An interview with Duplessis Orphan Silvio Albert Day
Interview and translation by Ann Diamond
Q: When you were working at
When I worked at St Jean de Dieu, I was there as a patient. I worked in the Vestiaire des Morts -- the Locker Room of the Dead, where they wash the bodies and put them in the refrigerator. One bathroom was for washing the dead bodies. That was the washroom. And all around were refrigerators.
Q: And there were corpses of children--
Yes. I worked for a year and four months in the Vestiaire des Morts. All I did, I went to get the bodies from the operating room. I didn’t go into the operating room, but the nuns and the doctors there had masks on their faces.
A nun said to me, “Monsieur Silvio.”
“Could you stay there, and wait in the hallway?”
My buddy and I waited.
And the nun said, “Okay, Mister Silvio, would you please go get the stretcher?”
I said, “Yes, sister.”
So then they got the person, and it was a child. They put the child on the stretcher. They rarely covered it with a white sheet. So I went towards the elevator, to go down to the basement. The Locker Room of the Dead was down in the basement there.
Once I arrived, the nun said, “Mister Day.”
And I said, “Yes, sister.”
“Mr. Silvio, you took your time.”
I said, “Sorry. The elevator wasn’t working well, and I had to wait.”
So then the nun took charge of bringing the body to the washroom. There was a big sink where they put the dead bodies to be washed.
I took the arms and my partner took the legs and we put the body in the big flat sink, it was a flat sink which had a drain for the blood to run out.
In the beginning, she had said to me, “Go ahead, do your work, and I don’t want you talking!”
So I used to put the body down in the sink, but very rarely I removed the bonnet, because these patients who were operated on always had a blue bonnet and a blue jacket, and a pair of white socks. So anyway, this time I took off the bonnet, I removed the bonnet, and there was a flap of skin, and then the flesh of the brain was hanging there in the sink in front of me. It just sort of poured out like a tap, and it was all over me.
I let out a scream. There was no hair, it had been shaved all around, which was why the skin was hanging like that, swinging back and forth.
I was shocked. “Mother of God!”
My partner didn’t do anything. We had an orphan there, and he was supposed to take care of that.
“Silvio, you better not make any noise.”
It was my job to wash the bodies. But I didn’t know there had been an operation. Once I saw that flap of skin, which hung there, moving and getting soft, and then I saw the brain, I didn’t say a word, I took the bonnet, and I picked up the piece of brain, and I put it back in the bonnet.
In fact, there was a paid worker there who said, “Listen, stay where you are and don’t open your mouth, don’t talk about this. Everything here, stays in here. It doesn’t go outside.” He was the one who put on a bandage to hold in the brain. I started washing, and when I finished, I put the body in the refrigerator. The freezer.
Later, in the evening, the telephone rang. A nun said, “Well, Mr. Silvio?”
I said, “Yes, my dear sister.”
“Would you go to the operating room again? Yes, again! And keep quiet. If you’re late, you will be punished. You’ll be sent to the cells.”
I took the stretcher, and made a dash for the top floor. The operating room was on the fifth floor. We got the stretcher, and headed for the elevator to the fifth floor, and then we went down a passage which led to the operating room.
“Well, well. Hello. You sure took your time.”
“I did my best. There were people in the elevator.”
“Please leave the stretcher there. Go sit down.”
“I said, take a seat and don’t touch anything.”
“No, I won’t touch anything.”
The stretcher rolled away all by itself. We didn’t say a word. We sat down. And it took a long time. I watched the clock in the hallway. And eventually, it was 3:30 am.
The two nuns said, “Mr. Silvio, would you mind…”
The doctors wore gloves and green uniforms, and there was a man there, and some others, and there was a lot of blood.
So I got up and I was going to take everything away.
“No, don’t touch those!”
I backed off, and waited for the other guy, and then I headed down to the Locker Room of the Dead, and once I was in there, I said “Oh, Lord, not another one!”
I removed the white sheet, and started pushing the stretcher toward the sink. I took off the jacket – another child, around 10 or 11 years old.
Anyway, I took the patient, and put him on the stretcher or the big flat sink, and I said, “Okay, I’ll take off his jacket and his pair of white nylon socks.”
I took off the cap, and the other guy said, “Hey, those are holes, as if a machine had drilled through his head like that …”
I froze. That’s when our boss said, “Mr. Silvio.”
“Don’t say a word and do your job.”
So I washed the body, and I took the bonnet and put it back on, and then I took the jacket. And I used the method the other guy used: I stapled a ticket to the jacket, to identify them by name.
Q: And how many times did you have to transport dead bodies from the operating room?
Around 60 times. I worked a lot of hours per week.
Q: And what year was this?
In the 1960s, 50s.
Q: You were how old?
I was born in 1942. And at that time I was about 18, 19.
Q: Did you undergo any experiments yourself? Were you drugged?
Well, one thing: I was treated with Largactil, 25 mg. After that, you’re like a vegetable. We were like mummies; we walked like mummies. At one point they wanted to send me for electroshock, but they said I wasn’t ready yet. So then they said they would give me a new treatment, Largactil pills, 25 mg. After that I became a vegetable. Later on, they changed the pills so I would be better.
That’s when the doctor asked me, “Mr. Silvio, would you come to the office?”
This was Dr. George Gravel, a psychiatrist. He was the one who first asked me if I would like to work in the Locker Room of the Dead.
I said, “Yes, Doctor.”
If I refused, I would get punished, I’d be put in the cells, like the others.
I said, “Am I obliged to accept?”
He said, ”Yes. Do you agree?”
I said, ”Yes.”
They sent another guy to watch over me. “You will be accompanied by a worker and a guardian.”
A guardian and a guy who worked in the Locker came to get me. I didn't feel good about it – we went straight to the Locker Room of the Dead.
He said, “Well, here we are. That’s a dead body. Whatever happens, I want you to keep your mouth shut. I don’t want anything repeated outside this place.”
I said, “Okay.”
“If you speak, you’ll be punished.”
I said, “Okay.”
Up to that point, on the first floor, we'd taken the elevator. But now we took the staircase.
Once I was downstairs, I took the passage that went to the Locker. I noticed there were coffins in every compartment, like in a funeral parlour, and on the left was where they put the dead patients in refrigerators.
Then he said, “Now we’ll show you how to wash a dead body.”
They started washing a child, a really small child about 4 years old.
I let out a scream.
They looked at me. “Are you afraid of corpses?”
I said, “No, but it’s the first time I ever saw something like this.”
Then, once they had washed it, they said they were going to put it in the fridge. I opened the door, so they could put the child inside. Once it was inside, it moved on rollers, so then they said “Okay, that’s just the first step. Now you’ll go with him – the other guy -- follow him.”
“Just one thing: we’ll show you how to clean up.” I would be in charge of moving the coffins and washing the floors.
But then the other worker told me, “No, I’m not going to train you to clean up. I’m going to send you where they transport the bodies and wash them.”
So the nun said, “Mr. Silvio, take the stretcher and go to the rooms in the back.”
“All right.” I knew that meant the operating room –
“I want you to understand -- you are not to do any dishes.”
“No, sister. I promise.”
So off we went.
Q: She meant, no touching the dishes after handing the corpses?
Exactly. So when I got to the room, I hadn't realized the doors were locked and I needed a key.
“Excuse me, can I have the key ???”
“Is it all right if I hold on to it?”
“Yes. Oh, excuse me – I have to answer the phone.”
He took a look at the stretcher, and went away.
Once I was inside, I continued towards the cells. They opened the door, and I saw someone hanging from the bars. The person in charge, who had let me in, said: “You have no business looking at that!”
It was an adolescent, 14 years old.
Later, another one hanged himself, I think he was about 25. When I got to his cell, they said, “You’re not allowed to look!”
I said, “Well, but I saw him.”
They let it go.
“All right, okay. Don’t say a word about it. Take the stretcher.”
I came back with the stretcher. The nun said, “Mr. Silvio, late again?”
I said, “Sorry, Sister. This door isn’t big enough to get the stretcher into the cell. It’s not my fault you’re fat.”
She said, “Watch what you say, or you’ll be punished.”
I'd expected her to say that. So I got my coworker and we went into the cell. We picked up the body, and put it on the stretcher. That’s when I saw traces of acid in the hole. But I wasn’t allowed to touch the linen. They took away the linen and threw it in the garbage can.
Q: I’d like you to tell us the story about when you met Father Joseph, aka Dr. Mengele, in the hallway of
Oh yes. Yes yes yes. I was getting to that.
Well, one day when I’d finished working in the Locker, the nun said, “We’re giving you three days’ off."
So I was off work, I had three days to rest, and for the first time I had time to wander around the halls. I was drugged, because of these pills, and so I was walking like a mummy.
Also, there were a lot of doctors, for example there was Dr. Camille Laurin. I saw him one time but I wasn’t sure if it was him that I saw. There was a Dr. Archambault and Dr. LaRoche, and there were other doctors. But the doctor I saw that day was only so tall, with his hair combed back like this, and he had a moustache. Well, since I had seen so many war films, when I saw his face I thought, “My God, he looks like Hitler!”
So when I saw this doctor, I raised my arm and said: “Heil … Hitler!”
He blinked his eyes at me, and made a sign with his hand: “Take this guy and go lock him up.” So they grabbed me and this time they put me in a cell. Then they said “Go to the doctor’s office.”
Not the same doctor who had been there in the hall. Another doctor. A French Canadian. We went into his office and I said, “Is anything wrong?”
“Would you repeat what you said?”
So I repeated it. “Heil Hitler!”
“Stop saying that! Why are you talking that way? Why are you walking and moving your feet like that?”
I realized it was because I had been watching war movies. So then the doctor – I think it was the one who had invented the 25 mg. drug – Largactil.
Q. Dr. Heinz Lehmann?
Yes. You had these people there, who studied children, orphans, and did experiments, operating on the patients and using these patients like guinea pigs. Besides practicing on animals, they practiced on human beings. He was the one.
Q: But the first doctor, the one in the hallway. You said he had a moustache. Did he speak French?
Yes, he spoke French but not much. He always held his hands like this (straight down at his sides). He had … his hair was always combed back, you know?
Q: And how tall was he?
I would say about 5 foot 6. Yes.
Q: Dr. Mengele was 5 foot 8.
Well, he was slim. Black hair, brown eyes.
Q. Mengele was slim, with black hair and brown eyes.
I used to talk to him, and he talked to me, but I didn’t understand him. Still, he made an effort to speak French. He gestured to the other doctor, who was his assistant, Dr. Georges Gravel. Gravel spoke to me so that I could understand, because he also understood me. Dr. Gravel spoke English, German and Russian.
So finally he said, “Why did you insult him? What did you think you were doing? Why do you say he’s the one who is doing the experiments?”
I said, “Listen to me, Dr. Gravel. I wasn’t going anywhere, it was my day off. I saw him in the hallway near the operating room. He wasn’t wearing a mask. He had on a blue jacket, you know, like a uniform. I saw him leaving, but he was alone and didn't speak to me, but he still looked at me like this, with his great big eyes, you know…”
Q: But do you think Mengele was doing operations there, himself?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Well, he was the one who talked to the others, to the surgeons. He used to walk around in -- the place where I went when I got sick (the infirmary) and he would walk around with a tall doctor, a surgeon with a mask, and the conversation went like this:
“Does this boy have a family?”
The nun answered, “Yes.”
“We won’t touch him for now. What about him?”
And the nun said, “No, he is an orphan. He has a file, this orphan.”
“Okay, that’s good.” He’d found one. “We’ll study this one.”
That’s how they did experiments, studying the ones who had epileptic seizures – not really epileptics, but they passed them off as epileptics. They did experiments, but instead of on animals, they used humans instead of animals, and I saw it, but not with my own eyes …