February 02, 2006
Hungarian author Imre Kertesz was imprisoned in Buchenwald Concentration Camp as a child during WWII and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002. In Fatelessness he recounts the story of 14 year old Georg Koves, a boy who follows a path similar to Kertesz's own. The power of this book lies in the simple, straightforward depiction of events. The language is clean, without sentiment, and yet terribly vivid. The matter-of-fact narration reveals the initial surprise and step-by-step acceptance of concentration camp conditions as a necessity of survival and a type of guilt, a story that must be shared by Georg afterwards rather than put behind him. There are no new beginnings.
It is by far the most moving, humbling account of the Holocaust that I have read.
The excellent work of Tom Wilkinson, the book's translator, is also worth noting.
p. 257 - Georg, upon returning to Budapest, tells his two elderly uncles about his experience...
They too had taken one step at a time, I noted. What did I mean by taking a "step," they floundered, so I related to them how it had gone in Auschwitz, by way of example. For each train - and I am not saying it was always necessarily this number, since I have no way of knowing - but at any rate in our case you have to reckon on around three thousand people. Take the men among them - a thousand, let's say. For the sake of the example, you can reckon on one or two seconds per case, more often one than two. Ignore the very first and very last, because they don't count; but in the middle, where I too was standing, you would therefore have to allow ten to twenty minutes before you reach the point where it is decided whether it will be gas immediately or a reprieve for the time being. Now, all this time the queue is constantly moving, progressing, and everyone is taking steps, bigger or smaller ones, depending on what the speed of the operation demands. . . . "What has that got to do with it, and what do you mean by it?" Nothing in particular, I replied, but it was not quite true that the thing "came about": we had gone along with it too. Only now, and thus after the event, looking back, in hindsight, does the way it all "came about" seem over, finished, unalterable, finite, so tremendously fast, and so terribly opaque.