Who Loves You Like This (Chi Ti Ama Cosí)

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WHO LOVES YOU LIKE THIS (Chi ti ama cosí)

Memoir by Edith Bruck, 1958

Edith Bruck's memoir, Who Loves You Like This (2001; Chi ti ama cosí, 1958), is divided into three loci of struggle: her childhood in Hungary where she lived in abject poverty; her life in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen, which began with her deportation at the age of 12; and her difficult struggle in Hungary, Czechloslavakia, and Israel to resume her life. She generally eschews the kind of philosophical reflections typical of fellow Italian-language Holocaust writer Primo Levi in favor of the dramatic flair and swiftness of style typical of compatriot Elie Wiesel .

One of the things that makes Who Loves You Like This unique among Holocaust narratives is the artful way in which Bruck works the motif of hunger and the threat of starvation into her narrative. In her dedication she alludes to the hunger she had suffered as a child by dedicating the book, "For my mother whose bread had the best taste in the world." She later refers again to her mother's bread, which gave her the trappings of security: "My mother made bread once a weak, on Thursday, and it was the happiest day of my childhood. She sighed with satisfaction when she saw the five large loaves, and she said that we would have another week without worries because when there was bread, there was everything. The first day we could eat as much as we wanted, but then we had to make it last until the next Thursday. It was hard to get enough flour together, and we did not always succeed."

Bruck was born into an impoverished milieu. Before her deportation to the concentration camps, she remembers that she would go to work in exchange "for a bit of food such as apples or spoiled prunes." She would steal eggs and chickens from her neighbors, "but only from the rich ones, because I was too honest to rob the poor." In describing her experiences in Auschwitz, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen, she recalls suffering from hunger during the excruciating roll calls: "Some-times the roll call would last all day because people died, or killed themselves, or went insane, and until the missing were found, as punishment we had to kneel in the rain without food for twenty hours." She remembers being assigned to the kitchen commandos in one of the camps: "In this castle, three of us, myself included, worked in the kitchen; eight peeled potatoes; and the others worked for a German family that lived nearby. It was marvelous work because there was food to eat. There was no lack of potato peels."

Although Bruck's positive description of this situation is not without intentional irony, it is in stark contrast to her description of mealtime during one of the Nazi-led death marches from one concentration camp to another: "We stole from each other the little food we had; mothers stole from daughters and daughters from mothers. When one of us was very sick we would say to her, 'Give me your food, you may as well, tomorrow you'll be dead!' But she wouldn't give up hope and saved her piece of bread for tomorrow. Wherever I looked, I saw only selfishness. Someone who had an entire loaf of bread, obtained who knows how, wouldn't give up even a crumb to someone who was dying of hunger." Bruck's remembrances of the distribution of food provide an accurate picture of the grim situational ethics of the Nazi death camps: "Once I ripped a mouthful of bread from a friend's mouth, but after she had done so first." She describes her hunger in heart-wrenching terms: "After a four-day march, they had us in a place where German civilians threw their garbage. What a joy! We ate frozen potato peels and other refuse. Anything we could put in our mouth was good for us: leaves, firewood, dried dung."

Bruck effectively describes how being on the border of starvation dehumanized herself and the other inmates. She also discusses other dehumanizing aspects of concentration camp life, such as excremental assault: "When the alarm sounded, the latrine would be closed for up to two days. Then we had to do our business in the same utensils we ate from and we were beaten." In addition, she recounts how inmates were terrorized by their awareness of the gas chambers: "Once in a while, they sent us to the shower barracks, and we looked at each other in horror, wondering if it would be water that came out or gas." Nonetheless, what makes the strongest impression on the reader is Bruck's manifold description of hunger. That alone makes her work worth remembering.

—Peter R. Erspamer