"Oscar Wilde, I pity you because you must be suffering more than we"by Ian Irvine / December 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
Thomas De Quincey records his time, aged 17, when he lived close to starvation in London in the company of Ann, a 15-year-old prostitute: “One night, after a day when I had felt more than usually ill and faint, I requested her to turn off with me into Soho Square. Suddenly, I grew much worse. I felt an inner conviction, that without some reviving stimulus I should have died on the spot. Then it was that my poor orphan companion, who had met with little but injuries in this world, stretched out a saving hand to me. Uttering a cry of terror, but without a moment’s delay, she ran off into Oxford Street, and in less time than could be imagined returned with a glass of port wine and spices, that acted upon my empty stomach with an instantaneous power of restoration; and for this glass the generous girl without a murmur paid at a time when she had scarcely wherewithal to purchase the bare necessaries of life.”
Andre Gide records Oscar Wilde’s recollection of a fellow prisoner while he was incarcerated in Reading jail: “One evening we were walking behind one another… during the recreation hour, and suddenly, behind me, I heard my name uttered: it was the prisoner behind me who was saying, ‘Oscar Wilde, I pity you because you must be suffering more than we.’ So I made an enormous effort not to be noticed and I said without turning around, ‘No, my friend, we are all suffering equally’.” Wilde said that after this expression of human sympathy he no longer wished to die.
Gene Klein, a 16-year-old in Auschwitz, meets a civilian engineer surveying a road at the camp: “He gives me this wooden board with numbers on it… and we walk away from the camp. All of a sudden I am looking around and I’m seeing beautiful forests. The silence is so wonderful because I’ve been all of these months with screams, and yells, and dying, praying and now I’m just with another human being. ‘I see what a terrible situation you people are in… Where I’m pointing to my left, you’ll see a barracks. This is where the SS guards have lunch. Look under the table of the very first table next to the kitchen, under the bench.’ I go there, a piece of paper napkin has a piece of chicken, a piece of real bread, a piece of cheese, and a cup of milk. I come out and I thank him… This thing kept me going.”