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'They Die in the Night, Then More Come and They Die, Too'

November 10, 1996| From "Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood" by Binjamin Wilkomirski; translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway (Schocken Books: $20, 155 pp.)

I have no mother tongue, nor a father tongue either. My language has its roots in the Yiddish of my eldest brother, Mordechai, overlaid with the Babel-babble of an assortment of children's barracks in the Nazi's death camps in Poland.

It was a small vocabulary; it reduced itself to the bare essentials required to say and to understand whatever would ensure survival. At some point during this time speech left me altogether and it was a long time before I found it again. . . .

I'm not a poet or a writer. I can only try to use words to draw as exactly as possible what happened, what I saw; exactly the way my child's memory has held on to it; with no benefit of perspective or vanishing point.

. . . I'm sitting in rain-softened clay near the door to the barracks, waiting. . . .

It's quieter these days, now that most of the children are no longer here. I don't know where they are. I can't remember where I was when they were taken away. I miss them--why didn't I go with them? . . .

Suddenly there are lots of women here, they die in the night, then more come and they die, too.

Every morning the bodies are thrown in a pile at the corner of each barracks by the ones who are going to die during the next night. . . .

But the cart didn't come today, not yesterday either. The women are still lying there in a tangle. The heap is bigger than it used to be. They're lying there quite naked. I've seen it for myself--the dead ones give their clothes to the ones who are still living. . . .

Sometimes I look over at the dead women. Some of the older children have told me that little children grow in the women's bellies before they're born, and I wonder: everyone keeps saying I'm so small, that must mean that I grew in a belly too. I think about my mother, I think about the one time the gray uniform took me to a woman and said:

"You can see your mother."

Does that mean all mothers have to die once they've had children?

It must be true, otherwise why would new children keep coming, and more women keep dying every night?

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