Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Unlistened-to-Story

On Tisha b'Av I read Primo Levi's Survival in Aushwitz: the Nazi assault on humanity (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996, Translated from the Italian by Guillio Einaudi in 1958). There is one passage that really stood out for me and reminded me of something Rav J. B. Soloveitchik said about a slave having no story and redemption being the process by which we become a story-telling people (see this post). Here is the quote: 
This is my sister here, with some unidentifiable friend and many other people. They are all listening to me and it is this very story that I am telling: the whistle of three notes, the hard bed, my neighbour whom I would like to move, but whom I am afraid to wake as he is stronger than me. I also speak diffusely of our hunger and of the live-control, and of the Kapo who hit me on the nose and then sent me to wash myself as I was bleeding. It is an intense pleasure, physical, inexpressible, to be at home, among friendly people and to have so many things to recount: but I cannot help noticing that my listeners do not follow me. In fact, they are completely indifferent: they speak confusedly of other things among themselves, as if I was not there. My sister looks at me, gets up and goes away without a word.  
A desolating grief is now born in me, like certain barely remembered pains of one’s early infancy. It is pain in it pure state, not tempered by a sense of reality and by the intrusion of extraneous circumstances, a pain like that which makes children cry; and it is better for me to swim once again up to the surface, but his time I deliberately open my eyes to have a guarantee in front of me of being effectively awake.
My dream stands in front of me, still warm, and although awake I am still full of its anguish: and then I remember that it is not a haphazard dream, but that I have dreamed it not once but many times since I arrived here, with hardly any variations of environment or details. I am now quite awake and I remember that I have recounted it to Alberto and that he confided to me, to my amazement, that it is also his dream and the dream of many others, perhaps everyone. Why does it happen? Why is the pain of every day translated so constantly into our dreams, in the ever-repeated scene of the unlistened-to-story? (p. 60)