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.
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.