up the long ladder and down the short rope [updated]

up the long ladder and down the short rope [updated]

the German hangman
did his job as
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
the noose
around their necks
at the Americans’ command
the lever
and dispatch his clients
into the next world

in honor
of the gum chewing
wise cracking
he wore
a plain black suit
with a bright bow tie
it added
a festive circus air
to the proceedings

up the stairs they they’d come
like those billy goats gruff
in the old fairy tale and
down they’d go
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
not as sacred-yet-profane
rituals to be observed

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
unfortunate enough to be caught committing those crimes against fellow Aryans
if they wanted to indulge
in such things
why didn’t they
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

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
criminal hangings
not atrocity hangings
you catch my drift?”

the good German hangman
caught the American major’s drift
(I can operate
the gallows
for these
squeamish louts
or Ican 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 with
before sending them to hell

they would look at him
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
the end
of their

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

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
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

© Buzz Dixon



Writing Report, July 25, 2016

Writing Report, July 25, 2016