Author(s): Peter Matthiessen
In the late autumn of 1996, more than a hundred people gather at the site of a former death camp. Throughout that week, they offer prayer and witness at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform. They eat and sleep in the sparse quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews to their deaths in this single camp. These people are joined by Clements Olin, an American academic of Polish descent, there to complete his research on the strange suicide of a survivor, even as he questions what a non-Jew with no connection to its history can contribute to the understanding of so monstrous a catastrophe. As the days pass, tensions both political and personal surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretence to resolution or healing. Caught in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer's role and to bear witness, not only to his family's ambiguous history but to his own as well.