Hilda's second letter

My dear Mirjana,

I'm writing to you from the idyllic surroundings of a cowshed, lying on straw, while above me, instead of the starry sky, stretches the wooden roof construction of Pavilion No. 3. From my gallery (the third), which consists of a layer of planks and holds three of us and on which we each have an 80 cm. wide living space, I am gazing down on this labyrinth, or rather this ant heap of wretched people whose tragedies are as widespread as those who live not because they think that one day things will be better but because they haven't got the strength to end it all. If indeed that is the case.

Mirjana, my dear, your letter is you yourself - I love it as much as I love you. Your words and sentiments are as beautiful as you are yourself and your compassion as great as everything else that is specifically yours. Don't admire someone just because they get things done quickly. Perhaps some people are more altruistic and less energetic and have more humility than ambition; this makes their deeds, however great, pass unnoticed, while the deeds of others are more obvious because they have been performed quickly and resolutely.

Dear Mirjana, there are now 2,000 women and children here, including nearly a hundred babies for whom we can't boil any milk as there's no fuel and you can imagine what the temperature is towards the top of the pavilion with the Kosheva wind blowing as hard as it does. I'm reading Heine and that does me good, even though the latrine is half a kilometre away and fifteen of us go at the same time, and even though by four o'clock we've only been given a bit of cabbage which has obviously been boiled in water, and even though I have only a little straw to lie on, and there are children everywhere and the light is on all night, and even though they shout 'idiotische Saubande' [stupid bunch of pigs] and so on all the time, and even though they keep on having roll calls and anyone missing these is 'severely punished'. There are walls everywhere. Today I started to work in the surgery, which consists of a table with a few bottles and some gauze, behind which there is just one doctor, one pharmacist and me. There's a lot to do, believe me - with women fainting and goodness knows what else. But in most cases they put up with it all more than heroically. There are very rarely any tears. Especially among the young people. The only thing I really miss is the possibility of washing myself adequately. Another 2,500 people are due to arrive and we only have two wash-basins, meaning two taps. Things will gradually sort themselves out - I have no doubt about that. The hospital will be in another pavilion. They frequently count us, and for the same reason the pavilions are surrounded by barbed wire. I don't regret coming here at all - in fact I'm very satisfied with my decision. If every couple of days I can do as much as I've done these first two, then the whole thing will begin to have some point. I know, in fact I'm absolutely convinced, that all this will pass (which doesn't exclude the possibility that it will last several months) and that it will all end well, and I feel good about this in advance. Every day I meet lots of new people and gain new experience - I get to know people as they really are (there are very few here who put on an act). Many of them are taken in as some sort of 'commanding officers'. Even though I would be up to this, it isn't for me - my ambitions don't point in that direction. My dear Mirjana, you'll still be able to recognize me - I won't change - it is only now that I realize from my presence of mind that I am strong enough not to let external things affect me. All I want is for my parents to be spared all this.

I looked up at your window, my dear, when the truck was driving us to the Exhibition Hall, but I didn't see you. Next time we meet we must make up for everything we haven't done together over this year. Who knows, maybe our separation is so unusual…[illegible]…that I'll discover how much I love you and how attached I am to you, even though I haven't been with you all that often.

My dear Mirjana, stay just as you are - you're a darling and I love you so much,

your Hilda

9. XII 1941