A chasm surrounds us

by Michelle

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I felt that I should write a small tribute to the memory of all those murdered at Auschwitz. Three hundred survivors traveled there only last week in heavy snow,  amid diplomatic tensions between the Poles, Russians and Ukrainians, despite growing anti-semitism in France.

On visiting the museum, I don’t know what I was expecting to find. How can the imagination ever conceive of such manifest evil ? Perhaps it is little more than curiosity and political voyeurism that compels one to go. The glamourised pornography of Holocaust representations, occurring in trends and waves since the camp was liberated, has a tendency to distort the historical reality by overexposure such that we have been saturated with information but shielded from the truth.

We arrive like ambassadors from our callous worlds of security, privilege and possession. We are protected from knowledge. We understand little more than what we need in order to thrive. We are so distracted by information and current affairs that we are confused and often mistake the presence of evil, while thwarting what could save us.

I don’t wish to essentialise the experience of memorializing atrocity. For me, much of the impact occurred afterwards, beginning with the return journey through birch forest following the river Wisla back to Kraków. But it has really been in recent weeks on my return to Sydney that I’ve felt changed.

And yet we have our own atrocity camps closer to home on Nauru and Manus Islands. Many of us are ashamed and dismayed. We feel paralysed as we witness the brutal treatment of refugees handed down by a government in the name of ‘justice’ and in defiance of our international human rights obligations.

Nationalism and its anthems neutralize our moral sensor, whether it be amid the throng  of Charlie Hebdo marches in Paris or on Australia Day. I found myself at Kirribilli Point where Tegan was singing in a choir. It was horrifying to witness the 21 gun canon salute when no acknowledgement whatsoever was given to the First Nation, the Indigenous landowners. A pamphlet was handed out about Moslems in Australia being loyal to the government and anti terrorism. Some of the other parents were laughing at this! Someone made a joke about fundamentalist propaganda. It was a strange experience. Although the water ballet was pleasant to watch and the choir sang beautifully, upstaging the army presence, I felt like an alien, displaced by a conservative crowd of people.

If we chose to live our lives as sensitive, thoughtful individuals, trying to be liberated from the values of materialism  or the politics of tyranny, we are destined to be estranged. And this is why, at every step of our journeys, we need to keep resisting evil. I hope writing can be this even though it could never fill the void.

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We, too, know how to split ourselves
but only into the flesh and a broken whisper.
Into the flesh and poetry.

——-‘Autotomy’ by Wislawa Szymborska

 

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