Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is no poetry after Auschwitz, as Theodore Adorno almost said. There is nothing: no poetry; no music; no love, no joy, no life. Late to the party once again I’ve only recently got around to reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz. But I'm very glad I did. 

Everyone who has any curiosity about the world they inhabit and its history already knows about the horrors, the degradations, the sheer inhumanity of what happened in the Holocaust although it’s always a shock to be brought up against some sinister fact you hadn’t heard before, like the fact that there was a punishment block in Auschwitz - a deeper circle of the hell the prisoners were already in, being punished daily for being who they were. But... but... I don’t think that’s the takeaway of this book; not for me. 

Strangely, after the inevitable horrors, after the stomach-churning tension and the deep, aching, existential sadness, there’s the smallest glimmer of hope, a pinprick silver star of light in a cold, black sky. But that pinprick of light, of hope, is bigger than the earth, bigger than the sun, biggest than the biggest of our neighbour stars. And it hasn’t been extinguished; it hasn’t been destroyed. Because even in the depths of the worst despair, amid the depravity of the worst man-on-man evil ever, even in such a seemingly hopeless situation, there is kindness. There is the small act of anonymous kindness that saves the eponymous T├Ątowierer, Lale, from an early death; the kindness of a French prisoner who decides to enlist him as his assistant in the grim (but relatively safe) job of inking numbers on the new prisoners. The kindness of the local builders, smuggling small amounts of food in for him, even as they build the crematoria. 

Then there is the kindness shown in return: to those who need it, and to those he loves. These small, almost incidental acts of kindness and humanity build and grow like flakes of snow so that slowly, gradually and eventually, they beat the bullets and evade the gas chambers. Because above all, this is a story of hope in the midst of the utmost adversity, of a huge triumph against all the odds. It's difficult at times, in the middle of a global pandemic, amid such relentlessly depressing daily news, to see even a glimmer of hope for humanity. But there is poetry after Auschwitz after all, and this book proves it. That tiny, distant star in the coldest sky is still up there, shining brightly.

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