“What you had to have is usually tabulated as follows: luck; the ability to adapt, immediately and radically; a talent for inconspicuousness; solidarity with another individual or with a group; the preservation of decency (‘the people who had no tenets to live by — of whatever nature — generally succumbed’ no matter how ruthlessly they struggled); the constantly nurtured conviction of innocence (an essential repeatedly emphasized by Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago); immunity to despair; and, again, luck.
Having communed with the presences in [Anton] Gill’s book [which chronicles stories of survivors], with their stoicism, eloquence, aphoristic wisdom, humour, poetry, and uniformly high level of perception, one can suggest an additional desideratum. In a conclusive rebuke to the Nazi idea, these ‘subhumans,’ it turns out, were the cream of humankind. And a rich, delicate, and responsive sensibility — how surprising do we find this? — was not a hindrance but a strength. Together with a nearly unanimous rejection of revenge (and a wholly unanimous rejection of forgiveness), the testimonies assembled here have something else in common. There is a shared thread of guilt, the feeling that, while they themselves were saved, someone more deserving, someone ‘better’ was tragically drowned. And this must amount to a magnanimous illusion; with due respect to all, there could have been no one better.”
From the epilogue to Martin Amis’s new novel The Zone of Interest, the closing dedication of which reads:
To those who survived and to those who did not; to the memory of Primo Levi and to the memory of Paul Celan; and to the countless significant Jews and quarter-Jews and half-Jews in my past and present, particularly my mother-in-law, Elizabeth, my younger daughters, Fernanda and Clio, and my wife, Isabel Fonseca.
Strikingly, this moving statement echoes almost exactly the words of M.A.’s closest friend, Christopher Hitchens, who remarked,
I once wrote that anyone who wanted to defame the Jewish people would, if they were doing so, be defaming my wife, my mother, my mother- and father-in-law, and my daughters, and so I didn’t think I really had to say anything for myself.
But I did add that in whatever tone of voice the question was put to me — whether it was friendly or hostile — Was I Jewish? I would always answer yes. Denial in my family would end with me.