Monday, May 31, 2010

Stumbling Blocks

Day 111 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project. Little did I know, when I left for church yesterday, that I was headed for an amazing reflection (we don’t have sermons) by historian Mark Wyman, entitled “How Should We Remember Horrible Events?” which, indeed, reminded us that the Holocaust was very, very real.

It was the perfect thing for the Sunday before Memorial Day, when we remember our fallen soldiers, and thus also the horrors of war, and our ongoing human conflicts.

Mark spoke movingly of how to remember any of our troubling actions of the past, how to honor victims, how to listen to the apologies and accept the restorative actions of descendants of perpetrators. He spoke of avoiding cliché memorials and gestures that lose their meaning. He asked us to consider new and meaningful memorials and gestures.

Examples: Classes in Duluth, Minnesota that teach young people about a horrible lynching in the past, so those 3 innocent men, circus workers, who died June 15, 1920, are not forgotten, and neither is our human capacity for folly and for evil. An empty library in Berlin, to commemorate the books burned by the Nazis, underground, seen through a glass pane in the street.

And the stumbling blocks, or stolpersteine, on streets in Germany, where artist Gunter Demnig has placed plaques on raised stones to remind us who lived where, who was taken, who died, and when, and what small privileges were taken away from Gypsies and Jews in the 1940s. No pets, no buying of pastries or cakes. It starts small, ends in Holocaust.

As I understand it, the stolpersteine make us confront the stumbling blocks of the past, the things we’d rather forget, but can’t, shouldn’t. In a way, we stumble, so we do not fall, again.

In the comments afterward, Becca spoke of a film, The White Ribbon, that has made her think about such things, and a book, a memoir by Christa Wolf called Patterns of Childhood, formerly A Model Childhood, mentioned here earlier because Susan was reading it. (We have Model Childhood at Babbitt’s, along with some of Wolf’s books in German.) There are all kinds of ways to remember.

Mark is the author himself of several books on American history. The most recent is Hoboes: Bindlestiffs, Fruit Tramps, and the Harvesting of the West. And check out Wyman’s author page at Amazon for the rest!

Mark’s wife, Eva Goldschmidt Wyman, is the editor of Los Poetas y la General (The Poets and the General): Chile’s Voices of Dissent Under August Pinochet, 1973-1989, a bilingual edition, poems in Spanish and facing page translations in English. She is also the author of Huyendo del Infierno Nazi: La Immigracion Judio-Alemana Hacia Chile en los Anos Treinte, in Spanish, about Germans who went to live in Chile during and after World War II. Her work is available at Babbitt’s, Dan Wyman Books in Brooklyn, and various places online, including Google books.

Let us remember our fallen, those who died in military service for our country, today, Memorial Day. Let us remember the harm we can do when we are not doing good. Let us remember to do what good we can. Let us remember it is not always easy to know what to do.

Thank you for remembering.


Susan said...

I passed a link to your blog on to Mark so he could read about what you said, AND posted it on the Reflecting Pool page, since it does such a great job of describing the service. Mark was appreciative, as am I.

SarahJane said...

Those metal plaques are all over Frankfurt, too, although they're just flat on the sidewalk. I noticed three right outside my doctor's office a couple days ago. They really are nice remembrances. I always stop to read them.

Kathleen said...

I'm glad you don't have to actually stumble. I wondered about lawsuits...but perhaps that would only happen in the U.S. I hear Munich and another big city does not allow them....