Book Review: Medallions by Zofia Nalkowska

Book Review: Medallions by Zofia Nalkowska

Medallions by a Polish novelist and essayist, Zofia Nalkowska (1884 – 1954) 

Medallions is considered the masterpiece in the world Holocaust literature, deeply influences by Nalkowska’s experience as a member of the Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes which was established in 1945. During that time, she visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka and many other sites of mass killing and extermination. She conducted many interviews, listened to survivors’ and eyewitnesses’ testimonies recorded just a few months after the end of the war in 1945. Nalkowska was profoundly affected by her work as a member of the Commission. 

Medallions consists of eight short reportages in which survivors, eyewitnesses speak for themselves. There is no mythologisation of the victims: they are neither the heroes, nor the martyrs.  In her writing, Nalkowska managed to preserve a deeply personal character of individual experiences. Nalkowska’s style is concise, somewhat laconic, almost economical. The most striking aspect of her reportages is the description of silences where the words are simply too weak to relate the experiences of the protagonists. She records the survivors’ intonations, gestures, postures, emotions of shame, fear, shock as they struggle to relate the atrocities they witnessed.  Nalkowska is aware that much of their experiences is left unspoken as there are no words to describe it. 

Medallions is not merely a record of one of the darkest chapters in the human history; it is also an incomparable portrayal of the human suffering as nothing else that I have read before.  

Continue reading “Book Review: Medallions by Zofia Nalkowska”