In the prologue to her novel, Quanta, quanta guerra…, published in 1980, Mercè Rodoreda observed bleakly: “Around the people of my time there is an intense circulation of blood and corpses. Because of this intense circulation of tragedy, in my novels, at times perhaps inadvertently, war, to a greater or lesser extent, is a theme” (14). This remark is often assumed to refer to the Spanish Civil War, which provides the novel with its obvious background, although this matter-of-fact statement speaks about a time, not a specific event—in Catalan, “my time” (“la meva època”) is colloquial for “my generation,” or, more precisely, the time of one's youth. This means, in effect, that Rodoreda saw her lifetime marked by an overabundance of corpses. But nothing in that phrase implies that she circumscribed her observation to her own country. It was not, or not only, in Catalonia that tragedy made the rounds. Rodoreda saw herself in the maelstrom as unintentional witness to the vast mid-century tragedy. That tragedy certainly included the Spanish Civil War, but also the massive exodus and inhumane internment in French concentration camps, which she was spared by being lodged with a small contingent of writers in the château of Roissy-en-Brie, an Auberge de Jeunesse some nineteen miles from Paris, courtesy of the French government. From there she moved to Paris, from where she fled on foot with the crowds that took to the French roads when the Germans marched in on 14 June 1940. Next, she lived in Limoges and Bordeaux, returning to Paris after liberation in 1944. It was there that she wrote one of the earliest literary pieces on the Nazi death camps, the short story “Nit i boira” (“Night and Fog”), published in 1947 in La nostra revista, a journal issued in Mexico by Catalan exiles. It was later reissued in the collection Semblava de seda i altres contes (1978).
“Niti boira” is remarkable not only for its anticipation of the title of Alain Resnais’ famous film with the script by Jean Cayrol, but also for the economy with which the author, who did not herself experience the camps, recreates the physical impressions and the moral deconstruction of an inmate, perspicuously placing his spiritual dismantling at the center of the concentrationary universe (to use David Rousset's coinage).