How Robert Desnos’s Story Can Bring Light to Our Darkest Times

Over the last few years, it has become practically impossible to escape American politics and it’s rather dreary effects on the world. This is especially true considering the recent immigration bans and the acts of hate that followed. In under just a short period of time, we have all barred witness to the kind of damage that can be done by the 45th President of the United States and his administration.

In times such as these, it is easy to sit miserably and assume that things are only to get worse. However, it is important to remember that this is not the first time we have seen groups of minorities suffer over the ignorance and discrimination from dominant parties. Stories of the Second World War are always incredibly inspiring, despite what our social climate may look like, and it’s of great importance to reflect on the bravery of those who have fallen fighting for their freedom and those who survived doing so.

Robert Desnos was a Surrealist poet and writer who was born in Paris, France on July 4th, 1900. His story upon arriving to the Auschwitz concentration camp amongst fellow Jewish prisoners is a tale to hold onto. His story goes as follows:

Robert Desnos was one of many Jewish prisoners stuffed into the back of a large truck to be taken away to one of the most infamous concentration camps of the Holocaust. As the truck reached its destination, individuals started exiting the back of the truck looking evidently somber. They were all aware of what was to come: the gas chambers. Not a word was spoken from the crowds of people nor from the guards themselves.

One man stood amongst the rest with bright energy in spite of the morbid circumstances, and jumped to the front of the exiting line. He grabs the hand of the doomed man at front and begins to read his palm. He reads his palm out loud, exclaiming to the man that his life will be long. As he predicts the happiness and exciting events of held in his future, Desnos’s uplifting mood proves to be contagious. He concludes this reading and it sparks an interest in the next person in the line and asks Desnos to read his palm too.

Soon enough, Desnos is reading the palm of every single person leaving that truck and the mood once surrounding these unfortunate souls is now gone. There is only joy. Desnos even receives requests from the guards, and of course he complies. Either by the magic of Desnos words, or seeing the smiling faces on the people whose lives in this very moment are at complete risk, the guards let them return to the barracks.

Paintings and poetry based in abstract art movements like Surrealism and Dadaism are often perceived are being pretentious art made for art’s sake, created by artists who reached a certain point of success and recognition that anything they produced, no matter how bizarre or nonsensical, would receive great acclaim. However, these avant-garde pieces are as strange as they are because of the surreal-ness of their very own realities prior, during and after WW2.

These art pieces are a mere reflection of an entire world’s inability to comprehend the severe tragedies taking place before them. It’s geniuses like Picasso, Duchamp and certainly Desnos that show us that through these dark times imagination will not only aid us in cathartic ways, but it will in turn help us to help others to stay strong, supportive and optimistic.

Author: Raazia Rafeek

aaeaaqaaaaaaaai0aaaajdm5ngi1zgrhlwu2mgetndrioc1iythkltfiyjvhytkwmdi4oaRaazia Rafeek lives in Toronto writing, painting and studying to complete her final year of her Honours English degree. With an interest and passion for everything creative, she wishes to see her career through in Marketing or hopefully, film and production. Check her work out at