Thursday, December 6, 2012

Helen Eisen

I received a note yesterday telling me that Helen Eisen recently died, on Oct. 29, 2012 in New York.

I never met Helen, but I did read her book of poems, The Permeability of Memory, and it touched me deeply.  Like me, Helen had been born in a Displaced Persons camp, a refugee camp, after World War II to parents who were Polish survivors.

In 2009, I did a blog about Helen and her writing.  I would like to repost it now as a memorial to Helen.


Helen Eisen's The Permeability of Memory drew me in because she did something that I find myself unable to do.

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I've written a lot about my father and mother and their experiences in the concentration camps, but I've seldom been able to write about my own memories of my experiences in the refugee camps, the DP camps, after the war. Part of this, I'm sure is my inability to remember much about those times. I was born in 1948 and left the camps in 1951 to come to America with my parents. Another part of this, however, I think, is my sense that my story -- as opposed to the story of my parents and the people of their generation -- is nothing. I find it almost impossible to think of my parents' experiences within the context of my experiences. I can't think about that connection. When I write, I write about them.

Helen Eisen, however, has somehow found a way of connecting herself to her past and her parents in ways I can't, and I admire her writing and her gift for doing this.

I asked her a couple questions about memory and about the title of her work The Permeability of Memory.

Here's what I wrote to her:

The Permeability of Memory? Can you please explain the title? Memory is something that really interests me. I write a lot about my parents and I know that my memories of their past don't always line up with their memories of their past or my sister's memories of the past. In fact, I wrote a poem about the distance between my mom's memories and mine. It's called "My Mother Reads My Poem 'Cattle Train to Magdeburg.'" In addition, my mother didn't want to share her memories for a long time, while my dad was always interested in doing so.

Here's Helen Eisen's response to my questions:

I also find memory fascinating, what it is, how it works, how it's transmitted. I meant the title to talk to that-- how memories are passed on, the movement of memory over time and distance. I think it is lovely that you use the word "distance" when you say in your email, "I wrote a poem about the distance between my mother's memories and mine." At different times I've been asked, "When did you first learn about the Holocaust?" (By the way, we never used the term. We just called it the war. It's like if a relative were standing in your kitchen dressed in an old bathrobe and you say, "Mr. Buckleboren, what would you like for breakfast today? I do hope we can appropriately accommodate you.") The thing is I don't remember when I learned about the war, it's like I always knew about it, which of course at some level I did. Its effects, if not the actual verbalized memories, were transmitted by my parents and the other survivors that used to visit our apartment, but seemed to live with us. Their visits were never just visits. And with them came all the memories, like butter spread on rye and radishes in the cottage cheese. Everyone disagreed about the wheres and whens, and there was a lot of (to me bizarre) laughter. I'd stay very quiet and listen, trying to make sense of it all. I have memories of hiding under the kitchen table, but I don't believe I really did because it was a small table. But I think I imagined this memory because I knew if they became aware of me in the room they'd shoo me out, so how would I have stayed in the room if I wasn't hiding?

To return to my explanation: I learned about the war through the memories of my parents, which they relayed verbally and non-verbally. (Father much more verbal and very, very confusing). Memories live (and die) in the body. I think the non-verbal transmission was more potent, more constant/consistent, more direct, more exact--even if I can't translate this exactness. All mothers sigh, no mother sighs like my mother. She is holding me as a baby, and when she let them other women in the DP camp held me. What passed through them to the children, in my case, to me? I'm sure the particular tensing of their muscles, their breath, their scent, all their vital, non-verbal, sub-vocal, innate and learned vocabularies left some kind of imprint.

Mostly knowledge of the war--my memories of the war--came through the body of my mother. I think memories live in the body, and die, change, devolve, grow, dependent like anything else on relative conditions and context. Who is listening? What's the temperature when I'm talking? How well do I remember this recipe when I'm starving? When I'm full?

From the body of my mother to my body. I see it as a kind of osmosis--the permeability of the membranes between us, and the membranes between memories within her. What she's closed off, what she's let through. How far through? What's the resistance to letting me see them, letting me in, how much of it because she wants to keep me out, how much because she wants me to see because she is alone there, but doesn't want to want me to be there.

Osmotic passage occurs from the more dense to the less dense. From my mother's milk, I drew my breath, and she filled me.

Here's one of the poems from Helen Eisen's Permeability of Memory:


Was starving
Was starving
After the war
Was another war
My mother my mother
Was starving
After the war
She stuffed food into me
Because she was starving
After the war during
Which she was starving
She stuffed food into me
Because she was starving
I can see her pushing the food into my mouth
I cannot feel I cannot feel the food pushing into the mouth
I can see my mother
For the food she put into me
To feed herself
My mother pushed food into me
To feel herself
While she was starving all of the life pushed
To feed herself
To feel herself
I can't feel the food
Or taste
What my mother fed me
She took
The food away
From herself
I can see her starving
To feed me
Greasy lamb from her fingers
Here taste
Of her saliva
On my tongue
My mother
I loved her
I fed her


Helen Eisen's The Permeability of Memory is published by Cherry Pie Press. You can read more about the book by clicking here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Holocaust in the News and on the Web

Holocaust survivors protest against migrant deportation
In an effort to join the struggle against the deportation of migrants from Israel, Holocaust survivors marched across Tel Aviv, demonstrating against the arrest and expulsion of asylum seekers. Relates stories: Holocaust survivors to protest against migrant ...
See all stories on this topic »
Jews, Muslims, the Holocaust, and Israel
Council on Foreign Relations (blog)
Today, Secretary Clinton speaks at an event at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, held in collaboration with CFR and CNN, on the subject of genocide prevention. I wish that a major Arab country was the host for this event. Last week I visited the West ...
See all stories on this topic »

Council on Foreign Relations (blog)
Clinton: Remain vigilant against Holocaust denial
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Holocaust denial and Israel criticism that crosses into anti-Semitism require vigilance. On Tuesday, Clinton addressed a symposium at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on preventing ...
See all stories on this topic »
Survivors of Chemical Holocaust Stage Special Olympics in Bhopal
Bay Area Indymedia
London 2012 Supersize me! McD is an Olympic Partner, so is Coca Cola, and to ice the cake we have Dow Chemical. Dow bought Union Carbide in 2001, along with the legacy of Bhopal, where 15000 people died in a 1984 chemical holocaust that remains ...
See all stories on this topic »

Bay Area Indymedia
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Unveils New Poll: Americans ...
MarketWatch (press release)
A new poll commissioned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum finds that 67 years after the Holocaust, Americans believe genocide is still very possible, yet preventable, and they would like to see the US government play a major role in stopping ...
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HOLMBERG: Holocaust Museum ouster a battle of wills?
RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- It appears the controversy surrounding the emphatic dismissal of Virginia Holocaust Museum president, director and co-founder Jay Ipson is winding down, but the behind-the-scenes machinations over his ouster remains largely ...
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Slovakia's Jewish community wants alleged Holocaust-era war criminal to be ...
Washington Post
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovak's Jewish community is calling on state authorities to request that a 97-year-old alleged Holocaust-era war criminal under house arrest in Hungary stand trial in Slovakia. Laszlo Csatary is suspected by prosecutors of abusing ...
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SHAME: Western Holocaust Denial In Congo
Black Star News
On the other hand, the powers now roaring loudly with respect to Syria have maintained deafening silence and are in fact accomplices in the Holocaust of over 7 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The violence is being perpetrated by ...
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Holocaust survivor tells his story for the first time
The Journal News |
An overflow audience listens to Holocaust survivor Eli Stern of Monsey during the annual Tisha B'Av program at the Holocaust Museum & Study Center in Spring Valley on Sunday. Also on the program was a presentation by Rabbi Barry Shafier.
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Laszlo Csatary Case: Nazi War Crimes Supported By Strong Holocaust ...
Huffington Post
BUDAPEST, Hungary -- The evidence against a 97-year-old Hungarian man accused of abusing Jews and helping deport thousands during the Holocaust is much stronger than a similar case last year that ended in a high-profile acquittal, experts say.
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Blogs5 new results for holocaust
Virginia Holocaust Museum meeting will determine Ipson's future ...
By Nick Dutton
The holocaust survivor asked supporters not protest outside the Thursday meeting so board members could enter and leave without pressure. – Richmond News &...
White House Names NBCUniversal EVP To US Holocaust Memorial
President Obama today announced the appointment of NBCUniversal's International Television Production EVP Deborah A. Oppenheimer as a member to the U.S. Ho.
Hundreds Of Holocaust Survivors And Their Children Protest Israel's ...
By Shmarya Rosenberg
Last winter I saw on television dozens of African migrants huddled together in Levinsky Park. The sight was horrible and I decided to help them by giving the migrants food and blankets. During the Holocaust, I had to learn to...
Jay Ipson will stay on at Holocaust Museum - ...
By Sarah Bloom
Jay will stay with the Virginia Holocaust Museum, although in what role and with what power is still somewhat unclear.
WWBT - NBC12 News
Cannibal Holocaust (1980) DVD 5 Uncut 96 Minutes - KickassTorrents
Download Cannibal Holocaust (1980) DVD 5 Uncut 96 Minutes torrent or any other torrent from Other Movies category. Direct download via HTTP available as well.
Movies torrents RSS feed - KickassTor...

Web1 new result for holocaust
Clinton at U.S. Holocaust museum: We must fight demonization of ...
Speaking at Washington conference, U.S. secretary of state says that world must reject Holocaust glorification, make clear that violence, bigotry 'will not be ...


All of the above information came from a Google Alert on the Holocaust.

Monday, July 16, 2012

God on Trial

File:God on Trial FilmPoster.jpeg 

Often when I give presentations about my parents and their experiences in the concentration camps in Germany, people ask me to talk about how those experiences shaped my parents' faith.  It's not an easy question to answer.  My own parents came away from their experiences with very different attitudes toward God and religion.  My mother's faith was shaken by what happened to her family and what she went through under the Nazis.  My father's faith on the other hand was strengthened.  I've written about this in various poems but two that I usually bring up when I'm talking about faith and my parents are "What the War Taught My Mother" and "What My Father Believed."  If you click on those titles, you'll be able to read those poems.

Recently, I saw a film that focuses on the faith of prisoners in Auschwitz.  The film is called God on Trail, and it takes place in Auschwitz where a group of Jewish prisoners put God on trial and argue about whether or not He has abandoned the Jewish people.  It is a BBC/WBGH Boston production and was originally aired in the US in 2008.

The complete film is available through the following youtube link: