Academic journal article Chicago Review

Fragments from the Ghetto

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Fragments from the Ghetto

Article excerpt



I remember when I heard it for the first time. It was at the very beginning of the war, right after the defeat. The word drifted into my ears as people around me deliberated: will they lock us in the ghetto or not? I didn't know what this word meant, yet I realized that it was connected with moving; I sensed that it was something adults were speaking of with fear, but to me it seemed that moving would be an interesting adventure. And in the end I envisioned this mysterious and incomprehensible ghetto as a many-storied carriage riding through the streets of the city, pulled by some umpteen horses. They would put us in such a carriage, where we would live-and on the whole it would turn out to be something quite exciting and entertaining. I imagined that in this carriage there would be all kinds of staircases, so that one could run freely from one floor to the next, and many windows as well, so that nothing would stand in the way of looking out over the unknown world. In my imagination, I conjured up this fantastical carriage on the model of a hearse, the black carriage of death, such as could be seen from time to time in our city. Quickly, though, I would be forced to part with this childlike phantasmagoria. We did, in fact, move, but it did not turn out to be a fascinating adventure. And in the very near future my immediate experiences would instruct me as to the precise meaning of this word. Little time had passed before I no longer entertained any doubts about its implications, even though such a short time before it had sounded so mysterious, so exotic, so intriguing.


Still, even now to this day, I don't understand that space encircled by walls; I'm not able to grasp it, to capture it; I'm not able to discern the principles by which it was organized. That space remains for me a chaos, impossible to comprehend. And this is so not only when I reminisce, when I try to remember how I observed it at the time when I was shut inside it. This is also true today when I look at a map of what was once the old Jewish quarter, a place that would henceforth reveal itself to be the site of collective death. That space remains for me a tangle of streets connected in a way I'm unable to figure out. I'm unable to place where we lived; I'm unable to point to what felt close and what felt far away, although I know now that spatial memories have no objective dimension, for behind the walls-as in any kind of prison or camp, or more generally, in any kind of place that can be described as a penal colony-particular spatial relations come into being. In my memory that tangle of streets was never empty for a moment. Naturally I wasn't present after the curfew, nor during those times when, by the nature of the situation, everything was desolate. I saw those streets during the day-and I was one of the crowd, a dense crowd, a crowd one could barely squeeze through.

The ghetto remains in my memory a place without a shape, deprived of any ordering principle, a space encircled by walls from which all sense has been taken, just as the sense of life was taken from those pressed within it. Yet I remember its color, unique and inimitable, the kind of color that might signify every collective misfortune: a grey-brown-black, the only one of its kind, devoid of any kind of brighter color, any kind of distinguishing accent. There remains before my eyes this monochromatism of the ghetto, perhaps best described by the word 'discoloredness.' For everything was just that-discolored-irrespective of what had been its original color and irrespective of the weather. Even the most intensive rays of sunlight would not brighten or even vaguely color this discoloredness. But did the sun ever shine over the ghetto at all? Can the sun appear in a place without a centimeter of green?

In my memories the color of the ghetto is the color of the paper that covered the corpses lying on the street before they were taken away. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.