From Lodz to Hiroshima, Six Decades Later
By Jack Fuchs *
Jack Fuchs, Holocaust Survivor, Journalist & Writer
In August 1945, I was interned in a hospital in Bavaria, slowly regaining my health. My body, while still young, was severely damaged, marked by years in the ghetto of Lodz, by the misery of the bodies of Auschwitz. While it may be obvious to say this, perhaps as much as it is obscene, it must be said: imprisonment, torture, torment -- these are experiences of the body,
of a body that is naked, fragile, exposed, and subjected to the blind rigor of history.
On the first of May of that year, they found me in a barn, on the road by which they were taking me from Dachau to I don't know where, complying - in those days even when things had already become very disorganized - with the instructions for the final solution. Finally, like everything, the war ended, and I was cured of dysentery, malnutrition and tuberculosis. I was in the hospital when I found out that Hiroshima had been destroyed by an atomic bomb. In just a few minutes, 110,000 people were dead. It is terrible to say that the Hiroshima bomb made me happy -- but that is how it was. That is how we are, human beings. An abyss, a deep wound, lies between my healing and the satisfaction I felt for what had happened in Hiroshima. Those ruins of experience, that dark meditation, that grief - belong to the realm of the human. But many years passed before I could see that.
In that moment, I compared Hiroshima to Warsaw, which was destroyed in January 1944 on the orders of Hitler. The same number of people died, although the massacre in Warsaw took place over a week's time. Actually, it was nothing more than the use of a different technology, with a different speed of execution. That is a lot, and that is a little. And afterwards, the earth was destroyed. I thought that nothing about Warsaw mattered to the Japanese empire, that they hadn't wavered in massacring 13 million children, Koreans and Vietnamese, I thought that Germany and Japan had plotted to divide the world at any price, that Japan celebrated the killings of Auschwitz alongside the Nazis. And I experienced the tragedy of Hiroshima, of Nagasaki, as a compensation for the crimes of Japanese fascism -- I myself in the tragedy of compensation.
I confess that in August 1945 I could not - perhaps never could - separate myself from what had happened just one year before in Lodz, my city, when they deported us to Auschwitz - me, my parents, my brothers and sister. We had lived through 4 years in the ghetto. 59 years have passed since the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto, created in May 1940. 250,000 Jews disappeared from Lodz. They died of hunger, of illnesses, and they also died from pain. In the ghetto, there were Polish Jews, German Jews, Czech Jews; and within the perimeter of the ghetto the Germans had prepared a small ghetto, with 5,000 Gypsies they had brought from the Balkans, like a game of Chinese boxes. At that time, I made an accounting, a question of quantity: more people died in the Lodz ghetto alone than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together. And yet, there is not one single monument in Lodz that commemorates this - the only testimony that there once existed a large Jewish community is the old cemetery, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe. There are no speeches, there are no ceremonies, no flowers, the world media does not say a word -- they will not say anything about Lodz. The cemetery is there, and nothing more. The dead who remember other dead - nothing more.
Here, I am not making an issue out of numbers, although numbers in and of themselves are not a negligible fact. Instead, I am making an issue out of memory - a question taken up by philosophy, psychoanalysis and public opinion. I do not wish to discern here either the concept or the uses of memory. I leave this improbable task to the debate of specialists. I know very little; I know of the intervention of time, of the indifference and the rigor of time, of the fatigue and the celebration of time. I ponder the weight of memory, I probe it in my fixations, in obsession, in fear, in my small logic; I know that memory finds relief in me, like a dream, the human ruins of which I speak; I also know that there is nothing which should alleviate or pacify. But I will soon be turning 80 years old, and the general forgetting and oblivion of Lodz continues to shake me, to affect me. I don't know if it's good, if it's bad, I don't know the value of this forgetting. Forgetting is necessary, after all, because one can't live in the insistent monotony of remembering. But I am forced -- I am captive. The dates arrive, year after year, and the past returns. I see myself as a man counting endless rosaries, one by one, an abacus that never ends, a number with no limit. It is the violence of the past that returns, that continues to touch me. I don't know if it is the same violence from that time, with the contents of today or the violence which shows itself in its one presentation, in its besieged imaginary and in its real devastation. August is the month of Hiroshima and August is the month that Lodz was liquidated. The terror of the nuclear bomb joins that of the ghetto, with just one year of difference.
And I am recounting this not just because Lodz was my city of birth, the city of my parents, but also because of my fascination for the small things, those things which for one reason or another are not strongly present in memory or in public consciousness. Sometimes I stop myself, in the morning, in my neighborhood, and notice silly things, like the way water is wasted in cleaning the sidewalks in front of the buildings. In those tiny, trivial details, I find yet another reason to ponder the general disorder of things, and so I entertain myself thinking about the irrationality of small things.
Something similar happens with Hiroshima and Lodz. Lodz and Hiroshima are alike - when the Germans were at the point of being defeated, wagonloads full of Jews continued being deported from Lodz. One could already sense the end of the war was near, and yet, there persisted an implacable continuity. In Hiroshima, a few days before the ending of the war, the bomb crushed thousands. Lodz and Hiroshima are emblematic: the cruelty of war was imposed over the whole of the civilian population, and this occurred because there were two wars - a strictly genocidal war and another war, of conquest. Much has been written about the episode in Hiroshima, much has been said and continues to be said about it, perhaps for the spectacular nature of the effects - but of my small city there only remain a few survivors, among which I find myself, and of my city, of Lodz, nothing is said, almost nothing. Because there, in the history of that Polish city, in the minor histories of its Jews, exist all of the drama of the war, all of the criminal planning of the war. I know very little, I repeat, about the functions of memory, but I am certain that only in memory and in the name are kept the secrets of death and that, even though the comparison may be absurd, the dead of Hiroshima have a greater gravity in memory, they are more named and more present in collective memory than my dead of Lodz, and that is why I name them here.
* Jack Fuchs: Writer and educator. Survivor of Auschwitz. Translated by Natasha Zaretsky.
Originally appeared in Página/12, August 14, 2003.
Last updated November 28th, 2003