Svenska Akademien informs the public in its press release from the 10th of October, 2002, that "The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2002 is awarded to the Hungarian writer Imre Kertesz "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history."
One could say it was Fate. We know one cannot fight against Fate. It's implacable, its useless to try to change the course of things as long as there is Fate leading mankind to its way. A unique way.
Was it Fate that made him win the Nobel Prize so that the whole world can find out about his novel? This semi-autobiographical novel where he tells us about living as a Jewish teenager under the Holocaust was meant for the world to look back at that time of World War II, through the eyes of a 14 years old boy who is critical of the grownup world.
George Koves is a fourteen-year-old Hungarian Jewish boy who, shortly after his father was ordered away to a "labor camp," is taken with a group of young boys to a German concentration camp. This occurs during the last year of World War II, and although the crematoriums he saw still appeared to be active, George survives what he defines as his "given fate."
From the a.m. press release we find out that "for him [Imre Kertesz] Auschwitz is not an exceptional occurrence that like an alien body subsists outside the normal history of Western Europe. It is the ultimate truth about human degradation in modern existence."
There seemed to have been a lot of misunderstandings. We see the young boy who is being brought to a concentration camp looking forward to this, as if he was offered an opportunity.
Whoever wanted to could apply for work in Germany and like the rest of the boys... I immediately appreciated the idea." Fatal misunderstanding, we should say.
Wasn't the idea of communism misunderstood, too? People believed that society was meant to come to a supreme superior order where all are equals and have the same rights, obeying the same law
Kves regards events like a child without completely understanding them and without finding them unnatural or disquieting - he lacks our ready-made answers. The shocking credibility of the description derives perhaps from this very absence of any element of the moral indignation or metaphysical protest that the subject cries out for. The reader is confronted not only with the cruelty of atrocities but just as much with the thoughtlessness that characterized their execution. Both perpetrators and victims were preoccupied with insistent practical problems; the major questions did not exist. Kertesz's message is that to live is to conform. The capacity of the captives to come to terms with Auschwitz is one outcome of the same principle that finds expression in everyday human coexistence.
In thinking like this, the author concurs with a philosophical tradition in which life and human spirit are enemies. In Kaddis a meg nem szuletett gyermekert, 1990 (Kaddish for a Child not Born, 1997), Kertesz presents a consistently negative picture of childhood and from this pre-history derives the paradoxical feeling of being at home in the concentration camp. He completes his implacable existential analysis by depicting love as the highest stage of conformism, total capitulation to the desire to exist at any cost. For Kertesz the spiritual dimension of man lies in his inability to adapt to life. Individual experience seems useless as soon as it is considered in the light of the needs and interests of the human collective.
George's imprisoned group was made up of Jews and Gypsies, both of whom were labeled as "sinners," and some Muslims. The "sinners" had numbers, they new each other only by those numbers. So, they were alike, some numbers in a row, nothing else. These numbers are surviving, some of them already for a dozen of years, respecting the basic rules of survival: "First time in my life that I set eye on real convicts...clad in stripped suits of criminals...They were very much interested in our ages...Vierzehn funfzehn...They immediately protested with their hand, their heads their whole bodies. Zescajn they whispered from every direction I was astonished Warum? Willst du arbeiten? He asked me back. Naturlich, because, on reflection, that's the reason why we had come here after all. At this he grabbed me and shook me: Zescajn vesrtaajst du? It was very important to him so I yielded albeit with some humor: Okay I will be sixteen years old... They said, don't get tired don't get sick!"(p.55)
You don't have time to reflect on Fate, and other things that belong to philosophy, you are just trying to survive, respecting, as I said, the basic rules. It is interesting that the idea of "rule" is popping up everywhere. The "sinners" are taken to concentration camps for not having obeyed certain rules at a given time. It doesn't matter if these were the Jews or the communists or the gypsies or God knows who else.
Is the epidemic so great that there are so many dead?"(p. 79) The Holocaust was like an epidemic that spread so fast to so many places, succeeding so effectively to kill.
You can't help wandering if this was meant for mankind to be... Was it our Fate, their Fate? Or are we "fateless"?
A story of survival against all odds which goes on, with different coordinates after the boy is set free. Another world of people being chased for thinking differently, for being different, for not respecting the unjust rules set by their fellowmen in order to oppress the others. A part of the world was imprisoned under the iron curtain of communism... This also seems to be Fate.
As the boy during his one year spent in the concentration camp learns to survive, respecting the basic rule of live, trying not to give up, we should think that mankind would also learn pass the ages how to survive, and more importantly, how not to destroy itself. The boy is "fateless" as the other prisoners who are fighting to stay alive. They are not thinking of Fate, they are acting. Against it, maybe.
The young boy as we understand by observing his thinking, by reading his reflections, could not possibly be one of so many who had to pay for the errors made by his ancestors, or supposedly made.
After Auschwitz one can do nothing but write poems about Auschwitz." Yue, Imre Kertesz wrote about Auschwitz, as many others who lived through the Holocaust did, but it made a difference. One could think, once you read a book, you read them all. But, that's the point, as you are watching the boy living inside the walls, confronted not only with death but also with humiliation, in the worst manner imaginable, you feel like you understand something more about what came like a hurricane upon mankind, stealing lives and putting so many people in misery. Of course, any of us can recognize the extreme injustice and inhumanity of what was happening, but this novel helps us see beyond things, plunge insight the human nature, the perpetrator's as well as that of his victims. Even if it may seem very easy to make the public understand, imagine, what it was like for someone who was imprisoned in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, or other lagers, it should be, in fact, quiet difficult in succeeding so. I, the reader, trying to understand, to substitute myself to the character who was living under not only the immeasurable depravations of the concentration camp, but also in a small circle where there were no laws, because it didn't matter if one obeyed them or not, I find myself in the position of not being able to imagine not even a slice of the daily life from Auschwitz.
At some point, Kertesz says: "I can say that after all those attempts all those useless trials and exhaustions after some time I found peace, quiet, even relief. Cold, wetness, rain no longer disturbed me. They couldn't reach me. I never felt the hunger any more."(p. 126)
They couldn't reach me," he says. In the sentence before he mentioned cold, hunger a.s.o., but "they" includes the idea of his fellowmen who tried to reduce him and the others to numbers, to something lower than the mot ugly and hated of the animals. But, who are they? Aliens, no this is something that impressed me and disgusted me at the same time. Kertesz does not present the perpetrators like some strangers that had nothing in common with him, with us. They were monsters in a monstrous society, that's beyond any doubt, but the rest of the world that made things possible to happen is quiet as guilty, too. This is not even the main idea here. It is not the moral issue, but the way men do find a way to come out alive from a life like this, the way mankind finds a…