Hilda's fourth letter

My dear,

I could never have imagined that our meeting, even though I was expecting it, would arouse in me such a flurry of emotion and create even more unrest in my already frenzied soul which simply won't calm down. All philosophizing ends at the barbed-wire fence, and reality, which, far away on the other side you can't even imagine or else you would howl with pain, faces one in its totality. That reality is unsurpassable, our immense misery; every phrase describing the strength of the soul is dispersed by tears of hunger and cold; all hope of leaving here soon disappears before the monotonous perspective of passive existence which, whatever you compare it with, bears no resemblance to life. It is not even life's irony. It is its profoundest tragedy. We are able to keep going, not because we're strong, but because we are simply not conscious all the time of the eternal misery that surrounds us - everything that makes up our life.

We have been here for almost nine weeks and I am still quite literate - I can still think a little. Every evening, without exception, I read your and Nada's letters and this is the only moment when I am something else, not just a Lagerinsasse [German for female camp intern]. Hard labour is golden compared with this - we don't know why - on what charge - we've been convicted, nor how long we'll be here. Everything in the world is wonderful, even the most miserable existence outside the camp, while this is the incarnation of every evil that exists. We are all becoming evil because we're starving - we're all becoming cynical and count everyone else's mouthfuls - everyone is desperate - but in spite of this, no one kills anyone because we're all just a bunch of animals that I despise. I hate every single one of us because we've all fallen as low as we can go.

We are so near the outside world, yet so far from everyone. We have no contact with anyone; the life of every individual out there carries on as usual, as if half a kilometre away a slaughterhouse containing six thousand innocent people doesn't exist. Both you and we are equal in our cowardice. Enough of everything!

Even so, I'm not the anti-hero you might think I am from what I'm saying. I put up with everything that's happening to me calmly and painlessly. But the people around me. That's what upsets me. It's the people that get on my nerves. Not the hunger that makes you weep, not the cold that freezes the water in your glass and the blood in your veins, nor the stench of the latrines, nor the Kosheva wind - nothing is so repulsive as the crowd of people who deserve to be pitied, but who you are unable to help and can do nothing else than put yourself above them and despise them. Why do all these people talk about nothing else other than what is offending their bellies and all the other organs of their so highly esteemed cadavers. A propos, a couple of days ago we were laying out the dead bodies - there were 27 of them - in the Turkish pavilion, right at the front. I don't find anything repulsive anymore, not even my filthy work. Everything would be possible if only we could know what can never be known - when the gates of compassion will be opened. What do they intend to do with us? We are in a continual state of tension: are they going to shoot us, blow us up, transport us to Poland…? All that is of secondary importance! We just have to get through the present, which is not pleasant in the least - not in the least.

It's now half-past two, I've been on duty in the surgery all night (every fourth night), in the pavilion they're coughing in unison and you can hear the patter of rain on the roof. Here in the surgery the stove is smoking like hell, but, as the saying goes: who doesn't inhale the smoke, isn't warmed by the fire.

This is my most exciting day in the camp. To want something so much and then to get it is more than happiness [this is a reference to the meeting with Mirjana at the inn across the river from the camp]. Perhaps one day we'll get out of here alive into a happier life, because that's what we all desperately, but by now rather anaemically, want. Mirjana, my dear, we are imprisoned slaves, in fact even lower than that - we're not so much wretched as a despised and starving horde, and when from this position one sees a little of life - meaning you - then one senses so many of life's juices that flow through it. Only - yes that eternal only - to wrench oneself away from that life afterwards is so painful and bitter that not even the sea of tears that one sheds can express it. I cry and they all start laughing: How can you, who conducts yourself like a man, allow yourself to cry like a sentimental teenager?!

But what can I do when in the depths of my heart everything is so horrible. That's the refrain I repeat to myself all night. I know there's no hope of our getting out soon, and outside are you and Nada, all that binds me to Belgrade which, by some incomprehensible contradiction, I deeply hate and deeply love at one and the same time. You don't know, just as I didn't know, what it's like to be here. I hope you will never find out. Way back when I was a child I was afraid they would bury me alive. And now this is some sort of vision of death. Will there be some sort of resurrection? I've never thought so much about the two of you as I do now. I continually talk with you and yearn to see you, because to me you are that 'paradise lost'.

Love from your camp inmate