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“Hello my name is Suzanne Leal and I am reading from my novel Border Street.
‘In the morning he said — it was 21 January 1945 — one of these SS people came into this cell and shouted to me, “Raus!” He marched me from the cell back outside to the entrance gate of the camp. He disappeared, and some moments later he returned to me, bringing with him a big sign. On this sign, it was written the words, “Ich bin wieder da” — I’m back again. This SS officer, he didn’t say a word, only he hung the sign around my neck, and then he left me there. It was already dawn, maybe it was six or seven o’clock, and I was wearing only this jacket and trousers from Kaufering. Standing in the snow with this bloody sign around my neck. With no one about me, I could have been the last man left on the earth.
‘After some time, perhaps it was twenty minutes or perhaps it was three hours, a line of men were walking up through the entrance gate, straight past me. For a moment, I thought I was having a hallucination. All the men were like skeletons, they were so malnourished, and they were all of them wearing this Auschwitz uniform: the striped jacket, the striped trousers, even with the peaked hat. As I watched this group file past me, I thought to myself, so I am back again, back in this hellhole. The despair that filled my body, the despair that this should be happening, was overwhelming. To be getting this far, to be surviving for this long, for nothing.
‘These were my thoughts as I watched this group of prisoners, this group of inmates, pass in front of me. Mostly they did not look at me. If some were curious, they were certainly looking at me but without making any communication with me. Only one man, one man was staring at me when I looked at him, slowly he pulled back his shoulders so he was walking in a very straight manner, almost an exaggeration. He was walking so straight and kept looking at me intently until I too pulled back my shoulders and was standing in such a proud manner. Only for some moments was I standing like this until, with the exhaustion, again I slumped forward. How long I was standing there like this, standing with this sign, I don’t know, only I was still there when this group returned from the camp again, when the daylight was ending. If you told me I had been there a week, I would have believed you.’
‘Was it cold?’ she asks quietly. She knows it is a stupid question but she has to say something. He looks across at her, his eyebrows slightly raised. ‘Was it cold?’ he repeats, and pauses. After a time he starts to answer but stops himself. ‘You know,’ he says finally, ‘I thought I would die from it.’
ABOUT SUZANNE LEAL:
Suzanne Leal worked as a criminal lawyer before being appointed to the Refugee Review Tribunal, the Migration Review Tribunal and the Administrative Decisions Tribunal where she decides cases involving migration and refugee status, child protection, guardianship and licensing. She has been a legal commentator on ABC radio 702, a judge for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the CAL Waverley Library Award for Literature and is a regular facilitator and moderator at literary events and festivals. Her novel Border Street was commended in the Asher Literary Award. Suzanne lives in Sydney with her husband and four children.
“I am a member of the Varuna Alumni, having received a Manuscript Development Forum Award in 2003 and a Follow-on Development Award in 2004. With Margaret Simons as a mentor, my manuscript became the novel Border Street, which was published by Scribe in 2006 and commended in the 2007 Asher Literary Award. I returned to Varuna in 2007 and in 2010, I was awarded a Varuna Fellowship for Writing Retreat.
My involvement with Varuna has been instrumental to my writing. Time spent at Varuna is a rare opportunity to focus on my work, free from the demands of my children and my job. At Varuna, I am in my element: my writing flows, my ideas are clearer, I am able to generate material more quickly and I am filled with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and energy for my writing. I enjoy the company of other writers at Varuna and always welcome the chance to discuss the discipline and process of writing with them.” Suzanne Leal
Border Street 2006 Scribe Publications
Agent: Toby Eady Associates
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