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Tag: concentration camp

On Translation

Thursday, 20 October, 2016 0 Comments

The poet Anthony Hecht died on this day in 2004. His work was filled with a passionate desire to confront the horrors of 20th century history, especially the Second World War, in which he fought. On 23 April 1945, Hecht’s division helped liberate the Bavarian concentration camp at Flossenbürg. Years later, he said of this experience, “The place, the suffering, the prisoners’ accounts were beyond comprehension. For years after I would wake shrieking.”

In an interview with the Paris Review, Hecht was asked what he did after his discharge from the US Army. His answer:

“I was consistently drunk for well over two weeks. My parents were particularly forbearing and indulgent about this. They kept me in full supply of booze. I think I drank day and night, and I fell asleep most nights on the floor of their New York apartment. The drink must have served as a sort of narcotic for everything unmentionable that had happened or that I saw during those years.”

Hecht was a great admirer of Robert Fitzgerald, the American translator whose renderings of the Greek classics became standard works for a generation of scholars and students. On Translation was dedicated to Fitzgerald.

On Translation

Robert, how pleasantly tempting to surmise,
As Auden half suspected,
That heaven and the benign Italian skies
Are intimately connected;

And once there we shall truly be translated
In grand operatic style
And bella figura flourish, who are fated
To tarry here the while.

Amid hill towns and places where dwell
The blessed of heaven’s see,
They shall address you as Signor Freeztjell
Me, Signor Hecate.

Anthony Hecht (1923 – 2004)


Silence encourages the tormentor and the bully

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

Elie Wiesel, who died on Saturday in New York City, survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps and devoted the greater part of his life to writing and speaking about those horrors. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and this part of his acceptance speech is as necessary as when he delivered it in Oslo 30 years ago:

“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

It is said that silence is golden, and maybe there are times when it is valuable, but silence loses all its lustre when it means accepting bullying, especially the intimidation of the weak, the elderly and the defenceless. We should name and shame the oppressor and the tormentor, loudly and publicly in memory of Elie Wiesel.

Elie Wiesel


Primo Levi remembers the horror of Auschwitz

Tuesday, 27 January, 2015 0 Comments

Primo Levi described his return to Italy from the Auschwitz concentration camp in La tregua (The Truce). The Truce In this Paris Review interview, Levi reminisces about one of the book’s characters: “You remember Mordo Nahum? I had mixed feelings toward him. I admired him as a man fit for every situation. But of course he was very cruel to me. He despised me because I was not able to manage. I had no shoes. He told me, Remember, when there is war, the first thing is shoes, and second is eating. Because if you have shoes, then you can run and steal. But you must have shoes. Yes, I told him, well you are right, but there is not war any more. And he told me, Guerra es siempre. There is always war.”

Today, as the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we should strive to understand the revulsion that Primo Levi felt towards those who took part in the Nazi extermination campaign and also towards those who could have but did not speak out against it. In memory of the murdered millions, here’s an excerpt from The Truce:

“There is no rationality in the Nazi hatred: it is hate that is not in us, it is outside of man. We cannot understand it, but we must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard. If understanding is impossible, knowing is imperative, because what happened could happen again. Consciences can be seduced and obscured again — even our consciences. For this reason, it is everyone duty to reflect on what happened. Everybody must know, or remember, that when Hitler and Mussolini spoke in public, they were believed, applauded, admired, adored like gods. They were ‘charismatic leaders’; they possessed a secret power of seduction that did not proceed from the soundness of things they said but from the suggestive way in which they said them, from their eloquence, from their histrionic art, perhaps instinctive, perhaps patiently learned and practised. The ideas they proclaimed were not always the same and were, in general, aberrant or silly or cruel. And yet they were acclaimed with hosannas and followed to the death by millions of the faithful.”