They Killed Us, And Now They Miss Us
Slanted, bent cement lies all over Europe like twisted graves overlaying the cityscapes.
In Germany, there’s the memorial monument to Europe’s murdered Jews, entitled “Forest of Pillars.” It was created by Peter Eisenman with an eerie strangeness expressed by some 2,700 concrete pillars of varying height spread over an uneven, sunken field measuring nearly 11 acres.
And now, built over what was the Warsaw Ghetto and timed to intersect with the 70th anniversary of the famous uprising in Poland, The Museum of History of Jews in Poland (sans permanent exhibit) held its gala Open House this week welcoming over 15,000 visitors.
With a cost of some $100 million, the new building allowed them to view the interior and see a virtual tour of the Core Exhibition.
They killed us and now they miss us.
No? Well, beyond just these recent architectural creations, there are a number of other cultural signs that would suggest they do.
Where is klezmer music hotter than anywhere else? New York? Jerusalem? Guess again.
By the end of the last millennium and still growing according to a San Francisco Chronicle headline in ’98 that read, “In Today’s Berlin, It’s Hip to Be Klezmer.” The story went on to say, “The playful Jewish music is the rage in Germany’s biggest city, and a community once wiped out is getting back on its feet.”
Coinciding with art and music, one of the most popular films that hit Germany in the last decade was “Alles auf Zucker!” or “Go for Zucker!” It was billed as being the first German-Jewish comedy since World War II and back when it opened in 2004, according to The New York Times, it “attracted huge audiences all over Germany. Its success suggests that humor could be an unconventional form of therapy for the strained relations between Jews and gentiles in Germany.” How nice.
The weekly magazine Der Spiegel commented, “The audience is not laughing at the Jews but together with them. This is definitely a step in the right direction.” Oy.
Today back in Berlin’s Jewish Museum, 70-years after the Holocaust, a Jew sits in a glass box on display and answering questions from visitors about, well, what it’s like to be a Jew living in Germany. The questions are based on entries in the museum guest books from over the years and include, “Is Hollywood controlled by the Jews?” and “Are Rabbis allowed to get married?”
All of this pop cultural kitsch rose to the surface for me the other night when I re-read Hugo Bettauer’s prescient and prophetic novel of 1923 (exactly 90-years ago), “The City Without Jews: A Novel of Our Time,” where he imagines a Vienna that, after expelling the Jews, misses them and wants them back.
Ironically, in the end of the book, newspaper headlines read…
“First Jew Arrives in Vienna”
“We have the honor to inform the public that the first Jew has just returned to Vienna from his exile. He is the young but already world famous painter and etcher Leo Strakosch…”
And why shouldn’t all of Europe want us back? We gave them so much. Aside from Freud, Einstein and Marx, we gave Europe art, music and much of its cultural spirit. So what did they do? They got rid of us. Now they build museums to commemorate us, memorials to immortalize us. One has to wonder, why? Out of guilt? Shame? Or like Bettauer clairvoyantly imagined, a real sense of loss – they miss us.
I can’t help but think of those lines (am I the only one?) from “Big Yellow Taxi“…
They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum.
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve
got till it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a
Here in the United States, we have been, and still are, on a memorial frenzy too. There’s the Vietnam Memorial. The WWII memorial. Then of course there’s Ground Zero’s 9/11 Memorial with the new One World Trade Center still being erected along with a park outside.
The main difference with Europe of course being, we didn’t murder those victims.
Having just recently visited Ground Zero, I watched as kids would run around, jump, dance and play, innocently enough, unaware of the graves below, just as little children I’m sure do in Berlin and Warsaw. Too bad all those dead little victims, the children the Nazis killed, won’t be able to play too.
Or are their ghosts there? Like a Chagall painting, will children be dancing, floating pastorally in the air above, haunting the landscape below? Will they be dancing to the sounds of revived klezmer?
All this; the movies, music, art—are a reminder of what they did to us—what Europe did and I can’t shake the eeriness.