The Holocaust – “The song is over!”

1975, four years Based on his ghetto novel Bread of the Dead, The equally impressive collection of Bogdan Wojdovsky’s stories “Little Man, Dumb Bird, Cage and the World” was published. Both books are among the most important works of Holocaust literature today. They were originally made available to German readers through the Aufbau publishing house in East Germany, but apart from the East, Wojdowski’s works found little resonance in the German-speaking world, and eventually fell into obscurity.

Wallstein Verlag reissued “Bread for the Dead,” the first planned 10-volume volume from the “Library of Polish Holocaust Literature,” and now follows these stories, and in them, at least the first six of the seven. Textually, daily life in the Warsaw ghetto is depicted consistently, uncompromisingly, and emotionally free.

Wojdowski proves to be a well-versed formal writer who skillfully changes points of view; Its modern narrative tone creates its own epic quality, in which realist consideration, expert speech, and inner monologue mingle. Reality becomes fiction, and all the details described remain committed to reality.

As in the novel, Wojdowski addresses personal experiences: individual motifs and narrative threads continue here and even people from the novel can be found again, so that the stories become an echo chamber in which fate resonates, playing forcefully with the people.

Bogdan and Judovsky, before 1962. - © Public Domain

Bogdan and Judovsky, before 1962.

– © Public Domain

We meet little discreet characters, peddlers, smugglers who put themselves in mortal danger every day in order to ensure their survival, or an energetic worker who sometimes trades old clothes for his own good because he thinks of people who have nothing more. .

Or Bilcia, “Little Human,” the 15-year-old girl in the title story, who takes care of a canary that can’t sing. But who cares about people like Bilcia or the bird trader who keeps bread rations for his birds? What was left of him, how about the girl who actually wanted to flee to the East and then go back to the ghetto after all?

There is no talk of rescue in these stories, everyone is lost, people without hope. Before Bilcia was killed, she released Altaïr. “The song is over!” Explains the unseen narrator to fictional listeners, to give an idea of ​​how someone can silently disappear from the world.

The last sign of Bilcia’s life was in a letter, but even the letter did not survive. Is it possible, then, to prove their existence? “It is not a made-up word,” the narrator insists on the truth of the story.

Then Alkea in the last story, which is the longest novel and almost a small novel in itself. Alkia is too small to start like the Belcia, and it’s also one left. Her relatives have long since died, and she herself “escaped from the pit,” as she put it. She remained in the Warsaw region until the end of the war, hiding here and there, wandering like a ghost, in tattered clothes, half-starved, “unnecessary”, as they say, “it is of no use to anyone”. “She carried her bare life, her empty hands.”

Unlike the characters in the ghetto, where you “allow yourself to be carried away by a wave of miserable mourning for everything that lived”, she is ultimately one of those who escaped fate – she is a young woman, in fact her life begins now on. But what kind of life could there be in a devastated world? Is it really possible to escape from the horror? Because salvation does not mean that it cannot happen again.

Bogdan Wojdowski, who also lost his family when he was a teenager, may have painted a poignant self-portrait in this great survival-questioning tale. Looking back, forty years after liberation, he wrote in his diary: “I hesitated whether I should describe my future as life or death.” In 1994 he committed suicide.

The narrative work that Wojdowski left behind is great European literature and deserves attention beyond the subject of the Holocaust. All his texts deal with the “moral dilemma”, and this describes not only the desperate situation of the oppressed, but also the meaningless impression that remained from the twentieth century. At least that’s what stories tell us with all their contradictions and touching moments. They lead to our consciousness like the trail of a lost life.

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