Thus, courts of justice acquit the strong,
And doom the weak, as therefore wrong.
- Jean de la Fontaine, from The Animals Stricken with the Plague, a fable
They’ve admitted me to the infirmary again. I’m lucky. I dream.
For three months I haven’t opened a single letter; touched one book since August 3 when the officer in Romainville took my bible. I feel like if I were to see a single flower, or one little cat, I’d cry for joy.
In Lyon, I had flowers, and a cat…
We speak German, Russian and Polish in the infirmary – mostly Polish. The Poles are mean. Despite this, I still have a lot of pity for my little comrade from Crackow, alone in the world, suffering from scurvy.
The sun inundates the infirmary from noon to 2 pm. It’s white. With one single thing of beauty, one can survive, and the sunlight is sufficient for me. It is my biggest joy. In the factory, the electric lights burn my eyes and all the skylights are blocked. Even the window in the bathroom has been covered in black paper. I can’t see my little tree anymore. Grief fills me. At the infirmary, I want to keep my eyes open to take in the surplus of sun.
I think about Jean-Pierre, about Raymond. I don’t want to live in Paris anymore, but in a land filled with sunshine – Nice, Egypt, or Costa-Rica…
Against the rules, Renee, Jacquie, Dolly, and Colette came to see me at the window for three seconds. I’m very isolated since no one speaks French. I watch how the Polish live. They all seem like they’ve escaped from a novel. Of course, literature prepares one well for life…
In just 24 hours, I learned all about the life of Madeleine – the fat and gentle farmer. Her first husband is dead. There is a second husband with children but he, too, was deported.
“If something bad happens to him, I won’t get married again,” she says.
“Will you take a lover?” I ask.
“No, I’ll start a small business.”
Very practical, you wise Norman woman…
23 October 1944
It was on October 23 that Raymond gave me the cameo I had made into a ring. It’s the only jewel I have left….
I just finished copying “The Animals Stricken with the Plague” for Aliette. It was mother who wrote it for me in my dictation notebook when I had too much work in school. The memory moves me. Why am I always diving into the past?
Saturday night; the afternoon was dreadful. The Gestapo’s blonde “Aufesherin” who is relentless against Suzanne made her wash the floors of the factory, since poor Madame P. did it badly. Evidently, being a professor of English, tired, and very myopic does not make one a specialist for polishing parquet floors, especially when those floors are littered with thin wires that are hard to gather.
With her broom and her rags, Suzanne does her best. The Aufesherin follows closely to ensure each floorboard is scrubbed, steps on it, and makes Suzanne start again. She is in a bad mood and, for three hours, never stops harassing Suzanne. Anna pretends to be moved to pity, but we wonder if it wasn’t her that instigated the whole thing. Her perpetual smile suggests hypocrisy. As for us, it’s impossible to stop work to say a single word. We press our noses against our machines and when Suzanne passes near, we encourage her with much tenderness. “Don’t worry, Suzanne,” we say. “We’ll kill her the day we’re liberated.”
But, alas! We know well that we will never get the chance. She’ll save herself first.
But as she waits for liberation, Suzanne suffers. Her thin long hands plunged in freezing water.
Despite everything, I could write a few lines of poetry for Louise today.
Sleet. Cold. Cold. Roll call for a change of shirts, and again later to distribute thread to sew our numbers on our rayon clothes. The whole day was filled with roll call…. I am number 1104. I’ve already forgotten my number in Ravensbrück. It was fifty-thousand-and-something…
29 October 1944
Two alarms in the night. Cold. Cold. Rain and cold. Cold at the factory. Some Italian women arrived from Auschwitz. They all tell the same story. One, Ernesta, still has a look of shock on her face. At Auschwitz she had been placed next to the “cellblock for the dead,” She assisted with the atrocious comedy – after descending from the train car, the prisoners, and sometimes children, were stripped naked and sent to the showers. They even gave them a towel and soap; the idea was to inspire confidence. But out of the pipes came a murderous gas. In four minutes, the prisoners were dead. The cadavers fell through a trap that automatically opened. Male prisoners working in this kommando [a German word designating a unit of slave laborers] had the horrible task of shoveling the bodies into the ovens and burning them. Before burning, they had to pull out all gold teeth to give to their German tormentors. Thus it was, from the gas chamber to the crematorium. The atmosphere never stopped feeling pestilential for those in neighboring cellblocks. Later, the gas chambers were removed, and so thousands of men, women, mostly Jews, screamed horribly as they were burned alive. Ernesta tells us the terrible details and then begins the tale again, sometimes in Italian, sometimes in German. She is obsessed by her memories. She’s sitting near me because I have to train her on my machine. Gina translates in German. Lucienna in Italian. It’s pretty hard going. We try to distract Ernesta from her terrible visions. We give her our soup rations. A smile lights up her face.
She has to forget… She will forget. But soon she looks haggard again, and she stops trying. She incessantly draws a map of the crematorium.
Ernesta, you must fix your hair. You must eat. You must smile with us because you’re alive.