I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
There's a long road of suffering ahead of you. But don't lose courage. You've already escaped the gravest danger: selection. So now, muster your strength, and don't lose heart. We shall all see the day of liberation. Have faith in life. Above all else, have faith. Drive out despair, and you will keep death away from yourselves. Hell is not for eternity. And now, a prayer - or rather, a piece of advice: let there be comradeship among you. We are all brothers, and we are all suffering the same fate. The same smoke floats over all our heads. Help one another. It is the only way to survive.
Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite.
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
My faceless neighbor spoke up: Don’t be deluded. Hitler has made it clear that he will annihilate all Jews before the clock strikes twelve. I exploded: What do you care what he said? Would you want us to consider him a prophet? His cold eyes stared at me. At last he said, wearily: I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.
We were masters of nature, masters of the world. We had forgotten everything--death, fatigue, our natural needs. Stronger than cold or hunger, stronger than the shots and the desire to die, condemned and wandering, mere numbers, we were the only men on earth.
Who has inflicted this upon us? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we have to suffer now. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any country for that matter; we will always remain Jews, but we want to, too.
Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism... neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the worlds greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy.
Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and most remarkable race which has appeared in the world. — Winston S. Churchill
And now I was lonelier, I supposed, than anyone else in the world. Even Defoe's creation, Robinson Crusoe, the prototype of the ideal solitary, could hope to meet another human being. Crusoe cheered himself by thinking that such a thing could happen any day, and it kept him going. But if any of the people now around me came near I would need to run for it and hide in mortal terror. I had to be alone, entirely alone, if I wanted to live.
We are alive. We are human, with good and bad in us. That's all we know for sure. We can't create a new species or a new world. That's been done. Now we have to live within those boundaries . What are our choices? We can despair and curse, and change nothing. We can choose evil like our enemies have done and create a world based on hate. Or we can try to make things better.
You don't realize how small you really are until you're faced with something like that. We live our lives as if we're at the center of our own universe, but we're just tiny pieces of a shattered whole.
Summer came. For the book thief, everything was going nicely. For me, the sky was the color of Jews. When their bodies had finished scouring for gaps in the door, their souls rose up. When their fingernails had scratched at the wood and in some cases were nailed into it by the sheer force of desperation, their spirits came toward me, into my arms, and we climbed out of those shower facilities, onto the roof and up, into eternity's certain breadth. They just kept feeding me. Minute after minute. Shower after shower.
It is obvious that the war which Hitler and his accomplices waged was a war not only against Jewish men, women, and children, but also against Jewish religion, Jewish culture, Jewish tradition, therefore Jewish memory.
Public truth telling is a form of recovery, especially when combined with social action. Sharing traumatic experiences with others enables victims to reconstruct repressed memory, mourn loss, and master helplessness, which is trauma's essential insult. And, by facilitating reconnection to ordinary life, the public testimony helps survivors restore basic trust in a just world and overcome feelings of isolation. But the talking cure is predicated on the existence of a community willing to bear witness. 'Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships,' write Judith Herman. 'It cannot occur in isolation.
When my parents were liberated, four years before I was born, they found that the ordinary world outside the camp had been eradicated. There was no more simple meal, no thing was less than extraordinary: a fork, a mattress, a clean shirt, a book. Not to mention such things that can make one weep: an orange, meat and vegetables, hot water. There was no ordinariness to return to, no refuge from the blinding potency of things, an apple screaming its sweet juice.
We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—hourly and daily. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the task which it constantly sets for each individual.
If I had known what the next six years of my life were going to be like, I would have eaten more. I wouldn't have complained about brushing my teeth, or taking a bath, or going to bed at eight o'clock every night. I would have played more. Laughed more. I would have hugged my parents and told them I loved them. But I was ten years old, and I had no idea of the nightmare that was to come. None of us did.
Only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty
Have you ever thought what a God would be like who actually ordained and executed the cruelty that is in [the biblical Book of Revelation]? A holocaust of mankind. Yet so many of these Bible-men accept the idea without a second thought.
Part of her revolted against the insanity of the rules. Part of her was grateful. In a world of chaos, any guidelines helped. And she knew that each day she remained alive, she remained alive . One plus one plus one. The Devil's arithmetic...
The West's post-Holocaust pledge that genocide would never again be tolerated proved to be hollow, and for all the fine sentiments inspired by the memory of Auschwitz, the problem remains that denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good.
Fiction cannot recite the numbing numbers, but it can be that witness, that memory. A storyteller can attempt to tell the human tale, can make a galaxy out of the chaos, can point to the fact that some people survived even as most people died. And can remind us that the swallows still sing around the smokestacks.
Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we ill have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.
On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves. We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles - whatever one may choose to call them - we know: the best of us did not return.
But then what is the alternative to trying to tell the truth about the Holocaust, the Famine, the Armenian genocide, the injustice of dispossession in the Americas and Australia? That everyone should be reduced to silence? To pretend that the Holocaust was the work merely of a well-armed minority who didn’t do as much harm as is claimed-and likewise, to argue that the Irish Famine was either an inevitability or the fault of the Irish-is to say that both were mere unreliable rumors, and not the great motors of history they so obviously proved to be. It suited me to think so at the time, but still I believe it to be true, that if there are going to be areas of history which are off-bounds, then in principle we are reduced to fudging, to cosmetic narrative.
I shook with helplessness and rage, but also with fear. This was what fighting back earned you. More abuse. More death. Half a dozen Jews would be murdered today because one man refused to die without a fight. To fight back was to die quickly and to take others with you. This was why prisoners went meekly to their deaths. I had been so resolved to fight back, but I knew then that I wouldn't. To suffer quietly hurt only you. To suffer loudly, violently, angrily--to fight back--was to bring hurt and pain and death to others.
Let me say it openly: we are surrounded by an enterprise of degradation, cruelty, and killing which rivals anything that the Third Reich was capable of, indeed dwarfs it, in that ours is an enterprise without end, self-regenerating, bringing rabbits, rats, poultry, livestock ceaselessly into the world for the purpose of killing them.
Your parents, Oskar and Mina. They are dead and gone now, Yanek, and we would grieve them if we could. But we have only one purpose now: survive. Survive at all costs, Yanek. We cannot let these monsters tear us from the pages of the world.
And it was not merely tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, but hundreds of millions of people who were the obedient witnesses of this slaughter of the innocent. Nor were they merely obedient witnesses: when ordered to, they gave their support to this slaughter, voting in favour of it amid a hubbub of voices. There was something unexpected in their degree of obedience... The extreme violence of the totalitarian social systems proved able to paralyse the human spirit throughout whole continents.
That they were torn from mistakes they had no chance to fix; everything unfinished. All the sins of love without detail, detail without love. The regret of having spoken, of having run out of time to speak. Of hoarding oneself. Of turning one’s back too often in favour of sleep. I tried to imagine their physical needs, the indignity of human needs grown so extreme they equal your longing for wife, child, sister, parent, friend. But truthfully I couldn’t even begin to imagine the trauma of their hearts, of being taken in the middle of their lives. Those with young children. Or those newly in love, wrenched from that state of grace. Or those who had lived invisibly, who were never know.
It was all a big joke. I could see that now. There was no rhyme or reason to whether we lived or died. One day it might be the man next to you at roll call who is torn apart by dogs. The next day it might be you who is shot through the head. You could play the game perfectly and still lose, so why bother playing at all?
The past is a presence between us. In all my mother does and says, the past continually discloses itself in the smallest ways. She sees it directly; I see its shadow. Still, it pulses in my fingertips, feeds on my consciousness. It is a backdrop for each act, each drama of our lives. I have absorbed a sense of what she has suffered, what she has lost, even what her mother endured and handed down. It is my emotional gene map.