Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My dear and kind Slavko

I received the letter you sent me on the 7th of February, on this Wednesday, the 16th. I read your lovely letter again and again, and I kiss you dearly. I also received the beautiful packet of liver-sausage, butter etc on the same day. I thank you heartily for the beautiful and kind things. I could not really recognize the liver-sausage when I ate it. Only when I read your letter did I learn what it was. It isn’t a wonder that I haven’t eaten such things for nearly five years now. There is however one thing which annoys me. You received six pieces, out of which you sent me four, and left only two for yourself. It was possible to halve it and have three each for you and me. I will, under no circumstances, have more than you. The peas, lentils and the doughnuts in the first packet were very good and I liked them immensely. From your last letters I could make out that you were slightly cold to me. Perhaps you were annoyed with me. Please don’t be angry. You know that I am not an evil and a bad man. I love only you, and I live only for you. You will understand that once I return. You haven’t written anything about your health; and I am always enthusiastic to know about the relatives. I am sorry that you will lose your best friend Mitenka soon, once she gets married. I hope I will come back home again, and will be a kind friend to you. Will you be one to me? I am very happy that you go often to the theater and the cinema. I have never been to a cinema or a concert myself. Please write to me in details what you do every day. You can describe a day of yours in every letter you write to me. Also write more about mother and father. I am looking forward to your lovely letter from the 13th; to our reconciliation. I kiss you, your dear forehead; I live only for you and remain your sincere burden.
                                                                 Sedlacek Ladislov
                                                                 No. 6517 – Block 20/B
                                                                 K.L. Buchenwald at Weimar
                                                                 Deutsches Reich

My friend, who's trying to build a collection on the Second World War, sent me a link yesterday, wondering if I would translate this letter. It was a letter from an inmate of Buchenwald concentration camp to his wife. It is part of a series of letters written during the Holocaust, and is currently up for auction. I had never translated something serious before; but once I started reading the letter, from a person who'd written it nearly seventy years ago, in a different continent, in a language utterly foreign to me, during a critical phase of his life, I couldn't help, but be moved by it. It is something very intimate and personal, and I feel as if I am prying into one's privacy. Nevertheless, once I had read it several times, and decided to translate it for my friend, I wanted other (sensitive) people to know about it too. The translation leaves much to be desired, and I apologise for having made it sound so prosaic. The original German isn't the least bit so. But if the reader of this post knows German, he/she will agree that what sounds beautiful in German, loses its poetry and vigour when translated verbatim into English. I didn't want to make any changes to the original text during the translation, and nevertheless I hope the reader will be able to imbibe the purity, the sincerity, and the beauty of the emotions shared by these two people. I do not know if Slavko and Sedlacek got reconciled, if Sedlacek survived the Holocaust. I very much hope he did.


  1. i don't have words to express what i am feeling at the moment...when in doubt, i usually dismiss love as an idea promoted by the capitalist society, an idea that needs to be sustained in order to ensure the stability of this structure...but what reinstates my belief in the sanctity of the emotion are certain moments, moments that are powerful enough to contain in themselves the whole meaning of my existence and also its necessity in the great scheme of things...the birth of one such moment happened today when i read your post...love did exist, does and will...thank u Samraghni and Apratim...

  2. And it is often through you, Sayantani, that I am forced to believe in love. When I was reading this letter today, I finally realised, love is not the grand theories and complexities we make of it; the millions of words written on it that we continually quote and misquote; or the songs sung. Love is in the simplest of places -- the letter written by a prisoner to his wife, whom he might never see again, during a war that changed the world; in the rejoicing at the taste of four measly pieces of liver-sausage; in sacrificing one's own share of food for the other. And there is no Herodotus in the humble peas or the lentils...

  3. This is more poignant than any poetry that could be written on "love". I completely agree with you when you say that it is in the most simple acts and expressions that love dwells. Also about the translation- I have read the poems of Gitanjali in English, they do not have the beauty of Bangla. It is hardly anyone's fault. Languages wouldn't have their own identity if they were so interchangeable . What one can do is respect the emotion. You have done that. Emotions go beyond language.

  4. Thanks moo-moo. :)If you click the link, you'll be able to see the real letter, in the real handwriting. As I was reading it, it gave me goose-pimples. It was something so real, so palpable... And thanks for the support regarding the weak translation.