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'And They Inquire Whether You Have Any Gold Teeth'

October 11, 2002

An excerpt from "Fateless" (1975), written by Imre Kertesz and translated from the Hungarian by Associated Press:

Buchenwald lies in a region of mountains and valleys, on the spine of an elevation. Its air is clean. All eyes are delighted by the diverse landscape, the encircling forests, the red tile-roofed village houses in the valley below. The baths lie to the left. The prisoners are mostly friendly, although in a different way than in Auschwitz. Upon arrival, here too, you are met by a bath, barbers, disinfectant fluids and a change of clothes. The accessories of the cloakroom are exactly the same as in Auschwitz.

But the bath is warmer, the barbers do their work more meticulously, and the cloakroom attendant, even if just by a fleeting glance, tries to size up your measurements. Then it's into the hallway, before sliding glass windows, and they inquire whether you have any gold teeth. Then, a compatriot of yours who has been here longer and even has hair writes your name in a big book. He gives you a yellow triangle, a wide strip and a band, both made of cloth. In the middle of the triangle there is a letter U, a sign that you are, after all, also Hungarian. The band has a printed number on it; mine, for example, is 64921.

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