The Figure of Muteness
Welches der Worte du sprichst
[Whichever word you speak
-- Paul Celan
The desire to fix the facts of the Holocaust, for once and for all, grows more urgent as the event fades further and further into the past. While time erodes the remnants of brutality and extermination, survivors of Nazi genocide push against the limits of language and imagination to revisit--in mind or in body--the deathcamps that once constituted their nightmarish world. With eyewitnesses still among us willing to probe and share their memories, we struggle to see that landscape with some clarity of vision. But as grass and shrub reclaim the Nazi deathcamps, as a generation of war criminals and collaborators, heroes and survivors ages and dies, the Nazi program of genocide and atrocity still strains belief. Despite a mounting body of historical and fictional narrative, photographs and films, relics and statistics, paintings and monuments, the Holocaust defies our best efforts to know-- defies the survivor's best efforts to tell.
When the narrator of Jorge Semprun novel The Long Voyage leads a pair of French women through Buchenwald two days after liberation, he is a privileged witness. Unlike survivors who, in later years,