Between three and four o’clock in the morning, on a train traveling between Nice and Paris, two Austrians are seated opposite each other in a locked compartment, to which the narrator’s fellow passenger has somehow obtained a key. Describing his unexpected companion, the narrator uneasily likens him to a seal and wonders why he does not show his tusks. This partly comical, partly anxious description grows menacing when he pictures the contents of the other’s small black suitcase. He correctly conjectures that it contains carpenter’s tools—a hammer, saw, chisel, and drill. What he has guessed earlier has now become undeniable: The owner of the black bag is a cannibal, intent on murdering and eating him.
Although the friendly cannibal appears sure that he will accomplish his aim, the protagonist expresses his determination to thwart him. Having gotten fair warning, he insists that he will remain awake through the night’s journey. The cannibal persists in his confidence, however, and matter-of-factly describes how he will dismember and consume his fellow traveler. The narrator’s resistance yields to curiosity, and he asks if the ears can be digested or if they have bones in them. Soon convinced that his life truly is endangered, he attempts to ward off the threat by maintaining a steady stream of conversation. This leads to a detailed account of dismemberment by the cannibal as he opens his black bag.
The narrator slowly succumbs to his companion’s perverse logic and mentally accepts the inevitability, even the reasonableness, of the violent end that awaits him. Only hesitantly and feebly does he manage to express his will to live, asking that he be spared long enough to go for a walk in Paris. The cannibal asserts himself still more sardonically and reopens his bag of tools. The narrator instinctively leaps to his feet and pulls the emergency cord. The train screeches to a halt, and the cannibal speedily disembarks, bitterly chiding his intended prey for the foolishness that will now cost him a huge fine. As several upset passengers crowd into the compartment, the cannibal disappears into the darkness, still shouting invectives.
“Journey Through the Night” is the second of seven stories in Jakov Lind’s debut book Eine Seele aus Holz (1962; Soul of Wood, and Other Stories, 1964). Although only three stories deal directly with the Holocaust, the collection immediately gained its Austrian-born author international fame as a savagely inventive, often grotesquely humorous portrayer of the Nazi extermination of the Jews. Given the atmosphere of horror that pervades the book, along with Lind’s biography as a survivor of Nazi persecution, a sweeping view of his early stories as Holocaust parables was widely espoused, and “Journey Through the Night” has often been cited as such a parable. Lind himself appeared to suggest reading the story in this vein. Writing on the annihilation of the Jews in his native Vienna as a result of Nazi racism, he expressly linked the central motif of the story with the Jewish catastrophe. “Vienna died,” he said, “when it destroyed its [Jewish] spirit in an act of autocannibalism.”
An analogy with the Holocaust will, however, appear less evident to readers unacquainted with Lind’s larger work and the forces that motivated it. If the Nazi universe of industrialized genocide can be imagined at all, it is only in terms of its own singular realities. These,...
(The entire section is 1420 words.)