Erich Maria REMARQUE…Der Funke Leben…   Leave a comment


Der Funke Leben
[Spark of Life ]

Domain: Literature. Genre: Novel. Country: Germany, Continental Europe.

Erich Maria Remarque

Article contributed by

Hans Wagener, University of California, Los Angeles

Der Funke Leben [Spark of Life] was first published in 1952 in English translation [transl. James Stern. New York: Appleton, Century] and half a year later in the German original. In this novel Remarque tells the story of a group of inmates of a concentration camp located outside a fictitious city called Mellern. The camp he describes is not an extermination camp but a labor camp which to a large extent is modeled on the actual concentration camp at Buchenwald, near Weimar. Although told in the third person, Remarque focuses on the fate of “Skeleton 509”, or simply 509, a former journalist who later reveals his name as Friedrich Koller. Under torture Koller refused to divulge the names of persons sought by the Gestapo, and so he was sent to the camp twelve years ago. A younger inmate, Josef Bucher, was sent to the camp because his father was the editor of a Social Democratic newspaper. Bucher is friendly with Ruth Holland in the women’s camp and, although not really a love story, the story of their relationship runs through the entire novel. Other important figures are Ephraim Berger, a doctor of medicine, who works in the crematorium, old Ahasver, a seventy-year-old survivor of many camps, Leo Lebenthal, a businessman who uses his business sense to secure extra food for the group, and an eleven-year-old Czech boy, Karel, whose parents were killed in the gas chambers. These inmates are all political prisoners, and are already too weak for forced labor. They are allowed to spend their days in the Small Camp unit, an enclosed area where those inmates are imprisoned who are too weak to work. Most of them usually die within a few weeks. However, 509 and his friends still have the will to survive. When the city of Mellern is bombed and the end seems near, 509 realizes that the regime that has been in control for such a long time, is vulnerable after all and a spark of life flares up within him. The SS guards seem more lenient as the inmates’ will to survive becomes stronger: 509 and Bucher are not killed after they have refused to “volunteer” for the medical experiments of Surgeon Major Wiese. Instead they establish contact with the communist underground movement of the camp, hide endangered inmates from the main camp, and later even obtain weapons. When the American troops approach, the SS set the barracks on fire and shoot the prisoners who try to escape from the flames. The group fights back: Koller, although fatally wounded, manages to kill Anton Weber, the sadistic SS camp leader. In the last, symbolic confrontation Koller looks his torturer in the eyes and then dies, victorious over his enemy. Finally, the American tanks arrive, and the camp is liberated. The survivors are properly cared for and set free.

At the end of the novel there is hope: The final pages describe the survival of Bucher and Ruth Holland as they leave the camp together to start a new life…


Posted 28 ianuarie 2009 by Andrei D.MITUCA in Uncategorized

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