the devastation of love/murder

by tobybee


Charlotte “Delbo describes instances in which reading becomes a matter of life and death. For example, she describes a scene of reading in which the SS find a love note. Lily, a female inmate, had left it in a hiding place for her lover; he, unable to get to the spot because of a change in his work detail, had asked a fellow inmate to get it. The latter dropped it returning to camp, and it was found by the SS. With an obsessively single-minded hermeneutics, they decide that ‘this letter was obviously a coded message to communicate political information – because for the Gestapo everything was coded, and love letters must convey political instructions’. Unable to imagine the possibility of a love letter written from one camp inmate to another, the Gestapo read it through their myopic lens of political opposition. Lily’s poignant comment that ‘We are here like plants full of life and sap, like plants wanting to grow and live, and I cannot help thinking that these plants are not meant to live’ becomes a statement of political sabotage in the distorted hermeneutics of the SS. Lily, the recipient, and the man who dropped the letter are all executed as a result of this mode of reading.”

from Jennifer L. Geddes, “Towards an Ethics of Reading Survivor Testimonies,” Studies in the Literary Imagination 41, no. 2 (Fall 2008), 9.