Cover

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Half title, Title page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Translator’s Preface

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pp. vii-x

Magda Hollander-Lafon was born in Hungary on June 15, 1927 near the border with Slovakia. Her family was Jewish but not practicing. Nevertheless as a result of the racial laws introduced in Hungary between 1938 and 1941, her father was taken away for forced labor, and eventually Magda herself was denied schooling. ...

The Paths of Time

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pp. 1-2

Looks

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pp. 3-4

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Departure

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pp. 5-6

I remember a journey of three days cooped up in a cattle wagon. For Mom, my sister, and me, it was the last journey we made together. Just like birds hiding their heads beneath their wings when threatened, I sensed danger with my eyes shut. ...

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One Day

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pp. 7-8

A whistle screeched. We were chased off our wooden planks in a brawl of elbows, whips, and shouts. Hustled toward the steaming flasks, it was pure luck if we managed to gulp down any of the warm juice before the departure roll call. ...

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Lice

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pp. 9-10

I remember those tiny, ingratiating, tenacious little bugs that teased me, nibbled me, and devoured me for many long months. ...

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Bread

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p. 11

The value of a morsel of black bread in the palm of my hand: a little bit of life that I stared at devouringly. ...

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Feet

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pp. 12-13

My feet bore the weight of an entire life. I often begged them not to let me go. They went through every season of the year under a gray, forgetful sky. ...

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Man and Bread

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p. 14

Yesterday we were all warm and sheltered; our affections made us feel safe, and our possessions made us feel secure. We had a shared sense of who we were. Then the scaffolding collapsed. Stripped of our appearances, who were we? Beggars? Rich? ...

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The German Shepherd

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p. 15

I was dragging around both my clogs and a huge obsession: to become a German shepherd. ...

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Thirst

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p. 16

The distribution of soup and drinks at Birkenau6 was so disorganized that when it came my turn to offer up my metal bowl, there was nothing left. ...

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Edwige

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pp. 17-18

Edwige was a former Auschwitz deportee turned block commandant. ...

My Blanket

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pp. 19-20

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How?

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p. 21

I was too young, and I did not understand why we were condemned to death. ...

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The Call

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pp. 22-23

Kindness often visited me. On this occasion its face was repulsive, full of smallpox scars. Its dark eyes shot terrifying flames, and its voice was thunderous and rough. Deep down, I could not stand this huge, crude, crushingly powerful body. ...

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The Good Guard

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pp. 24-25

Kindness often visited me. On this occasion its face was repulsive, full of smallpox scars. Its dark eyes shot terrifying flames, and its voice was thunderous and rough. Deep down, I could not stand this huge, crude, crushingly powerful body. ...

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Auschwitz Concerto

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pp. 26-27

It was twenty-eight years before I could listen again to Brahms’s Concerto for Violin. Each sound tears through my flesh and drags out from me the image of a scorching, shadeless day in Auschwitz. ...

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To Live

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pp. 28-29

How could I forget the great flames of the crematorium which devoured my childhood? ...

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Christmas 1944

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pp. 30-31

I will not forget Christmas 1944. Two days’ break from our work at the time as weavers. The first time in a year of deportations . . . Two days without working, far from that damned factory, where from morning to night I threaded bobbins! ...

Waiting

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pp. 32-33

The Final Marches

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pp. 34-35

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To You

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pp. 36-37

I no longer remember the time when I met you. I have often been abandoned by my memory. I know that our friendship, formed in a moment when time stood still, in suffering, continues, alive today. ...

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The Smell of Bread

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pp. 38-39

Our journey back to rebirth stretched out over two days. We were numbed by fatigue and hunger. The Paris of which we dreamed was still far off. Here was Namur.8 Curiosity, the delicious smell of bread, sharp and smooth, pulled us out of our numbness. ...

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A Real House

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pp. 40-41

Our landlady was an old woman bent double. She had a pyramidlike nose, and washed-out blue eyes sunk deep into their sockets. Her face was streaked with dirty wrinkles. Behind her tight lips she hid her bad mood and her completely toothless mouth. ...

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The Smile

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pp. 42-43

Crushed by loneliness, I roamed around the sun-filled countryside. Life was weighing on me. The respite organized by the welcome committees would be over by the end of August 1945. What would I do? ...

To Die

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p. 44

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The Suitcase Full of Holes

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pp. 45-48

In September 1945 I reentered life with a suitcase full of holes. Instead of clothes it was stuffed with hopes, dreams, and also fears. ...

From Darkness to Joy

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pp. 49-50

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The Meaning of My Life

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pp. 51-52

In Birkenau a dying woman gestured to me: as she opened her hand to reveal four scraps of moldy bread, she said to me in a barely audible voice, “Take it. You are young. You must live to be a witness to what is happening here. ...

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The Last Minute

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p. 53

How can one make a place of death like Auschwitz a place that speaks to the future? ...

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Hungary

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pp. 54-56

For a long time my memories of childhood and adolescence were as dark as the silence of adults. My Hungarian wound was so painful that I had locked away my memories. I even forgot my mother tongue. ...

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Crisis

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pp. 57-58

My life stopped when I was sixteen, at the height of my adolescent rage, the height of my rage toward my parents. At Auschwitz I left my mother and sister without a look or a gesture, and when I wondered where they were a Polish commandant casually said, “Look at the flames rising from the smokestack. ...

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Intuition

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pp. 59-60

During my deportation I did not try to understand what was happening to me. I instinctively slipped into the situation by listening to my intuition. Intuition is the intelligence of life. ...

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My Tree

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p. 61

My parents did not talk in front of us, but their faces spoke volumes. ...

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Remembering the Sky

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p. 62

In Auschwitz the wind brought me the gift of a little bird’s feather. I cradled it in the palm of my hand as if it had come from another world. ...

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What the Heart Remembers

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p. 63

Memories rise up within me from the depths of my being. The thing that is remembered has an emotional quality. It relates to the surface of whatever I am feeling, lighter or heavier depending on my joy or my sadness. ...

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What I Have Gone Through

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p. 64

Has what I have gone through made me human or does it make me an eternal victim? ...

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Saying Yes, Saying No

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pp. 65-66

On my journey, “yes” and “no” have caused problems for me. Saying “yes” to everyone wore me out. But “no” also left its marks: doubt, hesitation, fatigue. ...

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Being Born Again

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pp. 67-69

In May 1945, when I arrived with four deportee friends at Namur station, bread was waiting for us. It smelled good. We smiled at it like Cheshire cats. We were overwhelmed with joy, a feeling that we no longer knew. ...

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A Jew Without a Face

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p. 70

I grew up in a nonbelieving Jewish family. I came back from the camps with some painful questions about where I belonged. ...

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Unexpected Reconciliations

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pp. 71-73

Contempt can pierce even the skin of a crocodile. ...

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To Witness and to Pass On

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pp. 74-77

Like me, my words are fragile. How can I pass on my memories without making them trite, weighing them down, or overwhelming the other person? ...

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Encounter

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pp. 78-79

It is the journey through time that makes what is subconscious conscious. I have only been able to read these subconscious things as a result of what I have gone through. ...

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The Face of God

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pp. 80-81

I got to know the God of Abraham and my Jewish identity when I was fourteen. Because we were Jewish, the Hungarian government barred us from school. That was a tremendous blow which raised many questions for me. ...

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The Source

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pp. 82-83

Before I had had the time to be an adolescent, I became an adult. Thousands of looks trying to hold on to their lives weighed upon my own. Today I live and I bear witness so that through me their memory can be kept alive. ...

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The Grace of Fragility

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p. 84

At night I escape from time. In these moments of grace I feel its silent sweetness; it is then that I give shape to words which rise up from the far depths. They become more close, more authentic, more simple. ...

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Joy

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p. 85

The door to knowledge began to open when I agreed to listen to myself, to hear myself, to let myself be taught by the One who always offers me his hand. Each one of us is unique and incomparable: Why do we never stop comparing what is incomparable? ...

You

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pp. 86-87

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Devotees of Hope

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p. 88

By exterminating the Jews, the Nazis wanted to snuff out the spark of God that was in them and take it for themselves, so that they could take the place of God. To do so they were relying on the unimaginable, on the human capacity to forget, and on the world’s disbelief. ...

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My Well

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p. 89

I dig my well without knowing what I am going to find down there. There are unforeseen obstacles, tangled roots, lost memories, but I continue to dig with trust. Shovelful by shovelful, I release pure, fresh waves, and I fill my lungs. ...

In Time

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p. 90

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My Fears

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pp. 91-92

My unacknowledged, unconscious fears have simply stoked the flames of violence in me. Fear is a dangerous refuge. If I let my fears overwhelm me, I lose my way. But could I ever lose myself, since all paths lead inside where the Breath of Life lives? ...

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My Family

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p. 93

My family—my husband, our four children, and the ten grandchildren whom we have today—is for me the first circle of society. The family can be a place of welcome, of grounding, of learning about life, a source of endless creation and re-creation. ...

Love

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p. 94

(no title)

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pp. 95-96

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Historical Note

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pp. 97-109

Magda Hollander-Lafon’s story is set against the backdrop of the Final Solution, a small story of one individual in a much bigger story: that of the Holocaust, and of the Holocaust in Hungary, which, like the story of Hungarian Jews in general, is unique and paradoxical. ...

Notes

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pp. 110-112

About the Contributors

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