Wednesday, March 09, 2016
But You Did Not Come Back
This small memoir - almost a booklet - stood on my shelf for a few weeks after I received it. The first day, I had scanned the opening page, but then I closed it and set it down.
It was too important to rush through, and I had a busy couple of weeks ahead of me, so this morning I picked it up again.
Marceline Loridan-Ivens hadn't "self-identified" as a Jew, but that didn't matter: she was deported with her father to Auschwitz-Birkenau as a young girl. All the familiar unspeakable horrors unfolded there, and from the first line, my eyes were hesitant to move down the page. I always have the feeling, when reading books like this or when watching movies about the Holocaust, that I'd rather not hear it all again but that I owe it to Germany's victims. And Russia's, and China's, and Uganda's, and Yugoslavia's. Syria's. The world's. My discomfort, my revulsion and my tears, are the very least of the tributes I can offer.
Marceline's father on the men's side managed, somehow, to pass a letter to her on the women's side. The letter contained, Marceline knows (she is sure), his urgent message of hope for their future life, and an exhortation to her, to survive.
But she has no memory of the words. She has no memory of where she lost the letter, or anything that it said.
Seventy years have passed since Marceline left Auschwitz, then left Bergen-Belsen, and marched through Czechoslovakia to a repatriation camp. She rejoined what remained of her family, and has carried Auschwitz-Birkenau with her, through all the mess and tragedy, up until 2016.
She lives in Paris. She sees the hatred that still burns against the Jews throughout the world. After decades of work as a documentary film-maker, she sees the failure of any system, of any nation, to establish either unity or peace.
Nearing the end of her life, she has written this memoir as if it's an ultimatum to us, to humans. All the terrifying events of her time in the camp, her time afterward - if there can be an afterward - and what she sees happening now...all these things unfold in bare, stark prose over only 99 pages.
I didn't cry a single tear during those 99 pages. It was all just too horrible, too full of despair, too unthinkable.
On page 100, there is a single sentence. That sentence, written so recently the ink is barely dry, caved me on myself and made me weep. I won't tell you why.
Read "But You Did Not Come Back".