Friday, April 27, 2007

Turkey Vulture?

I swear, I saw a turkey vulture outside our office window yesterday. Luckily, a fellow grad student, Jill, was in her office next door and she confirmed the sighting, otherwise I'm sure everyone would claim I mistook a lousy pigeon for a freaking vulture! But this thing flapped out of the sky and initially perched atop one of the gargoyle-like heads that jut out above the 11th floor windows, until he eventually moved to one of the windowsills a few floors up. Can you imagine gazing out your office window thinking you're about to take in the pleasant, calming scene of a distant city skyline spread before you and instead coming face to face with a vulture? Awesome!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Holocaust and the Book

Just came across the following review on Jstor and find it *very* intriguing...

The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation. Edited by Jonathan Rose. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001. 314 pp. $39.95. ISBN 1-55849-253-4.
This book of fifteen essays, with an introduction by Jonathan Rose, is a testimonial to the importance of the written word in the preservation of a culture and the necessity to record events under even the most harrowing conditions. For readers of Libraries & Culture who are already well informed about libraries and archives in times of war and revolution, The Holocaust and the Book can only deepen their appreciation of the written word and the often heroic efforts involved in its safekeeping.
Rose notes in his introduction that "the story of the Six Million is also the story of the One Hundred Million," the estimated number of books destroyed by the Nazis in Europe over a twelve-year period (1). Beginning with the book burnings in 1933, the essays describe the relentless destruction of Jewish books in Germany, Rome, Salonika, the U.S.S.R., the Netherlands, Poland, Vilna, and Bosnia, presenting a variety of approaches to the topic.
Part 1, "Destruction and Preservation," contains five essays: "The Nazi Attack on 'Un-German' Literature, 1933-1945" by Leonidas E. Hill; "Bloodless Torture: The Books of the Roman Ghetto under the Nazi Occupation" by Stanislao G. Pugliese (see an article on the same topic in L&C 34, no. 3 [summer 1999]); "The Confiscation of Jewish Books in Salonika in the Holocaust" by Yitzchak Kerem; "Embers Plucked from the Fire: The Rescue of Jewish Cultural Treasures in Vilna" by David E. Fishman; and "'The Jewish Question' and Censorship in the U.S.S.R." by Arlen Viktorivich Blium. While the events chronicled in these essays, notably, the Nazi book burnings, have been described before, the authors have dealt with their topics in a fresh way that should appeal to even seasoned historians.
Part 2, "Culture and Resistance," offers three fascinating essays on somewhat lesser known aspects of the topic. "The Secret Voice: Clandestine Fine Printing in the Netherlands, 1940-1945" by Sigrid Pohl Perry surveys several of the major clandestine presses operating during the period and includes some interesting photos. "Reading and Writing during the Holocaust as Described in Yisker Books" by Rosemary Horowitz describes the "memorial" books using source materials written during the war, prepared by immigrant associations to commemorate their communities. The Yisker books drew from diaries, illegal publications, letters, and records kept by Jews in the ghettos, the camps, and in hiding and offer much information about Eastern European Jewish life. The last essay, "Polish Books in Exile: Cultural Booty across Two Continents, through Two Wars" by Sem C. Sutter concerns the evacuation of priceless books and manuscripts that traveled from Poland to France to Quebec and finally back to Poland in 1959.
The title of part 3, "The Reader in the Holocaust: Documents," does not prepare us for the often moving accounts found in the four essays. Dina Abramowicz [End Page 273] writes on the daily difficulties of ghetto life in her essay, "The Library in the Vilna Ghetto," in which the presence of a library represented a rare and peaceful space for reading and reflection; the "Annual Report of the Vilna Ghetto Library, 1941-l942" is included. The second essay, "Library and Reading Room in the Vilna Ghetto, Strashun Street 6," by Herman Kruk, also deals with the matter of readership in the ghetto library. The next essay, "When the Printed Word Celebrates the Human Spirit," was written by Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann, a survivor of Theresienstadt who briefly describes her experience in the camp and the lack of time to read much of anything. Annette Biemond Peck closes the section with her brief essay, "Crying for Freedom: The Written Word as I Experienced It during World War II," about her wartime reading in Amsterdam.
Part 4, "Past and Present," begins with an interesting and provocative essay by John Rodden entitled "Zarathustra as Educator? The Nietzsche Archive in German History." This example of reception history, and the longest essay in the book, deals with the issue of cultural history in Germany, perhaps, as the author states, "a land with too much history" (251). He begins his essay in 1991 in Weimar, home of the Nietzsche Archive, and ranges back through Nietzsche's lifetime and his works before moving on to World War II and the Holocaust and finally to 1991 where he began—a thought-provoking journey. This essay is followed by Andras Riedlmayer's "Convivencia under Fire: Genocide and Book Burning in Bosnia," which reminds us that, even in the 1990s, books as cultural symbols continued to be destroyed. The essay briefly describes the history of book destruction in Bosnia over the last six centuries.
Finally, part 5 provides a useful bibliographic survey, "Jewish Print Culture and the Holocaust" by Joy A. Kingsolver and Andrew B. Wertheimer. It is divided into nine sections: an introduction, "Libraries and Archives," "Publishing," "Alfred Rosenberg and the Einsatztab Reichsleiter Rosenberg," "Jewish Cultural Reconstruction," "Documentation Centers and Archival Resources," "Holocaust Denial and Libraries," "Yisker Bikher," and "Additional Topics." This bibliographic essay is followed by "Notes on Contributors" but, unfortunately, not by an index. However, each of the essays is well documented with notes and, in some cases, bibliographies (in addition to the inclusive bibliographic essay at the end of the book). The use of judiciously selected photos, many courtesy of the National Archives, USHMM Photo Archives, serves to graphically evoke the period under consideration.
While The Holocaust and the Book is an examination of a dark period in history, it is as well a tribute to those who worked to preserve their written heritage throughout and beyond that period. The editor is to be commended for presenting a well-organized and very readable volume of diverse essays, only some of which grew out of the 1996 Drew University conference on "The Holocaust and the Book."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Who Knew?

Man, the Holocaust is depressing... writing a paper about Reznikoff's Holocaust is really causing me to rethink my focus on trauma and representation. I mean, its super interesting, but I feel like I'm in a fog all day after working on it. I know this sounds fairly flippant but really, I'm starting to think I should focus my future eforts on works a little less dark. I've had enough pain and sadness in my life, why do I need to emerse myself in it as a career? Yet, I find I'm continually drawn to issues of historical trauma, like it's somehow my responsibilty to face them, work on/through them. I've always felt (well, since i can remember) that I was sort of the memory depositor for my family. Like I have been assigned the task of carrying the lost memories of my family (most of whom are dead now), and this sense of responsibility has grown to include the choices and issues I've been focusing on in my academic work. There's this feeling I have that I can't do anything but work to redeem the past--and as grandiose as that may sound, it's not meant to. I don't mean the Past, I mean, like Reznikoff, all the little moments that make up a person's life, all their memories, are what must be--but can never be--preserved. I now have memories that were once my mother's memories--of dresses she wore, boys she dated, fights she had--these memories that filled in my sense of who she was, what she cared about; and I have memories of my grandmother's memories--her passage to America from what was then Autria-Hungary, her struggle to "make it" in Detroit, her shame at her reading disability as a young girl, for which she was beaten and humiliated, since that was, of course, not known in the early 1900's as what we now know to be dyslexia. I feel responsible to and for these memories of others, and I feel haunted and burdened by them at the same time. In some major and terrible way they are what comprises my own sense of self; I don't know why I have always been drawn to other's memories, perhaps because they were the way I found to connect as a child who came into a family that was crumbling when I entered it--the past was what was most alive and enjoyable, it made my relatives happy to talk about the past...well, for the most part. Ah, this isn't helping.....