Mrs Dalloway

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Virginia Woolf

The story opens in 1941when Eliezer, a boy of thirteen, reminisces about his sheltered childhood and religious observance. Moshe, the beadle, teaches him the Kabbalah and also attempts to warn the town about the atrocious deeds of the Germans to the Jews. Denizens of the hamlet, Sighet, ignore him and deride him for being “mad.” Even as far back as 1941, when the Germans entered Budapest, the Jews of Sighet continued to delude themselves, and this continued with the spate of decrees passed against the Jews: They were only allowed in specific localities, forbidden to work, had to hand over possessions, and were obligated to wear the yellow star and, finally, forced to live in a tiny cramped ghetto dominated by the Nazi before being herded to the cattle cars.

In the cattle cars, one woman who became insane, Mrs. Schechter, prophesied about the flames that she saw. Some passengers beat her to silence. The trip was harrowing—lack of water, air, room—yet, up until the end, the Germans reassured the passengers that it would be a labor camp for the hardy while the elderly and children would be cared for. When they arrived in Auschwitz, beaten by SS guards with whips and bitten by dogs, they saw the chimneys belching the dark smoke.

There they were forced to line up. Eliezer and his father, following the advice from some camp inmates, changed their ages and professions. Eliezer was separated from his mother and sister (Tziporah), whom Dr. Mengele sent to the right (the crematoria), while he and his father were sent to the left—temporary reprieve.

Life in the camps was horrific. They were starved with a slice of bread per day and some tasteless soup and little water. Prisoners learned to save, and their constant reflection was on food. They were constantly beaten, with deaths occurring routinely. The very weak and elderly were constantly dispatched to the gas chambers. All prisoners were branded. They were given odd clothes to wear that were either too large or too short for them. The clothes resembled pajamas. They were made to line up each morning in the bitter cold to be counted. They were sent to labor often not suited to their skills or capacity and most times under the duress of cruel masters (Kapos or Kommandents). Every so often, there was another selection that weeded out the weak people, including patients in the infirmary, and sent them directly to the gas chambers. Executions, summary killings, and hanging occurred in a regular schedule. Eliezer was one of many who lost his belief in God. How could God—a supposedly powerful, just and benevolent Omnipotent Being—perpetrate and witness such atrocities?

It was in this way that Eliezer spent his life first in Auschwitz and then in Buna before being marched off to Buchenwald. The three-day-long march resulted in many of the starving, beaten people being either frozen to death in the snow or trampled under foot by the other marchers. Driven to distress, acts of incredible human cruelty occurred on the march, such as when one son forsook his faltering elderly father and another tried to grab a slice of bread from his father’s mouth. Eliezer swore not to be like that to his own father. Eliezer, too, at one point was almost strangled by someone who either tried to procure his bread or find more room. The death march led them to a cattle car that took them to Buchenwald. This was another harrowing trip. Of the approximately 100 individuals who boarded the car, only 12 disembarked, including Eliezer and his father. In the Buchenwald camp, Eliezer’s father (Shlomo) becomes delusional and dies from dysentery, starvation, and fever. His last request is for Eliezer to give him water. This request Eliezer is forced to ignore; he could not even approach his father, as he feared being beaten by the same SS official who was viciously beating his father to be silent. After roll call, Eliezer sees that his father has been removed—likely to the crematoria, with another man lying on his bed in his stead.

On April 8, 1945, the camp heard rumors about the Red Army approaching. The camp was overtaken by the Jewish defense force, which pushed out the SS, and the first American battalions entered Buchenwald.

All Eliezer could think of is food. He becomes gravely ill from food poisoning and, recovering from a dangerous illness, looks in the mirror, where he sees himself as a corpse.

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