Sunday, August 26, 2012

The yellow room and the room of death

Peter Ryley of Fat Man on a Keyboard has just written an amazing and moving post that is first of all about thirteen posts written by George Szirtes. (This is the first one: On milieu and refuge - sketch 1).  His posts are meditations on a yellow room painted by Chagall, his mother, Hungary (where his family is from), Jewishness, the Holocaust, Israel, and refuge. They are well worth reading on their own.

Peter writes, "Whenever I read his poetry, I get a feeling that each word is casting a shadow, dappled layers of meaning, which lays bare a moment in time. In the darkest corners of those shadows lurk the ghosts of the worst of the twentieth century. They are not his own experiences; they are a room that he has necessarily passed through."

Peter starts his post by recounting his impression of conversations he has had with younger people about Israel/Palestine:
I sometimes have conversations about Israel/Palestine, both online and face-to face, with younger people and they disturb me. Their support for Palestinian statehood, something I have long shared, can often be scarcely differentiated from an anti-Israel sentiment that simply assumes the inherent wickedness of the state. It isn't hatred; it is disdain. Above all, what worries me is their certainty. Doubt does not trouble them, nor do they think of Israelis as anything other than oppressors. Does it ever cross their mind that they are Jews, or that the history of the conflict is inseparable from Jewish history and experience? I don't think so. As a result, they carelessly leave an intellectual door ajar and sometimes I wonder what it is that seeps in through the crack from the room beyond.
The next part of his post discusses Szirtes' thirteen posts "on milieu and refuge." His last paragraph addresses the young people again. He refers again to the yellow room evoked by George Szirtes - that comfortable, central European, faintly Hapsburg room of the Jewish middle class that was destroyed by the Nazis forever. That room suggests another room to him.
All of which brings me back to these perfectly decent young people and the ideologues who fill them with righteous ardour. It's odd, they never seem to mention the word Jew. Instead they use hopelessly inappropriate analogies – 'colonial settler state', 'apartheid state' and the like. Anything to avoid even thinking that they are talking about Jews and that this noble cause could have anything to do with Jewish people. There is a reason for that of course. We gentiles have a room too. It is part of our history and we don't want to think about it. If we do, it might dilute certainty with ambiguity. The room isn't yellow. Sometimes it is made out of rough planks, sometimes of cement and occasionally it is constructed from neatly dressed stone placed on a picturesque mound in a beautiful northern city. This room is part of our cultural inheritance and it is intrinsically tied up with Jews. It is the room in which we kill them. And so I think I know what bothers me. It is the smell seeping through that half closed door. I can recognise what it is now. 
It's gas.
I read, "This room is part of our cultural inheritance and it is intrinsically tied up with Jews," and then slammed into "It is the room in which we kill them."

It's remarkable to read such a clear-eyed statement of reality, of the truth of all the centuries of history when non-Jews have killed Jews simply because they were Jews. I'm Jewish and I appreciate it when someone who is not Jewish sees this so clearly.

No comments:

Post a Comment