Marguerite Duras – The War, A Memoir

A friend recently told me that he likes to save texts, not quotes but texts, larger pieces, that he finds interesting. I am reading this book and thought this was a powerful passage. It is the end of the Second World War and she is wondering if her husband is still alive, thousands reenter Paris each day with scattered stories and sightings of others, and all networks are full of stories of what the Allied Forces are discovering as they march on Berlin…


There are an awful lot of them. There really are huge numbers of dead. Seven million Jews have been exterminated – transported in cattle cars, then gassed in specially built gas chambers, then burned in specially built ovens. In Paris, people don’t talk about the Jews yet. Their infants were handed over to female officials responsible for the strangling of Jewish babies and experts in the art of killing by applying pressure on the carotid arteries. They smile and say it’s painless. This new face of death that has been discovered in Germany – organized, rationalized – produces bewilderment before it arouses indignation. You’re amazed. How can anyone still be a German?  You look for parallels elsewhere and in other times, but there aren’t any. Some people will always be overcome by it, inconsolable. One of the greatest civilized nations in the world, the age long capitol of music, has just systematically murdered eleven million human beings with the utter efficiency of a state industry. The whole world looks at the mountain, the mass of death dealt by God’s creature to his fellows. Someone quotes the name of some German man of letters who’s been very upset and become very depressed and to whom these things have given much food for thought. If Nazi crime is not seen in world terms, it it isn’t understood collectively, then that man at the concentration camp at Belsen who died alone but with the same collective soul and class awareness that made him  undo a bolt on the railroad one night somewhere in Europe, without a leader, without a uniform, without a witness, has been betrayed. If you give a German not a collective interpretation to the Nazi horror, you reduce the man in Belsen to regional dimensions. The only possible answer to this crime is to turn it into a crime committed by everyone. To share it.  Just like the idea of equality and fraternity. In order to bear it, to tolerate the idea of it, we must share the crime.


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