How Dark the Heavens: Preface

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This material, copyright 1990 by Sidney Iwens, is excerpted from hisprize-winning book “How Dark the Heavens”. This material may not bereprinted or reproduced in any form without the expressed written permission of Sidney Iwens.

You can order your own hardcover copy of “How Dark the Heavens”,autographed by the author, for $21.00, which includes shipping costs.

Throughout the war it seemed very important to me, as it did to many others,that there be left an authentic record of what actually happened to us. Andalthough we had very little hope of survival and the ability to tell all,something compelled me to record dates and make notations on scraps of paper. Ineffect this became a crude sort of diary. Even in the midst of these experiences,part of my mind seemed to be observing, and committing to memory in sharp detail,the events I was witnessing. My personal reactions often surprised me. I wasstruck by the fact that, in extreme situations, people don’t always react in theexpected way. The scraps of paper, along with all my other personal effects,disappeared when I arrived at Concentration Camp Stutthoff, thirty kilometerseast of Danzig (now Gdansk), in July of 1944, but the memories have alwaysremained clear and sharp in my mind. I was liberated on the last day of April in1945, and about a month later, as soon as I was well enough, I once againcompiled the dates and began to record all that had happened to me during thewar. My primary concern then was to get everything down on paper, and though thediary was written in an irregular and rambling fashion–I could only work at itwhen time permitted–after some years I managed to set down a great deal ofrelevant information.

It was always my hope that I could some day arrange the material in amanner that would make clear exactly what had happened to us. But it was notuntil 1983 that my personal circumstances finally permitted me to devote thenecessary time to the work I had started thirty-eight years earlier. I knew fullwell that there were great difficulties in trying to convey everything I saw,experienced, and thought during those years. To simplify this task, I decided torecord everything in chronological order as the events unfolded. The entriesdocument events occurring between June 22, 1941, in Janova, Lithuania, and April30, 1945, in Camp Allach near Munich. These events were a microcosm of theJewish experience throughout the Baltic States, during which, especially in thefirst few months of the war, most of the Baltic Jews were murdered. The notes Itook down in 1945 were a major resource. But there is no discrepancy betweenwhat I remember now and what I write shortly after the war. For, on a certainlevel, I have never really left those times behind. I relive them every day.

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I am grateful for the support and encouragement of my wife Ita, andof my children, Ilana and Richard Kennell, and Judy and Roy Eidelson.