I previously commented on Nobel Prizewinner Imre Kertesz’s novel FATELESSNESS in my blog The Holocaust: Not Hell but Human and in my blog Descent into Hell. The story’s hero is the 14 year old Hungarian Jew Georg Koves and consigned to the Nazi concentration camps where he does survive, minute by minute, never trying to understand the totality of what was happening to himself or others, but always forcing each event into something which still resembled humanity and sanity. He could not explain it as it was so totally irrational, but he did want to continue living even in the concentration camp. His embrace of life over death made him see the concentration camp as beautiful, neither hell nor non-existence, but very human, and though horrible still a place to be alive.
When his elder uncles persist in telling Georg to accept what had occurred as some accident of fate, to forget the horrors as if they had never occurred in order to move on in life, Georg defies their advice and says his and anyone’s effort to survive was worth remembering and exactly that which not only denies but triumphs over fate. The freedom to live is far too valuable to disregard or forget. One uncle (they were not put into a concentration camp) continues to protest that in the face of Nazis one could not resist fate:
“But what could we do?” he asked, his face part irate, part affronted. “Nothing, naturally,” I said, “or rather, anything,” I added, “which would have been just as senseless as doing nothing, yet again and just as naturally.”
For Georg, it was the willingness to take the next step, and then the next – the willingness to carry on which was essential. It didn’t matter what you did, nothing could change the senselessness of what was occurring. But it mattered that you bothered to take the next step and continue despite the apparent meaninglessness of what others or you did. Doing the next thing was in fact choosing freedom over fate, choosing freedom as fatelessness.
On the very day when liberation was announced in the concentration camp, Georg continued to deal with things in the same way which allowed him to survive the horrors – one moment and one event at a time. As the loud speaker was proclaiming freedom in all the different languages of the camp George knows it is the same hour when the camp rationed soup was usually doled out. Georg’s caution continued as he heard the announcement in his native Hungarian: “However hard I listened, though, all I heard of from him, as from everyone before, was about freedom, but not a single word about or in reference to the missing soup.” Survival has its own instinctive priorities.
Though Georg is told to forget what happened as soon as he can, he challenges and questions this. Why should he forget – unless it was all just fate and so meaningless, but if it is meaningless then the suffering is unbearable. But if freedom exists and things aren’t governed by a mindless fate, then it means everything happens with a meaning and an importance and one can mine the meaning and importance out of the most horrible of conditions. One is not forced to see only the “atrocities” but one can see how people willed to survive against all odds. This was beautiful. This zeal for life was chosen – it was not fate, but the freedom of humans to will to survive and to triumph over fate.
“Everyone asks only about the hardships and the ‘atrocities,’ whereas for me perhaps it is that experience which will remain most memorable. Yes, the next time I am asked, I ought to speak about that, the happiness in the concentration camps.”
So he will not accept the advice to forget, to act as it never happened, to deny what happened. But neither is he forced to accept it as meaningless and fateful evil, he has the freedom to remember the horrors and discover the meaning and he has the freedom to remember the good in it too – nothing needs be forgotten as if it had never happened, no lie needs to be told to make it more palatable or comprehensible.
“…I now needed to start doing something with that fate, needed to connect it to somewhere or something; after all, I could no longer be satisfied with the notion that it had all been a mistake, blind fortune, some kind of blunder, let alone that had not even happened. …. if there is such a thing as freedom, then there is no fate… that is to say, then we ourselves are fate.”