Prisoner number A26188

Henia Bryer

From an article in the BBC News, this story of a survivor of the Holocaust.

We should never forget the horrors inflicted on Jews and other groups in the concentration death camps of World War 2.

To forget or deny that these atrocities happened is a step towards repetition.

Holocaust survivor Henia Bryer: Prisoner number A26188

The German invasion of Poland in 1939 ended the happy childhood of Henia Bryer. Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day she recalls how she was sent to four concentration camps, but survived them all.

“They were wearing these black uniforms with a skull on top and they installed loud speakers all over the town spreading hate propaganda,” says Henia Bryer of the German army’s arrival in Radom, eight days after they crossed the border on 1 September.

“Hitler’s speeches went on for hours and hours… he never made any secret of what he was going to do to the Jews.”

At first, Bryer’s family – including an older brother and a younger brother and sister – survived on the gold coins saved by her father, a shoe factory owner who continued working, but was not paid. Much worse was to come.

In 1941 they were among the 30,000 people confined to a ghetto, set up in the Jewish area. Conditions were very poor, with 10 people living in a single room.

Violence and shootings were commonplace, yet the family managed to stay together.

It did not last.

“My younger brother was taken to the armament factory. We never knew what happened to him during the war – and he never talked about it. His own family doesn’t know where he was, what he did.”

Her older brother, disabled since birth, was among those killed.

“My brother went to the hospital, but they shot all the people that were physically disabled.

“He knew exactly what was happening… he took off his winter coat and he gave it to my mother and he said: ‘Give it to someone who will need it. I won’t need it any more’. And she came home with a coat.”

Concentration camps

By March 1944 the ghetto population had fallen to just 300 people and it was closed.

Those who remained were marched to the railway station and, on packed “cattle trucks”, taken to Majdanek, near Lublin, Bryer’s first concentration camp.

After being ordered to strip and stand naked in the snow, she and the others were given “a striped uniform, a striped dress and a white handkerchief on the head – and that was all you had in this winter”. She spent her 17th birthday in the camp.

After six weeks the family were moved again, with Bryer sent to Plaszow, near Krakow – the concentration camp portrayed in Schindler’s List.

Life there was brutal, with the prisoners divided into work teams and forced to push wagons full of stones, laden from the quarry.

“It was a hell of a job, we could hardly manage. There were shootings and hangings and there was no crematorium there – only a hill where they used to burn the people and all the ashes used to fly over us.”

Another danger was the demand for blood for German troops fighting in Russia, which was forcibly taken and difficult to recover from.

It was at Plaszow that her father, an “upright” man who no longer knew where his wife or children were, was beaten to death by a guard.

Life or death decision

In 1944 Bryer was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she saw notorious camp doctor Josef Mengele.

“They took us off the train and we had to line up and strip. The men were separated from the women immediately. And there stood Dr Mengele and his cronies – fully dressed in uniforms and we had to parade in front of them. You can imagine what that felt like.

“He was just flicking his finger. If he flicked the finger to the left, the people were going straight to the crematorium. If to the right, they were going to the camp.”

She also recalls music blaring over loudspeakers as children were separated from their parents. She did not see her sister, but has no doubt about what happened. “She was sent into the ovens.”

AuschwitzHenia Bryer spent three months in Auschwitz

During a freezing winter Bryer, now tattooed as Auschwitz prisoner A26188, struggled against starvation, reciting poems to keep her mind on other things.

And, as she turned 18 in mid-December, she thought of how she should have been going to university in Rome.

She remembers telling herself: “I am too young to die, I can’t die. I haven’t seen anything, I haven’t done anything yet.”

Three months after she arrived, and two days before it was reached by Russian troops, Bryer was moved again.

During a forced march she saw the bodies of those shot because they were too tired to walk.

Arriving at the last camp, Bergen-Belsen, she saw “a huge mountain of dead bodies… partly decomposing”.

The camp was “the pits”, she says, even compared to Auschwitz.

Visiting the camp after its liberation in April 1945, the broadcaster Richard Dimbleby described it as a “living nightmare”.

And for the prisoners, freedom was not immediate. Suffering from diseases including typhus, they were locked inside with too few doctors to care for them and fatty foods their bodies could no longer digest.

“People were dying – there were 30,000 people that died after the liberation. I felt terrible, I lost the only friend I had right through the camps.”

‘Never forgotten’

After the war, Bryer was reunited with her mother and lived in France and Israel before she met her husband Maurice and moved with him to South Africa.

Now in her 80s, she fears younger generations lack knowledge of the Holocaust.

“I had an operation once and the anaesthetist comes and looks at [the tattoo on] my arm and he says, ‘What is this?’ And I said, ‘That’s from Auschwitz.’ And he said, ‘Auschwitz, what was that?’ And that was a young man, a qualified doctor,” she says.

There was no time to explain: “I was unconscious the next minute!”

Bryer’s memories of the camps and the scenes she witnessed, remain – and she is determined that what happened should never be forgotten.

“We had in history bloody wars and revolutions and every type of tragedies, but I think this is not comparable to anything in the world.”


31 thoughts on “Prisoner number A26188

  1. There’s no doubt that Germany and indeed much of the world went crazy during World War 2. This is not to diminish the terrible responsbility of Hitler, Mengeler and the people who committed such unspeakable acts.

    I dont know if one could say though that it is incomparable to anything else in the world.

    For instance the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948 had many similarities to these attrocities, if not carried out at the same scale as the Holocaust.

    The British officer recounts :

    “”The recording of statements is hampered also by the hysterical state of the women who often break down many times whilst the statement is being recorded. There is, however, no doubt that many sexual atrocities were committed by the attacking Jews. Many young schoolgirls were raped and later slaughtered. Old women were also molested. One story is current concerning a case in which a young girl was literally torn in two. Many infants were also butchered and killed. I also saw one old woman . . . who had been severely beaten about the head with rifle butts. Women had bracelets torn from their arms and rings from their fingers and parts of some of the women’s ears were severed in order to remove earrings.”

    Survivor recollections :

    Mr. Fahimi Zeidan, 12: “The Jews ordered all our family to line up against the wall and they started shooting us. I was hit in the side, but most of us children were saved because we hid behind our parents. The bullets hit my sister Kadri [four] in the head, my sister Sameh [eight] in the cheek, my brother Mohammed [seven] in the chest. But all the others with us against the wall were killed: my father, my mother, my grandfather and grandmother, my uncles and aunts and some of their children.”

    Ms. Haleem Eid, 30: “A man [shot] a bullet into the neck of my sister Salhiyeh who was nine months pregnant. Then he cut her stomach open with a butcher’s knife.”

    Ms. Naaneh Khalil, 16, saw a man: “take a kind of sword and slash my neighbor Jamil Hish from head to toe then do the same thing on the steps to my house to my cousin Fathi.”

    Ms. Safiyeh Attiyah, 41: “I screamed but around me other women were being raped too. Some of the men were so anxious to get our earrings they ripped our ears to pull them off faster.”

    Mr. Mohamed Jaber, student, “The Jews [broke] in, [drove] everybody outside, put them against the wall and shot them. One of the women was carrying a three month old baby.”

    Man is inhuman, never mind about seeking the divine.

  2. There is absolutely no sense in comparing the Holocaust and what supposedly happened at at Deir Yassin.

    I am extremely disappointed in both of you for the above comments.

    Genuinely sad about this.

  3. Today was Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is why I considered it important to give space to reminding us what evil men are capable of when they are able to control an entire generation of a single nation.

    Of course, there were other nationalities which joined Hitler in his offensive against the Jewish people.

    I did mention others who were also sent to the gas chambers and death camps.

    I realised, also, Q, that it was a risk to put up a post which was supportive of Israel and that there may have been a contrary commentary from Bones and wazza, so I’m not really surprised, but equally saddened, nonetheless, by the implications of their comments.

  4. Contrary to claims from Arab propagandists at the time and some since, no evidence has ever been produced that any women were raped. On the contrary, every villager ever interviewed has denied these allegations. Like many of the claims, this was a deliberate propaganda ploy, but one that backfired. Hazam Nusseibi, who worked for the Palestine Broadcasting Service in 1948, admitted being told by Hussein Khalidi, a Palestinian Arab leader, to fabricate the atrocity claims. Abu Mahmud, a Deir Yassin resident in 1948 told Khalidi “there was no rape,” but Khalidi replied, “We have to say this, so the Arab armies will come to liberate Palestine from the Jews.” Nusseibeh told the BBC 50 years later, “This was our biggest mistake. We did not realize how our people would react. As soon as they heard that women had been raped at Deir Yassin, Palestinians fled in terror.”14

    Reaction

    The Jewish Agency, upon learning of the attack, immediately expressed its “horror and disgust.” It also sent a letter expressing the Agency’s shock and disapproval to Transjordan’s King Abdullah.

    The Arab Higher Committee hoped exaggerated reports about a “massacre” at Deir Yassin would shock the population of the Arab countries into bringing pressure on their governments to intervene in Palestine. Instead, the immediate impact was to stimulate a new Palestinian exodus.

    Just four days after the reports from Deir Yassin were published, an Arab force ambushed a Jewish convoy on the way to Hadassah Hospital, killing 77 Jews, including doctors, nurses, patients, and the director of the hospital. Another 23 people were injured. This massacre attracted little attention and is never mentioned by those who are quick to bring up Deir Yassin. Moreover, despite attacks such as this against the Jewish community in Palestine, in which more than 500 Jews were killed in the first four months after the partition decision alone, Jews did not flee.

    The Palestinians knew, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the Jews were not trying to annihilate them; otherwise, they would not have been allowed to evacuate Tiberias, Haifa or any of the other towns captured by the Jews. Moreover, the Palestinians could find sanctuary in nearby states. The Jews, however, had no place to run had they wanted to. They were willing to fight to the death for their country. It came to that for many, because the Arabs were interested in annihilating the Jews, as Secretary-General of the Arab League Azzam Pasha made clear in an interview with the Egyptian paper Akhbar al-Yom before the war (October 11, 1947): “It will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history that will be talked about like the massacres of the Mongols or the Crusades.”

    References to Deir Yassin have remained a staple of anti-Israel propaganda for decades because the incident was unique.

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/deir_yassin.html

  5. The Jewish forces that entered Deir Yassin belonged in the main to two extremist, underground, paramilitary groups, the Irgun (Etzel) (National Military Organization) and the Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), also known as the Stern Gang, both aligned with the right-wing revisionist Zionist movement. Formed in 1931, Irgun was a militant group that broke away from the mainstream Jewish militia, the Haganah. During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, in which Palestinian Arabs rose up against the British mandate authorities in protest at mass Jewish immigration into the country, Irgun’s tactics had included bus and marketplace bombings, condemned by both the British and the Jewish Agency. Lehi, an Irgun splinter group, was formed in 1940 following Irgun’s decision to declare a truce with the British during World War II. Lehi subsequently carried out a series of assassinations designed to force the British out of Palestine. In April 1948, it was estimated that the Irgun had 300 fighters in Jerusalem, and Lehi around 100.[19]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deir_Yassin_massacre

    It would be useful to read the rest of the wikipedia entry, because it makes it clear that this was, at best, a very opportunist, disorganised and vicious attack carried out by a renegade force, and condemned on all sides, including by the Haganah and Jewish Agency, and especially by villagers from a neighbouring Jewish hassidic community, who put their own lives on the line to stop the atrocity before the Irgun and Lehi paramilitaries could completely decimate prisoners they held.

    The actions of the paramilitary Irgun and Lehi were an atrocity, for sure, and gave Arab opponents a huge propaganda opportunity which is still extant.

    I agree it was a cruel, malicious, terrible act of aggression, especially given the circumstances and agreement with the neighbouring Jewish village for protection, but this action in no way compares to the premeditated, controlled, organised and sophisticated gathering and extermination of six million Jews from all over Europe in death camps during WW2.

  6. You missed the side bar :

    Israel’s sixth prime minister, Menachem Begin, was Irgun leader at the time of the attack, though not present.

    and later …

    In 1949, despite protests, the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Shaul Bet was built on what had been Deir Yassin’s land, now considered part of Har Nof, an Orthodox area.[71] Four Jewish scholars, Martin Buber, Ernst Simon, Werner Senator, and Cecil Roth, wrote to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, asking that Deir Yassin be left uninhabited, or that its settlement be postponed. They wrote that it had become “infamous throughout the Jewish world, the Arab world and the whole world.” Settling the land so soon after the killings would amount to an endorsement of them. Ben-Gurion failed to respond, though the correspondents sent him copy after copy. Eventually his secretary replied that he had been too busy to read their letter

    I think that there were many renegade forces at the time of the civil war and that the Jewish leadership could deny responsibility for them whilst taking the benefit of their deeds.

    I’m merely arguing against the idea of Holocaust exceptionalism. I think the only exceptional thing about it was the scale and organisational complexity of the atrocity.

    My mother was always grateful to the Jewish people because a Jewish lawyer helped her family get their London house back after they had evacuated during the bombings. Jewish men are known for being kind to women and children particularly when they are in need.

    My family is the beneficiary of this culture, yet other families were treated differently. There were 55 orphans from Deir Yassin whose parents were killed and homes destroyed and were taken to Jerusalem, dropped off in front of a church and left to fend for themselves. A Palestinian woman, Hind al-Husseini found them and started an orphanage which continues to this day. Somehow the Jewish militia saw these children as not worthy of being cared for, contrary to the Jewish cultural traditions of thousands of years.

    We can all become monsters given the right conditions. Military training is designed to make monsters of people and war demands monsters.

  7. Well how is the post Holocaust exceptionalism? It is topical. It was Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday.

    Unfortunately the point was lost when you added your detouring commentary.

    Now you are remembering the war begun by Arab nations surrounding Israel on their day of independence, when the Arabs believed they would wipe Israel from the face of the map, which is far more akin to Hitler’s aims than the folly of Deir Yassin.

  8. @Steve

    It’s funny, isn’t it, that Bones and wazza berate us for being “intolerant” of their pet issue, homosexuality, yet both are sickeningly anti-semite. Hypocrites, both of them.

  9. “We can all become monsters given the right conditions.”

    Wazza, I responded in a lengthy post but for some reason it got gobbled up by the internet gremlins….

    In short, the scope, duration, organizational scale IS what makes the Holocaust exceptional and worthy of special remembrance and study. There should be so much we can learn from the stories of people who went through it. I marvel at someone who got through four camps, and also those who got through and have incredible positive outlooks on life.

    One great reason that I think all people should learn about that history is the point you made so well in the above quote.

    I’m fascinated by the stories of survival, but also in learning how and why supposedly civilized cultured countries got to the point where the Holocaust was possible.

    Should be part of everyone’s schooling.

    And in my ps I wondered how Bones was going up there with all the flooding? Stay dry Mr Bones!

  10. Once again, no fight was meant Wazza. Suffering on any level is terrible so I see your point. But, like I said – scale certainly changes things.

  11. @Bones

    “You are completely retarded”

    What a well thought out and reasoned retort. NOT!

    What are you, a second grader?!

  12. “And in my ps I wondered how Bones was going up there with all the flooding? Stay dry Mr Bones!”

    Never had tornadoes up here before and I’ve lived here for 40+ years and we had six. Second mass flooding in 3 years. I’m pretty safe apart from wet carpet and blown freezer and losing power and internet dropouts. The poor buggers by the river aren’t. That includes most of town centre Will easily be the worse flooding in 100+ years. Most churches are flooded. Sewage in the flood water. This’ll break a lot of businesses who had to rebuild after 2011. Some heartbreaking stories there. More water to come.

    But the Lord works in mysterious ways.

  13. @Bones

    “But the Lord works in mysterious ways.”

    So, you’re saying God caused this weather?

    Btw, glad to see that you’re ok

  14. “The actions of the paramilitary Irgun and Lehi were an atrocity, for sure, and gave Arab opponents a huge propaganda opportunity which is still extant.

    I agree it was a cruel, malicious, terrible act of aggression, especially given the circumstances and agreement with the neighbouring Jewish village for protection, but this action in no way compares to the premeditated, controlled, organised and sophisticated gathering and extermination of six million Jews from all over Europe in death camps during WW2.”

    Certainly not in scale or sophistication. But the extremist Zionist militia had a goal of eliminating Arab populations to make way for Jews. Very similar to the German ideology of Lebensraum to create living space by removing Eastern populations and replacing them with Germans.

    Of course it was an atrocity.

    If you’re lucky Roundhouse might add you to his list of anti-semites such as me, Wazza, Jesus…

  15. Lehi

    Lehi assassinated Lord Moyne, British Minister Resident in the Middle East, and made many other attacks on the British in Palestine. It was described as a terrorist organization by the British authorities.[13] Lehi assassinated United Nations mediator Folke Bernadotte and was banned by the Israeli government.[14] The United Nations Security Council called the assassins “a criminal group of terrorists,”[15] and Lehi was similarly condemned by Bernadotte’s replacement as mediator, Ralph Bunche.[16] Lehi and Irgun were jointly responsible for the massacre in Deir Yassin. Israel granted a general amnesty to Lehi members on 14 February 1949. In 1980, Israel instituted a military decoration, the Lehi ribbon.[17] Former Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir became Prime Minister of Israel in 1983.

    Lehi Contact with Nazi Germany

    Late in 1940, Lehi, having identified a common interest between the intentions of the new German order and Jewish national aspirations, proposed forming an alliance in World War II with Nazi Germany.[38] It offered assistance in transferring the Jews of Europe to Palestine, in return for Germany’s help in expelling Britain from Mandatory Palestine.[citation needed] Late in 1940, Lehi representative Naftali Lubenchik went to Beirut to meet German official Werner Otto von Hentig (who also was involved with the Haavara or Transfer Agreement, which had been transferring German Jews and their funds to Palestine since 1933).[citation needed] Lubenchik told von Hentig that Lehi had not yet revealed its full power and that they were capable of organizing a whole range of anti-British operations.[citation needed]

    On the assumption that the destruction of Britain was the Germans’ top objective, the organization offered cooperation in the following terms.[citation needed] Lehi would support sabotage and espionage operations in the Middle East and in eastern Europe anywhere where they had cells. Germany would recognize an independent Jewish state in Palestine/Eretz Israel, and all Jews leaving their homes in Europe, by their own will or because of government injunctions, could enter Palestine with no restriction of numbers. According to the proposals in the Jerusalem Agreement, based on negotiations with Count Quinto Mazzolini, in exchange for Italy’s recognition of, and aid in obtaining, Jewish sovereignty over Palestine, Stern promised that Zionism would come under the aegis of Italian fascism, with Haifa as its base, and the Old City of Jerusalem under Vatican control, except for the Jewish quarter.[citation needed] In Heller’s words, Stern’s proposal would turn the ‘Kingdom of Israel’ into a satellite of the Axis powers.'[4] Stern also proposed recruiting some 40,000 Jews from occupied Europe to invade Palestine with German support to oust the British.[2] On 11 January 1941, Vice Admiral Ralf von der Marwitz, the German Naval attaché in Turkey, filed a report (the “Ankara document”) conveying an offer by Lehi to “actively take part in the war on Germany’s side” in return for German support for “the establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich.”[4][39]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lehi_(group)

  16. @Bones I read where it was the worst since 1942 and then later like you said, worse than that. I remember the 74 floods and there were always cyclones, but tornadoes are something new.

    And it’s getting crazy having these once in a lifetime events happening so often!

  17. Worst flood in our recorded history now.

    My pastor sees man made global change as a satanic green plot.

    I don’t think having to evacuate his house twice in 3 years and clean out out our church will change his mind.

    Now it’s raining.

    All things work for good…

  18. Q, the Holocaust was state-sponsored terror on a huge scale, but even it was dwarfed by the Stalinist purges of the Kulaks and other groups in the 30’s. The gulag system took 20 Million lives by most estimations.

  19. Einstein was asked to help raise money for the Lehi/Stern group – called “The American Friends of the Fighters from Freedom in Israel”

    His response in a letter :

    Dear Sir,
    When a real and final catastrophe should befall us in Palestine the first responsible for it would be the British and the second responsible for the Terrorist organisations build up from our own ranks.

    I am not willing to see anyone associated with those misled and criminal people.

    Sincerely yours,
    Albert Einstein”

    But I suppose he was an anti-semite.

  20. Yes, Wazza. The Stalinist purges aren’t as known as they might be.

    Do I really have to go into all the reasons why the Holocaust is unique in history? I could if you like.

    But here is one thing to remember, and it might explain why I reacted to your post.

    If you had done a post about a Kulak who survived years in the gulags and lost everyone in their village, most of their family and saw unspeakable misery, and then finished with the comment that it was incomparable – and then someone gave a first comment about some massacre where some Kulaks massacered a few hundred Russians so it’s the same except for the scale….
    some would be wondering what you’re on about. A story about someone who survives a 20 million person purge being followed up with another story and a comment about how Stalin and others were bad but….

    Get it?

    I don’t think you or Bones are anti-semitic. I understand different viewpoints about the Palestinian issue, but the Holocaust still is unique. It’s so evil that we should resist any attempts to diminish the memory of it.

    Do you realize that if Hitler had defeated England he planned to exterminate all the Jew there too?
    That survivors are still numbered?

    I think the Holocaust needs to be taught if even educated adults can’t see it’s special place in history.

    The only people I’ve ever met who have tried to argue that the Holocaust wasn’t special were people who actually went along with the hoaz theories and were indeed anti-semitic.

  21. @Bones. I read that the Burnett River might be flowing at 40 knots.
    Crazy stuff.

    As for climate change – I don’t see why pastors even have an opinion on it.

    The irony is that while a certain section of religious people are saying climate change isn’t real, 30 years ago they were all talking about the ozone layer and crazy climate change as being a sign of the end times.

    But forget that – stay safe there.

  22. You knowmore than 20-50 million orthodox christians were liquidated lyst century in the Armenian massacres and by stalinist and nazi regimes. Very little is talked about them.

    There are some orrying devlopments in europe. Italy is openly fascist and wants to celebrate its fascist veterans including those who worked for nazis. Far right parties are becoming more popularwhile economies nosedive and austerity measures kick in.

    It looks familiar.

  23. Bones,
    But the extremist Zionist militia had a goal of eliminating Arab populations to make way for Jews. Very similar to the German ideology of Lebensraum to create living space by removing Eastern populations and replacing them with Germans.

    And yet, after more than 60 years of Israel’s existence, there are still Arab run towns and villages dotted all over the country, where they have fair and free mayoral and council elections and have a far better standard of living than many other Arabs in other lands.

    I guess the Zionist militant genocidalists were overruled, outmanoeuvred and put in their place.

    Israel is such a free democratic nation that it has opposition parties, free speech, religious and non-religious Israelis, Arabs and people of other nationalities, a huge refugee program, newspapers and media with Jewish and Israeli critics, Arab critics and foreign agency critics, all living unhindered and largely unharrassed in their cities.

    Try being in opposition or a critical journalist in Gaza!

    Meanwhile some, I stress not all, but some Muslim Arabs and Persians both refuse to acknowledge Israel, but want to wipe them off the face of the earth, which is entirely akin to Hitler’s plans.

    I mean, what a hypocritical outlook! ‘We don’t recognise Israel, but we want to eliminate them!’

    One or the other.

    If you want to eliminate them you clearly recognise their existence.

    If you don’t recognise them what is there to eliminate?

    So shut up already!

  24. Well, like I said, this post about the lady who survived four camps could have elicited a much better discussion than this.

    So, I’ll make a feeble attempt. Anyone read Victor Frankl’s book?
    Seems he was also in four different camps.


    Even in the degradation and abject misery of a concentration camp, Frankl was able to exercise the most important freedom of all – the freedom to determine one’s own attitude and spiritual well-being. No sadistic Nazi SS guard was able to take that away from him or control the inner-life of Frankl’s soul. One of the ways he found the strength to fight to stay alive and not lose hope was to think of his wife. Frankl clearly saw that it was those who had nothing to live for who died quickest in the concentration camp.

    “He who has a why for life can put with any how.”
    Frederick Nietzsche

    Frankl wrote the following while
    being marched to forced labor in a Nazi concentration camp:

    We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road running through the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his hand behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”
    That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another on and upward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look then was more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

    A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

    In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its way back from the prisoners existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered…

    My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, and the thoughts of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I still would have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of that image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.”

  25. Wow! Great story, Q, and powerful. I don’t know that I would have that kind of strength of character in the same situation. I would have to focus on my family – wife and children. The love for family is very powerful, very strong. Self-pity could never cut it, only a resolve to see them again.

  26. „so shut up already“

    Yes shut up about Rwanda, Kosovo.

    There’s only one genocide thats important.

  27. I think you live in cloud cuckoo land.

    A place where you have imaginary arguments with imaginary conversations.

    A place where you deliberately fail to understand a single thing anyone tells you, and where you can make up things you think they might say to give you something to strike out against.

    A place where you can be told something which completely and profoundly refutes what you said before, but ignore it anyway, and up the tempo by stating some outlandish falsehood no one even thinks let alone says.

    The statement, ‘so shut up already’ was a Jewish way of saying people who claim Israel doesn’t exist yet want to annihilate them need to make their minds up because it is an oxymoron.

    But you knew that.

    You just have a need to hit out at someone.

    It is a classic way to declare you completely lack any kind of tolerance.

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