Auschwitz is so deeply etched in my memory that I cannot forget one moment of it.
Charlotte Delbo has been heard in these pages twice before. Her voice of experience spoke about arrivals and departures at Auschwitz. She remembered Lulu, too, that "practical woman" who found ways to help people when they lacked the strength to go on by themselves. Those recollections came from None of Us Will Return, Delbo's first book, which was written shortly after her liberation. Translated by Rosette Lamont as Days and Memory, La memoire et les jours, the last of Delbo's books, is the source of the reflection that follows. Its theme is not a specific happening at Auschwitz. Instead, this essay meditates on what it means to remember Auschwitz. Because of Delbo's experience there, her voice reflects on how her past, present, and future fit together, if they do.
Here Delbo ponders the challenge that will not leave her: "explaining the inexplicable." As she uses those words, they do not mystify. Nor are they a philosopher's abstract rendering of some cosmic puzzle. Her dilemma is personal and concrete. It involves coming to grips with awareness of time and place, with simple realities that turn out to be anything but simple--then and now, for instance, or there and here, before and after. Ordinarily such dimensions of experience cause few problems. Life's continuity makes it possible to feel without much difficulty the connections and relations they entail. But what if disjunction is more real than continuity in one's life? What if there is a devastating gap between then and now, there and here, before and after? What if the gap is Auschwitz? What if memory, far from closing that gap, keeps it open, deep, and terrifying?