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EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 661 
This shrunken head, found at the Buchenwald concentration camp, is a gruesome reminder of Nazi cruelty.
Photo: Bilderdienst SYddeutscher Verlag
The last Jew in Vilkaviskis, Lithuania, stands in the town's Jewish cemetery, which he restored after the war.
Photo: Beth Hatefutsoth
Delbo loathed abstraction, rejected sentimentality, and despised dishonesty even more. She wrote accordingly. "The sound of fifty blows on a man's back," she said, "is interminable." In Auschwitz, Delbo added, "not one of us utters, 'I'm hungry. I'm thirsty. I'm cold.'" Those things went without saying; to use such expressions in Auschwitz was absurd. Simple but pointed, Delbo's words show that the Nazis created an environment calculated to induce hunger, thirst, and misery so unrelenting that the most common expressions of need were reduced to silence under the blue sky's indifference.

Dying, Delbo continues, might bring a giddy instant in which one could feel "it is over, no more suffering and struggling, or requiring the impossible from a heart at the end of its resources...a bliss one did not know existed." The very lack of reverence for death, however, brought Delbo back to life--but only partly: "I wish to die but not to be carried on the small stretcher. Not to be carried by on the short stretcher with hanging legs and head, and naked under a tattered blanket. I do not wish to be carried on the small stretcher." Because Auschwitz reduced the reasons for living to that extent, Delbo concluded that "it is far better to know nothing if you wish to go on living."

As for love, after Auschwitz it is no longer so tragically triumphant as conventional wisdom would have it. The phrase "better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" does not apply here. To an overwhelming degree, Delbo suggests, the Nazis defeated love. Granted a last meeting with her husband before he was killed, she reports that they found their separation compounded by the only act of love that seemed possible: mutual deception, pretending to each other not to know the fate awaiting them.

In Auschwitz, love could not be remembered well. There, memory itself was a luxury that energy scarcely permitted. When it did loom up, Delbo laments, memory often added pain too great for those already living beyond their emotional means.

And so for Delbo, as for every other survivor, came complex, searching questions. What Delbo called useless knowledge left her to wonder if her survival was worth it. Her brutally honest and profoundly melancholy testimony is not the same as that of others--Jews or non-Jews--who endured the Nazi camps. However, it amplifies one of the Holocaust's key repercussions, an impact or reverberation that deserves thoughtful attention: Especially after Auschwitz, care must be taken to resist utilizing the Holocaust as a sort of philosophical lever to affirm pre-Holocaust ideals and religious faith.

Delbo and others who survived knew that, although they did not physically perish at the hands of the Nazis and the Nazi collaborators, they were almost literally removed from the world--taken to places where normal expectations and codes of conduct were turned upside-down, ripped apart, trampled into the ground.

 December 2, 1947: Maria Mandel, chief SS supervisor for the women's camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, is hanged in Kraków, Poland.
 1948: Pope Pius XII requests mercy for all Nazi war criminals condemned to death. His appeal is turned down by Deputy Military Governor General Lucius Clay.
 January 1948: In a staged auto accident, Shlomo Mikhoels, director of the Jewish State Theater in Moscow and the chair of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, is murdered by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD.
 April 1948: Franz W. Six, former SS-Brigadeführer and commander of Einsatzgruppe B, is sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for war crimes; See 1955.
 April 28, 1948: Albert Forster, former Gauleiter of Danzig, Poland, is executed in that city after being convicted of war crimes.
 May 14, 1948: Britain's mandate to govern Palestine expires. Palestine is divided into the state of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan. The Jewish National Council proclaims the independent state of Israel. U.S. recognition follows within hours; See May 15, 1948.
EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 661 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.