I am staring at a man’s watch. It is a Longines, stainless steel and rectangular, with the second hand in an inserted square just above the 6. Next to it sits a little yellow and white gold ring with a tiny diamond, surrounded by even tinier ones. These pieces of jewellery are of their time – arte deco – made in the 1920s and thirties. They came to me from my now dead parents, but their provenance is dark indeed. These two objects came from their original owners as they were walking to their deaths, and I wear them as a constant reminder of death – my own, my parents’, my uncles’, cousins’, grandparents’ and that of all those whose lives were ended in that terrible spree of factory-like destruction in the lager of the Second World War. These objects did not come from my own family – unless there is an ancient god sitting on Olympus laughing at the tragedy that twentieth-century humans wrought – but they did come from the bodies of my own direct antecedents. As far as I know, these two objects came from ‘Kanada’, the work detail that sorted all the goods and finery, the spectacles, dentures and false limbs, the toys and suitcases that came with their owners on the cattle cars to the immense factory of death in the south of Poland near the little town of Oswiecim, now known universally as Auschwitz.
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