at that big house just behind Ward Number 25. And look at that electric furnace built by the scientists working for Otto Adolf Eichmann and Hans Speidel, to bake my Renata and my Benedicto, standing near to it, into ash and to send the reek out to the entire world. But no! Hitler could not burn Renata to ash; he could not separate her from her Benedicto. Those gas chambers and electric kilns have become museums of world peace today, and there, flowers are offered from around the world. Hitler’s grave, on the other hand, has become rather obscure.

“Renata, who had been forced to sleep in the chamber, woke up inside the electric kiln. From there, she flew into the sky, embraced Benedicto and danced all over the earth. Every step of waltz she took went crushing fascism: one, two, three—Mussolini, Hitler, Tojo! One, two three: Himlar, Ciano, Goring! One, two, three—Goebbels, Quisling, Peten. One, two, three…The orchestra is still on Renata and Benedicto are still dancing. Their feet are still active: one, two three! One, two three! One, two, three! Renata had the desire to get absorbed in Benedicto’s arms forever, and dance all her life. Benedicto loved their waltz very much. The orchestra shall continue to play; Renata and Benedicto will keep their waltz going, getting fresher and more agile with each new step. It will be this fascist gas chamber that shall die, instead.”

The golden-haired man was raising his locks, and the lock continued to speak: “Renata and Benedicto’s lives are immortal. All they have is union; there’s no parting. They kiss today in Asia, embrace each other in Europe, take a honeymoon trip to Latin America and raise their beloved children in Africa.

“This is Auschwitz concentration camp near the city of Krakow in Poland. At this spot, a fanatically fascist Nazi killer, raised by imperialism had, between 1941 and 45, crushed and sent to gas chamber several children, old and young people, doctors, professors, writers, farmers, workers and capitalists, believers and agnostics, universal fathers and mothers, young men, sons and beauties of the world, who in a staggering number of over six million, were incarnations of God himself, committed to making the human world the most beautiful place to live in, rippling in the waves of labor, compassion, goodwill, love and pity for the sake of the Lord. And there, he burnt each one of them into ashes in the electric kiln. Shaving the hair off their heads, he prepared shawls for war prisoners. Scraping gold off their teeth, he prepared rings and lockets. Polishing the children’s tender heads white, he made them glimmer, and from their juvenile skin, he prepared victory-gifts for his fascist lover.”

This is the tale of the young and lonesome golden lock that still stands alive in the same Auschwitz concentration camp as an emblem of love and peace.

Seeing his end imminent, Hitler’s ghoul destroyed all evidences of his dark crime and left the camp together with twenty-five captives. The few remnants of the fascist crime, retrieved from the camp when the Russian army freed it, have now been preserved in the museum that stands at the erstwhile concentration camp today.

One of those wards has a large room. It has a large case of a triangular mirror. On the table lying near to the case, there is a pile of shaven hair. Amid those fir-like strands of hair, there still is a golden lock, intricate like the bhujangaprayat meter in verses. The lock with three knots, decked by a red ribbon, takes the visitors around the museum, narrating the story of itself and the dead gas chamber in mandakranta meter, in a mild drut-bilambit speed.
The living lock that always aired a message against fascism, war and genocide went on telling its story. Its every single strand was reiterating Renata’s words. Its every constituent hair was narrating Benedicto’s love, and the incidents that followed: “Beloved Renata! I have many things to share with you. I have to purge out the things pent-up in my mind. How about meeting at the opera this evening?”

“Why won’t I come to the opera when my Benedicto calls me? But then, I don’t like that opera. How can I watch those scenes of torture at the Jewish ghetto? Why are they subjected to such torture merely on the charge of being Jews? You are a Jew too. Why should I hate you merely because I am a Christian? How could I mistrust such intense love from you?”

“What can you do, Renata? This is how the world is. Yet, you and I are one. We are neither Christians, nor Jews. It’s all nothing but a coincidence. Different people have their own faiths. Leave it. If you are not willing to come to the opera, let’s meet at the Budapest Square. We can dance a lot there. I am quite fond of your waltz.”

“My mother was an Armenian Muslim and my father an engineer from Bhari, a colony of Czechoslovakia. Finding no work there, we moved to Budapest five years ago. Benedicto was still a college boy. I was a clerk in an office. I was fond of blue eyes and black hair. Benedicto loved golden hair and dark eyes. I cannot tell for sure. “That day, I had an intense desire to dance with Benedicto. I was dressed in the best of my clothes. Eau de Cologne on my hair had not dried yet. Still, looking into the mirror and lining my lips, I had reached the doorsteps just outside the room. My mind and feet were competing to outdo each other. My feet were impatient to reach the Budapest Square before my mind did…The dusk had assumed the deep black hue of Benedicto’s eyes. The ballroom was now some three meters away.

“Benedicto’s hands were wound around my waist, and he was pulling me harder each moment. I was about to lose myself in his arms. His warm breath had started tickling my cheeks. Why then was there such palpitation in my heart? Why was my dream letting its reality crush me down?

“But everything was confined to a mere dream. All that was nothing but a dream. I woke up inside the camp as a captive. I heard that all the captives of the day had been nabbed from the roads around Budapest Square. The SS Troop of Germany had reportedly captured the 510 yard road. They had arrested children from a mother’s arms and from her soul. A ninety year old lame man was booked. A patient moving out to see her doctor was nabbed. A doctor going to see his patients was snared. Young men and maids out there to attend a dance party were cuffed. The people out there to stage a dance were accursed German devils. My own Benedicto was arrested at a spot some distance away from the ballroom.

“Why? An SS troop happened to know that Budapest was slowly running out of its cereal stock. One day, when the entire market was clean swept, the citizens lodged a complaint with the commandant. In reply he said, ‘The terror of the Jews and the communists has escalated in town. Some underground organizations are helping them. Most of the people have tied up with the underground people. We need to free them from communist influence.’

“I have heard my Benedicto is in another camp. We are being shifted to that camp tomorrow, and I will hopefully meet him there. In an open space fenced by barbed wires, 2100 of us stayed for three days. Children crying out of hunger licked fascist boots and calmed their hunger forever. The sick ones that asked for medicine received massage from the gun’s barrel.
“ ‘…’

Oomph! How congested the train was! Even after fifty hours of its departure from Budapest, it was not stopping even for a while. Could it be that I had slept in the interval? There was no space for breathing. What a mess! But then, I had no reason to worry. Meeting my Benedicto after enduring such hardship would pay off in joy. If only I could meet him as soon as I got off the train…How could I face him in this form? That accursed fascist caught me by the lock. Else, I had made my hair so well. I must make it again; I must moisten my dry lips. hat will others think if I busy myself in making-up even at such an odd time? Come what may! If my Benedicto approaches me suddenly, how can I face him? How will he read the predicaments of my mind? We were not allowed to carry clothes…

“I woke up with a start. The train had reached its destination. Everyone was preparing to come out. Auschwitz happened to be a big junction. The name sounded familiar to me. Which country does this station fall in? Rumania? No, a train doesn’t move that way. Czechoslovakia? Oh, no! A Czech name doesn’t sound like that. Where have they brought us then? Leave it; I may see Benedicto anytime soon. I regret! Had I agreed to go to the opera he suggested that day, we should not have suffered this much. Oh, how stupid a girl I am!

“Why do the fascists appear so happy? I had heard that if a fascist laughs, everyone else needs to cry. They have started laughing here. Does that mean I should cry now? What do they think we are? If I don’t meet my Benedicto here, I can’t tell what will happen of me. But if I do, I know…

“…All the guns were aimed at our line; they were ready to sputter bullets any moment. The command ‘March!’ startled each one of us.

“Everyone was hungry. We were commanded to march, without letting us rest even for a short while. Compared to this, the hardship we endured in the train was nothing. More, were we soldiers on whom they could foist such stringent commands? Who were they trying to deter, showing us those stand guns and Bren guns? Why were we being treated like convicts? What harm had my going to the ballroom to meet Benedicto done to anyone?

“Oh, why is this place so appalling? What lies behind this wall? Why is my heart palpitating like this? Why is everything going wrong this way? I am suffocating simply because my hour to meet Benedicto is approaching. But look how awkward my feelings are! What smell is this, reeking so badly? Man doesn’t really feel a man’s reek, but the smell is obviously men’s. Maybe, Benedicto will feel the smell too. Let me put some Eau de Cologne quickly on my hair. I don’t know if I’ll get time again…

“There’s honor in every labor. Every work gets rewarded…Even the fascists write this socialist slogan. Time is powerful; it dictates everything that takes place. Whatever the case, this slogan on the very gate of the camp perhaps fills everyone with zeal. There will be no body-ache even without work like happened in the past three days; nor there any boredom or loss of time. What had we all got to eat without working? Best it would be if I got a befitting job. I would assist Benedicto in my leisure. But then, what is this? Why is it here at this moment? Why is it trying to scare us as soon as we are inside the door? Because it suspects us to slack in our work? You will soon see how hard I work. Do you think you can deter me? Beware! Your hanging loop looming on the crossroad, its black strands and the gallows can never deter the working class! Those trying to scare others are people who are scared themselves. Most of such people are still hanging.”
“‘Halt!! You the devils will be subjected to medical check-up now. File up everyone, one after another. The check-up will start from the front. Stand in line,’ a man from the armed car in the front side shouted, aiming his machine gun toward us.

“I reached near to the table, standing just behind a woman farmer who carried a baby and seemed too thin to stand a powerful breath. The woman had been signaled to move right, together with her child. I heard the officer say about me: ‘She looks like a witch, seemingly good for nothing.’ The man asked me to move to the right as well. That was how they conducted medical check-up at the prisoners’ camp. I didn’t know that before. Instead, I had hoped to ask with him for some pills for headache.

“Did you say I was good for nothing and I could be dangerous to the camp? If I could, I would spit into the mouth of this beast, who forgot that he is also a woman-borne. What would he do then? If only my mind had not been waiting for Benedicto! By showing that hanging rope, maybe he was trying to abuse me. But then, why would anyone get frightened in vain?
“Did you call me a witch, good for nothing? Beast! In your eyes behind the glasses, I can see the heart of a machine. Look at me from Benedicto’s eyes. You devil! You ass! You are a fascist out and out—a demon dry of sentiments like logs and stones! You abhor my looks, youthfulness, zeal and enthusiasm, these diligent arms and this body that has started aching for want of work.

“Such pathetic thoughts rose like ripples in my mind.

Only that, I could not cry out.

“All I knew was I had been asked to go there. Would my head also be shaven clean? I am a woman and still unmarried. No, I should not be shaven. My Benedicto is passionately fond of my hair. He is in deep love with it. Spare me, if it is only for his sake. Do whatever else you want to do, but do not forcibly pound upon me. I have just smoothed my hair with Eau de Cologne and sorted a few strands out of it. Beat me, thrash me or kill me if you would, but spare my hair. Won’t you grant this? If not, every single strand of my golden hair will bite you like a snake. And this pink ribbon will tie you up, your limbs bound to your back. The odor of Eau de Cologne on it shall carry the tale of your misdeeds all over the world. Where will you hide yourselves at that moment? But then, leave it.

“‘You have brought various pathogens on your bodies. Take off your clothes here. They need to be disinfected. Go to the bathroom and clean yourselves with soap. You will find towels and soap there itself,’ roared yet another man, seemingly from a suburb, in devil’s tone, glaring at us with his crimson eyes.

“‘Take your clothes off, you witch,’ a crazy man roared, tearing off my blouse.

“‘Where is the women’s toilet?’

“‘Whore! I will show you the women’s toilet now. Bathe yourself first and I will peel your skin off. Slut! You still think you are beautiful. You whore!’ A single push from him made me fall on the floor of a big hall inside.

“If Benedicto saw me in a short-sleeve blouse, he would be excited. I still remember the warmth of the hot breath coming out of his passionate kiss on my arms and neck. But the eyes of the unfeeling fascist continued to stay dry like stones even on seeing me stark naked. Wasn’t I beautiful? But my bosoms, waist and thighs were attractive. They were in their youthful bloom. However, if he had cast amorous looks on me, I would have broken his eyes there and then. But by staying indifferent, he made a mockery of my beauty and youth. In fact, having reached the nadir of cruelty and hatred, those fascists had become devoid of all rationality, rusted to a degree of emotional barrenness, capable of nothing but destruction.

“Maybe, we were around 600 inside the ‘bathroom’, all forced in and locked from without, latching the iron door. A voice started sputtering from the small holes on the upper side of the wall. Everyone started getting suffocated inside. Their noses, eyes, mouths and the entire bodies parched. They were smoldered, burnt…

“It was the gas chamber of Hitler, Adolf Eichmann and Hans Speidel. It seemed some flashes of memory reached us from somewhere. After that, everyone was a void, everything perfect, everyone peaceful…”

From a stream of memory, the golden lock continued to speak on its own accord: “It’s true that it was the same poisonous room where the Nazis had asphyxiated some six million great souls in a matter of four years.

“Look at that picture on the wall there! Benedicto had taken it inside this very camp secretly. That ninety-year old man in the front side with all his head grey too had been asked to move rightward. He was a world famous Yugoslav doctor. The man in combat dress, who conducted the check-up a short while ago was once a peon working in this doctor’s laboratory. That day, he ‘checked up’ some 2100 people.

“The young man seen standing behind the old doctor in the picture was a mining engineer. He had given Renata a huge degree of consolation that day.

“After ten minutes, the backdoor of the gas chamber was opened, and ash started falling from the doused lamps. I was watching everything from inside the pocket of that soldier. Reneta was lying atop the same slender woman. The open and twisted mouth of her one-year old child was seen near one of Reneta’s breasts. Her nipples were not being sucked, but the child’s spit around her nipples was still wet. The fingers from the child’s another hand were on Reneta’s another breast.”

The lock started speaking straight to the onlookers— “Why are there tears in your eyes? Reneta and that child, that doctor and that engineer, haven’t died yet. It was not into a gas chamber that Reneta was sent. That day, the fascist killers had shaven beauty, had mauled a culture, stripped a civilization and smothered the future of the humankind. By rejecting ten thousand year-old history of human development, they were trying to burn down every fraction of love and compassion, motherhood and enthusiasm, wisdom and science, ambition, power, construction, success and achievement.

“Still, Reneta died. But as you can see, I am still alive. For that reason, Hitler and Speidel never achieved what they wanted. Eichmann could do nothing.

“Benedicto got all information about Reneta. There was no avenue, in which he had not fulfilled Reneta’s wish. At the moment, he is trying to get hold of all the fascists as their brethren, tie their hands on their backs, and hang them on the gallows standing at the junction. Reports say he has hanged many of them between 1945 and now.

“Inside the gas chamber, they first pulled out one of Reneta’s gold-laden teeth, and in a matter of one and a half minute, burnt Reneta into ashes in the electric kiln. That very moment, a huge storm brewed outside. The sky grew darker, and thunderbolts fell upon the fascists. Reneta’s ash was strewn in the same storm. They could not even dare to bury the pious remains. They were afraid that if they came out of home, the thunderbolt would not spare them.

“Do you know what happened next? The storm engulfed the whole of Europe and the world, and spread Reneta’s remains to every nook and cranny of the earth. Benedicto inhaled that ash in every corner of the world, and through it, derived inspirations for love, humanity, peace, development and power. All over the world, he sent his commitments that he shall send all sorts of war into the same gas chamber, and burn it into ashes in the same electric kiln for all times in future.

“The storm first reached Stalingrad. Benedicto was already there. He dug up Hitler’s grave right there.

“The wind changed its direction and became easterlies. Then it reached Normandy on the western shore of Europe. At that shore of the sea, Benedicto dug the fascists’ grave as deep as the sea itself. From there, the storm moved southeast and reached Tehran and Yalta. There, Benedicto made the grave wider and stronger.

“Taking a twist from Yalta, the cyclone hovered around Berlin for nine days. Before those nine days, the thunderbolt had never been that sharp, precise, heavy and bright. Collecting from all over the world, Reneta had dumped all measures of wrath, hatred and punishment there. When Benedicto stood on the belfry of Reichstag, hoisted the flag soaked in Reneta’s blood and sent its pole down the earth, it pierced through the heart of Hitler, the murky blot in the entire creation, who was hiding underneath the earth in a secret pit. Benedicto’s flagpole pushed him so deep into the underworld that even his dead body would never again be retrieved.”

Dear readers,

Reneta’s story has not ended yet. But the story of the lock has ended. If you ever got to Poland, make it a point to visit the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Peace Museum at all cost. Today, there is a huge room inside the Museum, where there is a large glass case. A table stands very near to the case. On it are hairs shaven off someone’s head. On top of them is Reneta’s golden lock in serpentine curls, which Benedicto had snatched from the hands of the fascist SS Troops solider.
Now that you have heard this story, do not forget to tuck a small red rose at the knot just above the place where a pink ribbon has been tied around the lock. Reneta always tucked a red rose on her locks, and out of intense love, passionate Benedicto always kissed the same.

Trans: Mahesh Paudyal

[Madan Mani Dixit (1923-2019) is a scholarly writer of high repute, drawing from history, myth, Eastern classics and his own experiences. Born and brought up in Kathmandu, he acquired education in Nepal and India, and worked initially as a teacher and later as an editor. The number of books he has authored are many, but his most famous works are novels Madhavi, Meri Nilima, Bhumisukta, and the short story collection Gyas Chamberko Mrityu, Kasle Jityo Kasle Haryo, Jenda and Swetakali.]