These are the opening words of The Final Journey by German author Gudrun Pausewang. This is a harrowing fictional account of the journey of a young Jewish girl from innocence to knowledge, from home to Auschwitz, from life to death. Except for brief interludes, the entire novel takes place inside this cattle car on a train bound for Auschwitz. The grim story is told from the perspective of eleven year old Alice who has been sheltered by her grandparents and, in the beginning, really has no understanding of the dire position of the Jews in Europe. On the train with only her grandfather, Alice interacts with all of the different people in the train car who initially only have the Jewish star in common. They come to share hunger, thirst, intimacies, and death. Gradually Alice begins to understand that she has been lied to by her grandparents and lashes out at her grandfather, who dies shortly thereafter. A child is born in the train car, almost certainly to die very soon. Still Alice is hopeful, even as she arrives at the gates of Auschwitz and is led to the "showers".
The train was still standing in the afternoon sun. "This is murder!" shouted a man's voice from the neighbourhing truck. Alice's eyes opened with shock. "And God lets it happen!" screamed a woman. "What have we done? Just lived our lives like everyone else!" "Those people outside see the trains passing and no one does anything about it," moaned the woman. "Saw nothing, heard nothing." (p. 48)
I have wondered about just this scenario over my years of reading Holocaust materials. How many people saw the events taking place, but for whatever reason felt incapable of action? I know there were many who agreed with Hitler's assessment of the Jews, but there were also people who opposed the treatment of fellow human beings. There are records showing that at times people would throw bread to the people in the cattle cars. But, sadly, there are also reports of people jeering at the Jews.
TITLE: The Final Journey
AUTHOR: Gudrun Pausewang
TRANSLATOR: Patricia Crampton
COPYRIGHT: 1996, original in German 1992
TYPE: Holocaust fiction
RECOMMEND: I found this to be one of the most difficult books I have ever read - only because I knew that the end would not be good. I am not sure I had ever really considered how difficult the journey.