Everything is Iluminated: Chapter 18
Summary – Chapter Eighteen, ‘What We Saw When We Saw Trachimbrod’ or ‘Falling in Love’
In Chapter Eighteen, Alex narrates and records how the woman they think of as Augustine refuses to travel in the car, so they have to drive behind her as she walks to Trachimbrod. By the time they reach it, it is dark and there is nothing left at all.
Alex’s grandfather insists ‘Augustine’ tell Alex what happened here. She says how ‘they’ made them stand in lines and ‘they had lists. They were logical’. She goes on and says ‘they’ burned the synagogue and this was the first thing they did. Alex interjects and says how by repeating these things (to Jonathan as his translator) he felt like he was making them new again.
She continues and says that the men had to stand in line in the middle of the town. ‘They’ unrolled a Torah in front of them. The general went down the line and told each man to spit on it or they would kill his family. Alex’s grandfather says ‘this is not true’, and ‘Augustine’ says it is.
Yosef was the first and he spat when a gun was held to his daughter’s head, and stepped on it when ordered to. ‘Augustine’ used to play with his daughter. The next in line was Izzy and he taught ‘Augustine’ to draw. The general, with the blue eyes, put a gun in his wife’s mouth after telling him to spit. Alex’s grandfather asks if he spat and she says he did. The general then ordered him to curse the Torah and he put the gun in the mouth of Izzy’s son. He then made him rip it.
She says how the general then came to her father and he would not spit when ordered. The general put the gun in her mother’s mouth and her father still would not spit. The general shot her. He then put the gun in the mouth of her four-year-old sister and she was crying. Her father was ordered again to spit and he did not. The general shot her sister. Jonathan says he does not want to hear any more and at this point Alex stops translating. ‘They’ then tore the dress of ‘Augustine’s’ older and heavily pregnant sister. They pulled down her underwear and one of the men put the end of the gun ‘in her place’.
Augustine’s father was ordered to spit and he refused. Her sister was shot. She did not die and he was told to spit or they would not shoot her (to put her out of her misery). He still did not spit.
‘Augustine’ is asked here (and earlier) why he did not spit, and if he was religious. She says he was not and that he did not believe in God. Alex’s grandfather says he was a fool and she says he is wrong.
The general then put the gun against her father’s head and said ‘spit … and we will kill you’. Alex’s grandfather asks what happened and ‘Augustine’ tells them he spat.
She continues and says how her sister crawled away, and ‘they’ laughed as they watched her. The gentiles were watching from the window and she called to each for help, but they all turned away and hid their faces. ‘Augustine’ says she does not blame them and when Alex asks why not, his grandfather answers that they and their families would have been killed. His grandfather asks her if she can forgive them and she says no.
She goes on to explain that nobody helped her sister and she knocked on a 100 doors. She crawled to the forest and felt dead, but only the baby was.
Her sister returned to Trachimbrod and followed the trail of blood. It was now dark and the Germans were in Kolki. She went through the Jewish houses and gathered everything so ‘they’ would not take it. She says she means the neighbors not the Nazis and Alex’s grandfather disputes this. She then went to the bodies, which were in a hole in front of the synagogue. She removed gold fillings and cut the hair as she much as she could of her own, her mother and her husband’s and hid these things in the forest for when she returned. She then ‘went forth’. When she came back, she says ‘they’ took everything the Germans left ‘and then they went on to other shtletls’.
She explains how she stayed and found the house that is closest to Trachimbrod and promised herself to live there till she died. She secured all the things and brought them to her house. This was her punishment for surviving.
Before they leave, ‘Augustine’ shows them the monument for Trachimbrod. It is a large stone placed in the middle of a field and in seven languages it commemorates the 1,204 Trachimbroders ‘killed at the hands of German fascism on March 18, 1942’.
They return to Augustine’s house and before they go Jonathan asks Alex to ask her if she knows where Augustine is. She says no, but knows that Jonathan’s grandfather escaped as she saw him once perhaps a year or two later. He came back to see if the Messiah had come. He had a meal at her house, and a bath, and they talked of ‘featherweight things’ including Hamlet. He only stayed for the afternoon and on being asked says Jonathan looks like Safran from before the war. After it, he looked like an old man.
Jonathan asks if there are others who will know Augustine and she says she doubts it. Alex’s grandfather asks if she will come back with them and she says no. She then goes in the house and brings out a box marked ‘IN CASE’ and has Rivka’s ring for Jonathan. They talk about the ring being a proof of existence, and this could be why Rivka hid it. Augustine sees it differently and thinks it is in case anyone came searching one day. The ring does not fit on Jonathan’s little finger and Alex’s grandfather says how it is time to leave. Before they go, Alex asks her name and she says it is Lista. She then asks if the war is over and before she can finish what she is saying Alex’s grandfather takes her hand and kisses her on the lips. She turns to the house and says she must go back in and care for her baby. She says it is missing her.
Analysis – Chapter Eighteen, ‘What We Saw When We Saw Trachimbrod’ or ‘Falling in Love’
This is a central chapter as it explains a number of events that have been led up to through the journey of the two narrators. The identity of the woman is revealed gradually and by the end we are informed that she is Lista, from Trachimbrod, and believes she has a baby to care for. It is apparent at this point at the end of the chapter that the sister she has been referring to (whose baby was killed) is her and living in this home is a way of coping with the survivor’s guilt she still experiences.
Her narrative of the events when her father was forced to spit on the Torah captures in miniature the humiliating and murderous methodology that lay behind Nazi rule. It also depicts the deep-seated anti-semitism that fuelled the decision for the so-called Final Solution (Endlösung).