Monday, January 26, 2015

Let the "Shoah" begin.

The Great Week of Remembrance has begun. 

Last week, I attended two events that kick off the full shebang this week which is Holocaust remembrance week.  The Polish & German embassy both held evenings addressing different aspects of the Holocaust that was World War II.

Television has been jammed full of programming, from documentaries to movies chronicling the atrocities that took place between 1939-1945.

Last night, I bit the biggest bullet of all. 
BBC Four was running a marathon showing of Claude Lanzmann's epic 1985 series, "Shoah".  In fact, I really avoided this type of programming as much as possible.  Lili watches everything and sits, glued as if awaiting a different outcome.

 The 9 hour, 33 minute long documentary consists primarily of Lanzmann's interviews and visits to Holocaust sites across Poland, including three extermination camps.

It presents the testimonies of selected survivors, local witnesses and German perpetrators.  Many of the interviews were conducted using hidden cameras.

Definitely, something that was not even near the bottom of my "must see" binge watching list.

But during this significant time, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a go.

I got three and a half hours into it and had to throw in the towel.  

I was having a very bad recurrence of my "Sophie's Choice" and "Shindler's List" reaction ...  acute nausea, which in the cases of the movies actually manifested in full blown throwing up when we left the theatre on our way home.  Terrible anxiety.  Dreadfully disturbed.  Pained to my core.

I speak a very broken and apparently unique Polish - mine.  But it is good enough to get myself understood and can get by quite well.
When Lili watches Polish television, it is hit and miss as to whether I understand it or not.  When it is the news and current events, it gets difficult but when there is a documentary or series, I understand nearly everything.

"Shoah" was directed by a French man and a large percentage of the documentary is simultaneously translated into French by one of the interpreters and has subtitles in English.

The so-called "Sophie's Choice" effect for me is when the people are speaking Polish, I completely understand them, do not listen to the translation and do not read the subtitles.

This makes my personal experience much more visceral.  It is local people talking the language of my parents and grandmother, particularly as they often came from the same region in Poland.  It becomes much more personal.  Much more intimate.  Not all words translate accurately but for me, the picture becomes even more vivid.  Alive.  Real.

"Shoah" is not a documentary for the feint hearted.  Nor is it required viewing.
But as the second generation of a small hand of survivors, I was finally  compelled by a huge sense of Jewish & possibly survivors guilt that require me to sit, watch and listen to the morbidly gruesome details of the cold hearted murder of innocent, young, children. The SS mandated silence of the local residents surrounding some of the extermination camps.
The pile upon piles of emaciated, skeletal bodies, being bulldozed into mass graves.
The constant talk of the stench that can never be forgotten ...

There is only so much the eye & mind can take.

Tonight, it is off to the prestigious British Library where Lili is one of the 2 invited speakers.

I suck up my own feelings in honor of my family.

I suck up my own feeling because I am alive.

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