I try to imagine what it is like to be selected for slave labour and to see your child selected for the gas chambers. The powerlessness in face of atrocity is hard to grasp in any kind of civilised life.
For the child raised in the death camps, death is inevitable. There is no reasonable expectation of survival or a future.
Selected twice for the gas chambers, Kulka dreams of walking with the victims and then finding some escape route that allows him some miraculous escape, like a door that no-one else seems to notice.
It is chance in the vagaries of bureaucracy that saves him and his mind tries to make sense of something that has no rationale.
... how does it happen that the living, who enter in their masses ... are transformed into flames, into light and smoke, then disappear and fade into those darkening skies?
Among the veteran inmates who visited that camp shortly after our arrival in September 1943 was one who had been in concentration camps since 1939 and in Auschwitz since 1942. I mean my father. He found us, identified us among the arrivals from Theresienstadt - he knew we would come from Theresienstadt - looked for us, my mother and me, and explained to my mother, and in fact to all the inmates, the meaning of the scenes that had occurred on the platform, with the daily arrival of trainloads of prisoners, who were sorted into groups and then advanced slowly in long processions toward brick buildings with large smokestacks which spew flames and smoke day and night; explained to us about selections, about crematoria, about gas chambers - explained about Auschwitz-Birkenau
the only way one left Auschwitz - through its smokestacks, the smokestacks of the crematoria
... I was intoxicated by the whiteness, by the freedom, by having left behind the barbed-wire fences, by that wide-open night landscape, by the villages we passed. Then I looked more closely at one of the dark stains, and another - and I saw what they were: human bodies. The stains multiplied, the population of corpses increased.
After the Holocaust we find it easy to conceptualise what a death camp is. Without precedent how do you parse being delivered to one?
All around we saw camp after camp, a grid of rectangles illuminated by lights, and rows of wooden barracks. And as we passed between the camps on that railway track, my mother, who was generally optimistic, understood that this was --- that from here no-one left. Understood that it was something which afterwards, in my private mythology, was given that name, to which I always return, the Metropolis of Death.
In many ways there is no better commentary on this but to quote it.