ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 06

What are the blind dreaming of?

Author | Autor: Noemi Jaffe

Translated by Vivian Schlesinger

Part 1.

The Diary of Lili Jaffe (1944-1945)

Szenta, April 25, 1944

Everyone around me, including myself, is sad. We know what is happening

and also what will happen. My father sits on the couch all morning, quiet, staring

into nothing. At times he looks at us and closes his sad eyes. My mother comforts

us: she will not believe in evil, but she packs our bags, makes sweets and sighs

inwardly, so that no one will see.(...)

No one will tell us anything, but we know what is happening. We knew that

on the following day, at eight o’clock, the Germans would come to get us and tear

us out of our home.

Auschwitz, June 4, 1944

(...) We heard a German shouting from the distance: right, left... When we got

closer, mother hid me under her coat, (...) trying to keep them from separating us.

We reached the first German. He commanded us to go to the left side. Another

one examined us and let us through.

At midnight we entered the concentration camp.(...)

There was fire, flames and the feeling that we were closer and closer to the

fire. (...)

August 2nd

It has been almost a month since I started in the kitchen. I got used to the fact

that we had as much food as we needed. But it was not enough for us. We

knew many who went hungry. (...) It is very dangerous to steal, even in an organized

fashion. Woe is he who is caught by a German! (...)

The day before yesterday, Hajnal brought again almost a kilo of margarine.

Alice immediately hid it among the cabbage heads, with the intention to take

it out at night, before we went back to the barracks. Then one of the girls asked

Alice for some margarine, because she had none. She did not feel well, could not

eat the hard bread (...)

While they were there, on their knees, I came back. On the way, I was told

what happened. I never even thought about what I should do. I ran straight to the

German woman to tell her I was guilty. When the other girls saw what I was about

to do, they held me and would not let me go, because they knew it would mean

death. I was stronger than them, search time was near. (...) And I was not afraid of

death.I went in. Knocked on the door. In the room was the German woman and a

German man.

- Why are you here? What do you want?

At that point I could not reply. I was crying, and amidst my tears, I said:

- Let my cousins go. They are not guilty. I stole the margarine.(...)

I tried to beg for mercy, but she did not even want to hear it (...)

And she left. Meanwhile, he led me outside to a pile of bricks, where he commanded

me to kneel. And to hold a huge brick over my head, a brick I could barely

lift off the ground. (...)

I lifted the brick as high as my head, with tremendous effort, but I could not

hold it up. It fell on my head. But I was strong. In my mind I saw everyone going

through roll call, including my cousins. Tears fell from my eyes like rain, not because

I was sorry for what I had done, but out of sheer pain.

I knelt there, for two hours.

Part 2.

What are the blind dreaming of?

Noemi Jaffe


(…) She plainly believes in destiny. For her, as for all those who believe in it, destiny

is a force that determines by anticipation the events in the lives of all beings. Nothing

is random. Otherwise, in her opinion, she would not be alive, the strokes of luck

that made her survive would not have happened. (…)

To destiny one must merely submit (…) Destiny is that which one goes through;

it is the place one goes to, even if the paths be unknown, undesired, or tortuous.

Tragic characters dressed up in goat costumes, thus the name tragedy, from tragos,

goat. Their song, odia, is similar to that of a caprine animal in agony, nearing

death; a drunken song, dionysiac, of someone whose death does not

frighten, due to the state of unconsciousness. It is the scapegoat, which brings

about catharsis (…)

Destination, fatality, fact. Destination is a fact and one does not question facts.

It seems easy to understand why she believes in destiny in such a sacred,

untouchable way. As if this belief would help her to also expiate the guilt of having

survived, as if it were an explanation for everything: for the death of others as

well as for her survival. This faith would also have helped her build the pyramid of

forgetfulness, starting from which she seems to have succeeded at surviving in the

best possible way. If everything was already predicted, it is more conceivable to

forget or even to survive. (…) Even if remembering or disbelieving fatality sounds

more painful or complex, attributing everything to foreign forces, predesigned, is

also not simple. It is a cutting pain, of a straight-edge razor, from the impossibility

of glimpsing beyond the fact (…).

The fact, or destiny (or is fact destiny?), is that this seems to be only one of

many random events, strokes of accident, which happened to her and which announced,

symbolically, a conspiracy of signals that enabled her to survive.

(Luck is a chain of random events also manipulated by the lucky person, who

embraces and manages them in such a way that they keep occurring in his favor.)

Why were some lucky and others not? Why did the happy coincidences only

happen to so few? Were they chosen? (…)

She doesn’t know why; she simply accepts it. For her, there must have been

some reason. Perhaps the only reason is the way each was able and knew how to

handle random events, taking advantage of even the most insignificant opportunities.

Perhaps not even this. (…)


There is no way to dramatize or metaphorize the stone. And yet it is the most vivid

event, fact, in her memory and that of her daughters. It is as if this fact were a

synthesis of her and of the war, even though it is not. There is no synthesis of war;

there is nothing that can symbolize war or suffering, although the stone object,

the punishment object, the butter object can each be transformed into a symbol.

But no one, from outside this story, has any right to transform this object into a

story. How can a thing like this turn into a story? How should one tell this fact?

How should one listen to this fact? In 2009, in Auschwitz, this stone could be

everywhere, any place could be the place where she held this stone. And yet, this

place, this stone, would never be there, because what happened, even if it was at

a specific place, is no longer at that place. (…) Only those who did not live it have

the duty to remember it, without the least hope of doing so, because it is gone. The

attempt to see the place where things happened, and once there, still see again

exactly the stone that was carried or the point at which she carried it, is so poetic

it is ridiculous. (…)

One who takes pity understands pain, and pain cannot be comprehended; the

suffering comprehends nothing. So what is the moral of the stone? What sense in

knowing this terrible story? Perhaps simply the knowledge that it makes no sense

and that there is nothing to learn from it. One must not, must not, must not be

in the least tempted to turn her into a heroine on account of such atrocious suffering.

There, in the camp, suffering was common and her punishment was even

moderate and bearable. But it is so difficult to look at her slowly and not think she

held the stone; if she has forgotten, how did this define her? Or was it the stone,

among so many other things, that determined her reason (or non-decision, it is

impossible to tell) for forgetting? She forgot, she thinks no more about any of that,

but if anyone asks, or if she decides to tell, it is the stone she talks about. Why did

the officer decide not to send her to the gas chamber and agreed to reduce the

penalty? Why did she choose to pay for an act she did not commit? Why did her

cousins ask her to do it? (…)

The stone object is greater than the stone-story; than the stone-symbol. But

those who did not live the stone, who are children of the fact, can only think about

it as an indirect event, as a symbolic force.(…)

Being the child of a survivor comprises, somewhere in a remote and inhospitable

place in memory, the temptation to have been in the place of the survivor.

Not allowing her to live through all that, traveling to the past and to be able to

immobilize it, to kill the officer who commanded the punishment. To pierce time

and camp rules and save the mother. (…) The wish to save the mother is the wish

to excise from memory the suffering of the mother so that one may be free of it,

so that one can live without the stone.


A spokesman is the keeper of the voice. He hears the voice than another person

did not emit, takes it, saves it in his pocket and carries it, like a billfold or a key.

Then he, voice-carrier, transmits to others what is in that voice he saved. As though

he took it out of a wallet where he keeps his documents, strewn sheets of paper,

forgotten, pennies, pictures, money, long-expired credit cards, the old prayer, two

match sticks and a toothpick, two bank statements, a dentist calling card and

a grocery list. But he also takes out of the wallet things that are not even there,

because he carries what the voice did not say and perhaps did not even know it

would say, if it did say.A spokesman is a thief of the worst kind. The owner of the

voice gives him permission to steal; but he steals more than the owner allowed him,

because he is now mute. He is voiceless. The owner of the voice is forced to hear

what the spokesman says and to accept that that is what he would say himself. Or

worse, what he would not be able to say himself. the spokesman steals the owner’s

voice and outdoes it, he brings it to its knees.

Is the spokesman envious?

The spokesman carries the most precious that anyone has. Why does the

owner of the voice allow the spokesman to carry his words? Why won’t he speak

for himself? The owner of the voice won’t speak because he can’t, he has no ability,

has no time, does not remember, does not manage, does not control, does not articulate.

He gives another the license to articulate his ideas and opinions. Go, keep

them. But which are they, voice owner? I don’t know, I trust you. Make them up.

When the voice owner has forgotten his words, or never even produced them,

and someone comes along who wants to carry his voice, he lets him. Remember

for me that which I have forgotten.

But don’t tell me. I don’t want to remember. You do this for yourself alone, not

for me. I give you my voice, my memory, because I don’t care about them. You do.

So go and do it. Keep them and enjoy.

Here, there

Leda Cartum

In February 2009, when we entered Auschwitz together, my mother and I, I felt

nothing. It’s not that I was indifferent to it: I could not discern any feeling in the

deep white I was living. I could not say: it’s this; or else, it’s that. I could not say

anything, as if all words had dried up completely, and no matter how hard I tried

to turn to this one or that one, none of them meant anything. Nothing meant

anything – and there was so much nothing accumulated in that place suspended,

barred from time, that I could barely breathe there. I could not stop at any building,

any historic record, any photo or name or shoe. I did not want to be there. I had

the feeling of facing the inside of something that can never be turned inside out to

reveal its original form: it was like a dome that held air so dense that it hurt on its

way in and out of nostrils. Nothing there seemed real, even if everything gave off

an odor of reality I had never felt before. And, in anxiety to escape as quickly as

possible, in anger for what I did not feel or for what I should feel, appalled to find

they had rebuilt part of a gas chamber that had been destroyed by an American

bomb, I walked away from every building and exhibit and thrust my feet deep into

the snow of Auschwitz. (…)

(…) Soon after having left Auschwitz, I understood something that always

haunted me, which was wholly revealed to me at that point: living, for me, had

always been a quest to understand this miracle of simultaneity. Ever since I was a

child, before I went to sleep, this was one of my greatest sources of anxiety: how

is it possible that I am in my bedroom, lying on this bed with the lights out, and

at the same time, across the world, someone is being born, and in the depths of

the ocean the whales are singing, and someone is killing someone, somebody is

crying. (…)

But it was the trip in 2009 to Germany and Poland that showed me the depth

of this anxiety that had always haunted me: simultaneity is not merely spatial, it

is also temporal. This must have also been the cause of the placeless storm I felt

upon entering Auschwitz. To realize that while I am here, living my life, things that

have already passed, whether or not they are related to my existence, continue to

happen and to echo everywhere, just as if the lives of other times went on because

they reverberated in our current lives. My bedtime anxieties proved, then, far deeper

than I even had any knowledge of – because they did not only concern all the

lives that went on while I was there, they concerned everything that had already

happened before and that somehow went on inside me. It is difficult to grasp the

dimension of my past and the fundamental influence of things that happened before

I was born on that which I am today. The past is a shadow we accumulate: a

shadow that has no real weight, but which still bends our back in a real curve. If it

is unsettling that, because I have no access to the days I lived, they became mere

memories, it is even further unnerving to find there is an entire past previous to my

birth, which somehow defines me as a person. When I was in Auschwitz, it was like

meeting this time which for me is abstract, but which carries a concrete burden (as

I gradually understood) that at times seems far stronger and more powerful than

any concrete object around me.

I was born in São Paulo, in the late 80’s. I always considered myself Jewish, but

I was never able to say exactly why. Pessach and Rosh Hashana, every year, were a

reason for a family reunion, and we celebrate together something which marks us

and defines us in terms of identity: I noticedit ever since I was a child, but I did not

know what it was. I never had to wear any sign on my clothes that identified me

as part of a people. My life was exactly like the lives of all others around me; but I

always knew of something I could not define. It was difficult (still is) to understand

the dimensions of the identity I carried, although I always knew I carried something

that comprised me.

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