‘Among the Dead’, his devastating testimony of the Holocaust

‘Among the Dead’, his devastating testimony of the Holocaust
‘Among the Dead’, his devastating testimony of the Holocaust

The words may be thrown into the minds of readers Solaris and science fiction when the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006) is mentioned, but his work is dense and varied and also contains a trilogy that is a devastating testimony to the experience of the Holocaust and World War II for millions of human beings. It is the so-called trilogy of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Time not wasted.

Impedimenta has already published the first volume, The Hospital of the Transfiguration and, after this Among the deadthe third of them will also appear, The return. Lem himself vetoed the publication of the second and third books from the 1960s onwards. He justified this by saying that he was unaware of his Jewish condition until the war and that they were sequel novels of which he was not proud, as they were written in the style of the socialist realism that prevailed in Poland at the time. It was not true that he was unaware of his Jewish condition, nor was it true what he said about these works.

In fact, his memory saddened him because, through his characters, recounted his own experience of the Holocaust on Ukrainian territory. Many of his relatives and friends died and he miraculously survived after obtaining an identity as an Armenian medical student. So this Among the dead in Spanish edition represents a worldwide (re)launch of a novel that had remained hidden. The context and precise meaning of the work are masterfully outlined in the prologue by the great expert on Lem, Wojciech Orlinski.

The story is told through the adventures of two main characters: Karol Wilk, a peasant boy, son of a communist worker, who, despite his living conditions and poverty of origin, is a self-taught mathematical genius who works in a mechanical workshop recycling resources and is committed to the resistance against the German occupation. The other is Stefan Trzyniecki, a young doctor who is caught up in a web of confusion for which he pays dearly.

But Among the dead It is above all a story of survival in extreme situationsa network of secondary characters who, in a micro-world of shady dealings and black marketeering, either take advantage of the circumstances or (like the Polish Jewish population) are robbed and stripped of all their belongings and even their lives. Many were the beneficiaries of the deportations of the Jews, who saw a great opportunity to profit. Their hypocrisy: with the Germans “economic collaboration, but not political, at least we can be proud of that.” Obtaining an identity card that would protect against the SS executioners becomes an obsession.

This ‘Among the Dead’ represents a worldwide (re)launch of a hidden novel by Lem

Lem’s writing is pure display of narrative talent and descriptive precision of characters and situations. Also dialogues full of fine reflections about what constitutes the character of a genius or what are the limits of the practical application of communism. Also of the differences between the conception of this ideology that an intellectual who defends it on a theoretical level may have, compared to the necessary and urgent vision with which a worker lives it on a day-to-day basis.

Lem does not write a nice fable with a possible happy ending, he places us squarely before the mechanism of destruction and the danger of making barbarism a habit, in the face of the brutality of mass arrests, or inside those cattle trains that effectively led so many poor unfortunates to extermination. But the miracle of the defence of dignity and of a possible future justice shines through.

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