God’s breath

“Survivor from Warsaw” composition by Arnold Schoenberg, 1947:

I cannot remember everything. I must have been unconscious most of the time.

I remember only the grandiose moment when they all started to sing, as if prearranged, the old prayer they had neglected for so many years – the forgotten creed!

But I have no recollection how I got underground to live in the sewers of Warsaw for so long a time. The day began as usual: Reveille when it still was dark. “Get out!” Whether you slept or whether worries kept you awake the whole night. You had been separated from your children, from your wife, from your parents. You don’t know what happened to them… How could you sleep?

The trumpets again – “Get out! The sergeant will be furious!” They came out; some very slowly, the old ones, the sick ones; some with nervous agility. They fear the sergeant. They hurry as much as they can. In vain! Much too much noise, much too much commotion! And not fast enough! The Feldwebel shouts: “Achtung! Stilljestanden! Na wird’s mal! Oder soll ich mit dem Jewehrkolben nachhelfen? Na jut; wenn ihrs durchaus haben wollt!” (“Attention! Stand still! How about it, or should I help you along with the butt of my rifle? Oh well, if you really want to have it!”)

The sergeant and his subordinates hit (everyone): young or old, (strong or sick), quiet, guilty or innocent …

It was painful to hear them groaning and moaning.

I heard it though I had been hit very hard, so hard that I could not help falling down. We all on the (ground) who could not stand up were (then) beaten over the head…

I must have been unconscious. The next thing I heard was a soldier saying: “They are all dead!”

Whereupon the sergeant ordered to do away with us.

There I lay aside half conscious. I had become very still – fear and pain. Then I heard the sergeant shouting: „Abzählen!“ (“Count off!”)

They start slowly and irregularly: one, two, three, four – “Achtung!” The sergeant shouted again, “Rascher! Nochmals von vorn anfange! In einer Minute will ich wissen, wieviele ich zur Gaskammer abliefere! Abzählen!“ (“Faster! Once more, start from the beginning! In one minute I want to know how many I am going to send off to the gas chamber! Count off!”)

They began again, first slowly: one, two, three, four, became faster and faster, so fast that it finally sounded like a stampede of wild horses, and (all) of a sudden, in the middle of it, they began singing the Shema Yisroel.

Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.

Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.

Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.

V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

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