Every October Chaim Fogel went to the Bergen-Belsen Survivors’ Banquet at the Plaza or at the Pierre. Naturally, he preferred the Plaza, because of the hors d’oeuvres: avocado appetizers, little cubes with fresh ground pepper on them and an outstanding Italian dressing. What did he care if the survivors crowded around the hors d’oeuvre table, a mob pushing furiously against each other to reach for a serving of smoked salmon with capers ox pâté en croûte, just the way they had pushed in the camp trying to get a spoonful of potato peel soup. It didn’t shame him. The irony wasn’t lost on him. It pleased him to see the people milling around, their mouths continually moving; either they were talking or they were chewing. He liked to look at the women, at their dresses: low-cut, high-cut, tight, loose; purple, glassy-green, yellow, various reds; chiffons, prints, red- white-and-blue. He liked the rooms the banquet was held in: mirrors on the wall, cherubs on the ceiling, frescoes, gilt, rococo mantelpieces, baroque chandeliers. He liked to look at the number of things in the room, what God had made: Jews, waiters, chairs, tables, chandeliers, salmons, glasses, ice cubes with their short, glittering lives, bottles of liquor, match books, matches, flames, cigarettes, cigarette ashes—it was as if each hair on his head was numbered and accounted for. It satisfied him. Immensely.
But one summer day as he rode in from White Plains on the morning train, he turned to his friend Broitman who was sit- ting next to him, also a survivor, and said, “This year I won’t go.”