Monday 2 May 2011

On reading the Todesfuge at the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony

At the Holocaust Memorial ceremony last night, the programme cover said in big words Compassion and Re.....(can't remember the Re... word right now - forgetting words happens more frequently: during the week-end, forgot the word 'parsnip' for a while. I stood and stared at the parsnip and only the p came back. The rest of the word absented itself for a couple of hours).

The Holocaust is not about Compassion and Re..... (I'll add the Re word when it comes back, at the end of this post), which were one might say, significantly lacking at the time. Restrained myself from prefacing my reading by mentioning that even if the 12 000 Righteous Gentiles had been double the number, that is 24 000, and even if each of them had saved 10 Jews - which most did not, though a few saved thousands - only 240 000 Jews would have been saved. Reminded myself that 'He who saves the life of one person, it is as if he had saved the entire world." (Who said that?)

Someone whose opinion I value said I read Celan's poem 'appropriately', the best compliment that evening - some people came to tell me I'd read well. The poem seemed to take over, and there was the intent silence of attentive people. Several people had previously turned down the opportunity to read that poem, too difficult to read, they said, no punctuation.

I am glad that it ended up being me. A duty fulfilled. It was a bit of a battle to get it into the programme - another poem by a Holocaust Survivor was suggested, about a credo about belief  in human goodness. I responded that it was 'powerfully optimistic' whereas Celan is not a comfortable read (Hah!). But then the Holocaust was not a comfortable event.

Still waiting for Re... to reappear.

The poem about a survivor's belief in human goodness (Alexander Kimel) was read last, after several poems and songs which were full of grief. That felt like the right place for it, a positive thought to go home with.

Added the next day: the Re... word was Resilience.

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