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Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death

Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death

Translated by RALPH MANDEL
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press,
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  • Book Info
    Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death
    Book Description:

    In a life dedicated to studying and writing about Nazism and the Holocaust, Otto Dov Kulka has set to one side his experiences as a child inmate at Auschwitz. Breaking years of silence, Kulka brings together the personal and historical in a devastating, at times poetic, account of the concentration camps and the private mythology he constructed.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-07509-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xii)

    I assume that readers of my historical publications will have identified me unequivocally with an attitude of strict and impersonally remote research, always conducted within well-defined historical categories, as a kind of self-contained method unto itself. But few are aware of the existence within me of a dimension of silence, of a choice I made to sever the biographical from the historical past. And fewer still will know that for a decade (between 1991 and 2001) I made tape-recordings which allowed me to describe the images that well up in my memory and explore the remembrance of what in my...

  5. Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death

    • 1 A Prologue that Could Also Be an Epilogue
      (pp. 3-13)

      The start of this journey – I don’t know where it will lead me – is utterly prosaic, strictly routine: an international scientific conference in Poland, in 1978, at which I was one of several Israeli participants. It was held under the auspices of the International Committee of Historical Sciences, specifically the section on comparative history of religion. Our group consisted of one medievalist, one early modern history specialist, and, from the modern era, me, together with another historian to whom the Poles refused entry because he was a former Polish citizen and by immigrating to Israel had ‘betrayed the homeland’. The...

    • 2 Between Theresienstadt and Auschwitz
      (pp. 14-29)

      The immersion into that time begins between Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. More precisely, it is the onset of the road to the Metropolis of Death. There is no need for me to describe the routine of the transport of the tens of thousands of deportees in the cattle cars, but this case involves a singular episode which I remember and which comes back to me frequently. In the car, we climbed, somehow, my mother and I, to the window, which was blocked with barbed wire, and as we passed through Bohemia in a still unknown direction, mother took out a small...

    • 3 Final Liquidation of the ‘Family Camp’
      (pp. 30-35)

      At the end of six months, in the course of one night, all five thousand, or all who remained of the five thousand who arrived with us in September 1943, were annihilated. On that night in March 1944, nearly all of them died in the gas chambers, apart from a few who only by chance happened to be hospitalized and were left alive in order to deceive the others – the doctors and the patients – my mother and I among them. Those who arrived in later transports knew that, like their predecessors, they had about six months left to live. Why?...

    • 4 Autumn 1944: Auschwitz – Ghostly Metropolis
      (pp. 36-40)

      After the Sonderkommando uprising, and my personal episode on the barbed wire, came the great evacuation of Auschwitz. Most of the remaining inmates underwent selection. The result was that almost everyone departed. This selection was intended less for annihilation than to choose those who were fit to leave Auschwitz for forced labour in Germany. Train after train, column after column of veteran inmates and all the types of prisoners who were still among the living set out for camps in Germany. The evacuation of Auschwitz had begun. It was clear: everyone who remained faced a certain end. Those who left...

    • 5 Observations and Perplexities about Scenes in the Memory
      (pp. 41-50)

      I turn now to a question which occupies me a great deal, in particular when I listen to these recordings and when I read the descriptions I set down in my diaries of the landscapes of the Metropolis of Death. The pervasive, all-governing element in them is the immutable law, utterly impersonal, of the Great Death. In contrast there are the more personal games of the ‘small death’. Almost absent – in truth, completely absent – is another element, so well known from the memoirs and testimonies about daily life in the concentration camps. I mean the violence, the cruelty, the torture,...

    • 6 Three Poems from the Brink of the Gas Chambers
      (pp. 51-55)

      The three poems were written in Czech on thin, faded letter paper. The first of them seems to encapsulate and in its way intensify the message of the three previous episodes I described: the last words of the condemned at their public execution; the sarcastic amusement of the vision of future history according to the condemned in the hospital barracks; and the sentence in my mother’s letter demanding revenge for the blood of innocents. But the poems are also more than this, for in all three of them is preserved the only glistening sliver that was saved from a great...

    • 7 Journey to the Satellite City of the Metropolis of Death
      (pp. 56-71)

      All of what I said before has been my observation of myself. More precisely, it was reflective observation of my surroundings at the time and of what occurred in them, of selected critical episodes, but viewed through the prism of the landscapes of the Metropolis of Death.

      Now I have to muster the courage to embark on a journey to realms that seemingly lie on its far side. A journey that will touch a living, searing point, shrouded under a light-and-shadow layer of obscure dimness, silent always. Here, too, it is possible to focus on describing individual scenes.

      The first...

    • 8 Landscapes of a Private Mythology At the Sealed Gate of Mercy
      (pp. 72-77)

      In this chapter I move to a very different time, to Jerusalem of the late 1960s. I do not remember if it was immediately after the war – the Six Day War – or some time later, after I returned from a year in England, but the place where I underwent this experience was the Temple Mount. It was my first visit to the Temple Mount, or at least to its desolate and neglected north-eastern part, past the Dome of the Rock on the way to the Gate of Mercy, the sealed Golden Gate.¹

      I went alone. I crossed the tiled plaza,...

    • 9 Rivers which Cannot be Crossed and the ‘Gate of the Law’
      (pp. 78-81)

      These images of skies of blue and columns of people in black being swallowed into the confines of the crematoria and disappearing in clouds of smoke, the corridors of lights leading to the Metropolis of Death, the terms ‘Metropolis of Death’ and ‘Homeland of Death’, all of which are so close to me; landscapes to which I escape as one escaping into the landscapes of childhood, feeling in them a sense of freedom, protected by that immutable law of the all-pervasive dominion of death, by the beauty of summer landscapes – all these things are part of a private mythology which...

    • 10 In Search of History and Memory
      (pp. 82-84)

      All this relates to the question of why I was incapable of viewing or reading works about the Holocaust. Yet was this really true, or was it only seemingly so? My direct confrontation with the world of the Metropolis, with the immutable law of the Great Death, occurred also in another channel, which from several points of view can be said to be the central channel of my life’s work: scientific historical research. Indeed, I have already noted the paradoxical duality of my study of that period, with its systematic, total avoidance of integrating any detail of biographical involvement into...

  6. Three Chapters from the Diaries

    • 11 Dream: Jewish Prague and the Great Death Diary entry, 28 July 2003
      (pp. 87-91)

      A deserted street in Prague, in the ancient Jewish Quarter. I am sitting in a car of faded colour, blocked in a crowded parking area. But ‘crowded’ here means three or four nondescript cars, which blend into the surrounding bleakness. The time – the bleak time of the dominion of the immutable Great Death. From envoys of the Jewish Town Hall I receive – hesitantly – a message announcing a verdict: I am to proceed to the Jewish Town Hall, the building with the baroque tower and the clocks with Hebrew and Roman numerals, located not far from there on the same way,...

    • 12 Doctor Mengele Frozen in Time Diary entry, 22 January 2001
      (pp. 92-94)

      I had the dream the night before, but yesterday, from the morning and throughout the entire day, I had to finish writing a biographical survey about my father, in connection with a plan to install a bust of him in a public space in Prague. Now, in the small hours, I return to the dream as it arose and was preserved in my memory.

      Well, on that night, in that dream, I was again in Auschwitz, in one of the crematoria. More accurately, in its ruins. I entered the dream through its ruins. They were the ruins of the crematorium...

    • 13 God’s Grieving Diary entries, 17 August 2002 and 15 November 2002
      (pp. 95-104)

      17.8.2002. A dream about undergoing God’s physical existence or physical presence – in the crematorium; or a dream about God’s existence and question of God’s existence. It was not a question at all but an answer – in the dream, in Auschwitz, in the crematorium – a dream with a recurring setting: I entered it through the ruins of Crematorium No. II, on the right side of the railway line, the side facing ‘our camp’. I wrote it down afterwards on scraps of paper, today, the day after the night of the dream: Shabbat morning, month of Av (I don’t know the date...

  7. Appendix: Ghetto in an Annihilation Camp: Jewish Social History in the Holocaust Period and its Ultimate Limits
    (pp. 105-116)
  8. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 117-122)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 123-127)