An acquaintance of mine and his father sat down together to watch The Scarlet and the Black, a movie about Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a courageous Irish priest who, while working at the Vatican during the Second World War, helped hide thousands of refugees from the Nazis. Colonel Herbert Kappler, the local Gestapo chief, tried in vain to have the priest assassinated. When the Allies occupied Rome, however, and Kappler was taken into custody, O’Flaherty helped Kappler’s wife and children, and he visited Kappler in jail on a regular basis. Thanks to O’Flaherty’s demonstration of Christian love, Kappler converted to Catholicism.
At the end of the movie, a text appeared on the screen with an appeal for forgiveness. When my acquaintance’s father saw this, he absolutely hit the roof. He was a veteran who had fought the Nazis, and he had decided long ago that under no circumstances would he ever forgive them. They had done too much harm, he explained, and committed too much evil. To forgive them would be wrong, he insisted, because it wouldn’t be fair.
We headed out on Sunday, May 24, 1970, for the home base of the
71st Assault Helicopter Company. It was a dry, sandy road, and our jeep left a light cloud of dust as we traveled down it. The company area was situated along the South China Beach, about a mile from the
Chu Lai airstrip. As we traveled down the dirt road, my mind ran wild with excitement. Changing units was a lot like moving to a new job.
You are excited about the future and what it has in store for you, yet you are also sad and lonely, for it is not easy to re-adjust and make new friends. As our jeep pulled around the bend, I saw the South China
Sea. It had the most beautiful, glistening, white sandy beach that I had ever seen. I instantly felt the cooling breeze coming off the water as it swept across my face.
Our driver pulled into the company area and stopped in front of the orderly room. I jumped out and pulled my gear out of the jeep.
One of the first things you were required to do upon arriving at your new unit was to report to the orderly room and sign in. Being as trustworthy as I was, I set my equipment down outside and entered the orderly room. I pulled my orders out and presented them to the company clerk. He looked them over and told me to sign in. I reported to the commanding officer, Major Tommie James. Major
Lilith of Camp Buna, Auschwitz, 1944 based on If This Is a Man
We must imagine the pattern of a war unravelling bombs from a flakless sky, guns not even bothering with the arc needed to trace where they plough across drowsing like summer bees. West.
They move West, losing themselves from the sun rising behind their bubble glass. Of the two men we find pressing their bellies in the mire, one is sufficiently clear-headed to keep it sharp, the impact, the taking cover in whatever form it comes to hand, metal pipe, a ditch they dug between them, before events kicked them from the dirt, having left them there as long as the numbers on their right arms.
The man he crouches with has a name:
Tischler, meaning carpenter. This too he records. The latter speaks better in the tongue he doesn’t try to share with the one we’re indebted to. Enough passes between them to discuss a girl hunched in the earth somewhere close, humming the remoteness of a folk song rocking her shoulders to its other time, stopping only to mend her hair. And an apple