When she tells the commissioner that she was not raped, she recognizes that he will welcome this confession. That he will find relief in it.
But it’s clear that Helena’s horrendous experiences have wrecked a kind of devastation that cannot be summed up in a single word, in a single kind of persecution, a single kind of violence.
Still, she offers this to the commissioner. Her statement that she was not raped there.
And how does he receive it? Gratefully, indeed.
“The vast complex of camps in Silesia is on land that has become Polish now, so it is as if those camps had never been German at all. Each time she says a foreign place-name, he is forgiven, absolved.”
For if there is a kind of absolution offered to the commissioner, even in the naming of towns which do not have German names, there must be some kind of acquittal in the rest of Helena’s story.
The commissioner is desperate for it.
And Helena seems just as desperate to offer it.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the second story in The Pegnitz Junction. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next story, next week: “An Autobiography”.