Our Monday morning reading was ‘A Wedding in Auschwitz’ by Raјko Đurić, a Serbian Roma writer and academic. It is from an anthology of forty-three poems and prose extracts, most appearing in English for the first time: The Roads of the Roma.
A Wedding in Auschwitz
You say that I’m a dreamer. Maybe you’re right because when I reached Auschwitz I wasn’t old enough to face life and death. But very soon I bore the language of death under my tongue and the experience of life on my tongue. Now I will tell you something that’s neither dream nor reality, but really both at once. The evening before a wedding was to take place in Auschwitz, I dreamed that my mother Kali was sewing the gown for the bride. The barracks was full of flowers—from those that God created down to the small blue ones that grew under the barbed wire at Auschwitz. My mother would take blossom upon blossom, twirl them between her fingers, and they would come together all on their own. Once she had finished the gown, the kind worn by flamenco dancers, she held it against herself as if to try it on and asked me: “Do you like it?” My heart was filled with joy, I started to laugh and could not speak a word, I was laughing so hard. “So you like it,” she said. To let her know that she was right I gave her a kiss. “That’s the gown for the bride, that pretty Spanish woman, Dolores. She’s getting married tomorrow. There’ll be a wedding in Auschwitz! Bring her the dress and tell her that I will also have the bridal garland ready soon.”
I took the dress and ran to the barracks where Dolores stayed. When she had put on the gown the barracks was transformed into the most beautiful church. The angels were singing. The bridegroom arrived, kissed her and said: “Hurry up. The Lord has come to wed us.” They went to the altar. I heard only the echo of God’s words. Then I, too, opened my mouth and sang along with the angels. And so for the first time I awoke singing in Auschwitz. But that day there really was a wedding in Auschwitz!
A wedding in Auschwitz? Is that possible? you ask, surprised.
Yes, there was a wedding in Auschwitz. But the bridegroom and bride were in striped uniforms. A Catholic priest wed them in the presence of officers wearing swastikas. Afterwards people ate and drank and danced to the music a little.
Who was the couple? you ask.
I can’t tell you for sure. But my mother told me that they were Spaniards. The groom was tall and strong, the bride as small and delicate as a bird. I remember that the groom even sang a song, and my uncle Toka played the violin. A sad song – “Mama” was the only word I understood. Later several rumours about them went round: they were Communists, they were Nazi spies, they weren’t really people but dolls that the Nazis had dressed up as bride and groom for their amusement. Some even said that they were really God’s envoys who were supposed to explore how people lived in Auschwitz and what was happening on earth. To be quite honest, I also believed that God had sent them. Later other thoughts went through my mind: Where had they gone? What had they done? Who had they worked for? Those were thoughts like the devil who kicks with the left hoof one moment and with the right one the next! Perhaps I had these thoughts because of Rina whom I met at the wedding. I fell in love with her.
She was a little older than I. And when she looked at me so sweetly that something was set in motion inside me. I felt the warm blood rise in my veins. After the wedding I met Rina two or three more times. Once snow was falling, so white, it couldn’t have been whiter. She shivered with cold. To warm her up, I hugged and kissed her. That was my first kiss. Rina was as red as a rose! She ran away. Out of fear, embarrassment—I’m not sure. As she ran from me I looked after her, and it seemed to me as though from each of her footsteps in the snow roses were growing. When Rina had disappeared the entire field of snow was covered with red roses. If I had closed my eyes for good at that moment I could have said: God gave me a good death! But instead I just got sick. And now I’m so sick that life trickles out of me like the stinking straw from the plank bed I lie on. Everything hurts, there’s three-dimensional pain in every particle of body and soul. But when my lids grow heavy I don’t close them because I’m afraid I might not be able to open them again. When it dawns the pain eases up and I gather what little life I’ve left inside. Secretly, I feel whether my heart is still beating in my chest; with my tongue I check how many teeth my jaws are still holding; with my lower lip I heal the new sores on the upper lip and with the upper lip the old ones on the lower lip. I hold my left hand in my right hand, open it and examine my palm which looks like a cracked mirror pulled out of the grave. Once I was able to get up again, I had no choice but to line up for roll call outside. I walk, stagger, make it. I’m a crushed blade of straw that’s burning, but I’m afraid of turning to ashes and of sweeping up my life with the broom of my being. They march across the grave that holds the grass and the children’s shoes; their step is firm. And I think that the earth has flown up and the sky has fallen down.
On this desolate soil, where they and I are standing, I’ve thought a hundred times: this is the end. You watch over your life, but death is perched on your shoulder, creeps into you through the ears and nostrils, settles on the eye lids, creeps through the eyelashes and across the brow like a worm, and once it reaches the temples a mortal sweat starts to flow on your skin and inside you. Everything is dead: your hair is falling out, your skin is tearing, your lips are swollen and scabby, your teeth loose in their festering jaws, your ears seem to be filled with stale water, your lids are heavier than lead, your pupils stare, your tongue is dry, your saliva dried up, your lungs hurt with every breath, your heart is bleeding, your body burning, hurting when you urinate; when you lift up a leg you risk falling. Everything is dead, everything except the fear that’s creeping through the web of your veins, straining the nerves and tearing your soul to shreds.
Translated from German by Anika Weiss
Historians often call the genocide of the European Roma “the forgotten Holocaust”. Up to 500,000 Roma are believed to have died in mass shootings and Nazi gas chambers.
Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Take a moment to remember all of the victims of the European genocide – Jews, Communists, Czechs, Greeks, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mentally and physically handicapped, Poles, resistance fighters, Russians, Serbs, Socialists, Spanish Republicans, trade unionists, Ukrainians, Yugoslavians, prisoners of war of many nations, and still others whose identity may never be recognized.