THE THINGS THEY CARRIED: Cabbages and Geraniums, part 3…

They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity […] all of it, they carried gravity.

Tim O’Brien

I remember darkness, grayness. I remember haze

Valerie Furth

Is there a right to the secret?  To the concealed?  To the hidden?  To the the gap between knowledge, ignorance, and harm–told or untold?  If André Malraux is correct that “La vérité d’un homme c’est d’abord ce qu’il cache” (The truth of a man is what he hides/keeps secret), then, as Valerie’s family and community–as all she knew–was called up to move from the ghettos to a yet undisclosed location, then they carried with themselves the value of their own secrets, their own valuables, and thus their own value.  However, another secret remained: a violation of all humanity so violent that secrecy itself, as a right, conditional or otherwise, might be put in doubt–the destination of the journey none would have chosen to take.

Furth recounts her egress towards a gruesome unknown:

“When the order to move came, we reacted very quickly.  […] We were each permitted to take a knapsack with us.  In it we put our immediate necessities–extra underwear, a toothbrush, soap, sweaters, hard salami, sweets.  The knapsack also contained items of other value.  I remember staying up half the night sewing the ten dollar bills father gave me into its straps.  The lining of our coats received other valuables such as gold rings and chains.  Everyone had a secret cache […]

“The sun was shining the day we left the ghetto.  The dust rose in the road as our grave procession filed into the brick factory near the railroad tracks […] My memory of this time is a confusion of sight and sound: strewn knapsacks, cockfeathered Hungarian gendarmes with whips, dogs growling, shouts that rent the air.

“Finally we were headed into a cattle car.  In front of me, the gendarmes carried one of my teachers, crippled, into the car.  Blood from a beating caked his clothing and face.

“We had no idea we were going to a concentration camp, let along extermination camp.  No rumors had reached up either at home or in the ghetto […] Had I known […] I never would have boarded the train.” (13, Cabbages and Geraniums)

… to be continued …

Above: detail from mixed media sculpture by Valerie Furth. Date Unknown.

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