Blessings: An Autobiographical Fragment

Craig, Mary

William Morrow, 1979

p. 95

Hanka, a Pole beaten and interrogated by the Nazi Gestapo, is finally sent to Majdanek: “For a time she was made to separate the newly arrived mothers from their children, under threat that, if she refused, the guard dogs would be let loose to do the job more thoroughly.” As it was, children, she knew, would go straight to their deaths, the mothers later, when they had outlived their usefulness. “’All I could do,’ she says, her face ashen at the recollection, ‘was try and inject some humanity into the agonizing task, but no amount of kindness could make any difference. How could it have? The faces of those poor children, their screams of terror, the anguish of the mothers, will haunt me to the grave.’” [Nazis were able not only to hurt women like Hanka, to threaten them, but also to corrupt them by forcing them to participate in the Nazis’ own wickedness.]

pp. 102-3

“It is surely not possible to visit Auschwitz and be unaware of evil. Viscous and fetid, it is everywhere. It seeps into the pores, it is part of the air you have to breathe. From the moment I walked through those gates whose cynical legend still boasts: Arbeit macht frei, I was almost overcome with nausea. Standing in the museum with its vast cases filled with the macabre evidence of the wholesale slaughter of the innocents, I was near to fainting. It was unbearable to see the mountain of shorn human hair, the piles of false teeth, spectacles, clothing; the pathetic heaps of human trivia which the victims had brought with them, believing they were going to a resettlement camp: suitcases, cooking utensils, chamber pots, walking sticks, shopping bags. Most poignant of all–the wooden legs, children’s teddy bears and family photographs. The intolerable pathos of little things.”