Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.
Yes, according to the Facebook page of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the pop star wrote these fine words in their guestbook while visiting this weekend.
Check out the chatter over this on Tablet magazine’s page. It’s passionate… and all over the board.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Shoah: A Table of Elements
by Dov Abramson, guest contributor
“The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary nor congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent.”
—Primo Levi, The Periodic Table
The Holocaust represented a contradiction in perception: ordered, regimented evil and unrestrained, billowing pain. For decades, artists have sought to capture the ineffable destruction that befell the Jewish people.
“Shoah: A Table of Elements” describes the task of making order of the ungraspable. In so doing, it works to release some of the emotional charge of our most raw subjects, while evoking the more prominent associations of the Holocaust: the gases, the smoke, the debris.
“Shoah: A Table of Elements” is a meditation on how we commit to memory, how we use symbols, and how we represent that which we cannot behold.
Dov Abramson is founder and creative director of an art and design studio in Jerusalem, Israel. His work combines classic graphic design and branding with independent artistic work that deals with Jewish and Israeli identity. His projects have been featured in Zeek, Forward, Maariv, Haaretz, and the Chicago Tribune, and his art has been exhibited at The Jewish Museum in New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Tumblr. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Thank goodness for Reuters:
A white rose is placed on barbed wire at the museum of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau marking the 67th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by Soviet troops and to remember the victims of the Holocaust, in Auschwitz Birkenau January 27, 2012. [REUTERS/Kacper Pempel]
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This is storytelling at its finest and its darkest, but Auslander’s wry sense of humor and delivery give the heaviness of the situation a light touch. For those of you with delicate sensibility about the Holocaust or profane language, be forewarned. He does swear a few times and is brutally honest about his visit to a concentration camp in Germany. His ending is worth it and his point all the more salient because of this humorous approach.
Some people have a way of bringing laughter to deep, painful sorrow - but not in a way that ignores or diminishes the reality of that sorrow. It’s like some people have this ability to see the microscopic punchlines and jokes even in the darkest of places. Writer Shalom Auslander has this ability. Here, he tells a live story with The Moth in NYC about his reluctant trip to a WWII death camp. And if you like this, you can hear more stories from him on This American Life, read more stories in his (amazing) books & articles, or listen to him talk with Terry.
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Novelist Asks Ira Glass If He’d Hide His Family in the Attic
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“If there’s another Holocaust, can I hide in your attic?”
Novelist Shalom Auslander puts this question to the host of This American Life and a couple of other TAL alumni — Sarah Vowell and John Hodgman — as part of his promotional effort for his new book, Hope: A Tragedy. Playing on the theme of the “collective Holocaust guilt” of Jews that runs throughout his novel, he crafts some pretty brilliant (and entertaining) video trailers touching on some rather delicate religious ground.
Adolph Hitler’s 1919 Letter Reveals His Anti-Semitism
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
An eery document in the context of history. Adolph Hitler’s typewritten letter from 1919 revealing his hatred of the Jewish people was presented in New York yesterday and will go on display in Los Angeles. In the document, Hitler refers to the Jews as a “racial tuberculosis on the nation” and told Captain Karl Mayr, the officer who requested Hitler’s assessment, that the “final goal must be the removal of the Jews. To accomplish these goals, only a government of National power is capable and never a government of national weakness.”
Primo Levi: “A Humanist Who Insisted on Justice”
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Photo by Alfred Essa/Flickr/cc by-nc-sa 2.0
The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles the late Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi whose thoughts on fascism sound as relevant today (amid unrest we observe in Libya and Syria) as when he was writing in 1974:
“Every age has its own fascism, and we see the warning signs wherever the concentration of power denies citizens the possibility and the means of expressing and acting on their own free will. There are many ways of reaching this point, and not just through the terror of police intimidation, but by denying and distorting information, by undermining systems of justice, by paralyzing the education system, and by spreading in a myriad subtle ways nostalgia for a world where order reigned, and where the security of a privileged few depends on the forced labor and the forced silence of the many.”
Levi’s reflection on Passover shares this same spirit of anti-fascism, of parity and equity with optimism for a better future:
“Tonight they will exchange questions: The wise, the godless, the simple-minded, and the child. And time reverses its course, today flowing back into yesterday, like a river enclosed at its mouth. Each of us has been a slave in Egypt, soaked straw and clay with sweat, and crossed the sea dry-footed. You too, stranger. This year in fear and shame, next year in virtue and justice.”
He is best known for Survival in Auschwitz, his memoir about the year he survived as a prisoner in a concentration camp. He said of that experience and the impact on his character:
“Auschwitz left its mark on me, but it did not remove my desire to live. On the contrary, that experience increased my desire, it gave my life a purpose, to bear witness, so that such a thing should never occur again.”
Touching our Trembling Places: A Generational Story for Yom HaShoah
by Iris Tzafrir, guest contributor
A balloon flies over Eisenmann Memorial in Berlin. (photo: Danny/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
Our household was a heavy one. I always felt the presence of sadness and loss; those emotions were part of everything that took place in our family, including birthdays and personal achievements. I knew where the sadness and sense of loss came from, to an extent, from stories that Aba (my father Yehoshua) told — and from his writings.
Growing up, I did not want to touch those places where the sadness and loss came from. Ouri, my oldest brother, calls these hard to touch places hamekomot harotetim, “the trembling places” inside of us.
As I matured, I came to believe that, if I got courageous and got close to these trembling places, I might be able to help myself and those I love to heal from that sadness and sense of loss. And maybe eventually this package of sadness and loss would not be so overwhelming and heavily present in my life.
A Murdered Family Made More Real
A wall at the entry to the Belzec extermination camp in Poland reads: “This is the site of the murder of about 500,000 victims of the Belzec death camp established for the purpose of killing the Jews of Europe, whose live where brutally taken between February and December 1942 by Nazi Germany. ‘Earth do not cover my blood; / let there be no resting / place for my outcry!’ Job 16:18’.” (photo: Iris Tzafrir)
Last year, my siblings and I traveled for the first time with Aba to Poland and Germany to visit places of significance in Aba’s life before and during the Shoah. Belzec is an extermination camp located in Lublin county in eastern Poland, where we believe Aba’s parents and four younger siblings were murdered during the spring of 1941.
We prepared to conduct a memorial ceremony with kipot (head coverings), memory candles, and poetry written by Aba. My brother Assaf opened the ceremony, saying that we were gathered there in memory of our grandfather Tuvia, our grandmother Miriam, and our uncles and aunts Schiendel, Israel, Tzvi, Sara-Eitah, Roza, and Yehudit.
We then read Aba’s poem, “In the Illumination of Lightning”:
In the illumination of lightning
I saw a frightened boy in an open field
Distancing himself from a well-branched aspen that is being severed at once.
Gashes of a downpour are beating on his back
And the tears of his face mix with the water columns.
As the flood silences down he will come into his ark
Wondering from what will he construct his world that was destroyed.
It was hard reading Aba’s poems to completion without choking and spilling into tears. Working our way through the ceremony was about courage. I felt courageous standing and reading Aba’s poems in Belzec, memorializing with purpose our murdered family members whom we had never met.
The ceremony made our murdered family more real than before because I now had a place to associate with the sense of sadness and loss absorbed from Aba over the years. I knew that it made Aba feel good to see us being courageous. It was an attribute that was held in high esteem in our family: you don’t run away when a situation is hard; you stay and grind through it, if necessary, because something beneficial, albeit hidden, might come out of such situation.
A Journey to Renewal and Healing
We concluded our 10-day trip on the grounds of Block 66 in Buchenwald, Germany, where Aba arrived after a death march that started in Auschwitz III (Buna-Monowitz). Aba described his liberation moments on April 11th, 1945: an American tank went through the main gate of Buchenwald, and from the top of the tank a black soldier came out and said: “You are free.”
Standing on the grounds of Block 66, Ouri pushed Aba for details, reaching to touch a trembling place, trying to frame the enormity of the moment.
“How did you see the black soldier? How did you hear him say ‘You are free?’”
Aba answered crying, “You hear these words everywhere; after all the atrocities we went through, these words come from the heavens.”
Between Tishah Be’aav, the day memorializing the destruction of the Temple, and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the Jewish people read from the book of Isaiah. In chapter 54, verses 7-9, God promises:
“For a brief moment I forsake you, but I will gather you with great compassion; in an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says God, your Redeemer; this is like the waters of Noah to me; I swore that the waters of Noah would never again submerge the earth; similarly, I swore that I would not be angry with you and would not rebuke you.”
—from The Living Torah, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
When I listen to Aba recalling himself as a small boy holding on to his mother’s hand when they walked together to the Thursday market in Dombrova, near Krakow, I ask, “How could You leave us, even for a moment? In the one brief moment that the prophet Isaiah talks about, I feel that You have forsaken the boy in the ‘Illumination of Lightning’”:
“As the flood silences down he will come into his ark
Wondering from what will he construct his world that was destroyed.”
We read from Isaiah during the transition period from destruction to renewal. The trip we took is part of our family’s attempt to get closer to our trembling places where we feel anger, sadness, and loss of trust. Now that we have visited the trembling places as the real places that they are, we are able to continually use them as sources for reflection in our journey to renewal and healing. We find such renewal and healing by creating anew:
What is good in life is to create.
To create, from what is and from what is not.
To breath life into a clean fresh page,
Line to line, crossing and toasting each other.
Forms coalesce in the real and in the abstract
Leading you in awe among mazes.
Do not fear, Ariadne in a thread of grace
Will bring you into light.
Mix the colors, knead the material,
Slightly swing with your hammer and determinedly remove
Oddments that seize beauty.
Creation is born in pain,
Because you have to start anew.
What is good in creating, is that you never conclude.
—“What is Good in Life” by Yehoshua Tzafrir, translated from Hebrew by Iris Tzafrir
Iris Tzafrir is an Israeli who has been living in the United States for the last 20 years. Trained as a scientist, she manages intellectual property transactions in the agriculture industry. She regularly speaks and writes about being a second generation of Shoah survivors.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Observing Yom HaShoah with a Prayer from Elie Wiesel
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
On May 18, 1945, American chaplain Rabbi Herschel Schacter conducts a religious service for Jewish survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after liberation. (credit: National Archives and Records Administration)
Today marks Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day. Each year it’s observed on the 27th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar.
To commemorate Yom HaShoah, we wanted to share with you a clip from our program with Elie Wiesel, “The Tragedy of the Believer.” The Nobel laureate is probably best known for his memoir Night, which tells the story of his experiences at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during the Holocaust.
During his conversation with Krista in 2003, Wiesel dispels the misconception that he forever lost his faith in God after the war. He also describes how language becomes holy through prayer. In the audio clip above (download mp3), he recites a prayer he wrote that ends his book, One Generation After:
I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.
I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.
I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.
As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.
They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.
They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.
Joseph Goebbels’ Marketing Machine
Leah Stevenson, guest contributor
“Propaganda is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert.”
—Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1924)
This Monday, I was in Washington D.C. attending Krista’s public conversation with NPR host Michel Martin at the beautiful Sydney Harman Hall. I’ve spent a lot of time in D.C. over the years. In fact, I was born there. But, one of the places I’d never visited was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum — a great space, organized well, with exhibits designed to slowly, and surely, draw you into the terror of the Holocaust.
Before I go much further, I should reveal that I am a “career marketer.” I know next to nothing about journalism, and even less about theology. I joined American Public Media, and non-profit life, after almost 20 years promoting food and health care products to consumers. It’s really rewarding to be “peddling thought” after years of pushing cereal (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
Through December 2011, the museum is running an excellent special exhibition called State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda. When Trent asked me to guest blog, I realized the thing I most wanted to share was a graphic from that exhibit: Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda organizational chart.
I have to admit, my first thought came from my career marketer bias: ‘Man, that is one impressive org chart. It looks like something you’d find at Disney or Coke.’ They had departments that covered the traditional/expected news outlets (broadcasting, home press, foreign press). Plus, they controlled the cultural conversation with departments for music, theatre, fine arts, and literature.
As a marketer… impressive. As a human being… absolutely terrifying.
Ms. Stevenson is business development strategist for American Public Media who has been managing SOF’s outreach efforts. We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.