A response to those who try to trivialize, minimize and calibrate.
I posted this piece – from a few years ago, but sadly, the theme never goes away – on Medium. Also, a brief profile of Primo Levi below.
On September 29 and 30, 1941, over 30,000 Jews were slaughtered at Babi Yar. It was part of a broader mass killing action in Eastern Europe, though the sheer numbers of that day leave one without words. As a teen, I read Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem about Babi Yar – it never left me.
No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.
I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o’er the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.
It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me – and now judge.
I’m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I’m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.
I see myself a boy in Belostok.
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.
I’m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of “Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!”
My mother’s being beaten by a clerk.
O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.
I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The “Union of the Russian People!”
It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I’m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other’s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed – very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.
-“No, fear not – those are sounds
Of spring itself. She’s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!”
-“They break the door!”
-“No, river ice is breaking…”
Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.
And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I’m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.
No fiber of my body will forget this.
May “Internationale” thunder and ring
When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.
There is no Jewish blood that’s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that’s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!
More about the poet and the massacre here.
I have posted this previously on my website, but it is now up on Medium and somewhat edited.
I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the 1990s and I follow its social media pages. One of the stories featured on the museum’s pages is the story of Shannon Allison, this extraordinary teacher in a Navajo community. So touching.
I first saw this report on 60 Minutes in December – the entire transcript with video clips is here. It tells the story of Francesco Lotoro, an Italian man who has dedicated his energy to discovering the music written by prisoners of Nazi death camps and bringing it to life. What a blessing he is, as is his wife.
Aided by his wife, Grazia, who works at the local post office to support the family, Lotoro has collected and catalogued more than 8,000 pieces of music, including symphonies, operas, folk songs, and Gypsy tunes scribbled on everything from food wrapping to telegrams, even potato sacks.
The couple have established a foundation to archive the music and their work in their native Barletta, in the Puglia region of Italy. When/if I am lucky enough to return to Italy, I will visit Barletta and the Lotoros’ foundation.
Please read my “Series of Unpleasant Experiences.”
He was born on this day, one hundred years ago.
Today marks the 77th anniversary of the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv in Paris. It took the French over 50 years to admit their very proactive role in this tragedy, and Jacques Chirac was the one to finally tell the truth. For this reason, I will always have respect for him, in spite of his being — in my view – politically objectionable on other matters. There was absolutely nothing for him to gain from this in terms of votes. It was simply the right thing to do.