Thursday, 8 December 2011

Charlotte Delbo - Auschwitz and After


This is a really moving book. It is in translation and I’m not really sure why I didn’t read it in its original French. Nevertheless, it seems to have been translated well.  
Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz survivor, presents a series of poems, vignettes and prose poems about her experiences of Auschwitz and after, and of the experiences of others she knows.
Auschwitz is always with her.
She doesn’t colour her accounts with memory or with trying to explain what it was all about. She recreates the feeling of the place and of the experience and brings some immediacy to her readers.
I found myself resisting reading this at times. I didn’t want to confront the darkness. It is anything but a comfortable read.
The disorientation that she and others she knew felt after release was remarkable. Nothing seems all that important. Some habits from the camp cannot be lost. In some cases it was too soon to form new relationships and then became too late.  
A few particular passages really stand out.
She recalls having to count the dead every day. One day they see Alice’s leg. Alice had a false leg. Seeing the detached leg indicates that Alice has died.
She describes a Christmas Eve in the camp. They manage to have a feast of vegetables and put on a little home-made make-up.
Charlotte manages to buy a copy of Molière’s Le Misanthrope. They put on a performance in the camp. Charlotte also learns the play off by heart. She recites it to herself – sometimes up to three times - during roll call.
In the passage about Gilberte, the reader really can feel the disorientation after release. Gilberte is even afraid to leave her hotel room.
Delbo brings us close to understanding what it was like to be there. This seems to work better than fiction or autobiography written from memory.     

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