Issue 162, Summer 2002
Towards the end the Gls at Nuremberg played basketball almost around the clock, it seemed. We couldn't see them from our cells, but the percussive bap, bap, bap of the ball on the floor carried to us from the old mess hall where they played. I was interested in the game, as was Göring. What were the rules, we wondered. We wanted like schoolboys to be invited to play (although Göring got short of breath climbing to the dock), or at the very least to watch a game, but when we asked the Colonel refused. Göring persisted. He wanted an exhibition match. He called it a cultural exchange, but the answer was no. "My men aren't here to entertain you, gentlemen," the Colonel said, although as I told Göring when I was in British hands they had let me watch billiard matches between their officers, and even invited me to play on several occasions. Instead, I had Stuckey, the guard, describe basketball to me. I told him it sounded like football-soccer to him-except played with the hands and not the feet, and with a tiny "goal," but he shrugged and said he didn't know soccer. Instead, he showed me how a man "shoots a basket," the ball balanced on the fingers of one hand, the upward pushing motion. He used a ball of socks and my wastebasket, which he set on a shelf.
At first the Gls played early in the evening and then later and later into the night, even after lights out. They were mad for the game, obsessed, it seemed to me. It was as if they had so much energy-guarding us was tedious, I supposed—that they had to expend it in marathon matches. I found myself dreaming of the game, as I imagined it, the men impossibly small, beneath the high basket that hung suspended over them, the rope net swaying, the ball sailing up, missing, falling from a great height.
I asked Stuckey if he played, and he looked confused and shook his head.
Göring eventually complained about the noise. It was keeping him awake, he said. It was like a headache, pounding in his temples. Bap, bap, bap! By now the verdicts had come down. I had life; Göring and the others, death. I thought he'd have quite enough time to sleep in the future. But when I told him to let them play, he looked at me steadily and told me to be quiet. "Hess, you fool. That's no game. That's hammering! They' re building our gallows in there." He was right, I suppose. And right to be angry at me, for my stupidity, for having avoided death, that dark rushing beast. But still, at night, I dreamed of fantastic, nail-biting games, ball after ball dropping through swinging baskets. I never saw a game, and Göring, of course, never saw the scaffold. He took cyanide the night of the executions. What a showman! In the midst of this orchestrated performance, he wrote his own lines. "This'll cost me my star," the Colonel cried, referring to his hoped for promotion, although at first I took him to mean Göring, his leading man. Who knows where Göring had the cyanide capsule hidden? In the folds of his stomach, some say; up his rectum, others. He may have swallowed it and shat it day after day for months. I have tried to kill myself several times. With a butter knife I ground on an iron bedstead in my cell in Britain; hurdling the banister of a staircase and flinging myself down three flights. Still, I'm not sure I'd swallow anything extracted from Hermann Göring's anus! But then I wasn't condemned to die that night. The end, perhaps, justifies the means.