[From The Guardian]
One of the mysteries of great suffering is how hard it is to penetrate from the outside. Otto Dov Kulka‘s account of his time as a child in Auschwitz tells us almost nothing of the history of the place and how it came to be. That is for the reader, as it was for the child Kulka, something given. The only concessions to conventional history come in digressions, as in the account of his mother’s departure and death, when the ramifications of the system and its long ghastly tentacles are explored.
As an adult, Kulka became a historian of the causes of the Holocaust. But one of the subjects of his book is the absolute disconnect between his studies and his experiences. In his work as a historian he stopped short of the camp gates: “in all my research I never had to deal with the stage, the dimension, of the violent end, the murder, the humiliation and the torture of those human beings.”
He avoided, also, a great deal that had been written and filmed about the Holocaust. He did not read camp memoirs, and he did not watch Claud Lanzmann‘s film Shoah. At last he was invited at a conference to attend a lecture on the subject of the Holocaust in literature, and felt that politeness compelled him to accept. He listened, and felt an extraordinary disconnection: that the language in which the Holocaust might be described by outsiders was one he could not understand himself, while the language with which he could make sense of it himself, his mythology as he elsewhere calls it, was entirely different.
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