Reduced

by Abigail Setchfield

In remembrance to all those who lived, died, and worked in Auschwitz and Birkenau

They come off the train as humans.
Bloodied, muddied, sweat and tear-caked humans.
I look at them, and think –
I have to kill them.

Animals, we’re taught, they’re just animals! Disgusting, stealing animals,
But they stink of pure humanity.
Hope, love, but most clearly fear.
Perhaps if we break them down we’ll find the animal we can kill.

Perhaps if we take their suitcases.
If we leave them without a possession in the world,
Without the objects that hold the memories that make them who they are.
The children cry as I prise their toys from them, add them to the pile.

Perhaps if we take their shoes.
Brogues and boots and slippers, feet left to blister,
Each of them left to walk barefoot like beasts.
A mother picks up her daughter, cradles her, so her feet don’t touch the mud.

Perhaps if we take their clothes.
Strip them, leave them bare, open to the world, our roaming eyes, our mockery,
Replace the uniqueness of clothing with the rags of prisoners that mark them as the same.
Some of them cry, some stare with fury and determination, a gaze we cannot hold.

Perhaps if we shave their hair.
Unsex them, leave them bald, unsightly,
Cold and so uniform that from a distance each head is one and the same.
A woman presses her lips to an exposed head, whispering words of beauty into the weeping girl’s ear.

Perhaps if we take their names.
Make it so they have no identity, no self,
Leave them as nothing but digits on a clerk’s sheet.
The numbers, branded onto their skin, become a symbol of their resilience, their strength.

Perhaps if we take their food.
Force them to scrabble, scavenge, dig through rot and mud,
Eat mould and worms for fear of fading to nothing more than bone.
An older man takes his share, and gives it to the young, choosing their life over his own.

Perhaps if we turn them to ash.