Life and Fate Read Along, Part 2 Chapter 44

This post, covering Part 2, Chapter 44 is part of The Slavic Literature Pod’s chapter a day read along of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. Learn more about our project here.

So we begin one of the hardest sections of this book: the march to the gas chamber. Sofya Levinton’s train — although she is not mentioned in this chapter, Levinton will soon return to the narrative — has finally arrived at its destination. 

As the narrative has already pressed upon us, the train ride itself has already been horrible. Not everyone inside is still alive; and some of those just hanging on will survive long enough to be forced to the gas chamber. 

“Their clothes had changed less than the people themselves,” the narrator tells us. “Coats, jackets and shawls called to mind the houses where they had been put on, the mirror in front of which they had been measured.” (p. 537)

While the SS guards look on, prisoner-workers organize the Jewish arrivals. They speak a mixture of Russian, Polish, Ukrainian — even Yiddish. One woman asks the leader of these men if he himself is a Jew: “Yes, yes, mama, I’m a Jew. Now hurry up!” he responds across several languages. Then, in German this time, he cries out another order.