For over two years now, every day and night, I have been scanning the media comments sections of mainstream media articles to gauge social ebbs and flows. And I have been tracking the influence of obviously professional trolls and bots. (I should write a thesis about their unfortunately profound influence.) I have been alarmed at how they have been largely successful in guilting, deriding, confusing, distracting, frightening, and shaming genuinely concerned, good-hearted commenters from taking solid, necessarily no-holds-barred action to reverse major societal and political wrongs and destructive movements and trends that have drastically increased in power and control during the same time period.
When I started teaching civil rights in graduate school, I developed a timeline of civil rights events in the United States. I included positive ones as well as tragedies, and tried to include more than African-American connected events, to represent a fuller picture of American history than is usually represented. I also included some world events to provide context and some removal from a “calculus of suffering” so often indulged in by one group comparing its history with anothers. The timeline makes no promises of completeness, and is a work in progress. It is generally referenced, and is fairly reliable. This timeline proved to be popular with students, who mostly had been raised and educated on the myth of progress, American Dream, and City on a Hill themes. They were surprised by the uneven progression of social equity in American history, with its frequent “one step forward, two steps back” meme. I’ve chosen some examples from just one year in this timeline for black History Month.
Although traditionally the month of February has celebrated famous African-Americans throughout history, maybe it’s time to augment how that history is told with our personal history stories, ones that define and shape who we are today.
The neighborhood I grew up in conjures up images of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” Hal Rauch’s “Our Gang” with scenes of Mayberry from the “Andy Griffin Show” added to the mix. The folks in my neighborhood were caring, creative and resourceful because we had to be. Our survival depended on it.
Occupations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are critical to our nation’s workforce, infrastructure and future. STEM jobs are in high demand right now, across all industries, and will be for the foreseeable future–the number of STEM-related jobs is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But are we putting our money where our future is?
I have moved quite a lot in my life, especially in the first part of it, clocking one to three schools per year on average and as many caravans, mobile homes, flats or apartments until the age of 16. The good thing with this nomadic lifestyle is that it has forced me to be quite ruthless over the years in terms of keeping or discarding belongings.
We are now in the process of converting our attic into an adult bedroom in our family home with a view to get me a small desk for my musings and a walking wardrobe for my other half. This not a move but it almost feels like one. To do that I have to get rid of quite a lot of bits and pieces that have been accumulated since our previous move 10 years ago or so.
A lot of stuff has already found its way to charity shops, more junk have landed on a rubbish skip while the rest has to be triaged for storing. Its been a pretty heavy duty process I must say but it has come with some blessings too. Old photos have resurfaced, toddler toys and kids clothes have re-emerged from hidden boxes reminding us how small our not so little guys once were. To be honest the whole experience has provided a few welcomed rides back to memory lane.
As far as I am concerned there aren’t too many things that I have kept from my early childhood or teenage years even. That said I was glad to see an old and cherished French version of an Aristocrats Disney book being if not pristine still intact and in good reading condition. I was also very happy to go thru a few old schools books and show my beautiful stamps collection to my kids.
I was also taken aback at times, for example I unexpectedly bumped into an old book belonging to my mum and with that what a surprise to discover four small notepads full of (bad) urban poetry that I had written in the 90’s. In the book itself, a manuscript called ”Qu’elle etait verte my vallee” (How Green Was My Valley) by Richard Llewellyn, not that this is really significant, the important bit is that there was a small sheet with a hand written version of the Chant Des Marais inserted in it as a book mark. Almost straight away, as soon as I read the first verse the melody found its way back thru my brain at the speed of a boomerang .
The song was composed in the concentration camp of Börgermoormis in Lower Saxony. Originally set up in 1933 by the Nazis, the camp primary function was to home political opponents of the time. Situated in a very hostile environment the prisoners held in Börgermoormis were used as cheap labour and performed various heavy duties around the concentration camp. The site was initially managed by the S.A but when the latter were dismissed the S.S took over.
The guards were ruthless and the conditions in the camp were barbaric, adding insult to injury the captives were expected to sing when going to work. Jumping at the opportunity to produce a passive resistance manifesto, a prisoner named Johann Esser wrote poignant lyrics that were supplemented by a music written by another political inmate called Rudi Goguel. The original title was « Moorsoldatenlied » which can be translated as the song of ”The peat bog soldiers”, it is also known as ”the song of the deported”.
Lettre a un Inconnu (Scroll down for English Version)
Mes yeux sont loin de moi
Mon regard est souvent perdu
Parfois je crois meme que je ne m’entends plus
Mon regard est si lourd et sourd de malentendus
Je sais qu’un jour viendra le temps du vecu
Les geoliers si peu necessaire veulent faire de moi un reclus
Moi a leur politique, a leur commissaire j’exprimerais bien plus que mon refus
It took two weeks apparently to create the song from start to finish and it was sang for the first time on the 27th of August 1933 as part of the ‘Circus Konzentrazani.’ According to Goguel, ”sixteen singers, mostly members of the Solinger Worker’s Singing Club, marched into an arena with their prison outfits and their spades on their shoulders.”
They started singing and by the second verse it is said almost all of the 1,000 prisoners were singing along to the refrain. With every verse, the refrain apparently grew stronger and by the final verse even some of the SS sentinels were singing. Unverified records mentioned that the sixteen singers stuck their spades in the sand and marched out of the arena leaving their spades behind.
The ‘Börgermoorlied’ (Song of Börgermoor), is not the only one but one of the most famous songs to have been created within a concentration camp: it is by far the most well known of all of them.In its English version it became known as the ‘Song of the Peat Bog Soldiers’ and in French it has acquired a symbolic notoriety under the title ‘Le Chant des Marais’. The song was also commonly sung as a Republican anthem throughout the Spanish Civil War, personally the first time I heard it was at a military parade by the French Foreign Legion.
Never before a song had produced such a tangible and palpable impact on me. It was almost like a modern blues but something that was far more and utterly visceral. Was it the monotonous rhythm or the lyrics evoking despair that struck me, I don’t know. Boosted by a chorus celebrating a state of nothingness I asked myself how come human hearts had the ability to hibernate for so long.
Wherever the eye may wander,
All around only moor and heath
No singing of the birds to raise our spirits,
Oak trees stand bleak and crooked.
We are the peat bog soldiers
And travel spade in hand
Into the moor!
Here in this bleak heath
The camp was built,
Far from any joy
We lie hidden away behind barbed wire.
We are the peat bog soldiers…
Work columns leave in the morning
To go into the moor.
We dig while the sun burns down on us
But our thoughts remain with home.
We are the peat bog soldiers…
Homewards, homewards, each of us longs
To our parents, wives, and children.
A sigh opens up many of our chests
Because we are caught here.
We are the peat bog soldiers…
The guards walk back and forth
No one, no one can get through,
Escape will only cost you your life,
The fort is fenced four times around
We are the peat bog soldiers…
But for us there are no complaints
Because it cannot be winter forever.
Someday we will happily say:
Home, you are mine again.
Then the peat bog soldiers
Will no longer travel spade in hand
Into the moor!
Written Material Copyright 2018 – Pascal Derrien
As part of my New Year’s resolution for better health, I enrolled in MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) course at Chattanooga’s Mindfulness Center. One of the items on my mindful To Do list was to attend a wellness panel co-hosted by Chattanooga’s Jewish Federation and Hadassah, a women’s organization with decades of involvement in healthcare of Israelis and Palestinians and who’s hospital in Israel saved my life years ago.
The panel’s focus was on self-care for a longer, healthier, and more active life for mature women. The panelists included Cady and Ed Jones, the dynamic daughter-father co-owners of Nutrition World, a wellness center providing supplements, yoga, reflexology, acupuncture, and other holistic services. Also on the panel was Nicole Berger, a physical therapist with decades of experience from pediatrics to geriatrics, and Lisa Schubert, an occupational therapist and teacher who specializes in ergonomics.
My Holocaust research started with SW Germany, where my relatives were rounded up. My great-aunt, Hedwig Schwarz, was the only Jew to escape deportation in Horb/Rexingen. She was handicapped before the Holocaust, fell off the transport car, and was rescued by a nameless person who took her to Marienhopital in Stuttgart, where the nuns cared for her. My sister, daughter and I visited the hospital to thank the current generation of sisters for taking care of Hedwig. They told us that Hedwig was the only Jew in the hospital, though there were some Resistance members; and they treated her with silence, because they thought that was the best medicine. Can you imagine!
Here’s a poem I wrote about echoes in Horb and a photo of Hedwig in her hospital bed, surrounded by photos of all the others who were taken. The poem was first published in Prism: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators, and in Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Black Widow Press. 2009.
In Memory, Hedwig Schwarz
In the doorpost of her house, a hollow
where the mezuzah used to hang.
I press my hand against the indentation,
my way of speaking to the past.
Touch the hollow where the mezuzah
used to hang. In Horb, Nazis renamed her street
Hitlerstrasse. My way of speaking to the past
is to listen, press the old men for answers.
1941, Jews were packed into Hitlerstrasse.
Now it’s a winding picture postcard road,
Jew-free, pleasant as it seemed
before Nazis pressed my family into Judenhausen.
I press my hand against the indentation.
Over Horb, a hundred doorposts echo, hollow.
I teach a poetry workshop in SW France for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The moment I stepped out of the car, an elderly neighbor started to talk to me about the Jews who had lived there. That part of France was a hotbed for the Jewish Resistance. Dr. Hirsch, radiologist, was taken my Mengele to work on medical experiments (he testified against Mengele at Nuremburg). His wife Berthe was taken to Auschwitz and gassed; the two children were hidden by the villagers. I met one of them, Nicole Hirsch, who is still traumatized though she’s over 80. We think we know about the Holocaust, but the individual stories still want to be told.
Why have women waited so long to tell their stories of sexual harassment, discrimination, pedophilia, abuse, and discrimination? How do we as individuals and as a nation process this tidal wave of information as people come forward? I’ve hesitated to tell my stories of sexual harassment because I’ve never been able to comprehend and digest them. The first time I experienced my feminine vulnerability, I was only four years old. I was playing outside in the garden of our home in Bermuda, when a teen-age neighbor squatted down next to me as I was playing with my favorite marbles in the garden. Smiling at me, he reached under my skirt and stroked my privates through my underpants. Before he walked away, he made me promise not to tell my father, silencing me.
I have doubted the Zombie Apocalypse meme for some time, lumping it in the same category as vampires, werewolves, and romance novels. But lately, I’ve started to doubt myself. I developed the idea of the Rule of Stupids and the Epidemic of Stupidity long before Trump was elected President. I could not, however, explain why the American people were becoming so stupid. For several years I have suffered being called all sorts of vile names on social media because I obsessively believe in logic, reason, evidence, and facts. Most recently those names include “sealioning,” I kid you not. Look it up.
I recently participated in a session hosted by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs during this conference on climate change. The conference has brought some 51 mayors and their staffs to Chicago at the invitation of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago to develop a flexible mayoral covenant on climate change within North America. The session in which I was a participant was led by the mayors of Chicago, Vancouver,Montreal, Washington and a modest size city of 150,000 in Mexico. NY TIMES writer Thomas Friedman chaired this session.
Allow me now to share some of the important points that arose from the discussion.