The Cap Arcona, with the captain’s bedsheet on the mast, took an hour, then it tipped onto its port side, slowly, faster and faster, until it was lying on its eighty-five-foot side, twenty-six feet of it above water. Meanwhile death was proceeding more quickly, and in various forms.
The saved numbered 3,100, the dead somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000.
The dead washed up on every shore of Lubeck Bay,
They were found almost daily. Too many washed up on the coast near Jerichow the finders couldn’t bury them all secretly in the sand.
When the truck was full, they drove the load far inland, all the way to Kalkhorst, even Gneez. When they drove into Jerichow they lowered the sides of the truck. The MPs made the Germans leave their houses to look at the cargo as it was driven down Town Street to the cemetery at a walking pace. Slower than walking. The cargo was not easy to recognize. It had been damaged by bullet wounds, charring, shrapnel, blows. It was recognizable by the faded, split, clinging, striped clothes. The individual pieces of human being were often incomplete. There were limbs missing, or there were limbs on the truck bed without a torso, one day there was nothing but a piece of head. The fish had eaten a lot of that one. The British made the people of Jerichow gather on Market Square. In the middle lay the first load of bodies. The commander handed over to the Germans the Germans’ dead. He made them their property. He allowed them to place the mortal remains from the sea into coffins. Then they were permitted to close the coffins and carry them to the cemetery. After the dirt had been shoveled onto the mass grave, the British fired a salute into the air. At the cemetery gate stood a sergeant, holding a box in front of him, and on this box he stamped the ration cards. Anyone who had not accepted the dead would not eat.
First published in English as Anniversaries by New York Review Books
Translation Copyright © 2018 by Damion Searls.