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Ett kort uppehåll på vägen från Auschwitz (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Göran Rosenberg

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975124,414 (4.2)3
Member:AndreasSundman
Title:Ett kort uppehåll på vägen från Auschwitz
Authors:Göran Rosenberg
Info:Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2012
Collections:Non-Fiction, Fiction
Rating:***1/2
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A Brief Stop On the Road From Auschwitz by Göran Rosenberg (2012)

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» See also 3 mentions

English (2)  Swedish (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (5)
Showing 2 of 2
Although the post-war fate of Holocaust survivors has been receiving more attention in recent years --- for instance, [[Dan Stone]]'s book on the final days of the camps, [The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath] or [[Michael Brenner]]'s edited volume of essays and survivors' statements, [After the Holocaust] --- and while many memoirs, including [[Primo Levi]]'s account of his circuitous path to freedom, touch on the days directly following the camps' liberation (often followed by another form of confinement, whether for reasons of quarantine or political reasons), Göran Rosenberg's book is unique in addressing the issue of day-to-day survival in an increasingly "normal" and forgetful world.

Rosenberg is a subtle thinker and a skillful narrator. He structures the narrative of his father's survival around the Place --- a small town in Sweden where his father's migratory path came to a stop, where he found a job, settled down with his wife, and had children, that is, where the narrator was born. The Place is a focal point of shared experience, from which the narrator proceeds to try to understand his father's life journey. Seen through the eyes of a child, the Place and its geography, with its factory, its train station, the 26-meter tall bridge over the canal, the pine forest separating the town from the seashore, with its modern housing and rowanberry trees, become almost mythical. At the same time, the Place is also emblematic, a Swedish "Midwest" with its small-town hopes and joys, problems and prejudices; a town that will hardly figure on any political map; the periphery from where to observe events that happen "out there" in the world.

It is starting from this Place that Rosenberg presents his father: we get to him little by little the way he did as a child, gradually learning about the shadows that haunted his existence. Rosenberg writes in second person singular, like a letter to his father, an attempt at dialog. To retrace his father's journey, Rosenberg relies on scraps of memory, his own, and those of surviving relatives, on family letters and documents, and on archival and field research. And so he reconstructs the conditions of the Lodz Ghetto by referencing the miraculously survived Ringelblum archives; or scours any extant transport lists and other documents to pinpoint, as far as it is possible, the dates of his father's "delivery" to Auschwitz, then transfer to the slave labor camp in Braunschweig, and the complicated path, via Ravensbrück and Wöbbeln, to liberation. Rosenberg is keenly aware of the abyss that separates the knowledge we can glean from dates and the experience of a prisoner being transported to the unknown: "On your journey exact dates have no function." Dates are for us, for the researcher; they are like anchors, something concrete to hold on to in our effort to understand; they also counteract "precise figures and arbitrary abbreviations [which] are the crowbars of Nazi euphemism" (p. 60):

“I note down the exact figures and dates, in fact I scour the archives and sources for the exact figures and dates, because I want to reconstruct your world as you see it before it’s liquidated, and I need something to build it with, and I don’t know what else I can understand. But I soon notice that the exact numbers and dates merely reconstruct the widening gulf between what’s happening around you and what can be understood.” (p. 59)

The gulf between the anonymity of the number and the visceral quality of experience must be bridged through narrative and imagination --- contrary to the Nazi effort to employ seemingly precise records in the service of dehumanization and obliteration. The failure to imagine is one of the implicit themes of this book: it is a failure of imagination that is responsible for forgetfulness and for the breakdown of communication between survivors and those who know of concentration camps only second-hand. Göran Rosenberg puts his finger on the paradox of the survivor: in order to live on, the survivor needs to be able to push aside the horror, to "forget" the unforgettable; but in order to be able to repress the dark memories and to live, the survivor needs the world to remember:

"... those of you who have survived have no reason to doubt that the world afterward is no longer the same as the world before. It's impossible to think anything else. It's impossible to think you've all survived in order for the world to forget what it's just been through and to go on as if nothing has happened. There must be some point to the fact that you've survived, since the main point of the event you've survived was that none of you were supposed to survive... ... Why me and not the others? Naturally it's also an unbearable thought, which has to be pushed aside sooner or later if surviving is to turn into living. So I think it's initially pushed aside by the assurance that you haven't survived for yourselves but for others, too; that you're the traces that must not be eradicated, and that you therefore owe a particular duty to the life you've been granted... ... Like Lot's wife, people in your situation can go on living only if they don't turn around and look back, because like Lot's wife, you risk being turned to stone by the sight. Nor, however, can you go on living if nobody sees and understands what it is you've survived and why it is you're still alive, in spite of everything. I think the step from surviving to living demands this apparently paradoxical combination of individual repression and collective remembrance. You can look forward only if the world looks backward and remembers where you come from, and sees the paths you pursue, and understands why you're still living." (pp. 278-9)

I find this to be one of the crucial passages in the book and a key insight into the dysfunction of our own world. The experience of a Holocaust survivor is an extreme experience which, if we accept our responsibility of imagining it, should be a prism through which to view, and relate to, the world. Is not the mistreatment of refugees, for instance, reminiscent of the often-judgmental treatment concentration camp survivors met with in displaced persons' camps? Does not the facility with which business often trumps humanitarian concerns or the xenophobic discourse of individuals or right-wing governments sound all too familiar? Although Rosenberg does not raise these issues directly, it is clear that broader implications of his father's experience are on his mind. He limits his considerations to the Place and evokes what might seem like an unrelated thread in his story: the environmental degradation of this seaside locality through industrial ground pollution and sewage run-off leading to the paving over of what once was a charming beach resort and turning it into an industrial harbor. Like the inhabitants of Wöbbelin or Brauschweig, living their lives next door to Nazi-perpetrated horror, the inhabitants of the Place, and the authorities, chose passivity and inaction allowing, in this case, environmental crimes to be perpetrated. It goes without saying that there is no question of establishing equivalence between the different conducts; however, what is important, I think, is not being afraid to recognize repeating patterns of behavior.

Göran Rosenberg's book is an exemplary effort of imagination: through patient interpretation and piecing together of a network of facts, memories, gestures, he reconstructs his father's harrowing experience and, in a sober, unsentimental narrative, identifies the different forces -- social, political, historical, etc. -- that come together to propel this particular destiny to its particular end.

Some reviewers have remarked on the shortcomings of the translation. My sense was that the translation was well done and if anything perhaps too accurate: I felt that the small grammatical imperfections reflected the translated and re-translated text; they are most often encountered in the narrator's parents' letters, written in Polish, translated by a third party into Swedish, and then, for this edition, into English. It is possible that the Polish is already inflected, imperfect; it is peppered with Yiddish, later Swedish, words whose meanings blur and intertwine. As a Polish speaker, I could sometimes detect the Polish idiom beneath the English translation, and I thought this was the point. There are subtle layers in the prose; it is multi-voiced: there is the perspective of the child, very much focused on sensory imagination; there is the voice of the mature narrator -- a researcher, thinker, who tells the story of his own quest among the vestiges of a vanished world; there are the voices of his parents, speaking in the fragments of correspondence written at different times and in different circumstances; and there is the occasional snippet of officious language of the bureaucracy, Nazi or otherwise. The translator did an excellent job giving each of these voices a unique tonality. That the translator's name is Sarah Death I could not but find symbolic: combining a common Jewish girl's name and the tragic destiny of a nation.

[review cross-posted on amazon.com] ( )
  aileverte | Feb 17, 2016 |
An arresting, emotionally powerful Holocaust memoir. Originally published in Swedish. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
Showing 2 of 2
"Written with tender precision, “A Brief Stop on the Road From Auschwitz,” recently published in the United States, is the most powerful account I have read of the other death — the death after the camps"
added by jodi | editNew York Times, Roger Cohen (Mar 11, 2015)
 
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Jag hade länge föreställt mig att han kom över Bron eftersom det är Bron som är porten till Platsen, och faktiskt också nyckeln till den, men han kan naturligtvis inte ha kommit över Bron eftersom han måste ha kommit med tåget söderifrån.
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On the 2nd of August 1947 a young man gets off a train in a small Swedish town. He has survived the Lodz ghetto, Auschwitz, and the harrowing slave camps and transports during the final months of Nazi Germany. Now he has to learn to live with his memories. In this intelligent and deeply moving book, Goran Rosenberg returns to his own childhood in order to tell his father's story. It is also the story of the chasm that soon opens between the world of the child, suffused with the optimism, progress and collective oblivion of post-war Sweden, and the world of the father, haunted by the long shadows of the past.
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