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The Autobiography of Imo Moszkowicz, Der grauende Morgen (1998)

 a  “There was Duvidl Goldstajn, he was a tailor from Łódż, who had survived the stone quarry at Sachsenhausen. Every time we met—after all that—we pushed the panicky situations out of our conversations. About Jewishness, which had molded him in his ghetto childhood, there was not a word;—just don’t allow what was lost to come close, go easy on your soul! His Yiddish always sounded especially like the Yiddish of Łódż when he told about events that were both comical and dangerous. Even when he talked about the time he was made to bend over the sawhorse to get forty lashes on his backside and the camp Kapo’s whip shredded in the process, he convulsed with laughter at the misfortune of this accomplice. No, Duvidl wasn’t crazy, he was always looking for the humorous side of life, in order to come closer to understanding the present.”

(Imo Moszkowicz: Der grauende Morgen. Eine Autobiographie. (Munich: Knaur, 1998), p. 27. (Transl. KL))
 b  “It became clear to me that we were treated like beings that essentially are already dead. And the people who tormented us, seeking to prolong their own breathing time by compliance, dealt with this reality without any regard for fellow human beings. Anyone who was seized by great despair quickly lost his personality. Continuing to breathe was only a delay, a respite without clemency. For the guards on the towers, the policing Unterscharführer in the fenced-in camp, it was quite clear that everything that crept there—that even functioned as their extended arm, with the privileges of Kapos and block elders—might cease to exist in the next few hours. Whether the obliteration of these vegetating creatures took place today or in the near future no longer required a decision: Death was a foregone conlusion, and postponement had nothing to do with what generally is known as life. Ergo, any human reactions that arose were an irksome waste of time. The system of killing had developed its own methods, which seemed to function of their own accord. A perpetuum mortale? The people in uniform barely had to get their hands dirty, their victims took care of almost everything on their own. That produced a morality that had nothing in common with the morals with which the world tries to bring itself into line. Concepts like outrage, protest, dissent, insubordination, discussions about the situation—of the sort that determine our life today—were not called for, were unthinkable. The fatalism that affected almost every one of us served as death’s helping hand. Were we people who had been forgotten by the world?”
(Imo Moszkowicz: Der grauende Morgen. Eine Autobiographie (Munich: Knaur, 1998), pp. 111–112. (Transl. KL))
 c  “I looked for the platform for Wuppertal. Just board the train quickly and leave this horrible town that insists on reminding me of so much that is past. There, over there is Platform 1. From there my mother and siblings were taken to an extermination camp. It was a completely normal passenger train, stuffed full of Jews from Essen, accompanied by a force of 55 police armed with fixed bayonets. The pain of parting tore from the body of my weeping mother a long-drawn-out cry that went through the whole train station like a shrill, nerve-racking note on an overstretched violin string. Suspecting that she would never see her children again, she took leave of us who were left behind because we were doing war-related work. That cry is burned into my brain, and the ungodly fear associated with it haunts me even in my most contented hours. I hear it always, all the time, this long-drawn-out cry of my mother’s, this primal scream full of her premonition of death. I also keep seeing the situation linked with it, which besides the danger also had something ineffably comical about it: Before the eyes of their helpless prisoners, the guards, at a loud command, cocked their rifles. What a narrow-minded, machismo-driven demonstration of power, what excess, perpetrated there against totally helpless people! If only I could have guessed then how they would look on May 10, 1945! The way I saw them in Reichenberg, which now is called Liberec again, right after my liberation, captured by the Russians: filthy, sagging, pants soiled; everything, all of it, would have been more bearable. Next to the snappy uniforms with the gleaming belts and the precision of the marching men, we inevitably seemed like something shoddy; like something that gave the guards the dangerous feeling of lordliness. Thinking of themselves as better made them so dangerous, so ambitious. Or did this arrogance just stem from an idiotic inferiority complex? In the proximity of Junker-like German chauvinism, it’s insolent irony that they call us Jews ‘the chosen people.’”
(Imo Moszkowicz: Der grauende Morgen. Eine Autobiographie (Munich: Knaur, 1998), pp. 48–49. (Transl. KL))
 d  After liberation in Liberec: “While I waited, dusk had almost fallen, and I thought that I probably couldn’t be completely out of place over where the Dutch had lined up. As I understand Plattdütsch, I certainly understand their language, and besides, Westphalia borders on Holland; ergo the general direction in which I now was drawn was the right one. I had made a decision of my own, weighing the associated consequences, which no longer could be dangerous to me. Slowly it became clear to me that I now was in a state of inviolability that had something to do with being free. I felt like an animal that suddenly was no longer surrounded by bars and no longer has to feel the trainer’s whip. I padded through this world on a sunny day, enjoyed its warmth, breathing deeply. Was that freedom? For the moment, I couldn’t subdue my feelings, since I had spent the last few days in a twillight state, not perceiving my surroundings. And this numbness stayed with me for a long time, pierced again and again by the wish to identify what was really wrong with me. Why wasn’t I rejoicing? Why wasn’t I jumping in the air, taking off like a freed bird? To this day I don’t have the answer. I only knew that I was alone and no longer had anything to cling to.”
(Imo Moszkowicz: Der grauende Morgen. Eine Autobiographie (Munich: Knaur, 1998), p. 196. (Transl. KL))

Imo Moszkowicz came to the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp in 1942, at the age of 17. More than 50 years later, in his autobiography, he speaks of the eternally recurring past, which can never be silenced completely. Rather than giving a historical, chronological account, he uses his own associations and feelings as the points of departure for the text and thus grants the reader a highly personal, informal access to his memories and his handling of them. This sense of closeness is produced by the perspective of the narrator as he recalls his past: During his life as an actor and director in the postwar period, he was “addicted to this being able to forget”[1] without being able to escape from what he had undergone. The grief he had experienced, his mother’s agonized cry, filled with the premonition of death, as well the smirking faces of the citizens of Essen who watched the deportation, make all the postwar theater’s attempts to depict suffering seem ludicrous at best. An actor who bursts into real tears because of a character’s scream, he asserts, is only a signal of representation, which can never truly serve as a model of reality. In train stations, he is tormented by the memories.


The text follows an order that protects the author from the unbearable by repeatedly making the post-liberation period and the present into a textual component and thus keeping the view of his memories open to positive elements. The use of various levels of language gives the reader a complex access to the content of the text, as what is subjectively felt is usually expressed metaphorically, hence with a great deal of imagery, while a simple style and colloquial words are used whenever existence in the camp and the behavior of the SS block a more complex mode of expression.


Long before his deportation to the camp, Imo Moszkowicz felt what it meant to be subjected to a “will of the people” that “reveled in” his own disgraceful situation “with the grimace of hatred.”[2] A childhood in which the question of “Why?” began to emerge. Questions that repeatedly erupted anew in the camp without allowing him to find a real answer, well aware how absurd the question was in this place. “Why? Was I different from other children? Were my parents, my six brothers and sisters, the members of the Jewish community, criminals? What had they done? Murdered Christ, not wanted Hitler?”[3] To this very day, Imo Moszkowicz has been unable to find an answer; all he is left with is the realization that he can “identify hatred as an all-destroying principle and […] that only a life without hatred is real life.”[4]  a 


Life in the camp is depicted as a reprieve without clemency. “Death had been irrevocably decided upon, and the delay no longer had anything to do with what is commonly known as life.”[5]  b  After they put on uniforms, had their bodies shaved all over, and were tattooed with numbers bestowing new identities, no trace remained of the people the present inmates had been even during their deportation. “Degraded to the point of ridiculousness, robbed of all human dignity, we stood freezing in the mud in front of the shower room.”[6] In the “gigantic death row” of Auschwitz, the young Moszkowicz loses his God and his “Jewishness” in the midst of “electrically charged fences and loaded rifles at the ready, with bayonets fixed.”[7] “For ever and ever.”[8]  c 


Liberation is only a physical event for Imo Moszkowicz, for “[t]he feeling of being free failed to appear, instead there was a kind of fear, dictated by a strange feeling of suddenly being abandoned.”[9] When he sees the wretched procession of stooped and humiliated prisoners of war, like “primitive scarecrows,” moving through the liberated city of Liberec, he is unable to feel a desire for revenge; he “sensed the prisoners’ despair” and  “felt nauseated.”[10]  f 


When trying to remember the time before he came to Auschwitz, his memory begins to balk. His subconscious goes into protective mode, signals to him that he “should not try to look truth in its sneering, hideous face.”[11] The truth is that his family was murdered. That there is no divine vengeance for what has occurred, that the “pale-faced Angel of Death,”[12] Unterscharführer Sommer, now a paralytic who has attempted suicide, experiences in the courtroom a humanity that did not exist in the courtrooms of Nazi Germany. The truth that is so unbearable that he does not testify in the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, unable to bear the psychological stress, as he wrote in a letter to the public prosecutor’s office.

(LG; transl. KL)


Moszkowicz, Imo: Der grauende Morgen Eine Autobiographie. Munich: Knaur, 1998.

[1] Imo Moszkowicz: Der grauende Morgen Eine Autobiographie [Gray Dawn. An Autobiography] (Munich: Knaur, 1998), p. 16. (Translated by KL)

[2] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 18.

[3] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 18.

[4] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 18.

[5] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 112.

[6] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 110.

[7] Moszkowicz: Morgen, pp. 194–195.

[8] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 195.

[9] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 188.

[10] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 189.

[11] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 192.

[12] Moszkowicz: Morgen, p. 14.