Remembering is not enough.
Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows!
The Jews are a people who can’t sleep themselves and let nobody else sleep.
–Isaac Bashevis Singer
It is not in our power to explain either the prosperity of the wicked or the afflictions of the righteous.
Oh, my dear Lord, I thought: they say you’re a long-suffering God, a good God, a great God; they say You’re merciful and fair; perhaps you can explain to me, then, why is it that some folk have everything and others have nothing twice over? Why does one Jew get to eat butter rolls while another gets to eat dirt?
Certainly, in the immediate aftermath of World War I, life in the shtetl changed for the better—at least once the Ukrainian massacres of 1920-21 were over. (It forms a strange lacuna in contemporary Jewish historical awareness that accounts of anti-Jewish violence in Eastern Europe tend to go straight from czarist pogroms to the Holocaust, skipping over the murder of 100,000 Ukrainian Jews during the Russian civil war.)
Is it possible still to trust in a Covenant that Yahweh pragmatically has forsaken? If you have lost your grandparents in the German death camps, are you to trust a Yahweh who must either be powerless or uncaring? Jewish Gnosticism, in my judgment, took its inception from the initial Roman Holocaust.
A Bible is not an anthology, nor a history, nor a collection of documents. It is all of these together. The most important thing in a Bible is the bold, courageous, manly, human idea—the flowing line, not the precise dot. And the line is that man is good, and that absolute justice does exist, and that it will one day prevail; and that the Jews work for it and suffer for it, and though they often suffer more for it—for absolute justice— they don’t stop working for it, work more for it, in fact. But all this must not be said, must not be brought out apologetically…. I don’t know who should put it together. No one may call the man, and appoint him. He must do it on his own. He must be a man without a name, or at least a man whose name is of little concern to him, as little as it concerned the compiler of the Psalms or the writers of the sing groups of Psalms or the separate individual psalms contained in the Psalter.
Nothing is more Jewish than Walter Benjamin’s desideratum of a book made up solely of quotations.
Let the books be written so when all of us are dead a long record will exist, at least in a few libraries.
My trade as you see, is dealing with books. I’ve had a lot of trades in my time, going from one to the other, as the way is, trying my hand on every side, till I finally dismissed it all with a wave of my hand—to hell with them all!—and I took to books, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
—Mendele Mocher Sforim
It is easier to write ten volumes of philosophy than to put a single precept into practice.
Perhaps one day in the remote future, when the tenor of the times is more receptive, someone will stumble across this book collecting dust on a library shelf, blow off the cobwebs, and be stung by outrage at the lot of a people, if not forsaken by God then betrayed by the cupidity and corruption, careerism and cynicism, cravenness and cowardice of mortal man.
When Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Ochs’s son-in-law, took over the Times upon Ochs’s death, he, too, was determined that the paper not be seen as a “Jewish paper,” which meant no “special pleading” for Jewish causes. And so it happened that while Jews were being slaughtered by the millions in Europe, the Times refused to mention the fact that Hitler’s victims were Jewish.
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
My idea of the ideal text is still the Talmud. I love the idea of parallel texts, with long, discursive footnotes and marginal commentary, texts commenting on texts.
I am looking, as I write of Kafka, at the photograph taken of him at the age of forty (my age)—it is 1924, as sweet and hopeful a year as he may ever have known as a man, and the year of his death. His face is sharp and skeletal, a burrower’s face: pronounced cheekbones made even more conspicuous by the absence of sideburns; the ears shaped and angled on his head like angel wings; an intense, creaturely gaze of startled composure–enormous fears, enormous control; a black towel of Levantine hair pulled close around the skull the only sensuous feature; there is a familiar Jewish flare in the bridge of the nose, the nose itself is long and weighted slightly at the tip–the nose of half the Jewish boys who were my friends in high school. Skulls chiseled like this one were shoveled by the thousands from the ovens; had he lived, his would have been among them, along with the skulls of his three younger sisters.
I tried in my book Kiddush Hashem to picture Auschwitz in seventy pages. But I wrote the book over a period of six years, in pain and agony. And writing it I became a changed man. I didn’t sleep night after night. I lived through everyone’s separate torment. I experienced over again every happening I described. I was back in Auschwitz. When I did fall asleep I woke, screaming. I had dreamed I was in the ghetto or in Auschwitz.
Yes, as well as this terrible Good with a capital ‘G’, there is every day human kindness. The kindness of an old woman carrying a piece of bread to a prisoner, the kindness of a soldier allowing a wounded enemy to drink from his water flask, the kindness of youth towards old age, the kindness of a peasant hiding an old Jew in his loft. The kindness of a prison guard who risks his own liberty to pass on letters written by a prisoner not to his ideological comrades, but to his wife and mother.
To have access to literature, world literature, was to escape the prison of national vanity, of philistinism, of compulsory provincialism, of inane schooling, of imperfect destinies and bad luck. Literature was the passport to enter a larger life; that is, the zone of freedom.
You who live safe
In your warm houses
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.
The welcome given to the Stranger which the Bible tirelessly asks of us does not constitute a corollary of Judaism, and its love of God… but it is the very content of faith. It is an undeclinable responsibility.
Neither superhuman nor subhuman, neither God, nor animal, nor monster. But always simply additional kinds of humans: the bomb droppers, the capo, the body burners, the throat slashers, the exterminators in the forest, the scalpers, the guards, the architects of the camp, the physicians, the transport escorts, the oven lighters, the grave diggers, the engine drivers, all—types of human beings.
Did it occur to you to think: why did they build this horror museum in Israel, among the victims? Why not erect it in Berlin among the murderers, among their children and their children’s children?
When life becomes absolutely intolerable, you begin to think the horror will never end. In Kiev during the bombardment I understood that even the unbearable can come to an end, but I was not yet fully aware that it often does so only at death. As regards the Stalinist terror, we always knew that it might wax or wane, but that it might end–this we could never imagine. What reason was there for it to end? Everybody seemed intent on his daily round and went smilingly about the business of carrying out his instructions. It was essential to smile–if you didn’t, it meant you were afraid or discontented. This nobody could afford to admit–if you were afraid, then you must have a bad conscience. Everybody who worked for the State–and in this country even the humblest stall-keeper is a bureaucrat– had to strut around wearing a cheerful expression, as though to say: “What’s going on is no concern of mine, I have very important work to do, and I’m terribly busy. I am trying to do my best for the State, so do not get in my way. My conscience is clear-if what’s his- name has been arrested, there must be good reason.” The mask was taken off only at home, and then not always–even from your children you had to conceal how horror-struck you were; otherwise, God save you, they might let something slip in school. . . . Some people had adapted to the terror so well that they knew how to profit from it–there was nothing out of the ordinary about denouncing a neighbor to get his apartment or his job. But while wearing your smiling mask, it was important not to laugh–this could look suspicious to the neighbors and make them think you were indulging in sacrilegious mockery. We have lost the capacity to be spontaneously cheerful, and it will never come back to us.
Eichmann needed only to recall the past in order to feel assured that he was not lying and that he was not deceiving himself, for he and the world he lived in had once been in perfect harmony. And that German society of eighty million people had been shielded against reality and factuality by exactly the same means, the same self-deception, lies, and stupidity that had now become ingrained in Eichmann’s mentality. These lies changed from year to year, and they frequently contradicted each other; moreover, they were not necessarily the same for the various branches of the. Party hierarchy or the people at large. But the practice of self deception had become so common, almost a moral prerequisite for survival, that even now, eighteen years after the collapse of the Nazi regime, when most of the specific content of its lies has been forgotten, it is sometimes difficult not to believe that mendacity has become an integral part of the German national character. During the war, the lie most effective with the whole of the German people was the slogan of “the battle of destiny for the German people” [der Schicksalskampf des deutschen Volkes], coined either by Hitler or by Goebbels, which made self-deception easier on three counts: it suggested, first, that the war was no war; second, that it was started by destiny and not by Germany; and, third, that it’ was a matter of life and death for the Germans, who must annihilate their enemies or be annihilated.
Man and Fascism cannot co-exist. If Fascism conquers, man will cease to exist and there will remain only man-like creatures that have undergone an internal transformation. But if man, man who is endowed with reason and kindness, should conquer, then Fascism must perish, and those who have submitted to it will once again become people.
It’s for your wife, said Captain Wirth, smiling. You’re so impossible about accepting gifts, I finally said to myself, I said, hit the armored man in his wife-spot! Thank you, said Gertstein, stroking the soft supple leather of the handbag a little absently. Human skin, said Captain Wirth. Don’t worry; it’s not Jewish. A good Russian peasant-boy; I picked him out myself.
–William T. Vollmann
The Germans would arrive, load all the clothing, furniture, and overcoats on trucks and carry everything off. If they found jewelry, silver, diamonds, or gold—not to mention money— they scooped it up greedily, and in fifteen minutes the owners were reduced to total poverty and were doomed to death by starvation.
From a moral point of view, Nazism is the final extermination of the moral. From a Nazi point of view, the moral point of view proposed here is the extermination of Nazism.
By coming back, by preoccupation with the subject, the dying, the mystery of dying, the state of death. Also, by having been inside death. By having been given the shovel and told to dig. By digging beside his digging wife. By this digging, not speaking, he tried to convey something to her and fortify her. But as it had turned out, he had prepared her for death without sharing it. She was killed, not he. She had passed the course, and he had not. The hole deepened, the sand clay and stones of Poland, their birthplace, opened up. He had just been blinded, he had a stunned face, and he was unaware that blood was coming from him till they stripped and he saw it on his clothes. When they were as naked as children from the womb, and the hole was supposedly deep enough, the guns began to blast, and then came a different sound of soil. The thick fall of soil. A ton, two tons, thrown in. A sound of shovel- metal, gritting. Strangely exceptional, Mr. Sammler had come through the top of this. It seldom occurred to him to consider it an achievement. Where was the achievement? He had clawed his way out. If he had been at the bottom, he would have suffocated. If there had been another foot of dirt. Perhaps others had been buried alive in that ditch. There was no special merit, there was no wizardry. There was only suffocation escaped. And had the war lasted a few months more, he would have died like the rest. Not a Jew would have avoided death.
Peretz was among the first to recognize in the ideals of the early Hasidic masters, and in the web of legend that had been spun around them, models of spiritual independence that the Jews of his time were otherwise lacking.
To us a single act of injustice – cheating in business, exploitation of the poor – is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice in injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world. Their breathless impatience with injustice may strike us as hysteria. We ourselves witness continually acts of injustice, manifestations of hypocrisy, falsehood, outrage, misery but we rarely grow indignant or overly excited. To the prophets even a minor injustice assumes cosmic proportions.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel
One of the S. S. men caught a woman with a baby in her arms.
She began asking for mercy: if she were shot
The baby should live.
She was near a fence between the ghetto and where Poles lived
And behind the fence were Poles ready to catch the baby
And she was about to hand it over when caught.
The S. S. man took the baby from her arms
and shot her twice,
And then held the baby in his hands.
The mother, bleeding but still alive, crawled up to his feet.
The S. S. man laughed
And tore the baby apart as one would tear a rag.
Just then a stray dog passed
And the S. S. man stooped to pat it
And took a lump of sugar out of his pocket
And gave it to the dog.
But for me, a German, it is not quite so simple. In the end, all who did not put up resistance were implicated, entangled in the belief systems of “these” Germans, lending them a hand and sharing in the profits. Among those who “went along,” in the broadest sense of the words, were all who practiced the art of looking away, turning a deaf ear, and keeping silent. There has been much quarreling about collective guilt and responsibility, but my basic feeling is, rather, one of ineradicable shame – the shame of belonging to this people, speaking the language of the concentration camp guards, singing the songs that were also sung in the Hitler Youth and the Company of German Girls. That shame does not become superannuated; it must stay alive.
I?m like a stone when I receive the news of your death?
lists of crippled people come off the plane??
your best friend limping?
I learn that they killed your sister on a street corner??
the children in the slums eat cats and dogs?
if they can find them??
you haven?t worked for fifteen months?
another worker clubbed?
the noise of a stick on a shoulder?
The Americans and the Germans were much more alike than the Americans and the Asians, the doctor said, because Asians had little regard for human life. Everyone knew that. “What about the six million Jews?”
No one who read the fine print of The New York Times doubted that Vietnam War policy was the creation of Lucifer. What should one make of cluster bombs—that open a hundred meters above the ground, releasing bomblets which in turn release a spray of deadly needles killing all that is human in their wake? Silent penetration of body flesh. Can one talk in civil terms about saturation bombings, strategic hamlets, and free-fire zones? Could you describe napalm to a ten-year-old? Dropped in large barrels, a jelly-gas that spread rapidly through villages and stuck to the skin with a fiery grip. Or herbicidal defoliants designed to poison miles upon miles of plants and trees. Not since the Romans, in revenge, salted the earth of Carthage, has the world seen such a calculated wasteland.
The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous. It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will he obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake.
I’m certain that if Tolstoy had lived longer, he would have turned to Judaism—that is to the prayer shawl and phylacteries and fringed ritual undergarments and the dietary laws. There is not, and cannot be, any other kind of Jewishness.
–Isaac Bashevis Singer
Fix a period for thy study of the Torah; say little and do much; and receive all men with a cheerful countenance.
The otherwise than being is attested to by exceptional people, by saints and just ones and by the “thirty-six unknown just ones” to whom the world owes its continued life.
My grandmother in her old age
Sold barley and groats at a stall
In the market place. She did not measure her cereal
Than I must minutes.
The ‘clerk’ who to-day condemns the realism of the State to which he belongs does really harm that State. Hence it follows that the State, in the name of its practical interests, to defend which is its function, has a right — perhaps a duty — to punish them. This appears to me to be the true order of things: The ‘clerk,’ faithful to his essential duty, denounces the realism of States; whereupon, the States, no less faithful to their duty, made him drink the hemlock. The serious disorganization in the modern world is that the ‘clerks’ do not denounce the realism of States, but on the contrary approve of it; they no longer drink the hemlock.
Attachments, friendship, love, as Pierre understood them, Karataev had none; but he loved and lived on affectionate terms with every creature with whom he was thrown in life, and especially so with man — not with any particular man, but with the men who happened to be before his eyes.
Everybody became accustomed to deceiving themselves, since this had become a kind of moral prerequisite for survival. The habit has persisted in such a way that even today, eighteen years after the collapse of the Nazi regime, it is sometimes difficult not to believe that mendacity and “living a lie” are an integral part of the German national character.
I too think the intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the misery of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden and open pressure and manipulations, should be the chief doubter of systems, of power and its incantations, should be a witness to their mendacity. For this very reason, an intellectual cannot fit into any role that might be assigned to him, nor can he ever be made to fit into any of the histories written by the victors. An intellectual essentially doesn’t belong anywhere; he stands out as an irritant wherever he is; he does not fit into any pigeonhole completely.
The war goes on and this particularly horrific and senseless invasion will reap years of negative snarling karma, and be the paradigm for the next wars, the next imperious interventions. Poets oppose this monstrous aggression and further aggressions with our voices, breath, our wits, our bodies, our words, our cultural, activist interventions. We continue our activity in the nation’s streets and in concert with other outraged citizens of the world. We as poets witness and continue to proclaim ourselves, in Shelley’s phrase: the true legislators of the race.
The 81 days of detention were a nightmare. I am not unique; it happened to many people in China. Conditions were extreme, created by a system that thinks it is above the law and has become a kind of monstrous machine. There were so many moments when I felt desperate and hopeless. But still, the next morning, I heard the birds singing.
Hello, Chinese government. My name is Eve Ensler, I am the founder of One Billion Rising, and a playwright. I’m here today to say to you with all my heart to recognize the Chinese Five, these extraordinary women who stood up, not to antagonize the government but to liberate women so that all people in China can be free and equal. Please let go their sentence, let go their charges, set them free, and erase their bail. Not only that, celebrate them, appreciate them, recognize them, so all women in China can be free. There are many women around the world who love the Chinese Five, support the Chinese Five, and stand with the Chinese Five. We will stand with them until all the women in China can be free. They are not a threat to you; they are not here to hurt you. They are here to make the world better for everyone.
Prophetic witness consists of human deeds of justice and kindness that attend to the unjust sources of human hurt and misery. It calls attention to the causes of unjustified suffering and unnecessary social misery and highlights personal and institutional evil, including the evil of being indifferent to personal and institutional evil. The especial aim of prophetic utterance is to shatter deliberate ignorance and willful blindness to the suffering of others and to expose the clever forms of evasion and escape we devise in order to hide and conceal injustice. The prophetic goal is to stir up in us the courage to care and empower us to change our lives and our historical circumstances.
[C]ontemporary war is a bureaucratic and capitalistic enterprise that requires its bored clerks, soulless administrators, ignorant taxpayers, contradictory priests, and encouraging families. If we understood that a war machine is a pervasive system of complicity that requires not only its front line troops but also its extensive network of logistical, emotional, and ideological support, then we would understand that all the politicians and civilians who cheer the war effort or simply go along with it are, one and all, rear echelon motherfuckers, including, perhaps, myself.
–Viet Thanh Nguyen
As for the great prophets, Isaiah declared himself the one who wakes us in the night, the one whose cries will awaken the city. Jeremiah pleads, “Wake up! Stop sleeping!” But it’s really mean to deprive us of our bourgeois sleep. Sleeping well is the luxury of the bourgeoisie, the middle classes. People who are starving never enjoy a good sleep.
The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labeled “unfortunate,” but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. For this reason it is enough, but it is indispensable, to know how to look at him in certain way.
Instead of scalding
Your pots and plates,
Take steel wool
To your hearts:
You read the Haggadah
Like swine, which
If put before a table
Would forage about in the bowl
For parsley and dumplings.
Is stronger than you are.
Go outside and see:
The slaves are rising up,
A brave soul
Is burying the oppressor
Beneath the sand.
Here is your cruel,
Dispatching his troops
With their chariots of war,
And here is the Sea of Freedom,
Which swallows them.
The real victims of “America’s agony” are millions of suffering and tormented people throughout much of the Third World. Our highly refined ideological institutions protect us from seeing their plight and our role in maintaining it, except sporadically. If we had the honesty and moral courage, we would not let a day pass without hearing the cries of the victims. We would turn on the radio in the morning and listen to the voices of the people who escaped the massacres in Quiché province and the Guazapa mountains, and the daily press would carry front-page pictures of children dying of malnutrition and disease in the countries where order reigns and crops and beef are exported to the American market, with an explanation of why this is so. We would listen to the extensive and detailed record of terror and torture in our dependencies compiled by Amnesty International, Americas Watch, Survival International, and other human rights organizations. But we successfully insulate ourselves from this grim reality. By so doing, we sink to a level of moral depravity that has few counterparts in the modern world.
Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You don’t even know the names of these Arab villages, and I don’t blame you, because these geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahalal arose in the place of Mahlu, Gvat in the place of Jibta, Saird in the place of Haneifa, and Kfar-Yehoshua in the place of Tel-Shaman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.
The responsibility for the other is the good. It’s not pleasant, it is good.
Two years later, when I went to the United States to explain the suffering of the Vietnamese people and to plead for peace in Vietnam, I saw a woman on television carrying a wounded baby covered with blood, and suddenly, I understood how the American people could continue to support the fighting and bombing. The scene on the television was quite different from the reality of having a bleeding baby in my arms. My despair was intense, but the scene on television looked like a performance. I realized that there was no connection between experiencing the actual event and watching it on the TV screen while sitting at home in peace and safety. People could watch such horrible scenes on TV and still go about their daily business—eating, dancing, playing with children, having conversations. After an encounter with such suffering, desperation filled my every cell. These people were human beings like me; why did they have to suffer so? Questions like these burned inside me, and, at the same time, inspired me to continue my work with serene determination. Realizing how fortunate I was compared to those living under the bombs helped dissolve any anger or suffering in me, and I was committed to keep doing my best to help them without fear.
But our society chooses not to take notice. Silence everywhere. Rarely mentioned in the press, [the atrocities against the Ache Indians in Paraguay are] not a subject for discussion at the United Nations or elsewhere. The important voices are still. At one time we may have had the excuse that we did not know. But now that is no longer valid. Now we do know. And from now one we are responsible. And accomplices.
To put it simply, if you believe that only Germans are capable of such mass destruction as we have seen between 1933 and 1945, you are an optimist. If you think that many nations have that potential, you are pessimistic indeed.
What can we do to affect the events that are to come? First, we must not make the mistake of placing trust in the government. The large upsurge of antiwar sentiment can be an effective device for changing national policy if it is sustained in continuing mass actions across the country. Otherwise the administration can ride out the storm and continue as before to systemically demolish the society of South Vietnam and Laos. It is difficult week after week, month after month, to sustain a high level of protest against the war. American society becomes more polarized and the true, familiar Nixon emerges in the person of Mitchell or Agnew, as the threat of repression becomes more real, it will be hard to maintain the kinds of resistance and protest that the Vietnam catastrophe demands. As the reports of massacres and automated murder becomes routine, the impulse to respond by violence may become more difficult to stifle, despite the realization that this can only have the effect of bringing the mass of the population to “ignore resultant atrocities.” Continued mass actions, patient explanation, principled resistance can be boring, depressing. But those who program the B-52 attacks and the “pacification” exercises are not bored, and as long as they continue in their work, so must we.
There was a napalm ward in the provincial hospital of Quang Ngai where the people were so badly disfigured they could probably never go back into society. Many had been put in there to die. I was there once and saw this kid. He had his eyelids burned off, his nose burned off, and his lips burned off. He was halfway to becoming a skull, but he was still alive. I could hardly look at him—he was so ugly, so frightening, really, really frightening. So I just glanced at him and turned around. I was photographing someone else and I felt somebody pulling at the back of my shirt. I turned around and it was the boy. He indicated with sign language that he wanted me to take his picture. As I took his picture, I remember thinking that it will never get published but it’s something we should have for the war crimes trial. Of course that never happened. When I came out of that ward there was an American journalist. She said, “I can’t go in there, it’s too horrible. Can you take my camera and take some pictures for me?” I said, “No, you go in there. Those people were burned with your taxpayer’s money. Go and see what they did to those people with your money.”
–Philip Jones Griffiths
Whoever claims that the settlements are Israel’s catastrophe from a security and economic point of view is not an anti-Semite but a patriot. Whoever says that this government is committing crimes against humanity is not an anti-Semite but an honest and humane person. Whoever condemns the demolition of houses in Rafah and Jerusalem, opposes the provocative liquidations and fostering of ferment in the area so that we can avoid going to the negotiating table, does so out of love for their homeland.
[Claude Lanzmann’s] a good bourgeois, researching a film, and praising Israel, but his praise, in his head, is the consequence of the Holocaust. He really doesn’t see what is happening to the poor Palestinians, chased from their land, their houses seized without compensation, their children driven out of schools, harassed from morning to night, beaten by heavily armed strangers. Lanzmann thinks of Israelis as Holocaust victims. And to him, anyone who criticizes Israeli policy is an anti-Semite. Period. And any Jew like the members of Matzpen, and Pierre Bloch, and you, are all self-hating Jews.
I accuse everyone who sees and knows all of this of doing nothing to prevent the emerging catastrophe. Sabra and Shatilla events were nothing compared to what has happened and what is going to happen to us. We have to go out not only to the town squares, but also to the checkpoints. We have to speak to the soldiers in the tanks and the troop carriers — like the Russians spoke to their soldiers when they were ordered to retake control in Red Square — before entry into Palestinian cities turns into a murderous urban warfare. And I accuse myself of knowing all of this, yet crying little and keeping quiet too often.
I remember no-man’s land, between Palestine and Israel. December 2005. I was sitting on a rock and breaking bread with Palestinians, Israeli anarchists, and international volunteers. We were waiting for the Israeli Army to arrive and shit was about to go down, but I felt peace with capital P for the first time in a very long time.
Where are the Isaiahs of our day? Could they be found among the outsiders — a prisoner or a widow or an orphan or a homeless one or an ‘illegal alien’ or someone driven mad by the system? The vision often starts among such persons who can cut to the essentials in matters of life and death, of compassion and right judgment, while the rest of us know nothing.
During the war in Vietnam we can see that the generals of the US Army are not taught to respect life. They just kill everyone. They are not taught to save as many lives as possible. When you sit on the plane and you drop a bomb you kill a number of soldiers, but you also kill a lot of civilians. The United States is a very rich country and they have a lot of bombs. But they don’t know anything about what happens underneath. They never see deeply what happens down there when the bomb explodes. There are children who were just born, there are children only three years old. Not only are they killed but they are handicapped because of these bombs, and they suffer all their life. When I say this I do not say that only Americans are bad, but the other side also did not respect life. During the war a lot of civilians died. And people always pay attention to the success of the battle, they never think of how many people die, how many innocent civilians die. And they don’t care much about the minds of people, their unhappiness. The US Government did everything possible to protect the lives of American soldiers, but the American Government never paid attention to the lives of the Vietnamese soldiers on either side. Those who have gone through the war in Vietnam see very clearly that only the American soldiers’ lives were protected, but Vietnamese soldiers lives’ on both sides were not protected at all, and they didn’t care at all for the lives of civilian people. So the life of the nationalists, the Vietnamese soldiers on the pro-American-side, they were also not protected at all. And the lives of the civilians are nothing.
The world says that stories are good to put a person to sleep, but I say that with stories you arouse people from sleep.
–Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav
A young, liberal and idealistic Jew does not want to have to defend flooding south Lebanon with four million cluster submunitions, or firing white phosphorus shells reaching a temperature of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit on hospitals in Gaza any more than he or she wants to defend the legality of Israeli settlements against the considered opinion of every member of the International Court of Justice. If you are the son of a Rush Limbaugh or the daughter of a Sean Hannity, you might not recoil at such a public posture. But it’s just not a Jewish thing.
The soothsayers who found out from time what it had in store certainly did not experience time as either homogeneous or empty. Anyone who keeps this in mind will perhaps get an idea of how past times were experienced in remembrance–namely, in just the same way. We know that the Jews were prohibited from investigating the future. The Torah and the prayers instruct them in remembrance, however. This stripped the future of its magic, to which all those succumb who turn to the soothsayers for enlightenment. This does not imply, however, that for the Jews the future turned into homogeneous, empty time. For every second of time was the strait gate through which Messiah might enter.
To guard against indifference, I tell tales, I speak of remembrance, of humanism, of compassion, of faith, of people fighting and working together. To a society lost in its own apathy, in its own moral indifference, we shout, “Wake up.”
I understand why Yiddish writers still draw on the theme of the old homeland, of the shtetl, where the people forged the treasure of their language and their lifestyle. But I believe that, no matter how strong and reassuring the news may be about the rebirth of Yiddish, especially about young people who are studying it around the world, Yiddish as a living, developing language can only exist where Jews live together in large numbers. Because only then do people use language creatively, and that gives the artist the material from which to draw her linguistic nourishment. Then, fed by the people, the artist gives back the artworks that enrich and stimulate the people, and thus, once again, the people give inspiration to the artist. This, it seems to me, is the natural cycle in the cultural life of a people. That is why I often wish that Yiddish-speaking cities and settlements would be created all over the world, including Yiddish-speaking kibbutzim in Israel. Is this really Utopian? Perhaps; but if it does not happen, what will become of Yiddish?
If we reach the time when Yiddish and Yiddish customs and folklore are forgotten, Hitler will have succeeded not only physically but also spiritually.
–Isaac Bashevis Singer
Anyone who does not actively, constantly engage in remembering and in making others remember is an accomplice of the enemy. Conversely, whoever opposes the enemy must take the side of his victims and communicate their tales, tales of solitude and despair, tales of silence and defiance.
The end of Yiddish, except as an academic pursuit or as a final nostalgia, is not at all Kafkaesque. Jewish history has many ironies and countless sorrows, as well as a panoply of cultural achievements too numerous for any single consciousness to absorb. Jewish cultural memory is tenacious, and will retain the masterpieces of Yiddish literature, from I.L. Peretz and Sholem Aleichem on to the major American Jewish poets: Moyshe-Leyb Halpern and Jacob Glatshteyn. Except for a handful of versions by John Hollander, the poets do not lend themselves to translation, but the prose fiction that culminates in Chaim Grade’s The Yeshiva has come through well enough. The vibrant Yiddish language, fused and open, questioning and celebrating, someday soon will be no more.
The Hebraists think that Israeli is true Hebrew and will one day be spoken internationally by all Jews. The Yiddishists think their clubs, articles, conferences, and proclamations of love and devotion will “save Yiddish.” Meanwhile, the Hasidim, who have no interest in either position are demographically making Yiddish a major Jewish language even in Israel, and the major Jewish language internationally.
Listen carefully, Riva Bramson—listen to our Yiddish language that you understand so little and please understand that its wealth of expressions and nuance are richer than your wildest imagination could dream. There’s absolutely nothing that our lively, juicy tongue can’t find words to describe. Even so, I don’t believe anyone has the power to find a fitting description for everything going on beneath the surface of the Nineteenth Apartment unless, perhaps, you transformed the old Yiddish saying “Every ulcer has its own color” into a new and different saying: “Every building has a hidden ulcer spreading.”
The Jewish element [at Olga Studl’s pension at Schelesen, where he went for his health in 1919] is a young woman, only, it is to be hoped, slightly ill. A common and yet astounding phenomenon. Not Jewish and yet not not-Jewish, not German and yet not not-German… possesses an inexhaustible and nonstop store of the brashest Yiddish expressions …
How difficult for me is Hebrew:
Even the Hebrew for mother, for bread, for sun
Is foreign. How far have I been exiled, Zion.
Having failed to achieve its hopes, its utopias, its political programs and strategies, broken on the rocks of the twentieth-century European history, Yiddishland survives, in the account of the past, as a culture, a lost treasure entrusted to antiquarian remembrance.
–Alain Brossat and Sylvia Klingberg
Reb Mordecai smiles. Our enemies
Are self-important asses.
Not a thousand troops have the power that lies
In one of Queen Esther’s blouses.
Sometimes at midnight, in the great silence of the sleep-bound town, the doctor turned on his wireless before going to bed for the few hours’ sleep he allowed himself. And from the ends of the earth, across thousands of miles of land and sea, kindly, well-meaning speakers tried to voice their fellow-feeling, and indeed did so, but at the same time proved the utter incapacity of every man truly to share in suffering which he cannot see. “Oran! Oran!” In vain the call rang over oceans, in vain Rieux listened hopefully; always the tide of eloquence began to flow, bringing home still more the unbridgeable gulf that lay between Grand and the speaker. “Oran, we’re with you!” they called emotionally. But not, the doctor told himself, to love or to die together—and that’s the only way. They’re too remote.
Then descends upon us the American who appears when he should disappear, an American elated to see what he’s seeing, a happy witness to experiences not available to others. War and siege. To an American who runs after any tragedy with a camera, a notebook, and a wife, is there anything more exciting than this death? I call him Cause-Man because he’s a lover of hot issues. I’m not comforted by his fascination with a war that serves only to supply him with a wealth of material. More of us must die that he may have more to do and the excitement of sharing the life of the victim. He came all the way from New York just to watch us. He’s not a professional journalist who runs after news in serving his profession. He’s an amateur who records tragedies on tape with the lens of a video camera.
[Yankev Glatshteyn’s] commitment to Yiddishkeyt as a national, historical, philosophical, geneaological, and even psychological entity—all of which have common borders with theological Jewishness—was total.
I’m not sure I’ve accomplished much, certainly not compared to Dr. Weinreich. But the question of Jewish cultural continuity, and its utmost urgency, is one that has not been far from my mind the last 20 years. So, rather than be dissatisfied with my own paltry contribution, I shall take heart at the continuity between myself and Dr. Weinreich, and keep pushing ahead, with what talent I do have at my disposal.
To me, Gaza embodies the entire saga of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it represents the central contradiction of the State of Israel – democracy for some, dispossession for others. It is our exposed nerve.
Sumud is watching your home turned into a prison. You, Samid, choose to stay in that prison because it is your home, and because you fear that if you leave, your jailer will not allow you to return. Living like this, you must constantly resist the twin temptations of either acquiescing on the jailer’s plan in numb despair, or becoming crazed by consuming hatred for your jailer and yourself, the prisoner. It is from this personal basis that sumud for us, in contrast with politicians outside, is developing from an all-encompassing form of life into a form of resistance that unites the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
[Solidarity is] a readiness to translate the feeling of brotherliness into acts of support for those groups, movements or other collectivities which are intent on reducing the level of violence, domination or force in political and social institutions…. The virtue of solidarity thus defined, does not include unqualified support for the in-group (nor for that matter, any other group or movement); rather it excludes unqualified support.
Why repeat the facts—they cover up our feelings. The development of these feelings, the spilling of these feelings past the facts, is what fascinates me. I try to find them, collect them, protect them. These people [in Chernobyl] had already seen what for everyone else is still unknown. I felt like I was recording the future.
By politicide I mean a process that has, as its ultimate goal, the dissolution of the Palestinian people’s existence as a legitimate social, political, and economic entity…. Politicide is a process that covers a wide range of social, political, and military activities whose goal is to destroy the political and national existence of a whole community of people and thus deny it the possibility of self-determination. Murders, localized massacres, the elimination of leadership and elite groups, the physical destruction of public institutions and infrastructure, land colonization, starvation, social and political isolation, re-education, and partial ethnic cleaning are the major tools used to achieve this goal.
And after each interview, the [Salvadoran] mother would invariably walk to the far end of the table, to a heap of photo albums laid there. Would take one of them in hand, gravely turn page after page, these images out of the national abattoir, the tortured, raped, amputated. The photos that stood horrid surrogate for the young men, absent from streets and homes and churches and factories. The disappeared generation. I could scarcely bear to look at the faces that dared look at such images, and not be turned to stone. How much can one bear? I did not know. But I sensed that the measure of what could be borne would be revealed neither by psychiatrist nor politician nor bishop. I must go in humility to these unknown, despised lives, upon whom there rested the preferential option of God.
If you tell my mother that Jesus loves her
She will tell you of her mother who had to wear a giant cross to survive the Kozaks
She will tell you about her father who almost didn’t survived the Kozaks
She will tell you about her brother and many aunts and cousins who were murdered in Jesus’s name
She called me one morning while I was chasing the story to say that at a dinner in New York the night before she had been told by army general Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, that I was a dishonest, lying reporter who invented stories. I laughed and told her that those were the nicest words an investigative reporter could hear—a badge of honor for someone who had never been invited to the White House or on a press junket, and never wanted to be.
When I am with Palestinian friends I tend to be somewhat less horrified than when I am trying to act in a role of human rights observer, documenter, or direct-action resister. They are a good example of how to be in it for the long haul. I know that the situation gets to them – and may ultimately get them – on all kinds of levels, but I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity – laughter, generosity, family-time – against the incredible horror occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death. I felt much better after this morning. I spent a lot of time writing about the disappointment of discovering, somewhat first-hand, the degree of evil of which we are still capable. I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances – which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will.
I suppose, in the end, we journalists try–or should try–to be the first impartial witnesses to history. If we have any reason for our existence, the least must be our ability to report history as it happens, so that no one can say: ‘We didn’t know–no one told us.’ Amira Hass, the brilliant Israeli journalist on Haaretz newspaper whose reports on the occupied Palestinian territories have outshone anything written by non-Israeli reporters, discussed this with me more than two years ago. I was insisting that we have a vocation to write the first pages of history but she interrupted me. ‘No, Robert, you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘Our job is to monitor the centers of power.’ And I think, in the end, that is the best definition of journalism I have heard: to challenge authority–all authority–especially so when governments and politicians take us to war, when they have decided that they will kill and others will die.
Offensive? Yes: That is precisely what I have been trying to elicit all these years: outrage, outrage, and offense at what Israel is making a million and a half immiserated people living in the Strip endure. To the best of my meager abilities, I am asking all Israelis to be outraged—or at least to understand what is being perpetrated in their name, so that they may never have the right to claim: we did not know. We didn’t know that the Israeli occupation was so devastating, so brutal; we didn’t know this horror was going on.
The army sees its role as training for the defense of Israel’s frontiers and airspace; this you don’t do by spending more and more time bashing teen-agers in the streets of Gaza.
In short, we demonize the enemy so that we can go on living with ourselves. It happens in every war. The Germans become Huns. The Russians become Reds. The Chinese become chinks. The Koreans, and in turn the Vietnamese, become gooks. And now the Iraqis are barbarians. How can people capable of disconnecting Kuwaiti babies from their respirators and firing missiles into Tel Aviv be like us? How can they be human? Obviously, they can’t be.
–W. D. Earhart
You probably think I’m writing all this to stir your pity. My fellow citizens have indeed proved a hard-hearted lot. You sit enjoying your breakfast, listening to stirring reports about the war in North Caucasus, in which the most terrible and disturbing facts are sanitized so that the voters don’t choke on their food. But my notes have a quite different purpose, they are written for the future. They are the testimony of the innocent victims of the new Chechen war, which is why I record all the detail I can.
Marya D looked and, without saying a word, turned and went quickly into the house; Butler could not take his eyes from the terrible head. It was the head of the same old Hadji Murat with whom he had so recently spent evenings in such friendly conversation….Butler went out to the porch. Marya D. was sitting on the second step. She glanced at Butler and at once turned away angrily. “What’s the matter, Marya D.?” asked Butler. “You’re all butchers. I can’t bear it. Real butchers,” she said, getting up. “The same could happen to anyone,” said Butler, not knowing what to say. “That’s war.” “War!” cried Marya D. “What war? You’re butchers, that’s all. A dead body should be put into the ground, and they just jeer. Real butchers,” she repeated and stepped off the porch and went into the house through the back door.
What Rachel Corrie’s work in Gaza recognized, however, was precisely the gravity and the density of the living history of the Palestinian people as a national community, not merely as a collection of deprived refugees. That is what she was in solidarity with. And we need to remember that that kind of solidarity is no longer confined to a small number of intrepid souls here and there but is recognized the world over. In the past six months I have lectured on four continents to many thousands of people. What brings them together is Palestine and the struggle of the Palestinian people, which is now a byword for emancipation and enlightenment, regardless of all the vilification heaped on them by their enemies.
It would take the pen of Swift to evoke the nauseating scenes of hypocrisy, bad faith and self-delusion on the White House lawn on September 13, crammed as it was with people who for long years were complicit in the butchery and torture of Palestinians and the denial of their rights, now applauding the “symbolic handshake” that in fact ratified further abnegation of those same rights…. In the shadow of an American President with the poise and verbiage of the manager of a McDonald’s franchise, Arafat produced oratory so meager it made Rabin sound like Cicero. To think that long years of struggle and U.N. resolutions acknowledging Palestinian claims should end with this pathetic fellow shouting thank you to his suzerains.
True prophets like Amos — “dissident intellectuals,” in modern terminology — offered both elevated moral lessons, which the people in power weren’t fond of, and geopolitical analyses that usually turned out to be pretty accurate, which the people in power were even less fond of. Naturally, the true prophets were despised, imprisoned, driven into the desert. The public also hated the true prophets — they didn’t want to hear the truth either. Not because they were bad people, but for all the usual reasons — short-term interest, manipulation, dependence on power.
Do not ask me, a traumatized Jew, to be pro-Palestinian. I totally identify with Israel and cannot go along with leftist intellectuals who reject it. Perhaps another generation will be free enough to criticize Israel; I cannot.
I’ve made it clear in my own work a thousand times that I agree with Elie [Wiesel] about the absoluteness, the ontological horror of the catastrophe [of the Holocaust]. But I’m also a man, and a million Indonesians — this is the latest good estimate — were massacred in cold blood, and without America moving. It was very convenient; they were allegedly Marxists. This happened within the last six months. Massacres are also going on right now, and, if I cannot comprehend how men in this room did not move in 1940 or 1941, I am not sure I can comprehend why I do not move now when certain things are going on in Asia, at the very moment when I’m speaking. This evening we’ll go to our friends, to our dinners, to our good sleep, while torture is going on and many human beings are being burned alive. And the great difference is this: it is at least conceivable that when the first news got through about Auschwitz — and there is some evidence on this — there was not actually in the minds of those who heard it the possibility of believing it; it seemed outside the categories of understanding. We who come after know that whatever the news is, it may be so. Whatever the massacre, the torture, the children being burned now in our name — it may be so. . . I think it is our job as Jews, if anywhere in the world human beings are being burned alive, to ask ourselves: How can we sit still?
Topics may be suppressed or catapulted to public attention, but always for reasons that reflect the problems and needs of a society. In the United States the phenomenon now known as the Holocaust did not take root until after the agonies of the Vietnam War, when a new generation of Americans was searching for moral certainties, and when the Holocaust became a marker of an absolute evil against which all other transgressions in the conduct of nations could be measured and assessed.
I have no doubt that memory is essential to any nation’s mental health. The Shoah must therefore have an important place in the nation’s memorial mosaic. But the way things are done today—the absolute monopoly and the dominance of the Shoah on every aspect of our lives—transforms this holy memory into a ridiculous sacrilege and converts piecing pain into hollowness and kitsch. As time passes, the deeper we are stuck in our Auschwitz past, the more difficult it becomes to be free of fit. We retreat from independence to the inner depths of exile, its memories, and horrors. Israel today is much less independent that it was at her founding, more Holocaustic than it was three years after the gates of the Nazi death factories opened.
If your first language, your mother tongue, was Yiddish, then you have had an apt preparation to receive the dark sayings of Jesus. Born in my parents’ Eastern Europe, Jesus would have spoken Yiddish, and would probably have been martyred not by the Romans but by the Germans.
It struck me all at once. Suddenly. The six million, the murdered, the victims, the “Holocaust martyrs,” all those terms were in fact my people. They were Mottel and Tevye and Shimele Soroker and Chavaleh and Stempenyu and Lily and Shimek.
I’m sure that millions of Yiddish-speaking ghosts will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be, “Is there any new book in Yiddish to read?”
–Isaac Bashevis Singer
On my first journey through Galicia in 1915, I followed loosely on the path of the war; I tramped over smoldering fires and saw fresh traces of the most horrible pogroms. The fear of death was everywhere. Every shtetl, every house, every object was marked with drama; and the people who had survived the threat of death were steeped in even greater tragedy. They were shattered and almost crazed with despair. To me these people were like broken tablets, bleeding from every crevice. Yet at that time the tragedy was still cut off, fortunes lost, great cultural treasures despoiled, but the storm had not yet touched the depth of the soul, had not yet destroyed the sense of human warmth.
In regard to the ideal of the dominant old human being in the so-called North Atlantic and Western Christian civilization, certain features have to be rejected. These include its radical insecurity which leads it to take wild and irrational self-defense measures; its unsolidarity with what is happening to the rest of humanity; its ethnocentrism, along with its absolutizing and idolatrizing of the nation-state as fatherland; its exploitation and direct or indirect domination of other peoples and of their resources; the trivial superficiality of its existence and of the criteria by which types of work are chosen; its immaturity in the search for happiness through pleasure, random entertainment, and amusement; the smug pretension of setting itself up as the elite vanguard of humanity; its permanent aggression against the environment shared by the rest of humanity.
Today, more than at any other time, the Holocaust is not a private property (if it ever was one); not of its perpetrators, to be punished for; not of its direct victims, to ask for special sympathy, favors or indulgence on account of past sufferings; and not of its witnesses, to seek redemption or certificates of innocence. The present-day significance of the Holocaust is the lesson it contains for the whole of humanity.
I.G. Farben’s decision to locate at Auschwitz was based upon the very same criteria by which contemporary multinational corporations relocate their plants in utter indifference to the social consequences of such moves: wherever possible costs, especially labor costs, must be minimized and profits maximized.
–Richard L. Rubenstein
Trouble is you don’t know
Just as I didn’t
That many people die in the Congo
Thousands upon thousands
For that cell phone
They die in the Congo
In its mountains there is coltan
(besides gold and diamonds)
Used for cell phone
For the control of the minerals
Wage this unending war
Asians work twenty hours a day for eighty dollars a month. If I want to compete, I have to turn to them. It’s a globalized world. The Filipino girls in our offices in Hong Kong are always willing. There are no Saturdays or Sundays. If they have to work several days straight without sleeping, they do it, and they don’t get overtime and don’t ask for a thing.
–Enrique Pescamorna via Eduardo Galeano
I have two enemies in all the world,
Two twins, inseparably fused:
The hunger of the hungry and the fullness of the full.
No matter how vast the skyscrapers and powerful the cannon, no matter how limitless the power of the State, no matter how mighty the empire, all this is only mist and fog and—as such—will be blown away. Only one true force remains; only one true force continues to evolve and live; and this force is liberty. To a man, to live means to be free. No, not everything that is real is rational. Everything inhuman is senseless and useless.[p] It did not surprise Ivan Grigoryevich that the word “freedom” had been on his lips when he was sent to Siberia as a young student, and that this word was still alive in him, still present in his mind, even today.
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
–General Smedley Butler
Sur l’absence sans désir
Sur la solitude nue
Sur les marches de la mort
J’écris ton nom
may it continue
may it continue
may it continue
thru the wars to come
may it continue
may it continue
tho the earth seem lost
may it continue
thru exile and silence
may it continue
with cunning and love
may it continue
as woman continues
may it continue
as breath continues
may it continue
as stars continue
may it continue
–Diane di Prima
The day is short,
and the work is great,
and the laborers are sluggish,
and the reward is much,
and the Master is urgent.
Still, the question remains: Why Mendele? Why, at a time of upheaval, should Abramovitsh have returned to that which was so familiar? Precisely because others had the answers and Abramovitsh did not; because traumatic though the pogroms were, he was unwilling to isolate the present course of history from that which had come before; because despite his earlier indictment, he refused in the name of Jewish nationalism to discard modernity out of hand, to spit in the well of enlightenment which he and the other young men of his day had drunk from so thirstily; because, when all was said and done, Jews remained “one great contradiction,” and no one, as we shall see, embodied that dialectical passion better than Mendele.