Saturday, April 26, 2014

Reflections on the Unimaginable

I have been recently been immersed in documentary-watching, films about the survivors of the Nazi death camps. No particular reason. The first one featured a woman, at the age of 109' the oldest living survivor. (She died this February at 110.)  she was a pianist, and had been one of many musicians incarcerated at Theresinstadt. It was featured in a TV movie a number of years ago, called "Playing For Time," about these people who formed an orchestra in the camp, and had memorized scores that had played in before being fired  because they were Jewish. The camp became known for the gifted musicians, singers, dancers and actors there, and the Nazis utilized them for their own entertainment, showing them off for visiting higher ups. It was still a concentration camp, with the usual privations
and brutality.  It was also a "feeder" camp for Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, the killing factories.

The old lady in the documentary said that it hadn't been too bad, because of the music. I think that had been her survival mechanism, but others there had experienced the usual horror, never knowing when their turn for transport would come. The worst part, to me, was that the children were taken from their parents right away, and murdered at Auschwitz   or experimented on by Dr. Mengele.
I've known about these death campus for almost seventy years, but hearing these survivors' stories is hard to comprehend. Not that they are hard to comprehend, but the facts of what the Nazis did and why they did It and how they could do it. How could they so delude themselves to become inhuman in the land of Goerhe, Schiller,  Beethoven, Brahms and Bach.
 Most of these survivors are my age or older; some had been children then ; almost all had lost their parents or siblings. One group of Ukrainian Jews had lived in a cave for a year, constantly in danger of being turned in by their own countrymen.
One documentary includes an SS officer from Auschwitz, unrepentant. I don't know why he is still  
alive. He does say that he participated in the film to let the "deniers" know that it did happen.
I think it is important that so many who experienced this ghastly genocide can tell their stories. Not only is this living history, but the people themselves are incredibly strong, spiritually impressive ( some even believe there's a God, but not all) and have managed to get on with their lives after losing everything that mattered to them. Some talked of feeling shame in the aftermath of their rescue. I guess when you've been beaten, starved and lived under constant threats  of a horrible death, that feeling is "normal," but in telling their stories that feeling is replaced by one of strength and power in realizing what they have overcome.
It was in the spring of 1945 that the photos appeared in the magazines and the newsreels at the movie theaters, pictures I have never forgotten, but which can't even begin to let you into what it had  ti have been like.
We had a neighbor, Mr. Sanders, who had escaped  and gotten to America with his wife and young son before he would have been sent to one of those places. After the war, he went back to Poland to
find his parents and other relatives. He told my mother that there  was no trace of any of them. All were gone, exterminated in the death camps'
There are those who don't want to think about these dreadful events. Genocide happened. It is still happening. It is an ineradicable stain on the human race.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Unintended Consequences

I have been wondering,this Easter season, who had the idea to create these cheesy, grotesque giant rabbit costumes, presumably to delight the tots. The only decent giant rabbit, Harvey, was invisible, and only seen by Elwood P. Dowd, and was reportedly a charming companion. These behemoth bunnies with loopy eyes and maniacal grins loom over tiny people like an incipient avalanche of white fake fur.
Bunnies are small, soft, benign little creatures, nothing like these hideous monsters.
Who possibly could have thought that a two year  old would welcome such an ogreish apparition on a spring holiday? I've never been close enough to one to hear  what must be a muffled voice dispensing cheery words to a terrified toddler, but it can't be pleasant.
No doubt the inspiration came from those Disney park characters, those giant-headed cartoon reps which hug excited Midwestern kiddos as they arrive at the Mecca of All-You-Can-Eat entertainment centers. The Disney characters are well known, of course, and not too grotesque, or connected with dyed or plastic eggs, so perhaps they are less frightening.
I also have a problem with parents who drag infants to Easter egg hunts and Hallowe'en Beggars' Nights,and I don't think the little ones should have to suffer for their parents' utter cluelessness, especially when it involves a creepy glandular bunny with the face of a serial killer.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sorry, the Cat Is On My Lap

Sixto is a total lap cat. Dupree was not until he got old, but this one is the kind of cat that old ladies like me really dote on. He has a system, suddenly appearing from out of thin air. He jumps onto my thighs and starts kneading his pointy paws into my flesh. This does not feel good. Then, suddenly he flops down along the length of them, rolls over on his back and peers through his front paws at me, knowing that I shall tell him how adorable he looks. Than he turns onto his side and purrs himself soundly to sleep.
I am now a prisoner of this cat on my lap. If anyone else is around, I can avoid any task that requires locomotion on my part.
"The cat is in my lap. Could you turn off the kettle and fix my tea?"
"The cat is on my lap. Could you turn the radio down?"
"The cat is in my lap. Could you answer the door?"
"The cat is on my lap. I was planning to get dinner started about now but, well...."
"The cat is on my lap. Could you see why the smoke alarm is screeching?"
"The cat is on my lap. Could you find out why there's a police car in front of our house ? "
'"The cat is on my lap. Could you see if that noise in the basement  is the escaped serial killer I heard about on the news?"
When the cat is on one's lap, life must go on any way it can without unsettling the sleeping feline or the lap he's on. It works for me.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Another Icon Gone

One of my friends when I was in college was a faculty wife not much older than I. She was from France. Her English was excellent, especially the swear words she'd picked up from American soldiers. She was a convent school alum, the niece of the mother superior, and rebellious. She was very plain spoken in English, and had the usual French disdain for American culture. One day she was heard to say, "Kent is such a dull town. You dun't even 'ave an 'onchback." Now Francine was not from the Paris environs of Notre Dame, but from Menton in the South of France, so one could assume that this sort of individual was a normal part of the community landscape.
That was over 60 years ago, but since I've lived here, we have had our share of town characters, people who provide the color in this small university town. Last year we lost F.U. Bob, the cursing artist, about whom I wrote. Once he stopped cursing, he pretty much joined the mainstream, although he had his quirks. He became Robert without the F. U. prefix. He was extremely intelligent, with an encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary classical music. His death was mourned by the entire community.
There was Radio Bob, who carried a transistor radio up to his ear. If you made eye contact, he would respond with a loud, maniacal laugh, rather off- putting on a quiet street. I believe he was eventually hit by a car and the laughter disappeared.
This past week, we lost George, a native son, the Man in  the Wheelchair. He was an amazing person. He looked as if he had spina bifida, with small, undeveloped legs, but the story is that he had cerebral palsy.  Whatever the disability, he worked constantly, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, delivering newspapers and working in bars for drinks and change, and around town gathering debris from the doorways of businesses, all in his wheelchair. A friend of mine told me that you knew when you'd had enough to drink when you'd see George fall out of his chair and scrabble around on the floor cleaning up rubbish.
His speech was not clear, but he was always involved with others, had a good sense of humor and was cared about by the entire community. He would always say "hi" whether he knew you or not. He could be seen careening about in his chair, which needed replacing occasionally, hit by cars once in a while, but always on the go.
He was from a large family without much money,but with much love for him.
There's no replacing people like George, and the town is poorer for his loss.