Ida Fink

Israeli writer (1921-2011)

Ida Fink (Hebrew: אידה פינק‎, 1 November 1921 – 27 September 2011) was a Polish-born Holocaust survivor and author who moved to Israel in 1957. She wrote stories in Polish that are set during the Holocaust.

Ida Fink in 1985



Traces: Stories (1997)


translated into English by Francine Prose and Philip Boehm

  • Once again it was quiet, too quiet after what had happened. ("The End")
  • She went back into the room and carefully locked the door to the balcony, as if she could lock out all the evil events of the night. ("The End")
  • She watched him lying there, defenseless as a child and, like a child, unconscious of the evil that had been unleashed. ("The End")
  • The death of Tsaritsa would have remained one of a million anonymous deaths were it not for the fact that it happened on a beautiful, mild day. (I've only imagined that the day was mild; much of what I'm going to say-but only the details, not the event itself-is the product of my imagination.) It happened in the very early evening, when the trees cast long shadows and the air was saturated with a light blue haze that was growing deeper and darker by the minute, although it was still long before nightfall. Tsaritsa's death happened at just the hour best suited for strolling, the hour that lures people onto the streets after a hard day's work. (first lines of "The Death of Tsaritsa")
  • Julia emerged from her reverie and repeated: "By then it was too late." She asked whether I remembered Emanuel, who had escaped from Lodz and wound up staying in the ghetto. Because when she said "it was too late," she was thinking of him. Then she said one more sentence (which she didn't finish) about sudden love in the dying ghetto, powerful and tender, torn from life, the love that Eugenia...I didn't ask any more questions. ("Eugenia")
  • Sabina was tall and thin, with a startled expression, as if she knew in advance that the world and its inhabitants had nothing good in store for her. (first lines of "Sabina Under the Sacks")

"Cheerful Zofia"

  • She went for so long without talking that silence became a habit.
  • Finally she says, "What I remember best is the silence. But you can't talk about silence. Silence is the opposite of talk," she explains.
  • She says, "Other people suffered so much.... But no one beat or tortured me.... I never saw a German.... But still it's as if they killed me. Because I'm not the same person. My name, my date of birth-they're not mine. The doctor said it's shock. I don't know what happened before then, or what I was like. So it's as if I didn't exist."
  • Tiny drops of moisture bead up on her forehead. She wipes them off with the back of her hand and with this gesture seems to wipe away the thoughts that torment her, because once again she smiles and says, "Did you ever see someone who was killed in the war but who is still alive?"


  • Because many places that year had posted signs that said NO DOGS OR JEWS ALLOWED, the only amusements left were strolls along the river that flowed through the clean, Germanized town.
  • September came, and with it the war; the radio spoke a strange new language of exhortations and abbreviations.
  • June turned into July; the linden trees perfumed the air; the frogs croaked in the river; the dogs bayed at the moon; the nights were bright and sleepless. The white posters demanded tribute. The Jews gathered gold and silver, coffee and tea, and money, money. The Landrat insisted on silver tableware and valuable china. From nearby towns came news of gold and silver, of coffee and tea and money, money. Gold and silver, coffee and tea, were supposed to buy peace and quiet in the town, peace that was not peace, quiet that was not quiet. "People are naive," Szymon shouted, "whoever believes them is naive. This is only the prelude," he shouted, "only the beginning." He did not say what it was the beginning of. He didn't have to.

The Journey (1990)


Translated from the Polish by Joanna Weschler and Francine Prose (1992)

  • Standing by the window, she thought: If only a star would fall. She was superstitious; in those days everyone was superstitious, each in a secret, private way. She had a great many personal superstitions, but shooting stars weren't among them--to wish on a shooting star would have seemed too romantic, too impossible. Nevertheless, that evening she thought: If only a star would fall—even though it was already late autumn, and everybody knows that stars fall only in summer. Still, she kept her eyes stubbornly fixed on the heavens and suddenly saw a flash of light on the horizon: some careless person had turned on a lamp without first covering the window. This flash in the darkness was not the star she was waiting for, but it could have been, and she took it as a good omen. (first lines)
  • None of us had actually been thinking about a journey at the moment when it really began; and yet that moment was accompanied by the hollow rumbling of wheels and the whistle of a locomotive piercing the silence of the night. (p5)
  • Sometimes even I would return from work, open the door, and feel as if I were seeing a stage on which the last act of a play was about to begin at any moment. (p18)
  • I heard the gentle click of Aunt Julia's knitting needles. No one knew what she was knitting, but we all knew why. (p18)
  • The car was silent. But just as we reached the door, came the first whispers: "Jews. They caught some Jews." (p29)
  • It's hard to reconstruct those days, to push through the nebulous expanses of memory. The fog thickens and thins, the picture blurs and clears. All the bits and pieces must be assembled into one continuous whole, and the task is difficult, and, above all, painful. (p33)
  • It suddenly seemed to me that the further away we got from Poland, the more complicated everything became-nothing was getting easier. We were dragging along all the obstacles we had overcome, and they were spawning new ones, and no sooner did we overcome these than they gave birth to even more. I looked at the young, pink-faced woman, and I could hear her musical, childlike laughter, and her voice, saying, "The important thing is to find a boyfriend." Would she give us away? (p66)
  • How can I explain what happened in the weeks that followed? At the time, we blamed it on the stupidity of the girls who were involved. Possibly they didn't realize that they were passing sentence on us-sealing our doom. Their behavior on the final day would seem to suggest as much. Possibly they weren't evil. But a blind hatred was deeply rooted in all of them, and neither words nor kindness could penetrate that dark jungle of primitive instinct. (p84-5)
  • the seemingly quiet days were in fact full of anxiety and insecurity. We were walking on shaky ground, mined with guesses and speculations. We dissected every fragment of every sentence, every look, every smile; we studied them, as if under a magnifying glass-and we waited. In those early days we felt a growing sense of siege. We wondered: What next? (p87)
  • After he left, no one laughed out loud anymore. Quiet snickering, muffled by blankets, rippled through the room. And those laughing whispers frightened us more than the hysterical screams. (p93)
  • The only things we didn't discuss were the things that mattered most. Those we circled around, avoided, pushed away. (p135)
  • That was the Sunday when, as Anna and I parted at the train station, Walenty said the words I never forgot: "Why is she hugging and kissing you as if you two were never going to see each other again?" (p166)
  • For the first time, I decided to break our most sacred rules, to let someone in on our secret. Perhaps I was too weak to bear one more blow alone. (p173)
  • If the police didn't show up before then. Always that little word: if. (p178)
  • The days were filled with a kind of double waiting: waiting for news of Jadwiga and waiting for the police. I made myself get through the time, as if I were trudging through a snow drift: step by step, hour by hour, not a moment of rest from the hard labor of waiting, except perhaps at night. (p184)
  • I recall one image from those days of difficult waiting: the train in the meadow. It was on a day when a thunderstorm was brewing. Under the black, rain-swollen clouds we were raking hay in the fields. A long, serpentine train slithered through the meadow. Watching it disappear from sight, I felt—very clearly, very palpably--the proximity of danger and the futility of my desperate scrambling, my frantic efforts to break out of this closed circle. It was as if a metal band was suddenly squeezing my ribs. The world went quiet and dark. A thick, heavy silence fell. I dropped my rake on the ground, loosened my blouse. I was gasping for breath. (p185)
  • Ruhe? The city whose name promised serenity greeted us with ominous banners: countless swastikas fluttered above the station square. This treacherous city was celebrating some sinister holiday. We should have left immediately, but we walked defiantly through the square, the black twisted crosses above our heads. (p222)
  • Later she used to say: The place where everything almost ended. She meant the long, gray stone building on the circular plaza planted with trees. But why that place? After all, there were other places equally, if not more deserving of that description. And yet, thirty years later, it was that place she went to see, only that one place. (p226)
  • In the evening, in my spacious attic room, I wrote, "Will I find peace here? Peace. I yearn for peace." Out of habit, I hid the sheet of paper under the mattress, where it stayed, blank, except for that one line of fine handwriting at the top. (p228)
  • Less and less often we used the word "if"; more and more often we simply said "when," and wondered whether we would ever be like we used to be. Our fear of being found out or recognized had not gone away. It had only dug itself in deeper and was taking a little nap. Sometimes this fear would awaken suddenly and mistake a salesman for a secret policeman-like the cattle merchant who spoke to the baker behind closed doors. It would awaken suddenly and then fall back asleep. The more time passed, the deeper it slept. But even toward the end, after the British occupied the Ruhr Valley, when our fear should have disappeared completely-even then remnants of it still remained within us. They lingered in us until the very end, until that day-still far off-when two armored cars from General de Gaulle's army drove through the village, and Gottfried, the local party leader, climbed onto the roof of his house and jammed a flagpole into a crevice between the roof tiles-a flagpole with a white sheet attached. (p231-2)
  • Again we thought, let us survive-but now we were talking about the bombs and the rattling guns. (p237)
  • Our fate suddenly came to a halt and hung there for a moment, suspended over the abyss it had been racing toward, hung there for a few minutes (five? six?) and then, just as suddenly, turned...This was why I had come here, just for that moment at the crossroads, that sudden turn, that circus trick performed by our fate. (p248-9)

Translated from Polish by Francine Prose and Madeline G. Levine

  • They were saying that we had eaten up all our fruit while it was still green, and that we were right to do so, because who knows what would happen to us by winter. What they were saying was absolutely true. ("The Garden that Floated Away")
  • Father called us to his office, to the animated Mrs. Kasinska, who, once the price was agreed on, promised to make Kennkarten for us so we could be saved, so we would not be killed. ("The Garden that Floated Away")
  • It was then-the old men of our town were already on their way and were passing their homes and the children and grandchildren hidden behind their windows-it was then that the door of one of those houses opened and we saw a woman running across the marketplace. She was thin, covered with a shawl, carrying her huge pregnant belly in front of her. She ran after those who were walking away, her hand raised in a gesture of farewell, and we heard her voice. She was shouting, "Zei gezint, Tate! Tate, zei gezint!" And then all of us hidden in the darkness began to repeat, "Zeit gezint," bidding farewell with those words to our loved ones who were walking to their deaths. ("*****")
  • The moment when the silhouette of an SS-man appeared in the pointed arch of the pigsty and his hand carelessly brushed the apple tree, dried by the summer heat-that moment gave us a taste of suspension in that limbo between life and death. ("A Dog")
  • It was silent in the forest. There were no birds, but the smell of the trees and flowers was magnificent. We couldn't hear anything. There was nothing to hear. The silence was horrifying because we knew that there was shooting going on and people screaming and crying, that it was a slaughterhouse out there. But here there were bluebells, hazelwood, daisies, and other flowers, very pretty, very colorful. That was what was so horrifying-just as horrifying as waiting for the thundering of the train, as horrifying as wondering whom they had taken. ("Jean-Christophe")
  • The girl who had been crying was now sobbing louder; all of us were aware that every passing minute brought the train's thunder nearer, that any moment now we would hear death riding down the tracks. One girl cried "Mama!" and then other voices cried "Mama!" because there was an echo in the woods. ("Jean-Christophe")
  • And what will you say when they ask you about your parents?" "Mama's at work." "And Papa?" He was silent. "And Papa?" the man screamed in terror. The child turned pale. "And Papa?" the man repeated more calmly. "He's dead," the child answered and threw himself at his father, who was standing right beside him, blinking his eyes in that funny way, but who was already long dead to the people who would really ring the bell. ("The Key Game")
  • ...everybody thinks I'm crazy, but I'm not. I know-every crazy person says that, but really, there's nothing wrong with my head. If only God would make me crazy! It's my heart that's sick, not my head, and there's no cure for that. ("Crazy")
  • It was near the end. They had already shot my sons and my husband. I remember that people were saying, 'How can she do it? Why should she save herself? For whom?' But you know, the life force has such strong roots, you can't tear it out. Even after those we love most have died. But you are young, what do you know about that? ("The Other Shore")
  • One pebble had fallen; I awaited the avalanche. ("The Other Shore")
  • There are thoughts that wither under the gaze of others, that are wounded by the breath of others, that the slightest disruption destroys. ("The Other Shore")
  • "I always wanted to paint. Always, before the war, that is. But I was thirteen then." ("Splinter")
  • Again she reaches for the photograph, raises it to her nearsighted eyes, looks at it for a long time, and says, "You can still see the traces of footprints." And a moment later, "That's very strange." That's the direction they walked in. From the Judenrat down Miesna Street. She looks at the footprints, the snow, and the stalls once again. "I wonder who photographed it? And when? Probably right afterwards: the footprints are clear here, but when they shot them in the afternoon it was snowing again." The people are gone-their footprints remain. Very strange. "They didn't take them straight to the fields, but first to the Gestapo. No one knows why, apparently those were the orders. They stood in the courtyard until the children were brought." She breaks off: "I prefer not to remember..." But suddenly she changes her mind and asks that what she is going to say be written down and preserved forever, because she wants a trace to remain. "What children? What trace?" A trace of those children. And only she can leave that trace, because she alone survived. So she will tell about the children who were hidden in the attic of the Judenrat, which was strictly forbidden under pain of death, because children no longer had the right to live. There were eight of them, the oldest might have been seven or so, although no one knew for sure, because when they brought them over they didn't look at all like children, only like...ach...The first tears, instantly restrained. They heard the rumbling, a horse cart drove up to the yard, and on it were the children. They were sitting on straw, one beside the other. They looked like little gray mice. The SS-man who brought them jumped down from the cart, and said kindly, "Well, dear children, now each of you go and run to your parents." But none of the children moved. They sat there motionless and looked straight ahead. Then the SS-man took the first child and said, "Show me your mother and father." But the child was silent. So he took the other children one by one and shouted at them to point out their parents, but they were all silent. "So I wanted some trace of them to be left behind." ("Traces")

"A Scrap of Time"

  • Only the end of the war brought us the truth about his last hours. The peasant who delivered the note did not dare to tell us what he saw, and although other people, too, muttered something about what they had seen, no one dared to believe it, especially since the Germans offered proofs of another truth that each of us grasped at greedily; they measured out doses of it sparingly, with restraint a perfect cover-up. They went to such trouble, created so many phantoms, that only time, time measured not in months and years, opened our eyes and convinced us.
  • There was the square, thick with people as on a market day, only different, because a market-day crowd is colorful and loud, with chickens clucking, geese honking, and people talking and bargaining. This crowd was silent. In a way it resembled a rally-but it was different from that, too. I don't know what it was exactly. I only know that we suddenly stopped and my sister began to tremble, and then I caught the trembling
  • This time was measured not in months but in a word-we no longer said "in the beautiful month of May," but "after the first 'action,' or the second, or "right before the third."
  • He had that horrifying clarity of vision that comes just before death.
  • He stood between a lawyer's apprentice and a student of architecture and to the question, "Profession?" he replied, "Teacher," although he had been a teacher for only a short time and quite by chance. His neighbor on the right also told the truth, but the architecture student lied, declaring himself a carpenter, and this lie saved his life—or, to be more precise, postponed the sentence of death for two years.
  • What our cousin experienced, locked up in that room, will remain forever a mystery.
  • Once again, after the second action, a postcard turned up. It was written in pencil and almost indecipherable. After this postcard, we said, "They're done for." But rumors told a different story altogether-of soggy earth in the woods by the village of Lubianki, and of a bloodstained handkerchief that had been found. These rumors came from nowhere; no eyewitnesses stepped forward.
  • The execution itself did not take long; more time was spent on the preparatory digging of the grave.

"The Pig"

  • Each day and night of those weeks could fill a book, if only the pen could take on this burden of despair and helpless loneliness.
  • The man made a small chink for himself in the outside wall of the barn; through this chink he could keep an eye on a scrap of the world: the meadow in front of the peasant's fenced-in yard and a strip of road.
  • That day he was awakened by the sound of motors. It was gray outside and he couldn't see very much. But he knew it was the sound of trucks driving from T----- to the town. He recognized the big trucks by their heavy rumbling. He dropped onto the floorboards and after a while he could no longer hear the rumbling diesel engines, his heart was beating so loudly. He knew what they signified; he thought about how the last time, when he was still in the town, twenty trucks packed solid had driven out of there. "They're coming back for the rest of the living," he whispered to himself, "for the rest of the living."


  • time brought all of us something quite different than what our childhoods promised.
  • Some questions should not even be thought. The facts alone suffice.
  • at the time, even eighteen-year-olds were nostalgic for the past.
  • She had already begun to resemble her mother, and would surely have relived her mother's life-a fine home in a small town, pretty children, pretty dresses, the annual trip to a health resort-if the sentence of time hadn't made tragic heroes even of those least suited to play the part.

Quotes about

  • Ida Fink's work seems to me one of the best answers offered to the question of how the artist can confront the Holocaust. The delicate motions of consciousness are traced, in all their glorious subtlety, while the unspeakable forces of massed brutality come bearing down. Only a writer of the first rank could bring this off, and the world is lucky to have her.
  • Her subtle and nuanced writing brings memory and imagination to bear on a traumatic past...In all of Fink’s work, the seemingly insignificant detail opens up a profound look at complexities of experience, memory, and motivation. As Fink excavates what she terms “the ruins of memory,” she brings to the forefront the act of memory itself, and the complicated relationship linking memory, imagination, and language. Fragments of the past that resurface in the present, Fink’s writing offers an unflinching and insightful look at wartime experiences and post-war memories. By turns poignant and tender, grim and sardonic, Fink’s lean and unsentimental prose conveys the profound and lasting effects of the Holocaust.
  • Ida Fink's haunting stories-brief and unforgettable-lead us gently into the harrowing ordinariness of wartime Jewish Poland. Through the disturbing, painterly quiet of her art we see them live again, all those doomed, preoccupied, idiosyncratic friends, families, and lovers. Traces confirms it: Ida Fink is the Chekhov of the martyred.
  • I can think of no other writer on this subject who has domesticated it in quite the way Ida Fink has, conveying the banality of evil through ordinary details the smell of kasha cooking on a stove, mosquitoes buzzing, sunlight playing on water-and then suddenly, quietly, suffusing that banality with the taste of blood.
  • Ida Fink...was a master at infusing moments and gestures with the looming violence and death of the Holocaust...Fink worked on a small canvas but managed within the confines of few words to remind us how quickly life can forever move into the abyss.
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