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Auschwitz and After

AUSCHWITZ AND AFTER by Charlotte Delbo [Yale University Press], $25.00

In this memoir. Charlotte Delbo, French novelist and playwright, delivers an insightful, non-Jewish perspective of the Holocaust experience. Through scores of poetry, short stories, and vignettes— perhaps too many—Delbo shares with the reader the intimate and powerful lessons she learned as an inmate at Auschwitz. She reveals the details: from scrubbing her body furiously with gravel in a stream (after not having washed in a year), to the never ending quest for respite from thirst. (“Once again,” she writes, “the paste of rotting leaves petrified into mortar fills my dry mouth.”) The reader also learns about a survivor’s inability to escape the death camps even after liberation: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m still there, dying there, a little more each day.” At times, Delbo is almost too good at describing the horrible events around her. She conveys what it is like literally to count days, and brutally makes us feel the paradox of surviving: Which is worse—being stolen from the world you lived in, or being returned to a world in which you no longer belong?