Book Review

Nine Suitcases by Bela Zsolt

Nine Suitcases by Bela Zsolt Nine Suitcases is Bela Zsolt's memoir of the Holocaust - his personal experiences in the Hungarian ghetto of Nagyvarad and as a forced labourer in the Ukraine is as tragic as it is moving. Zsolt's humane writing pushes us past the simplicities of good versus evil and shows the awful human weaknesses, personal complicities and daily heroism and tragedy of war at its most brutal.

The difficulties and dangers of Holocaust literature are legion. (What could or should Holocaust literature be? Has Adorno's warning--no poetry after Auschwitz--been misunderstood or forgotten?) Norman G Finkelstein's provocative The Holocaust Industry has brought our attention to the difference between memorialising Nazi genocide and learning real historical lessons. But Nine Suitcases hugely deserves its publication and can fully stand alongside the work of Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel's Night.

Originally published in weekly instalments, Zsolt describes in detail how he came to be in the ghetto (and the significance of those eponymous suitcases), his work as a gravedigger and labourer (ironically, in 1942, force to fight alongside the Germans); the bravery of a local Madame in serving her Jewish prostitutes; his feelings towards his Orthodox fellow inmates; the quotidian horror of his new, appaling everyday life; and his involvement in a plan to fake a Typhus outbreak. And all of this is done with a matter-of-fact simplicity and without rhetorical flourishes or indulgences. This is an important, great book. Sometimes, Zsolt says, in the ghetto there was "a silence that provoke(d) prayer or blasphemy". We should read Zsolt and, in the ensuing quiet, decide anew what our strategies for learning and understanding should be. Amidst new terrors, should our response be reflection or anger?
-- Reviewed by Mark Thwaite on 30/08/2004

Further Information
ISBN-10: 0224063057
ISBN-13: 97802240630510
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Publication Date: 01/01/2004
Binding: Hardcover
Number of pages: 288

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