Friday, March 11, 2005


Deborah Lipstadt was cold when she went along as part of a US presidential delegation to the 60 year memorial service at Auschwitz last month. When she was there she reflected on the writings of the survivors, like Primo Levi.

"Levi attributed his survival during those difficult last days to the friendship and support of a small group of men who were in the hospital with him. Their only goal, he told Philip Roth years later, was to save "the lives of our sick comrades." On the night of the 26th of January one of them died. Levi and his friends were too cold and exhausted to bury him. There was nothing to do but go back to sleep and wait for the next day. "The Russians arrived while Charles and I were carrying Sómogyi a little distance outside. He was very light. We overturned the stretcher on the gray snow. Charles took off his beret. I regretted not having a beret."

Sixty years later, as darkness fell over Auschwitz, I turned to one of the members of our delegation and said: "It's really cold. I regret not having worn another layer of clothing." Suddenly Levi's words came cascading back on me. I was embarrassed. And then without explaining why, I stood up in silent tribute not just to Sómogyi, but to the countless nameless others who had died there or those, such as Elie Wiesel's father, who died soon after the death march. I also stood for people such as Levi, who survived but bore the terrible wounds of the place for the rest of their lives.

Despite the sharp wind, I took off my hat. After all, I had one."

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