the German hangmandid his job as competently methodically efficiently as stereotype demanded
each client (he refused to think of them as victims) came trippingly up the tall stairs (thirteen in all) to make their last stand on his trap door
he’d slip the hood over their heads drape the noose around their necks then at the Americans’ command =yank= the lever and dispatch his clients into the next world
in honor of the gum chewing wise cracking Americans he wore a plain black suit with a bright bow tie it added a festive circus air to the proceedings
trip-trap-trip-trap-trip-trap up the stairs they they’d come like those billy goats gruff in the old fairy tale and crash-boom-bang down they’d go yanking to a sudden neck-breaking halt at the end of their six-foot length of fine hemp rope
he did his job well and none of them suffered at least not physically and if their souls suffered well, not his department was it?
he never dressed so gaudily in the past when the Nazis employed him he wore a black frock coat and a tall hat with a black satin ribbon just like an undertaker
he was supposed to add dignity and weight to their murders
for certain people the Nazis wanted to observe the niceties they wanted to pretend there was law and justice behind what they did
not the Americans oh, no, not the Americans get in get out quit mucking about was their motto
and they viewed the executions of the courts’ sentences impatiently not as sacred-yet-profane rituals to be observed
because he had been employed as a civilian hangman before the war the Nazis had deemed him fit to execute their legal judgments
not everybody the Nazi state executed was undeserving of their fate
his lot was to dispatch the murderers thieves rapists unfortunate enough to be caught committing those crimes against fellow Aryans (really if they wanted to indulge in such things why didn’t they volunteer for the special action units on the eastern front?)
relatively few of his clients between 1939 and 1945 were political offenders and even those were usually convicted of some other crime no matter how spurious
it wasn’t like he was herding people into gas chambers
the Americans held him for a short while in this very prison waiting a decision on what to do with him
it was a bespectacled American major who brought the offer to him
“gum? sorry, no cigarettes to offer I don’t smoke any how Hans -- (we are all “Hans” to them thought the good German hangman) ” -- here’s our situation we got some Nazis who need hanging and you been doing a fine job hanging folks for the Nazis
“now we can hold that against you and hang you as well or we can let bygones be bygones say you was only following orders and say all of the hangings you participated in were legal legit criminal hangings not atrocity hangings you catch my drift?”
the good German hangman caught the American major’s drift immediately (I can operate the gallows for these squeamish louts or I can ride it) and set to work arranging the protocols for the G.I. run executions in the spring 0f 1947
by then the war crime trials were winding down and ex-Nazis and former colleagues were either settling in to many long decades behind bars or else on the fast track to getting their necks stretched
truth be told it was a little disconcerting to look in the eyes of men whom he once worked before sending them to hell
some times they would look at him reproachfully as if to ask how could you do this to me? but the good German hangman never acknowledged them he just stood them in position over the trap door pulled the hoods over their heads adjusted the rope around their necks and yanked the lever that sent them to end their lives
he had known these men talked to these men had been solicitous when they told of the hardships their families were going through because of the war and while these men may have been monsters in other prisons and with other victims (they had victims not he) they committed no unspeakable horrors before him they were just bureaucrats functionaries sinecures
but still if the Americans were satisfied with their guilt and were willing to overlook any tenuous connection he might have shared with his clients well who was he to say they were wrong?
and in the end it wasn’t really so different now was it?
and who was he to disagree?
he was after all just the hangman
and the responsibility always belonged to somebody else
words © Buzz Dixon