Arbeit Macht Frei

Here’s a short passage from Primo Levi’s excellent novel, The Periodic Table:


Out of the shadows came men whom Fascism had not crushed—lawyers, professors, and workers—and we recognized in them our teachers, those for whom we had futilely searched until then in the Bible’s doctrine, in chemistry, and on the mountains. Fascism had reduced them to silence for twenty years, and they explained to us that Fascism was not only a clownish and improvident misrule but the negator of justice; it had not only dragged Italy into an unjust and ill-omened war, but it had arisen and consolidated itself as the custodian of a detestable legality and order, based on the coercion of those who work, on the unchecked profits of those who exploit the labor of others, on the silence imposed on those who think and do not want to be slaves, and on systematic and calculated lies. They told us that our mocking, ironic intolerance was not enough; it should turn into anger, and the anger should be channeled into a well-organized and timely revolt …

Interesting. Levi’s picture of Fascism in Italy around the second world war could very well have been written to describe the current situation in the United States of America. Read Levi’s words again … think about it. Don’t be reduced to silence.


Timages-1otto-chan, the Little Girl at the Window is a children’s book written by Japanese television personality and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. Published in 1981 it became an instant bestseller in Japan. The common wisdom is that the book is about the values of the unconventional education that Kuroyanagi received at Tomoe Gakuen, a Tokyo elementary school founded by educator Sosaku Kobayashi during World War II, and it is considered her childhood memoir.

Very true but there is much more being expressed in the simple language of this extraordinary novel. It is perhaps better seen as an adult novel written in a way that both focuses on the education and development of children but also slyly informs the adult reader with alternate views on the development of children, especially in opposition to many of the long-held beliefs and practices prevalent in Japan before the war.

Continue reading “Totto-chan”

Aurelia Paris

The War

Marguerite Duras ends her memoirs of the aftermath to World War II with a story she wrote back then (subsequently revised) called Aurelia Paris. It’s very short but powerful. The scene is an apartment where a older woman has assumed the care of a young girl after the girl’s parents were taken by the German police. The woman sits outside the door with a pistol, expecting to kill the German police when they come and then turn the gun on the girl and herself to guarantee that they will not be captured.

At the same time, they are in the flightpath of the heavy bombers heading for Berlin and half-expect to be blown up every time they hear the roar of the planes’ engines. The girl is attuned to the sound of the planes and can report their positions across the map of Europe.

A simple story but, as I said, powerful.

The entire collection titled The War is a vivid recollection of the horrors and the intense human emotions that came with the war. A very important work and highly recommended.