Chapter XXX

THAT WAS ANOTHER LITTLE EPISODE we forgot, for it was absolutely necessary to forget it if we wanted to keep from going mad. Darkness before and darkness behind. . . .

As always, drink was a great help, a momentary but necessary respite. When I thought of the past, it often seemed to me that all this was merely a horrible dream. My only desire was to forget everything, to think of nothing.

It was now November, 1944. Snow was falling in big flakes, veiling everything in a swirl of white. The watch towers were barely visible, vague fingers of gray rising above us. The wind sang even louder in the barbed wires, and still the only birds to darken the sky were the crows.

I went for a short walk before nightfall. The weather was hardly conducive, but the cold wind was invigorating, soothing my tired nerves. I made several turns around the courtyard; my steps took me past the stairway leading down into the gas chambers. I paused there for a few seconds, remembering that today was All Saints’ Day. A deadly silence brooded over Auschwitz. The cold concrete steps descended and dissolved into darkness. These same steps where four million people, guilty of no crime, had bade life good-bye and descended to their death, knowing that even in death their tormented bodies would not be granted the sanctuary of a grave. Standing there alone, on the top step of this, their last brief voyage on earth, I felt it my duty to pause and think of them for a moment with heartfelt compassion, in the name of their relatives and friends who, perhaps happy and well, were still alive somewhere in the world.

I left the godforsaken spot and returned to my room. Opening the door, I noticed that the room was not lighted as usual by a strong bulb, but by the flickering light of a single candle. My first impression was that there must be something wrong with the electricity. But then I saw that my associate, the ex-professor of the Szombathely Medical School, was sitting with his elbows on the table, his head resting in his hands, his empty eyes staring at the candle flame, his thoughts a thousand miles away. He did not even notice my presence. The eery light flickered strangely on his face. I touched him lightly on the shoulder:

“Denis,” I said softly, “in whose memory did you light a candle here?”

His reply was confused. He mumbled something about his father-in-law and his mother-in-law, both of whom had been dead for fifteen years, and did not even mention his wife and son who, according to the testimony of some of the Sonderkommando members, had perished here. It was easy to see that he was displaying all the symptoms of depressive melancholy and regressive amnesia.

Taking him by the shoulders, I helped him across the room and put him to bed, then stood there, gazing down at him.

Poor friend and learned physician, my sensitive and gentle companion, instead of treating and curing the sick you yourself have fallen beneath the yoke of death, and now belong to death’s kingdom. For many months you have witnessed such suffering and horror as the human mind can scarcely conceive, as he who sees cannot believe. Perhaps it is for the best that your nerves have betrayed you, that a benevolent veil of forgetfulness has fallen upon your mind. Now, at least, you need not fret or worry about what the future may hold in store for you.

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