The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S. (Z Deniku Sedmnactilete Perly Sch)

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THE UNLOVED: FROM THE DIARY OF PERLA S. (Z deniku sedmnactilete Perly Sch)

Novel by Arnošt Lustig, 1979

The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S. (1985; Z deniku sedmnactilete Perly Sch, 1979) is a 17-year-old girl's testimony of her life in Theresienstadt. What is perhaps most remarkable about this "diary" is Arnošt Lustig's ability to write from a female perspective by observing life through a young prostitute's eyes. Perla S. seeks to survive in a world where there is no more love. Everyone she has loved is gone, and everyone she could love will be taken away from her via transport. Her body is all that she can control, and for her services she receives small bits of bread, candles, or other items that she uses to make her dreary life more pleasant. Her giving of pleasure to others aids her in forgetting the loss of her family and the surroundings of the ghetto. The conversations that she has with both men and women in the camp are detached from any emotion. In fact, it is the cold, undemonstrative manner in which situations and people are handled in everyday contacts that are striking features of this diary. Perla S.'s closest companion is the rat that lives beneath her floorboards, for the rat will never have her name called up for transport. "Rats don't worry about tomorrow," Perla S. writes. "Rats can do without names, without numbers, without return addresses." Perla S. envies the simplicity with which the rat lives, sans concern, sans anguish. In many ways the rat embodies the way Perla S. would like her own life to be.

With her friend Ludmila, Perla S. enjoys walks and partakes in discussions about the factors of life that have come together to bring them to Theresienstadt. They are both emotionally distant from one another as a protective device, for they both know that one of them will wind up going away forever on a transport to the East. Observations of the simpler things in life, such as the moon, stars, darkness, and daylight, are the present highlights of their existence, for these aspects of nature are eternal—they do not disappear as people do. The topics of conversation are also clearly distant from the reality of their world, and the reader perceives the gloomy end for both of them. They are young women who should be going out and having fun, not discussing the philosophical meaning of the miserable circumstances enveloping them. Every day they take a stroll to the insane asylum, which represents another constant in a world where transports change the composition of the camp on a daily basis. The inmates may cease to exist, but the asylum will forever remain standing, long after Perla S. and Ludmila have departed.

The entire structure of the way life goes for the inhabitants of Theresienstadt has been brilliantly construed by Harychek Geduld, a young man who has befriended Ludmila and Perla S. He creates a Monopoly game that no one can ever really win. As transport time approaches for him, his game becomes more and more circular in that every space is always another ending or roadblock to freedom. As Perla S. has written in her diary, "At the same time, we all know that there, where the transports go, things are incomparably worse. And so the choice between what is good and bad has been reduced to the choice between what is worse and worst." In Theresienstadt life is a game with no winner.

Perla S., however, maintains some inner strength to control one aspect of her life, and sex is the tool that she possesses. The men in the camp seem to be strong, especially the Luftwaffe officer who has become one of her most frequent customers. These facades are broken down by Perla S. Even guilt cannot possess her, for there is no one left in her family to feel shame or disgust for what she does to survive. She asks the Luftwaffe officer, "Could you ever think of the female body as a weapon?" She is not allowed elegance—her best effort is to sell herself in the best manner she possibly can. The one item that no one can take from her is her own body. This she can give and take away at will.

Human conditions change, but human nature does not. These are the conclusions that Perla S. draws about life. "In the end, we are all selfish," she writes. Childhood memories are slowly swallowed up by the reality of life. As transport for Perla S. grows nigh, memories of last lines of conversations with friends and family members grow stronger. What will Perla S. leave behind? What will prevent her from being a forgotten utterance or merely a speck on the timeline of humanity? On the eve of transport she hides her diary, leaving it behind as the lone witness to her existence.

—Cynthia A. Klíma

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The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S. (Z Deniku Sedmnactilete Perly Sch)

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The Unloved: From the Diary of Perla S. (Z Deniku Sedmnactilete Perly Sch)