Poetry After Auschwitz:
Charlotte Delbo and the Return of the Word

Dr. Sarah Liu 
Sarah Liu received her PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley, in May, 2000.  She currently teaches an undergraduate seminar there on Holocaust literature.
This paper represents a portion of her dissertation,

As We Lay Dying: Coming to Terms with Death in Literary Modernism.

Copyright Dr. Sarah Liu
This essay was published here with the permission of the author.

When I read literature about death, I often come across variations of things I have written myself, thoughts and feelings that compose my own life text. They comprise the sense of living between two worlds, or, rather, slipping constantly from one to the other: the world of bare life and the world of living. By "bare life" I refer to one is physical existence, which one senses acutely when life approaches death. The world of living I define as life without this constant awareness of mortality, life in its everyday form. Undergoing treatment for leukemia, watching friends and my father die, I spent much of my adolescence and early twenties in the realm of bare life. I thought my experiences would add to my life ahead, that I would gain knowledge or insight or something that would connect past life and the life to come. Time passed, I survived, death receded from its immediate proximity. But rather than a sense of continuity, I felt lost. Lost and guilty, because shouldn't I be happy just to be alive, to have a future? The knowledge I had gained, what Charlotte Delbo calls "useless knowledge" (une connaissance inutile),[i] alienated rather than joined me to the world of living. Like one of Delbo's fellow Auschwitz survivors, I found it difficult to re-adjust:

I told myself often: "If I come back- when I come back, I'll read all the books [you] told me about." But it's not enough to read books. You also have to have a career, to do something to earn a living. Earn a living! It's strange to say that here.[ii]

The idea that one has to "earn" one's life sounds strange "here," in the realm of bare life, when only the question of survival has significance. Such survival is not even a question of Being, in the sense of Dasein, of self-conscious awareness of one's humanity, but of something which exists even when you want to die. That something continues fighting when the conscious mind has given It brings you back, eventually to the point beyond bare life, but the mind lags behind Now, when bare life is no longer a constant struggle, one would think the mind would gratefully and energetically plunge back into living. After all, we hear stories of those whose "brush with death" instills in them a new appreciation of the world, prompting them to live each day to the fullest. But what if death has instead become one's central signifier, the basis for one's sense of meaning? Such issues as "earning a living" seem surreal; death forms the only reality, hence one's desire to read books before dying takes on predominant importance. How can one re-orient oneself from the focus on dying without betraying the experience, the memory of the dead? What can one live for that seems as significant as bare life itself?

This paper addresses the question of bridging these two worlds by focusing on Charlotte Delbo's writing, her attempt to talk to the living world about the world of death. Her trilogy Auschwitz and After (None of Us Will Return, Useless Knowledge, and The Measure of Our Days)[iii] seeks to make the "useless knowledge" of one world matter in the other. The books trace the journey whereby signifiers separate from their signifieds, to the universe where the word "cold" means something different from previous experiences of cold, where "hunger" describes something beyond everyday hunger, where the threat of death underlies the signification of language. "After" Auschwitz, the word must mean in both senses, the meaning it has in "bare life" existence and the meaning of everyday living, in order to both preserve memory and live in the present. In other words, experiencing the "death" of language in one context irrevocably changes the meaning of language restored. 

Charlotte Delbo (1913-1985) was in Buenos Aires with Louis Jouvet's theatre company when the Germans occupied France in 1940. She returned to Paris upon learning of the "special courts" established by Petain for executing resisters: "I must go home," she told Jouvet, "I can't stand being safe while others are guillotined. I won't be able to look anyone in the eye. She joined her husband Georges Dudach, already working with the Resistance, and spent the winter of 1941-42 involved in clandestine literary activities. On March 2, 1942, French police arrested them both and turned them over to the Gestapo. They were imprisoned at the Sante. Dudach was shot on May 23, 1942, at Mont-Valerian, after saying goodbye to his wife that morning. He was 28 years old. Delbo left the Sante on August 24, 1942, for Romainville, from there deported to Auschwitz on January 24, 1943. Delbo remained with French political prisoners throughout her camp experience, giving her a better chance of survival than Jewish deportees, a fact she emphasizes in her writing. Later transferred to Ravensbruck, she was freed by the Swedish Red Cross on April 23, 1945. 

Delbo composed the first volume of the Auschwitz trilogy in 1946, and wrote sections of the second in 1946 and 1947. She did not allow publication until 1965 (of the first book only), with the subsequent volumes appearing in 1970 and 1971. This time lapse might find its explanation in the climate of post-Vichy France. As the historian Henry Rousso points out, the political need for unity engendered continuous re-workings of the national memory of "les annees noires."[iv] The years from the Liberation (1944) up until the last great postwar trial (that of SS Commander in France Karl Oberg and his adjutant Helmut Knochen, in 1954) marked a time of an internal political war, the so-called "guerre franco-francaise." Since many of the original members of the Resistance (including Delbo) had ties to the Communist party, Cold War policy necessitated discrediting many Resistance leaders. The neo-Vichyist right wing coined the phrase "resistantialisme," spelled with a "t" rather than a "c," a pejorative to identify those who had jumped on the bandwagon in the late days of the war, those whose latter-day enthusiasm manifested itself in the "purge" of collaborators (Èpuration). In doing so, the Right attempted to co-opt a patriotic symbol while denouncing the executions and reprisals taken against former Vichy supporters. In the interests of political unity against the menace of Soviet Russia, the French were urged to "reconcile" the breach between left and right, the partisans and the "collabos," under the somewhat fuzzy notion of "la France …eternelle." Thus the strange position, as Michel Dacier put it, of "a Resistance without resistants,"[v] maintaining the idealized heroism of French Resistance without allowing any of its leaders political power. Such myth-making and re-writing of history frustrated Delbo throughout her life. In her final work, completed just before her death, she wrote: 

 Torture in Algeria. 

 My language has been appropriated by the executioners. 

 Villages burned by napalm in Indochina. 

 Algerians hunted through the streets by the Paris police one day in 

 October of 1961. 

 Algerians whose bodies were fished out of the Seine. 

 How often have I thought of you, Hannelore.[vi] 

Plus sa change, plus c'est la meme chose. The "appropriation" of the word "resistance" provides just one example of the world of the living attempting to erase the language of bare life. Delbo devoted all her texts to give voice to the dead, to resisting the loss of memory, even if such intimate knowledge is "useless." 

Delbo's friend and translator Rosette Lamont writes that in Auschwitz, "she who had always loved books discovered in a new way the power of literature, harnessing it in order to use it, both for herself and for her companions, as a prime strategy for survival."[vii] Delbo recounts its first stirrings in a moment during the 4-hour long roll call in the freezing cold: 

I am surrounded by my comrades. I take my place once more in the poor communal warmth created by our contact, and since we must return completely, I return to the roll call and think: It's the morning roll call- what a poetic title it would be- the call of the morning. I no longer know the difference between morning and evening.[viii]

At moments when bare life threatens to overwhelm the conscious mind, poetry amazingly breaks through. Delbo travels from the edge of death, from the desire to give in, to the living community, all without physically leaving the confines of the prisoners' ranks. Poetry remains in the future, conditionally ("would be"), but rekindles in the meager warmth of a group of huddling prisoners. It takes on a more defined form for Delbo later during that same roll call:

The dark is completely dissolved. It is colder now. I hear my heart beating and I speak to it just as Arnolphe spoke to his. I talk to my heart.[ix]

A literary character, Arnolphe from Moliere's L'ecole des Femmes, provides a model even in grotesque circumstances. A fictional, comic figure connects a real, suffering person to the world beyond bare life, to the culture of her mother tongue and the genre of her professional life.

Such a connection through fiction and poetry occurs also in Primo Levi's memoir, Survival in Auschwitz, when he summons from memory the canto of Ulysses from Dante's Divine Comedy. Dante provides a perhaps more obvious parallel than Moliere to the Hell of Auschwitz, but his character of Ulysses performs the same function that Arnolphe serves for Delbo. 

"Think of your breed; for brutish ignorance

Your mettle was not made; you were made men, 

To follow after knowledge and excellence." 

As if I also was hearing it for the first time: like the blast of a trumpet, like  the voice of God. For a moment I forget who I am and where I am.

Ulysses's words speak directly to Levi's situation, enabling a new understanding of old, familiar words. Stripped from home, native language, material and emotional sustenance, Levi realizes in a bare-life context what it means to be a man. Similarly, Arnolphe's "speaking to the heart" takes on literal meaning in Auschwitz. Significantly, Levi makes the effort to recall Dante's lines for another, a young fellow prisoner who wants to learn Italian. The canto of Ulysses seems a bit strange as a starting lesson ("Who knows how or why it comes into my mind...If Jean is intelligent he will understand"), but it reveals itself as a lesson for both of them, the reminder of a world beyond bare life.

 Delbo realizes the potential to build community around such literary remembrance. One Sunday morning, the women who still have husbands in the adjacent camp are called out of the barracks. Delbo stays with those left behind: "I had no husband on the other side. I had been summoned at the Sante four months ago. It was morning."[x] The ambiguous temporality of morning, the morning at the Sante and the morning at Auschwitz, makes the fate of the men clear. Nevertheless, 

We expected a story. No, they return to their bunks. Each goes to her place without a word, her eyes a void. And the others, who wanted to know, drew near, each to the one among the seventeen with whom she was particularly close, in order to question her. I remained where I was. I didn't go toward Regina, whom I liked, nor Margot. And not one of those whose names were called with mine on that morning at the Sante made a move. We knew.[xi]

Death creates a breach in the community of women. Neither side has a narrative: no "story" emerges from those who return, those who have stayed have no need of words because they already know. Only whispers emerge, forming "couples" of women in the sharing of details. Yet these couples cannot replace the erotic bond lost between husband and wife, nor can these whispered words tie those who have already lost to those whose loss is fresh. Only literature can bring them together again:

Then, one of us stepped to the center of the dormitory and said in a loud voice, addressing all of us, "Friends, we still have some time before lights out. We should read some poems." The younger ones set up benches. Everyone takes a seat. It's like the first meal after the funeral, when someone tries to find familiar words again, and is able to speak to the others of eating and drinking. And the narrator says: "Nothing elevates the spirit as having loved a dead man or a dead woman- one is fortified for life- and you no longer need anyone."[xii]

The suggestion to read poetry addresses "all of us," since the act of "reading" in Auschwitz entails a collective attempt to remember. One person will remember a few lines, someone else will pick up the thread; slowly, line by line, the poem emerges. "Recapturing a line was often the victory of an entire day's quest."[xiii] The quest, not the words themselves, draws the group together. Thus the women emerge from the silence of death to speech, the familiar words recaptured after the funeral, from the past tense to the present. Finally, the narrator, the one who calls them back to the word, bridges the significance of bare life to the significance of living. The phrase "having loved a dead man or a dead woman" mixes the temporality of past and present: one loved someone while both lived, one loves someone who is now dead, the past action "fortifies" the present. The language of bare life fortifies the language of the living.

This is not to suggest that words give solace at times when bare life prevails. Delbo makes this clear in very physical terms: 

Lips move but no sound comes out. Anguish fills your whole being, an anguish as gripping as that of dreams. Is this what it means to be dead? Lips try to speak but the mouth is paralyzed. A mouth cannot form words when it is dry, with no saliva.[xiv]

Language fails not because the experience outstrips words, nor because there are no words to say it, but because of physical limitation, there is no organ to speak it. Life at this level, the barest form of life, feels close to death. The prisoner's companions try to draw her back to the living with words:

They summon words capable of restoring reason. An explanation is owed them, but lips decline to move. The muscles of the mouth want to attempt articulation and do not articulate. Such is the despair of the powerlessness that grips me, the full awareness of the state of being dead. Words restore sense, but the physical senses prevent response. The articulation of a jaw stiff from thirst and cold cannot articulate an explanation of its own inability to speak. The oxymoron of "being dead" indicates the state of in-betweenness, not life and not living, but still aware.

Even when speech returns, signifiers no longer seem tied to the signifieds of the "real" world. The surreal world of Auschwitz demands a new understanding. Even a word as simple as "day" becomes distorted: "There is always a moment when the cold clings more humidly to your bones, a raw cold. The sky grows lighter. It is daytime. They call it day."[xv] They call it day, even although the prisoners wake at three a.m. in the winter cold, before light appears. A day is no longer twenty-four hours: "it is day for a whole eternity."[xvi] Day has turned into night.[xvii]

Delbo questions the status of knowledge in an untitled poem near the beginning of the trilogy. Her style echoes a poem of Primo Levi's entitled "Shema," written in 1946,[xviii] which starts with the accusation: "You who live secure..." Delbo apostrophizes to "you who know," asking them if they know the conditions of bare life: 

did you who know did you know that hunger makes the eyes sparkle

that thirst dims them[xix] The expansion of knowledge conflicts with 

circumscribed word definitions:

 Did you know that the stones of the road do not weep

 that there is one word only for dread 

 one for anguish 

 Did you know that suffering is limitless 

 that horror cannot be circumscribed 

 Did you know this 

 You who know. 

Language gives only one word for anguish, and yet the experience of anguish in Auschwitz cannot be contained in that word. "One" gets overwhelmed by the "limitless." The syntax makes it unclear whether the one word for dread is, in fact, "dread," or a synonym. Even so, Delbo seems to say that a word and its synonyms are basically "one word" in meaning. In other words, she is not indicating a dearth in terminology so much as a dearth of knowledge. The knowledge learned from living a bare life requires and produces a new understanding of words and their meaning. 

Words have not only lost their previous meaning, but also have become tainted with memories of horror. Can a survivor look at a railway boxcar and not think of the journey to a place beyond imagination? Delbo describes the transformation of a symbol from good memories to bad in her anecdote "The Tulip." The women catch sight of a tulip in the window of a house as they march through the melting snow on their way to forced labor. "We experienced a moment of hope." But then they learn that the house belongs to an SS man: "We despised this memory and the tender feeling which had not yet dried up within us." Rather than memories of spring, of sun and gardens and home, the tulip has come to symbolize for them the hypocrisy of the Nazi regime, the pretense that a person of sensibility, one who appreciates flowers, inhabits the house. Yet rather than despising the German for ruining the positive connotations of a tulip, the prisoners turn their anger against themselves. They cannot afford such memories, such vulnerability to beauty and emotion. In order to survive, they must focus on bare life rather than living. Furthermore, the flower bears the hint of shared sensibility, a common bond between victim and executioner. Such a bond is intolerable, yet the price for its severance is the drying up of feeling. They must kill the positive meaning of a tulip in order to survive. 

It may seem as if Delbo presents two contradictory pictures of how language did or did not help to survive the concentration camp experience. On the one hand, she enjoys the companionship of Arnolphe, and shares the communal act of remembering poetry with her comrades. On the other hand, at a certain point of extreme physical hardship, words are simply unavailable. Even reclaimed, words have often changed in their meaning, in the feelings they evoke. Delbo never deludes herself that words feed anything but the mind. In the vignette "The Misanthrope" she describes how she traded her bread ration for a copy of Moliere's play: ""Whoever paid so dear for a book?"[xx] Her companions, rather than condemning the trade, say only: "Then you're going to read it to us?" They each cut a slice from their bread ration to give to her. Why, on the brink of starvation, would prisoners sacrifice precious food for a book? Delbo writes that literature, as part of her identity, her self apart from Auschwitz, helped her to survive as herself, not as a creature clinging to bare life. 

Since Auschwitz, I always feared losing my memory. To lose one's memory is to lose oneself, to no longer be oneself. I had invented all sorts of exercises to put my memory to work: memorize all the telephone numbers I used to know, all the metro stations along one line...I had succeeded, at the price of infinite efforts, in recalling fifty-seven poems. I was so afraid that they might escape my mind that I recited them to myself every day, all of them, one after the other, during roll call. Sometimes it took days for a single line, a word, which simply would not come  back. And now, all of a sudden, had a whole book I could memorize, a whole text![xxi]

To lose one's memory is to lose one's personal history: the people one loves, the books one has read, the likes and dislikes that distinguish an individual, the experiences that shape character. Literature provides a means of recalling, a means of restoring memory. Retaining memory means retaining one's self. Delbo memorizes the entire text of The Misanthrope, ironically retaining her humanity by reciting the account of one who hates humanity. The meaning of the words matters less than their connotations of living, memories of a world other than bare life and one's place in it.

Delbo's voice reaches back to the dead using the language of living as memory. "I used to call him my young tree," she writes as the first sentence of her elegy to a dead husband.[xxii] Remembering the language of their living love, the pet names she called him, the imagery in which her love took shape, forms a thread throughout the series of thirteen poems that mark the only direct mourning of Georges in the trilogy. Despite the starkness of the depiction of the camps, despite the fierce and tender bonds between the women prisoners, these love poems in the midst of death seem to me the most poignant of Delbo's writing. The contrast between love and death turns on the same phrase placed into different contexts: 

 I used to call him 

 month of May lover... 

 he spoke the words 

 words uttered by month of May lovers. 

 I alone heard them 

 One does not heed these words 


 One listens to the throbbing heart   

 Believing these tender words 

 will sound a lifetime 

 of two who love. 

 One month of May 

 they shot him.[xxiii] 

The words "month of May" as well as the words associated with the month of May, the "tender words" of two who love, no longer symbolize love but death. What once were terms of endearment become signifiers of death.[xxiv] The "one month of May" splits the "so many months of May" that make up a shared, single lifetime into one life remaining after death. The intimacy of words that "I alone heard" hangs on a heartbeat, the "throbbing heart" that beats throughout the poetry sequence. 

The heartbeat is the traditional index of bare life, the physical trace connecting the biological organism to the world of the living. We listen for a heartbeat, check for a pulse to determine death. The dying heartbeat serves as an image both of interconnection and final separation. 

 You cannot understand 

 you who never listened 

 to the heartbeat 

 of one about to die.[xxv] 

To listen to a heartbeat, one has to get close, one has to remain silent. Yet the apostrophe inserts an accusatory tone into Delbo's grief. The poem remarkably achieves a degree of intimacy by voicing anger. By lashing out at those who presume to understand, those who would rob death of its mystery, the writer forms an enclosed world between the witness and the one about to die. The intimacy of death reveals the intimacy of the life shared together. 

Surprisingly, the current of anger throughout the poem sequence is not directed against Hitler, the Nazis, the Germans, or the collaborators. Apart from the one reference to the "they" who shot her husband, Delbo's rage strikes most closely at the people and ideas she holds dearly. 

 I envy those 

 who gave their own 

 consenting to the sacrifice 

 As for me 

 I rebelled 

 hardly able 

 to keep from howling in his presence 

 He needed all his courage 

 too much 

 for a young man 

 leaving his wife 

 to go on living after him. 

She rages against the cause which demands the human sacrifice, the faith in the cause which sustains others in their grief. She "rebels" against the Resistance, resenting the strength she must summon not in the face of her own death, but in the face of a loved one. By articulating the scene as he would see it, the courage needed to sentence his wife to life, she both pays tribute to her husband and howls the rage she could not voice then. 

The interplay of personal and political also recurs throughout this sequence, striking because of the absence of political content in the rest of the work. This turns to a meditation on the difference between social or political language and personal meaning, an issue fraught with tension in the context of the Nazi abuse of language. What, for example, differentiates the hypocrisy of "Arbeit macht frei" from the French shift in national memory from Petain to Jean Moulin?[xxvi] 

 To mourn a hero 

 rather than love a coward 

 You must be right 

 you who have words for every occasion 


 there were some 

 neither strong nor weak 

 who never had to sacrifice themselves 

 nor betray 

 The thought crossed my mind 

 he might have been among them 

 and I felt shame 

 Would that I were certain 

 of being ashamed. 

 You've got to be 

 got to be 


"Hero," "coward"; what do such words mean to one who has lost the signified of these signifiers? Would one rather have the proud epithet or the living presence? Can one truly "sit on the fence," neither sacrificing nor betraying? Delbo thinks not, since she feels shame at the thought of wishing her husband a fence-sitter, but also feels uncertain in her shame. The word of those who "have words for every occasion" seems solid, a means to anchor uncertainty. Yet the very quality that makes the words "hero" and "coward" attractive, their stability, makes Delbo mistrustful.[xxviii] Those who always have words should not have words for an experience which challenges meaning, an experience which requires a reformulation of language. Speechlessness in the face of death does not indicate hopelessness, rather, a respect for language, a desire to reach beyond cliche to personal expression. 

For that fear underlies Delbo's anger at those who are never at a loss for words: fear that the word "hero" might prove as much of a cliche as the name of Jean Moulin. 

 He died 

 since to be beautiful 

 a love story requires 

 a tragic ending. 

 Ours was magnificent 

 Why must your cliches 

 always triumph 

 in the end.[xxix] 

Langue and parole, the abstract language of the social order and the personal speech of individual inflection, again clash. The personal meaning of their love story becomes shaped by the formal narrative of tragedy, a predestined plot. The cliche triumphs: the month of May lover dies, leaving only a "hero." In such a way, the individual deaths of millions become subsumed under the signifiers (unfortunately fast becoming cliches) of "Auschwitz," "Holocaust," and "genocide." Cultural fictions threaten the meaning of individual death.[xxx] 

Cliche slides dangerously near the realm of cultural fiction, the dominant structures and phrases used collectively to represent experience. The Nazi cultural fictions of the concentration camp create a world where "work makes you free" (Arbeit macht frei), "disinfection" means extermination, and the camp orchestra plays Beethoven and Mozart as prisoners march past on their way to the gas chamber. The Nazis even come to view double-speak as the norm; a love letter costs a girl, her fiancee and a messenger their lives, because "this letter was obviously a coded message to communicate political information."[xxxi] Often survivors use the term "surreal" to describe this world, so wide a gap separates the cultural fiction from their lived reality. Even outside of the deliberately ironic or deceptive mode of cultural fiction, well intentioned narratives can remain equally removed from the prisoner experience. Lawrence Langer writes that "the original narrative of the Holocaust threatens to be displaced by the desire to use it to further personal agendas about humanity's capacity for goodness or its ability to resist oppression."[xxxii] Compassionate and heroic acts did occur in the ghettos and camps, yet to give a picture of "overcoming evil" betrays a desire to transcend death, or at least to give death meaning. In creating a coherent story, order prevails over chaos, inconsistent with the chaotic nature of the camps.

Even the English translation of Auschwitz and After inserts a more positive spin to the narrative than Delbo's original text. For example, in one vignette entitled "Roll Call," an entire section is omitted in the translation. During another interminable wait in the snow, an SS man appears and asks those who can no longer tolerate roll call to raise their hands. This is, of course, doublespeak for a surrender to the gas chamber. One old woman raises her hand, saying, "Here I am, sir. I'm sixty-seven years old."[xxxiii] But the English version condenses the full story. The French reads:

Ses voisines lui font: "Chut!" Elle se fache. Pourquoi l'empecherait-on, s'il y a un regime moins rude pour les malades et les vieilles, pourquoi l'empecherait-on d'en beneficier? Desesperee d'avoir ete oubliee, elle crie. D'une voix aigue et vielle comme elle, elle crie: "Moi monsieur. J'ai soixante-sept ans."[xxxiv]

The translation leaves out the attempts of the old woman's companions to silence her, her anger in response. Why not take advantage of a course less brutal for the sick and old, why are they trying to prevent her? Left out is her desperation as the SS man turns away, her fear that she might be left behind, forgotten. In a high-pitched, sharp, old-lady voice she repeats her assertion: "Me, sir. I'm sixty-seven years old." The omission of the woman's delusion that something better might exist implies that she made a conscious decision to die. The desperate hope of the condemned which the Nazi death process used to great advantage is erased. Reason and self-control replace a mind tortured into irrationality. Much of the poignancy of her anguish is lost.

Similarly, the English translation often "completes" French incomplete sentences, and omits repetitions. In the vignette "Up to Fifty," describing the fifty lashes a prisoner must count as a kapo whips him, the English text reads: "The sound of beating is like the beating of a rug." The French version remains a fragment: "Cet homme qu'on bat avec le bruit d'un tapis qu'on bat."[xxxv] The man is left out of the English sentence, removed from the de-humanizing comparison to a rug. The complete sentence gives the narrator's comment a finality that in French seems more dumbfounded, impressionistic. The triple repetition of "c'est interminable, le bruit de cinquante coups de baton sur le dos d'un homme" appears only once in English: "The sound of fifty blows on a man's back is interminable." Thus some of this interminability is lost, as if the reader flinches away from the sight. Delbo includes the repetitions precisely to prevent this elision, to place the reader in the place of the prisoner, powerless to not see. 

This remains Delbo's goal throughout her writing: "Il faut donner a voir." Lawrence Langer translates this as "they must be made to see,"[xxxvi] but while this transmits the forcefulness of "il faut," it leaves out the sense of gift given by the verb donner, as well as Delbo's sense of obligation. Rosette Lamont recalls "her impassioned tone as she explained that she had to transmit the knowledge she had acquired in l'univers concentrationnaire. "'Je veux donner a voir!' she kept on repeating."[xxxvii] The urgent need to convey the Auschwitz experience couples with the wish (vouloir) to give a gift. Yet how is forcing the reader to see through a prisoner's eyes a "gift"? Delbo provides an answer in her account of Marie: 

  Her father, her mother, her brothers and sisters were all gassed on 


  Her parents were too old, the children too young. 

  She says: "She was beautiful, my little sister. 

  You can't imagine how beautiful she was. 

  They mustn't have looked at her. 

  If they had, they never would have killed her. 

  They couldn't have." 

The French sentence "Vous ne pouvez pas vous representer comme elle etait belle" (literally: "you cannot represent to yourself how she was beautiful") has connotations of symbolic representation as well as abstract imagination. Rather than the Holocaust as an experience "beyond representation," Delbo insists on the need to represent, to see. It becomes literally a matter of life and death. To refuse to see another's humanity, a girl's beauty or a guard's cruelty, is to collude with death. Representation serves as a vehicle to portray both the bare life of one's humanness and the living being of individuality. By enabling us to see, Delbo gives us a gift. 

Her writing style, blending prose, poetry, fragments, anecdotes, autobiography, fiction, arises from the constant need to restructure the material in order to get the reader to see. 

She uses the cinematic technique of montage, the juxtaposition of one frame of reference with another, to connect the world of living with the non-life of Auschwitz. Describing a fellow prisoner scooping snow to quench her feverish thirst: 

All that exertion for a handful of snow which turns in her mouth into a handful of salt. Her hand drops, her neck bends. A fragile stalk that must break. Her back hunches, shoulder blades protruding through the worn fabric of her coat. It's a yellow coat, like that of our dog Flac which had grown thin after being ill, and whose whole body curved, just before he died, looking like the skeleton of a bird in the Museum of Natural History. This woman is going to die.

She no longer looks at us. She is huddling in the snow. His backbone arched, Flac is going to die- the first creature I ever saw die. Flac is at the garden gate, all hunched up... Mama, come quick, Flac is going to die.[xxxviii]

The woman's yellow coat leads to the association of the dying dog's yellow coat. The narrator recognizes death by the thinness of a coat, the curve of a body. The changes in verb tense make the past death as present as the death before her eyes. Powerlessness makes her a child again, wishing for a mother's comfort to banish death. Death in the former world of living helps to frame death in the realm of bare life. Both eyewitness and literary witness, the reader "flics" from one death to the other, mimicking visual movement.

Sometimes Delbo offers only a partial view in order to reveal the big picture. An image opens in a line easily overlooked: "Alice with her leg would not have lasted long."[xxxix] Then comes an enjambment from one image to another, a "dying woman holding on to my ankles" to the death of Alice. The image carries over to the title of the next vignette, "Alice's Leg," giving a warning of what's to come: 

One morning before roll call, little Simone, who had gone to the latrines behind block 25, returned all shaken. "Alice's leg is over there. Come see.[xl]

Like a phantom limb aching after an amputation, Alice's leg is a painful reminder for her comrades:

Lying in the snow, Alice's leg is alive and sentient. It must have detached itself from the dead Alice.

The narrator's detached tone indicates the distance needed for survival. The detached limb is only a part of Alice, and only a part of the entire picture. For the narrative continues:

Alice had been dead for weeks yet her artificial leg was still resting in the snow. Then it snowed again. The leg was covered over. It reappeared in the mud. This leg in the mud. Alice's leg-severed alive- in the mud.

We saw it a long time. One day it was not there any more. Someone must have  filched it to make a fire. A gypsy woman, surely, no one else would have dared.

Contrary to expectation, Alice's leg is not wounded or lame, but artificial. The partial view of "leg" rather than "artificial leg" provides the shock needed to see the life this limb represents. It was "severed alive," and lies "alive and sentient" in the snow. The artificial leg lives longer than Alice, but the bare life extremities of Auschwitz turn it equally into smoke. Unlike the smoke emerging from the crematoria, however, the smoke from the burning leg provides warmth, and perhaps life, to another.

At times Delbo warns us not to see while simultaneously revealing the forbidden image. This is a visual equivalent of the linguistic paradox of saying that something is beyond words. In "The Dummy," the reader must see beyond surface appearance, the way the camp portrays its victims, to a different vision: 

On the opposite side of the road lies a piece of land where the SS train their dogs. You can see them go there, with their dogs on a leash, tied two by two. The SS at the head of the line is carrying a dummy. It is a large stuffed doll dressed just like us. A discolored, striped suit, filthy, too long in the sleeves. The SS holds her by one arm. He lets her feet drag, raking the gravel. They even tied canvas boots onto her feet.

Do not look. Do not look at this dummy being dragged on the ground. 

Do not look  at yourself.

The word "dummy" refers to both a physical replica of a human being and a human being deficient in intelligence, just as the original French term, "le mannequin," refers both to an artificial and to a living model. This duality merges into the single vision of the SS, seeing the prisoners as not quite human, not quite object. (Delbo ironically reverses this process by referring to the guards only as "the SS," never as "men.") "It" is a stuffed doll, yet they hold "her" by the arm. You can see this, but to do so is to see the dummy as the dog sees the dummy, to look with bestial eyes. The dog will not distinguish between the dummy prisoner and the real prisoner, seeing only the superficial similarity in clothing. To not see is to resist the Nazi process of dehumanization, the shorn hair and prison clothing and filth that make the prisoners seem sub-human. Do not look at yourself as they define you, Delbo warns.

In a world which blurs the distinction between a dummy to be killed and a human to be killed, a world of cultural fictions and tainted language, the line between truth and fiction often fades. Even without the burdens of cultural fiction and euphemism, Holocaust narrative encounters difficulty in the reliability of memory, particularly memory of a time when mental and physical capabilities were strained. Delbo prefaces the first volume of the Auschwitz trilogy with this epigram: 

 Today, I am not sure that what I wrote is true. 

 I am certain it is truthful.[xli] 

Her memory might not hold true in terms of specific details, but she knows it is "truthful," that it resonates with the sensations of that time. She defines two different types of memory to clarify this subtle difference: common memory and deep memory. Common memory refers to an external memory that acknowledges chronology and language. Deep memory has neither time nor words, only sensations. In Delbo's last book, she writes : 

Because when I talk to you about Auschwitz, it is not from deep memory my words issue. They come from external memory, if I may put it that way, from intellectual memory, the memory connected with thinking processes. Deep memory preserves sensations, physical imprints. It is the memory of the senses...This is why I say today that while knowing perfectly well that it corresponds to the facts, I no longer know if it is real.[xlii]

Deep memory emerges in dreams, at moments when the conscious mind sleeps. Then she "is" in Auschwitz, with the same thirst, the same cold. "It," the experience of Auschwitz, corresponds to the facts of history, but is unreal both then and now. Are the experiences of deep memory the "reality" of Auschwitz, despite their occurrence years after "liberation"? Is the reality of Auschwitz to be found only in deep memory and not by intellectual thought? If so, what implications does this hold for representation of Auschwitz, representation of the world of bare life in the language of common thought?

Delbo herself uses "fictional" voices throughout the trilogy. The third volume, The Measure of Our Days, consists almost entirely of monologues spoken in different narrative voices. Some of the voices are those of the women of the convoy of January 24. Others are of male compatriots in the Resistance, sons and brothers and friends of the women. At least one voice belongs to a deportee who died early, about whom they know nothing, yet she speaks one of the most eloquent passages in the narrative. Finally, the voices of literature speak, Arnolphe and Alceste and, above all, Electra, the character with the most significance for Delbo herself. The use of such voices indicates that individual deep memory alone is not sufficient to grasp the enormity of Auschwitz. Experience is not univocal, but experienced with and through others. Even if one did not see, as when looking deliberately away from the dummy, one can reconstruct the past through memory both individual and communal. 

Convoy to Auschwitz, a biographical listing of all 230 Frenchwomen deported on January 24, 1943, ends with a woman called "Mado," her last name forgotten or perhaps never known. "She must have died in the first few days. No one had time to get acquainted with her. None of the women surviving today remembers her."[xliii] These brief lines themselves constitute a memorial of some sort, yet Delbo makes the unknown Mado a full member of the community through the voice of fiction. In The Measure of Our Days, Mado speaks not only for herself, but also appears in others' speech, remembered as a friend and fellow survivor. And yet her discourse seems ghostly, questioning the relation between bare life and living. "It seems to me I'm not alive," says the voice of Mado. "Can one come out of there alive?"[xliv] Mado's status as a real, dead person speaking as a living survivor who feels dead complicates past and present, truth and fiction, bare life and living. Deep memory makes Auschwitz timeless for survivors, while common memory makes it an experience of the past. Truth says that Mado died in 1943, but truthfulness speaks of a survivor who feels that "I died in Auschwitz but no one knows it."[xlv] Delbo chooses this liminal character to relieve doubts about her own memory, further complicating truth from truthfulness. "We left on the 23rd, the 23rd of April. If Mado weren't alive to attest to this fact, I wouldn't dare recall my prophecy."[xlvi] Delbo mistrusts her own memory because the 23rd holds special significance for her: she met Georges on an April 23rd, Saint George's Day. Another 23rd, May 23rd, marked the day of their last farewell. She prophesizes that liberation will come on April 23rd; does the prophecy "really" come true, or does fragile memory assign this significant number? She would not dare to recall, to remember it now, were it not for Mado's confirmation, the word of a woman who did exist but whose words come from Delbo's own imagination. When so few survived, the basis of historical memory lies more in the truthfulness of experience rather than in corroboration of facts. 

Individual memory fades when only bare life remains. Almost dead from dehydration, Delbo can no longer remember specifics of her ordeal: "I believe I did not even have the sensation of thirst... I can't remember whether the water was cold- it must have been, early in March."[xlvii] Partly through memory, partly through reasoning, she pieces together the past. The perceptions of others add to the picture: "This is what others told me, later." Yet sometimes reason and memory contradict one another. Delbo recalls a rare opportunity to wash in a stream: "In my memory- try as I do with all my might- there is only the stream and me. This is wrong, absolutely wrong. No one was there alone."[xlviii] Deep memory, the feeling of solitude at the river, contradicts common memory, the memory of camp conditions. But the image of the river mixes past, present, and future, muddying the waters of memory. While in the river, Delbo recalls the first shower at Auschwitz, and thinks into the future to the first bath after liberation. All of this is, however, conjecture: "It must have happened like this, but I have no memory of it. I only recall the stream."[xlix] This confusion of fictional memory and memory unremembered suggests that only deep memory is "the truth," while narrative provides "truthfulness." Any verbally reported memory structures an essentially unstructured experience. 

Memory, like narrative, belongs to the realm of living, not the realm of bare life. Yet to remember the state of bare life, to put it into words, requires translation of deep memory into common speech. Like Alice's leg, the artificial construction serves to convey the closeness of death. Delbo's technique re-members the figures of the dead, focusing on specific body parts as both synecdoche for the entire corpus and as separate objects in terms of bare life. For example, she lets eyes speak for themselves in this short, untitled vignette: 

Roll call lasted till the searchlights illuminated the barbed wire, till night. Throughout the roll call, we never looked at them. A corpse. The left eye devoured by a rat. The other open with its fringe of lashes. Try to look. Just try to see.[l]

The searchlights act as an artificial eye, for the prisoners do not look throughout the roll call. Yet despite not looking, two eyes are seen. The living eye, the eye that dares not look during this night of bare life, sees the dead eye, the eye still with its lashes, as well as the non-eye, which a rat has eaten. Through this combination of dead eye, living eye which exists close(d) to death, and all-seeing eye, Delbo asks us to try to look. Look not with living eyes only, but also with the eye that sees death. See into deep memory, the place of the rat-devoured eye.

The juxtaposition of beauty and horror also works to bridge life and death. Delbo describes a woman being dragged to her death in these terms: "Her trousers- men's trousers- are undone and drag inside out behind her, fastened to her ankles. A flayed frog."[li] Although a flayed frog isn't exactly beautiful, the metaphor still aestheticizes the vulnerability of the human body. A more poignant image, of a woman's hand calling for help: "The hand falls back- a faded mauve star upon the snow."[lii] Obviously Delbo did not see the hand as a mauve star in Auschwitz, but neither is the image a construction of pure common memory. The image evokes the sorrow and the pity of deep memory, phrasing deep memory in language which has the space, apart from bare life, for reflection. Such images pervade the text: "her swollen mouth a black violet," "the flowing of ice down from the stars," "a frieze of faces against the sky." Sentence rhythms and repetition add to the poetic, musical effect: "The plain. The snow. The plain." Finding poetry in the midst of death restores the humanity of the dead and dying, showing them as tortured facets of beauty. Yet it also raises a sense of anger, the bitter knowledge that even in Auschwitz beauty persists.[liii] A double-edged sword, the aesthetics of death both console and offend us in our remembrance. 

Yeats wrote in 1939 that the poet "must lie down where all ladders start/ In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart."[liv] In his Crazy Jane poems, in Eliot's Waste Land, in Wallace Stevens' "Man on the Dump," a whiff of death follows a certain current of Modernism. Only with the presence of death, of the foul and the frightening, can art emerge. 

In 1967, Theodore Adorno wrote the oft-cited comment that "to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric."[lv] Does Auschwitz represent some sort of limit to the horror that can be used as artistic material? Evidently not, since Adorno later made the seldom-cited comment that "I have no wish to soften the saying that to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric...[But] literature must resist this verdict... It is now virtually in art alone that suffering can still find its own voice, consolation, without immediately being betrayed by it."[lvi] Suffering can find a voice in art, but art can also betray suffering. Eric Santner uses the phrase "narrative fetishism" to describe the process of deploying narrative either consciously or unconsciously to erase the trauma that provides its own genesis.[lvii] The desire to look away, to derive a redemptive meaning from suffering, to soften the imagery of destruction, all these strategies attempt to make trauma "palatable" to a broad audience. Art, after all, needs an audience, especially art which attempts to convey an understanding the artist feels compelled to transmit. Yet what constitutes artistic compromise, the betrayal of suffering, and how does it differ from artistic truthfulness, giving suffering a voice? In other words, can we construct a critical methodology for judging art of the Holocaust? 

I would like to alter the terms of Adorno's argument slightly by taking up Berel Lang's iconoclastic view of Auschwitz itself as constituting a type of art. In an interview with journalist Ron Rosenbaum, he says: "The inventiveness seems to me in some ways to really come to the heart of the matter... There seems to be this imaginative protraction, elaboration that one finds best exemplified in art forms and which in art we usually take to be indicative of a consciousness, an artistic consciousness, of an overall design."[lviii] If one takes the "Final Solution" as an art of evil, then Adorno's "art after Auschwitz" would need to act as a "counter-art." The terms of the art of evil would have to be exposed and held up to critical examination. Lang continues: "Brutality is straightforward, it is not imaginative. This isn't just brute strength. It seems to me there is a sense of irony constantly- the sign, you know, "Arbeit macht Frei". It's like a joke, it is a joke. The orchestra playing as those people go out to work."[lix] An undercurrent of irony does seem to run through the Third Reich's plans for genocide.[lx] The terms "resettlement," "Final Solution," "showers,""disinfection," et. al., certainly do not say what they really mean. The staged incidents to justify Wehrmacht moves into the Sudetenland, Poland, and other territories also smack of ironic intention. Does this mean that a counter-art to Auschwitz must abandon any pretense of irony? Can one joke about the camps? Interestingly enough, the prisoners themselves developed a kind of "black humor" about their impending deaths. In Delbo's work, they point to the sky in reference to crematorium smoke, the index of death. They joke about dying under an assumed name: "I'd be dead without being dead. That's what immortality is all about."[lxi] They know the irony of Nazi language from the other side, that of listener rather than speaker. 

I had doubts about the possibility of using irony in connection with Auschwitz precisely because of the terrible abuse to which Lang refers. Very little in the genre of Holocaust literature uses humor.[lxii] But then I came across Francine Prose's novella "Guided Tours of Hell," the story of a group of scholars visiting a camp-turned-tourist-attraction.[lxiii] One character has built a considerable career (and considerable ego) as a "professional Survivor," complete with groupies, while an American colleague secretly seethes over his ability to attract women and sympathy. Postmodern sensibilities clash with the aura of reverence that clings to the Holocaust. But this aura is precisely what Delbo tries to prevent. She does not use language to create a reverent distance, but for precisely the opposite purpose, to draw us closer, to make us see. The question of irony, then, hinges not upon the Holocaust as taboo subject for humor, but upon the types of memory such humor draws upon. Delbo recognizes common memory as potentially funny, as, for example, with the black humor of Alice's false leg outliving Alice. But the deep memory of how the prisoners felt looking at the leg of their friend, the deep memory of death, has no comic face. 

Nevertheless, I think that Delbo's work shows that language does change after Auschwitz. She describes her confusion upon returning to the "real world," confusing the dead and the living, uncertain as to which group she belongs. Confusion over life and death is also confusion over language: "I tried to recall the gestures you must make in order to assume once again the gestures you must make in order to assume once again the shape of a living being in this life... my head was empty. To think? How can you think when you have no words at your disposal, when you've forgotten all the words?"[lxiv] Not just the spoken word, but also the written word seems remote to living experience: "[Friends are] afraid I'll be bored so they bring books... They set down books on my night table and the books stayed there without my even thinking of picking them up. The books stayed there a long time, within reach, out of my grasp."[lxv] Physically close, yet mentally a world away, books are, for Delbo, "useless objects." Even after attempting to read one, she finds it "so poor, so beside the point... Besides things, life, essentials, truth."[lxvi] The books lying beside her are beside the point. But what is the point of reading? What point are the books missing? "Everything was false, faces and books, everything showed me falseness and I was in despair at having lost the faculty of dreaming, of harboring illusions." Books are pale mimetic representations of experience. Their truthfulness lies "beside" the truth, in imagination and subtlety. If bare life is one's only truth, then one cannot live, one cannot read books, one can never survive Auschwitz: "Why go on living if nothing is real?" 

 But Delbo also uses the phrase "a cote de" when describing her post-liberation relation to Auschwitz: "Auschwitz is so deeply etched in my memory that I cannot forget one moment of it. -So you are living with Auschwitz?- No, I live next to it."[lxvii] Rather than living with (avec), she lives next to (a cote de); the difference lies in distance. "With" implies embeddedness, an inseparable closeness, while "beside" connotes a degree of separation. "Auschwitz is there, unalterable, precise, but enveloped in the skin of memory, an impermeable skin that isolates it from my present self...Alas, I often fear lest [the skin of memory] grow thin, crack, and the camp get hold of me again." Books remain on the side when Delbo lies in the middle region between bare life and living. For those without distance, books can become a threat.[lxviii] Fiction and reality merge, the dead and the living become one. Without the skin of memory, the imagination threatens to overwhelm reality. 

In the process of learning how to live after Auschwitz, developing the skin of memory, Delbo gains distance. This separation allows her to read again. When not embedded in Auschwitz, in death, one's own story no longer remains the only significant narrative. One can read things "on the side" of individual life. Reading is a sign of living. "Je lis, donc je suis." 

After "speaking with death," Delbo knows that the knowledge gained, however "useless," changes her relation to language for the rest of her life. "To start life over again, what an expression... If there's a thing you can't start over again, it is your life. You could erase and begin anew... Erase and cover with writing the words that were there before... It doesn't seem possible."[lxix] Life is a palimpsest, not an erasable surface. Memory is the ground upon which experience carves itself a home. Words once written remain and effect the words that follow. This is a life or death choice, for if the language of Auschwitz, of living with death, has no effect on living language, then no meaning exists for those who died. Again, Yeats foretold it: after "too long a sacrifice," death has meaning only if words "are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."[lxx] Only if the word retains its resonance of bare life can it maintain its "truthfulness." Only if language remains truthful can the survivor continue to live.[lxxi] Delbo titles one vignette "The Heart Beats at Ravensbruck," which sounds like a title out of a German romance. But just as Buchenwald was built around Goethe's oak tree, thus is the heart of Ravensbruck resignified in Nazi terms. Here the heart beating refers to the sadistic comment by the camp's commander-in-chief after forcing prisoners to walk faster: "Ha, ha! The heart is beating, what?"[lxxii] Pounding hearts echo the beatings pounded as the prisoners pass through a line of SS truncheons. The heart, symbol of humanity, turns into a symbol of inhumanity. After the camps, Romantic transcendental beauty can no longer exist without irony. After Auschwitz, the heart must retain the sense of its physical vulnerability. The heart must represent not only humanity but life, the bare life that beats beneath the aesthetic metaphor. 

Mado, the real woman who is given fictional life, voices the paradox at the heart of Holocaust literature: "The very fact we're here to speak denies what we have to say."[lxxiii] Mado's liminal status between life and death itself personifies the problem. Either the survivors are ghosts or what they say is not true. One cannot live through death. Either the survivors did not experience death, or they are haunted figures of the imagination trying to explain the inexplicable. Delbo's writing, often confrontational, nevertheless manages to convey horror within beauty without betraying the "truthfulness" of her experience. Her poetic style structures vignettes in place of narrative plot, merging past memory and the immediacy of death. She makes us see in words what words cannot say. 

I have a book of photographs of children with cancer. On one page you'll find a picture of a child "coding," going into cardiac arrest. The doctor is administering CPR. Another woman checks for a femoral pulse. The photograph's composition draws your attention to the two women; you forget the inert body lying beneath their hands. But when you know how to look, when you follow their gestures, then you know that this photo shows a child dying. And you will never see in quite the same way again. 

[1] The Measure of Our Days, 257. 


[i] The French uses the more intimate verb for knowing, "connaissance," implying a personal relation to what is known, rather than the verb "savoir," implying a purely intellectual relation. 

[ii] Charlotte Delbo, Who Will Carry the Word? trans. Cynthia Haft, The Theatre of the Holocaust, ed. Robert Skloot (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1982) 316. 

The original French reads: 

Souvent je me suis dit: "Si je rentre- quand je rentrerai- je lirai tous les livres dont [tu] m'a parle" Mais ce n'est pas assez de lire les livres, il faut apprendre un metier, faire quelque chose, gagner sa vie... C'est drule de dire cela ici.
Charlotte Delbo, Qui rapportera ces paroles? (Paris: Pierre Jean Oswald, 1974) 65.

[iii] Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After, trans. Rosette Lamont (New Haven: Yale UP, 1995). The original French texts appear in three separate volumes: Aucun de Nous Ne Reviendra (Paris: …editions de Minuit, 1970); Une Connaissance Inutile (Paris: …editions de Minuit, 1970); Mesure de Nos Jours (Paris: …editions de Minuit, 1971). 

[iv] Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991). 

[v] Michel Dacier, "Le Resistantialisme," …crits de Paris I (January 1947). 

[vi] Charlotte Delbo, Days and Memory, trans. Rosette Lamont (Marlboro, VT: The Marlboro Press, 1990) 117. "Hannelore" refers to a friend who leaves Germany after the war, unable, despite her own internment in Ravensbruck, to bear the "guilt" of the German people. 

[vii] Rosette Lamont, "Introduction," Days and Memory, viii. 

[viii] Charlotte Delbo, None of Us Will Return, 65. 

[ix] None of Us Will Return, 67. 

[x] Useless Knowledge, 120. 

[xi] Useless Knowledge, 121. 

[xii] Useless Knowledge, 121. 

[xiii] Useless Knowledge, 169. 

[xiv] None of Us Will Return, 70. 

[xv] None of Us Will Return, 44. 

[xvi] None of Us Will Return, 48. 

[xvii] Elie Wiesel titles his famous memoir of Auschwitz Night

[xviii] Primo Levi, Collected Poems, trans. Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann (London: Faber and Faber, 1988) 9. Lawrence Langer also notes the two poems' similarity in his introduction to Convoy to Auschwitz

[xix] None of Us Will Return, 11. 

[xx] Useless Knowledge, 187. 

[xxi] Useless Knowledge, 188. 

[xxii] Useless Knowledge, 123. 

[xxiii] Useless Knowledge, 125. 

[xxiv] Coincidentally, I have the same word association reversal about the "month of May" as Delbo. What used to mean the month of my birth now means the month of my initial cancer diagnosis and the month of my father's death. 

[xxv] Useless Knowledge, 127. 

[xxvi] As the French songwriter Renaud Sechan phrases it in his savage critique "Hexagone": 

Ils oublient qu'a l''abri des bombes
Les Francais criaient Vive Petain 
Qu'ils Ètaient bien planques a Londres 

Qu'y avait pas beaucoup d'Jean Moulin 

[xxvii] Useless Knowledge, 126.

[xxviii] Her mistrust unfortunately found confirmation. Lawrence Langer recalls her resolve "to track down the two French policemen who had arrested her and her husband, and were therefore indirectly responsible for his execution and her deportation. And she succeeded. She found them living in the south of France, assembled the evidence, and reported them. The authorities checked their wartime activities and discovered that about a year after they had arrested Delbo and her husband, they had switched allegiance and joined the resistance and had fought bravely until the end of the war. Under the circumstances, the authorities informed Delbo, they could not be prosecuted." Lawrence L. Langer, "Introduction," Auschwitz and After, xii. 

[xxix] Useless Knowledge, 128. 

[xxx] Delbo, like many other camp survivors, felt strongly about maintaining the significance of each life lost. Hence her exhaustive research on and memorialization of the women of her convoy to Auschwitz, a work John Felstiner describes as "not really a memoir, and not strictly sociology or history either, but the best of each, a collective biography for which there is no precedent." John Felstiner, "Introduction," Convoy to Auschwitz xiii. 

[xxxi]Useless Knowledge, 160. 

[xxxii] Lawrence L. Langer, Preempting the Holocaust (New Haven: Yale UP, 1998) xvii. 

[xxxiii] None of Us Will Return, 23. 

[xxxiv] Aucun de Nous Ne Reviendra, 39. 

[xxxv] None of Us Will Return, 58. Aucun de Nous Ne Reviendra, 96. The French translates literally as: "This man whom one beats with the sound of a rug that one beats." 

[xxxvi] Lawrence Langer, "Introduction," Auschwitz and After, x. 

[xxxvii] Rosette Lamont, "Translatorís Preface," Auschwitz and After, vii. 

[xxxviii] None of Us Will Return, 27. 

[xxxix] None of Us Will Return, 39. 

[xl] None of Us Will Return, 41. 

[xli] "Aujourdíhui, je ne suis pas sure que ce que j'ai ecrit soit vrai. Je suis sure que c'est veridique." In French, the contrast between truth and truthfulness, the speaker's uncertainty and certainty, is emphasized by the use of the subjunctive. The subjunctive expresses contingency and possibility, the emotion of doubt. This makes the certainty of "truthfulness" even more powerful. 

[xlii] Days and Memory, 3-4. 

[xliii] Convoy to Auschwitz, 216. 

[xliv] The Measure of Our Days, 257. 

[xlv] The Measure of Our Days, 267. 

[xlvi] Useless Knowledge, 206. 

[xlvii] Useless Knowledge, 144. 

[xlviii] Useless Knowledge, 148. 

[xlix] Useless Knowledge, 153. 

[l] None of Us Will Return, 84. 

[li] None of Us Will Return, 86. 

[lii] None of Us Will Return, 25. 

[liii] I visited Auschwitz at the end of May, on a beautiful spring day. It felt very strange to walk in a place of such massive destruction while birds sang and the trees burst out in greenery. It seemed both an affront to the dead and a consolation that nature can ignore human atrocity. 

[liv] W. B. Yeats, "The Circus Animalsí Desertion." 

[lv] Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981) 34. 

[lvi]Theodor W. Adorno, The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (New York: Continuum, 1982) 312, 318. 

[lvii] Eric L. Santner, "History Beyond the Pleasure Principle: Some Thoughts on the Representation of Trauma," Probing the Limits of Representation, ed. Saul Friedlander (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992) 144. 

[lviii] Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler (New York: Random House, 1998) 215. 

[lix] Rosenbaum, 215. 

[lx] This ideological irony backfires, however, when turned against the Nazi leaders themselves. As contemporary underground humor joked about the terms of the Nordic ideal: "thin like Gˆring, tall like Goebbels, blond like Hitler." Quoted in Rosenbaum, 157. 

[lxi] Useless Knowledge, 212. 

[lxii]Art Spiegelmanís comic books "Maus" and "Maus II" are not comic at all, but are instead graphic novels. Humor emerges at several points, but always in "present-day" circumstances, not in historical contexts. 

[lxiii] Francine Prose, Guided Tours of Hell (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.) 

[lxiv] The Measure of Our Days, 236. 

[lxv] The Measure of Our Days, 237. 

This passage read like deja vu (deja lu?) to me, because it echoes so closely a short piece I wrote about recovery from bone marrow transplantation. My piece reads: 

People bring me books, long books, The Magic Mountain and Bleak House, exhorting me not to let my mind rot, but then they see the ante is lowered and they bring Agatha Christie and Time. Because I have always read voraciously and if I cannot eat I might as well read. The books look interesting. They stay in a neat stack piled in the cupboard. They belong to another time, the past, and maybe the future, but not now. Instead I watch re-runs of M*A*S*H and Medical Center and St. Elsewhere. Mostly I lie with my eyes closed and my head turned to the side (not propped up, because I think this increases the blood supply to my mouth) and the volume control parked next to my ear. After a while the voices begin to sound surreal and I can't tell the difference between the ads and the programs. 

Actually, practically all the patients watched medical shows, because, despite the melodrama, they represented a "reality" which corresponded with our own. The Magic Mountain spoke of illness and death in a way that seemed very remote to me; Agatha Christie's murders didn't even register as death. The only answering voice that spoke to my everyday reality was the television, and that was not enough. 

Hence my personal and scholarly interest in using language to recover from death.

[lxvi] Measure of Our Days, 238. 

[lxvii] Days and Memory, 2. 

[lxviii] I speak from experience. During a particularly bad course of chemotherapy, my dreams began incorporating characters and plot elements from the books I was reading. They became nightmares, and I could no longer tell sleep from consciousness. More disturbing, at times I could not remember if I existed as "me," or whether I was a "real" character from a book. 

[lxix] The Measure of Our Days, 348. The French expression is "refaire sa vie," literally re-fabricating one's life. 

[lxx] W. B. Yeats, "Easter, 1916." 

[lxxi] The question of why so many Holocaust survivors chose to commit suicide years after liberation continues to haunt me. Prominent writers such as Jean Amery, Primo Levi, and Paul Celan obviously felt their words were not enough. Perhaps they felt their works, as public and aesthetic objects, had gone too far from bare life, from their origins in death. 

[lxxii] Useless Knowledge, 191. 

[lxxiii] The Measure of Our Days, 257.