Pages related to Holocaust on this site:
Holocaust, Perón and Argentina
"Let me go", by Helga Schneider
"The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland", by Jan T. Gross
The Church and the Holocaust
"THE MASTERS OF DEATH", by Richard Rhodes
"THE HIDDEN LIFE OF OTTO FRANK"By Carol Ann Lee
Das Leben der Lilli Jahn 1900-1944
The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (Deutsch)
A Memoir of Ruth Kluger
The books of Christopher Browning (1)
The books of Christopher Browning (2)
"After such knowledge", by Eva Hoffman
'The Battle for Warsaw', by Norman Davies
"Die Happy Boys", von Jack Eisner
ALMA ROSÉ, die Geigerin von Auschwitz
SUITE FRANÇAISE, de Irène Némirovsky
Nine Suitcases, by BELA ZSOLT
Escaping Auschwitz: A Culture of Forgetting by Prof. Ruth Linn
Scherwitz von Anita Kugler
»Ich versuche jeden zu retten« , von Wilm Hosenfeld
Poland - Pologne - Polen – Polónia
The Story of a Life by Aharon Appelfeld
The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn
The Journal of Hélène Berr
A Concentration Camp Diary, 1943-1944, by David Koker
86 skeletons for « scientific research » in Strasbourg
See also Die Zeit
Paul Celan -
der Frühe wir trinken sie abends
der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
Er ruft stecht
tiefer ins Erdreich ihr einen ihr andern singet und spielt
der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
Fuga* da Morte
Leite negro da madrugada bebemo-lo ao entardecer
bebemo-lo ao meio dia e pela manhã bebemo-lo de noite
bebemos e bebemos
cavamos um túmulo nos ares aí não ficamos apertados
Na casa vive um homem que brinca com serpentes escreve
escreve ao anoitecer para a Alemanha os teus cabelos de oiro Margarete
escreve e põe-se à porta da casa e as estrelas brilham
assobia e vêm os seus cães
assobia e saem os seus judeus manda abrir uma vala na terra
ordena-nos agora toquem para começar a dança
Leite negro da madrugada bebemo-lo ao entardecer
bebemos-te pela manhã e ao meio-dia bebemos-te ao entardecer
bebemos e bebemos
Na casa vive um homem que brinca com serpentes escreve
escreve ao anoitecer para a Alemanha os teus cabelos de oiro Margarete
os teus cabelos de cinza Sulamith cavamos um túmulo nos ares aí não ficamos apertados
Ele grita cavem mais fundo no reino da terra vocês aí e vocês outros cantem e toquem
leva a mão ao ferro que traz à cintura balança-o azuis são os seus olhos
enterrem as pás mais fundo vocês aí e vocês outros continuem a tocar para a dança
Leite negro da madrugada bebemos-te de noite
bebemos-te ao meio dia e pela manhã bebemos-te ao entardecer
bebemos e bebemos
na casa vive um homem os teus cabelos de oiro Margarete
os teus cabelos de cinza Sulamith ele brinca com as serpentes
E grita toquem mais doce a música da morte a morte é um mestre que veio da Alemanha
grita arranquem tons mais escuros dos violinos depois feitos fumo subireis aos céus
e tereis um túmulo nas nuvens aí não ficamos apertados
Leite negro da madrugada bebemos-te de noite
bebemos-te ao meio dia a morte é um mestre que veio da Alemanha
bebemos-te ao entardecer e pela manhã bebemos e bebemos
morte é um mestre que veio da Alemanha azuis são os teus olhos
atinge-te com bala de chumbo acerta-te em cheio
na casa vive um homem os teus cabelos de oiro Margarete
atiça contra nós os seus cães oferece-nos um túmulo nos ares
brinca com as serpentes e sonha a morte é um mestre que veio da Alemanha
os teus cabelos de oiro Margarete
os teus cabelos de cinza Sulamith
* No sentido de peça musical
Tradução de João Barrento
(do livro Paul Celan, Sete Rosas Mais Tarde – Antologia Poética, Selecção, tradução e introdução de João Barrento e Yvete K. Centeno, Cotovia, 1993 ISBN 972-8028-05-9)
Tue., December 28, 2004 Tevet 16, 5765
The slow task of publishing memories
Only seven books have been published by the Holocaust Survivors' Memoirs Project, and some say the project is moving too slowly New York –
A few days before her death in a New York hospital room, Dr. Hadassah Rosensaft received the edited copy of her book, "Yesterday: My Story." In 203 pages, the book relates Rosensaft's tribulations in the Auschwitz concentration camp and her experiences during the last year of World War II, when she worked with a team that cared for 149 Jewish children in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
After her death, her son Menachem handled the publication of his mother's manuscript. Rosensaft was born in 1948 in the Bergen-Belsen camp, after it was transformed into a Displaced Persons camp. "I knew that my parents had a child before the war," he said, "but only during the course of reading the book did I discover that the boy was taken away from my mother during the selection at the entrance to the Auschwitz camp."
Rosensaft, a New York lawyer, today volunteers his time to run the Holocaust Survivors Memoirs' Project that began in 2000 with the aim of encouraging survivors to write their experiences and to publish some of them. Some $1 million was donated to the World Jewish Congress project, but since its inception only seven books have been published.
According to some people involved in perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust, the project is moving too slowly, and "with that kind of money, more books could have been published."
Rosensaft says the process takes a lot of time and includes choosing a manuscript, preparing it for printing, review by a historian, editing and production. Since the project started it has received around 900 manuscripts, which are stored in the offices of the WJC in New York. Holocaust survivors living in Israel, the United States, Canada and Europe submitted most of the manuscripts; most are written in English and some are in Hebrew.
Five books published so far are in English and two are in Hebrew, with some having been prepared for print and produced by the staff of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
The two Hebrew books - "Spring in Darkness: The loss of youth in Bendin and in the camps" by Dov Zalmanovich, and "Celinka, a girl who survived Auschwitz" by Tzila Lieberman - were produced by Yad Vashem, but financed by the project.
The seven books were printed in a relatively small number of copies, between 500 and 1,500. The books are not sold in stores, but can be purchased on the Amazon.com Web site. According to Rosensaft, he was recently informed that several copies have been sold.
Last week, the names of seven books the project intends to publish in 2005-2006 were released, and some are already in the production stage. Among them are a book about the five women's recollections from the Holocaust era, as well as Alan Elsner's book documenting the tribulations of two Jews who fled the city of Lviv and were deported by the Soviets to a labor camp in Siberia. Another book, "Legacy and Redemption - A Life Renewed" by Joseph Tenenbaum, a resident of Toronto, focuses on the author's rehabilitation after the war.
"Days of Rain" by Enzo Tayar, an Italian, presents the history of his family during the war. The manuscripts to be published are chosen by an advisory committee whose members include Holocaust researchers such as Yehuda Bauer, Israel Guttman and Avner Shalev.
According to the recently formulated plan, at least 75 of the manuscripts submitted by Holocaust survivors will be published.
Author and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel launched the project and convinced executives of the American publisher Random House to donate $1 million to the project.
"On the surface, all memories of Holocaust survivors resemble one another," he told Haaretz. "They tell of the peaceful happiness of the before, the terrifying violence of the tragedy, and then the difficult challenges that came after, except each person evokes his or her life and agony in his or her one unique manner.
"Writing the story requires a special effort and entails suffering," says Wiesel, who pointed out that he is not actively involved in running the project. But he adds, "publicizing the story is important - for the survivor as well, but also for the Jewish people and for history. We have a moral obligation to work to make the experiences and recollections of survivors part of the historical record."
Rosensaft says that almost every week more Holocaust survivors' memoirs continue to arrive. It is doubtful that these books will be reviewed or mentioned by editors of book columns, but from conversations with Holocaust researchers and others involved in the field, a sense of urgency arose.
According to them, after years of silence and repression, survivors are ready and some are even eager to be discovered so that they can relate to their families and to future generations their experiences during the Holocaust.
==== JERUSALEM POST
Apr. 15, 2004 10:09
Telling 'her' story
The Jewish Women of
Ravensbruck Concentration Camp
By Rochelle G. Saidel
University of Wisconsin Press
268 pp. $29.95
Women in the Holocaust
Edited by Dahlia Ofer and Lenore Weitzman
Yale University Press
292 pp. $18.95
Double Jeopardy: Gender
and the Holocaust
By Judith Taydor Baumel
402 pp. $52.50
Gendered aspects of the Holocaust have been a subject of research only since the 1980s. Until then, with the notable exception of Anne Frank's diary and the work of historian Lucy Dawidowicz, men - including venerable figures such as Eli Weisel, Andre Schwatzbard, Primo Levi, and Yehuda Bauer - have been the predominant voices in Holocaust literature.
In 1983, the Conference on Women Surviving the Holocaust in New York marked the first attempt to strengthen the voices of women in the study of the Holocaust, positing that gender mattered to victims and victimizers alike.
Since then, there has been great effort on the part of a small but determined group of researchers and authors to insert women's specific voices, experiences, and analyses into the canon of Holocaust studies.
The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp is one stark, sensitive, and deeply moving example of such efforts. Ravensbruck, the only concentration and death camp established solely for women, claims the highest death rate of all the camps on German soil. Some of the Nazis' most horrific medical experiments were performed there, yet it is one of the least known camps. Thanks to Rochelle Saidel's sensitive interviews and meticulous research, together with the many previously unpublished photographs and haunting drawings by the inmates, this book will increase public recognition of Ravensbruck's victims and survivors.
Saidel's book is the culmination of more than 20 years of research. As a political scientist who specializes in women's experiences in the Holocaust at the Remember the Women Institute in New York, she interviewed more than 60 survivors in the US, Israel, and Europe, investigating private archives and unpublished testimonies.
Located about 90 kilometers from Berlin, the camp began operating in 1939. It was intended to house about 3,000 women, but over the years it held as many as 43,000 at one time.
Up to 1,100 women were forced into barracks intended for 240. According to Saidel, this deliberate overcrowding was one way of murdering the inmates. With so many women being crowded into each small shed, the inmates were crushed and suffocated. Others were killed through the vicious means we are more familiar with: slave labor, torture, starvation, shooting, lethal injection, "medical" experimentation, and gassing.
But death is not the sole focus of Saidel's book. She shows that the women, despite the terror, resisted in ways that "lifted the spirit." The women struggled to survive and even persevere in particularly feminine ways. Daily life is described vividly as women are quoted talking about their fears, hopes, and friendships.
It is almost incomprehensible to many readers today, and yet strangely uplifting. To sustain a sense of humanity and community, the women created art, wrote and performed plays, helped each other maintain hygienic conditions, gave each other small gifts, and taught each other Bible and literature.
They even shared memories of recipes.
"Exhausted, cold, and hungry, they would talk endlessly about the food they longed for, about family meals they had shared, and the dishes they planned to make if they survived the war. It seems as though these oft-repeated recipes and stories about family meals served as a talisman, sustaining their humanity and hope in a time with little hope. In an act of enormous courage, Rebecca [Buckman Teitelbaum, a Belgian Jew who was in Ravensbruck for 17 months] hid away small pieces of paper and an indigo pencil, and set about recording these recipes, so lovingly retold."
Since having any kind of paper (even toilet paper) was punishable by death, this was a particularly courageous form of resistance.
Of course, Saidel notes, these testimonies are a blend of memory and history, and individual women's experiences cannot provide a comprehensive overview of the camp. Sometimes a survivor told Saidel a story that no one else mentioned. In one particularly harrowing testimony, a woman describes seeing a building filled with young women who had their tongues cut out. Another reported that Jewish prisoners were forced out naked into the cold on Christmas Day, 1944.
"We can either dismiss any or all of these stories as improbable," Saidel observes, "or consider them precious information that only one survivor remembered. Unless and until proven otherwise, I tend to subscribe to the latter possibility.
"When the testimonies of the women in this book are put together, along with writings from non-Jewish survivors, reports on those who did not survive, historically accepted facts, war crime trial transcripts and Nazi documents, they serve to corroborate each other in a way that gives us an overview."
Saidel also reveals how she became involved in the telling of the Ravensbruck story, and her self-reflections contribute to the reader's understanding of the process involved.
SAIDEL ALSO addresses a perplexing question: Why is the Ravensbruck camp one of the least known? She provides several possible answers. Above all, of course, is the sad reality that there were very few survivors.
The camp itself was located in East Germany and so came under communist rule; until the reunification of Germany, commemoration of the camp was designed to exalt communism, not memorialize Jews. Also, most of the women in Ravensbruck had spent time in other camps, so their shorter, although usually more horrific, stays in Ravensbruck may not have figured as highly in testimonies as their periods in such well-known places as Auschwitz. Finally, the women of Ravensbruck were among the most ethnically diverse of any camp, so that those few survivors who may have written memoirs did so in their native languages, under the radar of much scholarly Holocaust literature.
But Saidel adds: "It could also be speculated, although not proven, that the camp's definition as a women's camp added to the lack of interest among the predominantly male circles of Holocaust scholars and survivor leaders."
With this, The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp takes its honorable place in the growing genre of gender study of the Holocaust.
IN THIS regard, it is important to cite two pivotal works, both published in 1998: Women and the Holocaust, edited by Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman; and Judith Tydor Baumel's Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust. Ofer and Weitzman compiled a comprehensive and authoritative collection of original scholarship devoted to this topic. With 21 chapters by different contributors, theirs was one of the first works to include survivors' testimony alongside scholarly analyses.
In their introductory essay, Weitzman and Ofer pose the basic question Why should a book on the Holocaust - which targeted all Jews for annihilation irrespective of their sex, age, or any other social characteristic - focus on women? The rest of the book then shows "how questions about gender lead to a richer and more finely nuanced understanding of the Holocaust. They help us envision the specificity of everyday life and the different ways in which men and women responded to the Nazi onslaught."
Baumel's work was intended to "illuminate the factors which shaped the lives of Jewish women during and after the Holocaust" and to widen the geographical, chronological, and disciplinary scope of the study."
The book is divided into seven sections, each focusing on a different aspect of the discourse between gender and identity, such as Wartime Interaction; Heroism; and Post-war Life and Representation.
According to Baumel, in June 1943 Warsaw Ghetto historian Emmanuel Ringelblum wrote: "The historian of the future will have to devote a fitting chapter to the role of the Jewish woman during the war. It is thanks to the courage and endurance of our women that thousands of families have been able to endure these bitter times."
Yet as Ofer and Weitzman, Baumel, and many others note, the study of gender has been (and remains) controversial and is often met with hostility. The Nazis, the objectors note, defined their targets as Jews - not as men, women, or children - and systematically planned to murder all of them, irrespective of gender. Furthermore, they contend, feminist studies are an imposition of today's concerns (or fads) on the past. Others worry that a gendered study will diminish the importance of the Holocaust, or even trivialize it.
Weitzman and Ofer respond: "When one is confronted by the unimaginable suffering of the victims at every stage of Nazi occupation and by their ultimate annihilation, the argument goes, discussions of the minutiae of day-to-day interaction between husband and wife, or of the struggle to find jobs, or of the exchange of recipes in the camps, seems to pale in comparison and rob the victims of the honor and dignity they deserve. But the opposite is true. It is the details of everyday life - the portrait of a woman who saved her single ration of bread for her children, or that of a man who volunteered for forced labor because his wages were promised to his family - that restore individuality and humanity to the victims."
Like Saidel, they also believe that at least some of the resistance on the part of the "Holocaust establishment" is due to the fact that male researchers have assumed that "the universal Holocaust experience was the male experience" and so have simply ignored the voices of female survivors.
IT IS true, of course, that in death all Jews seemed alike to the Nazis.
But as they lived their tortured lives, men and women had very different experiences. To these researchers, it is clear that together with age, ethnicity, and other social classifications, sex and gender always have consequences. Together, these works point to at least two areas of different experience: women's bodies and the ways in which women were socialized.
Saidel notes that "physiological considerations made the experiences of women unlike those of men: menstruation [she points out that even though most women's periods stopped in the camps, they still had to suffer through at least one last period without any sanitary means]; pregnancy; rape; and forced prostitution."
With regard to socialization, Saidel writes: "On the one hand, there were positive aspects related to gender that enabled women to better struggle against the subhuman conditions of degradation, deprivation, terror, and death at Ravensbruck. Homemaking and nurturing skills were "women's work," and women's familiarity with these roles equipped them to form surrogate families, care for each other, and perform the hygienic and housekeeping routines that helped sustain life.
But the authors do not romanticize these skills.
"Gender-associated qualities caused some of the women to suffer. For example, because of the social relations between women and men at that time, girls were brought up to be modest, and many women were traumatized when forced to parade naked before men, and even other women. Women were also taught to be submissive, and as 'the weaker sex,' they had to overcome this ingrained self-image in order to stay alive."
By examining women's unique experiences and responses, and by combining minute insights with classic scholarly research, works such as those by Ofer and Weitzman, Baumel, and Saidel contribute to a fuller and more finely nuanced understanding of what still remains entirely unfathomable.
Rochelle Saidel is Senior Scientific Researcher at the Center for the Study of Women and Gender at the University of São Paulo as well as founder and executive director of the Remember the Women Institute. She is author of Never Too Late To Remember: The Politics Behind New York City’s Holocaust Museum and The Outraged Conscience: Seekers of Justice for Nazi War Criminals in America. She is curator of the exhibit Women of Ravensbrück: Portraits of Courage for the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. A citizen of the United States and Israel, she currently divides her time bertween Jerusalem, New York, and São Paulo.
Fri., November 12, 2004 Cheshvan 28, 5765
A lifelong death sentence
By Ruth Almog
"Inge" by Inge Joseph Bleier and David E. Gumpert, William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, Michigan, 291 pages, $24; "The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp" by Rochelle G. Saidel, The University of Wisconsin Press, 278 pages, $29.95.
What do Inge Joseph's autobiographical story and Rochelle G. Saidel's study on the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women have in common? Time and gender. Saidel's book, which is the candidate for an important prize in the United States, brings to light for the first time the stories of the Jewish women who were imprisoned in Ravensbruck.
Ravensbruck was a concentration camp for
women of different nationalities, which was located 80 kilometers north of
Berlin. Apparently, during the five years of its existence, 132,000 women were
imprisoned there. Of them, only 12,000 survived at the end of the war. Twenty
thousand were sent to be killed at other camps, especially in euthanasia
installations, and 91,000 just didn't make it. When the Soviet army liberated
the Ravensbruck camp, only 3,000 sick and dying prisoners were found there. At
least 7,500 women had been evacuated from there earlier, to Sweden, by Count
Folke Bernadotte, who headed the Swedish Red Cross.
Count Bernadotte endeavored to save Jews to the best of his ability, but in the end he was assassinated by Jews in the land of Israel. When you think about Bernadotte's projects involving finding refuge for the Jews of Denmark, sending 70,000 food packages to Jews in the camps and arranging convoys of white buses that took people out of the camps to Sweden; when you think about his efforts to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians and about how he succeeded in achieving a truce for one month in the War of Independence and suggested plans for peace that both sides rejected; and when you think about how he was assassinated, together with his French aide as a result of his aim to bring about peace in the land of Israel - it is impossible not to be disgusted and not to see how little has changed since then. Bernadotte, a man who was among the most worthy of the title "Righteous Gentile," was murdered - just like former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin - by the concept that peace is unthinkable.
Saidel began to take an interest in the Jewish women who were taken to Ravensbruck after she was invited to East Germany in 1980 and was present at the dedication of a memorial at the camp. She found out that 20 percent of the women at Ravensbruck had been Jewish, yet they nevertheless were not represented in the monument. Therefore, out of a decision to right this wrong, she began to look for survivors who were still alive. For the purposes of her research she interviewed about 100 women, and in her book she published materials - testimonies and photographs - that had never been published before.
Imprisoned at Ravensbruck were Polish, Belgian, Gypsy, German, French, Dutch, Norwegian and Yugoslav women, as well as a few British and even some American women. They were imprisoned for political, criminal or religious reasons. There were women in the camp from the Jehovah's Witnesses sect, for example. There were communist activists, like Margarete Buber-Neumann, who survived, according to Saidel, only because she was not Jewish. Or her friend at the camp, Franz Kafka's beloved Milena Jasenska, who did not survive. Or communist Olga Benario, who was sent to Germany by the Brazilian dictator Getulio Vargas after she helped foment a revolution in Brazil. Or Dr. Kathe Pick Leichter, the socialist activist from Vienna. There were French Resistance activists at Ravensbruck, and women who were imprisoned for reasons of race, like Gypsies or Jews. There were those who were imprisoned for being lesbians. And there were also women who had committed crimes.
Saidel narrates the stories of the Jewish women at the camp, which did not serve as a death camp except toward the end of the war, but the conditions that prevailed there were inhumane and the punishments there were terrible: whippings, an ice room and solitary confinement, and above all slave labor, starvation and disease. The women in the camp were united by solidarity. They gave one another gifts, which they prepared secretly. They also took care of the children - there were prisoners who had arrived with their offspring. The women were characterized by special concern for girls and young adolescents. The discussions about food and the writing of recipes helped them remember home and improved their mood. They drew and they wrote poems. In Saidel's opinion, the exchange of recipes and the making of small gifts, like embroidered handkerchiefs, are unique to women. Other dangers lay in wait for the women, as rape and prostitution were common, but they enjoyed certain advantages of their gender.
Saidel tells the stories of about 60 women, among them the story of Sali Solomon Daugherty, now of Jaffa, who arrived in Ravensbruck from Amsterdam when she was only eight years old, with her mother and her aunt. Her life was saved thanks to a German woman, a Jehovah's Witnesses who secretly gave her bread, and thanks to another German woman, a Nazi nurse, who gave her jam to eat that she had stolen. On the day of the liberation by the Red Cross, the child was separated from her mother. That same day they had been made to march by the Nazis near the gas chamber that had been built in the camp over time. Daugherty told Saidel: "I remember the smoke .... We were skeletons. Don't think that we were humans. We were just birds."
For three days the white bus traveled until it reached Malmo in Sweden. The Americans bombed the convoy. The driver threw Daugherty into the forest to save her, but he himself was killed. The child had spent more than three years in Ravensbruck and when she arrived in Malmo she was very ill. For six weeks she was in quarantine and she then rejoined her mother, who had also survived.
A few bright stars
Many of the women interviewed by Saidel were very young women when they arrived at Ravensbruck. Saidel tells story after story, altogether about 60 of them. When I finished reading the book I remembered things that Israeli philosopher Prof. Asa Kasher once said about how the story of the individual has a stronger effect than the stories of thousand or millions. This in no way detracts from the value of the comprehensive research that Saidel has done, but rather is an apology for the fact that the memory is not able to take in so many stories - although I will mention that of Inge Joseph.
Inge, a girl from Darmstadt who grew up in a wealthy home and whose father was arrested after going bankrupt, tells mainly about herself, about her family, about her parents who had the good sense to send her sister to the United States in time, but did not do this for her; about her grandmothers and about her uncles, one of whom, a wealthy man who could have saved her, abandoned her. She recounts the journey from Cologne via a transport of children to Belgium, about her life as a girl in a children's home in Brussels, about the move to France, about the children's home at Chateau de la Hille at the foothills of Pyrenees, about the time in the French concentration camp Le Vernet and about her return to the children's home.
She tells about the devotion of the director of the children's home, a Swiss woman who had been sent to do this holy work by the Swiss Red Cross, and describes her first escape to Switzerland when she was captured with her girlfriends and managed to escape from the Germans, leaving her girlfriends behind, captives in their hands. Inge had hesitations, but the will to live was stronger. Of course the question of whether the girls' fate would have been different had she not escaped is a futile question. Had she not escaped, she would have been sent together with them to Drancy. But this answer was not enough to console her. Her second escape succeeded, thanks to French people from the Resistance who helped her cross the border.
Within the horror of Inge's youth a few good people stand out, who devoted themselves to the work of rescue like bright stars. But hers is not a simple story. She faced moral dilemmas with which she could not cope and the separation from her beloved boyfriend, who was sent to Auschwitz and perished. She never overcame this separation because to some extent she felt guilty for his death. Her life as an adult woman was persecuted by nightmares dominated by her memories and oppressive feelings of guilt, although she had done no one any wrong. The very fact that she remained alive was guilt too heavy to bear, and in the end, in the U.S., after she chalked up many successes in her studies, in her writing and in doing work to benefit others, the guilty feelings ruined her life and she committed suicide. She left behind this book, which was edited and completed by her nephew David Gumpert.
"Inge" is one of the frankest and saddest books I have ever read about Jewish children during World War II. Inge remained alive despite the deportation, despite the separation from her father and her mother and her sister. She overcame the fear, the hunger and the imprisonment, but she did not really survive. The story of this sad life, a life of a harsh and prolonged struggle to live, which ended with giving life up out of choice and free will arouses, as in many similar cases - Paul Celan, Primo Levi, Jean Amery - some very difficult questions.
Article published Jul 15, 2004
'People need to know' sisters' memories, painful as they may be
By ABBY WEINGARTEN
Opening that purple binder never gets any easier for Leonore Gumpert. As the 81-year-old Sarasota woman laid her cane across the chair, she tilted her glasses down to read a yellowed copy of a letter from her sister.
Her thick German accent wavered a bit as she searched for words. "It's very painful to talk about. I don't like to talk about it much because I feel nobody will really understand," she said.
How could they? How could anyone thumb through that full folder of correspondence between Gumpert and her deceased sister, Inge Joseph Bleier, and ever comprehend the trauma the two endured?
As Jews living in Darmstadt, Germany, during the era of Adolf Hitler's reign, their mother sent the siblings away to whatever countries would allow them. Immigration quotas were tight, but in 1938, Belgium took Bleier, then 12, and the United States accepted Gumpert, then 15. Their mother, Clara Neu, who was number 18,000 on a list of hopeful refugees, could not secure a permit to leave home and was later captured by the Nazis and deported to
Despite pain, sister shares memories of loss
Travnicki, a labor concentration camp in Poland. After the end of World War II, the sisters learned that their mother, whom they had affectionately called Mutti, hadn't made it out alive.
The guilt haunts Gumpert even after all these years. Much of what she and her sister wrote in their letters was possible strategies about how they might rescue Mutti. The Red Cross issued one 25-word statement in March 1942 about her whereabouts, requesting that her family send care packages of soap and sardines. That was the last they heard. They doubt Mutti even received any of their mail.
"I felt very guilty about not being able to help more," Gumpert said. "I always felt like, if only I could have done more to get her out."
These emotions are contained in the pages of "Inge: A Girl's Journey Through Nazi Europe," compiled by Bleier and Gumpert's son, David E. Gumpert. The 276-page book was published in April 2004, and took 10 years to finish. Leonore Gumpert, who Inge called "Lotti" in her letters, translated all of the writings from German to English. The process was almost too much for her to bear.
It was a time in her life she'd endeavored to sweep from her memory. She never spoke about it to her son or daughter, to her husband, Luis, who died seven years ago, or even much to Inge after the war. The sisters' father, Julius Joseph, who eventually made it to the United States with sponsorship from a cousin in New York, never recovered from his wife's death.
Leonore and Inge's grandmother was one of the few elderly Jews the Nazis traded to an unknown country for gold, her life spared in the trade.
"I was very homesick," Leonore says. "But I never lost hope that one day I would see my family again. Even after I heard my mother was taken away, I still had hope."
Leonore Gumpert was one of only 1,000 Jewish children accepted by the United States government over six years during the war, in what was called a kindertransport. By boat, she and 18 other children sailed for one week to the U.S., and a foster family in Chicago, Ill., temporarily adopted her.
Belgium permitted about 500 children, and only 100 of them -- including Inge -- later landed at the Chateau de la Hille in southern France. While Leonore Gumpert, who was sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women, learned to speak English in high school and took piano lessons, her sister, Inge, enjoyed no such luxuries in Belgium.
The letters in which Inge implored her sister to send food and clothing brought Leonore Gumpert back in time, as did a secret 66-page memoir her sister composed. The memoir was discovered by family after she died. Leonore Gumpert donated the original letters to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and kept copies for her own files.
"What children went through just because they were Jewish," she says. "The Jews in Germany were like animals in a cage. I was lucky I got out."
The sisters, who cried hysterically the day they parted from their mother, did not know that would be the last time they saw her face. Their relationship became the thread that wove the fragmented family together during those uncertain years. Inge eventually made it to New York, where she once again saw her sister.
Moving on, but remembering
Though Leonore Gumpert enjoyed advantages of living in America, she came alone, without knowing the language, and moved three times to different Jewish households.
The first was somewhat abusive, and her foster parents denied her much to eat. She said she was forced to survive on 10-cent loaves of Wonder bread.
The homes got progressively more humane, and Leonore Gumpert left at age 19 to marry. She studied to become a medical secretary and carried out the bookkeeping for her husband's retail clothing store in Chicago. During their retirement years, the couple moved to the placid Pelican Cove complex in Sarasota, where Leonore Gumpert now lives alone. She volunteers in the library at Temple Emmanuel, plays bridge with her neighbors and keeps touch with her family via e-mail.
"Unless you went through something like that, you can't know what it's like," Leonore Gumpert said, adding that she has spoken at McIntosh Middle School in Sarasota and other schools in Germany about her experience. "No one can possibly imagine. But people need to know about it so that it can never happen again. It must never happen again."
Jewish teen survived Nazi ordeal, but it haunted her for life
July 12, 2004
BY ART GOLAB Staff Reporter
As a Jewish teenager on the run from the Nazis, Inge Joseph Bleier escaped capture and death several times -- but she couldn't outrun her own personal demons.
She eventually moved to Chicago, married, became a head nurse at Weiss Memorial Hospital and wrote two nursing textbooks.
But she suffered from severe depression, triggered by guilt over friends who didn't escape and resentment of relatives who she felt abandoned her to the Nazi terror.
She wound up dying of a drug overdose in her North Side town home in 1983 at the age of 66.
Her nephew David E. Gumpert traveled the world to research and expand a 66-page memoir Bleier left behind. The result is Inge: A Girl's Journey through Nazi Europe (William B. Eerdmans, $24).
Like many Holocaust survivor stories, it is a suspenseful tale of courage, luck and tragedy.
It is also a story of a child's loneliness, rejection and anger. And it demonstrates that the suffering did not end with Adolf Hitler's defeat.
Bleier was the daughter of a prosperous manufacturer in Darmstadt, Germany. She was 12 when Hitler began to tighten the noose around Jews.
Her father was arrested and deported. Her older sister got out of Germany to stay with relatives in America just before the door slammed shut.
As a minor, Bleier was able to escape to Belgium on a Kindertransport, never to see her mother again. She stayed with a rich relative of her father's who quickly tired of her and paid another family to take her in. When that didn't work out, she was placed in a home for refugee children.
Bleier wound up in a Swiss Red Cross home for Jewish children in France. But it was raided by Germans, who took Bleier and all of the other children over 17 to a concentration camp.
They were released through heroic efforts of Swiss Red Cross officials. But with no guarantees they would not be picked up again, the Red Cross decided to smuggle the older children into Switzerland. Bleier and three others in her group got lost and were captured by German soldiers. Bleier escaped by jumping out a bathroom window.
The children she left behind -- who were never seen again -- haunted Bleier to her dying day.
Bleier finished her manuscript by writing of her fearlessness when captured by the Germans. "I want to feel that way now. But I have no energy. There are no Germans to stand up to. Only myself. I am a much more troublesome enemy."
Dokument erstellt am 15.03.2005 um 16:37:22 Uhr
Und dann kommst du dahin an einem schönen Sommertag
Die Frauen von Ravensbrück
Antje Kunstmann Verlag, München 2005, 430 Seiten, 24,90 Euro.
Es bleibt Verwunderung
Loretta Walz befragt ehemalige Insassinnen des Frauenkonzentrationslagers Ravensbrück
den Maßnahmen, mit denen das nationalsozialistische Regime gleich im ersten Jahr
seine Vorstellungen von arischer Volksgemeinschaft demonstrierte, gehörte die
Einrichtung eines Frauenkonzentrationslagers in einem großen Gebäudekomplex an
der Hauptstraße der kleinen Stadt Moringen nördlich von Göttingen. Wegen
Überfüllung erfolgte 1938 die Verlegung in die Lichtenburg bei Torgau an der
Elbe und dann noch im selben Jahr die Einrichtung eines neuen
Frauenkonzentrationslagers in Ravensbrück am Schwedtsee nahe Fürstenberg durch
männliche Häftlinge des KZ Sachsenhausen.
Zwischen 1939 und 1945 wurden mehr als 150 000 Menschen aus über 40 Nationen - vor allem Frauen, aber auch Kinder und Männer - aus politischen, religiösen oder "rassischen" Gründen in diese als "Schutzhaftlager" bezeichnete Stätte des Grauens verfrachtet. Die meisten von ihnen wurden ermordet - erschossen, vergast, zu Tode gefoltert, zu Tode experimentiert, durch Arbeit, Krankheit, Hunger vernichtet, von Hunden zerrissen. Am 27./28. April 1945 wurde der größte Teil der noch Lebenden auf den "Todesmarsch" in Richtung Westen getrieben. Die Einheiten der Roten Armee, die am 30. April das Lager befreiten, fanden 3000 nicht transportfähige schwerkranke Frauen und eine Reihe von Häftlingspflegerinnen in erschütterndem Elend vor. Wasser- und Stromzufuhr waren von den SS-Leuten noch vor ihrem Abmarsch zerstört worden.
Nun ist ein Buch erschienen, das Zeugnis vom Leben im Lager und den Biographien Überlebender gibt. Seit 1980 hat die Filmemacherin Loretta Walz lebensgeschichtliche Videointerviews mit mehr als 200 Überlebenden der drei Frauenkonzentrationslager geführt. 35 dieser Interviews hat sie anlässlich des 60. Jahrestags der Befreiung des KZs Ravensbrück zu einem Buch zusammengestellt. Zu den Kriterien der Auswahl gehörte, möglichst viele der Frauen zu Wort kommen zu lassen, die ihre Erinnerungen noch nicht in der einen oder anderen Weise bekannt gemacht haben..
Dazu gehören insbesondere Funktionshäftlinge, deren Rolle in vielerlei Hinsicht problematisch war. Als Stubenälteste, Häftlingsärztinnen, Bürokräfte oder Köchinnen waren sie für die Durchführung der oft brutalen Befehle der Lagerverwaltung verantwortlich. Andererseits hatten sie durch den Zugang zu Küche, Schreibstube und Krankenreviere die Möglichkeit, zuweilen Not zu lindern, Strafen abzuwenden, Leben zu retten oder doch zu verlängern - allerdings oft nur um den Preis eines Opfertauschs.
Zweierlei zeichnet das Buch aus. Zum einen lässt Loretta Walz die Frauen selber erzählen. Mosaikartig fügt sie die unterschiedlichen Schilderungen zu Themen wie Verhaftung, Aufnahme im Lager, medizinische Experimente, Sterilisationen usw. vor dem zeitgeschichtlichen Hintergrund zusammen. Vor allem aber vermeidet sie eine Reduktion auf das Häftlingsdasein, geht es ihr um das Lagerleben übergreifende Biographien. Die meisten der aus fast allen europäischen Ländern stammenden Frauen kamen aus einem Elternhaus, in dem es selbstverständlich war, den durch den Nationalsozialismus Entrechteten und Verfolgten zu helfen.
Ihre Verhaftungen erfolgten aufgrund von Bespitzelung durch die Gestapo oder Denunziationen regimetreuer Nachbarn. Folter und Erpressung waren an der Tagesordnung. Viele Frauen wurden von einem Gefängnis zum nächsten transportiert, bevor sie im Viehwaggon nach Ravensbrück kamen. Dort die in all den Jahren gleiche Prozedur: die Frauen und Kinder, die selten eine Ahnung hatten, wo sie sich überhaupt befanden, wurden von SS-Männern in schwarzen Uniformen, Aufseherinnen mit Hunden und Peitschen angeschrieen und ins Lager getrieben. Dann Ausziehen, Haarescheren, Duschen, Desinfizieren, nackt und zu einer Nummer degradiert vor die SS-Ärzte treten.
Hanna Burdówna beispielsweise, die Loretta Walz 2001 in ihrer Geburtsstadt Lódz aufsuchte. Als 28-jährige wurde die Lehrerin am 1. September 1939 auf dem Weg zur Schule verhaftet - eines der ersten Opfer des nationalsozialistischen "Programms" zur "Ausrottung der polnischen Intelligenz". Nach acht Monaten Gefängnis der Transport nach Ravensbrück: "Man schnitt mir meine schönen Zöpfe ab, schnitt sie runter bis zur Glatze." Sie hatte Glück, kam in die Personalküche, war also mitverantwortlich für die Verköstigung von mehr als eineinhalbtausend Aufseherinnen und SS-Männern. Eine schwere Arbeit: Kohlen mussten geholt, riesige Kessel mit 800 Litern Suppe gekocht, Geschirre geschleppt werden.
Weil einmal, ohne dass sie es überhaupt bemerkt hatte, zwei Scheiben Brot auf dem Regal lagen, wurde sie des Diebstahls bezichtigt. Die Aufseherin "riss mir die Haube vom Kopf und brachte mich in den Bunker" - eine leere, dunkle, eiskalte Betonzelle. Sie fror bis ins Mark. "Ich versuchte mit dem Kleidchen die nackten Füße zu umwickeln." Zwei Mal verlangte die Aufseherin ein Geständnis. "Ich konnte nicht mehr sprechen, ich war vollkommen steif." Hilfe kam von einer Mitgefangenen. Sie "gestand", ihr seien die Brotscheiben hingefallen. Sie habe sie beiseite gelegt, damit sie nicht mit den sauberen Schnitten auf den Tisch der KZ-Aufseher kämen. So blieb Hanna Bordówna das Schicksal erspart, im Bunker so zusammengeschlagen zu werden wie manche anderen, deren Anblick jene, die die leblosen Körper zum Krematorium bringen mussten, ihr Leben lang nicht vergessen konnten.
Solcher nie erlahmenden gegenseitigen Hilfe verdankten es viele Frauen, dass sie die Torturen des Lagers überlebten. Doch mit dem Ende des Kriegs waren die Leiden nicht vorbei. Als Hanna Burdówna im Juli 1945, sechs Jahre nach ihrer Verhaftung, nach Hause kam, waren die Brüder tot, der Verlobte verschollen, der Vater krank. Sie nahm ihren Beruf als Lehrerin wieder auf und betreute in den Schulferien Waisenkinder von politisch Verfolgten.
Am schlimmsten war für die heimkehrenden Frauen, dass kaum einer hören wollte, was ihnen widerfahren war, dass man ihnen nicht glaubte. Das verstärkte das Gefühl von Verlassenheit und Einsamkeit. Kaum eine der Überlebenden hatte Hass- oder Rachegefühle gegenüber den Henkern von Ravensbrück, stattdessen, so Wanda Póltawska, die von SS-Ärzten für "kriegschirugische Experimente" missbraucht worden war, "nur Verwunderung, Staunen darüber, was Menschen imstande sind, anderen Menschen anzutun".
Zu einer wichtigen
Unterstützung wurden für die Überlebenden die Treffen mit anderen
"Ravensbrückerinnen" in dem zu einer Mahn- und Gedenkstätte umgewandelten Lager.
"Unsere Besuche unterhalten das Band zu unseren gestorbenen Kameradinnen",
erklärte Annette Eekman, die Vorsitzende der belgischen Lagergemeinschaft
Ravensbrück. "Persönlich stärkt es mich, meine Kameradinnen zu treffen. (…) Wir
haben eine gemeinsame Sprache. (…) In unseren Zusammenkünften holen wir uns die
Kraft weiterzuarbeiten." Weiterarbeiten, das bedeutete für sie als Lehrerin, aus
ihren Schülern und Kindern "zuerst Menschen zu machen, alles andere kommt
Memory and survival
After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust by Eva Hoffman. New York: Public Affairs, 2004, 301 pp., $25.00 hardcover.
The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp by Rochelle G. Saidel. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004, 268 pp., $26.95 hardcover.
Reviewed by Rochelle G. Ruthchild
Read this article here
life of resistance
Ethnographer and concentration camp survivor Germaine Tillion is little known in the US but a hero in France for her lifelong opposition to violence and torture.
Reviewed by Suzanne Ruta
FRENCH ETHNOGRAPHER GERMAINE TILLION, now aged 96, was in Algiers when the Nazis invaded France in June 1940. She had just completed five-and-a-half years of intensive research among Berber seminomads in the Aures mountains, at the edge of the Sahara. She had been so busy compiling their complete genealogies that she had lost track of Europe. There had been no newspapers in the remote mountains and no mail delivery.
She wept with Algerian friends over the French defeat, and immediately returned to Paris and joined the resistance--or rather, created it from scratch with her friends from the Musée de l'Homme, France's anthropology museum. Betrayed, arrested, and condemned to death on five separate counts by a German military tribunal, she was deported to Ravensbrück, a women's concentration camp in the chilly swamps of eastern Germany, in October 1943.
Upon her arrival in Ravensbrück, she was stripped of the big blue suitcase containing her ethnographic notes and thesis drafts. They would never resurface. But she already had a new subject in mind. In March 1944, while the SS woman guard of her work detail went off to chat up a boyfriend, leaving some friendly Polish prisoners in charge, Tillion seized the opportunity to lecture a group of newly arrived French prisoners, including her mother, on the operations of the "slow extermination camp." Ravensbrück, she explained, was a hub from which women prisoners were rented out, in groups of 50 or 100, to German factories, at so much per day, minus the minimal cost to their jailers of food, clothing, and shelter. As long as the women could work, they were shunted about from one camp to another, depending on where the need for labor arose. Once they had lost the capacity to generate income for the system, they became candidates for extermination. Tillon provided precise figures on costs and benefits and named the chief beneficiary, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. She later learned that the very parcel of real estate, dismal swampland, on which the camp stood, belonged to Himmler. Before Hannah Arendt wrote about the "banality of evil" in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1964), Tillion had dismissed the SS as "paltry shopkeepers of death." Perhaps her years with hospitable subsistence farmers in Algeria helped her to spot the perverted frugality, or avarice, that permeated the Nazi system.
Tillon meant her lecture to comfort the newly arrived prisoners:
To understand a mechanism that is crushing you, to dismantle its inner workings, to examine in full detail an apparently hopeless situation, is a powerful source of coolheadedness, serenity and moral force. Nothing is more terrifying than the absurd. Chasing away the ghosts, I was aware I had helped lift the spirits of the best of us, at least somewhat. Beyond that, there was our indignation, our passionate will that our outrage survive us, that such a mass of crimes not become a "perfect crime." Yet it was already clear that few of us would survive. The thought of the truth that must be preserved , obsessed me from the day I arrived at Ravensbrück. And I was not the only one so obsessed. How can one say that there is no truth, when it is loved so universally and passionately? (Ravensbrück, p. 217)
Later, Tillion would publish three separate versions of her book Ravensbrück (1946, 1973, 1988) to take account of new facts gleaned from Nazi trials and unsealed archives and to counter the revisionist historians and Holocaust deniers. The 1973 edition tells with gleeful rage exactly how much money the priest who sold Tillion to the Gestapo earned for his foul deeds--including an extra monthly payment he received for his mistress.
The long engagement with the hateful subject, Tillon biographer Nancy Wood suggests, was Tillion's work of mourning for her mother. Ravensbrück, the text, as elegy? But the book also delivers her message to the world:
Kill off the "superfluous"? There are those who dream of doing just that now on every continent. There is no safe recipe to keep us from this crime, except perhaps the good habit of abolishing secrecy everywhere and the complementary habit of believing that every bit of truth deserves to be verified and told. (p. 21)
Preemptive truth commissions--an idea whose time has come.
In the camp, Tillion's brand of scholarship took courage. Her status as a prisoner was of the lowest: NN for Nacht und Nebel, "destined to disappear without a trace." She was not allowed to leave the camp for factory work elsewhere (the lucky break that saved Primo Levi's life at Auschwitz). She deliberately cultivated the position of Verfügbar, or "available," for recruitment to the most backbreaking and grubby work, the repaving of camp roads. With the complicity of other prisoners, she managed to go snooping about the camp and to write poetry, producing a comic opera pastiche of Jaques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld titled Available in Hell, full of jokey rhymed couplets about starvation and beatings and the longing for a nice clean death at home in bed.
She chronicled the courage of her Polish friends, the lapins, or guinea pigs, students from Lublin, who were subjected at Ravensbrück to hideous medical experiments that left them with mutilated legs. Banding together, the lapins resisted a second round of experiments. Other prisoners were so determined that these young women should survive to testify against Nazi doctors that they offered to take their places on lists of those slated for extermination. When Tillion left the camp in April 1945--one of 300 French prisoners rescued by Count Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross, who saved 20,000 concentration camp inmates in the last days of the war through secret negotiations with Himmler--she had a roll of film in her pocket, taken with a stolen camera, documenting the state of the Polish girls' legs.
Women had it easier in the camps, Tillon believed. Men might be more proficient technically, which could be useful. But as the rations were the same for both sexes, women, who could survive on less food, suffered less hunger. In the men's camp, ordinary criminals, rapists, and murderers made life miserable for those interned on political or racial grounds, something the women were spared. Tillon adds, "It also seems to me that their personal relations were rougher, even the politicals had trouble getting along. Like us, they protected the youngest and saved some who had fallen ill… It seems to me that in the women's camps, friendly support was more consistent, substantive and widespread."
Maia Wechsler's splendid 2000 documentary about Tillion and her comrades, Sisters in Resistance, illustrates this "friendly support." Annie Postel-Vinay, who was 20 when she arrived in Ravensbrück, recalls that Tillion, who was 36, insisted on giving her part of her daily bread ration. "Not every day," Tillion objects.
"Yes, every day. You said, 'You're young, you'll live and marry and have ten children.'"
Whether for lack of inclination or of time, Tillion herself never married, nor did she have children.
On VE Day, May 8, 1945, Tillion was convalescing in Sweden, in mourning for her mother, who had been murdered in the Ravensbrück gas chamber two months earlier. Ever the assiduous ethnographer, Tillion was busy establishing, not genealogies, alas, but lists of the Frenchwomen who perished in the camps--"their names their only tombs," she said. She missed the big news from Algeria, the uprising in Setif that left 102 Europeans dead--and between 5,000 and 15,000 Algerians, in horrific reprisals involving the French navy and air force and frenzied colonialist militias.
SHE WAS STILL HUNTING for untapped Gestapo archives when the Algerian war began in November 1954. At once she appealed to then Minister of the Interior François Mitterand to send her on a mission to her beloved Aures Mountains, to act as an advocate for the civilian population of what was already a war zone. On her way into the hills she heard the story of the Setif massacres and realized she was in for the long haul. The dirty war in Algeria lasted eight years, longer than World War II. By the end, French resistance veterans were badly split. Some condoned the torture of Algerians with Gestapo-like techniques and worse. Others, like Tillion, denounced the torture.
World War II was a necessary war, Tillon believed; but the war in Algeria was a stupid war.
In Algeria, the Realities (1978), Tillion registers her horror at the change she saw in Algeria on her return. The very benefits of French rule--vaccinations, antibiotics, roads--had caused what she called a "brutal demographic surge" that destroyed traditional peasant societies, driving thousands into the big cities, where nothing awaited them but a miserable half-life in the slums. Clochardization, Tillon calls this process, or "reduction to the state of beggarhood." It is the crime of the 20th century, she says, like colonialism in the 19th century or slavery in the 18th. No wonder people in other parts of the world hate the West and its modernity, she says, when it wreaks havoc with their lives. No wonder they turn to "unconditional revolt."
Published in 1957, when the war was at its most nasty, her analysis struck some as impossibly lofty. What about racism, her Algerian critics demanded, what about colonial exploitation and injustice and land grabs? (Today we'd ask, what about NAFTA, the IMF, and the WTO?) And yet she was onto something. Algeria, population 30 million, hasn't yet begun to solve the problems Tillion identified in this book, the work of a clear-eyed pessimist with a firm grasp of the law of unintended consequences and the need for universal education.
Tillion practiced what she preached. In 1955 she founded a network of Centres Sociaux, social centers, that offered literacy, job training, and health care to the destitute in the shantytowns of Algiers. Funded by the French Ministry of Education, the Centres were staffed by Europeans and Muslims working in enlightened cooperation. The centers continued to function until the end of the war. But they were too little, too late. By 1957, the battle of Algiers pitted FLN (National Liberation Front) urban terrorists against the French army. Thousands of Muslims were arrested and tortured. Europeans who associated with Muslims were automatically suspect. Sixteen employees of the Centres Sociaux were arrested; most were tortured. Outraged, Tillion marshaled a committee of former deportees like herself to visit internment camps in Algeria in June 1957. Their conclusion: "At this moment in Algeria, Nazi practices are employed."
Algiers was locked in a cycle of torture and terror. In Complementary Enemies (1961) (recently reissued under the catchier title, Deux Terrorismes Face á Face--Two Terrorisms Face to Face). Tillion tells how she tried to break the cycle apart. In July 1957, an old friend came to her Algiers hotel and announced, "They want to see you." Three women awaited her with tea and pastry in a cool house in the Casbah. Suddenly two men appeared, armed with machine guns and revolvers and perhaps grenades: Saadi Yacef, the commander of the FLN in Algiers, the man who decided when and where the bombs would go off, and his crony Ali la Pointe, known assassin. Tillion recalls, "I felt the tragedy of their precarious lives, hunted night and day by thousands of soldiers in a space the size of a Paris park. And everything I had seen that month and everything I had lived twelve years earlier was like an enormous lead weight crushing down on me." Tillon, the 50-year-old resistance leader, carried moral authority with these men and women young enough to be her children.
Yacef, sensing her sympathy, said, "You see that we are not criminals and murderers."
She retorted, "You are murderers."
He was struck speechless for a moment, as if suffocating. Then his eyes filled with tears and he said to her, "Yes, Madame Tillion, we are murderers." He exclaimed, "Oh those bombs, I'd like to see them all at the bottom of the sea." Overcome, he added, "It's our only way of making ourselves heard."
To which she replied, "Innocent blood calls for vengeance." She wondered if this hunted leader, whom everyone looked up to, was going through some kind of moral crisis long in the making.
Suddenly he said, "I promise you that from now on no one will harm the civilian population."
She told him she could promise nothing in return, and they talked for five hours, the conversation returning again and again to the link between the terrorist attacks on the one hand and the executions on the other. They reached no agreement. Tillion had little confidence in French policy in Algeria, but dared to ask, "And if there are more executions, will you keep your promise?"
"In that case, I can't answer for anything," Yacef said, with great vehemence.
Jean Lacouture, Tillion's friend for 40 years and her biographer, finds the heart of the Algerian tragedy in this encounter, which was a turning point in Tillion's own understanding of the war.
BACK IN PARIS, Tillon made the rounds of all her old friends from the resistance, who were now in government. But her efforts to stop the executions failed. The military in Algeria wasn't taking orders from Paris. The executions continued; the bombings too, but no one was hurt. Yacef kept his word to that extent. Then in September, he was betrayed by a friend, arrested, and jailed, and the lethal bombings resumed. Tillion made the rounds again in Paris until she found a general who commanded respect in Algiers. He ordered the prisoner transferred to the civilian authorities pending trial. Thus, she saved Yacef from torture and worse. He lived to make the film The Battle of Algiers with Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo--which has been enjoying a revival lately in Paris, New York--and at the Pentagon, where they're studying techniques of urban warfare. Blessed are the peacemakers--who are omitted from the movie version of the war.
The Algerian war ended in 1962, in chaos, rancor, and disgrace. One million Europeans fled to France. Algeria gained its independence and fell under an authoritarian military regime from which it has not yet recovered. In the final chaos, six French and Algerian directors of the Centres Sociaux, dedicated educators, visionaries, were shot in cold blood by the Algérie Française cabal. Tillion wrote an outraged obituary.
During the battle of Algiers, a young FLN combatant named Louisette Ighilahriz, was shot, captured, brutally tortured, and finally rescued by a French physician, who sent her to the civilian prison where her parents were detained. In 1961, still a prisoner of the French state, she was interned on Corsica, where she scrubbed hotel floors to earn her keep. Tillion went to Corsica that summer on a mission of mercy. She and a friend took Ighilahriz for a vacation. They slept under the stars, visited the beaches, laughed a great deal, and wouldn't let Ighilahriz obsess about her torture.
In 2000, Ighilahriz described her torture, including rape, on page one of the Paris daily, le Monde. Tillion and her friends petitioned the French state, demanding that it condemn and apologize for the atrocities committed in Algeria. So far, no response. In spring 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, and the petitioners renewed their claim, saying that "the punishments inflicted by US and British soldiers on Iraqi prisoners prove that resorting to force to settle a political problem invariably leads to the worst." They point out that France's condemnation of American behavior in Iraq would carry more weight if France would set an example "by rejecting these practices that stain the honor of an entire nation."
In Algeria, Tillion had met marabouts, men revered as sages, saints, or prophets who alone had the power to make peace between feuding clans. It's not a stretch to call Tillion a marabout; she almost admits as much herself in Ravensbrück: "By good luck, in Africa I had acquired a marabout manner" that impressed her SS guards, she says. In France today, she's revered as a sort of secular saint. A recent spate of biographies, anthologies, exhibitions, conferences, and films celebrate her life and works. But perhaps the best introduction in English to her supple wit and generous humanity is the feminist classic The Republic of Cousins: Women's Oppression in Mediterranean Society (1966)--intimate, erudite, and still appallingly up to date, 40 years after it first appeared.