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Helen Bamber

Last night Andrew Denton interviewed Helen Bamber. The prepublicity had been – basically — Helen who?

I had read Neil Belton’s The Good Listener: A Life against Cruelty [1998] some time back – see Only the demons are dancing… – and looked forward to seeing and hearing her for the first time. I was not disappointed.

bamber01 ANDREW DENTON: What is it about the world today that scares you?

HELEN BAMBER: When people, when victims are thrown up through man’s inhumanity, whatever it is, through war, through ethnic violence, whatever it is, I feel the banality of and the denial that accompanies people’s stories and people’s claim for protection when they’re really in danger. Very, very problematic indeed.

ANDREW DENTON: I’m struck by what you said before though when you became upset, you said that these stories have to be told over and over again. Why do people have to be reminded? Why have they forgotten?

HELEN BAMBER: Yes some people don’t know and don’t want to know and have no historical sense of what’s gone on even for their parents or their grandparents, It is the denial of people in a consumer society that we have in our midst, people who are living in danger, who fear danger if they are returned, who may be deemed and (I don’t know whether this is a word that’s used in other countries), may be deemed to be failed asylum seekers. And therefore they are denied protection, they are denied benefits and they’re denied accommodation and healthcare. And I find this extraordinary in a civilised world, a civilised country, a civilised Europe…

ANDREW DENTON: Are you optimistic for the future of humanity?

HELEN BAMBER: I wish we could learn better, both in psychological terms because there’s so much knowledge, and in political terms, and especially in historical terms. I wish we could learn.

ANDREW DENTON: Helen, I’ve asked you to bring in one thing from your life that means something to you. What have you brought?

HELEN BAMBER: Oh yes, yes. I thought about it and course, because I am a collector, there were hundreds of things…but there’s this, this was given to me in Belsen. You know after liberation and when people got better we began to develop a kind of structure within the camp because people were going to be there for so long. I don’t think people realised but people remained there until 1950, many years there was nowhere for them to go. No doors were open for them, and so workshops were set up and a committee was set up, and a theatre was set up and this is one of the things that was made in the workshop, and this was given to me by a young… I don’t know how old he was – probably 16, 17… and he said don’t forget me. When I was holding this and talking my colleagues said you know your holding it a bit like a microphone and it’s interesting you know, telling the story…

A great woman.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2009 in History, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, media watch, memory, TV

 

I’m not Jewish, and I’m offended…

Thirty years ago a wonderful Catholic priest I had come to know well said, much to my surprise: “Now take that doctrine of Papal Infallibility: Pius IX was around the twist, you know…”  I couldn’t but agree, as I had long thought this the case; indeed most reasonably well-informed historians probably would agree. I was surprised that Father thought so too…

But then Catholics are often better than the Catholic Church, though they may not put it that way at times…

Now we have the current Pope going out of his way to demonstrate fallibility, and offending well-informed historians, not just Jews. I am sure someone will explain, or attempt to justify, the political/theological game he is playing. Frankly, I just find it very sad.

I refer of course to this:

EMMA ALBERICI: Pope Benedict’s decision to welcome Richard Williamson back into the Roman Catholic Church coincided with the broadcast of this interview with the 68-year-old breakaway Bishop on Swedish state television.
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: The historical evidence is hugely against six-million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler.
EMMA ALBERICI: Richard Williamson is a rector of a seminary in Argentina. This interview was recorded in Germany last November but was only broadcast last week. The bishop even conceded that his words could land him in jail.
RICHARD WILLIAMSON: The revisionists as they’re called, I think the most serious conclude that between two and 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber. Germany has paid out billions and billions of deutschmarks and now Euros because the Germans have a guilt complex about their having gassed six-million Jews. But I don’t think six-million Jews were gassed. Be careful, I beg of you. This is against the law in Germany. You could have me thrown into prison before I leave Germany. I hope that’s not your intention.
EMMA ALBERICI: The head of the Vatican’s press office, Father Federico Lombardi said there was no connection between Mr Williamson’s views and the decision to reinvite him into the Church.
FEDERICO LOMBARDI (translated): The declarations of Bishop Williamson cannot be shared in any way, and are not shared at all by the Catholic Church and the Pope. However, they have nothing to do with the issue of the excommunication….

EMMA ALBERICI: Richard Williamson and three other men were excommunicated from the Church in 1988 after being ordained without Vatican permission. The three had been appointed by breakaway French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican decree spoke of "overcoming the scandal of divisiveness" and seeking reconciliation with the French Archbishop’s conservative order which opposes the modernisation of the Catholic doctrine. Pope Benedict’s decision comes at a sensitive time in Vatican-Israel relations after the Pope likened Gaza during the recent conflict to a concentration camp.

Holocaust denial is rather more than “a matter of opinion”; it is (in my book) a very clear breach of the commandment on “false witness”, if you want to put a “sin” category on it. In other words, it is to embrace a lie. I would have thought Bishop Williamson’s excommunication more merited than most. It isn’t as if he has repented or recanted.

Perhaps the Pope plans to visit Iran…

I wonder what Wild Reed, a progressive and very thoughtful Catholic, thinks of this. I do refer you to posts like Beyond Papalism on his site to get some idea.

And on another front, I do commend a personal post by Wild Reed, who was born in Australia but lives in Minnesota these days: My "Bone Country". It is quite beautiful.

Update 29 January

The Sydney Morning Herald  has a follow-up report this morning: Bishops apologise for Holocaust denier.

…The Lefebvrian bishops, who form part of the traditionalist Fraternita San Pio, have had their excommunication rescinded by the Pope in a bid to mend a 20-year schism within the Catholic Church.

In a letter published overnight by the Holy See, the bishops not only seek forgiveness for Monsignor Williamson’s denial of the gas chambers and the Jewish genocide – broadcast on Swedish TV last week – but imply that he has been gagged…

Italy’s Repubblica newspaper quoted Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, saying that the bishop’s use of the word "inopportune" underplayed the enormity of the Shoah, or Holocaust.

"It is not good enough to simply shut down the comments of one denier. I want to know from the Lefebvrians exactly what the Vatican Council’s decrees are regarding Jewish people," he said.

On his regular blog, Dinoscopus, Monsignor Williamson crowed about the group’s reintegration into the Catholic Church but made no explicit reference to his denials of the Holocaust. Rather, he referred to a "media uproar", which he claimed was designed to halt the Pope’s decision to rescind the Lefebvrians excommunication.

An arch conservative in matters of gender and dress, Monsignor Williamson argues that women should not wear trousers or shorts and has also aired conspiracy theories on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the destruction of the Twin Towers. He insists he is not anti-Semitic but merely a follower of the words of the New Testament…

The Pope’s decision to return it to the fold is underpinned by the desire to shore up the conservative and traditionalist ranks inside the Catholic Church.

The move holds particular significance at a time when it has become clear that any hope of a union with the Anglican communion is unlikely.

However, Monsignor Williamson’s statements on the Holocaust and his endorsement of anti-Semitic forgeries, including the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, have sparked a backlash in Europe since the Pope’s decision, reported to have been made without seeking advice, became public over the weekend.

I think “fruit loop” is a mild descriptor for Williamson, don’t you? He really could be flavour of the month in Iran! This is an extreme example of conservatism as mental illness, in my view; there’s no doubt it sometimes is. After all, inability to distinguish fact from fiction and reality from delusion must surely mean something.

 

Only the demons are dancing…

Sadly, that is my belief about the current situation in Israel.

Twenty years ago I was working in a place where the Israeli and Australian flags flew, where the anthems of both countries were sung in school assemblies, and among my colleagues were quite a few Israeli citizens. They would come down here to Surry Hills when they were homesick to eat in Abdul’s Lebanese restaurant, where they may have heard Arabic spoken as they partook of the shared pleasure in felafels and hummus. Among those colleagues, especially the Israeli ones, was a wide range of views. On the one hand there was the Jewish Studies teacher who caused a bit of a stir when she told her class: “If I was a Palestinian I would join the PLO tomorrow.” (This was in 1988-89.) She had been a tank commander in the Israeli army, was invited to join Mossad, and knocked them back on the grounds she didn’t approve of them. Her father, after all, was an Israeli communist. On the other hand there was one young man called Conan the Barbarian by the (Jewish) kids, whose claim to fame was the number of Arabs he had strangled. Or so the kids told me. Another colleague told me he preferred not to be called a “Jew” as he was an atheist and thought “Jew” expressed a certain religious assumption he didn’t relate to; he was however happy to be called an Israeli.

All that complexity no doubt still exists, despite policies that were well under way in 1988-9, which my colleagues would often argue about. I met great people in my time at that place; one, from South Africa, had a brother who defended ANC members in the courts and whose father had at one time hidden Nelson Mandela when he was on the run.

All of them had been touched, one way or another, by the Holocaust.

But it is hard to deny the implications of these maps, which I first saw on 3 Quarks Daily a few days ago. I posted the entry in my Google Reader, along with quite a few other posts from a range of people, including the Kashmiri Nomad, a bright but comparatively hard line Muslim. Comparatively, but not into violence, as far as I can tell after several years reading his views and even sometimes exchanging comments. But to the maps.

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Posted by on January 12, 2009 in faith and philosophy, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, interfaith, Israel, memory, Middle East

 

Friday intellectual spot 1

Here you will see some real thought because I have not written what I post in these spots. Sometimes I will harvest something from the Arts & Letters Daily, which is very good even if it favours the Right somewhat, but it does seek a degree of balance and almost always offers at least one post per day that is worth a look. 3 Quarks Daily is also an excellent source, but I have that in my Google Reader picks. The poems on 3 Quarks Daily are especially good. They always feature in my Google Reader.

Today it’s from New Yorker.

…This rejection of inwardness, so constant in Arendt’s work, from “Rahel Varnhagen” on, is the key to what is most valuable in her legacy, and also what is most questionable. No one has argued more forcefully than Arendt that to deprive human beings of their public, political identity is to deprive them of their humanity—and not just metaphorically. In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” she points out that the first step in the Nazis’ destruction of the Jews was to make them stateless, in the knowledge that people with no stake in a political community have no claim on the protection of its laws.

This is the insight that makes Arendt a thinker for our time, when failed states have again and again become the settings for mass murder. She reveals with remorseless logic why emotional appeals to “human rights” or “the international community” so often prove impotent in the face of a humanitarian crisis. “The Rights of Man, after all, had been defined as ‘inalienable’ because they were supposed to be independent of all governments,” she writes in “Origins,” “but it turned out that the moment human beings lacked their own government and had to fall back upon their minimum rights, no authority was left to protect them and no institution was willing to guarantee them.” This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and what is happening now in Darfur. Genocide is a political problem, Arendt insists, and it can be solved only politically.

Yet the supreme value that Arendt places on individual pride and aristocratic distance, on intellect and excellence, also sharply restricts the human understanding that must be the basis for any confrontation with political evil, especially the evil of the Holocaust. Too much of life and too many kinds of people are excluded from Arendt’s sympathy, which she could freely give only to those as strong as she was. If, as she wrote, “it is the desire to excel which makes men love the world,” then our love for the world actually makes it harder for us to love the people who inhabit it. This is the dilemma that runs through all Arendt’s writing, demonstrating that what she observed about Marx is true of her as well: “Such fundamental and flagrant contradictions rarely occur in second-rate writers; in the work of the great authors they lead into the very center of their work.”

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2009 in faith and philosophy, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, intellectual spot, magazines, politics, writers

 

Divine right of Mugabes and other illusions

Well, now we have it. The man is barking mad.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe says “only God” can remove him from office, as the opposition MDC considers pulling out of next week’s run-off election amid escalating violence.

“The MDC will never be allowed to rule this country – never ever,” Mr Mugabe told local business people in Bulawayo – Zimbabwe’s second largest city – referring to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

“Only God who appointed me will remove me, not the MDC, not the British.” — ABC News.

I can’t help but reflect on the sad history of good ideas gone wrong.
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Sir Gustav Nossal on Talking Heads last night

It’s no secret that I enjoy ABC 1’s Talking Heads. Last night was the turn of distinguished Australian scientist Sir Gustav Nossal, a product of that Middle Europe Jewish world which, following the hideous events of the 20th century, contributed so many brilliant migrants to Australia.

PETER THOMPSON: So let’s chart the life of Gus Nossal and see where it all began.

SIR GUSTAV NOSSAL: My earliest memory is in Vienna. I went to hear Adolf Hitler give his first major speech after the dreaded Anschluss. At six years old, I didn’t know too much about it but it was dramatic.

My father, being of Jewish extraction, left it pretty late to decide that this 1,000-year Reich needed to be fled from. And we didn’t actually leave Austria for Australia until January 1939.

One of the aspects of the Austrian heritage which has stayed with me for a lifetime is a very deep commitment to the arts and to culture. And I have these memories of the old 78s with Caruso singing away, with all of the Beethoven symphonies, Mozart and so forth. And of my dad sitting in his armchair reading to us – Goethe, Schiller and Heinrich Heine…

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Posted by on April 29, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, challenge, culture wars, environment, Holocaust, humanity, immigration, Indigenous Australians, John Howard, multicultural Australia, multiculturalism, pluralism, TV

 

I like Norman Davies

I have just finished the collection of essays Europe East & West (Jonathan Cape 2006) and found it fascinating.

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