In fact, my father was no longer conscious.
Yet his plaintive, harrowing voice went on piercing the silence and calling me, nobody but me.
Well? The SS had flown into a rage and was striking my father on the head: Be quiet, old man! Be quiet!
My father no longer felt the clubs blows; I did. And yet I did not react. I let the SS beat my father, I left him alone in the clutches of death. Worse: I was angry with him for having been noisy, for having cried, for provoking the wrath of the SS.
Eliezer! Eliezer! Come, dont leave me alone . . .
His voice had reached me from so far away, from so close. But I had not moved.
I shall never forgive myself.
Nor shall I ever forgive the world for having pushed me against the wall, for having turned me into a stranger, for having awakened in me the basest, most primitive instincts.
His last word had been my name. A summons. And I had not responded.
In the Yiddish version, the narrative does not
end with the image in the mirror, but with a gloomy meditation on the
And now, scarcely ten years after Buchenwald,
I realize that the world forgets quickly. Today, Germany is a sovereign
state. The German Army has been resuscitated. Ilse Koch, the notorious
sadistic monster of Buchenwald, was allowed to have children and live
happily ever after . . . War criminals stroll through the streets of Hamburg
and Munich. The past seems to have been erased, relegated to oblivion.
Today, there are anti-Semites in Germany, France, and even the United States who tell the world that the story of six million assassinated Jews is nothing but a hoax, and many people, not knowing any better, may well believe them, if not today then tomorrow or the day after . . .
I am not so naïve as to believe that this slim volume will change the course of history or shake the conscience of the world.
Books no longer have the power they once did.
Those who kept silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow.
THE READER would be entitled to
ask: Why this new translation, since the earlier one has been around for
forty-five years? If it is not faithful or not good enough, why did I
wait so long to replace it with one better and closer to the original?
In response, I would say only that back then, I was an unknown writer who was just getting started. My English was far from good. When my British publisher told me that he had found a translator, I was pleased. I later read the translation and it seemed all right. I never reread it. Since then, many of my other works have been translated by Marion, my wife, who knows my voice and how to transmit it better than anyone else. I am fortunate: when Farrar, Straus and Giroux asked her to prepare a new translation, she accepted. I am convinced that the readers will appreciate her work. In fact, as a result of her rigorous editing, I was able to correct and revise a number of important details.
And so, as I reread this text written so long ago, I am glad that I did not wait any longer. And yet, I still wonder: Have I used the right words? I speak of my first night over there. The discovery of the reality inside the barbed wire. The warnings of a veteran inmate, counseling my father and myself to lie about our ages: my father was to make himself younger, and I older. The selection. The march toward the chimneys looming in the distance under an indifferent sky. The infants thrown into fiery ditches . . . I did not say that they were alive, but that was what I thought. But then I convinced myself: no, they were dead, otherwise I surely would have lost my mind. And yet fellow inmates also saw them; they were alive when they were thrown into the flames. Historians, among them Telford Taylor, confirmed it. And yet somehow I did not lose my mind.
Copyright © 2006 by Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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