the camp gates: arbeit macht frei. A child in
the main column screamed, then some women;
their cries were wild and shrill. The chosen
stood there in silence, hanging their heads.
How can one convey the feelings of a man
pressing his wife’s hand for the last time? How
can one describe that last quick look at a beloved
face? Yes, and how can a man live with the merciless memory of how, during the silence of parting, he blinked for a moment to hide the crude
joy he felt at having managed to save his life?
How can he ever bury the memory of his wife
handing him a packet containing her wedding
ring, a rusk, and some sugar lumps? How can he
continue to exist, seeing the glow in the sky flaring up with renewed strength? Now the hands
he had kissed must be burning, now the eyes that
had admired him, now the hair whose smell he
could recognize in the darkness, now his children, his wife, his mother. How can he ask for a
place in the barracks nearer the stove? How can
he hold out his bowl for a liter of gray swill? How
can he repair the torn sole of his boot? How can
he wield a crowbar? How can he drink? How
can he breathe? With the screams of his mother
and children in his ears?
Those who were to remain alive were taken
toward the camp gates. They could hear the other
people shouting and they were shouting them-
selves, tearing at the shirts on their breasts as
they walked toward their new life: electric fences,
reinforced concrete towers with machine guns,
barrack huts, pale-faced women and girls look-
ing at them from behind the wire, columns of
people marching to work with scraps of red, yel-
low, and blue sewn to their chests.
Once again the orchestra struck up. The
people chosen to work entered the town built
on the marshes.
Dark water forced its way sullenly and
mutely between heavy blocks of stone and slabs
of concrete. It was a rusty black and it smelled
of decay; it was covered in green chemical foam,
filthy shreds of rag, bloodstained clothes dis-
carded by the camp operating theaters. It disap-
peared underground, came back to the surface,
disappeared once more. Nevertheless, it forced
its way through—the waves of the sea and the
morning dew were still present, still alive in the
dark water of the camp.
Meanwhile, the condemned went to their
Vasily Grossman, from Life and Fate. A Red Army
correspondent during World War II, Grossman was
present for the Soviet march westward after the Battle
of Stalingrad and saw several Nazi concentration
camps firsthand; in 1944 his article “The Hell of Tre
blinka” became one of the first published about a camp.
The manuscript for Life and Fate was confiscated
by the KGB in 1961, three years before Grossman’s
death, but a microfilm copy was smuggled out of the
Soviet Union and a Russianlanguage edition was
published in Switzerland in 1980.
Musical instrument made of leather, wood, and animal hair, found in Dura-Europos, Syria, fourth century BC to third century.