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Part 2 Chapter 10

I HAVE NO memory of the Friday seminar meetings. Even when I recall the trial, I cannot remember what topics we selected for scholarly discussion. What did we talk about? What did we want to know? What did the professor teach us?

But I remember the Sundays. The days in court gave me a new hunger for the colors and smells of nature. On Fridays and Saturdays I managed to catch up on what I had missed of my studies during the other days of the week, so that I could complete my course assignments and pass the semester. On Sundays, I took off by myself.

Heiligenberg, St. Michael’s Basilica, the Bismarck Tower, the Philosophers’ Path, the banks of the river—I didn’t vary my route much from one Sunday to the next. I found there was enough variety in the greens that became richer and richer from week to week, and in the floodplain of the Rhine, that was sometimes in a heat haze, sometimes hidden behind curtains of rain and sometimes overhung by storm clouds, and in the smells of the berries and wildflowers in the woods when the sun blazed down on them, and of earth and last year’s rotting leaves when it rained. Anyway I don’t need or seek much variety. Each journey a little further than the last, the next vacation in the new place I discovered during my last vacation and liked . . . For a while I thought I should be more daring, and made myself go to Ceylon, Egypt, and Brazil, before I went back to making familiar regions more familiar. I see more in them.

I have rediscovered the place in the woods where Hanna’s secret became clear to me. There is nothing special about it now, nor was there anything special then, no strangely shaped tree or cliff, no unusual view of the city and the plain, nothing that would invite startling associations. In thinking about Hanna, going round and round in the same tracks week after week, one thought had split off, taken another direction, and finally produced its own conclusion. When it did so, it was done—it could have been anywhere, or at least anywhere the familiarity of the surroundings and the scenery allowed what was truly surprising, what didn’t come like a bolt from the blue, but had been growing inside myself, to be recognized and accepted. It happened on a path that climbed steeply up the mountain, crossed the road, passed a spring, and then wound under old, tall, dark trees and out into light underbrush.

Hanna could neither read nor write.

That was why she had had people read to her. That was why she had let me do all the writing and reading on our bicycle trip and why she had lost control that morning in the hotel when she found my note, realized I would assume she knew what it said, and was afraid she’d be exposed. That was why she had avoided being promoted by the streetcar company; as a conductor she could conceal her weakness, but it would have become obvious when she was being trained to become a driver. That was also why she had refused the promotion at Siemens and become a guard. That was why she had admitted to writing the report in order to escape a confrontation with an expert. Had she talked herself into a corner at the trial for the same reason? Because she couldn’t read the daughter’s book or the indictment, couldn’t see the openings that would allow her to build a defense, and thus could not prepare herself accordingly? Was that why she sent her chosen wards to Auschwitz? To silence them in case they had noticed something? And was that why she always chose the weak ones in the first place?

Was that why? I could understand that she was ashamed at not being able to read or write, and would rather drive me away than expose herself. I was no stranger to shame as the cause of behavior that was deviant or defensive, secretive or misleading or hurtful. But could Hanna’s shame at being illiterate be sufficient reason for her behavior at the trial or in the camp? To accept exposure as a criminal for fear of being exposed as an illiterate? To commit crimes to avoid the same thing?

How often I have asked myself these same questions, both then and since. If Hanna’s motive was fear of exposure—why opt for the horrible exposure as a criminal over the harmless exposure as an illiterate? Or did she believe she could escape exposure altogether? Was she simply stupid? And was she vain enough, and evil enough, to become a criminal simply to avoid exposure?

Both then and since, I have always rejected this. No, Hanna had not decided in favor of crime. She had decided against a promotion at Siemens, and fell into a job as a guard. And no, she had not dispatched the delicate and the weak on transports to Auschwitz because they had read to her; she had chosen them to read to her because she wanted to make their last month bearable before their inevitable dispatch to Auschwitz. And no, at the trial Hanna did not weigh exposure as an illiterate against exposure as a criminal. She did not calculate and she did not maneuver. She accepted that she would be called to account, and simply did not wish to endure further exposure. She was not pursuing her own interests, but fighting for her own truth, her own justice. Because she always had to dissimulate somewhat, and could never be completely candid, it was a pitiful truth and a pitiful justice, but it was hers, and the struggle for it was her struggle.

She must have been completely exhausted. Her struggle was not limited to the trial. She was struggling, as she always had struggled, not to show what she could do but to hide what she couldn’t do. A life made up of advances that were actually frantic retreats and victories that were concealed defeats.

I was oddly moved by the discrepancy between what must have been Hanna’s actual concerns when she left my hometown and what I had imagined and theorized at the time. I had been sure that I had driven her away because I had betrayed and denied her, when in fact she had simply been running away from being found out by the streetcar company. However, the fact that I had not driven her away did not change the fact that I had betrayed her. So I was still guilty. And if I was not guilty because one cannot be guilty of betraying a criminal, then I was guilty of having loved a criminal.













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