by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson Hydra Books,
Northwestern University Press ($14.95)
Houston Book Club - http://www.HoustonBookClub.com.
March, 2003 book club selection. Selected by Linda R.
Prize for Literature Winner
Gives Holocaust a Voice
his first novel published in 1975, Kertész says he used the
form of the autobiographical novel but that it is not an autobiography.
Fateless is the first of a trilogy (Fateless, Fiasco,
and Kaddish for a Child not Born) about George (György
Köves), a fourteen-year old Hungarian Jewish boy who is sent
to Nazi Germany's infamous concentration camps Auschwitz,
Buchenwald, and Zeitz in the last year of World War II. Where
his father was sent a few days before George was sent to the
camps, we are not told.
was not from a particularly religious family, and knew neither
Yiddish nor Hebrew. So, while he wore the obligatory yellow
star, fellow Jewish prisoners looked down on him because he
only spoke Hungarian, and he felt as though he did not fit
in, but took it all in stride with faith that things would
work out, and looked back on the experience of his year in
captivity fondly because of the camaraderie resulting from
sharing the ordeals with so many others of his own age.
on quickly that the key to survival was to work, and that
meant he had to claim to be sixteen, as those too young, too
old, or too sick disappeared. He bore the indignity of being
shorn of all body hair, cold showers, awful food, and beatings
with an innocence and struggle to make sense of his undeserved
life was something he could tolerate, and this book is not
a recounting of horror stories. The worst he saw was the display
of three dead escapees, and a cart with assorted body parts.
He spends some time documenting the complex system of stars,
armbands, and letters on them, but not enough to be considered
a primer on the identification system used to label prisoners
as Jews, homosexuals, criminals, etc.
not a hero, did nothing extraordinary, and there is no love
interest. He saw his introduction to this world only gradually
tainted by despair. Early on, he thought it was pleasant to
be with other young men, working hard, and did not realize
he was a prisoner until his arrival at Auschwitz after a three-day
journey by train with no water in a locked train car with
seventy-nine other captives.
in this novel that the concentration camps did not only operate
during World War II, but opened as early as 1933, with some
of the staff at Buchenwald being there the entire time.
Kertesz said in reference
to receiving the Nobel Prize, "My immediate reaction is one
of great joy. It means very much to me," he said. "There is
no awareness of the Holocaust in Hungary. People have not
faced up to the Holocaust." I hope that in the light of this
recognition, they will face up to it more than until now."
Kertesz' lectures and
essays have been collected in "A holocaust mint kultúra ("The
Holocaust as Culture"), 1993." His non-fiction books also
focus on the subject, including The Holocaust as Culture,
Moments Of Silence While The Execution Squad Reloads and
The Exiled Language.