Passages from “Ricordi della casa dei morti”

[...] We go in, with them, into a large hall where there are the showers. An SS soldier comes in and out. [...] they tell us to hand over our watches and jewellery, and to strip naked. We say nothing, we look sadly at our clothes and remain naked, while the soldier comes and goes. [...] They tell us to line up more or less in alphabetical order, and they begin the sinister ritual of camp initiation with the first of us: they use a stiletto dipped in ink to tattoo a number on her left forearm, with a small triangle under it – the triangle means that she is Jewish and serves to distinguish us from the many non-Jews in the camp, who only have the number. Here too we say nothing, we are horrified and think that we will never leave this strange camp. How can it be possible that the Germans will let people bearing a similar mark of their systems out into the world? Now it is my turn: the tattoo hurts a little; while I receive my number – 75689 – I say the first German phrase that I have learnt “Ich bin Ärtzin”, “I am a doctor”, thinking that this may be of interest, but without much confidence. On the contrary I very soon learn how important it is that I am a doctor: once the tattoo ceremony ends, the first of my companions is made to sit on a stool; a hairdresser stands next to her and cuts her hair off. That poor girl is so terribly surprised that she is unable even to cry, but with immense distress we watch her curls drop one by one, until all that remains is her poor bald head, tragically ridiculous in its nudity. Then she is completely shaved and sprayed with some kind of disinfectant – and at last it is the turn of the next girl. It is the same procedure for all of us; I go last and in deference to my status as a doctor my hair is only cut short, not shaved. The soldier comes and goes, but does not see us as women: we are now only Häftlinge to him. We are distraught, almost all of us are crying: we are naked and it is cold.

(Luciana Nissim, Ricordi della casa dei morti, Ramella, Turin, 1946, p. 25 -26, translated from Italian by Joan Clayton for this website)


Multimedia interactive exhibition
Turin • 27 January | 20 March 2010
Fossoli • 25 April | 11 July 2010
5-20 September 2010
Roma • 12 October | 27 November 2010