Wednesday, March 30, 2011


He is not going to write about going to Oswiecim.
I am not going to write about going to Oswiecim.
Being in Krakow, taking a local train.
To and from.
A local train that stops at every station.
It seems to take forever.

Is there any pre-conceived idea of what will be seen?
He thinks since it is June there will be a lot of people about.
There will be signs all about telling a person what to do.
He is both hungry and not hungry and plans to eat when he gets back to Krakow where Piret is working at a conference devoted to ceramics.

There are always directions.

 Krakow is both a living city and a show city.  Much like New York or Paris, even if it is not the capital, there is a "feel" which launches a thousand brochures, so I took the train to Osviewim.


Staying/not staying.





When are you coming back.
 Been there.

Being taken.

Been there.

What I learned today.



 How to fill up the time.

 I know I have been there and you know I have been there.



going to Oswiecim...    
only tourists can see this view,those who came here before would not have been able to see this from where they were enclosed in those boxcars...

Copyright 2011 Thomas McGonigle

Saturday, March 5, 2011

BEING CAUGHT UP by the Nazis and the Soviets


8--In Patchogue, growing up, in my experience, remembered, World War Two was mostly in the Pacific, being of the Class of ’44 and thus born in the last year of the war, the memory is of uncles who had been in the Navy and Marines in the Pacific, my mother’s father was a Colonel in the engineers building airfields in Burma and China,

9--Never was the adjective “good” ever attached to the noun war, that was a distortion applied long afterward as a way to make those who had served feel good as they were dying, never once did anyone ever say: it was a good war, they all knew better, the why was unspoken and in the pictures of dead American Japanese in the various blue covered picture histories that were published after the war for an audience of veterans and those who were related to them

10--Of course we all knew about the war in Europe: D-DAY, the Afrika Korps, the Battle of the Bulge, Erwin Rommel , Adolf Hitler, FDR, Eisenhower, Churchill, (I was going to add Stalin but his name was very obscure in memory)

11--What World War Two would almost solely become arrived via: Eugen Kogan’s THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF HELL, Lord Russell of Liverpool’s THE SCOURGE OF THE SWASTIKA… as now in the early 60’s along with one name: Adolf Eichmann

12--With the knowing about the camps and the killing of millions of Jews there were two disturbing elements in: the Scourge of the Swastika there are photographs of Jews about to be murdered and the pubic hair of one of the women is very evident---as everyone knows pubic hair was relentlessly persecuted in publications in the Unites States until Penthouse broke the taboo many years later—and the second detail is in memory: a short reference in Kogan’s book to a Romanian boy being sent to Buchenwald for being a compulsive masturbater as a favor to the ruler of Romania---i have not read this book now for many years and will stand corrected: though of course it is the memory I am writing about---

13—in the Coram Drive-in with my family we saw A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE. There was probably a second movie but this film has remained with me because of the ending.

13---Later, when I began to use the word film interchangeably with movie, I discovered that this was directed by Douglas Sirk ( as was another film or movie that is permanently lodged in memory TAZA SON OF COCHISE)--- I guess I was getting ready for being able to watch nearly all of the films of Fassbinder many years later---

13--- the ending, the hero of the film, played by John Gavin is on leave from the German army and at home---the love--- goes back to the war on the Eastern Front and the last thing he will see in the film is the muzzle of the rifle pointed at him by a Russian he had previously saved from being killed: that gaping abyss into which his life is being sent.

13--- never having seen in a movie in which the sympathetic lead character is killed was both incredibly upsetting though I was unable to explain why and to this day: of course being the good guy and all the rest of it, so I suppose…
---14 Princeton University Press has added to the complexity of World War Two another tiny element in the letters of a ordinary German soldier sent to the Russian front, RELUCTANT ACCOMPLICE edited by Konrad H. Jarusch, the son of the letter writer of the same name Konrad Jarusch who had been a high school teacher of religion and history and who find himself in charge of a large field kitchen behind the German lines…the very domestic tone of the letters is of real interest and the constant awareness of even as early as the latter part of 1941 with the winter arriving, there is the sense of the fatal consequences of the German invasion of Russia. Konrad will die of typhus on January 27, 1942…

---14, so Konrad served, essentially an older man, what was he to do, he served, he tried to feed the horde of Russian prisoners, he was not heroic, he didn’t place his life in front of… in order to stop any action, he knew the fate of the Jews, he knew that many of the Russia had welcomed the Germans as liberators, he saw their betrayal, a little guy without a sense of humor, another little guy doing what he had to do, but nothing bad--- really--- and he wrote these letters… “we live from that which we have brought from home, and nurture ourselves with what we hear from home. Most of us can only stand it here, because they see their time here as merely a temporary thing. But we don’t make any plans about the future…

---14 reminded that most soldiers just got through the war, to be remembered only by their relatives and when they were gone not even… the fortunate father in having a son who will become a professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, not to be forgotten, not a hero, not a victim, not a criminal, not a… just another dead soldier who wrote letters making things complex

---14 complex as when my first boss who had lost his arm in the Battle of Bulge was talking about how he had been spared the job of killing some German prisoners as the sergeant was afraid they would make a noise, and how Jim was glad he didn’t have to lead a German in to the dark and cut his throat form behind, with no bitterness at the loss of his arm, thankful he didn’t have to do that job, but for me hearing it: the complexity of the war, did Americans do such things, that wasn’t part of the story…

---15 Jarusch’s letters joins a tiny tradition of books by those who did not inwardly go along and at time publicly did not go along though remaining in Germany. DIARY OF A MAN IN DESPAIR by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen is one such book, by this Prussian aristocrat who always disdainful of the Nazis and who recounting his contact with Oswald Spengler a writer always beloved of by those who enjoy predicting the decline of the West and a stalwart of the Knopf publishing company for many years it should be remembered… anyway to get a sense of the internal emigration: (Spengler) he was truly the most humorless man I have ever met; in this respect he is surpassed only by Herr Hitler and his Nazis who have ever prospect of dying of a wretchedness compounded by their own deep-rooted humorlessness and the dreary monotony of public life which under their domination has taken on the rigidity of a corpse and is now in its fourth year of suffocating us to death (this is in May, 1936)

Reck-Malleczewen will be murdered in Dachau in February 1945.

There is a wonderful apt entry from 20 July 1944. Maria Olczewska ( an opera star) has come for a visit. We talked about Furtwangler—a subject I hardly want to touch on. There is, evidently, a way of conducting in a “blonde” manner. And the favouring of this shade, whether in fact or as a concept, is something which in itself compromises the man who does it. I can’t help it

---15 Norman Stone who writes an introduction to this book points out that one of the great failures of history was that the Prussian aristocrats did not understand that their natural allies were the ordinary Catholics who according to the most reliable research were more likely to be anti-Nazi or not susceptible to the Nazis unlike their Protestant countrymen… and it is this prejudice that proved fatal to them in the long run though it should be remembered that Von Stauffenberg was a Catholic aristocrat who almost did kill Hitler

---16 and a more obscure though more important book: JOURNAL IN THE NIGHT by Theordore Haeker who it seems was in contact with the Scholl, those young people in White Rose, the few who dared to not remain silent.

Some notes:
1940. (399)In addition to his particular knowledge the historian today needs above all to know his catechism and in addition perhaps a smattering of criminal psychology, That is much more important than a knowledge of German Idealism

1944. (698) The Germans tend by nature to the heresy of Pelagius and of Arius, by nature that is by your own ability that makes them proud and by their own pride that makes the intellectually shallow.

1940 (292) The soul of the man who only has ears for the noise of the times will soon be miserably impoverished. He will soon be found to be deaf to all reasonable language.

1940 (469) I wrote so to speak, because I am a reader and always profit by my writing. But now that you ask me, I have to admit that whoever writes wants to be read, and not only by himself.

1940 (87) It is difficult to know one’s way about in one’s own thoughts; how muh more difficult where one’s feelings are concerned.

1940 (80) To many, war is a satisfactory alibi before the world, even though not before one’s conscience or before God.

16--- the LAST LETTERS FROM STALINGRAD was a little collage of letters published in the US in 1962. It is made up of letters soldiers wrote from besieged Stalingrad when the writers knew that they were lost. Preserved by the propaganda ministry who had wanted to possibly use them as a memorial, the actual content was too sad, too human, too lacking in…

But for me when read in the context of A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE:

---Around me everything is collapsing, a while army is dying, day and night are on fire, and four men busy themselves with daily reports on temperature and cloud ceilings. I don’t know much about war. No human being has died by my hand. I have even fired live ammunition

---Don’t forget me too quickly

---I will not surrender; yesterday, after our infantry had retaken a positinm I saw four men who had been taken prisoner by the Russians. No we shall not go into captivity. When Stalingrad has fallen you'll hear and read it. And then yo;ll know that I shall not come back

---if I could have made it through this war safely, I would have understood for the first time what it means to be a man and wife in is true and deepest sense. I also know it now—now that these last lines are going to you

17---and awkwardly I cut to Wendy Lesser’s book on listening and trying to understand Dmitry Shostakovich’s string quartets, MUSIC FOR SILENCED VOICES. For myself who am musically illiterate Lesser’s commentary on the quartets is illuminating and foregoing the usual technical language makes accessible the structure and how the quartets work ---the 15th is my favorite, the saddest--- as individual works of art and how the quartets, all 15 of them, seem to take on a life of their own. It is helpful to read the book before and after listening to each quartet.

18---at one time one could hear people saying, the one advantage of the communist regimes was if you were a writer your work got taken seriously if only by the police who read with greater care than any garden variety editor in the West who was only looking for a way to make money. And the same was said about music and Lesser is very good on just how seriously the communist regime was interested in Shostakovich’s work and how he reciprocated that interest and how he sought to create a space to work in his own way. Lesser falters a little when she acknowledges that he was well rewarded, Three Stalin Prizes among them and all the usual materials rewards though of course he was never really free to come and go as he pleased. She tries hard to avoid dealing with what Shostakovich knew or didn’t know about the untold millions who were murdered by the regime he never publically rebuked and she is reduced to finding irony in certain of his public statement and of course his silence is seen as his way of protesting and yet and yet.

Of course if we are to be tolerant of Ezra Pound’s war time speeches, Celine’s pamphlets, Heidegger’s silence, I suppose we can accept Shostakovich into their ranks but I am well aware that this is no real answer.

Tyrants have always had their artists. And the nature of the tyrant is to be arbitrary. It takes a lot of forgetting to listen to Shostakovich just as it does to read Pound, Heidegger, Celine but they did not so thoroughly serve the tyrant and that is what Lesser avoids. Pound, Celine and Heidegger had lapses, while the whole of Shostakovich’s life was given over to support for the tyrant.