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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Night

The first time I read about the Holocaust, I was in school. An excerpt from 'The Diary of a Young Girl' by Anne Frank was prescribed for school text. By the time I was  15, I had read the book and was fascinated by how a girl about my age had been so hopeful in the hiding, even under the threat of obliteration. There are those who believe that the Holocaust did not happen; that it is a propaganda against the Nazis. Denial is killing them twice.

The more I read about the persecution of the Jews, the more I revere a race for having survived all odds. Their faith and their sense of community. When today becomes yesterday, and history is written, the survivors become the hero, and the persecutors are put to shame in a civilized world. Nothing can justify genocide- in Rwanda, in Bosnia or within the confines of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Humanity should never have to witness those chains of events again.

The book by Elie Wiesel has a body of about 112 pages. Written in Yiddish as 'And the World Remained Silent', it was translated into French first, then into English. I read the version that was translated by his wife, Marion Wiesel.

He begins with his childhood in Sighet, Transylvania and his inclination for religious studies- Talmud in the day and Kabbalah by the night, until the Spring of 1944. German soldiers with their steel helmets and their death head emblem marched on to Sighet- to confine the Jews to a sixteen square blocks of ghetto, and then to transport them in cattle cars to labor camps and concentration camps. On the day of the 'transport':
'The street resembled fairgrounds deserted in haste. There was a little of everything: suitcases, briefcases, bags, knives, dishes, banknotes, papers, faded portraits. All the things one planned to take along and finally left behind. They had ceased to matter.'

They were greeted by the smell of burning flesh when they arrived in Birkenau. All illusions left behind in the wagons they arrived in. The world  'chimney' was not an abstraction there. It floated in the air, mingled with the smoke.

'Men to the left! Women to the right!'
Eight words, spoken without emotion by a Schutzstaffel (SS) man, and it was the last time he saw his mother and youngest sister. Another of those countless separations that happened on a single night. A night so long that the survivors had forgotten whether it was one night or several such nights.

Every day was a struggle between faith and agony. Overcome by fatigue and hunger, even his dreams were reduced to that of an extra ration of bread. He felt different. He ceased to be human and became A-7713.
' My soul had been invaded- and devoured- by a black flame.'
There are several passages that I wish to read to you, share what I felt as I read them, but there is one, in particular, towards the end that appealed to me:

'Pressed tightly against one another, in an effort to resist the cold, our heads empty and heavy, our brains a whirlwind of decaying memories. Our minds numb with indifference. Here or elsewhere, what did it matter? Die today or tomorrow, or later? The night was growing longer, never-ending.
When at last a grayish light appeared on the horizon, it revealed a tangle of human shapes, heads sunk deeply between the shoulders, crouching, piled one on top of the other, like a cemetery covered with snow. In the early dawn light, I tried to distinguish between the living and those who were no more. But there was barely a difference. My gaze remained fixed on someone who, eyes wide open, stared into space. His colorless face was covered with a layer of frost and snow.'

Imagine being so exhausted that you want death just to be able to rest. The author survived and chose to be the voice of those who had been quietened. His survival meant something. 

3 comments:

Biswanath Bhattacharya said...

Spendidly sripted- straight from the heart. The emotion is well regulated ; choice of words are excellent. I have read the book long time back. Shall have to read again.
And this is beauty of Aparna Kar. She inflames the passion of reading in the latent readers.

Aparna Kar said...

Thanks for the encouraging words Uncle.😊

Achintya Kumar Sinha said...

You wrote like an angel, Aparna. I almost lived through the agony and demeaning despair of common people like us wasting away every moment, dying or praying for death as escape never knowing why. I have a notion that cruelty comes naturally to humans while compassion has to be cultivated. I like your style of writing, lucid and flowing. You will go a long way, carry on. God bless you.